There is an old proverb in Puerto Rico that goes something like this: the best thing God did was to make one day follow another. Many of us fail to understand the genius of this saying because the mundane routine of our lives and the bleak brick and concrete jungles in which we live them suffocate our appreciation for waking up another day and looking out appreciatively at our surroundings.
But when you wake up every day to a bright morning sun lightly warming your face as your eyes begin to come into focus on the lush green leaves on the other side of the glass against a backdrop of turquoise water and azure sky, you tend to have a better understanding of the proverb.
This proverbial enlightening is not just hypothetical, but rather quite real after a recent stay in Puerto Rico amid the dreamy tropical setting of the St. Regis Bahia Beach resort.
What was once a sprawling rural coconut plantation situated on several miles of pristine Caribbean beach between two rivers that trickle out of the nearby tropical rain forrest is now an oasis of refined, eco-friendly luxury for the discerning traveler. Opening just over six years ago, the St. Regis Bahia Beach was Puerto Rico’s first AAA Five-Diamond hotel property and the first in the entire Caribbean region to attain Audubon’s Gold Signature Sanctuary recognition.
The St. Regis has gone to great lengths to preserve the natural environment that it calls home in Puerto Rico. Wooden walkways are raised off the ground so that critters might scurry on their way without guests having to dance around their path. An island that sits amid the property’s lagoons and which is home to dozens of bird species remains untouched and protected from intrusion and development. All around you as you stroll through winding paths, choirs of birds lightly sing and coquíes serenade with calls intended to seduce one another.
Wildlife and flora aren’t the only residents to which the St. Regis has spared no expense to cater. The more modern additions of plantation-style clubhouses, lavish guest houses, and sparkling crystal blue pools exude a soft spoken elegance that makes you want to slow down and just take it all in. And that is exactly I did.
A driver from the resort can pick you up from the airport in San Juan, meaning you will rarely have to lift a finger for yourself from the moment you step off the plane. As you are driven out of the hustle and bustle of the city and toward the more tranquil countryside, the emerald-colored hills that begin to appear foreshadow the beauty that is to come a little further out.
The closest town to the St. Regis property is the village of Rio Grande, through which you pass after leaving the highway en route to the resort. Shops and shacks line the road, and ordinary Puerto Ricans go on about small-town life much the same as their counterparts on the continent, seemingly unaffected by the passage of time.
Outside the village as you move closer to the coast come the first signs of luxury and privacy, which are quite well blended into the natural landscape. The St. Regis Bahia Beach is a gated and well protected community, but booked guests experience a seamless arrival and entrance through the 24-hour staffed gate and onto the pristinely manicured road leading into the resort.
After passing a round-about and catching glimpses of lagoons, golf courses, and luxury residential villas with which hotel guests share amenities, the tree-lined road ahead soon unveils the centerpiece of the resort and its hub of social activity - the Plantation House.
Check-in is quick, seamless, and pleasant as my traveling companion and I are offered and enthusiastically accept a craft cocktail to sip. A receptionist orients us briefly to the amenities of the Plantation House and a bellman then shuttles us off to our guest house in a golf cart and orients us there to the features of our suite. Champagne, cheese, and chocolate on the table also welcome us, and we quickly give in to the decadent indulgence and toast to the good life.
The rooms at the St. Regis Bahia Beach are plush and soft in tones while crisp air conditioning spoils us into underestimating the heat of the sun and humidity on the other side of the glass patio doors. They also feature large walk-in closets and a furnished lanai perfect for reading a book or sipping a glass of wine as the sun goes down.
The pièce de résistance is the spa-like bathrooms that will tempt you to spend your entire vacation laid back in a warm bath in the luxuriously oversized tub or basking under the flow of the enormous adjacent rainfall-style shower. But as nice as the rooms are and as much as I will enjoy them thoroughly over the following few days, there is too much more elsewhere on the resort to experience, consume, and relish.
One of the first things to entice me out of the room’s spa-like bathroom was the actual spa. The St. Regis Bahia Beach plays host to the world renowned Remède Spa brand, which is only in a small number of St. Regis properties around the globe. So eager was I to ensure I got to spend time at Remède that I made an appointment there before I even arrived in Puerto Rico.
The Remède experience did not disappoint. When I booked my hour long massage, I elected to have it on the beach instead of in an interior massage room. I thought perhaps that the spa itself would overlook the beach and maybe they would simply walk me out back to a ready-made table. I was wrong, and thankfully so.
Once I changed into the plush robe provided, I was whisked away to a private section of the resort’s two-mile long private beach where I found a thatched hut open to the ocean on one side and an immaculately professional masseur named Jose awaiting me. Jose worked wonders over the next hour on all the tension built up in my muscles from the daily grind of life back in the real world. But for that period of time, my real world consisted of tropical oils, ocean breezes, and firm hands kneading my grateful limbs.
Afterwards, a staff member chauffeured me back to the main spa facility and showed me the amenities of which I could avail myself for the rest of the afternoon. They included warm pools, cool pools, steam rooms, shower rooms, and tropical gardens ideal for breaks between indulgences. I came for the massage, and stayed for the rest - so long that I later found out that my travel companion had been texting me over over to find out if I had gotten lost. Indeed I had, but only in time and bliss.
Sometimes long spa treatments can relax you so much that all you want to do is nap afterwards, which is exactly what I did. There’s something so dreamy about collapsing on the plushest and softest of oversized beds in the afternoon and waking up just in time for dinner.
Meals are another special treat at the St. Regis Bahia Beach. Each of the resort’s restaurants are destinations in their own right. Fern, which occupies the second level of the Plantation House, serves as the go-to breakfast restaurant most mornings, but in the evenings it transforms into a fine dining hotspot with a menu designed by famed French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
I found it nearly impossible to decide among all of the creative concoctions on the menu, so I took the easy route and opted for the six-course tasting menu with accompanying wine pairings, and my palate ever so thankful that I did. The meal started out with light hamachi sashimi with soy-ginger dressing and a heavenly butternut squash soup with ginger and pumpkin seeds. Next came a round of black pepper octopus, then roasted grouper accompanied by black beans, avocado, and scallions.
The heartiest round was grilled beef tenderloin adorned with gingered shiitake mushrooms and a soy caramel emulsion. And for desert, warm chocolate cake and Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream.
The wines paired with the tasting menu were just as diverse as the cuisine, hailing from Italian, French, Spanish, and Napa Valley vineyards, with a nice sweet Portuguese port complimenting dessert to round out the experience.
The other main restaurant on the resort is at the newly renovated Beach Club, which leans more toward a Nikki Beach-style vibe by day and offers up another fine dining setting by night. For this one, the St. Regis brought in Puerto Rican-born and internationally acclaimed chef Jose Enrique, who has previously opened successful restaurants in New York, Florida, and Louisiana.
The Beach Club Restaurant was so divine that I insisted on coming back for a second night just so that I could order the filet that my traveling companion had ordered - and which I had tasted and nearly stolen from him - the first night. It was undoubtedly one of the best preparations of filet mignon I have ever had. But as good as it was, it was nearly rivaled by the incredible guava butter served almost as an afterthought with the bread. This guava butter was literally the most delicious flavored butter spread I have ever had the pleasure of tasting.
In between bouts of opulent pampering at Remède Spa and the near-orgasmic meals at Fern and the Beach Club, there was also plenty of time for the prime attraction around which the entire resort is built - the beach. Two miles of white sand and turquoise, aquamarine, and lapis-colored water invite guests to come soak, bake, and relax. And for doing the same sans sand, there are also two meandering pools and a large hot tub further back with a poolside cafe and bar from which I consumed many a piña colada.
Two of my favorite things to look forward to each evening of my stay at the St. Regis Bahia Beach were the feeding of the bright colorful fish in the coy ponds by the Plantation House entrance and the sabering ceremony, a nightly St. Regis tradition in which a bottle of champagne is popped open with a sword and shared with guests - along with many more bottles - over the next hour.
The charming event perfectly encapsulates the elegance and sophistication of the St. Regis experience, and is especially well suited to this one’s pristine tropical setting. There is nothing that better convinces you that you have arrived after a day of pampering than sipping champagne while overlooking the lush green lawn and beach as the sun goes down and knowing that you still have an night of delicious five-star dining ahead.
Anywhere else all of this is just an aspiration. At the St. Regis Bahia Beach it is just another day in paradise, with yet another one to follow tomorrow - so they say.
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