You can zip down to the new, ultra luxurious Ani Villas Resort in the Dominican Republic from chilly New York in about three and a half hours. Hop a morning flight and sip rum punch from a lounger built into the infinity pool by afternoon where you can read, sunbathe and take in golden sunsets while reclining in the water. To make it even more fabulous: you get the whole place to yourself! Why vacation among strangers when you can relax and kick back with your closest friends.
This growing trend called ‘togething’ includes family reunions, friend getaways, celebrations, retreats or any type of group seeking their own private paradise. And Ani Villas, the exclusive Caribbean estate that debuted last December on the central north coast of the Dominican Republic, is the perfect place for – ‘ togethering in style.’ Here everything is customized to you and your group – whatever you want, whenever you want it.
This latest outpost of Ani Villas, a collection of private resorts that includes three properties in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Anguilla is minutes from the beach, surfing and a Trent Jones golf course. Set on a cliff-top estate overlooking the ocean, the secluded 4 acre 14 suite stunner offers vistas of the sea, dramatic coves and mountains in the distance. True to its brand Ani exudes glamour and style with gourmet cuisine, bespoke experiences and outstanding service.
The all- inclusive resort is available for total buyouts for one group or a maximum of two groups on two mutually exclusive estates. While booking an entire resort may seem a bit extravagant, the price is comparable to vacationing at a five-star hotel and the perks are priceless. Together with the Aman Resort ‘ Amanera ’ which launched in November 2016, they are bringing a new level of luxury to the laid back Northern part of the island.
The pampering starts upon arrival with welcome drinks and cool scented towels before you are whisked away to your luxurious oasis. Bali-style accents along with a splash of Dominican design and color create an exotic- Caribbean– chic ambiance. My beautifully designed villa was light and airy with large glass windows, soaring ceilings and striking screens of backlit onyx. Crafted with South American hardwoods it contained every amenity including wifi and Apple TV offering Netflix and music galore.
Supremely comfortable beds with plush linens ensure a seamless journey to dreamland. Deep tubs call out for relaxing soaks with salts provided by the resort. And the outdoor shower set amid a tropical garden was a delight. Private terraces with loungers are ideal for meditating, lolling or gazing at the azure blue sea.
Gastronomic cuisine is served in the two large swanky open-air pavilions or at other places on and offsite. And collaborating chefs Sweets and Juan perform culinary magic with the freshest seafood and local fare. Some of the many standout dishes included delectable conch ceviche in a mango, lime, coconut curry, blackened mahi in an orange, pineapple marinade with sweet corn, plantain and yucca, curry soup with juicy crab and exquisite herb roasted rack of lamb. Deserts were creative and yummy, but the Corn Majarete, a pudding made with yellow corn, cinnamon and coconut milk, was to die for.
Stays include all meals, cocktails, premier spirits, fine wine, daily treatments at the spa and a wide selection of leisure pursuits from cooking classes, water sports such as kayaking and stand up paddleboard, biking, trekking to kid’s activities and more. The resort features 2 pools, tanning decks, open-walled living and dining areas, fully stocked bars, a fitness center, tennis courts plus yoga and event pavilions. With a shuffleboard court, pool table, table tennis – even a chess and checkerboard set in the water – there’s no shortage of toys to play with.
Among the complimentary inclusions I especially enjoyed my superb lesson with resident professional tennis coach Alvaro, personal training with Irma that included take home exercises and Marlyn’s holistic massages that relaxed and rejuvenated. And a lunch outing at nearby Caleton Beach was fantastic. After snorkeling in the shimmering water amid colorful frolicking fish, I relished a sumptuous barbecue of luscious grilled lobster, crayfish, steak and tantalizing red snapper accompanied by tastiest corn with melted parmesan cheese, guacamole and tostones. The ever cosseting staff set up chairs and tables in a private area with linens, flowers and smiles under the watchful eye of senior butler, Dickson.
Later that day I headed to nearby Playa Grande Beach, with its food stalls, tables displaying native wares and lively Dominicans chatting and playing music. Rafael, an affable local with a big grin was preparing just caught lobster at his beach side eatery, his wife and children looking on. I sipped a pina colada gazing at the sand, the sea – the sound of waves breaking on the shore and the wind rustling in the swaying palms. That’s the beauty of the Dominican Republic.
Add-ons are available such as surf and golf lessons, kite surfing, boat excursions, deep – sea fishing or whatever you desire in your own private paradise. Once you try togethering – you’ll never go back.
Ani Villas also gives back to the community through its philanthropic effort, the Ani Art Academies. For every private resort built, they open an art academy that provides full funding for 3 to 4 year comprehensive programs in painting and drawing for local, aspiring artists. I highly recommend visiting the campus studios, set amid the lush hills in Rio San Juan that are home to more than 30 artists in training. Speaking to the teachers and watching the talented youths, I was fascinated.
The students are all in varying stages of a technique called hyper-realistic art and their imaginations are mind blowing. This methodology was devised by renowned painter Anthony Waichulis who currently runs the original flagship, Ani Art Academy Waichulis in Bear Creek, Pennsylvania. When you stay at Ani, you also help a young, aspiring artist. To see what happens when talent is nurtured: Rehs Galleries, 5 East 57th Street, New York City, has an upcoming show presenting works by the artists from Ani Art Academy Dominicana along with a collection of masters in the technique they use: April 28 – May 18. No surprise that the theme is ‘Imagination’. See you there.
Tip: I tried out the Travelpro max-light 4 carry on luggage. It is so light and perfect for travel.