Imagine your own private villa with the services of a boutique hotel. Imagine total seclusion a mere 10-minute drive from the nearest town. Picture yourself immersed in the sights and sounds of nature in luxurious comfort—with speedy wi-fi.
Most importantly perhaps for today’s discerning eco-traveller, imagine if all this could be enjoyed guilt free. Sound too good to be true? The new resort of Secret Bay on the northwest coast of Dominica ticks all these boxes and more. A host of enchanting contradictions, the secluded villa and bungalow complex is eco as well as luxury, a development concerned with conservation, a two-week getaway and a second home.
The island’s unique biodiversity offers a lively backdrop to this sustainable getaway experience. Dominica remains one of the most remote and least well-known islands in the Caribbean and abounds in natural wonders: waterfalls, hot springs, a huge boiling lake, a river for each day of the year and some of the last oceanic rainforests in the world.
On the main road just outside Portsmouth and about an hour’s drive from both the capital Roseau and the main airport at Marigot, a discreet sign indicates the turning into Secret Bay. Perched on a cliff top promontory with panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea and rainforest-covered mountains (decorated with the occasional rainbow), the site juggles wild jungle with fruit trees, manicured paths with an explosion of tropical flowers and manages to somehow host two distinct microclimates.
A path down through the forest takes you to the peaceful Cario River, which borders the property and meets the sea at Tibay beach. From here you can swim or take a kayak round the peninsula to white-sand Secret Beach—dare yourself to paddle through the natural rock-formed arch. The teal-green waters are calm and warm and snorkelling gear is available in order to explore the rich marine life and coral reef. The development of Secret Bay has been the lifelong dream of Dominican hotelier and businessman Gregor Nassief, who discovered the site as a little boy and was determined to one day own the land around it. It took him 15 years to acquire the land with his wife, well-known Latin American artist Sandra Vivas.
One of my favourite examples of their attention to detail is the eclectic and original DVD, book and music library available in the properties. Rather than just going out and buying up the odd box-set, Gregor compiled this collection through a lengthy survey of the couple’s international network of friends and colleagues. I was delighted to find many personal favourites among the extensive selection—and wished I had the time for the Long Term Break Package (for stays of over a month) so that I could properly enjoy it.
The couple is genuinely committed to the protection of Secret Bay. All properties were built by hand by local craftsmen to avoid bringing damaging heavy machinery onto the site and the four villas and bungalows were carefully positioned to ensure that a minimum number of trees was cut down. They are working to turn the bay into a protected marine area and also run a development fund with the local community of Tibay— and they are, of course, forever planting more trees (every fruit tree native to Dominica will eventually grow on the site) as well as a kitchen garden.
The villas and bungalows were designed by Sandra’s father, who also, rather fortuitously, happens to be award-winning Venezuelan architect Fruto Vivas. The design is modern and sleek yet unmistakably Caribbean. The 2,500 square foot villas sit on approximately 6,000 square feet of land. Typical of Fruto’s unique aesthetic and sophisticated engineering, the one- and two-bedroom villas of sustainably-sourced Guyanese Greenheart cantilever out from elegant concrete stems and give the feeling that you are floating above the emerald forest and sparkling sea. In the villas, the many windows and the bi-folding doors between the rooms make the whole place light and breezy—I didn’t need the air-conditioning that is available in the bedrooms. The one-bedroom bungalows have been nestled into the forested hillside and floor-to-ceiling windows give the impression of a cosy tree-house, albeit a rather smart one. Villas and bungalows have been decked out with soft linens and state-of-the-art appliances and the bedroom furniture was handcrafted with locally-sourced red cedar.
Upon return to the Zabuco Honeymoon Villa after the day’s exploring, I always found it hard to pick my favourite gazing-at-sunset-over-ocean spot. Contenders included the two-person hammock swinging in the gallery, the inviting waters of the infinity pool and the outdoor meditation point jutting out from the cliff edge and complete with comfy sofas. Mind you, the freestanding bathtub with views straight out to sea did the job pretty well too.
Cooking at Secret Bay is also a treat. The kitchen is kitted out with enough tableware for a dinner party of 10 and the pre-stocking service before you arrive as well as Portsmouth market down the road means there is all you need to create your own sumptuous feast. However, I would recommend the personal cook who also offers cooking classes—pick up tips on breadfruit balls, yam pie or the ubiquitous callaloo soup. And then there are the local restaurants to discover— the lobster at Sunset Bay and the octopus at the Iguana Café were among my favourites. Ask Anna to make the bookings for you.
In fact, it is perhaps the staff who make Secret Bay truly exceptional—a silent force whose service is personal, discreet and thoroughly unpretentious. From the cooling towel at the airport to flower petals on the bed, an organic food basket filled with local goodies and even a guiding hand (much-needed in my case!) into the hidden sea-cave on the property, nothing is too much—and the staff at Secret Bay had usually thought of it before I even knew I needed it.
Indeed, Secret Bay is much more than a holiday resort. As Gregor explained, this is a “personal dream that we wanted to share” and the couple’s vision is to create future second homes. Additional properties will be completed by 2014 as part of stage two of the project but the development will remain small with an emphasis on boutique and personalised service.
The Residences Programme offers villas and bungalows for purchase either fully or through a fractional ownership scheme, which allows buyers to match use to costs. Secret Bay will manage the rental of your property when you are not using it at attractive rates so you can reap the rewards without any of the hassle. This makes purchasing at Secret Bay not only a great financial investment but also an opportunity to benefit from a project that has a clear long-term vision: a permanent vacation spot where you can get away from it all and still be at home. Secret Bay is aptly named—one of those places that is so special you feel lucky for having discovered it but not quite sure you should tell too many others. Get there quick before the word gets out.