A charming, colonial-style Caribbean confection set on one of the Dominican Republic’s most dramatically beautiful (and lesser-visited) beaches. As its name suggests, Playa Grande is more of a throwback beach club reminiscent of the Bahamas or Palm Beach than what we’ve come to expect in a modern Caribbean resort — and certainly different from the DR norm. And in this case, that’s a good thing. Instead of a lobby or formal reception, a grand house acts as the sun, with a collection of 13 bungalows orbiting around it, hidden amongst lush tropical gardens. Each little gingerbread house on the sea is filled with so much studied ephemera and so many playful details that the whole package becomes delightfully absurd.
The owners are clearly not hoteliers, and in many ways that is Playa Grande’s greatest strength. The hotel playbook was not only thrown out the window, but it seems that not even a page was skimmed. From the familial service style to the idiosyncratic residential design, the property feels like an eccentric family compound that’s been passed down through the generations rather than a major hotel play. To that end, you can tell that it was built with the owners and their friends in mind. It feels like our good fortune that they share it.
The northern coast of the DR remains relatively untouched in parts, and this particular stretch of beach is one of the most pristine. This perfect golden sand crescent, punctuated with dramatic headlands, has more in common with an Australian beach than it does with the white-sand Caribbean bathwater variety. (We love warm baths, but only in the tub.) Spend your days in and out of the water, then hit the pool and rock in the rattan chairs or crocheted hammocks.
Brownstone Brooklyn families, design-conscious travelers from all over and couples on a romantic fling seeking the perfect balance of just enough privacy and amenity.
We’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve heard “no two rooms are the same,” but here, indeed, no two rooms are the same. We say that because we’ve seen all of them, in all their eccentric joyfulness. The property consists of five three-bedroom houses and eight one-bedroom bungalows. And while the layout of each structure is similar, the decor varies wildly while remaining within the vernacular of chic Caribbean colonial fantasy fun park, all breezy shutters and wide verandas. The designer/owner had great fun with every square inch, and so each is a total surprise. One might find buttercup-yellow striped upholstery on a settee, a hibiscus-pink lining on another piece, or a sweet little sage writing desk. Antiques and bits and bobs decorate each space, with fish masks used in the local carnavale tradition hanging on one wall and vintage seaweed watercolors on another. In terms of the fundamentals, the beds are heaven and the bathtubs deep. (We even asked where they sourced their sheets and bath salts.) Another bonus of the Beach Club’s setup is that each has its own kitchenette and dining space for small private meals or meals for small people. In summation, what might seem like a risky decorating scheme comes together cleverly. Each room has subtle winks to the guest, and every one elicits a broad smile.
As private or as social as you need or desire it to be. The main house is home to two bars and the dining area, which act as the heart of the club. Most guests come for sundowners, so expect to strike up conversation. Playa Grande’s distinctive (and potentially divisive) aesthetic and proposition make for a self-selecting crowd, so you are likely to meet like-minded people, which, to be honest, is part of the joy of it. It feels like a place to return to year after year, making long-term friends along the way. There is an Old World charm to this social element that doesn’t feel contrived or snobby, but instead warm and genuine.
Standard room treatments can be taken (massage is intense and not for the prudish), but if you need the accouterments of a modern flash hotel, the Amanera is five minutes away. Truth be told, the well being power of Playa Grande is the water just steps from each room, a bubbly tonic capable of restoring just about anything.
Instead of talking about the region, we’ll focus solely on the property and its value as a Covid-era destination. The practical benefit of Playa Grande is the ease and safety of the experience: There are many direct flights to three airports within two hours of the property. Masked drivers can collect you and, once you’ve arrived, one couldn’t really design a more effective socially distanced hotel.
This is not a hotel that caters to your every whim, but rather your sense of whimsy.
Now more than ever, health and safety is a singular priority. PRIOR has partnered with Playa Grande in offering our members a customized pre- and post-trip safety checklist, including access to local 72-hour Covid tests before returning home. Get in touch with our team to inquire at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Co-Founder and CEO David Prior was formerly Contributing International Editor of Condé Nast Traveler and Contributing Editor at Vogue Living. David was named by Bloomberg Businessweek as “One to Watch” in 2018 as part of the publication’s prestigious Global 50: the people who defined business in 2017.