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Jul 18

Magic on the Pacific in Costa Rica

One Family’s Quest for True Magic and Pura Vida

The dream that would one day become Villa Paraiso was barely a glimmer in the eye of its owner, Mickey Novak, when he and his wife first began their search for ‘pura vida’.  Back then, in the days before this amazing Villa became a reality, the couple had no idea that what they were creating wasn’t merely a place to live.  What began as a raw piece of land grew and evolved into the place it is today – a home the couple describe as having ‘magic in the air’.  How ironic and how apt that description proved to be.  You see, the couple’s first step in realizing their Costa Rican dream began with the decision to sell their successful business – a business that manufactured, among other things, Mickey Mouse watches.  Magic, indeed.

“When I made the decision to sell the business, we knew we wanted to change our lifestyle to one where we could slow down and enjoy ourselves,” Mickey explains.  “We knew that was the kind of life we wanted. The bigger question was where in the world did that lifestyle exist.”  Despite being globetrotters who had made their way across 86 countries, the couple still wasn’t sure what corner of the world would entice them to put down the family’s next set of roots.   Native Californians who called San Diego home, living close to the sea was a must, and they weren’t in a hurry to give up the near idyllic weather they were accustomed to, but the one crucial piece they knew was missing from their life in the land of milk and honey was the ability to simply slow down.

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“In America, the pace is frenetic.  Unplugging is almost impossible.  We wanted proximity to the ocean – and we wanted warm water, at that.  Any place we chose had to have political stability, safety, accessibility.  It had to be gorgeous, it had to have a good climate, and it had to involve a flight no longer than six hours from California so that our friends and family could readily visit and we could fly back ‘home’ if and when we needed to.  But it also had to be a place where when we turned it off, it was off.”

And so, after eschewing Hawaii (too far), passing on several Caribbean islands (too passé), and ruling out the whole of Europe, the couple began to hear the opening notes of Costa Rica’s beguiling siren’s song.  The decision was made and the rest, as they say, is history.

The first step in building a dream, as anyone who has ever undertaken such monumental task will know, is finding the land.  Deciding on Costa Rica’s Pacific West coast, the couple discovered a site that was, for all intents and purposes, perfect.  Thirteen acres of verdant, virgin, Costa Rican land on the Nicoya Peninsula, the property they found to build upon was inimitable.  Perched high above the jagged coastline, the location offered panoramic views, the sound of crashing waves, their very own backyard jungle and not a neighbor to speak of – unless one were to count the resident monkeys and occasional, meandering iguanas, of course.  The fee-simple, attribute rich, quintessentially perfect property was quickly secured and the man who formerly made timepieces began to race the clock to build his family dream home.

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The first order of business was hiring lauded South American architect, Ronald Zurcher.  Accepted as the best in Costa Rica – and arguably all of Central America, according to many, Zurcher is the design genius behind some of the area’s most magnificent projects including the country’s first Four Seasons Hotel and Resort on Papagayo’s covetable peninsula. Working with Zurcher, a set of plans that read more like a lengthy tome described in painstaking, meticulous detail every conceivable element the future Villa Paraiso would hold.  From the angle at which stone tiles would be set in the grand kitchen to the hardware that would be installed on the doors (Rocky Mountain Hardware ultimately won out, if you are curious – the solid bronze the company uses in creating their hardware being the only metal utterly impervious to Costa Rica’s tropical climate), no detail in the creation of the approximately 13,900 square feet of sprawling haven was left to chance.

While completely secluded and gloriously untouched; the land on which Villa Paraiso sits is a mere stone’s throw away from the festive, Bohemian town of Montezuma.  Despite being –geographically, at least – neighbors, a mountainous cliff and the ravine below effectively separated the site of the future Villa from Montezuma.  While picturesque, the logistics as they existed weren’t particularly ideal.  Left as was, the landscape would essentially dictate that anyone from the Villa wanting to pay a visit to civilization would have to circumvent their way around the mountain to do so.  As the mountain – to borrow a phrase – wouldn’t move for Mohammed and given that even Mohammed couldn’t move that particular mountain, he did the next best thing.  A 300-foot suspension bridge was commissioned; engineered and installed to span the gap, essentially bringing the charm of Montezuma to the Villa’s front door.  “The bridge is mind-blowing,” says Mickey.  “You can tell people about it, but until they actually see it with their own eyes, it’s almost impossible to visualize.  The views from there will literally take your breath away.”

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Villa Paraiso’s bridge, despite its awe-inspiring magnitude, was just one piece of the project puzzle.  “Finding the crews to build Villa Paraiso meant creating what was essentially a working village where our workers could live,” he explains.  “We had two full crews totaling one hundred and fifty men.  The crews worked in shifts seven days a week, 360 days a year, for two full years.  It’s not as if they could have commuted or stayed in a motel.  To get this done, we needed to build a dorm that had everything they would need.  Kitchens, bathrooms, areas where they could relax and unwind on their off days…it was a huge undertaking, but to have the house completed when we wanted to be, it was the only option.”

As well, the couple built a ‘worker’s cottage’ where they could comfortably stay during frequent visits to watch the creation of their Villa unfold. The building which was built on a cliff tucked away from the main house now serves as a coach house on the property where it offers dramatic 180-degree Pacific views as well as an executive office suite, gym, and design studio.  “We spent two years flying in at least once a month from San Diego to oversee everything.  Zurcher was on hand to make sure every detail was done exactly according to plan.  If something wasn’t right, it was taken out and done over until it was flawless.  But the results?  Just look around, it was worth every minute and every penny to do it that way.”

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When, at the end of two laborious years, Villa Paraiso was finally complete and an occasion worth celebrating.  Languidly stretching towards the coastline, the Villa’s columns stand sentry to rooms that seem to flow seamlessly one to the next. Above, vaulted brick ceilings and hardwood coffers meet more delicate architectural details like hand wrought iron works and carved wood mouldings – all the better to reflect the very essence of tropical elegance.  A vast, stone-clad gourmet kitchen sporting cabinets of dark wood stands at the ready, an army of upscale appliances prepared for service.  Glass paned doors open from interior rooms to the garden beyond, blurring the line between indoors and out.  The Villa’s fluid spaces have a way of beckoning guests out of doors to lounge by the pool or dine under a ceiling of sky.  The gardens, with all their myriad charms, are a space where the only things to distract you from the conversation are the endlessly stunning views played against a soundtrack of chirping tree frogs and crashing waves.

Built over two stories, the main level of the home offers four generous bedroom suites and a series of gracious, welcoming rooms designed to entertain crowds of family and friends.  Upstairs, there’s the master’s retreat where soaring ceilings, wide windows, spacious dressing rooms and views that go on for days pay homage to a life centered around friends, family and inviting, casual elegance.  Throughout the Villa, the only surface one will find underfoot is that of smooth, honed stone.  “We imported six crews for six months to do the stonework here,” the owner remembers. “We have marbles from Italy and Spain, Travertine that was selected and imported from a quarry in Turkey.  There are stones from Brazil and Columbia and in the kitchen, the black granite you see on the center island was brought in as one single slab from the United States.”

To appropriately furnish and dress a home of this scale and importance, a trip to a manufacturer’s showroom clearly won’t do.  Rather, the majority of the pieces in the Villa were created where they stand; the built-ins provide yet another layer of architectural detail and a marriage between form and function.  The remaining pieces, down to the wrought iron and crystal chandeliers that illuminate the interiors, were crafted for the home – a bespoke cacophony of artistry.

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As alluring as the home itself may be, for those who can’t seem to get enough of the rugged, exotic luxury of Costa Rica, the treasures to be found just outside Villa Paraiso’s door create a paradise found.  A stone terrace surrounds the infinity pool and spa, beautifully framing the dramatic coastline below.  The Villa’s resort-style outdoor living spaces feature a swim-up bar for 12 as well as a 42-inch LCD screen.  Along with an outdoor kitchen replete with barbecue grill and wood-fired pizza oven, the estate has every accoutrement one could wish for when imaging the perfect place to wile away sultry days and celebrate starlit nights.

To ensure the owners and their guests could enjoy access to their tropical haven as easily as they could pack a bathing suit, the estate’s front entry court was designed to accommodate helicopter service from either of Costa Rica’s two international airports.  Once arrived, transportation tends to slow down – courtesy of the inhabitants residing in the estate’s four stall stable.

With it’s white sand beaches and scenic coastline, Villa Paraiso’s position on the Nicoya Peninsula provides a dreamy location within Costa Rica.  The region affords world-class surfing, SCUBA, snorkeling, fishing, horseback riding and watersports galore.  On land as well, the area is rife with excitement.  Imagine zip lining through the trees as parrots squawk their surprise.  There’s afternoons spent strolling peacefully through the gardens at Cabo Blanco Nature Preserve or challenging mornings spent biking and hiking through untouched forest.  Indeed, all of Costa Rica’s native charms can be found here, and all are ripe for discovery.

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“This house, this place… there is nowhere in the world where you can take a break from your life and enjoy the things you love most better than you can here.  We brought in everything we loved about living in California, but we also made sure we left behind some things – like stress and non-stop work.”

After experiencing the Villa, most will agree that it was a visionary eye that designed this dream and there truly is no question that Villa Paraiso is one of the finest homes in all of Costa Rica and the Nicoya Peninsula’s raw beauty makes it an amazing location.  Individually, both land and home are breathtaking.  Collectively, they are the very essence of ‘pura vida’.  In the case of one owners dream and the home itself, the whole is exponentially greater than the sum of the parts.

Villa Paraiso is currently available for sale and as a luxury vacation rental. For price and more information please contact Palms International Costa Rica at (506) 2643-5005 – from the U.S. (239) 243-0791 or email

By Gina Samarotto

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