An Amanera Sunrise, the resort’s signature drink. Photo Credit: Gay Nagle Myers
Arriving late in the afternoon at the Amanera resort on the verdant north coast of the Dominican Republic, I was handed an Amanera Sunrise, the resort's signature welcoming drink of pineapple juice, lime juice, beetroot juice and soda water topped with passion-fruit seeds.
It was the first of many special touches during my stay at the newest Aman Resorts property that opened on Nov. 23, the 29th property in its global portfolio and second in the Caribbean, joining Amanyara in Turks and Caicos.
• American, JetBlue and United serve Puerto Plata from several U.S. gateways; transfers are also available from Santo Domingo, two hours south.
• Grab a walking stick and head up through the mountain ridge behind Amanera with Antonio, the resort's jack-of-all-trades tour guide, beach guide, outdoorsman and nature lover. Snap a selfie from the Viewpoint, a rustic lookout high in the hills overlooking the resort.
• Complimentary activities include watersports, the Eco Casita kids' program, mountain biking and tennis. Golf and spa sessions are extra.
• Enjoy a Dominican seafood lunch at Cesar #12 on the Playa Grande beach, a 20-minute walk along the shore from Amanera.
• Try an Amanera specialty called Mama Juana, a Dominican concoction of rum, red wine, honey and local herbs. It's said to be an aphrodisiac and a cure for various illnesses.
During the hourlong ride from the Puerto Plata airport, I passed sleepy beach villages and drove by Cabarete, the kiteboarding capital of the Dominican, according to my driver, Melville, who also told me that "drivers here are crazy, there is no speed limit" and warned me that "Amanera is not like any other place you've ever seen."
He was right. Amanera is a tranquil, serene and intimate luxury resort, coupled with a food-and-beverage team that delivers a mix of haute cuisine and Dominican dishes straight from the sea and nearby farms.
The resort, which took three years to build, sits atop 60-foot-high cliffs, set between the crescent-shaped, mile-long Playa Grande beach and a golf course that was designed by Robert Trent Jones and recently renovated by his son, Rees.
The backdrop for the resort is the wild, untamed jungle of the Septentrional mountain range, which is laced with hiking trails, birdlife and dense foliage.
Amanera draws its name from the Sanskrit-derived word for "peace" and "era" and the word for "water" in Taino, a language spoken by the indigenous people of the Caribbean.
The dramatic, all-glass contemporary Casa Grande, the main building at the heart of the resort, appears to float above three levels of waterways with views of the ocean, jungle and golf course at every turn.
Water is as intrinsic to Amanera's design as its sleek designs and open spaces. Infinity-edge waterways are the borders for the open-air bar and lounge in Casa Grande and spill onto a curved swimming pool next to the resort's signature restaurant.
A view of the infinity pool and Atlantic from Amanera’s breakfast terrace. Photo Credit: Gay Nagle Myers
Tucked discreetly into Casa Grande is a library, cigar shop and reception area.
"This does not look like any resort I've ever checked into," I told Albert Mertz, Amanera's general manager.
"It's not. It's serene, it's peaceful, it's understated elegance," Mertz said. "There's no blaring music here, just the sound of the waves. The views are everything. Our walkways are not manicured, and the landscaping when it fills in will be wild and lush."
He described Amanera as a game changer in the Dominican Republic, a place known primarily for its all-inclusive resorts.
Amanera is a room-only resort with rates that are currently in the $900 per night range for two guests.
"This resort will change the image of this country," Mertz said. "Amanera is bringing a sense of refinement and a new kind of tourism.
"It's for couples, families, nature lovers and golfers who want an unstructured luxury vacation off the beaten path."
The spacious casitas have special design touches with plenty of closet space.
My room was casita No. 22, one of 25 private contemporary units (13 have infinity pools) clustered throughout the resort, hidden from view from each other. The casitas can be reached via winding, crushed-shell walkways.
The unit was spacious, with teak doors dividing the living area from the bedroom and bath. The walk-in closet was the size of a small studio apartment in New York, with sliding glass doors opening onto wooden sundecks.
The unit was awash in special design touches, such as a flat-screen TV that could be raised for viewing or lowered so as not to obstruct the view from the floor-to-ceiling window.
I dined at Amanera's main restaurant for dinner, at the Beach Club for a casual lunch, ordered room service for breakfast of a Dominican egg souffle with mangu (mashed plantain) and cracked open a Presidente beer after a swim.
In between, I hiked, explored, took my first Pilates class, had a boat ride through the mangroves and enjoyed a family-style meal at a place called Babunuco, where the Dominican chef later showed me how to roll an Arturo Fuente cigar.
A perfecto trip.