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Dominican Idyll

Amanera makes it easy to strike the right balance between down time and playtime.

Written by Bridget Williams

In the rarefied air occupied by hotels in the upper echelons, it's often the teeniest details that nudge one distinguished property ahead of another. During a recent visit to Amanera on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, I began to notice as I came and went throughout the day that the stack of coffee table books I'd been leafing through had been straightened, my shoes organized, and the snack jars and refrigerator were restocked to my preference by the time I returned. Everything remained in such a perpetual state of orderliness that I admit to peeking around the landscaping, expecting to see an army of attendants lying in wait to pounce into action as soon as they heard my departing footsteps.

This level of invisible attentiveness, particularly appealing in the current era, is a hallmark of the 400-acre resort, which combines the best of back-to-nature activities with peaceful seclusion. In true Aman fashion, the architecture is sleek, dramatic, minimalistic, and thoughtfully planned to take full advantage of an arresting position overlooking Playa Grande's wide mile-long beach.

The VIP experience begins soon after disembarking at Puerto Plata, where a pair of attendants greeted us at the end of the jet bridge, whisked us through customs, and into a luxury SUV for the hour-and-a-half drive through areas of seemingly impenetrable jungle dotted with colorful and bustling small towns.

Pulling beneath the portico at Casa Grande, the heart of the resort, one can’t help but marvel at two-story structure perched atop a steep precipice. It presents itself as an assemblage of glass, concrete and Indonesian teak, artfully melded within an indoor/ outdoor maze of floating walkways, walls of glass, and infinity pools all oriented to the ocean view. Facing due east, at sunrise, the reflection of the clouds on the infinity pool creates images reminiscent of a Rorschach test.

Guest accommodations take the form of 25 individual casitas that are terraced on a hillside adjacent to the beach to provide unobstructed ocean views, and complete privacy within this green cocoon. Lush landscaping and grass-topped roofs enable the casitas to nearly disappear into the verdant canopy, so much so that we got lost more than once when returning to our casita in the evening. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors open onto expansive outdoor terraces in each casita, complete with dining and lounge areas and some with private pools.

Situated at the top of the hillside, our casita boasted a comfortably furnished living room separate from the bedroom. Both were oriented to face the covered terrace and lawn, which seemed to offer more than enough seating if the mood struck to invite our fellow guests over for an impromptu party. In the sprawling spa-like bathroom, tropical vegetation combined with skylights and walls of glass brought the outside in. The enormity of the walk-in closet made a mockery of my efficient packing.

Amanera is unique in the Aman portfolio for being the brand's first-ever golf-integrated property. Located next to one another, both the golf clubhouse and spa are a short shuttle ride from the resort. The 370-acre, 18-hole, par-72 golf course, originally designed in 1995 by golf legend Robert Trent Jones, Sr., is often referred to as "the Pebble Beach of the Caribbean." Jones' son Reese gets credit for its most recent refurbishment. The meticulously contoured greens dramatically amble along the natural undulations of the cliffside topography, offering ten holes of play directly on the ocean, the most of any golf course in the Western Hemisphere. There are six tee sets, permitting play from 5,230 yards on the forward tees and up to 7,259 yards from championship tees. The golf clubhouse is adjacent to the spa, which places an emphasis on the healing traditions of the Taino Indians by combining native plants and herbs with natural blends from the Aman Skincare range to provide lasting benefits.

Sited to overlook both the golf course and the Atlantic Ocean, Amanera has a series of residences planned, ranging in size from two-to-six bedrooms. Managed by Aman and privy to all resort amenities, if you're interested in one of the amenity-rich homes, act fast as lots were almost all spoken for at the time of our visit in late July.

Amanera's remote location, relaxed pace, and accommodating staff make it ideal and easy for Type B's to find their bliss. However, if you're more Type A like me, there are plenty of activities to satiate your need for perpetual motion. The vast swath of beach with deep sand offers an invigorating 1.5-mile round-trip walk from end to end. As we finished our stroll each morning, during which we often didn't see another soul, an attentive beach attendant was waiting for us with a silver tray laden with chilled lemongrass-scented towels. The perpetual churning of the Atlantic turns out powerful waves that are great fun for boogie boarding, and an on-site watersports program provides guests with a range of complimentary gear.

Various excursions take advantage of natural resources on and off the property. We opted for a "secret beach" hike in nearby Rio San Juan. Orlando, our guide, is a native of the town. Orlando pointed out his parent's house during the trek, and we thoroughly enjoyed learning about life in a foreign place from a local's perspective. Slipping through an opening in a farm fence, we traversed what seemed to me to be an indistinguishable trail through grass and forest to reach a series of small enclaves where turquoise waters gently lapped at the beach. An unexpected swim across a lagoon led us to the terminus of the excursion, a bustling public beach with a large rock outcropping that's a popular jumping spot.

Other available guided hikes, ranging from less than a mile to more than six, include a sunrise breakfast in a mountaintop pavilion, opportunities to learn about traditional agriculture (and the chance to milk a cow!), and herbal medicine, among others. Water-based activities encompass kayak or paddleboard eco-tours, boat excursions, deep-sea fishing, surfing and kite surfing lessons, and reef and wreck dives.

Amanera offers high/low dining options, and by that, I mean high on a bluff in Casa Grande or down below with your toes in the sand at the Beach Club. Executive Chef Diego Martinez, a native of Mexico, oversees a culinary program that puts a Dominican spin on international techniques. While Casa Grande is available for three meals daily, the Beach Club is open for lunch and on select evenings for themed dinners. One of these, centered around wood-grilled meats, seafood, and vegetables ranked as our favorite dining experience.

The vastness of the property, combined with the jungle setting, provides ample places for private dining experiences. Based on the number of setups I observed during our stay, these intimate affairs are popular with guests. Of course, you can't leave without trying a shot of Mama Juana, a local concoction of rum, red wine, and honey infused with tree bark and herbs. While the port-wine flavor of one of the first distilled spirits in the Americas is an acquired taste for some, I was excited to find a little bottle of the herbs and directions for making it at home on my nightstand after returning from dinner one evening. It was one of several thoughtful turndown trinkets that serve as a meaningful souvenir.

My only regret on the trip was that I didn't discover the services of personal trainer Raoul until the morning of our departure. Having time to kill before an afternoon flight, we participated in a complimentary HIIT workout class that ended with a custom sports massage, an unexpected but very much welcomed reward for forty-five minutes of non-stop intensity. The fitness staff can devise a custom fitness program for guests who want to use their holiday to amp up their fitness routine. Raoul's souvenir arrived the morning after our return—waking up to the kind of good muscle soreness that comes from a great workout.


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