With over 300 rivers rushing through it and densely wrinkled mountains as emerald-hued as Hawaii’s, Dominica is a different kind of Caribbean. Adventure travelers have long been wise to the wonders of the Lesser Antilles outpost that lies between Guadeloupe and Martinique, thanks to its renowned hiking and whale watching (a resident pod of sperm whales can be seen just offshore from Dominica year-round).
And while Hurricane Maria caused widespread devastation in 2017, the island has rebounded remarkably well. The October 2019 opening of the Cabrits Resort & Spa Kempinski Dominica on a stretch of black-sand beach alongside Cabrits National Park has spawned a new era of luxury. It’s Dominica’s first true five-star hotel. The property’s low-slung buildings interface with the lush surrounds, leaving the focus on Dominica’s grandeur while beckoning guests from oceanfront pools to the sunset deck and the spa.
Most of the 151 rooms at Cabrits Resort & Spa Kempinski have ocean views and roomy terraces for enjoying them. But the 4,585-sqft Presidential Villa, in a building all its own, steals the show, with picture windows through which panoramic views of Douglas Bay filter in at every angle, and a dedicated butler on call for guests’ whims. Ideal for families or couples, the villa has two large en-suite bedrooms, a dining room and living area, and a private terrace with an outdoor grill overlooking a sparkling plunge pool. It’s mere steps to the Kempinski’s sliver of black-sand beach and a dip in the warm waters, but the villa’s private sauna offers the ultimate wellness session at day’s end.
Dominica is a place where everything grows — a veritable spice island where the air is redolent with ginger and cinnamon, and golden mangoes and passionfruit are stacked at roadside markets. The hotel harnesses that natural bounty as much as possible, thanks to its own tropical garden and close relationships between the chef and small-scale island purveyors that extend to fishermen and free-range farmers. There are currently two on-site restaurants open — a gourmet buffet and a poolside restaurant steps from the sea, with an Asian fusion restaurant opening soon.
The buffet, Cabrits Market, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and has a diverse spread of salads, charcuterie, soups and warm dishes that often include Caribbean-style curry, grilled lobster tail and fresh tuna steaks. Kweyol Beach Cafe is more upscale than it sounds, with coconut tuna ceviche spiked with lemongrass, Dominican freshwater shrimp salad and accras de morue (Caribbean fish fritters) on the menu. When it’s time to raise a glass, RumFire Bar beckons with a firepit and an encyclopedic range of house-infused “bush rums” — overproof liquor spiked with island-grown fruits and herbs, such as starfruit and thyme, each with a specific curative claim.
Venturing away from the hotel is a must, as Dominica brims with singular experiences. The Kempinski’s concierge can arrange boat trips down the nearby Indian River (Dominica’s widest), where you’ll likely spot wading birds like egrets and herons. Champagne Reef is a great place to snorkel among effervescence from volcanic vents. There’s whale watching with eco-certified operators to potentially see the resident sperm whales and passing humpbacks. And certified scuba divers can head out from the resort’s dock with the in-house water-sports team to dive pristine walls covered with colorful tube sponges, gorgonian fans and flourishing marine life.
The Kempinski Spa is its own realm at the rear of the property where boardwalks lead to seven Asian-inspired, standalone treatment villas surrounding a private pool. A glass-front sauna takes in mountain views and, on a breezy patio, guests can try self-guided Dominican mud treatments with the island’s therapeutic sulphuric mud. The 150-minute couples treatment, called Escape Together, is the spa’s signature therapy and plays out in a dedicated couples suite with a private balcony for relaxing afterwards. It’s a scrub, facial and massage trifecta that incorporates bespoke island ingredients like ground cocoa beans and virgin coconut oil that soothe the body as if they were Dominica, distilled.
Presidential Villa at Cabrits Resort & Spa Kempinski Dominica from $3,335 per night
Images: John Athimaritis