San José, Costa Rica’s capital, can be, like any other big city, crowded, noisy, and full of traffic.

But just 20 minutes away, and I’ve escaped.

I’m at a small hotel and spa set on a former coffee farm in the hills above in the small village of Santa Barbara de Heredia. At 4,000 feet the temperature is perfect, in the mid-70s. The sky is blue, the surrounding vegetation a lush green.

From our spot on the terrace, we can see San Jose in the distance in the valley below. It’s a clear view of the national stadium, the tall buildings of downtown, and the sprawl of urban development.

But we’re worlds away up here. A center of coffee production going back more than a century, the area retains its rural roots. Cars share the road with riders on horseback and farmers taking cows to pasture. Coffee plantations still carpet the hillsides. It’s quiet and peaceful.

No wonder many expats call the hills of Heredia, the province just north of the metro area, home.

But Heredia is not alone.

The hills and mountains throughout the Central Valley, the inland region surrounding San Jose, are dotted with these small towns and tiny villages. Grecia, Atenas, San Ramon, Sarchi, and Puriscal are just a few.

Seventy percent of the population of the country lives in this region. But get outside the city center and you don’t feel crowded. There are plenty of undeveloped areas, with farm and pasture land, as well as homes and natural areas like forest and river valleys.

When you live in one of these Central Valley communities, you have a quiet country lifestyle, with plenty of homes with breathtaking mountain or valley views. But you also have convenience and the access to the cultural heart of the country.

San Jose and its suburbs are a short drive away on modern highway. There you’ll find the country’s best shopping, including North American style malls with brands you know from home, as well as imported foods you can’t get anywhere else. (I’m partial to prosciutto and Asian spicy red chili sauce myself.)

If you want to catch a movie in English, play a round on a world-class championship golf course, see a ballet or classical orchestra performance, or enjoy a jazz concert … you can do it in San Jose.

The country’s best hospitals and most medical specialists—in both the public and private healthcare systems—are here too.

Then at the end of the day you can return to your rural retreat. No wonder so many expats call the Central Valley home.

Article by  Jason Holland/International Living