By Alexander Britell and Guy Britton
DOMINICA – It’s the brightest hour of the late afternoon and everyone is in the water, looking out at stunning green mountains and blue sea.
We’re all at the new infinity pool at the Fort Young Hotel in Roseau, some under the water, some in the corner hot tub, all admiring what has quietly — and suddenly — become one of the most spectacular settings in the Caribbean.
Sitting here, sipping rum, looking out at the almost intimidating natural beauty, you don’t even think about what happened here an autumn ago, about how an island changed forever.
Dominica has not forgotten the storms – and it never will. But here, almost a year later, it is beginning to be reborn.
The heartbeat of Dominica’s recovery is here in Roseau, where, walking the bustling streets, you’d have to squint to see signs of Irma. The market is full, the sidewalks jammed, the coffee cups clacking at Le Petit Paris, an abundant ambience of industry and purpose all over the city. The bars are back, from the spiced rums of the Ruins Rock to the local drinks of the Hi-Rise Beach Bar.
But everything seems to come back to that pool.
This isn’t what you think of when you think of Dominica. At least it didn’t used to be.
It’s ultra-modern, hip, chic. It’s got a different energy.
The Fort Young, long the largest hotel in Dominica, was the first to reopen this year, itself reborn, led by the pool, a redone seafront restaurant, a new dive shop and a waterside check-in.
The hotel is in the midst of a dramatic re-imagination, one that will conclude with a totally re-conceived and expanded hotel that will be unlike anything the island has seen before.
But if the already-present changes look familiar, they should.
They’re the brainchild of Fort Young managing director Gregor Nassief, best known as the owner of Dominica’s now-world-renowned Secret Bay luxury eco resort, which closed last year and will reopen with its own new look in November.
And Nassief has taken the kinds of forward-thinking design touches from Secret Bay, blending local construction and international, contemporary looks, and begun to bring them to the Fort Young.
It’s the kind of hotel that could be a game-changer for the island, shifting tourism energy to the capital and even bringing new kinds of travelers to an island that needs them.
Nobody knows better than Nassief about the transformational power of a hotel for the island.
And just as Secret Bay redefined Dominica as a luxury destination, the new Fort Young could in its own way redefine Dominica as a destination, period. At least that’s how it feels.
It feels fresh, it feels different, and it feels like the beginning of a new Dominica.
Because while Dominica has changed in some ways, its natural beauty hasn’t — and it’s ready for travelers looking for the beauty, for the wonder, for the adventure that always made Dominica such a bucket-list destination.
Yes, you can still snorkel at Champagne Reef, and hike to Trafalgar Falls, and go whale watching. You can still find undiscovered black-sand beaches and meet some of the friendliest people you’ll ever encounter.
It is a new Dominica. But it is still very much Dominica.
“Almost one year later, the island is as spectacularly beautiful and as enjoyable as it has ever been,” Nassief tells Caribbean Journal. “There is no denying that it has been a hard year for many, and the recovery continues, but the spirit of the people and their progress is astounding. The rebirth and regrowth of our forests is unbelievable, the fact that our world-renown dive sites are for the most part untouched is a blessing, and our unique, secluded black-and-white sand beaches and exotic nature trails are yearning for foot prints. Most of all, our friendly and sincere people, grateful for life after Maria, want and need tourism to return. Our island is longing to be rediscovered.”
See more in the latest CJ Video.