On the Dominican Republic’s Samaná Peninsula, small hotels are making a big splash.

By Margot Guralnick
January 12, 2011
Credit: Courtesy of Balcones del Atlántico

Three years ago, French transplants Cary Guy and Marie-Claude Thiebault did something few high-end hoteliers in the Dominican Republic have dared: they thought small and out-of-the-way. The Peninsula House (doubles from $580, including breakfast), their gracious, gingerbread-trimmed Victorian, tops out at 12 guests and is set on a bluff on the country’s northeastern Samaná Peninsula, away from the all-inclusive thrum of Punta Cana. Known for its cove beaches, cafés in former fishing shacks, and unrivaled whale-watching (from January to March), the hilly, 35-mile-long peninsula has long been the getaway that in-the-know Europeans and Dominicans reserved for themselves.

These beachgoers are now going to have to share the sand. In the past year, JetBlue has added a fourth Dominican airport to its roster, which includes a hub in the capital, Santo Domingo, now just 1 1/2 hours from Samaná by car (down from five) thanks to a new highway. And, as of this past January, the Peninsula House has plenty of good company. Balcones del Atlántico, a RockResort (doubles from $431) just made its debut on a protected, half-mile-long crescent of shore with 86 villas (botanical prints, Viking appliances, coral tiled bathrooms, and, yes, balconies galore). Its competition is the tailored, marina-side Bannister Luxury Condominium Hotel (doubles from $243), and, slated for completion in 2012, Auberge Resort’s Casa Tropicalia (aubergeresorts.com), with 37 beach bungalows and an open-air spa on Samaná Bay. Meanwhile, about 60 miles northwest of Samaná, the beach town of Playa Grande will welcome the world’s first Aman golf resort (playagrande.com), said to be breaking ground by the end of the year. As you would expect, there will be nothing all-inclusive about it.

Travel Update: The Dominican Republic occupies two-thirds of Hispaniola, a mountainous island shared with Haiti, where the cholera outbreak remains a concern. At press time, there was no travel alert for the D.R. For more information, go to travel.state.gov.

Peninsula House

The DR continues to move beyond the all-inclusive market with the help of the Peninsula House, which debuted early 2008 in a restored Victorian plantation house on the Samaná peninsula. The six tasteful suites showcase designer Serge Robin’s take on global style and are filled with Louis XV chairs, handwoven rugs from Turkey, and a cosmopolitan collection of objets d’art (African masks; Indonesian marionettes). All have terraces overlooking a remote jungle setting.

Balcones del Atlántico

The hotel made its debut in 2011 on a protected, half-mile-long crescent of shore with 35 villas (botanical prints, Viking appliances, coral tiled bathrooms, and, yes, balconies galore).

Bannister Luxury Condominium Hotel