Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.
If you thought masks, temperature checks and hand sanitizer made you feel safe, just imagine how you’d feel if you had all of those things in a spacious sanctuary on fortified castle grounds.
Wait – is this Games of Thrones, the coronavirus edition? No, but close.
It’s Sanctuary Cap Cana, an all-inclusive, adults-only, five-star luxury resort located along the eastern shores of the Dominican Republic that’s famous for wellness, gastronomy and the fact that, yes, it has its own castle.
Castles with rectangular battlements, wooden bridges and medieval-like towers are hard to come by in the Caribbean, and while it’s easy to feel like a king or queen at any five-star resort, a stay at Sanctuary is the real royal deal.
Perched on a cliff along a fine-grained, white sandy beach in Cap Cana – a gated community 15 minutes from Punta Cana International Airport – the property, built in 2006, has 324 suites in 18 categories – 80 per cent of which face a cerulean-blue sea.
“Honestly, on a sunny day, you can see 50 shades of blue,” said Angie Diaz, director of sales at Sanctuary Cap Cana, where PAX stayed for two nights in November as part of a 24-day tour of the Dominican Republic.
Playa Hotels and Resorts has many brands, but only one Sanctuary, making this “jewel hidden in the Caribbean,” as Diaz put it, all the more exclusive.
4 romantic sections
Sanctuary Cap Cana temporarily closed on March 21 due to coronavirus-related restrictions and reopened on July 15.
The property is divided into four romantic sections: Colonial Suites (a Spanish-colonial “town,” near the main lobby), Luxury Suites (a new twin tower that holds luxury junior, premium suites and a penthouse – more on that later), the Villa Collection (beach and ocean-facing living quarters – rustic luxury cottages, if you will – tucked away in their own quiet neighbourhood) and the aforementioned Castle, where swim-out and honeymoon suites can be found.
It’s a fabled kingdom, too. Before the resort was built, the land was home to a lone chapel, which was preserved and incorporated into the structure of Sanctuary’s main lobby bar, “Love Bar.”
“You can still confess…to the bartender,” Diaz told me.
The Castle, notably, has a 5,500 sq. ft. “Island Suite,” a two-level jaw-dropper that has three indoor plunge pools and – wait for it – access to its own private island, palm trees and all, facing pristine tropical waters.
Not to get all Game of Thrones-y again, but if Cersei Lannister was to book a spa retreat for herself, I’d imagine she’d ask her travel agent to book the Island Suite. (All luxury suites come with butlers).
But there’s no hassle in this castle. Here, guests can access the 20,000 sq. ft. Sanctuary Spa and fitness centre, a rooftop pool and lounge, and a Pan-Asian eatery called Wok, all of which are surrounded by a “moat” (a saltwater pool).
Fear not – there are no dragons. The only thing you’re slaying in this kingdom is stress, your highness.
“Sanctuary is about relaxing and being away from everything, especially now with all that’s happening in the world,” General Manager Javier Estevez told us, explaining how the name speaks for itself.
Adults can carve out their own piece of paradise, in every section, given how spread out the property is. In pandemic speak, it’s almost as if Sanctuary was built for social distancing.
With just 324 rooms, the manicured areas are not crowded, at all, and suites with private pools, for example, give guests the option of staying put in their own space, if they wish.
“We have all the amenities that the luxury market is looking for,” Estevez said.
“A mix of the world’s best”
At Sanctuary Cap Cana, you can be in a Caribbean paradise one minute, then a serene Spanish village the next.
The grounds, which boast six pools at various elevations, are a calm display of flowerful gardens, angelic fountains, rock walls, stone sculptures, whimsical pathways and worldly white, yellow, pink and peach-coloured buildings. (Imagine the wedding pictures!)
“It’s a mix of the world’s best,” Diaz said, noting how the owner, who is Spanish, imports all meats and cheeses from Spain for Sanctuary’s six restaurants.
In addition to teppanyaki at Wok, there’s fresh seafood at Blue Marlin (built on stilts, overlooking the ocean), The Steakhouse (the cuts are Divine with a capital D), Capriccio (Northern Italian cuisine), La Yola Snack Grill (a canoe-shaped eatery for the pool goers) and Casabella, a white-table, international buffet restaurant that’s hugged by greenery.
Modernize & sanitize
Visible safety protocols, introduced to protect guests from COVID-19, play out in various ways, at every venue, as part of Playa’s Safe Stay promise. (Click here to read all about it).
The program is a “modernized approach to cleanliness, sanitization and personal space" that you see, in action, immediately upon arrival.
Staff, all of which wear masks indoors and out, sanitize the luggage and hands of all guests, which undergo temperature checks, taken from afar using a camera that’s fastened, discreetly, above the main lobby doors.
Some resorts have been setting up their temp-check gadgets on tripods at entrances, which can be a bit of an eyesore sometimes. Sanctuary’s above-the-door method just looks cleaner and feels less intrusive.
As seen at most hotels these days, there are clear barriers separating staff from guests at check-in, bars and at the buffet, where food is now plated by staff and served through a rectangular hand-off window.
(But once you touch the plate, it’s yours, I’m told. Passing a touched plate back through the slot into the food prep area is a sanitary no-no).
Touchpoints, like menus, are reduced through the use of QR codes. Even room service now comes in a pre-packaged takeout bag, left on a stool at your doorstep to promote physical distancing.
Naturally, capacity at restaurants is capped to prevent crowding. But again, this isn’t a crowded place to begin with.
If one pool starts attracting a crowd, chances are there’s another pool, not far off, that you can have all to yourself.
Health & safety chic
Of course, only a place like Sanctuary Cap Cana could make virus-prevention protocols look chic and sexy.
It’s not plexiglass separating guests and servers at the buffet, dear. That’s real glass.
The black and indigo-blue, custom-made “Sanctuary” masks worn by staff are runway ready.
The property uses futuristic electric-blue UV lights for zapping bacteria on papers, pens and hands and ozone generators for disinfecting restaurants, spa rooms and suites after use.
“It’s the same technology used to clean aircraft after flights,” said Diaz of the ozone machines, calling them “an additional layer of safety.”
If COVID-19 prevention didn’t have a premium category before, it does now.
It’s also something travellers seem to be getting used to.
Most guests, for instance, were seen wearing masks when walking through indoor common areas.
Guests were patient, too, if they had to wait for their table to be set when visiting restaurants (as tables, now, are set as each party arrives).
Dominican’s own protocols
Beyond resort protocols, the Dominican Republic has its own Responsible Tourism Recovery Plan for visitors.
Tourists arriving on commercial flights and staying a hotel receive free travel assistance that includes coverage for medical emergencies related to COVID-19 until Dec. 31, 2020 (for now).
Dominican-bound travellers must submit a Traveler’s Health Affidavit and do not need to show a negative PCR to enter the country. However, three to ten per cent of arrivals are tested, at random, via aleatory breath test.
“The controls we have within the country are phenomenal and are working,” Estevez said. “…We can’t wait to have Canadians back.”
Good vibes only
But Sanctuary Cap Cana, at heart, is all about wellness and positive energy.
“Healing crystals” (selenite minerals) are utilized property-wide, appearing in lamps and tables and, prominently, in crystallized columns in the main lobby.
Sanctuary is also good place to splurge, if you got the coin or clientele.
That penthouse suite is 2,500 sq. ft of lavish living, complete with two bedrooms, king-sized beds, two modern bathrooms, a furnished living room that could make the cover of House & Home magazine, and a gargantuan, jacuzzi-ready, ocean-facing terrace overlooking the world.
“It’s an exclusive room category, ideal for CEOs, celebrities, sports stars and VIP clients,” Diaz told me.
And PAX reporters, too, we learned, after we were given the opportunity to spend one night in the uber-glamourous suite.
Beyond having more space than eight of my apartments combined, I couldn’t quite pinpoint which celebrity I identified the most with while perusing the space.
Well this room makes me feel like Elizabeth Taylor, but this room makes me feel like Gaga, but over HERE I feel like Celine…
Whatever the case, penthouse or no penthouse, at Sanctuary, you’re gonna feel like a star, baby.
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