Two-week vacations are so-o-o-o 20th Century. Who has the time? Or the money? Or the patience? Today, it’s “getaways,” especially winter “getaways,” because they give you the feeling you’ve been away forever at a fraction of the cost. (Top photo, Rainbow over Casa de Campo)
In mid-November, JetBlue inaugurated a new nonstop “Getaway” to La Romana on the southeast coast of the Dominican Republic (its 5th destination in the DR), with twice weekly service on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Romana international airport is only eight minutes away from the world-famous, five-star Casa de Campo resort, a 7000-acre enclave and member of the Leading Hotels of the World. It is the Caribbean’s premier golf resort (with three Pete Dye-designed golf courses) and, as I recently discovered, chock full of activities (tennis, riding, polo, water sports from kayaking to snorkeling, skeet shooting, a family fun zone), amenities (spa, pool, beaches, jogging path, gym) and excursions for everyone, including a unique cultural center, Altos de Chavon, modeled after a 16th Century Mediterranean Village. (More about that later). Travel agents just honored Casa de Campo with six awards, including the Caribbean’s leading resort.
There are also a half-dozen other JetBlue vacation packages with major hotels in the La Romana-Biyahibe area, a fishing village less than an hour from the airport. They range in price and type, from all-inclusive resorts to villas, located on sandy beaches, with pools, restaurants, and water activities, surrounded by coastal and inland National Parks, with an emphasis on eco-tourism. Viva Wyndham is particularly popular and just received an ITS Red Star Award. For more information, visit Viva Wyndham Resorts.
With winter almost upon us, whether you are a working couple, family, spa-minded girlfriends, sports-minded guys or six couples craving sun, surf and an all-around luxury resort during the dark days ahead, you should consider a quick hop to La Romana, only three and a half hours from New York’s JFK Airport. With a mid-day arrival at Casa de Campo, for example, you can be on the beach, at the pool, play a round of golf or a set of tennis before the sun sets, then choose among six restaurants – indoors or outdoors, casual or elegant — to dine.
Casa de Campo, a luxury destination since the 1970s, has just undergone a $40 million facelift. It’s added a glass pavilion lobby, a gorgeous swimming pool complex and a Le Cirque-backed beach club, restaurant and lounge. Large, well-appointed guest rooms and a variety of villas overlook manicured lawns and gardens as well as the ocean and a driving range.
Other less-obvious upgrades include Wi-Fi throughout the resort and a modern kitchen complex that, after a $12 million investment, is almost hospital-like in its obsession with hygiene. You can eat fruit and salad without a moment’s worry.
It’s easy to get around the vast Casa de Campo grounds: each room, suite and villa comes with an electric, four-passenger touring cart. You can walk, run or motor down to the beach, marina, stables or just to breakfast, which boasts a large buffet, wonderful passion-fruit smoothies and lovely open views towards the sea. Golfers can tee-up on Pete Dye’s famous “Teeth of the Dog,” course, reputed to be the best in the Caribbean, with its cliff side setting and seven holes overlooking the sea. Or you might want to spend the morning at the beach, then meander up to the open air Beach Club restaurant. Whether at lunch or dinner, it has the best food and, to my mind, the best view, although the Marina, at night, comes a close second.
You should reserve half a day or more for Altos de Chavon. This 16th Century complex, hand built on a high plateau overlooking the Chavon River (where part of Apocalypse Now was filmed), was originally a gift by Gulf and Western CEO Charles Bludhorn to his daughter. Today, it’s a cultural center, home to artists’ studios, craft workshops, art galleries as well as restaurants and boutiques. 600 students from around the world compete to enter its intense, two-year programs in pottery, art, design, and other crafts. Classes, taught by professionals, are part of an “Artists in Resident” program. The Center’s School of Design is associated with Parsons in New York, where students migrate to complete their studies. There is also an amazing Greek-style amphitheatre. Inaugurated by Frank Sinatra in 1982, other world-class stars, like Carlos Santana and Andrea Boccelli, have also performed there. Its acoustics are perfect.
I couldn’t resist a bit of pampering at the Cygalle Healing Spa, with its meditative labyrinth, range of massages, facials, and hot and cold cleansing pools. There are seven therapy rooms, each with its own showers, changing areas and patio gardens. I made an afternoon of a massage, followed by a swim in the nearby pool. Perfect.
Some of us rode, played polo, tried kayaking, investigated various beaches, took a cooking lesson and climbed aboard a van to the nearby village of Biyahibe, so tiny that it only got electricity eight years ago, and television two years later. It’s a colorful little community with only 1500 locals. But it’s become a mecca for fishermen, scuba divers, snorkelers and tourist boats that ferry visitors to a number of islands off the coast.
Biyahibe is also the center of a growing eco-tourism movement, spearheaded by young Americans and Europeans who have set up NGOs to protect dolphins and other marine animals, monitor climate change, as well as protect and conserve the area’s natural resources, including its coral reefs. Indiana University, for example, established a tiny Office of Underwater Science, to carry out a number of research and conservation projects. Its Living Museum of the Sea concept has established marine-protected areas. Hotels in the area help to support their work, and visitors can arrange eco-friendly trips and dives – including one to Captain Kidd’s shipwreck — through their hotel concierge.
Though I left New York on a Wednesday and returned on Saturday, it felt as though I’d packed in a huge number of sights, experiences, delicious meals and pleasurable adventures, from the rainbow that welcomed me upon my arrival to the extended sunset that accompanied me home.