Beyond the Beach

If you’re looking for a little more than just beach on your next Caribbean vacation, you should give the Dominican Republic’s Casa de Campo a try.

The resort is less of a hotel destination and more like an exclusive, gated community that is inviting you in to stay for a while. The 7,000-acre property offers a mixture of 255 hotel rooms and suites, 100 villa vacation rentals, and 1,850 private residences (100 are available for rental through Casa de Campo). Most of the residences have their own private pool, and some are so luxurious you will feel as though you are one of the many celebrities who frequent the resort.

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Oscar de la Renta owned a home there, and Bill Clinton and George Bush Junior and Senior have all golfed there. Casa de Campo is also a favourite destination of Beyoncé and Jay-Z (who celebrated his 40th birthday party at the resort), Alex Rodriguez, Cameron Diaz and even Oprah. Keeping up with the Kardashians even filmed two episodes at the resort.

Casa de Campo is located in La Romana, about 45 minutes south west of the Dominican’s more populated Punta Cana resort area. You can fly into the Punta Cana airport or fly directly to the La Romana airport, which is only five minutes away (although flights to the later are less frequent and tend to be a bit pricier).

More Than Just Beach

If you love lying on a white sand beach but want a little more from your Caribbean vacation, Casa de Campo is for you. The expansive size makes it a destination where you can fill hours just exploring either by foot, bike or in your own private golf cart (each room comes with one).

There is also yoga by the pool, which unlike some resort yoga that is merely stretching is actually a true Ashtanga-style practice with enough downward dogs and balance poses to keep any yogi happy. The fitness centre overlooks the main pool area and is the cleanest I’ve ever been to in my life. The minute you are finished with a machine, mat or set of weights, someone is behind you with a spray bottle to clean up.

There are also 13 immaculately maintained, fast-dry Har-Tru tennis courts and a professional staff that earns Casa’s tennis club the nickname “Wimbledon of the Caribbean.” Or you can try out skeet and trap shooting at Casa’s 245-acre shooting club or go horseback riding at their polo and equestrian club.

Then of course, there’s the golf. Casa boasts five Peter Dye-designed golf courses. Dye is considered by many to be the most influential golf course architect of the last 60 years. His masterpiece of the five is the Teeth of the Dog, which is ranked number one in the Caribbean and 43rd in the world by Golf magazine. The 6,888-yard, par 72, ocean-side course will challenge and amaze you.

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If relaxing is more your speed you can take a cultural excursion to the property’s hilltop Altos de Chavon. The artesian village was completed in 1982 and was modeled to look like a 16th century Mediterranean city. You’ll feel like you are stepping into an ancient Italian city complete with restaurants, boutiques, museums and a 5,000 seat Grecian-style amphitheater that has hosted singers including Sting, Shakira (who also has a home at Casa), Marc Anthony and even Frank Sinatra who inaugurated the amphitheater in 1982 with a concert with Carlos Santana.

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Altos de Chavon also hosts a School of Design that is affiliated with Parson’s School of Design in New York. The student culture gives the village a more urban vibe and also provides many design wares to purchase that are created on the site.

There is a 370-slip marina and yacht club that includes shops and restaurants if you want to stroll around for an afternoon or evening. Or you can relax at the Casa de Campo spa while your kids enjoy playing at the supervised kids or tween club.

Of course after all this activity, chances are you’ll be ready for the beach. While many of the resort’s ocean views are cliff side, the property does boast a beautiful 800-metre private beach, Minitas, which is just minutes from the main hotel area. You can relax on your own or enjoy a massage in an open-air pavilion. There are also beachside games, sports and water activities, plus a restaurant and bar. Or take a 30-minute boat ride to nearby Catalina Island, which is a National Park that offers six-square miles of white sand beaches and is surrounded by amazingly clear blue water.

Exclusive Dining

Casa de Campo is ideal for people who become bored eating in the same restaurants over and over again at an all-inclusive resort. The restaurant opportunities are almost endless, with six main restaurants that are affiliated with the primary resort, and countless others that are privately owned in the Marina and at Altos de Chavon. Some of the highlights include: La Casita (a tapas and seafood restaurant in the marina), La Cana by Il Circo (a Mediterranean restaurant in the main hotel area) and The Beach Club by Le Cirque. The later two are spin-offs of famous New York restaurants. The Beach Club was my favorite as it felt like an oversized cabana located amidst the sand. The seafood was extremely fresh and you could even choose your whole fish from a table at the front entry.

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The Lago Grill buffet, an open-air restaurant located on the 18th hole of Teeth of the Dog is also notable – especially for breakfast. As is the cobblestone La Piazzetta, an Italian restaurant that will make you feel as though you are dining in Europe for the night.

Booking Your Trip

Casa de Campo is not an all-inclusive, however there are promotional packages available. I suggest either booking a private villa which comes with a personal chef who will cook some of your meals or staying in the hotel and booking a package that includes meals and drinks and possibly even a daily activity (such as golf or tennis) and an adventure (such as horseback riding or a spa treatment). It’s nice to go to a resort and truly be able to relax and not worry about extra costs adding up every time you grab something to eat.

In terms of when to travel, year-round sun with rolling clouds allow for enjoyably warm temperatures year round. Choose a time that works for you and get ready to explore!

By: Nancy Ripton