When I told even fellow travel professionals that I was headed to Dominica this year, I received quite a few blank stares. “You mean, Dominican Republic?” No, Dominica.
The island, for those of you who may also be confused, is an independent country; a small, ovoid nation nestled between Guadeloupe to the north and Martinique to the south. Unsurprisingly, it is a little tricky to get to–most flights route through Miami or San Juan–but with a nickname of The Nature Island, its lush flora, tranquil waterfalls, and secluded beaches are well worth a layover.
And, if you travel as much for food as for the hotel itself, then there are few properties more enticing than Secret Bay, a 12-room resort located on the quiet northwestern side of the island. The hotel is also a member of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux group, whose properties are known as much for their culinary prowess as their unwavering attention to hospitality.
But even among Relais & Châteaux properties, Secret Bay stands out. Spending the night in one of the dozen, enormous villas here feels less like a hotel stay, and more like being in a private home; albeit one with a staff that can cater to your every need before you even realize it yourself. To wit: Since the on-site restaurant Zing Zing doesn’t serve breakfast, your villa host (who will stay with you for the duration of your visit) will arrive every morning and whip up whatever you may fancy, whether that’s scrambled eggs, a tropical fruit smoothie, or housemade granola with yogurt. They can even keep your fridge stocked for that mid-afternoon pick-me-up after a lazy few hours at the hotel’s secluded beach.
But trust me: Save room for dinner. Zing Zing operates on a no-menu approach; the team decides on a new four-course meal every day, depending on what’s fresh and what’s inspiring them. The result is almost like dining in a new restaurant every night; you may have a tangy tuna tartare on Monday, and a hearty, local lionfish the next. And with the open kitchen in full view of almost every table, you’ll also be able to see the culinary team’s creativity at work in real-time.
While you’ll certainly be pampered at mealtime here, the most luxurious feature of the hotel is undoubtedly the villas. The smallest iteration, the Mapou, still clocks in at over 1,200 square-feet, while the Zabucos–with up to two bedrooms and two baths–are an astounding 4,000. Each freestanding structure is constructed of sustainably sourced tropical hardwood and boasts a private plunge pool, gourmet kitchen, covered terraces, and expansive views of the sparkling sea. And with only 12 villas (although the hotel has plans for building eight more by the end of this year), you’ll hardly ever run into other guests, even when the resort is at full occupancy.
It is impossible to pick a favorite memory from my trip to this hotel, but I’ll leave you with this one: I awoke every morning to the dulcet sounds of tropical birdsong, gentle lapping waves, and soft breezes through the jungle’s trees. Staying here is treehouse living, yes, but of a kind you never could have imagined as a seven-year-old. And it is well worth the wait.
Location: Portsmouth, Dominica
The vibe: Unabashed, but tasteful luxury. It’s what would happen if your childhood treehouse won the lottery and got a major glow-up.
Our favorite thing about the hotel: Every room comes with a dedicated villa host: They do everything from preparing your daily breakfast to organizing your spa services to booking restaurant reservations across the island.
Food and drink: Zing Zing restaurant serves lunch and dinner daily; next door Zing Zing Bar & Lounge slings creative cocktails and small, Dominican-inspired bites. The pool also has its own bar, Gwiyavye’, which serves a menu of tropical sips. And opening this November is Bwa Denn: Food, Art & Brewery, which will encompass an all-day restaurant, microbrewery, and rooftop lounge.
Amenities: Lap pool, The Gommier Spa, Bwa Mang Wellness Pavilion for yoga classes, and a private beach with kayaks, paddle boards, and snorkeling equipment.
Any neighborhood recs?: While you’ll certainly want to explore the lush island of Dominica while you’re staying at Secret Bay, the property is secluded enough that you can’t just walk into town. But the hotel can arrange a car and driver for you to explore the island’s many beaches, hiking spots, and local restaurants.
Rooms: There are 12 currently, but there will be 20 by the end of the year.
Pricing: From $987 a night
Nearest Airport: Douglas Charles Airport (DOM), a 55-minute drive.
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