The Nature Island: Secret Bay, Dominica
WORDS: PHOEBE HUNT | IMAGES: SECRET BAY
Inspired by the tropical natural surroundings of Dominica, Secret Bay’s 12 hand-crafted villas represent eco-luxury at its finest. Dive in to discover one of the Caribbean’s most untouched treasures, where the environment and architecture work together.
The island of Dominica offers pristine rainforest, a river for every day of the year, waterfalls, national parks, volcanoes, powder-white beaches and volcanic black sand ones, and a vast array of soul-restoring excursions and experiences. Secret Bay, 12 secluded villa suites within a boutique resort, incorporates nature into every element of the design. Here, you can spend the day fully immersed in nature—swimming with the whales perhaps, or rappelling down a waterfall—before returning to your private villa and feeling totally at one with this unique place.
On the unspoilt Caribbean island of Dominica, the concept of luxurious Secret Bay Hotel is based on ‘biophilic design’. If you’re not familiar with this term, don’t fret; it’s not as futuristic as it might sound. In fact, the biophilic design concept is all about getting back to basics, drawing on our inherent need to be connected with our natural environment. The theory goes that human beings have evolved to exist in nature for almost our entire history, and yet now spend around 90 per cent of our time in artificial, man-made spaces.
Our deep desire to be in nature – the same thing that explains current trends for house plants and forest bathing – stems from our DNA. This is coupled with the fact that even in the ultra-luxury sphere, you’re often paying for incredible amenities which are nevertheless far removed from the destination’s natural environment.
Not so with Secret Bay, which despite being a “six star hotel” is all about mirroring its surroundings. Wake up to views of the Caribbean Sea framed by an orchard of guava trees, and fall asleep to the sounds of the rainforest. Conceptualised by celebrated Latin American architect Fruto Vivas, who passed away earlier this year, the property is quickly becoming a prototype for this distinctive form of architecture. Vivas’ blueprints in fact took the biophilic design brief to new levels, seeking inspiration from the native ylang ylang flowers that grow along Secret Bay’s cliffside setting. All the villas stand up on one primary ‘stem,’ and have been created to resemble the petals of the flower.
“I always say that I have only one project: the unity of architecture with nature,” Vivas once wrote. “I imagined these residences for maximum happiness; the tropical architecture allows the interaction of the guests with their natural environment, in particular the extraordinary vistas of the landscape around, achieving a great relationship with nature.”
Not to be confused with the Dominican Republic, Dominica is ahead of the curve with respect to its practice of sustainable tourism. Secret Bay’s founders are committed to maintaining the land in the pristine condition in which it was discovered, and a top priority is to employ people from neighbouring communities, buy local produce, and support local artisans and businesses. Encouraging a genuine and mutually beneficial interaction between guests, staff, island locals, and the island itself feels paramount to everything they do.
The incredible list of activities on offer feed into this outdoors-y lifestyle, too. Waterfall hikes, canyoning, horse riding, lionfish hunting, bird watching, even art classes – all of which divert guests from the stresses of daily life and bring them back to their surroundings. Wander down to wild and volcanic Tibay beach and head to the watersports hut, where you can pick up all sorts of adventure gear, snorkels, kayaks, stand up paddle boards and more. In keeping with their zen atmosphere, it’s no surprise that the beach is all about “non-motorised watersports.” For adrenaline seekers, however, the hotel can arrange for beach pickups from the hut for other water-based activities.
All this aside, there’s no denying some seriously indulgent aspects to the hotel as well. The villas boast cutting edge technology like Sonos surround sound and Apple TV, state of the art kitchens, heated private plunge pools and intuitive service from dedicated butler-style villa hosts. Guests also benefit from being within a ‘hotel resort’ setting, with access to incredible amenities such as a beachfront infinity pool and poolside bar, and the treetop Goumier Spa, which makes use of local and sustainably sourced products for treatments.
Over at the island-to-table Zing Zing Restaurant, you can enjoy hyper-local cooking under a canopied roof surrounded by nature, while expert mixologists prepare cocktails at the newly opened bar and lounge. There’s also the option to have a private chef come to your villa, or to take a cooking class. Whether you choose to learn how to de-spine the sustainably caught lionfish, or join the chef in foraging for wild herbs and vegetables to inspire your lunch, it’s yet another unique experience.
After explaining the exhaustive list of activities you can enjoy, General Manager Dinesh Kissoon also lets us into a few secrets - the masterplan also includes a funicular, an art barn and a microbrewery, all slated for completion in early 2023.
With two idyllic beaches and unrivalled natural beauty, Secret Bay is a rare opportunity to revel in intimate, personal and ethical luxury, a must-visit on any sailing trip around the Caribbean.