Where to Go for a Caribbean Escape

Winter blues transition to cobalt seas as we dodge the Michigan cold in search of warmer temps.
75
Trunk Bay, St John, United States Virgin Islands. // Photograph from Adobe Stock

Go off-the-grid at eco-luxe resort Secret Bay in unspoiled Dominica

For those who dream of traveling to undiscovered destinations, the Caribbean likely doesn’t come to mind. Yet, among the Windward Islands in the Lesser Antilles lies a secluded island nation underscored by dramatic beauty and a lost-in-time allure.

Welcome to Dominica, a magnificent, mountainous, independent country, 72,000 citizens strong, hidden between more-touristed neighbors Martinique, St. Lucia, and Guadeloupe, and not to be confused with the Dominican Republic.

Rightfully known as the Nature Island, this untouched land teems with extreme natural phenomena such as towering waterfalls, boiling lakes, and coral reefs that bubble from geothermal activity.

Across its 289.6 square miles of rugged terrain and lush rainforest, biodiverse Dominica harbors more than 1,000 species of flowering plants and 170 bird species, and its coastal waters receive 20 species of whales and dolphins, including resident populations of sperm whales.

Among the land and sea splendor, an intimate, adults-only eco-resort opens this uncharted paradise to the luxury traveler. At Secret Bay, understated cliff-top villas command Dominica’s superlative views, while an array of amenities invite relaxation and an on-site adventure center ensures exhilarating excursions and maximum exploration.

An all-villa boutique property within the esteemed Relais & Châteaux collection, Secret Bay began as a personal residence-turned-passion project. Back in the late 2000s, Dominica-born entrepreneur Gregor Nassief purchased a prime 4-acre tract above Secret and Tibay beaches along the island’s rainforest-clad northwest. Soon, his father-in-law, award-winning Latin American architect Fruto Vivas, presented Nassief and daughter Sandra with a blueprint for their dream home in the Caribbean wilds.

The grand residence metamorphosed into a more approachable, minimalist, wood-and-glass abode, rife in transitional indoor-outdoor space and sensibly blended into the landscape. The stunning result, now known as Zabuco Honeymoon Villa I, inspired Nassief to embark on a larger master plan, acquiring the surrounding land and developing a world-class, light-on-earth resort.

Nowadays, Secret Bay comprises a Welcome House, numerous resort villas, Secret Bay Residences, Zing Zing Restaurant, Gommier Spa, lounger-lined Gwiyavye’ Lap Pool & Bar, a sprawling wellness pavilion, a water sports hut, and more, cast across 40-plus acres. The residential-style villas are intended for languid days in nature, each with floor-to-ceiling glass doors, outdoor dining areas, rain showers, and plunge pools. Also found in every unit, a gourmet kitchen supports homespun meals — though guests tend to leave the cooking to their dedicated villa host or an on-demand private chef.

For those with the recommended breakfast and dinner package, Secret Bay pre-stocks the fridge and pantry, culling guest selections from a long list of choices. Every morning, your villa host will whip up breakfast, whether that be a healthy, organic spread of fruits and proteins or a local feast of eggs, saltfish, and bakes (fried dough). Dinners can also be prepared or delivered in-villa, but most favor dining at treetop Zing Zing Restaurant.

Here, no two nights are the same thanks to ever-changing selections based on fresh catch and daily harvest. However, it doesn’t hurt to request the epic tuna escabeche or the grilled calypso chicken in advance.

Elsewhere on property, familiar Caribbean activities are on tap. Consider working on your tan while sipping rum-spiked cocktails around the pool, decompressing on the beach, or getting pampered in the spa. But hop in a kayak and you’ll quickly realize that this is anything but the posh Caribbean ordinary.

Cross through natural arches and stumble upon sea caves before claiming all of swoon-worthy Secret Beach for yourself. (Your villa host can arrange a beachfront picnic to heighten the experience.) Take a boat north along the coastline to admire the uninhabited mountain-meets-sea grandeur, intersected by limestone pinnacles and formidable cliffs that host seabird colonies by the dozens. Venture south and under the sea at Champagne Reef, which explodes with billions of tiny bubbles from active fumaroles and a full cast of marine life that has adapted to these alien conditions.

Head inland and ogle skyscraping waterfalls that rival Hawaii’s and Costa Rica’s cascades; the scenery is so cinematic, in fact, that Dominica’s misty rivers and verdant rainforests have served as backdrops in some of the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Hike the footpaths of UNESCO-recognized Morne Trois Pitons National Park and reach the world’s second largest boiling lake, swimmable gorges, and emerald pools.

Search for rare and colorful birds on a segment of the 115-mile Waitukubuli National Trail — the Caribbean’s longest — under the guidance of Dominica’s foremost birding expert, Bertrand Jno Baptiste, aka “Dr. Birdy.” While avid bird-watchers call on Dr. Birdy for primo encounters with the endemic Sisserou parrot, the pro’s enthusiasm, knowledge, and tried-and-true method for finding avifauna can convert any skeptic into an outright bird lover. (Spoiler: Dr. Birdy possesses an uncanny ability to mimic countless birdcalls and often communicates directly with his feathered friends.)

In total, both Secret Bay and greater Dominica shine as two of the Caribbean’s final secrets. To be sure, a relatively remote location and inaccessibility have been instrumental in maintaining this innocence. Our advice: Visit Secret Bay and Dominica to experience this Caribbean paradise in its purest form.

Check out secretbay.dm for more information.

— This portion of the article was written by Paul Rubio


Tucked away from the beaten path, two island resorts redefine the Bahamas experience with barefoot luxury and haute design:

1. The Clove Eleuthera

A 40-acre boutique resort, The Cove Eleuthera offers guests a secluded paradisical retreat with a luxurious yet friendly feel. Situated on the north end of quiet Eleuthera — one of the less-traversed Bahamian islands — The Cove is just 30 minutes south of North Eleuthera Airport.

Upon arrival, the resort’s personable staff greets you for check-in. Expect to be called by name and whisked away to one of the property’s 29 guest accommodations, which include one-, two-, and three-bedroom suites, cottages, and beachfront villas.

All guest rooms are luxe and well-appointed; however, you’ll find no flash or fussiness. Clean lines, natural wood elements, and neutral tones ensure there’s no distracting from the native beauty that abounds, including the near-hypnotic turquoise waters found on the resort’s two private beaches. Even the on-site Freedom Restaurant & Sushi Bar and Gregory Town Grill exude a sense of refreshing minimalism that’s fitting for this placid property.

Speaking of the culinary, The Cove offers guests an array of fresh fare. Island-inspired dishes and sushi creations can be found at the Freedom Restaurant & Sushi Bar. Eleuthera is known for its especially fertile soil, and the produce from the resort’s organic garden (available for guests to tour) is put to good use. As for breakfast, it’s difficult to rule out room service, especially when you can savor a morning acai bowl and cappuccino alfresco with Caribbean vistas from your room’s wraparound deck.

Eleuthera’s etymology derives from eleutheros, the Greek word meaning “freedom.” It’s a fitting name for this calm, entrancing haven where you’re uninhibited to while away hours relaxing beachside or by The Cove’s infinity pool, perhaps with a Freedom Style Mojito or Nojito in hand.

That said, if you’re after exploration or adventure, there’s plenty to be had, and the resort’s staff stands ready to assist. Paddleboards, kayaks, snorkeling gear, and bicycles are available for use on property; the resort’s boat is also available for day excursions. Off-site — but still on the island — enjoy myriad sights and experiences, from seahorse watching at Sweetings Pond, to a soak in pools naturally formed by the Atlantic at Queen’s Bath, to a swim in the Sapphire Blue Hole, an underwater sinkhole filled with azure water. There’s also historic Preacher’s Cave, where you can visit the site of an English shipwreck.

Sometimes, the most productive thing to do is to relax — to slow down. Eleuthera and The Cove offer travelers a respite from life’s hustle and bustle. It’s the perfect paradise to refocus the mind and rekindle the spirit.

Visit thecoveeleuthera.com for more. 

— This portion of the article was written by Jane E. Enos

2. Caerula Mar Club

After landing on the dusty airstrip at Congo Town and driving through a part of the Bahamas that time forgot, pulling into Caerula Mar Club feels like entering an oasis. Whitewashed cottages with wide porches sprout from the sand. Organic shapes and driftwood tones impart an immediate sense of serenity. Hammocks slung across palm trees sway in lazy breezes. And every path leads to the sea.

It wasn’t always like this. The Emerald Palms hotel, originally built in the 1960s, had been abandoned for some years and fallen victim to the whims of weather. While vacationing on South Andros Island in 2017, Sarah and Bryan Baeumler saw the derelict property and its 10 acres of waterfront and bought it on the spot. Their plan: to transform the place into South Andros’s first true luxury resort. It didn’t hurt that they were an HGTV Canada power couple — he a contractor, she a design whiz — with several renovations under their belts.

The Baeumlers’ journey, which they turned into a “huge family adventure” by moving to the island with their four young children, was chronicled on the HGTV show Renovation Island. For three seasons, viewers were riveted as the couple found solutions for issues ranging from bad plumbing to a major hurricane.

Sarah’s plan was to create a tropical idyll with all the island feels and none of the pretense. The Signature Collection private villas, available in one- or two-bedroom configurations, blend traditional Bahamian architecture with midcentury modern style for a sophisticated take on island living. Bleached oak floors and materials like aged marble, natural woods, and rush have an organic sensibility. Light-suffused rooms are decorated simply — a white bisque vase here, a stylized branch there — in a sand-toned palette that lends itself to a relaxed atmosphere. French doors open to wood-planked porches for lounging, entertaining, or contemplative moments in nature. Step down and find yourself on the sand, mere paces from the Bahamas’ famous turquoise surf.

Every detail is an immersion in island living, down to the smallest accessory.

“We love supporting Androsian entrepreneurs,” Sarah says. “From homemade coconut soaps by Sharon to woven grass baskets by Flossy, we have tried to incorporate local materials and artisan goods as much as possible.”

Design’s purpose is to set a tone for living, and here the tone is conducive to languid beach days under the shade of palms, strolls along the shoreline, and biking the Queen’s Highway, South Andros’s only road. It ignites the desire to swim in blue holes, which are plentiful around the island, or take a boat to a deserted beach for coral-reef snorkeling (we saw nurse sharks, stingrays, and a sea turtle), with a chef’s picnic to round out the day. Or the ambition to hook a bonefish, which will make you earn your stripes as an angler. Whatever your passion, Caerula Mar is both the backdrop and the inspiration for an authentic Bahamian holiday.

Find more information at caerulamar.com.

— This portion of the article was written by Daphne Nikolopoulos


This story is from the February 2024 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.