It was a nice fresh morning when I sat down with Vera Fouriau, the owner of Vista Atenas Bed and Breakfast, for a nice cup of organic coffee and to chat about being a business owner in Costa Rica.
I have known Vera for many years and was instantly attracted to her energy. She has a special aura that makes you feel at ease and you realize at once that there is substance within this vibrant woman. I felt I had an instant connection with her, and that we are kindred spirits on life's journey, with many interests in common. I quickly found out that she is a fellow yogi, practitioner of Tai Chi and very holistic in her approach to health and life.
I am always interested in how people "found" Costa Rica, so that is how we started our two hour conversation. Vera's answer to my question was, "It was what people call a coincidence". Vera stressed to me that she does not believe in coincidences. Vera had attended a conference in Brussels on the Mayan calendar and the speaker lived part time in Costa Rica.
The way he spoke of the country instantly attracted her attention. After the conference, Vera returned home and announced to her husband and children that she wanted to go to Costa Rica, ALONE! To her surprise, the family was on board and gave Vera the green light. She made arrangements to spend one month is Los Angeles de Atenas which was the beginning of her Costa Rican adventure.
During Vera's stay in Atenas, she took daily walks through the area, stopping to speak with locals. One would think this was a challenge because she only spoke Dutch, French and English, but that was not a problem in Costa Rica. She was taken aback with how open and friendly the locals were, stopping to chat, offering coffee, and meals, and rides into town.
These were things that had long ago become foreign in Belgium. On one outing Vera remembers eating an orange fresh from the tree. It was a "unique" experience because it was the first time she had not taken an orange out of the refrigerator to eat it. "The orange was warm and so fresh!", remembers Vera.
There was another experience that sealed Vera's destiny in coming to Costa Rica. She visited a small hotel in Vista Atenas, a beautiful community in the hills of Atenas, just a few minutes from downtown. Vera said there were many "signs" durning that visit. She met another guest with whom she struck up a conversation. This women and Vera had many things in common, including the fact that they were reading many of the same books.
Another sign was that the owner of the hotel (which was for sale) was Belgian. Wanting to stay at the hotel, Vera was informed that the hotel was full and could not accommodate her. But, as fate would have it, her new found friend offered a bed in her room and Vera knew she was at home. In that month Vera recalls, "I felt the whole universe was with me, supporting me. All the pieces of the puzzle just fell into place."
Upon returning to Belgium, Vera knew she had found her destiny, and she told her husband she had found HIS dream. You see, it had been Vera's husband Jean's long time dream to run a bed and breakfast. However, his ideas and dreams had been in the south of France, not on the other side of the world in Central America. This made perfect sense to Jean because he only speaks French!
Before her trip, Vera thought she had everything. She lived a wonderful life in Belgium. She had a beautiful family, great home and prize garden, without a need or care in the world. Costa Rica and the little town of Atenas changed all that. After recounting her experiences to her husband Jean, he was more than curious and wanted to see this new found paradise first hand. One month later, husband and wife boarded an airplane together so that Jean could see what had so profoundly changed Vera's life.
Durning their week long visit to Costa Rica, Jean too fell in love. They were both taken with the charming little hotel that Vera had stumbled upon in Atenas. Vera recalls, "We really did not have to think about it. There was no endless looking, this was the perfect fit." They purchased the hotel! Now the hard work would begin.
It would be challenging because Vera would have to go it alone for a while. Jean had to stay in Belgium and take care of all the details that would allow them to move to Costa Rica, not to mention retire. "Nothing was planned. It was going to be a challenge to make it work. We adapted.
The hardest part was being apart, but we learned to really listen to each other when we spoke. We actually learned more about one another not living together." Vera says she discovered that the dream life she though she had in Belgium, was actually in Costa Rica. "Now my husband's dream of owning a bed and breakfast was my dream too."
Moving to a new country and running a business was a learning experience. I asked Vera what her experience has been like owning a bed and breakfast in Costa Rica? Vera says "Doing business in Costa Rica is different than in Europe. I had to get used to the "pura vida" mode of things, which is much more relaxed. I learned to slow down and be more adaptable. There is no real sense of urgency here. Because of the culture and climate, often times "plans" are useless."
She also discovered that people must have fun at work. Typically upon arriving to work, employes must have a cup of coffee, chat and share a few jokes before work starts. "They must love their work or at least have fun doing it", states Vera.
When asked if she had any advice for other expats wanting to start a business in paradise, Vera responded, "Don't think about it too long and don't focus on the difficulties. Have a financial reserve and be realistic and adaptable. Just do it." Vera and I both agree that by having enthusiasm for your work and being positive, you can create your own reality.
What Vera has created is the elegant and very affordable Vista Atenas Bed and Breakfast. Set on a large 16,000m2 lot (4 acres), this charming getaway has stunning views of Atenas and the valley beyond. Offering 6 rooms, 2 cabins and one casita, a beautiful swimming pool with plenty of outdoor space, and tropical gardens. Vera's approach was to keep things simple and open to the nature that surrounds you in Costa Rica. She chose colors and decor that expresses her personality with a celestial theme.
One thing that Vera has stuck to her guns about is NO televisions. This is crucial because that way you have no distractions. You can enjoy your surroundings and the peace and tranquility that is often missing in our busy lives. As one guest put it, this is a place to "unplug".
Breakfast is as organic as possible and consists of fresh fruit, juice, coffee, eggs, toast, jelly, and sliced tomato with cucumber and onion, all purchased and grown locally. "Breakfast is slow. Take your time to digest not only your breakfast, but everything that is around you.", advises Vera.
Now, with six and a half years under her belt, I wanted to know what Vera thinks has been the key to her success in a foreign land. "My enthusiasm for people and nature. I love meeting and being around people. This is not work for me, it feels more like a hobby."
Vera attributes many other things to her success such as; creating harmony with her employees, having a profound respect for Costa Rica, its nature and its people. She also says, "I stick to my values and I am attracted to people who find that important." Also, "Surrounding yourself with locals makes all difference because of the cultural differences."
The one thing that Vera said about having a business in Costa Rica that struck a cord with me was, "It's not difficult, it's different." Having said that, Vera stresses that there are obstacles to overcome that are not always easy.
So what does the future hold for Vera and Vista Atenas Bed and Breakfast? I can say with confidence that the future looks bright. With her creative flare and calm energy Vera has many future projects that she hopes to accomplish. Keeping with her love of nature and conservation, Vera hopes to continue adding solar panels to take over more aspects of the electrical needs.
The hotel currently uses solar for its hot water supply and to run the well, but Vera wants to expand that to include things like the pool. Vera also hopes to attract small groups who are interested in nature, yoga, meditation, and tai chi, all of which play an important role in her life.
She envisions building a wooden deck off to the side of the swimming pool that would be covered to create a perfect space for these activities. In addition, once Jean retires, he will be joining Vera and add to the mix his culinary talents. He has just completed a two year cooking course in Belgium and will be providing healthy elegant meals for guests in the near future. Vera says the most important things is to continue providing and creating peace and harmony between humans and nature. That is her ultimate goal.
I am often asked by friends, family and clients if I regret moving to Costa Rica. My response is always the same, "Yes! I regret that I did not do it sooner."
So I could not resist asking Vera the same question. Vera, do you have any regrets? Without delay she said, "Of course not! I am much more alive now. It was not easy, but if it were easy you would lose the challenge of being really alive."
Vera went on to say, "My life in Belgium was too easy. I had everything and never had to worry. I left my comfort zone and it saved me."
On a personal note, my advice to anyone wanting to move to Costa Rica and try a new business is do it. Make sure you do your due diligence and then go for it. Get out of your comfort zone. It just may save you, too!