From the heritage charm of Santo Domingo to bohemian coastal hideouts in the north, the Dominican Republic has island allure in spades, writes Michelle Wranik-Hicks – and sybaritic design lovers will feel right at home too
In the cobbled laneways of Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo’s historic colonial town, life has not so much as slowed down as come to a complete stop. In the leafy square of Parque Colón, capitaleños (the city’s residents) are slouched on benches beneath the trees, fanning themselves with newspapers. The fortified walls of Dominican Republic’s historic city barely allow a wisp of breeze through the streets and I can do little but slump at a café cradling a melting gelato, tempted to order a bottle of ice-cold Presidente beer the way locals do: “vestida de novia” which, amusingly, translates to “dressed as a bride”.
At night, the colonial zone murmurs back to life. Couples stroll arm-in-arm to dine at open terrace-restaurants in the squares or along the oceanfront El Malecón promenade. Respite is also found behind the cool, stone walls of Casas del XVI. With aguayo-tiled floors and high-beamed ceilings, the gorgeously appointed boutique hotel is set across three Spanish Colonial-style mansions that date back to the 16th century, and for a bowerbird it’s a dream, with each filled with all manner of curios from horn-handled magnifying glasses and sculptures to antique exploration maps.
From the moment I arrive, the Small Luxury Hotels of the World property strives to please. A majordomo (butler) appears and my luggage vanishes. No need to bother with the filling in of forms; that can be done tomorrow. Why not pause in the courtyard for a cocktail? Within moments, there’s a Cuba Libre in my hand. Another moment later, there’s a waiter laying out an impeccable dinner served beneath the mango trees and the stars.
That night, I fall asleep to the sound of rain thundering from the heavens, and wake to a brilliant Caribbean sky the following morning. I fling open the doors of my suite to the courtyard, where breakfast is served in three acts: El inicio (the beginning), primer paso (first step) and platos principales, the fresh eggs and tropical fruit arriving with the constant pouring of Dominican coffee. Ubiquitous throughout the country, Dominicans are serious about their brew, and many start to drink coffee before the age of 10 – a concept that would make most parents shudder.