Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic - When Christopher Columbus sailed into the Caribbean in 1492 and stumbled upon the Dominican Republic, he declared it “the most beautiful land in the world” and promptly set up a second home there, in Santo Domingo, which became its capital.
Praise indeed from an explorer who had seen more of the planet than most in the 15th century.
Today “the DR”, as it is often called, has nine international airports and tourism is well established. About 140 000 Britons visit annually with overall tourist numbers up 8.5 percent in the past year.
There are plenty of cheap-and-cheerful all-inclusive hotels, most clustering around Punta Cana in the east, but there is also an upmarket crowd who come - wealthy Americans and well-connected Europeans including British Prime Minister David Cameron's mother-in-law Lady Astor, a regular visitor for many years.
Along with a delightful Spanish heritage the DR is indeed beautiful, a leader in eco-tourism with 250 miles of beaches, mountains, jungles and waterfalls. It is the Caribbean's second-largest country, twice the size of Wales, and more than a fifth of the land is protected and wonderfully natural. Yet it also has the largest marinas in the Caribbean, fantastic surfing beaches and a stellar reputation as a golfing destination with 18 courses.
Exclusive hotelier Aman Resorts is capitalising on this by opening Amanera on Playa Grande, on the undeveloped green north coast. This is Aman's first integrated golf resort worldwide, and along with an intimate 25-suite hotel, the company is offering the chance to follow Columbus's example and buy an island home.
Playa Grande has everything you would expect from a Caribbean getaway. There are 2 000 acres of high cliffs, green mountains, dense vegetation and exquisite deep, fine sand beaches, truly some of the best in the world.
The government built a coastal golf course there 25 years ago to encourage tourism to this less visited spot and after a recent upgrade it is 370 acres of waterfront perfection.
Amanera sits at one end of a crescent-shaped, mile-long beach, a newly built ultra-contemporary resort set among tropical plants and trees. London-based architect and designer John Heah came up with every aspect, from the soaring, asymmetrical glass, wood and concrete lines of the main building to the furniture, constructed by B&B Italia, in the individual casitas, or guest rooms.
Homes for sale include six two-bedroom villas of 2 500sq ft priced at £2m. These must be put in a rental pool for 46 weeks of the year with revenue split equally between owners and the hotel. Also for sale are the final three of seven founders villas on one-and-a-half-acre plots with direct beach access, priced from £5m. This is very high end.
The Aman brief is shown in Amanera's strong design element with spacious communal areas, yet also possessing an intimate, understated elegance. Developer Dolphin Capital has worked with Aman before at Amanzoe in Greece, also a hotel with homes for sale.
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“The opportunity for an exclusive home is what buyers at Aman resorts like,” says Cameron Kimball of Amanera. “The brand is crucial. Buyers know with Aman that it will be a stress-free purchase on an international resort with impeccable service and top facilities. The golf course, for example, is private ? only for members, villa owners and hotel guests.”
Direct BA flights from London land at Punta Cana but British buyers at Amanera will probably choose to transfer through Miami to arrive at Puerto Plata, within 80 minutes of the resort.
The global appeal of a solid investment
The Dominican Republic attracts buyers from the US, Canada, Europe and Russia, says William Holden of Sotheby's International Realty, thanks to its low taxes, good Caribbean location and excellent flight access. “While many countries have seen property prices drop in value substantially since 2008, those on the north coast of the DR have remained steady since 2008,” he adds. “The most coveted homes are private villas in gated developments in the hills with panoramic views. Penthouse condos directly on the beach start from £140 (about R2 900) a square foot.”
On the north coast in Puerto Plata, a substantial four-bedroom detached villa and pool in grounds with mature trees and plants is £899 000, through Sotheby's. Meanwhile, Century 21 has a selection of small two-bedroom apartments on the north coast beaches from £175 000.