Fourteen. … Fifteen. …
I’m holding my breath. …
The chill turns to sharp pangs as I lose sensation in my fingers and toes. I try to think of warm and happy thoughts but can’t stand the stinging alerts fired by my pain receptors any longer. Jumping out of the ice-cold plunge pool, I dash as quickly as my frozen legs will take me back to the warmth and safety of a neighboring hot tub.
I’m in the Dominican Republic, at one of the most complete all-inclusive resort complexes in the Caribbean, taking advantage of my Premium Level access to the U-Spa’s hydrotherapy circuit.
Alternating between the aromatherapy showers, sauna and steam rooms, ice scrub, and the cold (my foe) and heated (my savior) pools became a daily ritual during a recent stay at the luxury beach resort. I had already bested my first attempt, a measly eight-second dip out of the recommended 30. Multiplied by three rounds, I self-justify that the combined time is just as effective as the original suggestion by the facility’s therapist.
Out in the wellness center’s infinity pool, I disappear into the gushing stream of the pool’s waterfalls, letting the thumping water massage my shoulders, head, and back. Moments later I slide up against the pools dripping edge to gaze out at my paradise surroundings.
Surprisingly, there are nary a dozen wellness seekers in this carved away oasis. I suspect it’s because most guests don’t know of this inclusive service, or, more likely, they’re busy exploring the property’s impressive array of activities and facilities.
Looking beyond the adult pools and the swim up bars, I can see some are squeezing in a nap on a hammock or day bed next to the two-mile-long beach, where there’s a game of beach volleyball happening on the fine white sand. Out in the glistening turquoise waters, aquaphiles play water polo, a few others check out the kayaks, while sun worshippers bask in the rays streaming from above.
If I strain my ears, I might be able to pick up the laughter from the well entertained children who are splish-splashing at the family-friendly Pirates Island water park and wave pool, or taking advantage of the fully stocked kids play area at Barcy Club (making the inner 8-year-old me envious). Young adults have The Xone teen’s disco (non-alcoholic) bar and nightly live stage shows to which to escape.
There’s no shortage of things to do (or not do, if that’s the desire) at the crown jewel of Barceló’s area resorts. With something to suit every traveler, it’s easy to see why Bàvaro Grand Resort’s Palace and its adults-only Beach properties have become the choice pick when it comes to solo séjours, group gatherings, or romantic getaways.
It all starts with the personalized check-in (and later, check-out) services in the lux and relaxed Premium Level Lounge. Not only do I have complete access to the facilities available at each of Barceló Bávaro Grand Resort’s four magnificent properties, but I’m escorted with my luggage across the sprawling luxury property to a spacious junior suite overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Giddy to escape from the stark and cold Canadian winter to the land of sunshine, my welcome continues in-suite with a complimentary bottle of Barceló rum and cava, unlimited access to the mini-bar that’s restocked daily noting all my preferences (down to sparkling water in multiples), and concierge service at my fingertips.
Resisting the siren call of the Jacuzzi on my balcony, I head out to explore the expansive property with a ravenous appetite in tow. Here for Barceló Bávaro’s annual Culinary Week that brings renowned chefs to the resort, I attend everything from master classes to a wine tasting led by sommelier José Joaquín Cortés (who won Spain’s prestigious Nariz de Oro, the Golden Nose, in 2012), and special dinners featuring regional flavours from around the world. Last year’s spotlight on Mexico paired some of the country’s culinary ambassadors like Xavier Perez Stone with Dominican favorite Jacqueline Henríquez in a punchy and flavorful four-hands dinner at refined Chez Gourmet. It’s where a delicate mushroom terrine wrapped with a sarsaparilla-tasting hoja santa leaf with a complex mole is served after a modern interpretation of grilled shrimp paired with three variations of chlorophyll: herb oil, shredded scallions, and lacy chip.
In 2018, the week-long experience will be held October 21-28. Returning to the roster are Dominican Republic’s own Henríquez and Leandro Díaz, who will be joined by Santo Domingo’s Ciro Casola slinging flavors from Italy, while Philippe Mongereau, who had been invited to cook at the prestigious James Beard House, prepares Nouvelle Caribbean Cuisine.
Outside the multi-course dinners held in Santa Fe Steak House and México Lindo, there were festival-inspired daily specials offered next to the international buffet spread at Miramar and Bohío Dominicano. The latter is where I get a taste of true Dominican cuisine thanks to guest chef Eneida Martinez “Yeya.” I’m sure many hangovers are cured by sitting next to the ocean with a towering plate of mangú, a hearty scrambled eggs dish studded with plantains, diced sweet bell peppers, and chunky fried salami. As if it couldn’t get any better, Díaz made a traffic-stopping lechón relleno de moro, a slow-roasted rice-stuffed piglet, one night and served it with saucer-sized crispy fried plantains.
For food lovers, Barcelo’s Bàvaro Grand Resort hosts a grand 14 restaurants and 16 bars on property – including five in the adults-only Bàvaro Beach.
Despite the week’s chef-driven programming, I still managed to gather with new friends for tapas at La Fuente, where we washed down tender Galcian-style octopus, sizzling garlic prawns, Iberian chorizo, and the full dessert menu with glasses of wine before our first collaborative dinner. Instead of after-dinner drinks, we headed to French restaurant, La Comedie, for a feast on classics like snails au gratin, chicken Cordon Blue oozing with gruyere and ham under golden crispy breading, and a shellfish medley where curls of grilled lobster tail mingle with crab legs and jumbo shrimp.
We tested our all-you-can-eat limits with our bellies up at Kyoto’s teppanyaki grill where flying knife skills and the occasional controled pyrotechnics kept us entertained. While the chef sliced, diced, and sautéed a mix of vegetables, chili-licked prawns, and juicy filet mignon we joined in a birthday serenade and toast to a nearby table’s guest. At classic film inspired La Dolce Vita, Italian comforts abound from mix-and-match pastas and sauces to chicken cacciatore and beef medallions in Marsala wine sauce with a wild mushroom risotto. But it’s the tomato sauce-slicked seafood linguine, brimming with clams, mussels, scallops, squid, and shrimps that quelled my carb cravings.
In between meals there were brief attempts to master the resort’s arcade games at the Bowling Center, and a humbling realization that these activities and the small collection of tickets gathered were best left to the well-practiced tweens. Instead, I skipped next door to Strikers, a large air-conditioned 24-hour sports bar with theatre-style seating to watch the big game and snack on pub favorites with a cold beer.
There were visits to the lobby’s adults-only Coffee, Rum & Cigar Bar for my first sip of medicinal mamajuana — a rum-based Dominican drink that’s macerated with herbs, barks, wine, and honey. (Later, I encounter a pleasing smooth version off-property that’s closer to mulled wine than turpentine.)
While there is a well-equipped and spacious fitness center that hosts aerobics classes, I chose to exercise my brain with a group of fellow travelers at Bavaro’s Escape Room Punta Cana. When a need for adventure beckoned, we got sprayed head-to-toe in mud zooming off-road through the rain past small villages in a two-person UTV before taking a dip in the crystal blue waters of an area cenote with Buggies Macao.
Although most of my downtime was spent on the hydrotherapy circuit, I didn’t ostracize the beach. The property was built around a beach that has been rated amongst the top in the world. I found quiet moments early in the morning to stroll alongside its palm trees before the blistering heat from the sun rose high above the horizon.
I managed to pass by the site’s professional soccer field, semi-professional baseball pitch, a few of its seven tennis courts, and its scenic 18-hole, par-72 golf course that was redesigned by renowned architect P.B. Dye. It has a mangrove forest and 25 lakes rippling through its bunker-peppered manicured greens. If I knew how to play golf, I would have gladly taken advantage of the complimentary daily green fee for Premium Level guests. Besides a casino filled with blinking slot machines and high stools pressed up against the roulette and black-jack tables, there’s the nightclub next door for those looking to get their groove on. Looking for a new set of beach ware or an extra fine bottle of rum to take home? The resort has a two-story shopping mall packed with shops and gift stores.
With my eventful yet relaxed getaway drawing to a close, I managed to squeeze in one last hydrotherapy circuit before checking out. By now I had conditioned myself to tolerate the chill.
Twenty-nine. Thirty. Thirty-one.
Rising out of the icy cloak, I emerged refreshed, invigorated, and feeling like I could conquer the world… or at least one more platter of grilled lamb chops and a few more sips from a fresh-cracked coconut before heading to the airport.
MORE ABOUT BARCELO BAVARO PALACE
Location: Carretera Bávaro, Km. 1, 23301 Bávaro, Higuey near Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (see map below)
Getting There: The resort is around a 15-minute drive from Punta Cana International Airport, which receives flights from most major North American cities. Private or shared transfer to and from the resort are available.
Rates for Barceló Bávaro Grand Resort: Junior suites start at $275 (all currency figures USD) for double occupancy per night, while Ocean Front Premium Level (the option I stayed in) start at $390 for double occupancy per night, all inclusive.
Travel Deal: For more information and gastronomic packages for Culinary Week, including an up to 45 percent off promotion with the code SSC-2018 for Barceló Bávaro Palace, visit here.