© Dave Finn
Casa de Campo reverie
A resort that sets the benchmark for Caribbean luxury
The sound of gentle lapping of water. A tall white bird. Palm trees. Exotic flowers. Soft scented air. I woke from the dream slowly. Across a misty pond, an egret stood in the shallows near a small wooden bridge. Sunlight from below the horizon seeped into the sky as I stepped into the glass shower and torrents of hot water brought me fully back into the world, smiling. This was the start of a luxurious adventure in which I would learn that the Casa de Campo (CDC) was not so much a resort as a way of life. And it was time for breakfast.
The open-walled Lago Grill, a pleasant 10-minute stroll away through meticulously tended gardens, overlooks a rolling green vista to the 18th hole of the famous Teeth of the Dog (TOTD) golf course. The Caribbean Sea glistens in the distance. Lovely to contemplate, but there’s work to be done. One of the most sumptuous breakfast buffets I’ve ever seen awaits — a dozen kinds of tropical fruit, smoothies whipped up on the spot, eggs prepared as you like them, sauces and salsas, trays of freshly baked croissants and pastries, eight fruit jams, smoked salmon, seven kinds of French cheese, cold cuts, ham, sausages and bacon. Good-natured waiters drift by with tea and coffee. It was hard to pull myself away.
So much to do
The beach was tempting, but it’s always there waiting. What about a horseback ride to start the morning and a visit to a few of the venues that give CDC its motto: “the sporting life.” From the stables, I rode down a shaded path out past the polo field. A rider from Texas trotted up beside me with a big grin on his face and said, “You know what I like about this place? Everything’s included. It’s wide open. You can do whatever you like without thinking about it.”
Located near La Romana on the Dominica Republic’s southeast coast, Casa de Campo began as a sugar cane plantation and then, beginning over 30 years ago, was transformed into the stunning property it’s become. Right from the start, CDC attracted those at the top of their game. Frank Sinatra inaugurated the 5000-seat classic Greek amphitheater in 1982. Andrea Bocelli performed there this past April, as have Julio Iglesias, Sting, Elton John and a host of other music royalty. Sports stars also come. This past January, John McEnroe and Jim Courier put on an exhibition at the 13-court tennis centre. Today, the property houses three championship golf courses including the Caribbean’s #1 ranked TOTD, a polo field, shooting club, marina, luxury hotel, an art centre and private homes from townhouses to mansions.
After a lunch of shrimp ceviche with lemon and coriander at La Caña by Il Circo, I paused for a refreshing nap in my commodious room by the pond. The rich mahogany decor, fine artwork and orchids, European linen and fluffy duvet almost persuaded me to dream the afternoon away, but I resisted and around 3pm, I headed off to the shooting club in my golf cart — guests are provided with carts to get around the sprawling 2832-hectare site. There, a companion, Dan Donovan, publisher of Ottawa Life, and I were suited up with vests and, gently aided by gracious loaders, shot clays for the first time. It was a heady experience helped immeasurably by the fact that both of us managed to hit a good number. Shooting an orange clay disk out of the sky is a rush and we kept going until the box of shells was empty.
The venue is run by shooting director Gary Salmon who began his career as a trainee at Sandringham, Queen Elizabeth’s 8000-hectare estate in Norfolk. He came to CDC last spring after 16 years as shoot manager on the Ashby St. Legers estate in Northamptonshire. He calls the 140-hectare shooting centre with its glades in the woods, hidden traps, striking tower and mowed areas for skeet and trap the most comprehensive he’s ever seen.
The shot guns safely stored away, it was time to take in a late afternoon polo match. I joined a small audience in the wooden bleachers and sat beside a woman whose 18-year-old son was competing and whom she very much wanted to win. At first she shot photos but soon got caught up in the action and abandoned the camera. In the end her son’s team lost by a point. He trotted his pony over after the match but was so downhearted at the loss he could hardly speak. Four or five other spectators hosted tailgate parties and toasted the winners with Moët & Chandon.
Guests are encouraged to try polo, but Sporting Life manager Calixto García-Vélez warns golfers that “after the rush of adrenaline of racing a top polo pony as you swing at a bouncing ball you may never go back to golf.”
The sun was setting and I’d planned to meet some friends for dinner at the La Piazzetta over in the Altos de Chavón, a replica of a 16th-century Mediterranean village that’s located on a cliff overlooking the Chavón river. Remarkably, the collection of old buildings fits right into the Caribbean landscape. Built by Paramount pictures set designer Roberta Cappa and completed in 1982, the remarkably authentic looking town has a theatrical flair to it. A cobblestoned plaza links St Stanislaus Church and an archeology museum that houses pre-Columbian and Taino artifacts (the islands original inhabitants) and a gallery with good paintings on display. There’s also an art school and a full-time weaving workshop that fashions and sells high-quality woven goods. A pleasure to wander through.
La Piazzetta was a treat. The rustic Italian restaurant features a wonderful table of antipasto selections but, for me, the highlight was the homemade, melt-in-your-mouth ravioli that was stuffed with herbs and goat cheese. The good company, subtle flavours, Italian wine, candlelight, old stones and sweet evening breezes conspired to create a feeling of abundance and well-being so pervasive that I almost forgot the Vegas-style show at the amphitheater. On a stage that looked as though it might have hosted Plato or Socrates, the long legs of the female dancers flashed from satin and feathers while the male performers snaked through elaborate choreography; the clown-buffoons were funny; and the fireworks spectacular. A fitting end to a perfect day. And so home to bed.
I drifted off to sleep thinking about a dawn jog along the seafront, about fine food, the white sand at Minitas Beach, grilled seafood and vegetables with salsa chimichurri at The Beach Club and deep sea fishing out of La Marina or maybe a boat ride over to the long beach on Catalina Island. I thought I heard a bird call in the distance, an egret perhaps, but by then I was dreaming.
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