San Rafael de Heredia was once called Piedra Grande; The archeological findings in the area show that this region was inhabited by an indigenous tribe called the Huetar. Documents dating from 1783 refer to the original village as Piedra Grande, where there was a flour mill. In 1818, there was a raffle organised by the ecclesiastical and civil authorities who had prepared a list of Saints, thus Piedra Grande became San Rafael.
This charming and picturesque little town is located 2km northeast of the city of Heredia, half way up the mountains separating the Central Valley from the Caribbean. The canton is drained by the rivers Segundo, Burío, Pirro, Tibás, and tributaries of the Grande de Tárcoles. While it is only about 20 minutes from the capital, it feels as if it was a lot further away. The climate is a little cooler there with a temperature that varies between 20 and 22° Celsius, perfect for those who do not like it too hot! It is coffee country there, although vegetables, sugar cane and dairy farming are also common.
The lovely little Gothic church, notable for its stained-glass windows and bright interior is one of its main attraction and is probably one of the prettiest church of the country. The reason why so many Costa Ricans and foreigners alike find this place attractive is its large number of typical and fancy restaurants, parks and viewpoints.
The Museum Bar Restaurant is well worth a visit as it is maybe as old as the town itself. It has old newspaper clips hanging from the ceiling and as you enjoy your meal you may read the daily news half a century old! You will be surrounded by old cameras, typewriters and telephones, old wood stoves and pots and pans. The panoramic view of the whole valley is by itself an enchantment, as from there you may observe Heredia, Alajuela, San Jose, Puntarenas and Guanacaste all at once! Sunsets are of course spectacular. At night, it’s another fantastic show with millions of little lights glittering like stars.
As you follow the route 113, going North up the mountain, you will find Baalbek, an Arabic restaurant, excellent for cuts of meat. Visit the Kava of the Prophet, in Honor of writer Gibran Kalil Kalil, which is located in a small basement under the deck.There is a secret hiding place for divine wines that are kept in barrels made of precious wood.
As you continue north, you will find the air is getting crispier, fresher and cleaner, with a strong smell of pine. You will soon fall on the the Castle Country Club, popular as a Sunday venue and birthday celebrations, further up the the luxurious and magnificent hotel and casino La Condesa, where Mediterranean architecture offers the opportunity to enjoy spacious, comfortable rooms, fine restaurants and bars , convention centre and meeting rooms fitted with the latest technology for business meetings and parties.
A few miles north of La Condesa you will find the intersection of Monte de la Cruz, with its gazebo, trails, lake and ranch. This beautiful spot is just ideal for spending some time, enjoying the peace and tranquillity of nature. Finally you reach the end of the road. The Chalet Tirol; this legendary hotel can only be described as being magical and romantic. You will be transported by its Alpine villas within the lush green rain forest perched on the hillsides, surrounded by ever green pines, views, and incredible gardens. There is also a natural reserve with a fantastic flora and fauna, water falls and the crystalline Rio Segundo.