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Marsella

Marsella is a small town in the heart of Colombia's Coffee Zone. It's just 30km north of Pereira, and 56km southwest of Manizales. Armenia and Salento are also close by, to the south. It's a great place to escape from the concrete jungles of the major zona cafetera cities, and enjoy some fresh air, beautiful scenery, great coffee and friendly locals. With 23,000 happy residents, Marsella offers tourist amenities, such as restaurants, hotels, bars, and nightlife, but without the noise, traffic, and chaos of the big city. Best of all it's just an hour by bus from Pereira and Manizales.

The Coffee Zone (known as la Zona Cafetera or el Eje Cafetero in Spanish), is centrally located in Colombia, roughly in the middle of a triangle with Medellin to the north, Cali to the south, and Bogota to the east.

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When you arrive, just ask the bus driver to drop you off at the park, where you'll find one of the most beautiful small town churches you've ever seen, with tasteful stained glass windows and elaborate craftsmanship. Here in the central park you'll also find the very valuable Casa de la Cultura, where you can get tourism advice, and the main building of the municipal government right next door. There are also a couple of hotels that rent out rooms at reasonable rates: around $25.000.

At the top of your list for sightseeing, you'll want to check out the Jardin Botanico (Botanical Gardens), just three blocks south of the main square. Here you'll find a reservoir filled with interesting fish species, an area devoted to the cultivation of the beautiful heliconea plants, a park devoted to science and technology, and, of course, a wide variety of interesting plants.

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If you're interested in seeing a coffee farm, a great place to look is the El Prado Finca, where Juan, the proprietor, has over 200 hectares of coffee under cultivation. The rolling hills are filled with delicate and beautiful coffee trees. It's a small, artesanal, process. The coffee season has two harvests: a smaller one in February, and a large one in October. After the coffee beans are harvested, the pods are removed from their shells, and then left to dry in a greenhouse-like space. Once they are dried, they are ready for the toasting machine, an interesting contraption that toasts beans in just ten minutes. Then, they're ready to be packaged and sold.

The name of Juan's business is Cafe Hacienda Horizontes. Check it out here: www.CafeHaciendaHorizontes.com

The finca (farm) also cultivates a small amount of heliconeas and bananas, and has some very interesting ducks as well.

Just across the street from the farm is the Ecohotel Los Lagos, a great place to kick back and relax, and enjoy some spectacular birdwatching. They have great food, comfortable rooms, and a peacock (or pavo real in Spanish) to boot.

And just 6km north of town, you'll find the spectacular Granja Hotel "Mi Terruno", which features a delightful pool, bar, sportfishing, great birdwatching, and many animals. It also affords incredible views of the Cerro de Tatama. Marsella is nestled in between two canyons: the Canyon de Rio Cauca, to the west, and the Canyon de San Francisco to the East. At an altitude of almost 1600m, you can see all the way to Manizales, to the north, and you've got a great view of the Cerro de Tatama, to the west, which looks like a reclining person.

All in all, Marsella is one of the best spots in Colombia to escape the hectic pace of city life for a few days, and enjoy some rest and relaxation in beautiful, uncontaminated nature. Right now it's a bit of the tourism radar screen, but in time, Marsella just may be the next Salento!

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