Casa de Campo: The Hotel

Mar 12, 2010 | By Gordon Mott
What do you get when you carve out 7,000 acres of Caribbean coastline, build a hotel with 265 rooms and 100 private villa rental homes, construct four golf courses, a new marina, private beach and a residential community the size of a small city? Paradise? Pretty darn close.

Casa de Campo started out life as a retreat for the Gulf & Western Corp. executives around 1970. Since then, it has become one of the most sought-after destinations in the Caribbean, especially for the golf, first at Teeth of the Dog and more recently, Dye Fore, two of the best golf courses you can find anywhere. The hotel recently underwent an extensive $20 million renovation, completely redoing the main lobby building, the pool area, the main hotel restaurant and the award-winning Cygalle Healing Spa. After nearly 40 years, the updates were welcome and have added a pleasant new sheen to an old dame.

Given the size of the property, and the fact that many of the amenities are spread out, it may not be the perfect destination for you. The marina, where there are many restaurants and shops is, for instance, at the opposite end of the property, a good 15 minute ride in the little red golf carts that come as part of your room. The beach is a 10 minute cart ride from the main hotel building too. That may not be what you want.

But if what you’re looking for is more of a resort community feel, with all the amenities there, then this may be the perfect experience for you. I’ve stayed there now nearly half a dozen times, a couple of times in the hotel rooms, and at least four times in villas, as they are called. You can rent a two-bedroom house or, also up to a six-bedroom house that’s big enough for your entire family and then some. I prefer the villa experience, partly because it’s more private, partly because when you want to have a cigar and a glass of rum, you just light up in your living room, or you step out onto the patio, under the palm trees and flowering bougainvillea bushes and enjoy your smoke without interference from anything or anyone. I also recommend renting a car; it adds to the expense but if you want just that little added bit of freedom, getting around the property more quickly and dash up to Altos de Chavón for dinner without waiting for a shuttle bus, or head off to the grocery store in the nearby town of La Romana, it’s a godsend.

Altos de Chavón, you ask? The story goes that the daughter of one of the owners at one point was enchanted with Tuscany, so dad brought Tuscany to the Dominican Republic—I’m sure there are other mythological origins for the village which sits on a bluff sloping down the sea and on the edge of a high cliff overlooking the Rio Chavón. The official explanation is that it was built as a place to highlight Dominican culture. It is a tasteful replica of a stone village, with little cobblestoned squares and streets, a church, a Roman-style amphitheater and numerous shops and residents. Lots of fun just to walk around.

Today, you’ll find a Casa Montecristo there too, run by Carlos and Ruben Gonzalez, two brothers who operate a cigar distributorship in the Dominican Republic—with a roller out front and shelves filled with cigars, it’s hard to miss.

Inexplicably to me, the main hotel operators seem to be ignoring what a unique space they have up on the hill. Some restaurants have closed, and after sunset, the village almost seems quiet and tame. Too bad. If I were running the place, I’d figure out a way to build a small boutique hotel up there and make that an additional option to stay on the property. The best dinnertime restaurant at Altos is La Piazetta—the food is good, but like the majority of Casa de Campo restaurants, the wine list is limited. There are also several cafés that serve more casual fare.

Other fine dining restaurants include La Cana in the main hotel building, a sleek combination of tropical woods and modern metals, the Beach Club by Le Cirque, down at La Minitas beach, a romantic tent-like setting with flowing white curtains for walls and a view of the sea, and a group of eating establishments at the Marina, which echoes a Mediterranean seaside village; we ate at La Casita out on one of the piers, but everyone raves about Pepperoni too. Be sure you find out if you are on an All-Inclusive plan (about $105 a day) because many of these restaurants are part of the daily meal plan.

If you’re a little adventuresome, there’s a La Casita in La Romana too that’s quaint, and the food equally good.

So why do I love it there? For me, it’s the simple luxury of a Third World beach resort in a Spanish speaking country. I would recommend renting a villa, somewhere along one of the golf courses, or if you want to splurge, one with a view of the ocean.

Just pretend you’re escaping to a paradise that has some of the best golf in the world.

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