It’s an American’s fault, people joke.
His name was Charles Bluhdorn, president of Gulf-Western, and in the late seventies he sought out a way to satisfy his Bohemian eccentricity. He found it in the Dominican Republic, east of La Romana on a plateau overlooking the river Chavón.
Bluhdorn entrusted Italian movie-set designer Roberto Copa with building a fantasy town. Using a budget of over 40 million dollars, Copa did not disappoint. Gracefully he blended elements of 16th century Andalusia and ancient Rome, added a hint of Greece for the amphitheater and a spice of Dominican art, and so created Altos de Chavón.
It is a dream within a dream. Stride down to the center plaza near the church San Estanisiao and you will believe that you just crossed into a different word. Take a seat in Casa Del Rio restaurant and believe you’re in 16th century Spain as you survey the river Chavón far below you and feast on French cuisine. Enter one of the Mediterranean houses and watch apprentice-designers of the New York Parson’s School of Design learn their trade. Go shopping in one of several exclusive art galleries and the ‘Oscar de la Renta Boutique’, or visit the archeological museum. When the sun dives behind the hills, romance takes over.
Amber illuminations bathe Altos de Chavón into an alluring monument of modern colonialism. After dark, stroll towards the Greek amphitheater. Inaugurated by Frank Sinatra in 1982, it sets the flamboyant mood of Altos del Chavón. Since then everyone from Julio Iglesias to Enrique Iglesias have performed here under a starlit sky. Maybe you’ll get to see an impressive Shakespeare performance or a spectacular merengue show. Or maybe you’ll feel inspired, clamber onto the stage and perform your own fancy for your companions.
In a way the fantasy town is a shrine to Charles Bluhdorn’s Bohemian eccentricity. But unlike Walt Disney’s eccentric fantasy creations, Altos de Chavón is a romantic retreat instead of a mere entertainment park. You can visit it only briefly or stay here for several days in La Posada Inn, an elegant ten-room hotel in the spirit of the 16th century. A more lengthy stay is worthwhile if combined with a concert. Then you have also time for restaurant-hopping: French breakfast at Casa Del Rio, Italian lunch at La Pizzetta, Mexican dinner at El Sombrero.
Yes, Altos de Chavón was created by an eccentric millionaire mostly for his own enjoyment. But he left it behind for us to dream our own dreams; and you don’t have to be a millionaire to do that.