Costa Rica

Costa Rica

Costa Rica, besides being known for its beaches, volcanoes, and wellness, could be a great location for your next corporate meeting or retreat. Hear about the best time to visit Costa Rica with Federico Gurdián, General Manager of Casa Chameleon Hotels, and learn how to take advantage of group-friendly outdoor activities with Chakiris Menafacio. Meanwhile, our hosts go deep into their top ten things to do in perhaps the most relaxing country in Central America, from hiking in the excitement-filled mountains, achieving temporary flight in the zip line, to immersing in the Costa Rican culture first-hand at local restaurants.

Andy McNeill and Todd Bludworth are travel and hospitality entrepreneurs and owners of the global meetings organization, American Meetings, Inc. From sourcing venues in Costa Rica, to corporate event management around the world, their team selects corporate event venues and meeting planners for a wide array of enterprise business clients, providing ideas for convention themes and strategies for running global meetings and events. Learn more at

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Costa Rica

Adventurous General Manager Federico Gurdián Shares Guest Experiences In Paradise And Celebrate The Pura Vida Lifestyle With Outdoor Enthusiast Chakiris Menafacio

Ticos and Ticas, the casual name for Costa Ricans, have the longevity mindset Pura Vida meaning pure life and they live it to the fullest. With volcanoes, rainforests and beaches, there’s no shortage of inspiring activity. Have an adventure on horseback, zip line, raft, rock climb or relax on a catamaran and sip on coffee or craft brew. We will be interviewing the General Manager of Casa Chameleon Hotel, Federico Gurdian. This villa hotel has been described as the gates of heaven. Get ready to put together a list of fun, outdoor activities with Chak Menafacio. Live out the simple life on this episode of Destination Everywhere, Costa Rica.

We’re bringing you to one of our favorite places in the Western Hemisphere, Costa Rica. We have been there lots of times. It is known for the Pura Vida lifestyle, meaning pure life. There’s so much to do. We’ve taken family trips down there. We’ve taken clients down there for fantastic incentive trips. We’ve got lots of great ideas for you. Todd, tell me about your experience there and what you’re looking forward to sharing with our audience. We ended up going down. We flew into San Jose. We took SANSA Airlines over to Quepos. We stayed at Manuel Antonio and that was my first trip. We spent quite a bit of time in San Jose. It was absolutely amazing. At the time, it was relatively untouched. It was great for a US traveler because I could get by with my very little Spanish. Most people spoke English that we dealt with, which was great. It was relatively inexpensive. I know there are a lot of resorts there now but it was an amazing trip. I’ve gone since then now that I’ve become a little more settled in my lifestyle and I can check out some of the nicer things. Some of the resorts there are second to none, gorgeous. The currency is the colón. It’s easy to get around. Everyone speaks English even though Spanish is the major language. Because of that, it’s easy to travel. The wild life that they have in Costa Rica, you can do the beaches but then you’re not very far. You’re then just up in the volcanoes and it’s some of the greenest and plushest tropical forest you’ve ever seen. The zip lining and the eco-adventure activities that you can do in Costa Rica are limitless. What’s great is they have the local guys, they call them Ticos. You can always find somebody to take you out on one of these excursions and do something. They are fearless fellows and ladies, everything from horseback riding to zip lining to rafting and rock climbing. You could always find these guides that will knock your socks off. They’ve all impressed me tremendously. It is a tropical climate and it has the Caribbean side and the Pacific side. I’ve been there in October when I was younger and I didn’t know October is the wettest season. You need to know the seasons when you go down to anywhere in Central America but Panama, with its rainforest in particular, it can be really wet. The driest months tend to be around December to March. Take that into account when you’re planning your trips unless you like lots and lots of rain. For those of you who might be considering taking a client down there or taking team members down there from your company, they have a new national conference, a convention center, which opened up in 2018. It’s 5 miles from the international airport. It is focused on promoting business and tourism in that type of climate where you can do outdoor activities. It’s beautiful. There’s a great lift coming from the East Coast or the West Coast. It’s right there in the middle. It’s easy to get to. It takes us less time to get to Costa Rica from South Florida than it does to LA or even Colorado. It’s such a quick trip. When you fly from Miami, you fly straight over Cuba, which is always neat to see. That’s pretty cool.

We are joined by our next guest from Guanacaste in Costa Rica. He is an outdoor and fitness enthusiast and he’s the CEO and Founder of Chakfitness. We’d like to welcome Chak Menafacio. How are you? Thank you for having me on the show. How did you get to where you are? What is it about Costa Rica that draws you in and draws you back? I am Costa Rican even though I wasn’t born here. I was born in Switzerland in Geneva. I lived most of my life here in Costa Rica. Most of my family are from here. I lived abroad for twenty years and I came back. I came back a couple of years ago because I missed this beautiful paradise. Starting with beaches, we have so much variety of fauna and flora and adventures. Anything that you want to do, we have it. We call it the New Zealand of Central America because we have so much stuff to do here. It’s a beautiful paradise. I came back and it reminded me of the beauty of that we have here, the Pura Vida lifestyle which is more relaxed, more calm, taking things one day at a time, not rushing, not going crazy with work and so forth. It’s a beautiful life here, very calm, outdoor adventures, and peaceful. Let’s define the Pura Vida lifestyle for our readers who may not know. You talked about a relaxed lifestyle. It’s also about health and wellness as well. [bctt tweet=”There’s no better place in Central America to get great coffee than Costa Rica.” username=””] Everybody here is very conscious about not just the environment but also what we eat. Everything is natural or organic. Almost everything is fresh from the moment you go to the farmer’s market to the little market on the next door, which they sell fruits and vegetables, everything is fresh. We have a very good lifestyle here, natural and everything. The main courses and the main plates here are based on vegetables, rice and beans. It’s a good lifestyle. It’s healthy. How do you pair up? How do you find the tourist consumer to provide your services to? It’s simple and easy because specifically where I am, it’s a very small town. It’s called Las Catalinas. It’s in Playa Danta, which is in Guanacaste. It’s a small beach but it provides all sorts of things. My experience here, which has been for the past year or two that I’ve been coming here is that everyone that comes here comes specifically with that in mind, adventure, doing trails. We have a huge mountain bike trail that was done by a world champion from Europe. We have paddleboard competitions. There are all sorts of tournaments and competitions for triathletes. It’s really big. I had the opportunity to establish myself here coming from the United States with all my experience in fitness and outdoor activities. It was a perfect fit. Most of the tourism here is geared towards that, adventure, outdoors, waterfalls, jumping, spelunking. I took my daughter to do one of the longest zip lining. They call it the Superman because it’s about 1,800 meters long. Where was that? This is in Diamante. I believe it’s one of the third ones and the largest in the world. You zip line from one tip of the mountain all the way to the other tip. It takes forever. You feel like you’re actually flying. It’s amazing. My daughter was static. She couldn’t even believe it. These are the things that as you’re zip lining, you’re overlooking the ocean. You’re on the mountain and you’re overlooking the ocean. Those are the things that you have to remind yourself like, “I live here. I’m experiencing this.” I would recommend anybody that is looking for a thrill or for an adventure. Even if they’re not going to zip line, you can still see the lookouts. It’s an amazing sight when you see a whole beach from the tip of the mountain and it’s right there. There are few places that I can remember that I’ve seen that. I’ve seen that in Hawaii, maybe in some other places in the United States but there are few ones that I’ve experienced, but here we have it everywhere. Let’s talk a little bit about your approach to fitness and how you work with individuals and groups. I would love to know how you do groups because that’s exciting from a fitness perspective. How do you do that? How do you blend in the Costa Rican lifestyle into your philosophy around health and wellness? Here in the programs that I’m implementing in the Las Catalinas in this area, it’s very simple and easy because everybody that is coming here, the tourists, residents, locals, everyone has already that mindset. They’re coming to exercise, hike, and do all different things. Our gym is an outdoor facility. We also have a small palapa where it’s covered but we can do group classes. A lot of the people here that come, they pay by day or they paid for the week. We have all sorts of memberships that they can do. It’s simple. Everyone is relaxed because the moment they come to Costa Rica, it’s almost like it’s injected in your system. You have to. Coming back for me after twenty years of living in the States, I had to remember that lifestyle. It’s almost like it’s forced because everybody’s relaxed, laid back and then you have to like, “I’m in Costa Rica now. I have to sit back, relax, not stress out, and not worry about things.” People take their time and it’s part of the lifestyle. That’s why everybody tells you, “Pura Vida.” That means relax. You hear it all the time when you’re going around town. Especially when you’re getting stressed out or something is not going your way. People just turn around and tells you, “Pura Vida.” You’re like, “Yeah.” Costa Rica has so much. You’ve got the mountains, beaches, volcanoes, rainforests. What part would you recommend to our readers where they want to go? Do you have a favorite spot? You’re in Guanacaste and that is a very special spot. When you take a vacation in the country, where do you go? It’s hard to narrow one because there are so many. I love going to waterfalls. That’s one of my favorite, and jumping from waterfalls. Do you have a favorite waterfall? There’s a waterfall in Rincon de la Vieja. It’s a volcano. It’s a beautiful site. It’s almost like a tunnel when you’re coming down, you have to go down around this huge hole like a cenote but it’s wider. It ends up in this beautiful, closed mountain and the waterfall is right there. You can actually go behind the waterfall. You can jump into the natural pool. It’s crystal clear. It’s amazing. It’s such an experience. We take it for granted sometimes because I’ve done it so many times. I forget that most people don’t have that at home. They don’t have it right next door.

DE 20 | Costa Rica

Costa Rica: Costa Ricans tend to focus more on physical and mental health than money.

What is a typical Costa Rican meal? Do you have a favorite spot that you like to go to close to where you are? Not fancy dining, just a space with good food and good atmosphere. There are several ones and one of my favorites, the typical Costa Rican meal is rice and beans. We call it Gallo Pinto. It’s like rice and beans, a little bit moist and a little bit of sauce. They put peccadillo, which is potatoes and a little bit of meat. You put eggs and everything. You have like a huge car bomb. In Costa Rica, that’s what they eat. It’s a heavy breakfast. One of my best favorite places to go is called Gracia. It’s in Mar Vista. A friend of mine is an amazing chef. The view there, you sit and you have an infinity pool. You get to see the whole ocean from there while you’re dining or having lunch. It’s really good. These are good friends of mine also. Besides the fact that they’re friends, the food is amazing. You can have a drink, you name it. It’s a good restaurant. You were born in Geneva. You lived in the United States. You lived in Costa Rica. You’re a world traveler. We ask all of our local connoisseurs our rapid-fire questions. We’d like to ask you them now, if that’s okay. You can give some tips to our readers. The first one is, have you ever completed anything on your personal bucket list? If so, what was it? I did. In 2020, I went to Chile. I went to El Calafate in Argentina. I crossed the border in about four hours to Chile to Torres del Paine, which is a huge national park there. There’s an eco-camp. It’s a very famous eco-camp. You experience everything. We did horseback riding, mountain biking. We went to the glaciers. We kayaked in the glaciers. It was a nice experience. I’m an adventure-seeker so I love this type of adventure. We also went to Perito Moreno, which is a huge glacier in Argentina. We walked on the glacier. That was one of my bucket lists. If you could live anywhere in the world for a year, where would it be? Costa Rica. That’s an easy one. When you’re packing for a trip, what is something you pack that may surprise our readers? This is why all my friends bug me. I pack a tube band to do exercise so I can put it anywhere in the hotel room or anything. I pack my light gear to work out after a day hiking or whatever, I do a little light work in the hotel. Not all hotels in the world have gyms. I always have to do my workout when I go traveling. Our last rapid-fire question, what is your most memorable experience in Costa Rica? There are so many but I’m going to say learning how to surf when I was fifteen years old, being on my own and sleeping in the sleeping bag on the sand on the beach in Tamarindo. That’s where I started learning how to surf. That was the first place I tried surfing as well. It’s very easy. It’s good for somebody that’s learning. It has good waves. I met Tom Curren at the time. He was a world champion surfing there. I didn’t even know who he was. He told me he was a surfer and I was like, “Great, let’s go surfing.” Later in life, I found out he was Tom Curren, which was huge. That’s a great example of Pura Vida. You just go with it. If our readers want to follow you on social media, how can they track you to know what you’re up to? [bctt tweet=”As a natural paradise itself, Costa Rica has been dubbed as the New Zealand of Central America.” username=””] They can look me up on Instagram. We have an Instagram account which is @Core_Chakfitness. Core is our gym here in Las Catalinas, Core Gym or Core by Chakfitness. Follow us there and check it out. Thank you so much, Chak. We appreciate you taking the time and sharing Costa Rica with us. We wish you all the best. Safe travels. Come by and visit. We’ll see you soon. That’s what I need right about now. Thanks, Chak.

Todd, are you ready to do our top ten bucket list ideas for Costa Rica? I am but this was hard to choose because the list could have gone on but we will get as many as we can in. Our first one and it’s amazing. We’ve been several times visiting the most active volcano in Costa Rica. It is Arenal. It’s been the most active volcano for many years. The last time it had a lava flow was in 2010. It’s sleeping. They say it can erupt at any time. There are many outdoor activities around there. There are some fantastic hotels like The Springs Costa Rica. There’s horseback riding, whitewater rafting, hiking, zip lining that we’re going to talk about. There’s so much to do. La Fortuna had some great restaurants, which is right at the base of the mountain in the town there. I would say about two and a half hours from San Jose. It probably depends. We did take an incentive group there once and in a bus, and it was nerve wracking but if you have a smaller vehicle. It’s two and a half hours unless the roads have improved since the last time I was there, which they always seem to be doing. It’s not that long. Todd, what do you have? One of ours and you can pass it if you’re going out to the volcano. It’s La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park & The Peace Lodge. It’s got five amazing waterfalls. It’s the largest animal sanctuary in Costa Rica. It’s one of the most popular nature tours. We stayed on that property and the rooms were amazing. There weren’t that many rooms. At the time, there were thirteen maybe. We took our kids and they have tons of hummingbirds. Our kids were holding up these little hummingbird cups and they would just come right up to you. They had an exhibit with frogs. It’s pitch-black in there. You’d go in. You’re seeing all these different types of frogs that are native to Costa Rica, birds, frogs and butterflies. It was something. It’s great for adults but the kids, ours were 4, 5, maybe even younger, they absolutely loved it. It’s a beautiful location but straight up to a national park. There are lots of hiking as well. My next one is immerse yourselves in one of the greatest exports that Costa Rica has, which is coffee. If you read the blog, you know I’m a coffee aficionado. I love it. There’s no better place in Central America to get great coffee. One of the things you can do is experience the coffee culture by going to the El Toledo Coffee Tours. It’s an organic coffee farm. It’s a family-owned farm. It focuses on growing with organic sustainability in mind and only using the natural resources of the land. Their philosophy is focusing on health than money. A great message as well, a beautiful location and a lot of fun to see how great Costa Rican coffee is made. Anywhere where there’s great volcanic soil can produce some strong and wonderful coffee.

DE 20 | Costa Rica

Costa Rica: Nicoya is home to more than 900 people who live over the age of 90, and they credit their longevity to the calcium-rich waters around the town.

Don’t ask for a Starbucks in Costa Rica. You might offend somebody. This next one is cool. It’s spend a night in an exclusive, one-of-a-kind suite at the 727 Fuselage Home. It’s a vintage 1965 Boeing 727 aircraft that’s been refurbished and placed in the jungle canopy. It offers a two-bedroom suite and it totally immerses you in nature. It’s a really different experience. You could sit on the terrace overlooking the trees. Some of the animals you might see while you’re there like sloths or monkeys. Costa Rica has so many animals and different types of species. You’re probably going to be amazed with some of the wildlife that you see if you stay there. The next thing I’m going to talk about is health and wellness tourism. In Costa Rica itself, there’s so much of it but there’s the pure life, Pura Vida which is a living concept that is in Costa Rica. The Costa Rican lifestyle is all about improving mental and physical health. Therefore, it’s very relaxing and there are a lot of great beneficial activities around that. There are forest baths where you can breathe in fresh forest air and barefoot earthing, which is barefoot walks and body wraps made in volcanic mud, coffee and chocolate to moisturize the skin. Costa Rica also has one of the blue zones. If you recall, a blue zone is an area where the longest, healthiest living humans live. That is in Nicoya and they’ve had over 900 people live over the age of 90, they think mainly because of the calcium-rich waters that are around the town. Definitely take that out and include that in your plan as you’re planning your trip. I have a cousin who went to an all-girls surf camp in Costa Rica. It was a whole wellness program and she had the best time. They learned to surf and then they did yoga and meditation. At the time, they had closed it, which can be very comforting at some level for girls who want to travel but they want to stay together. They had the most amazing time. They said the surf instructors were amazing, the meditation and then the scenery and wildlife. If you want to get some more traditional culture, almost Western-inspired, European-inspired, there’s an amazing theater that is in San Jose and it’s modeled after the Paris Opera House. It has breathtaking interiors. The theater’s main ceiling was named one of the top great ceilings around the world. If frescoes, paintings and architecture are your thing, definitely go by the National Theatre in San Jose. Now we’re going to go to the Pacific side and going deep sea fishing off Manuel Antonio. Because there’s no major fishing industry off the coast of Costa Rica, the fishing and the deep sea fishing is amazing. When I was there in my twenties, I was lucky enough to jump on a boat. You can walk straight up to the docks and jump on a boat for the day. I went out there and I caught a black marlin the size of a cow. They pulled it up to the side of the boat. We let it go. For a few minutes there, we were able to touch and experience it in its natural habitat. It was definitely a bucket list item for me. One of those things that I will never forget, it was absolutely incredible. Deep sea fishing, you can catch live tuna and they cut it on the boat for you. You can eat it and you can still feel it moving around in your mouth. It’s pretty incredible. The next one is what I should have been doing instead of surfing. There’s a great, little, hidden sanctuary beach called Playa Quesera. It is located also in the Nicoya Peninsula and as part of the Curu Wildlife Refuge. It’s an amazing, gorgeous spot. It’s picturesque. When you think of the beach, it has crystal blue waters. You can see the bottom when you’re in the ocean. You could see the ocean floor. You can rent kayaks, snorkels and enjoy a serene, secluded spot. It’s gorgeous. Finally, we have something that we did with clients and we brought them down to Costa Rica. We took them to the Limon Carnival. It’s a Caribbean annual carnival, usually in October. It spans over a week and they have famous chefs, dishes, singing, dancing, and just a lot of fun. If you want to experience a traditional Caribbean carnival, this one is for you. It’s a lot of fun and something you can do with the entire family. I want to add one more, Andy, if we could. When I talk about Costa Rica, every once in a while zip lining comes up especially if you’re talking about eco adventures. This is one we discovered when we were taking an incentive group there, and then we went back as leisure travelers. It’s the Sky Adventures Arenal Park. I’m typically not a very nervous person but this one had my knees shaking. You take a tram up and then these guides are zipping down then someone’s there to meet you but these are the longest, highest zip lines. I know there are probably longer ones and higher ones that I had ever seen. I remember when we took the incentive group to these zip lines, someone from the group had to go first and I was working. I was the one that had to go first. Every time I was petrified. You’re going so fast. It’s absolutely amazing if you can keep your eyes open, the views are spectacular. I definitely recommend it. The same group also does kayaking tours, they rent bikes and things like that. The zip lining is a recommended adventure. There are some great bucket list ideas as you’re planning your next trip and destination to Costa Rica.

Andy and I were passionate about meeting connections that changed lives. For many years, we have traveled our clients all over the globe supporting their business goals and helping them stand apart from hotel sourcing to audio-visual magic. We’ll make your corporate meeting or event second to none. Go to to learn more. American Meetings, AMI. Meeting, planning perfected.

With this edition in Costa Rica, we’ve got our next guest with a very special property. I’d like to welcome Federico Gurdian. He is the General Manager of the Casa Chameleon property in Las Catalinas. Welcome. How are you, Federico? Thank you. I’m doing great. I’m excited to be part of this show and looking forward to letting you know all about the property and giving you some insiders about Costa Rica too. What a beautiful property. If you have not seen this property, get online and see it. It has views like I’ve never seen, just absolutely stunning. [bctt tweet=”Most locals take Costa Rica’s beauty for granted, not realizing that most of its gems cannot be found anywhere else.” username=””] We should mention that there are two properties in Costa Rica, the Casa Chameleon properties include not only the one at Las Catalinas but also Mal Pais. They’re both in Guanacaste, right? Is Mal Pais a little further south? Catalinas is in Guanacaste and Mal Pais is located in the Province of Puntarenas. We are on the same peninsula. Let’s talk about this property because it’s relatively new and it has 21 villas with their own private plunge pools. That’s just something that everyone is going to want to do. I bet they’re extremely popular. They’re salt water as well. Tell us a little bit about those and the guest experience. The Las Catalinas properties are a very unique property in Costa Rica. You won’t find many of them like this since we’re perched in the hill but so close to the ocean. That’s not something people get very often. We decided to take advantage of that and build these beautiful villas that offered private plunge pools. All of them have astonishing ocean views. An added fact is that half of them have sunset views. You can enjoy year-round beautiful sunsets from the privacy of your terrace in your plunge pool with your couple, which makes it a perfect setting for a romantic escape or an anniversary celebration. You might not get them out of the villa. It’s actually one of the biggest challenges we have. The town doesn’t allow cars. What can they expect? Where would a guest fly into? How are they going to get to the property from the airport? My recommendation is to definitely land in the Liberia Airport. There are two international airports in Costa Rica, the San Jose one and the Liberia one. You have to land in Liberia because if not, it’s a long drive from San Jose. My recommendation is to stay in Liberia. We will then pick you up in our hotel car with our bilingual driver that knows a lot about the area. It’s a short drive. It’s just 45 minutes to the property, a very scenic drive. Once you get to the hotel, you won’t need a car for much. If you do need to go somewhere else, we have the hotel car available that can drive you to the location that you desire. Tell us about some of these unique experiences. I understand there’s a hanging bridge that goes across a volcano. I hope the volcano is not active. No. There are several volcanoes here in Costa Rica near the hotel, around an hour away is a volcano. It’s still active but the explosion it makes are vapor explosions, nothing like magma or anything. It’s surrounded by lush tropical rainforest. There you can find beautiful ranges, thermal waters, mud baths. How far is that from the hotel? That’s an hour and fifteen minutes away from the hotel. A quick drive and a great day excursion from the hotel.

DE 20 | Costa Rica

Costa Rica: Costa Ricans are more laid back than anyone else, taking one day at a time and not being crazy about work.

It’s a perfect half-day trip that you can take and enjoy. There’s some beautiful, very traditional Costa Rican restaurants that you can stop by, have lunch and get that cultural connection that our guests are so much seeking for. That’s something that I’ve found in our guests. They love to get to know the Costa Rican culture. It’s something that we have to portray here at the hotel. They get to experience it firsthand when they go visit these locations. Federico, are you finding that more guests that come to your property, are they looking for ecotourism? Are they looking to get outside? Are they looking for activities on the water whether it’s surfing, fishing, things like that? Whatever they’re looking for, does the hotel have access to set all of those up for your guests? Yes. We have total flexibility. Since we are a small property, our main goal is to cater to all and every need that our guests have. For example, it’s funny because since we’re an adults-only property, we get two segments of guests, the very young ones that are on their honeymoon, that are very active and seeking for adventure. We then have the older adults that are already with big kids and they’re coming more for the romanticism, anniversary celebrations, and those type of stuff. We cater to those two things. If you want to just lounge by the hotel and enjoy the day beds around the pool, we will give you a beautiful service. If you want to do hikes and things, you can do it without having to leave the property because the town of Las Catalinas is located on a very big property. It’s over 600 hectares. It’s full of mountain biking trails, hiking trails all surrounding the hotel. You don’t have to go anywhere. If you’re looking for hikes or a short adventure, we have mountain bikes here at the hotel. One of my hobbies is mountain biking. Once a week, we will take guests out mountain biking with me. That’s a good perk to your job. You get paid to go mountain biking. How awesome is that? Another thing you mentioned to us was this coffee tour. I’m a huge Costa Rican coffee fan as some of the best coffee in the world because of the volcanic organic matter there that makes it special. Tell us about this tour. Where do you take everybody? There’s a coffee tour. It’s around an hour and a half away in an area that is a little bit higher than us because coffee needs a certain height to be better. One of our private guides will take you there. You will be able to walk through the coffee plantation. They’ll take you through the whole process of how coffee is made. By the end of the tour, you’ll be enjoying a cup of warm coffee from that farm with some traditional Costa Rican pastries. It’s a learning experience. If you wish, you can buy some of their coffee to take back home or enjoy it there for yourself. It’s something beautiful, not very away from the hotel. For coffee lovers, that’s something I found unique. As a local, what is your favorite restaurant? Where do you like to get food? I’m a huge Italian food lover. Near the hotel, there is an Italian restaurant called La Forketta run by this nice Italian family that has been living for a long time in Costa Rica. They absolutely have the best ravioli with sea bass. It’s always fresh, homemade, and delicious. The pizza is amazing. You then have the ocean here if you like surfing. I love surfing. Do you have good waves right there? Thirty minutes away from the hotel, there is an area called Playa Grande and Tamarindo, which is great for surfing and learn how to surf. I live very close to that area. I try to surf at least 2 or 3 times a week. It keeps my mental health. It’s beautiful. If I’m not doing that in my time off, I am mountain biking the trails or spending time with the family. I love spending time with my family and Costa Rica is a place that makes that very easy because there are a lot of places that you can go without having to drive far away. We like to ask all of our guests our rapid-fire questions and what they are because our readers want to hear from world travelers like you, people who are in the industry and what it’s like. The first one is have you personally ever completed anything on your bucket list? Yes. I had the chance to visit Iceland and it was huge on my bucket list. I was there for two weeks. What was the most amazing thing there? Driving around Iceland. The island was amazing. Pointing out one single thing is so difficult because that place is filled with nature. We are huge nature lovers. We were driving like crazy around the island. We didn’t even stay very long in any hotel. We were on the road all the time, seeing all of these places, the scenery is mind-blowing. [bctt tweet=”Costa Rica doesn’t require tourists to drive a long way just to find a nice place to visit.” username=””] Going is a bucket list itself. I would be back in Iceland in a heartbeat. If you could ever live anywhere in the world for a year, where would it be? That was a difficult one to think about because Australia is one of the places I would love to be able to live in for a year. It’s a huge place where you can experience so much nature. I’m a huge nature lover. I’d say Australia would be perfect. I will be able to surf world-class waves and explore the wildlife there. If you could travel with someone infamous or famous, dead or alive, who would it be? Kelly Slater. He would definitely take you to Australia, wouldn’t he? I will be happy to show him around Costa Rica too. He’s been here several times but there are some places I will be happy to show him. We’ll have to #KellySlater on this and see if he gets the message. That would be a dream come true. Packing for a trip, what is something you pack that may surprise our readers? I always pack food like Costa Rican treats and chocolates. I always need them with me. It sounds weird but I’m very fond of some things that I eat here in Costa Rica. Even if it’s for a week, I try to take my favorite chocolates from here because I like having them at night. Costa Rica has great chocolate for our readers if you didn’t know that. Finally, what is your most personal, memorable experience in Costa Rica?

DE 20 | Costa Rica

Costa Rica: There are a lot of beautiful and traditional Costa Rican restaurants where tourists can stop by and get that cultural connection not found anywhere else.

There’s a waterfall called Tinamaste in the Southern Pacific of Costa Rica. You will hike for an hour and a half through the rainforest and then you’ll come up to this huge waterfall. What makes it so special is that right behind the waterfall there’s a cave. The family that owns that farm has set up beds, a kitchen and bathrooms. You will go and sleep in the cave behind the waterfall. Have you done that? Yes, I’ve done it twice. That’s definitely my most memorable experience. That’s a bucket list item. That’s a great one. Did you sleep overnight in the cave? Yes. You hike there in the morning. You arrive at the waterfall in midday. You will have lunch in the waterfall, dinner and breakfast. There is no electricity or anything in the cave. It’s all with candle light and they will fix your meals there. How loud is it? Is it loud? It’s loud but since it’s water falling, it’s soothing. It’s delicious to sleep. It’s very humid. It’s in Tinamaste, the Southern Pacific near Ballena. From here, it’s a long drive. It’s five hours. That’s definitely a bucket list item for sure. How incredible. Thanks for sharing that with us. That’s great. I’ll be happy to send you more information because it is something special. You did great on the rapid-fire questions and we appreciate your time and your beautiful hotel. Where can our readers find you on social media and your website? We have our Instagram, which is @CasaChameleonHotels. There you’ll be able to find us on Instagram, Facebook also, Casa Chameleon Hotels. Our website is You’ll be able to access all our properties and book there, and access some great specials that we have for booking online for our guests. Federico, thank you so much for your time. We greatly appreciate all the great ideas and explaining everything around the hotel, but also those great ideas you have far away. You gave us 5 or 6 fantastic suggestions. Thanks for joining us on the show. Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure meeting you. Let me know when you want to join me in one adventure here in Costa Rica. We certainly will.

Costa Rica is an amazing country. I’ve been there so many times. I always want to go back. We talked about the mountains, the beaches, hiking, surfing, Pura Vida. Probably the thing that I want to go back and do is the waterfalls just like Chak was saying. I’ve been to many and they are some of the best in the world. When you’re planning your trip, make sure that you look at all the great natural waterfalls that you can see. That’s my last great tip. Special thanks to our team here at Destination Everywhere. Make sure you subscribe, rate and review the show on your preferred podcast app or by going to Be sure to join us next time. Be safe out there.

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About Chak Menafacio

DE 20 | Costa RicaChak Menafacio is the CEO and founder of CHAKFitness, Costa Rica’s most unique, beachfront, outdoor gym located in Las Catalinas. He has been working as a fitness professional for over twenty years and is accredited by the NSCA, ACE, AFAA, and USA Gymnastics Association. He holds a license in sports massage therapy from the Florida College of Natural Health. Chak is ranked black belt of the first degree in Kung-Fu Shaolin. He was born in Geneva, Switzerland and was raised in Costa Rica where he started training in martial arts at the age of nine. He is truly an accomplished fitness professional. He has gained national exposure with featured articles in Self Magazine, Natural Awakenings, local publications, TV shows and fitness videos. He has performed at fitness conventions, competitions and exhibitions at more than one-hundred shows at national and international level.

About Federico Gurdián

DE 20 | Costa RicaFederico has been in the hospitality industry for over 12 years now and currently holds a BA in Hospitality and Human Resource Management from Glion Institute of Higher Education, Switzerland. During his time in the industry he had the opportunity to work for a big all-inclusive hotel in Riviera Maya, a big city hotel in Beijing, China and several boutique hotels in Costa Rica. Federico was born on April 13th, 1987 in San Jose, Costa Rica where he was raised. Both his parents are Costa Ricans as well as his brother. Federico’s biggest hobbies are surfing which he’s enjoyed for over 15 years now and more recently mountain biking has also become a hobby. He had the chance to be in charge of 2 hotel openings one of them being Casa Chameleon Las Catalinas and he could say that doing hotel openings is probably what he has enjoyed the most during his years of experience.

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Lake Como

Lake Como


Such is the magnificence of Lake Como that it has been the object of the rich and famous’ adoration since ancient Roman times and continues to be extremely popular today. If you’re amped about visiting quaint small towns and venerable historical sites, cycling, hiking, olive oil tasting or just enjoying the scenic lakeside view, then this destination is a must. In this episode, we are joined by Samy Ghachem, General Manager of Sereno Hotels, an award-winning group of hotels that took pains to integrate its contemporary edifice into the lake, the scenery, and the community. We also talk to Andrea Rotta and Francesco Ornaghi, owners of Larioland, the first amphibious car rental service in the whole of Europe. If you’re planning to go to Lake Como, you add Il Sereno for Northern Italian hospitality and the unique land-water experience that Larioland offers, at Lake Como.

Andy McNeill and Todd Bludworth are travel and hospitality entrepreneurs and owners of the global meetings organization, American Meetings, Inc. From sourcing meetings in Lake Como, to corporate event management around the world, their team selects corporate event venues and meeting planners for a wide array of enterprise business clients, providing ideas for convention themes and strategies for running global meetings and events. Learn more at

Watch the episode here:

Lake Como

Imagine a village with no streets, just cobblestone walkways and steps that lead you to a town of quaint shops and eateries, surrounded by terrace gardens spilling into the bluest lake you’ve ever seen. The top of travelers’ bucket list for years, Lake Como of Northern Italy offers old-world elegance in an upscale resort area sitting against the Alps. The mini-villages of Lake Como, which many visit by ferry or private boat, make this a fun and unique destination spot. The dramatic scenery of Italian architecture mixed with the Austrian hospitality make this area picturesque and perfect. Whether your mainstay or a stop while visiting the Alps of Milan, Lake Como is not to be missed. This episode, you will meet the General Manager, Samy Ghachem, of the new five-star contemporary masterpiece, Il Sereno Hotel. He’ll give us a scoop on what the celebrities do and the must-not-miss activities around the hotel. We’ll talk about the best time of the year to visit, some tips on where to buy the best local cuisine, and experiences not to be missed.

We are taking you to Northern Italy, to the beautiful region with Lake Como. It’s one of the most famous lakes in the world with lots of celebrities, wonderful things to do, and bucket list items galore. Todd, what is going to be your favorite thing to focus on now?

First, it’s important that we explain a little bit about the geography of Lake Como. This is one of those places since the Roman times, the aristocrats and the wealthy. I’ve always used Lake Como as a destination. When you think of Lake Como, think of an upside-down Y. The northern part is the bottom of the Y and then it splits it out into two branches. At the inside top of that Y is a town called Bellagio. The hotel in Vegas is named after Bellagio. The town they say has fewer people than the casino. It’s not a very big town, but it is a beautiful town.

Around the lake are many others. It’s about 53 or 56 square miles. There’s Como. There’s Lecco, which is down one of the branches. Bellagio up at the point, Tremezzo, Menaggio and Varenna. Menaggio and Varenna are close to Bellagio. Google an image of the map and you’ll see it. It also sits at the base of the Alps. The scenery is spectacular. You’ve got mountains and a lake. It’s the third biggest lake in Italy, but it is by far the deepest. It’s over 1,300 feet deep.

It’s one of the most popular. You’ll probably recognize it if you saw Ocean’s Twelve or Casino Royale from the James Bond series. It’s been in tons and tons of movies.

Don’t forget about Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. It was in there. John Legend filmed the video, All Of Me, there. It’s scenic. It’s gorgeous. It’s very difficult to get around the lake. You need destinations. You can do water taxis. There’s not a train that goes all the way around the lake. Water taxis are very expensive. You need to have a plan before you go.

People have been coming to Lake Como for a millennia. During the rise of the Roman Empire, the villa architecture that you see that so popular in Italy got its start here in this region. The individuals from Rome used to come down in summer here. Despite the sheer size of Lake Como, it only has one island that you can go to. The community and the experience, which is incredible. We’ve had a great time when we’ve gone is in these small towns and these communities that Todd mentioned. You do need to have a plan because it is a huge lake. There are many great and incredible things to do. We’re going to take you on some great bucket list with our guests we have now. It’s going to be a lot of fun. To get to Como, it’s about a twelve-hour flight directly from New York. That’s a good estimate of how long it’s going to take you to get there. Todd, how far is it from Milan?

From Milan, it’s about an hour and a half. It’s a little more than 50 miles. You could fly into Milan, eight hours from New York, two hours from London. There are options. Availability is good, but then you probably need to get a car.

We’re going to talk a little bit about the hotel that we’re going to visit now. It’s called Il Sereno, which is the newest hotel. We’re going to have the General Manager, Samy, from there. He’s going to talk about this new five-star contemporary property that won the 2019 Condé Nast Reader’s Choice Award. It’s an incredible venue. He’s got lots of great ideas about what to do. The hotel itself is a bucket list experience.

We have a very special guest joining us. We have the Managing Director of il Sereno Hotels. That is Samy Ghachem. Samy, welcome to the show. How are you?

I’m good. Thank you, Todd. I’m thrilled to be here.

You have some amazing properties. First, let’s talk about you. You’ve been in hospitality at some level for quite a long time. Give us a little bit about your history.

It’s more travel in tourism. My career started right out of university working for a French airline, Air France. I spent seventeen years there between sales and marketing. I took over and manage their Alliance Department. I did that for the better part of my career and got into hospitality years ago when I started as a General Manager for Le Sereno in St. Barths. In between the airline hospitality or the hotel job, for three years, I was also the Managing Director of FROSCH, a large travel management company in New York City. I’ve touched on various ends of it, but always staying within the industry.

You mentioned St. Barths. I know we’re in Lake Como. Tell us briefly about the St. Barths property. It underwent extensive renovations, did it not?

It did. Following Hurricane Irma, we rebuilt the entire property from the ground up. That was about a few years ago. Since then, it’s working at a new hotel. We relaunched it. That hotel has been around for several years. I came in a few years ago. It divided my time between St. Barths and Lake Como.

DE 6 | Lake Como

Lake Como: Bellagio is the Pearl of Lake Como. It should definitely be on your bucket list.


Are the properties similar in any way? I know that the one in Lake Como is contemporary. How about the one in St. Barths?

The one in St. Barths is timeless. It is designed by Christian Liaiger, who is more about understated elegance, understated luxury. Both of them are similar. All rooms are facing stunning views, facing the water. It’s the same in St. Barths. All the rooms are directed towards the ocean. All rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows. The one in St. Barths is more your French, Caribbean luxury relaxed feel. The one here in Lake Como is designed by Patricia Urquiola, also equally stunning with every single room facing the water with floor-to-ceiling windows.

Let’s start talking about this amazing property you have. The first new construction on Lake Como in 100 years we heard. It won the 2019 Condé Nast Traveler Reader’s Choice Award. What is that like being awarded something like that? What is the process that you have to go through? Is it a surprise? Do they tell you? I’m interested and I’m sure our readers would love to know how you got such a fantastic accolade.

It’s an indication of the hard work that the team has done because it is a surprise. You don’t take these things for granted. It’s a lot of work, on behalf of the marketing, but also the team that makes every guest happy here. They’ve worked very hard since the opening, which was a few years ago. They also worked hard in getting the word out. It’s one thing to build this property, but another thing to put it on the map and get the exposure that’s ultimately what’s been recognized. It’s a great achievement and it’s something every year we try to accomplish or keep getting the word out about this great property.

Let’s talk a little bit about some of the bucket list experiences on the property because not only Lake Como itself is a once in a lifetime destination for anyone, but your hotel itself is a bucket list destination. Meaning you can go there and have an experience of a lifetime. Tell us a little bit about some of the things you can do on property that is unique. Let’s start with the spa right here.

You’re in the restaurant. It’s one of the arches looking out over the restaurant, overlooking the spa. It’s a great view. It’s stunning and amazing. Anybody that does come must spend time out on the water. That’s an absolute must. Whether you’re going to take one of our custom-made Riva Jetto boats that are self-drive and all you need is a driver’s license to do that, or our Vaporina which comes with a captain or a skipper, or walk into the nearby village called Torno and jump on the local ferry for a few euros and venture North or South. Don’t leave without spending time on the water because it’s from the water that the beauty of Lake Como is built along the shores of the lake. All the villages, the stunning homes, restaurants are all at the water level. What’s special about the design of the hotel as well as all of that is the backdrop. You’ve got this beautiful view of the other side of the lake from the penthouse suite. You could see these small little villages on the other side of the lake.

I want to touch on these Riva boats. You’ve got to go to their website and check them out. They’re beautiful wood boats, the two self-driving ones you mentioned. The other one that you can get the skipper for, the captain, it reminds me of a presidential boat. The inside is stunning. It’s covered if you don’t want the sun. It’s a great unique experience to be able to get into one of those and go check out the lake. Are there lots of restaurants and places you can access by boat easily from your property?

There’s no shortage of them, up and down the lake. There’s a number of them. Whether it’s with one of our boats or with a water taxi, there are great restaurants across the lake. People will often go from here up to Bellagio or down to Como for lunch or for dinner by boat. A lot of people also come to our own restaurant and arrived by boat or be dropped off by a water taxi.

Let’s talk a little bit about your restaurant because it’s Michelin rated.

We got our first and only Michelin star after several months of operating. Chef Raffaele Lenzi is our chef that did this. He has an amazing team that delivers day in and day out. We’ve got a number of great-tasting menus, 6, 7, 8-course tasting menus. We’ve got an all-day pool menu, a bistro menu. Whether you want your spaghetti Bolognese or your tasting gourmet-style menu, it’s all there. The best part is the entire hotel, it’s a relaxed atmosphere. While you’re enjoying Michelin dining, you don’t have to get all dressed up. You can come down in your jeans if you want so to speak.

I always recommend it to people, see if you can meet the chef because chefs are creative, fun people for the most part. Going to a Michelin-rated restaurant and then getting to speak to the chef if it’s possible, is always a great experience. You have a sister property on the lake itself. It’s a villa that was built in 1573 that’s been refurbished to its former glory. Tell us a little bit about that.

It’s got a great story to it. The Count of Anguissola had once killed the son or the brother of the pope at the time, and he needed to build a place to come and hide. He built the Villa Pliniana and hung out there for the next twenty years. The pope never found him. It’s in a corner elbow of the lake where he had great visibility down and up the lake. Behind him is a full mountain. The entire estate spreads across 18 acres. It’s got 2 or 3 waterfalls, a helicopter landing pad, gardens, spa, ballrooms, billiard room, etc. It’s a stunning property, which is available now for the first time in 500 years to rent as a place to lodge.

Is it something that you have to take as a whole or do you rent sleeping rooms in the villa?

You would take it as a whole. It comes with eighteen bedrooms. We’ve had guests that have used 2 or 3 bedrooms at a time, and a guest that have used all eighteen bedrooms. We’d only rent it to one guest at a time. Whether they come again with a small family, a large group, a group of friends.

How far is it from your property?

It’s about 900 meters away. It’s a three-minute boat ride, a 2 or 3-minute car ride or a walk. It’s up the lake from here.

I have a question because this property, the architecture is contemporary. How was that received on Lake Como? When people go to Italy, they have this vision of the old Italian architecture and then to go and see a brand-new property on Lake Como. Does it turn heads? Are people like, “Where did that come from?” How did you get that passed? Did you have obstacles in creating such a new space there?

First of all, our owners, the Contreras family did not want to create a faux-historic Italian structure. Instead, they decided to work with a very highly regarded and well-respected designer even here in Italy, Patricia Urquiola. What’s special about this property or this structure here is if you do get on a boat and you’ve ventured to 300 yards out into the lake and turn around, the hotel almost camouflages itself into the mountain. Because of the materials, the wood, we’ve got a vertical wall garden by Patrick Blanc. The vegetation, the wood, and the stone perfectly blend itself. You’ve got to look hard to see where the property ends and starts because it does fit so perfectly into the mountain.

The other thing is it doesn’t come and impose itself on the lake. It kowtows itself to the lake because every single room faces water, but every single room including the lobby is floor-to-ceiling windows. It comes with respecting the lake and it’s all about the lake. One of the best things to do while here in addition to spending time in the water in a boat is enjoying a cocktail, a tea or a coffee in the lobby and taking in the lake view. It’s a show in itself.

Is the lobby open air a lot of the year?

On a day like this day, it is. All the windows do open up weather permitting, great air circulation. It’s an open-air lobby when weather permits.

We talked about some bucket list items. You must have guests coming from all over the world. Lake Como, I’m hearing about it more possibly that it’s a destination for the rich and famous. It’s got this elite status that people want to go. If not, to possibly rubbed shoulders with somebody they’ve seen in a movie. The atmosphere itself is over the top. As a general manager, you have a guest and it’s a special occasion, maybe a 50th anniversary or something along those lines. Coming from the business that Andy and I come in, you get these requests sometimes. You’re like, “I don’t know if we can make that happen, but let’s see if we can do it.” Can you think of anything off the top of your head that someone’s come to you that seems a little outrageous, but you’re like, “We can make this happen for this guest?”

We do have a lot of interesting guests here almost every day. There’s no shortage of that. I remember two unique requests. One was a well-known guest whose security team had asked me to somehow play along with them in explaining that it was too dangerous to swim in the lake. They never took that into account in the three days prior to all the preparation. I sat there saying, “I can’t exactly say we’ve got shark or piranha ruled out. How do I explain that it’s too dangerous to jump off the Jetty and swim in the lake?” That was a funny request. Another interesting request was an equally VIP guest, they had come to me and asked if I could assist in getting them to close down the town of Como for a special part of their 4 or 5-day visit. The message was clear, whatever it would take. I engaged or decided to try my best and venture into it. Those were two requests that I do remember that I won’t forget.

We’ll leave it to the reader’s imagination, the names of those VIPs. I love that you didn’t say no. That’s great.

It’s never no. We’ll try everything.

Thank you for sharing your hotel with us. Samy, we’re going to move into our rapid-fire questions. You’re a world traveler. You’ve been all over. You have been to 130 countries. That’s what I read at one point or maybe more. We like to give our readers and our followers on social media tips from people like you who are world travelers and do it right. We’re going to give you these four questions and have your best answers. The first one is have you ever completed anything on your personal bucket list? If so, what was it?

My dream was always to be an expat. Having taken my first assignment abroad in St. Barths and then now living in Lake Como, half there, half here. I did okay on that.

I don’t think we mentioned you’re a son of Chicago. You’re from Chicago and New York.

Chicago but I identified more like a New Yorker. I’ve been to New York City for many years. My dream was always to work abroad. I ended up in two beautiful destinations and that was on my list.

You’re already living in two amazing places, but if you could live anywhere else in the world for a year, where would it be?

DE 6 | Lake Como

Il Sereno may be contemporary in style, but fits so perfectly into its scenery and does not impose itself on the lake.


It has always been and would always be Japan. It’s always been a dream of mine to live in Japan for a year. It’s a culture that intrigues me. The food I love, the culture, the people. It’s a culture and country I know so little about that I would love to learn more about and experience it firsthand for a year. It would be Japan.

A lot of people don’t know this and for our readers’ bucket list item, Japan is a foliage rival of the Northeast United States and it’s spectacular. It’s one of the best trips I ever took. If you ever are there in the fall, you will be pleasantly surprised. When you’re packing for a trip, what is something you pack that might surprise our readers?

I seem to pack everything in addition to the usual portable batteries because I hate when my cell phone runs out. One thing that I have consistently taken for the past few years is a very strong flashlight, which has served many purposes. I’m into flashlights. There’s a brand I like that’s SureFire. You can check it out on the internet. I always buy the strongest SureFire 1,000 Lumen flashlight, which has done everything from come in handy. Security-wise, it’s been very helpful in some of the remote countries around the world. It’s probably my flashlight.

What is your most memorable experience at Lake Como since you’ve been there? That’s our final question.

It’s probably the opening day. We opened to a very high-profile wedding with a guest list of 50 guests, also all very high-profile VIP individuals. The construction of the hotel finished as the guests were coming in. It was the entire day of walking guests to rooms or guests from the room, whatever calling and saying, “Does this room come with a TV?” realizing maybe we forgot to put the TV on that wall to some of the funniest things. I have to say that the actual guests could not have been more pleasant and enjoyed or were able to laugh at some of the funniest of experiences. Opening a hotel that you finished building it and you open to a wedding was unforgettable.

My last personal question is you’re an expat living in Lake Como. You’ve been there for several years now. I’m sure you’ve eaten a lot of great Italian meals there, at least one of my favorite places I’ve been many times. What is your go-to favorite must-have Italian meal in Lake Como that you can tell our readers about?

I love the food here. There are times I’ve had my fair share of carbs. Sometimes I’m pizza and pasta out. Here in Como, rather than any particular cuisine or restaurant, I have my go-to place for a fabulous tagliolini with fungi mushroom and truffle, or I go to a favorite restaurant where the pizza crust is black from squid ink. I’ve even found an Umbrian restaurant that has a hamburger that I would put in the top three hamburgers I’ve had in my life, which I would not have expected. There are some great dining options throughout the lake. I’d probably say my favorite dish of 2020 is the pistachio spaghetti right here at Il Sereno. It’s a league of its own.

Samy, I have a question more about the activities outside of the property and the actual water activities. What’s something that you could recommend that you being a local now, that you’re not going to find it in a brochure? What is someplace you could say you’ve got to do this?

Aside from driving to the Loro Piana factory store in 2020, I’ve had a little more time to explore. It’s hiking. You can go to the top of these mountains. You don’t think to because you’re always focused on what’s at the water level and seeing it from the water. Some of the hikes I’ve done in the past few weeks reach the tops of these mountain tops and seeing a stunning lake from such high elevation is quite an experience.

Does your concierge have trail maps of some of those trails where if someone wants to go hiking, they can go check it out?

There are plenty of trail maps and hiking escorts. There are some smartphone apps that also identify these hikes all over. I would tell any guests to pack a pair of hiking shoes and put that on your list when visiting the lake.

Samy, I know you’re a busy guy. You’re managing two hotels. Thank you for being our guest. We greatly appreciate it. I know our followers and our subscribers will love learning about your hotel. If you want to learn more, go to or on Instagram, @IlSereno and find out about this contemporary property at Lake Como. It is a bucket-list must especially if you’re doing a big celebrity wedding. Samy, thank you for your time. We greatly appreciate it. Hopefully, we’ll see you soon.

Andy, Todd, thank you both. It’s been great talking. I look forward to welcoming you guys in the lake someday.

We’re looking forward to it. Thank you, Samy.

At AMI, we are passionate about meeting connections that change lives. For over twenty years, we have traveled our clients all over the globe supporting their business goals and helping them stand apart from hotel sourcing to audio/visual magic. We’ll help make your corporate meetings or events second to none. Go to to learn more. American Meetings, AMI, meeting and planning perfected.

[bctt tweet=”If you’re going to Lake Como, don’t leave without spending time on the water. The beauty of the place is built at water level.” via=”no”]

I want to thank, Samy. He is one of those people that has a passion for travel. I’d love to hearing what they said about the hotel becoming a part of the scenery instead of becoming a modern piece of architecture sitting at the foot of the hills. The blending thing is amazing. If you’re ever in Lake Como, please look for Samy and go check out the property. It sounds gorgeous.

We’re going to move into our bucket list items for Lake Como. We’ve got some great ideas for you and a nice surprise. One more interview for you about one of the bucket list items. Here we go.

We’ve got the lake. We’ve got beautiful scenery, hiking and mountain biking. There are private and public gardens in many of the villas around the lake. We’re going to talk about one and that’s Villa del Balbianello. It’s a garden and a villa, but you can’t stay there. It’s not a rentable property. It is one of the most well-known villas on Lake Como. This is a spot that was the set for Star Wars and James Bond film.

It’s where Queen Amidala and Anakin got married.

They were running in that field and it was beautiful. A lot of people think that’s all CGI. That is Lake Como. It’s a gorgeous spot for weddings and events.

It’s a bucket list day trip. You’ve got to go if you go to Lake Como. Go there for sure.

They have a music festival every year in mid-July. We saw a video and a picture, a live image of what Lake Como looks like. It was stunning and the weather was perfect. July is probably spot on with that. It’s a music festival and you’ll hear a lot of classical music. It’s gorgeous. It is the LacMus Music Festival. It’s international and there are lots of participation. You’ll want to add that to your list if you’re there in July. Google it and get tickets early.

Our next bucket list item is to go to the pearl of Lake Como, which is the town of Bellagio. Don’t get it mixed up with the one in Vegas. This one is quaint, beautiful and very crowded in the summertime. If you go on the off-season, it’s even better. It has great villa architecture. It has beautiful gardens. The villa is one that you want to see. It’s an absolute great place for an incentive trip. We highly recommend it.

When you think of Italy, you think of a couple of different things. In terms of food, you think of pasta. There’s olive oil. Olive oil is one of the gifts that Italy gives to the world. There’s a very famous olive oil, it’s the Vanini Brothers. You can go to their oil mill and it dates back to the 1850s. You can do tastings and purchase olive oil. We recommend that you do that if you do like olive oils. If you cook, salads, you can use it in so many things. It’s good for you too, but the taste is amazing. Be sure to do that. Andy, what’s next?

We got the Como Cathedral in Como. It was built in 1836 and has a lot of world-renowned art in it. If you’re an art enthusiast, you definitely want to go. It has a beautiful history of the town as well as the gorgeous architecture of an Italian cathedral. It is the Como Cathedral in the City of Como. That is on my bucket list. I want to go see that.

This next item, I’ve done it at a couple of different places. It’s so much fun, but there are a lot of family-owned restaurants around the lake. A lot of them offer culinary experiences. You can go and take a class with one of the chefs and learn how to make some great things. I’m thinking pasta, but there’s so much more that you can learn. I recommend doing a little bit of research and finding a place where you can take one of these intimate cooking classes, maybe with you or a small group.

It’s a great thing to do on a misty or rainy day. Talk to your concierge, but it’s a thing that can be a memorable experience for your group when you take them there. The next one to explore Castello di Vezio. It’s a medieval fortress nestled within an olive grove in the town of Varenna. This what blew me away, which is a stunning place to go. It’s a place that you get to meander and enjoy the history as well as a beautiful setting in this olive grove. That is again in the city of Varenna. Put that on your list. There are all these little towns all around Lake Como. You can hop over the course of the day to a few to see all these historical sites.

We have two gentlemen that are going to be joining us. They’ve started a company on Lake Como a few years ago. It’s a bucket list item and there is only one on the entire lake. You’re going to want to know what they want to say. If you ever visit Lake Como, you have to contact them and make it happen.

We have a great surprise for you. Talking about a bucket list item, can you imagine being on Lake Como and doing the amphibious car, driving a car into the water and then experiencing Lake Como from an automobile in the water? That’s what we’re going to talk about with the Founders of Larioland, Francesco and Andrea. Thanks for joining us.

Thank you. It’s a pleasure.

DE 6 | Lake Como

Lake Como: There is no shortage of VIPs and interesting guests in Il Sereno at any given day.


We’re all about unique bucket list experiences for our subscribers and our followers. You guys certainly have one. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about the history of your company and exactly what an amphibious car is and what the experience can be?

I can start and Francesco can also continue the story. Everything started at the end of 2018 with this idea to make an amphibious car. Why this? It’s because we know we live in an amazing area. Como Lake is nice. It’s beautiful. Amphibious is a fantastic and unique way to see this lake. We wanted to start this company and to show to all the world this amazing area in a unique way.

What type of car is it?

The car is an Amphicar. It’s a German car made in the older ‘60s and originally was made for US business. The Amphicar is the first and only ever car built-in factory as an amphibious. The car is amphibious. It’s able to ride the streets and also dive into the water.

You didn’t retrofit the car. The car was designed to be an amphibious vehicle?

It is. The car is amphibious with rear wheels driving and also with true propellers steering the rear to move in the water.

Can a person drive the car themselves, someone that rents the car from you guys?

It’s possible. The nice experience is that you try the machine and you try this machine on your own. It means you can drive the car. You can learn how to drive it and you test it. That’s the most amazing part. People get scared. They are at the steering wheel going into the water. This is the most amazing part of the tour.

Is it easy to drive once you get it in the water? Is it like driving a car?

It is easier to drive it in the water than on the road. It’s simple. You only have to steer and push the throttle. It’s fun. Another part of the splash-in is it’s unique. There are a lot of people who are watching the view and taking photos. You can almost feel like a VIP and also like James Bond when he drives out of the water.

I googled it and a lot of pictures came up with your vehicle, which was great. It must be a popular site on the lake. How many people can go in the car at one time?

The car can fit four people maximum. An instructor of Larioland is always on board to teach how to drive, but also to check that everything is going well because still you are in the deepest lake of Europe. It’s better to know what people are doing. It’s up to three people at the same time.

Anybody that might be a little scared, what happens if a boat goes fast by you? Does anything happen? Does it go like this and go over the wave?

It just moves on the waves. Nothing worse can happen.

It’s doesn’t go fast, so you are safe.

[bctt tweet=”Definitely put hike to the top of Lake Como’s mountains. Viewing the stunning lake from such elevations is breathtaking.” via=”no”]

Are there any other amphibious vehicles like in the States we have Duck Tours, which are the boats that go in. Are you the only amphibious vehicle on the lake?

Yes, we are. We are also the first in Europe that does that. In Europe, there are amphibious buses that you cannot take for a city site, but with Larioland, you can drive it. It’s an important difference. You can experience something for the few people because it’s small groups, as told by Andrea only a few people can come in. It’s personal also.

How fast does it go?

It drives at 70 miles per hour on the street and 7 miles per hour in the water. This is why the name of the car is Amphicar 770.

It’s been very popular. A lot of people are doing it.

We are because when we started this activity, all the people were taking videos and so on. We went to all the newspapers and so everybody knows us now at the lake.

What is the most memorable thing? Is it the driving in? Is that the most memorable part of it or what do people enjoy about the experience?

They can enjoy this machine. The transition from land to water is the most iconic part of the tour and the experience. When you are in the water, you are a boat. When you are on the road, you are a car. At that moment, you are both. It’s fun.

Children are allowed as passengers, correct?


Do you have other plans or do you have any plans to expand and add to your vehicle fleet? Whether it be 2 or 3 in the future or are you going to stay with one right now?

The plan is to stay with the one because of the virus. Unfortunately, we’ve been affected by it just like the world. We have this issue in the future, why not? Why don’t we extend to 2 or 3 vehicles or to another lake? We also have in mind to make an electric amphibious car, to make it our project because we also mechanical engineers. We like to modify stuff and create something new, but this requires money. Now it’s a bit difficult, so we’ll see in the future.

It’s a fantastic bucket list thing for things to do when they go to Lake Como. Where should our guests or our followers go to on the internet to find your car and how they can rent it?

You can find us on Instagram. You can look for @Larioland and on Facebook too. You can also surf our website,

As locals, as people who are from Lake Como and you guys have a social life, where do you like to go? Do you have a favorite restaurant somewhere on the lake that you like to go and hang out and have some good food and drinks?

DE 6 | Lake Como

Lake Como: Larioland is the first ever amphibious car rental service in the whole of Europe – a unique way to experience of the beauty of Lake Como from both land and water.


There are many amazing restaurants on the lake. We also have our own fish around the lake. It’s quite amazing. We have a partner restaurant also that is for our longer tours that is called Sottovento in Lierna.

That restaurant you mentioned is that in the town of Como or is that in one of the other surrounding areas?

The restaurant is in a town called Lierna. It’s on the Lecco side because Como Lake is divided into parts. There are two branches. The right branch is the area of Lecco where both myself and Francesco are from. It’s even more natural than the Como area. Como is more touristic and Larioland is a nice experience because you can test and you can see both of these areas that are quite different, even if we are both on the same lake.

When you’re not on the lake, what do you guys enjoy doing? I heard hiking is quite big around the lake.

We do a lot of hikes. Andrea and I also ride a mountain bike. We enjoy to go downhill from our mountains. The greatest mountain is Monte Barro because it’s a natural area and a natural park. From the top of Monte Barro, even if it is not so high, you can see a lot of land around it, a lot of lakes. You can see Resegone, Grigna, Grignetta, all the mountains that are famous. You can hike them. You can enjoy it because from the top you can see sometimes even Como and Milan.

If you’re not traveling on a bike, are there places that you can rent a mountain bike with access to the trails?

There are a lot of shops in Lecco and also in towns around Lecco and also on the Como side, there are a lot of shops where you can rent a bike and also eBike to go exploring.

I hadn’t heard about mountain biking there, Todd. That’s a fantastic thing to do.

It’s starting to sound a little more like the Northeast US up in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. A lot of mountains, hiking and mountain biking. Another question, you guys have done a lot. I read that, Andrea, you’ve traveled probably a little bit more than Francesco. Do you guys have a bucket list adventure that you personally want to go on, each of you, something that you haven’t done yet that you’re looking forward to make it happen?

I traveled to a lot of places in the world, but I miss many areas. For example, South America is a good area where I would like to go because of mountain biking. There are amazing mountains. I prefer warmer areas than cold areas.

Francesco, what about you?

I like the cold too. I also like hotter area too, but I also like colder. I love Africa. I’ve been in Kenya. I want to go back. I’ve also never been to Canada. I could go there if I can choose.

It sounds like you guys are extreme travelers, which you guys go more on the adventure side if that sounds right. Biking, hiking, and more of the outdoor types.

We love extreme travels, extreme sports. We play also Alpine ski, powder ski, snowboard and kite surf here on Como Lake as well. We used to play motocross in the past. We love adventure.

This side also pushes us to start as an entrepreneur with Larioland. Our motto is to explore the unseen. You also have to be prepared to explore and adventure. We want our customers to feel and enjoy Como Lake as we do.

[bctt tweet=”The transition from land to water is an iconic part of the Lake Como experience that only Larioland can offer.” via=”no”]

We always be sure to remind our readers that when they do travel, they are guests in your home. We hope they respect the lake and the land around it when they do visit. Thank you for joining us. We wish you all the best of luck. We can’t wait to get out there and visit Larioland and take a ride on your amphibious vehicle.

Thanks for your time. Readers, if you’re interested in running an amphibious vehicle as a bucket list item, go to or Instagram @Larioland. Thanks for your time. Have a great day.

Thank you.

Thank you very much.

What a great idea, what two great guys. If you get to Lake Como, what a bucket list experience to try is this amphibious car. You’ve got to do it. They seemed two people that could show you around the city as well. They’ll give you some great mountain biking and hiking examples as well.

That was Andrea and Francesco, their website is Reach out to them. As Andy said, if the car is booked, say, “Where’s a good mountain biking trail or give me a place to go get a bike rental?” I’m sure these guys know a lot about the area. It’s always best to get it from the locals. Reach out to them. I’m going to add them to my Facebook friends.

My bucket list, everything that we heard is Villa Pliniana. That would be a once in a lifetime experience to rent that out with a group of friends or go for the day. It would be incredible. That is the private villa that’s owned by Il Sereno. I highly recommend that.

That’s one of mine. I do have a birthday coming up that is special. I’ve got eighteen rooms to fill. I’m thinking of two guests per room, maybe a couple of pull-outs. I can do 40 people on my birthday. I don’t need a car because I could take a helicopter ride near the airport. That’s very convenient for me. I love that suite that Samy was in at the Il Sereno. The views alone are gorgeous. I’d love to go out into the town. I’d love to find a great authentic Italian restaurant and learn to make pasta. I’ve always said I’ve never made pasta. I’ve always bought it. It probably is insulting to many people in Italy. I love to learn how to make different types of pasta, run it through the pasta maker and then hang it out, learn to prepare a great meal.

We covered exploring Como, Bellagio and Varrena with activities. Each one of those small towns is great.

I want to mention something also. You’ll see a lot of boats but there are a few spots for swimming on Lake Como. It’s not something that you’re going to see people. In the areas around the villages, you’re not going to see a lot of people swimming. There are designated swimming spots, just be aware of that. We’re the guests, respect the rules. It’s heavy nature in this area. It’s gorgeous just looking at the scenery and the water. The locals there might appreciate everybody keeping it as clean as possible.

Another one that I would want to try is olive oil tasting in the town of Lenno. We talked a little bit about that experience. That could be a great day trip from any of these small towns. We highly recommend that.

If you take one of those ships out, that’s 1,300-feet deep, they do have sightseeing tours. There is an infrastructure of boats to go from town to town. If you can afford cell phones, I would watch out with the selfies taking them from the boat. If it goes over, you’re never going to see that thing again.

Speaking of boats, Il Sereno has got those Riva wood custom-crafted boats. That’s something you need to do. You can either do a self-driving one or they have a captain that will take you around so you can enjoy some drinks along the way. That’s on my bucket list. I’d want to do that.

Of the two, I like being by myself. I know you can learn to drive the amphibious car. You can drive the boats, but to see the other boat that they have, it is so classic and cool. If you don’t mind the captain being with you at a great time, this thing is cool. You’ve got to check it out.

Check it out on the Il Sereno website. It’s one of those once in a lifetime experience.

They’re made in Italy. They’re handcrafted wood. It’s gorgeous.

We like to take a shout-out to the Lake Como Tourism for helping us put together this episode. If you’re headed to the area, make sure you check out They will bring you some great ideas. They’ve brought us some great ideas. Thank you, guys. We greatly appreciate it.

Thanks, Samy, Andrea and Francesco.

We had a lot of fun showing you Lake Como. We’ll see you in the next episode.

Important Links:

About Samy Ghachem

Samy Ghachem is the Managing Director for Sereno Hotels. Origninally from Chicago, Samy moved out east for boarding school and university. He lived in NYC for 15 plus years until until he moved to St. Barths and Lake Como. With over 25 years of work experience in the luxury travel industry, Samy has worked for Air France for 16 years,and then managed a large Travel Management company for 3 years. He is a major travel addict having visited over 130 countries.

About Larioland

Explore Como Lake from a unique point of view – land and water.

Drive an amphibious vehicle to discover the territory of Lecco, a fantastic area with mountains and lake.

You have now the opportunity to feel new emotions thanks to Amphicar 770, a rare car born in Germany during ’60s.

The Company was born from the love of Andrea Rotta and Francesco Ornaghi for the Lario area.

Larioland is an innovative company, the first in Europe to rent amphibious cars; this came from the wish to promote a wild and relaxing environment, combined with a strong passion for cars.


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