Thursday, February 28, 2013

Casa de Campo for any cold

Casa de Campo for any cold
by Gail Karr

I'm constantly reminded that I am not a cold weather person. I'm currently layered in a turtleneck, sweater, and my desk is positioned right next to the radiator. This just makes me wish that I was back at Casa de Campo, the renowned resort and residence in the Dominique Republic.

Our trip to Casa de Campo couldn't have been easier. JetBlue from JFK (they fly out 2 times a week) direct to the La Romana Airport; all in under 4 hours. Walking off the plane and on to the tarmac I noticed a number of private jets, suggesting that flying private is always on option, too.
Dennis and I were welcomed immediately by the hotel's hospitality representative, who quickly guided us through immigration, and picked up our luggage into a waiting van, which whisked us to the hotel. The drive from the airport was less than 10 minutes.

Greeting us as we pulled up to the hotel entrance were the friendly and smiling faces of the staff: Daniel Hernandez, General Manager, Peter Bonell, Chief Marketing Officer, and Sarah Pelegrin, Public Relations Manager. Their gracious and warm nature continued throughout our stay. Every detail was taken into account to ensure our comfort and convenience. And all details were tailored to our own set of interests to maximize our relaxation and comfort.
The welcome committee!
The lobby and reception area.
After checking in, we were given an electric golf cart to use at our disposal in order to move around the vast property. We were escorted to our room after a demonstration on how to use our electric car.
A delightful snack was brought to the room to tide us over before we ventured out to explore the property. Fortunately, Sarah had put together an itinerary and a map that really helped in guiding us through our week's stay.
Our one-bedroom 2-bath apartment in the hotel section was very spacious with a terrace view of the golf course and the sea beyond. There are also many villas privately owned by Europeans, North and South Americans, and those who helicopter in for the weekend from other cities in the Dominican Republic.
The attire at Casa de Campo is elegant casual. My daily attire consisted of a bathing suit and cover-up or pareo. For the evening, it was a real treat to wear pastel colors with no NYC black anywhere in sight!
Our first stop was to purchase a pair of Havaianas flip flops for Dennis. He either forgot to pack them or couldn't find them to pack, he said. Havaianas come in a rainbow of color for men, women, and little ones.
There were numerous shops and locations carrying everything from evening dresses by designer Dolce and Gabbana, Missoni, Roberto Cavalli, Tory Burch, and sun tan lotion by Clarins, which Bloomingdale's had sold out of before I made the trip.

I found pair of handsome swim trunks for my son that aren't sold in the U.S.
Our daily attire ...
The first few mornings we enjoyed the luxury of ordering breakfast in our room, sharing each other's choices over a discussion of what adventures we would have that day. Other days we breakfasted at the Lago Grill, which offers an overwhelming buffet with everything imaginable — fish, meats, cheese, omelets, fresh fruit shakes, you name it.
Breakfast on our terrace.
Breakfast at Lago Grill.
Families started arriving by mid-morning. The language was varied: from an American group of about 10 celebrating their parents' 50th wedding anniversary to an Italian couple escaping the cold. By mid-day, the golfers appeared after completing their early morning tee offs.

Dennis had made reservations to tour the property on horseback on a mild-mannered horse named Rose. Our guide Rafael was informative during the ride, pointing out a number of new homes along the wilderness trail. There are also stables that accommodate pony rides, where many owners board their dressage horses. And an extensive area for those who are educated in the sport of jumping.
Other forms of transportation in and around the island ...
Polo is a big-time sport at Casa de Campo. We went one late afternoon to watch the riders prepare for a friendly match. Each rider brings four personal horses and an attendant to help saddle up and groom. A fresh horse is used for each period.
Dennis wanted to lounge at the beach under a tree with an umbrella. For the less-lazily inclined, water sports gear is available for snorkeling or kayaking.
I was happy to just relax by the pool ...
There are numerous restaurants on the property. Overall, we found the food to be excellent.

The Massimo Group runs 2 restaurants — The Beach Club by Le Cirque and La Cana. The first night we chose The Beach Club and were greeted by General Manager Massimo Caretta. We soon became engaged in a lengthy and enjoyable conversation about all the food at CDC. To top the evening off, the chef came by and joined us for an after dinner drink.
Ready for dinner at The Beach Club by Le Cirque. That's Massimo on the left.
An evening view from La Cana, Massimo Group's other restaurant.
We went back to The Beach House for lunch the following day.
Dennis and I were thrilled when we were offered a private tour of their kitchen and demonstration from the resort's head chef Luca Banfi, who whipped up Mango Salsa, Plantain Gnocchi with fresh tomato and Zucchini sauce, and Veal Medallions with peperonata.

To top it off, Massimo gave Dennis a lesson in pizza making. Thankfully, Dennis has yet to attempt it in OUR kitchen.
Soon thereafter, we made an appointment for a cooking lesson with chef Banfi so we could document his craft and take a few pointers home with us.
Chef Banfi making the mango salsa.
Then, the Veal Medallions with peperonata ...
I have never been able to get my gnocchi the right consistency (and I've watched many a YouTube video), so chef Banfi was kind enough to give me a hands-on demonstration!
We made dinner reservations that evening at La Casita in the Marina, a wonderful restaurant that has been run by its chef/owner for over 30 years. It was Thanksgiving Day and the hotel called to see if we wanted turkey, a dish that appeared on a few of the menus. We chose to go with local fare at La Casita. Dennis ordered the mushrooms and we shared the paella for 2. Fantastic!
Neither one of us had ever been skeet or trap shooting, so we were excited to take a lesson from Shaun Snell, the CDC Shooting director. Finding it one of the highlights of the trip, CDC's shooting center is on 240 acres of tropical forests, with over 200 possible stations, including one of the highest towers in the world. Shaun has created a 20,000-game bird preserve just outside the property where you can hunt pheasants, partridge, quail and duck.
Shaun Snell, CDC's Shooting Director.
Dennis, ready for his lesson.
Shooting Center instructors.
To our delight we also met a a black lab puppy named George. Shaun hand-picked him from the litter of a friend for CDC. The owner wants George to be both a hunting dog and a well-behaved household pet. We were given a demonstration of George's keen ability to run into the thick brush and retrieve.
Shaun Snell with George, a beautiful black Lab puppy.
George in action.
George at rest.
Ardent golfers from all over the world travel to play here. Some groups we met come annually for the "best golf in the Caribbean."

Dennis was given a tour of the courses by Dave Pfisterer, Head Golf Professional, of some of the most scenic and challenging of the 90 holes at the resort.

The most well-known is Teeth of the Dog, which runs along the oceanfront. New and equally scenic, going up and down the hills and featuring views of the river ravine, are the 27 holes of Dye Fore.
Dave Pfisterer, Head Golf Professional.
Not to worry, helpful, spirited caddies abound.
There is also a Jim McLean golf school at Casa de Campo.
There is also a Private Club on the property. The morning we stopped by it was empty, due to a late-night party the day before. I'm not a golfer, but I did meet many groups; mostly men. My favorite was a group of 10 from Amsterdam. This was their eighth year at CDC and they plan to return next year for another 10 days of golf.
Golfing buddies from the Netherlands (from left to right): Rene Mouw, Dick Groen, Gerard Jansen Venneboer, Peter Hofman, Robert Mullin, Michiel Witteveen, Robert Jan Lijdsman, and Erik van der Kruk.
For those whose preferred game is tennis, there is a magnificent tennis center seemingly placed inside a wonderful garden landscape.
Tennis whites (tops, anyway) are required.
Artist in training. One of the biggest draws in La Romana is Altos de Chavón, completed in 1982 as a replica of a 16th-century Mediterranean village. Within the charming cobble-covered streets and limestone walls are several good Mediterranean-style restaurants and cute shops featuring the craftwork of local artisans. I tried my hands in modeling a clay bowl.
Pleased with my perfect little clay bowl.
Our private boat excursion. After an active morning of swimming and marveling at the beautiful fish and coral reef (we were taken out to a snorkeling reef where Dennis found a starfish that he tossed back), we anchored off a private rocky patch for a grilled lunch of native lobsters and local fare. Romance was in the air.
Most of us have heard of Dominican cigars and the debate about whether they are better than Cuban. Well, there is no debate. Today, most cigars are made in the Dominican Republic. And their standards are much higher and regulations much stricter. It was interesting to learn that much of the tobacco is produced from many locations around the world, including Connecticut, and blended to make premium cigars. The wrapping for the premium Romeo and Juliette comes from Indonesia, which gives it the spicy taste many cigar smokers enjoy. I was surprised to find it takes 2 ½ years to make a premium cigar.
And with the puff of some white smoke from a fresh Dominican cigar, we were back in New York. In under four hours.

Do yourself a favor and book your trip:

RESERVATIONS: (855) 877-3643 OR 809.523.8698