Chris Carter enjoys a little slice of Caribbean paradise in the Dominican Republic.
The Bahamas? No, thank you. Cuba? Nah. Both were visited by Christoper Columbus on his first jaunt around the Caribbean in 1492. But the great navigator chose to pass on by. Instead, Europe’s first permanent settlement in the Americas grew out of the eastern half of the island of Hispaniola – an area today known as the Dominican Republic. The country’s beautiful landscapes were reason enough. But what really brought Europeans here (a thirst for gold) isn’t what still brings them here. Rather, it’s the thirst for rum cocktails long into the evenings, golden dawns over the clear water and palm-fringed beaches.
Welcome to Punta Cana. This, the eastern-most tip of the island (the second-largest island in the Caribbean), is a haven for those on the run from the humdrum of modern life – a haven for the work-weary, who want nothing more than to collapse into a sun-lounger, drink in one hand, a book in the other. The Luxury Bahia Principe Ambar resort was my refuge.
At the end of March, the resort celebrated its grand re-opening following an extensive refurbishment. Bahia Principe is a Spanish brand, which began life in Mallorca, so, as you can imagine, they know how to fiesta. Like a teddy bears’ picnic (only with rum and better weather), journalists and travel writers from all over the world had been invited to lift a glass to the resort’s reopening. There was plenty of dancing, and I’m pleased to report the British contingent kept their ends up – as in bottoms up. The actual dancing was left to the Latin American cohort, because, well, they do it better. But they get the practice, don’t they? (Incidentally, throughout the year, the resort puts on regular poolside parties, performances and stage shows for those looking for a little nightlife after dark. It can get quite lively.)
There was much to toast that night. Ambar had revamped its restaurants, sports bar and state-of-the-art gym. It had also added swim-up suites, which are, quite frankly, lovely. The rooms have a large bed, mini-bar, percolator (the local coffee is delicious), spacious shower and bathroom. But the real show-stealer is the private swimming pool just beyond the sliding doors and your own private “jetty”.
Ambar even has its own ethos, which underpins how things are done here. It terms it the “Escape Experience” – not from the resort, I hasten to add (although it would be good fun attempting to tunnel your way out through the soft sand). Rather, it’s a philosophy based around eating good food, drinking, lazing around, and if you feel the need, sport.
There’s tennis on offer, beach volleyball, swimming (naturally – if it starts to feel like too much, you can always find refreshment at the swim-up bar), and the aforementioned fitness centre. There are also all sorts of daily classes and activities to be found on the resort’s app on your phone, including something called “surf yoga”. There is also a spa, and outdoor massages. And you can take day excursions to Samana, across the bay of the same name, with its beautiful beaches.
Everything at Ambar is geared towards you not having to lift a finger. The resort is all-inclusive, so there’s no need to settle up after every drink and meal, or to fish around in your trunks for your soggy room card. That would feel like too much effort in climes such as this. The hardest decision you have to face is deciding where to have lunch, and after that, dinner. There are five restaurants to choose from at Ambar, plus the many others dotted around the neighbouring hotels, all part of the Grand Bahia Principe complex.
There’s Rodizio, a Brazilian-style restaurant where you are brought great hunks of grilled meats cut from a giant skewer until you beg them to stop; there’s Las Olas with the warm sea providing the jaw-droppingly beautiful backdrop; and there’s Limbo, the fine-dining restaurant on Ambar. Think creamy sea urchins for starters, followed by roasted turbot. And the “elegant” cocktails aren’t bad either, using gin, basil and pineapple.
For sure, the all-inclusive-resort thing isn’t for everybody. More adventurous types will probably find it all a little bit too “safe”. But if you’re looking to get away from it all, and just spend a few days eating, drinking and lying about in the sunshine, interspersed with a dip or two in the sea, then Ambar and Punta Cana might just be a little slice of Caribbean paradise.
From £87 per person per night in June, bahia-principe.com