By Jacki Leroux of Our Life in Panama
Jacki Leroux, Chris Gillcash and their son, Angus, recently took in the sights and sounds of the beautiful mountain community of Boquete. Located next to Baru Volcan National Park and just an hour from the Costa Rica border,Boquete’s natural beauty, temperate climate and economic opportunity have drawn foreigners in droves over the last few years. Thankfully, that hasn’t eroded the region’s Panamanian aura – local traditions still exist and much of the land still has that ‘untouched’ feel to it.
As Jacki and Chris discovered while meeting many of the locals, there is still much growth on the horizon in Boquete, and opportunities abound for investors, potential homeowners and small businesses.
We hope you enjoy their series on what they experienced while in Boquete recently. You can read more of Jacki’s work on her blog, Our Life in Panama.
Visiting the historic Lerida coffee plantation just outside Boquete – Finca Lerida – I am in awe of my surroundings: the constant buzz and flurry of bright green and blue hummingbirds, the pristine rainbow of flowerbeds, the crisp whiteness of the beautifully chic and historic suites in its boutique hotel, the fresh, seasonal menu of its fine-dining restaurant.
But mostly I am in awe of the fact that all of this exists on a 1,235-acre property more than 5,000 feet above sea level.
In what is the most accessible region of the Chiriqui Highlands sits this piece of stunning real estate that spreads across the eastern slope of the majestic Baru Volcan, encompassing a large portion of the Chiriqui Cloud Forest.
Yes, it offers some of the best coffee in Panama, but it so much more than that.
We visited Finca Lerida as part of our first trip to Boquete with Mike Vuytowecz at Inside Panama Real Estate.
Mike has become involved in several housing developments here because he sees Boquete’s potential as the ‘next big thing’ in worldwide retirement destinations. The real estate scene here is just starting to flourish, with properties and homes for sale in Boquete growing by leaps and bounds.
It’s easy to see why – with attractions like the incredible Finca Lerida, Boquete has a lot to offer.
Fortunately, we didn’t have to go far – Finca Lerida was located only 500 metres uphill from where we were staying at the Boquete Plantation. Once there, we were greeted by Doris Gonzalez, the farm’s Sales and Marketing Manager. She took us on a tour of the coffee plantation, the gardens, the hills behind the property and the restaurant and pub.
It didn’t take long for us to realize that there is much history at Finca Lerida. In fact, they were the first in Panama to export coffee way back in 1929.
“Finca” means farm in Spanish. Those who run the place aren’t really sure why the original owner named the place “Lerida,” except that it was named after a town in Spain.
No, the original owner was not from Spain. He was not even Spanish. He was Norwegian.
Toleff Mönniche’s story is fascinating.
Born in Norway but educated in Germany, he first came to Panama to do design and construction work on the Panama Canal. An engineer by trade, Mönniche ended up contracting malaria in the hot and humid lands around the canal.
After his fourth bout with the disease, he had had enough. In 1911, he took to a small vapor sailing boat, and spent a week traversing along Panama’s shore in search of fresh, clean air.
He came across the Chiriqui Highlands. Drawn to the fresh mountain air, he rode a horse uphill for hours before coming across the piece of land that is today Finca Lerida. It was half grasslands, half tropical forest – year-round.
It would be another 13 years before Mönniche retired from the Canal and moved to the Finca Lerida property permanently with his wife, Julia, in 1924.
Doris took us for a quick tour of the original house – Casa Centenario – that Mönniche took 10 years to build completely by hand. It has been restored to its original quality, and much of the furnishings and décor is original.
There’s a cozy living room with stone fireplace, dining room, family room, library, and a second floor with a relaxing antique atmosphere. The centerpiece is an original crystal chandelier. It is the first thing you see when you walk in – and the one thing you will never forget. Case Centenario currently rents for more than $200 a night.
But Mönniche, besides opening up Panama’s coffee to world by being the first exporter of it (to Germany), was also responsible for the creation of the “sifon” device used to separate good beans from bad.
The sifon is still used worldwide by many coffee plantations, and is still at work at Finca Lerida.
While the Panamanian natives were high up in the hills cultivating the beans, we walked the trails of Finca Lerida, marveling at the impeccably groomed gardens, the colorful array of birdlife that is constantly flitting about, the 360-degree views of Boquete below us and Baru Volcan National Park above us.
Doris took me for a coffee tasting – my husband, Chris, is one of those baffling non-coffee-drinkers – where I sampled some premium coffee, including the world-famous “geisha” coffee that sells on site for a mere $50 a pound!
We had a tour of a few of the property’s 23 rooms. All finely decorated with a luxurious yet vintage feel, every room at Finca Lerida is elegantly beautiful.
Unfortunately, time did not permit us a hike up the pathways that lead to the top of the mountain right next to Baru Volcan, or to a pristine waterfall.
Instead, we grabbed a quick bite to eat on the patio at the Mönniche Restaurant. With majestic views of the surrounding mountains and the valley below, we didn’t even care if the food was great – we were so awed just sitting there.
But we needn’t have worried. With an international menu designed by Chef Jorge Jurado, the restaurant serves some of the best seasonal cuisine in the region, from the delicious fresh-baked bread at the start of our meal, to the fresh, colorful fruit plate that wrapped it all up.
A signature drink here is their orange tomato juice, made fresh from their vine-ripened orange tomatoes that grow abundantly on the property.
In the end, we spent three full hours at Finca Lerida – and didn’t want to leave. The peace and serenity of the place, the fresh air, the buzz and chirp of the birds – it was heaven.