The Dominican Republic’s Casas del XVI hotel woos visitors away from the beach for a time-travelling stay in 16th-century settlement and Unesco World Heritage site Colonial City, in Santo Domingo. These city-centre casas, with Spanish-tile floors and palm-shaded courtyards (one with a swimming pool), are attended by personal mayordomos (butlers) who will make you feel as pampered as a member of the Spanish noblesse.
3pm, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, noon; early arrivals can stash away their luggage and relax in the courtyard until their room is ready.
Double rooms from £325.05 ($422), including tax at 28 per cent.
Breakfast is included.
Former Dominican Republic president Ulises Heureaux resided in Casa Arbol from 1887–1889, and Casa de los Mapas is so called due to its many wall-hung maps, inspired by an itinerant cast of characters who’ve stayed over the years. Casa del Diseñador is the former home of a Dominican fashion designer, and Casa Macorís was originally part of the colonial-era Convento de los Dominicos. The hotel’s inviting pumpkin-coloured library is irresistibly cosy; plonk down in a purple sofa with one of its small selection of books.
We love Casa del Arbol’s ‘pineapple room’, in the Deluxe category, where historic gravitas and island ebullience come together like a conquistador in Carmen Miranda headgear. Kitsch fruit-filled paintings, pineapple-shaped light fittings and a headboard with an elaborately carved – yes, you guessed it – will make you crave a piña colada.
Guest may use the pool at Casa Macoris or the unheated pool in the inner courtyard of Casa de los Mapas (unless either Casa has been booked for exclusive use). This pretty patch has grassy banks, tropical ferns and palm grass along one edge, and a smattering of day-beds; after sundown it’s lit by candelight.
A good book to read in the courtyard; we recommend Dominican-American writer Junot Díaz’s tragicomic tomes, which capture the island’s patois. Bring a Field Notes pad in which to sketch the varicoloured tropical birds that flock to the courtyard’s mango tree (in Casa Arbol) and potent bug spray to keep you bite-free while doing so.
The best beaches are found further afield, but there’s plenty to explore nearby; ask your concierge to plan a tour. If you'd like an in-casa spa treatment or personal-training session – whatever your whim – have a word with your butler.
Family groups are welcome. The Superior Room sleeps a family of four on two double beds, and a free baby cot can be added to Deluxe and Luxury Rooms. There are no special services, but butlers can arrange babysitting, child-friendly meals and baby kit.
Why eat inside when you could dine under a palm canopy, listening to birdsong, in a perfumed private courtyard?
Laid-back Caribbean cool: loungewear in bright carnival-inspired colours.
The hotel operates on a bed and breakfast basis; each morning your butler will ask where you’d prefer to dine – in casa or courtyard – before laying out a tasty spread. Anything you’re hungering for can be prepared, but the cinnamon, chocolate-chip and banana pancakes, served with coffee and freshly squeezed tropical juices, are dreamy. The hotel can put together a bespoke private lunch or dinner menu on request (with some notice).
Delicious Dominican rum – alongside a range of spirits and soft drinks – flows from each casa’s honesty bar (You’ll find one in Casa Arbol’s foyer and Casa de los Mapas’ kitchen), and your mayordomo can turn mixologist at a moment’s notice.
There’s a limited but delicious menu for in-room dining; your aim-to-please Jeeves can help if you’re hankering after something specific.
These chic casas are on the south-east coast of the island, at the centre of 16th-century Colonial City. Set on a quiet residential street lined with sun-faded fincas, they’re just 10-minutes’ walk from Parque Colon and Montesinos Beach.
The hotel is a 25-minute drive from Las Américas International Airport (www.aerodom.com). There are direct flights from most major airports on the US eastern seaboard; from Paris, Madrid, Frankfurt, Munich and Dusseldorf in Europe; and most Caribbean islands. Transatlantic flights arrive via Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and Hartsfield International, or Charles de Gaulle and Punta Cana airports; flights across the Pacific via San Francisco and Newark Liberty, or Portland and Hartsfield airports.
Driving isn’t recommended. It’s fairly easy to reach most destinations on foot, but arrive armed with a map: unmarked streets and confusing colloquial directions can leave even the most confident orienteer befuddled. If you wish to explore beyond the city there’s an Avis car-hire booth at the airport.
Worth getting out of bed for
Casas del XVI is an island stay for those who prefer touring Santo Domingo’s crumbling cathedrals and fortifications to topping up their tan. Colonial City earned its Unesco World Heritage stripes by keeping its 16th-century architectural gems in tip-top condition. The city’s most acclaimed sights are all within 20 minutes’ walk from the hotel, so – like Columbus – you can chart your own course or let the hotel’s concierge tailor a tour to your liking. Stop at Ozama Fortress (+1 809 686 02 22) and Alcázar de Colón (+1 809 686 86 57) residence on the three-hour ‘Old City Stroll’ or take a spiritual journey to the Iglesia Regina Angelorum and Convento de los Dominicos (+1 809 682 37 80, http://conventodominico.org) on the four-hour ‘Churches of the Colonial City’ tour. Gourmands with a penchant for rum can wash down caught-that-day seafood and calorific desserts laced with coconut and dulce de leche with heady amber spirits on the ‘Ron Barcelo Sugar and Rum Experience’, ‘Chocolate Clay and Sugar’ and ‘Flavours of the Old City’ tours. Nighttime tours, open-air theatre, golf challenges and day-trips to celebrate the Samana Harvest Festival are also offered.
The island’s best beaches are found further along the southern coast and in the laid-back Samaná Peninsula; however, Santo Domingo is home to Montesinos Beach, 10 minutes’ walk from the hotel, where locals meet to play beach games and sunbathe. It’s advisable to keep your beach frolicking on dry land – the murky waters aren’t the most inviting. For full-on beach fun, continue your Caribbean getaway with a seaside stay at Casa del XVI’s sister hotels Casa Bonita or Sublime Samana.
Dine on surf 'n' turf, mariscos (mixed seafood platters) and elegant tasting menus – we love the Rum Experience’s imaginative intoxicating dishes – at Pat'e Palo (+1 809 687 80 89, www.patepalo.com), a local-thronged European-style brasserie in Plaza de España. The terrace overlooks the Alcázar de Colón. A long row of stools cosying up to the bar makes Lulú (+1 809 687 83 60, www.lulu.do) one of Colonial City’s most sociable venues. Its lengthy tapas menu has internationally influenced dishes, including short-rib croquettes with Emmenthal and beef wontons. Sophia’s Bar & Grill (+1 809 620 10 11) –15-minutes’ drive from the hotel, on Calle 16 de Julio – serves high-end comfort food: truffled mac and cheese with lobster and Churrasco-style beef. Save room for calorific desserts and mugs filled with churros.
On the ground floor of the Hotel Conde de Peñalba, near a bustling shopping area, is Café Conde de Peñalba (+1 809 688 71 21, www.condepenalba.com) an excellent people-watching spot. The menu has reasonably priced international fare – burgers, sandwiches and a tasty brunch selection – alongside local dishes, including mashed plantain. The shaded terrace has views of Cathedral of Santa María la Menor (the New World’s first European cathedral) too.
If you’re seeking piratical pursuits, forgo swashbuckling and skulduggery for the louche aspects of a sea rover’s lifestyle by knocking back rum-laced cocktails in El Mesón de la Cava (+1 809 533 2818, www.elmesondelacava.com) – a former pirate’s hideout. The restaurant and bar’s setting – inside the belly of a chandelier-lit grotto – is magical and the terrace is resplendent with vividly coloured ferns, palms and flowers.
Our journey to the beautiful colonial city of Santo Domingo was not straightforward. We’d miscalculated our transfer times and then nearly misplaced the airport. It was a somewhat stressful start to our trip, which is not something the team at Casa del XVI could’ve had any idea about. But do you know what? It’s exactly as if they did. There wasn’t a single detail missed at check-in. Our anxiety subsided almost instantly as we emerged into the opulent reception area, where we were greeted with the warmest welcome from the concierge and (wait for it…) our butler.
We were each handed a glass of locally sourced and refreshing fruit drink as the receptionist explained that our room wasn’t quite ready. We’d arrived well before the check-in time but this was no problem for the staff, who set us up in an alternative room and made every concession to ensure we were settled in. As we made ourselves comfortable, our butler, Joshua, came and introduced himself fully. Effortlessly charming, he gave us a mobile phone with two numbers in it: his and the concierge, in case he wasn’t immediately on-hand to answer. We asked for directions to the nearest ATM, but rather than telling us how to get there, he escorted us so we wouldn’t get lost and gave us an impromptu mini-tour of this astounding colonial city. (To really exemplify Joshua’s greatness: later on, I requested a particular brand of fizzy drink to go with lunch. It wasn’t until afterwards that I realised that my preferred brand wasn’t stocked by the hotel, and that Joshua had gone to a local shop to buy it for me).
Later in the afternoon we moved into our abode – more a private house than a room – as Casas del XVI is split between seven extraordinary buildings. We were to be quartered in a newly refurbished home with characterful, authentic interiors and exotic details – everything down to the extensive ‘pillow menu’ was perfect. The free-standing tub, too, was so incredible it actually made me upset (My bathtub at home couldn’t hold a candle to it).
We were sharing our building with one other guest in a suite on the opposite side of the pool – not that we’d see much of each other. The outside seating area was lush and green and provided the option to laze by the heated pool on a sun lounger or on one of the huge sofas, where I immediately set up camp to read a book – soundtracked by the awesome music system. It was so idyllic, in fact, that we ate breakfast, lunch and dinner here. Even though inside there was a dining room with an impressive table that would’ve seated twenty people.
As fabulous as the Casas are, the highlight for us was the team of wonderful staff. All of them clearly love their job and want every guest to leave having had the best experience. No task was too big or too small and they went out of their way to ensure we had an unforgettable, stress-free stay. And none of this encroaches on or is at the expense of traditional Dominican culture. There’s no question about whether we’ll be back, it’s just a case of when.