Casa Palma, Dominican Republic
With its blue-drenched vistas and undulating greens, Casa Palma in the Dominican Republic's exclusive Casa de Campo resort delivers the ultimate stay and play lifestyle.
Words by Juliet Austin. Photography by Heather Holt.
Understand, it is hard to impress a Caribbean girl with sun, sea and sand. We have an acquired nonchalance that must appear somewhat arrogant to those from cooler climes. Therefore, having been whisked from Santo Domingo airport to the bustling town of La Romana, past heavily laden donkey-lead carts and motorbikes (picture four passengers plus water heater), it was not without reservation that I arrived at Casa de Campo, the 7,000-acre haven on the south-eastern coast of the Dominican Republic and home to Casa Palma, a six bedroom ultra-chic abode designed and styled by place-maker, mover and shaker, María Esther Elmufdi.
Just two short hours from Miami, arriving at Casa de Campo is like passing through a mystical portal into an exotic Caribbean Shangri-La. Creatively conceived, the four-decade-old masterplanned community affords residents a luxurious lifestyle of unmitigated comfort and ease, beckoning them to embrace Nature’s glory in a place of crashing waves and rolling greens; sun-kissed beaches and achingly beautiful sunsets; a place where, in winter, humpback whales play and hummingbirds drink from hibiscus blooms the size of dinner plates.
A white gloved, pith-helmeted attendant conducts golf cart traffic at a somnolent four-way crossing near the dude ranch where I find the real horse power – 350 noble steeds ranging from polo horses, show-jumpers and trekking ponies to privately-owned thoroughbreds. As I ride to the lookout, a couple tees off at one of the resort’s four world class golf courses and, in the distance, shots from the 245-acre Shooting Centre ring out in the sky. Serenely contemplating the view over Catalina Island, I wonder if José will mind taking a rain check on my tennis lesson this evening at La Terraza Tennis Centre. The Wimbledon of the Caribbean will have to wait; this girl has got some serious R ‘n’ R on the cards.
Opting for a gentler pace, I take in a cooking class with Le Cirque Chef Luca, followed by a leisurely stroll around La Marina’s moored super yachts and gin palaces, its designer boutiques and world class restaurants. The afternoon drifts by sipping cocktails at Minitas Beach from the seclusion of a muslin-festooned cabana, biding my time before a sublime massage treatment at the full service spa, guaranteed to soothe mind, body and soul with its lush Zen garden and meditation labyrinth. At Casa de Campo, life is for living.
Surely, though, nothing could be more out-of-this-world than dinner in Altos de Chavon, a surreal sixteenth century replica of a Mediterranean village designed by Dominican architect, José Antonio Caro, and created by Italian master designer and cinematographer, Roberto Coppa. With its charming, vinelined cobblestone paths, red tiled rooftops and twilight views across a plummeting, floodlit river valley where snowy egrets glide, it takes my breath away. Compounding the romantic allusion, an amphitheatre, inaugurated in 1982 with a concert by Frank Sinatra, offers glittering performances under the stars. As dusk descends, the village lights up in a sea of magical fairy lights and glowing lanterns, as I dine on the balcony of a candlelit bistro, serenaded, fittingly, by a tiny man with a huge silver accordion playing a rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. And it is here, within Casa de Campo’s enchanting crucible, that Casa Palma’s serene, light-filled narrative begins.
“With its show-stopping blend of modernity and endless trove of wonders, the charm of Casa Palma is crystal clear.”
Enviably located overlooking the famed Teeth of the Dog golf course and Caribbean Sea, the entrance to Casa Palma presents an evocative paradox. Introducing a central motif – the interplay between geometric lines and organic forms – a modern-day moat of gently bubbling water engages the senses as one’s line of sight gravitates to a vanishing point within. Contrary to the expectation of sea and sky, one is greeted by a long abstract seascape – tantalising prelude of things to come.
In another sensory coup, inside is outside, as one enters into Casa Palma’s capacious assortment of covered open air living rooms; artful seating clusters unfurling past the brilliant aqua ribbon pool to the long anticipated gratification of sea and sky. Tables are adorned with an eclectic array of intriguing curios: vast geological treasures like the chunk of natural quartz, its cut facets refracting light; a bowl of nautical monkey fists coupled with throw pillows featuring curling octopus tentacles; and tempting stacks of design books summoning guests to curl up on a daybed to consider the importance of being idle. Along with assorted wooden sculptures, including the stunning tree cross section from artist Mauro Torriani, a wall-mounted collection of wooden keys and a splendid horse’s head assembled masterfully from collected driftwood, a rustic mirror made by local artisans frames the natural colours of the Caribbean – an ever-evolving masterpiece bestowed by Mother Nature herself.
Living and dining spaces remain connected to the elements via breathtaking vistas, reflections and decorative details like stacked coral stones under glass, huge carved wooden seashells and pure white orchids, whose delicately bowed blooms grace each room. Leading to the dining room, a corridor becomes a still life installation: positioned with an artist’s eye before an oversized mirror, a rocking chair and wooden stool sit on a colourful folk rug, creating a quaint, cottage- in-the-woods ambience. Beyond, folding glass doors open to reveal the intriguing lacquered dining table and credenza by artist Jean Pierre Frey. Handmade from the remains of traditional Dominican wooden houses, it is contemporary and clean, yet reminiscent of another era. An orchid wall creates an original ‘greenhouse’ effect, while overhead, a cluster of three pendant lights dangle, like pretty dandelion clocks blown by the breeze.
Unique in character, each of four downstairs guest bedrooms boasts pure white linens, natural wood furnishings and ambient lighting; yet, it is the ocean front ‘bird’ room which embodies so perfectly the true spirit of Casa Palma. Adjacent to the sensuous flow of the tranquillity pond, with its mirrored cut skylight delivering unadulterated access to skies of flawless blue, French doors open to the elements with views of which mere mortals have only dreamt. Behind the headboard, set on a rustic bench table, a bar-less driftwood birdcage sits empty while overhead, carved wooden birds soar freely in the breeze, potent symbols of the freedom of spirit offered so graciously in Casa Palma’s intuitive design. Dominating upstairs, two elegant master suites, connected by a vast shared patio space, feature private glass-wrapped balconies giving way to scene-stealing panoramas.
With its show-stopping blend of modernity and endless trove of wonders, the charm of Casa Palma is crystal clear. Encapsulated in the prophetic Buddha’s hands, and coupled with the easy elegance of Casa de Campo resort, the home’s welcoming lure is impossible to resist, even for a seasoned Caribbean girl like me.
Visit the Official Casa de Campo website for more information.
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