Casa Colonial Beach & Spa, Playa Dorada, Dominican Republic, Caribbean

The Dominican Republic, on Christopher Columbus’s famous island of Hispaniola, enjoys a year-round summer, with sugar-white beaches shaded by palm trees, crystalline waters teeming with rainbow-coloured fish, and Spanish colonial history stretching back five centuries. It offers some of the best beaches in the Caribbean.

Columbus spotted Hispaniola’s coral-edged Caribbean coastline on his first voyage to the New World and pronounced, ‘There is no more beautiful island in the world.’ Mistakenly, he thought he had reached Asia, and proceeded to create many ‘firsts’ for the Caribbean on this island the natives called Quisqueya, ‘Mother Earth’.

The first permanent European settlement in the New World was founded here on November 7, 1493, and its ruins still remain near Montecristi in the north-east part of the island. Fort San Felipe is the oldest fort in the New World (1564). At Parque Nacional La Isabela, excavations have revealed the outlines of what may have been Columbus’s house, the church where the first Mass in the New World was conducted, and an observation tower where Columbus used to gaze at the stars.

History apart, all that sunshine, sand and waving coconut palms, spicy food, spicier merengue, and a leisurely lifestyle off the usual Caribbean beaten track draw more international guests to the Dominican Republic every year. The white sandy beaches and swaying coconut palm trees make exclusive Playa Dorada a magnet for elegant sun worshippers.

Scuba divers can plunge deep for shipwrecks in the translucent waters of Bayahibe—but the Dominican Republic is considered to offer some of the greatest and most exciting sports fishing in the world, the wide variety of fish species including dorado, wahoo, barracuda, blue marlin, white marlin, yellow fin tuna, sailfish and bonito. Deep sea fishing charters are popular, and every year the International white and blue marlin championship is held at the Cap Cana Marina and fishing lodge.

Inland, the vibrant Santo Domingo, one of the oldest cities in the Caribbean, has a 12-block Colonial Zone whose cobblestone streets take you past old stone buildings and museums. Away from the city, discover the thundering waterfall Salto de Aguas Blancas or observe marine life at Manati Park, including the protected manatees, or sea cows. Stock up on the world’s finest cigars in the cigar-making region in and around Santiago, or bring home aged Dominican rum. In Santo Domingo, browse El Mercado Modela, a market filled with local crafts and spices. Check out Harrison’s in Puerto Plata for amber jewellery, worn by Keith Richards and Madonna—amber is one of the island’s great natural treasures. For art there are galleries in Altos de Chavon, a recreated 16th-century village.

Our choice of beachfront hotel is the best on the island. Casa Colonial Beach & Spa is the most sophisticated, intimate, and socially prestigious hotel in the Dominican Republic and an architectural gem that is the crown jewel of local hotel chain VH.

Designed by a member of the family that owns the hotel, Dominican-Italian architect Sarah Garcia, it was the first hotel in the country to become one of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, and as an a la carte boutique hotel it is distinctly chic.

Baronial and aristocratic-looking, it is a Palladian-style Renaissance villa, with hints of Andalusian colonial style. At its heat are two deluxe restaurants and a full-service spa, and its annex artfully combines lush gardens and views of the mangrove lagoon. A pith-helmeted, white-jacketed staff waits courteously amid acres of gleaming white marble.

Bedrooms are all-white retreats, high-ceilinged, large, and in some cases, very large. This is a very adult and appealingly indulgent kind of place. Children aged 11 and under are not encouraged.

The hotel is all-suite and the 50 rooms. All are beautifully appointed, and large. Take for example the Ocean Front Deluxe Suites, which feature two queen size beds or one king, en-suite bathroom (with double hand basins, Roman style tub and separate walk-in shower), separate living room with sofa bed, dining area and spacious balcony. In-room amenities include air conditioning and ceiling fan, high speed Internet, two large flat screen televisions with cable channels, three telephones with international direct dialing and voice mail, a minibar, coffee maker, bathrobes and slippers, a radio and CD player, iron with ironing board, hair dryer, alarm clock, umbrella, in-room safe large enough for a laptop, and 24 hour room service.

International Hotel: Members enjoy special rates at this lovely Caribbean hotel, and VIP status.

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