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So the best restaurant in the whole of the Coffee Zone (and maybe even Colombia) is in tiny, rarely-visited Filandia? Yes! Serving up innovative Colombian fusion food in a chic, outdoor chill-out space, arty Helena Adentro is considered one of the coolest places to eat in the Zona Cafetera – and has even started to gain international acclaim for its creative dishes. A focus on farm-fresh, seasonal ingredients means an ever-changing tapas-style menu, but you can expect Colombian classics with a delicious twist, such as yuca croquettes filled with sour cream and sweet paprika, meat empanadas and oven-baked trout with coconut rice. An absolute must-visit whilst in Filandia.
Filandia, being bang smack in the middle of Colombia’s coffee axis, is surrounded by some epic scenery. Think rolling lush green hills dotted with grazing horses, misty snow-capped mountain backdrops, and dusty dirt paths leading to centuries-old coffee haciendas. For the best views in town, head to La Colina Iluminada; a 19-metre (62-feet) tall wooden structure that gives you views across the three Zona Cafetera departments and, if weather permits, means you might even spot the majestic Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados in the distance.
Because of its proximity to tourist hotspot Valle de Cocora, Salento has taken all the limelight when it comes to quaint coffee towns. However, Filandia has a very similar architectural style and remains just as well preserved. Tile-roofed houses here are all brightly coloured in blues, greens and oranges, 200-year-old beams still hold restaurant and hostel ceilings up, and the stunning, perfectly-preserved blue and white colonial church stands proudly in the well-groomed square. Trust us, you’ll fall in love with this place as soon as you step off that salsa-blaring bus.
Salento is beautiful, there’s no doubt about that. However, with streets overflowing with souvenir shops, hundreds of hostels around the plaza, and restaurant after restaurant offering tourist menus, it can feel a little overwhelming at times. The beauty about Filandia is that, whilst it looks very similar architecturally, it hasn’t quite reached this stage yet. There are a handful of hostels and hip restaurants popping up, but, if you look around you, you’ll soon notice that this is, without doubt, a local’s town.
This may come as a surprise, but it’s actually quite hard to find a decent coffee in Colombia (really!). Because of the huge demand for Colombian coffee in Europe and the US, most of the quality stuff is exported, leaving only the damaged and low-quality coffee beans circulating around the country (the dreaded sugary tinto is a perfect example of this). Having said that, with a rapid growth in Colombian tourism and a rise in coffee culture amongst Colombian millennials, decent cafes are popping up. Serving up cups of caffeine perfection straight from the surrounding fincas in chic coffee shops, Filandia is a key player in this revolution. Some of the best include Cultivar Cafe, MOCAFE, and Dulcinea Cafe Bar.
Filandia is surrounded by miles of lush green coffee farms, many of which are dotted with dirt tracks perfect for biking. A great route to do, passing by stunning coffee fincas and awesome lookout points, is the mostly downhill Filandia – Quimbaya route to a bustling local town which sees even fewer visitors than Filandia. If you don’t fancy the gruelling cycle back up, the Willy Jeeps in Quimbaya (leaving every 10 mins or so to Salento) somehow manage to squeeze you and your bikes on (you might just have to pay a little extra). Popular hostels Colina de la Lluvia and Bidea offer cheap bike rental and will give you handy maps for this route.
About half an hour into the bike route mentioned above, you’ll come across a little gem called Finca Aprisco La Española: the home of the local priest and goat farmer. Upon request, the priest and his family prepare an Antioquian feast in their traditional outdoor kitchen, which includes clay-roasted chicken served with plantains, rice, salad and avocado and a hearty sancocho soup, which is then served in a pretty colonial courtyard surrounded by fragrant flowers and fluttering hummingbirds. While your meal is prepared, friendly Jairo will show you around the farm and even let you feed the baby goats! For dessert, make sure you try their delicious homemade goat’s cheese with a slice of their perfectly crunchy clay-oven-baked bread. Ask Bidea hostel to make the reservation for you a day in advance.
You’ll hear some rumblings about a doble cascada (double waterfall) whilst in Filandia. The pretty side-by-side waterfalls are located inside private land, however, the owners are really cool about letting visitors explore the grounds. It’s a gentle 30-40 minute hike from town through lush forest, where it’s likely that you’ll only have cows, hummingbirds and colourful butterflies as your hiking companions. If it’s a hot day, it’s an awesome place to spend the afternoon and, if you dare, go for a refreshing dip. Bidea hostel has a handy map of the route, just ask at the front desk.
As you would expect from any coffee town in Colombia, Filandia is surrounded by coffee fincas. The special thing about visiting one here, however, is that they’re not too touristy. Most farms in the surrounding areas are relatively small and are family owned, meaning you get a more intimate, local insight into how a no-frills coffee finca is run; no big tour groups, no ‘trained bilingual guide’, just you and the coffee farmer showing you how it’s done (you may need to brush up on your Spanish skills though!). Don Eduardo and Finca El Mirador are the two most popular farms to visit, but there are several nearby – just ask around.
Yes, really. The coffee region has a popular game called tejo: a game that consists of throwing a metal puck across the room at a triangle of gunpowder. The aim of the game is to make every triangle explode! In Filandia, the place to go is Cancha de Tejo Cafe Pueblo. To play, buy a beer at the bar, pick up a puck and join in with the locals. Be warned though: these guys, throwing the puck from more than 50 metres (164 feet) away, are absolute pros.
If you’re looking for a real coffee region experience, Filandia is just the ticket. While there’s a nice amount of hip restaurants, cafes and things to do nearby, life here is still very much as it was hundreds of years ago. Poncho-clad men park their horses outside hole-in-the-wall bars, coffee-stacked World War II Willy Jeeps chug along the narrow, cobbled street roads, and street vendors’ voices still echo through the brightly-painted streets at 6am in the morning. It’s Colombia’s coffee region most precious hidden gem.