featured article from Equestrian Living
by Jill Novotny
When I first stepped outside baggage claim with my luggage in tow, the warm, thick air of the Caribbean surprised me. The palm-leaf roof of the open building rustled no the tropical breeze. and I met a man holding a sign with my name.
In the car, I fanned myself with my notebook as we sped through the lush, green landscape. passing riders on bicycles holding baskets of fruit. The thick foliage on the roadside blocked any view I might have. and I settled on counting palm trees.
When we finally passed through a gate into Cap Cana, I expected to pull up to the hotel imminently, but we continued on, past fountains, golf carts on paths, and signs pointing to enticing places like Fisherman’s Beach and the marina. I swiveled to catch glimpses down each road as we passed, but I couldn’t see their destinations as they extended off into more greenery.
Eden Roc is part of the Relais Chateaux collection of boutique hotels located in 60 countries around the world. Milan-based architect Marina Nova designed Eden Roc to be the Dominican Republic most luxurious beach resort, with a vision of creating a community of luxury suites that combine Mediterranean architecture with a tropical twist. Eden Roc is one of several resort within a property development called Cap Cana in Punta Cana, a small city on the Dominican Republic’s easternmost point.
We ñnally arrived at the resort and pulled to a stop beneath a chandelier hanging over the entrance. I was handed an umbrella-festooned drink and whisked off to tour the tropical property.
We zipped around from site to site in a golf cart, and I met warm and friendly hosts and managers at each stop. We pulled into a golf-cart-sized parking spot in front of an island-blue stucco house that would be my home. As I entered, I heard the sound of waves lapping on a beach and saw the resort’s welcome video on the TV, as well as the rooms high ceilings stretching above a canopied bed.
I quickly kicked off my sneakers and tore off my sweater before continuing my exploration of the accommodations The bathroom and its huge coral-stone tub were framed by a large glass window overlooking & walled patio offering remarkable combination of openness and privacy. I stepped into the spacious rain shower and opened a large window, feeling like I had created an outdoor shower. But then, I looked outside into the patio and smiled when I saw an actual outdoor shower. At the back of the building I saw my private, turquoise infinity pool that reflected the palm trees surrounding it. I hadn’t even set my suitcase down before I unzipped it for my swimsuit. I spent a few quiet moments floating-refreshed, content and alone.
HEAVEN IS A PRIVATE BEACH
Later, I donned a light dress, hopped in my golf cart, and headed down the road to a late lunch at Eden Roc’s private beach. A large, triangular canopy shed its cool shade over the beach club’s open lobby. Sparkling swimming pools covered the wide terrace, separated only by a strip of patio that acted as a bridge. Playing children and ukulele strummers surrounded smaller pools that led down to the beach.
Resisting the urge to plunge into my second swimming pool within my first hour on the island, I walked on toward the beach. Soft white sand lay ahead, interrupted only by palm trees and cabanas wrapped in white curtains.
At the beachside restaurant La Palapa, I enjoyed an assortment of sushi as I watched the blue-green water lapping along the rocks not IO feet from my table. Soon, the shadows lengthened, the beach cleared of sunbathers and swimmers, and the staff set about shifting from day to night.
A soccer ball rolled by, chased by a small boy who apologized in Spanish. Silhouetted in front of the red sunset, I watched him skillfully dribble it back to his waiting opponent , a lifeguard who has just ended his shift.
After breakfast the next morning I headed to Solaya Spa. Exotic tropical scents filled my room, and a massage cleared my mind. Afterwards, when I stepped back outside to my golf cart, I smiled knowingly at a couple passing by. They returned my smile With a look that said, “I know, right?”
Next, it was time to trade in my sundress for jeans and paddock boots. I climbed aboard a van to the nearby stables, which I imagined as a shed-row of stalls around a dusty riding ring. But as I stepped off the van in front of Los Establos, I admit I was surprised. I could see a huge indoor arena and manicured polo fields extending out into the distance. A tile pathway descended. between modern buildings, escorted down the slope by flowing streams and fountains on either side. Wood-plank pathways crossed the streams to connect the buildings.
I followed a path to the tack shop, an elegant boutique evoking images of Ralph Lauren on New York’s Madison Avenue. An adjoining clubhouse included the high-end Cavalier Steakhouse and a game room With billiard tables and other activities. Outside, the porch deck was perfect for watching polo matches, Olympic dressage practice, or a master paso fino demonstration-all of which we saw.
Los Establos is a world-class venue, offering seven equestrian disciplines on 50,000 acres, including the highest levels of show jumping, dressage, polo, eventing, racing, rodeo, and paso finos. The facility, which was completed less than a year ago, has already hosted high-level events in several disciplines. I joined Joan Fernandez, the facility director, for lunch and learned about his experiences With horses as a child. He offered to saddle up a horse for me, and, of course, I accepted. He sent me off With Nico, and we took a long ride around the perimeter of the polo fields. My rusty Spanish and Nico’s limited English were sufficient to learn all sorts of interesting tidbits about the facilities, the islands, and his lifetime of work with horses.
Los Establos facilities are available to resort guests and are open to the public for lunch at the clubhouse or for spectators at any of the events held throughout the year. The development project is still in its early stages, but soon the facility will be surrounded by a community of homes with views of the polo fields and close access to the equestrian facilities.
When I returned to my suite for one final night, it was time to dress for dinner.
I joined the resort’s executive director, Stefano Baratelli, and executive chef Gianluca Re Fraschini at La Palapa for a tasting menu of the dishes planned for the resort’s newly renovated beach club. Our waiter brought course after course of various sea foods in inventive combinations and savory dishes of all kinds, while Fraschini spoke about his travels, his work as a chef in Paris and Geneva, and his roots in Tuscany.
After dinner, Baratelli offered to drive us back to the main resort lobby in his golf cart, and we continued our conversation as we drove up the hill. Baratelli swerved suddenly in the dark. I gasped and asked about the huge crab I had just seen in the road and that, luckily, he had narrowly avoided. Both men laughed. “Yes, we’ll say it was a crab,” they chuckled. After some insistence on my part-which I came to regret-they admitted that the coconut-sized creature in the road was, in fact, a tarantula. I sat with eyes wide, scanning the ground ahead as we zoomed up the dark road. “They’re really nothing to worry about,” they assured me.
The next morning I packed my luggage and had time for one more last-minute adventure. Cap Cana’s Scape Park, a kind of natural theme park, offers all kinds of tours and experiences such as eco-tours of caves, waterfalls, and cenotes, (deep natural pools) like Hoyo Azul, hidden cavern filled With astonishingly turquoise waters. The park also offers boating, more horseback riding, caving, and exhibits about the Taino indians, their rituals, and the flora and fauna of the area.
I could have gladly joined in any of these activities, but I opted instead for the zipline adventure. Our charismatic group leader soon had the rag-tag group of nervous tourists yelling enthusiastically during the safety briefing, and we climbed an intimidating staircase up to the first Zipline. After leaning out over the edge and flying high over the forest; I was hooked. For two hours, we zoomed from one Cliff ledge to another, taking in breathtaking views of Los Establos, Eden Roc, and all of Cap Cana.
Before I knew it, I was back at the resort to retrieve my bags and head to the airport. I stepped into my suite one last time and thought, “I still have a couple of minutes!” So I jumped into my private pool one last time, then dried my hair and dressed in one frenzied motion. As I made my goodbyes to the staff and felt more like I was travelling away than going back home.