At Dominica’s Secret Bay, Finding the Hidden Caribbean

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - January 7, 2013

Above: Secret Bay in Dominica (All photos by CJ)

By Alexander Britell

DOMINICA — There’s mystery here.

I arrive, not by airplane, which of course offers its own unique vantage points, but by ferry, from the neighbouring French department of Guadeloupe, about two hours and a world away.

It’s by boat that Dominica really strikes you, rising from the sea, rocky and imposing, like some mythical isle accessed only by navigating with a supernatural compass.

Dominica has long marketed itself as the Nature Island, featuring fauna and topography unmatched in the wider region. And its physical attributes are staggering.

THE ISLAND’S HIGHEST POINTS are all towering mountains and soaring palm trees, not condominiums or large resorts. Development is of a reduced scale, with low buildings and mostly small hotels and resorts.

While Dominica is the fourth-largest sovereign country in the Caribbean at about 750 square kilometres, it has less than 75,000 people — making it not just the least densely populated island in the region, but one of the least densely populated countries on Earth.

And yes, there is nature — painted in shimmering greens and yellows and obsidians: but what makes this island unique is something metaphysical, something hidden — the feeling that the traveler has reached somewhere remote, somewhere undiscovered.

And I found that at Secret Bay, Dominica’s newest resort.

SECRET BAY is off Dominica’s main ring road, shortly before Portsmouth, the country’s second-most-populous town.

The set of four individual properties is accessed at the foot of a short trail and at the apex of a group of cliffs around the namesake bay.

On the left, there’s an observation deck, offering views of the nearby Secret Beach and more of Dominica’s rocky shores. Further down are two separate villas: the Zabuco Honeymoon Villa and the Zing Zing Villa, and, down the hill, the Mapou and Ti-Fey Bungalows.

Above: a view from a bungalow

THE HOTEL, WHICH LAUNCHED IN 2011, is the culmination of a decades-long dream of owner and developer Gregor Nassief, a native of Dominica.

Nassief, a software guru who has lived in New York and Latin America, grew up exploring the mysteries of Secret Bay.

And over the past 15 years, he had been carefully buying up the site, parcel by parcel, until he could finally call it all his own.

Above: the observation deck at Secret Bay

The plan was first to build a home for his family at Secret Bay, he said, until morphing, somewhat by accident, into something else entirely — a boutique luxury resort.

Right now, the result is four properties, although that number could rise as Secret Bay expands — and it will, Nassief says, perhaps as many as 12 more, with some part of a fractional ownership programme and others part of the hotel only.

Above: a view from Secret Bay

The Zabuco villa is the show-stopper of the resort, featuring its own plunge pool as part of a 2,500-square-foot living area. It’s got ultra-modern, Siemens appliances, surround sound and, more and more important for travelers — exceptional bathroom amenities, including the option of using its sliding doors to create an outdoor shower and bath experience.

Above: the pool at the Zabuco villa

The bungalows, smaller than Zabuco but quite roomy, still offer many of the same modern amenities, nestled among the treetops.

Meals are all delivered personally to the villa from the hotel’s kitchen, down the hillside (the kitchen and fridge can be stocked to order through the hotel and ahead of one’s stay); the cuisine emphasizes healthy, local options and can be consumed either within the villa or at any of its outdoor spaces (i.e., poolside).

Above: the living room at Zabuco

But, just like the rest of Dominica, it’s the views that really get you.

The Zabuco villa in which I stayed offered simply breathtaking, panoramic vistas of the sea (and Guadeloupe, in the far background) and the bays that surround the property.

Above: the view from the Zabuco villa’s upper floor

Here, high above the water, Nassief has done something extraordinary: he’s combined the modern luxury of a state-of-the art hotel with the sense of raw, unadulterated adventure. And that feeling extends to the hotel’s beach: it’s not your average sun and sand.

Above: Secret Beach

I NEGOTIATE A SLICK, ROCKY FLOOR and get into a kayak. It’s just about dusk. The air is cool and the waves are a mysterious colour, darkened by souvenirs of ancient volcanoes.

Above: the stairway down Secret Bay’s hillside

This is the way to Secret Beach.

I’m paddling around the edge of a cliff, on a watery route that has probably been traveled for a thousand years by people in vessels not too different from my own. On my left is a cave, another reminder of all the eons that have passed here.

For now, as the light winds down, Dominica’s mystery is all mine.

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