Westerners may increasingly be holidaying in the remotest parts of the world in search of new experiences, but talk of a trip to Nicaragua is still met with general incomprehension. There may be some mention of ‘civil war’, ‘American imperialism’ or ‘jungle’ but the beauties of this South American country have largely slipped under the globetrotters’ radar. The country is shockingly beautiful, with large unspoilt areas featuring a wide variety of indigenous flora and fauna amongst the rainforest, volcanoes, lakes and beaches. However, a murmur has begun, not least because of the 2004 opening of the acclaimed eco-resort Morgan´s Rock in Playa Ocotal, and it will not be long before Nicaragua is talked of as ‘The new Costa Rica’. One can only hope that new ventures will meet the demand with the elegance, pride and ethical sensitive of Morgan´s Rock.
The eco-resort is very much ‘of’ Nicaragua. As the designer says, ‘The architecture should be experiential … coming out of the wildlife of the place, being inspired by it and, as much as possible, hiding within it.’ It is surprising to find that the designer of this detailed celebration of Nicaraguan nature, materials and culture is a Yorkshireman who fled from designing shopping centres. Matthew Falkiner has been in the country for ten years, and his experience has been at an involved and textural – rather than touristic – level. He runs architecture and furniture firm Simplemente Madera (Just Wood) and the resort is situated within a privately owned forest which was bought by French Ponçon family, his business partners, as a sustainable source of tropical woods. The resort idea emerged after the Ponçons applied for a free tourism feasibility study from the World Bank. To their horror, the consultant suggested building a five-star hotel and golf course. This seems to have crystallised the Ponçons´ feelings for the ecology of Nicaragua: instead of following the World Bank´s advice, they planted thousands of new trees and decided to create an eco-resort.
Falkiner was able to get to know the outstanding Playa Ocotal site, with its divine beach and bay, for two years before commencing the design. The result is a scattered group of a 15 bungalows set into the hillside and a hacienda, including a pool, bar and restaurant, which is reached by a 110-metre wooden suspension bridge. The bungalows are given natural privacy by the surrounding forest, but look outwards towards the bay and the expanse of the Pacific Ocean. They have thatched roofs, helping them to blend into the setting, and benefit from the indoor/outdoor style that works so well for nature-lovers, including private outdoor showers and, in some cases, trees growing through the roof. One of the highlights is the covered outside terrace featuring a reclining, hanging daybed. From here, one can see the troupes of howler monkeys that regularly pass by.
The structure is almost entirely wooden, with walnut and jatoba drawn from managed local logging sources and sandblasted eucalyptus posts from a reforestation site. Inside, virtually everything is designed by Falkiner and crafted by local artisans from sustainable or reclaimed materials, including canvas walls and tobacco-plant shades. The depth, quality and polish of the materials give the simple interiors a refined, warm sumptuousness. Almond tree is used for the flooring, with laurel doors and windows frames and mahogany details while the supporting walls are made from hand-hewn volcanic stone. The furniture includes an inviting white-linen-covered bed beneath a hand-painted picture of turtles, which lay their eggs in the white sands of the nearby beach.
There is an impressive range of nature-oriented tours with names such as ‘The Magic of Reforestation’, ‘The Dry Forest Experience’ and ‘The Riverbed Nature Walk’. There is no shortage of excursions, comfort or luxuries for the guest, but at its heart, Morgan´s Rock is a conversation project. It covers 1,800 hectares and has involved the planting of 1,5 million trees, the reintroduction of animal species, the protection of wildlife, and the initiation of sustainable agriculture. Golfers can head elsewhere.