By Abby Ledoux 10/22/2018 | Published in the November 2018 issue of Houstonia

We could live on this fantasy island forever.

All my life, it seems, I’ve been blind to my true identity as a ’50s-era Hollywood starlet shooting on location in a foreign land. What other explanation is there for the suite I’ve just entered, with its impossibly high ceilings and thick wooden shutters to throw open and greet the day? How else to account for the soft jazz that fills the room, the 24-hour on-call butler service, the way my skirt twirls in the courtyard breeze, the feel of my bare feet against the mosaic tile floor? For the glass of mango puree I’m holding, the tree outside my bedroom that grew the very fruit, the exotic birds perched there, chirping?

I’m in the heart of the Dominican Republic’s capital city, Santo Domingo, at Casas del XVI, a boutique luxury hotel that couldn’t feel less like a hotel if it tried—rather, it consists of five lovingly restored houses tucked away in the historic district of Ciudad Colonial, including one rented for years by Oscar de la Renta, a native son. Each is named for a defining characteristic—mine, Casa del Árbol, for that mango tree—and is impeccably adorned, no detail overlooked.

An hour ago, I landed at the Santo Domingo airport, only to be whisked away by a uniformed guide who spoke little English. I followed him past throngs of weary travelers, to some secret vestibule where a customs agent scanned my fingerprints, stamped my passport, and welcomed me to the country before I could even say gracias. I sat in an adjacent private lounge, sipping a syrupy-sweet strawberry soda, while my guide fetched my belongings from baggage claim. Who am I? I thought, just as he returned and ushered me onto an air-conditioned minibus idling outside. Just like that, we were off.

This is the “VIP” service Casas offers its guests, one that I especially appreciated after flying through Miami, where thunderstorms trapped my taxiing plane for more than an hour, delaying my flight to Santo Domingo and reducing my first day in the country to a late dinner on the terrace.

But what a meal it turns out to be. The three courses include pea soup with crunchy bits of jamón Ibérico, local mahi mahi in a decadent cream sauce, and crème brûlée with fresh berries, perfectly paired with a glass of Spanish white wine. Finally I retreat to my room, and—starlet that I apparently am—spend the rest of the evening luxuriating in a massive soaking tub. (…)

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