If the first things that come to mind when you think about vacationing in the Dominican Republic are bachelor parties, all-inclusive resorts, and swimming pools full of noisy children, you're not alone. The east coast of the Dominican Republic — and Punta Cana in particular — has built a reputation as a budget getaway for families, groups of partying friends, and couples who just want to relax by the pool for a week.
But if you think that's all the Dominican Republic has to offer, you might want to take another look at what's been happening in other parts of the Caribbean island.
On the north coast, things seem a little different. A handful of design-forward luxury resorts have opened in the last two years that eschew wild spring break parties and all-you-can-eat buffets for attentive service and organic, locally sourced ingredients. The nearly empty beaches, with turquoise waters leading to swathes of golden sand backed by acres of jungle, are almost an afterthought. This is the Dominican Republic the way it's never been done before. Here are a few of the new luxury properties that are worth a visit.
Playa Grande Beach Club
The end of 2015 saw the opening of this nine-bungalow resort that sits on 2,000 acres of land fronting the ocean. These spacious residences were designed with the country's Victoria-era lattice woodwork and gingerbread-style buildings in mind; inside are beautifully tiled floors, high ceilings, enormous copper tubs, and vintage furnishings. Open and airy, they're built for short- or long-term stays, with fully equipped kitchens and amenities like Frette towels. Once a private club, the resort offers activities like surfing (the north coast has the Dominican Republic's best surf breaks), snorkeling, and nature walks through the woods. But lounging on a wraparound balcony with an ice-cold island drink or wandering down to the beach where the resort has created a marketplace for local vendors is as much activity as many guests may want.
Just a few minutes' walk down the sand brings you to the first property in the Dominican Republic from luxury brand Aman. It opened at the same time as Playa Grande and sits at the other end of the shared beach. Adjacent to the resort is the Playa Grande Golf Course: originally designed by famed golf course architect Robert Trent Jones, the 7,000-yard course was recently renovated by his son, Rees Jones, and boasts cliffside fairways and 10 oceanside holes — the panoramic view is spectacular. Amanera's lodging, small houses called casitas, sit atop 60-foot cliffs and face the ocean; they're constructed in the famously minimalist design that's the brand's signature look with lots of concrete and teak, contemporary furniture, private pools, and sheltered areas for outdoor dining with ocean views. The restaurant's organic, locally inspired dishes and freshly caught fish, however, are best eaten on the beachfront terrace.
Gansevoort Dominican Republic
About 50 miles to the west on Playa Imbert is a condo building that has been converted into a luxury resort by Gansevoort, the hotel group widely credited with revitalizing New York City's Meatpacking District. It opened two years ago, and its 48 all-suite rooms feature private plunge pools and kitchens, as well as floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the resort or the turquoise Caribbean Sea. Overlooking the crescent of Playa Imbert is the hotel's most fabulous draw: a three-tier infinity pool surrounded by oversized daybeds. Penthouses have private rooftop Jacuzzis — a strong contender for the most exclusive feeling spot in the entire country.
While the north coast's atmosphere may feel entirely different than Punta Cana, perhaps the strongest advantage of the new luxury options is that they have all the perks that make the Dominican Republic a popular destination in the first place: warm winters, gorgeous beaches, and short flights from the east coast. The combination means it might just be time to put the Dominican Republic back on your winter holiday list.