“When you change an unchangeable you make something very powerful. The unchangeable in hotels is the standard ritual; guests arrive in the lobby, go to their room, every room is the same. If people get into the protocol they default to their normal routine behavior. If you change the protocol, you change the behavior.” Guy Mijola, the owner of Casa La Nuit tells me over homemade bread spread with local honey.
Just an hour northwest of Bogota, in one of Colombia’s less-frequented coffee regions, a small collection of thatched huts discreetly line the forested mountainside. A few years ago, Mijola abandoned his career in marketing and purchased this plot of land in what he describes as, “the middle of nowhere”, with the intention to create a refuge for people to escape the fast pace of Bogota. Four guest cabins were built, with high ceilings and open screens in place of windows, to create the sensation of sleeping outdoors, all while maintaining the comforts of a luxury hotel stay. Casa La Nuit is in many ways a classic eco-property; buildings are organically integrated into the landscape and built with natural materials, the waste disposal system has zero impact, and the garden mixes decorative flora with endemic plants and agro-crops to use for cooking. But unlike most eco-hotels, connecting with nature is not the main objective of a stay at Casa La Nuit. The ultimate goal is rest, and nature is simply a tool guests use to find it.
“We are living in a society where doing nothing is associated with not being productive. People are not comfortable being in nature for three to four days doing ‘nothing’. But every person has moments when they need rest,” says Mijola. He envisions Casa La Nuit as a “School of Rest”, where, rather than being taught dogmatically how to connect with their surroundings, guests learn organically, by gradually relaxing and turning inward. Tired of the traditional hotel model, Mijola, with his partner Luz Beatriz Velez, intentionally run Casa La Nuit more like a bed and breakfast, believing that visitors will find rest if they feel at home. “When the environment is impersonal, people don’t have as much respect for how they treat their surroundings. Here people are meant to feel that everything has intention and care behind it,” says Mijola. As a result, rustic details carry a personal sentiment, such as the cushions made by Velez’s 81-year-old mother, without sacrificing the luxurious comforts that guests need to unwind.
While the hotel design helps create the cozy atmosphere necessary for relaxation, it is mainly through Mijola and Velez’s approach towards visitors that true rest is found. “We are natural and honest with them,” says Mijola. “In Colombia, it is a very classist society, but here the classes dissolve.” While a typical hotel sets the precedent of the guest being above the service, here, everyone is considered equal. Mijola and Velez genuinely want to learn more about their guests and they find that, once relaxed, they are eager to share. “Rest transforms, even the most uptight, people,” Mijola tells me. “This is wonderful, when you break something. More than the connection with the nature, people become more themselves. With the lack of protocols, they realize they don’t have to show something.”
Casa La Nuit proves that indulgent rest can be found in the middle of nowhere, without simply transplanting the impersonal design and standardized protocols of urban life into the countryside. Mijola believes part of the key to finding that rest is preventing decision fatigue, which is why he has chosen not to have a restaurant menu or activities list. “When you don’t have to choose, it’s like home,” Mijola explains. Once guests learn to accept what is offered as it is, they are freed from their routine preferences and become more open-minded. Similarly, in a country where sharing is not the norm, the communal dining table forces people to step outside their comfort zone and engage with others. It is through this gentle approach in which visitors are liberated from the stress of having to make decisions and freed from their usual patterns of behavior, that Mijola and Velez create an opening for guests to discover themselves.
By making travelers feel at home, they gain an awareness of time, as opposed to the sense of temporality that imbues the classic hotel experience. As a result, guests not only slow down, but they develop an appreciation for the process behind every experience. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the kitchen, which has been designed with an open concept to encourage visitors to get involved in the cooking with Chef Velez. Despite having worked at some of Europe’s most esteemed kitchens, Velez has traded in pretentious dining for simple dishes done well. Diners gain a deeper respect for where their food comes from by learning about slow food and fair trade practices, and tasting ingredients as close to their purest form as possible. “People in Colombia are not connected to the food they eat. They only see the photo-shopped version,” says Mijola. “To see it, to touch it, to understand that in nature everything is not perfect looking.” Rather than being born from a motivation to follow trends, the farm-to-table philosophy here aims to enable diners to connect with their surroundings and themselves. Mijola believes, “The ‘Eco-lodge’ is a trend. Ecology is about intelligence, to be aware that what you do has some kind of impact.”
While the hospitality industry is increasingly becoming more environmentally and socially responsible, and travelers, more cognizant of their impact, many eco-properties maintain the traditional protocol of a typical hotel experience. At Casa La Nuit, travelers are pulled, rather than pushed, into a mindful state of being. Instead of assertively instructing guests on how to become more conscious travelers and pressuring them to fill their days with activities, the awakening happens organically through shared knowledge and experiences, and taking time to simply “be” in solitude. By being made to feel like they are at home, and valued not by what they do, but for who they are, visitors are stripped of all personas and relieved of the pressure to always be “doing”. The constant distractions and noise of everyday life is hushed, and within the quiet space of rest that forms after a few days at Casa La Nuit, travelers are able to tune in to nature, others, and themselves, and become truly conscious.
Photography by: Anna Haines