It’s home to the world’s second largest goldmine, the Caribbean’s highest mountain and largest lake, and is a favourite with the Clintons. Welcome to the glorious Dominican Republic
Words and photos: Mike Pickup
The red golf buggy stopped and the driver beckoned us to get in. We thanked him for his kind gesture but explained that, rather than drive, we had decided to take the five-minute walk from our room to breakfast. Apparently nobody walks in Casa de Campo, not even the golfers on the resort’s three courses.
The Dominican Republic occupies just over half of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola which it shares with Haiti. It was inhabited by Taino Indians when Christopher Columbus first set foot on the island in December 1492. The capital, Santo Domingo, founded by by his son Bartholomew in 1498, was the first city in the Americas.
It’s home to the world’s second largest goldmine, the Caribbean’s highest mountain and largest lake, and is the second largest nation in the Caribbean. The national sport is baseball, although golf is popular with overseas visitors due to the many courses and good year-round weather.
Tourism is very much at the heart of the economy with a number of major developments, such as Casa de Campo, contributing to its success; indeed, the Dominican Republic is the most visited country in the Caribbean.
A flying start
Our relaxed journey started at Gatwick where we were met at the terminal by I Love Meet & Greet. The British Airways flight to Punta Cana was a little over nine hours so the comfort of World Traveller Plus was worth the extra; a further forty-five minutes saw us at the resort where welcoming glasses of Prosecco were on hand to help with the check-in process which included providing a driving licence. Later that evening we set out to dinner in our own buggy, feeling a little like Noddy and Big Ears.
The town of Romana was originally home to the world’s largest sugar mill, owned by Gulf + Western, famous for such brands as Paramount Pictures and CBS. However the area was transformed into a tourism destination, starting with the building of the Teeth of the Dog golf course which opened in 1971. Designed by Pete Dye who later went on to design two more courses at the resort, it is often regarded as the best course in the Caribbean. It is certainly popular, and regular visitors include Bill Clinton who was there a few weeks before us.
Our favourite spot for lunch was the 19th hole, the club house terrace overlooking the eighteenth green and on out to sea, where drinks and hearty toasted sandwiches were provided by attentive and cheerful staff who quickly got to know what type of wine we preferred.
Tennis and cigars
It’s difficult to describe Casa de Campo. Hotel – yes it has 247 rooms – but its 7,000 acres also includes 1,800 villas. As well as the golf courses there are three polo pitches, stabling for several hundred horses which guests can ride, clay pigeon shooting, zip-lining, 13 tennis courts and a range of water sports. Oh, then there’s a cigar factory! Of course there are the usual facilities such as a fitness centre, spa, pools and numerous bars.
Guests get their own buggy. How else could they cope with this huge area? It was 3km to the beach, five to the marina and seven to the village of Altos de Chavon, with four of the six all-inclusive restaurants being at these other locations. However, in the evening there is also a half-hourly shuttle service from the hotel reception for those who prefer not to drink and drive.
Altos de Chavon, a mock 16th century Spanish village, was built as a film set but never used. It’s home to a number of restaurants, artisan workshops, a museum, church and night club. We enjoyed a delicious meal at La Piazetta, a delightful and authentic Italian restaurant run by a Venetian who clearly had a passionate interest in serving great food. Later in the week we dined at neighbouring Chilango, a Mexican restaurant.
Close by is a 5,000-seat Roman-style amphitheatre, which has housed numerous concerts by well-known artists. Opened in 1972, the first performer was Frank Sinatra, clearly a tough act to follow, but many have done so, including Elton John, Andrea Bocelli, Gloria Estefan, Julio Iglesias, Placido Domingo and more.
Modelled on Monaco
The beach at Minitas includes a beach club with two pools, one for families and the other for adults only. A food cart is available for snacks and there is also a restaurant serving lunch and dinner.
The marina, crammed with multi-million pound yachts, would not have looked out of place in Monaco. Two more all-inclusive restaurants, Pubelly Sushi and La Casita, a Spanish restaurant focussing on seafood, are at the waterside, providing a glamorous evening setting for dinner.
Our spacious accommodation was in one of many rooms scattered amongst topical gardens, and all-inclusive. However there are many villas to rent ranging from three to eleven bedrooms with each bedroom capable of accommodating up to two adults and two children. Breakfast in the villas is prepared by Casa de Campo’s own staff who are also available to provide catering for lunches, dinners, BBQs and more.
There’s no doubt guests are spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation, activities and dining. Fitting it all in could be the only problem, so don’t forget your driving licence!
Get me there