I wasn't surprised to be lost attempting to navigate the often unmarked roads of Puerto Rico. Again. This time we were driving from Isabela on the northwest coast to Rio Grande on the northeast coast. We found ourselves on a tree-lined country road, passing cattle grazing near the side of the road, as we searched for our luxury beachfront resort. The tropical ambiance we expected was nowhere in sight.
But we weren't lost at all. The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort is in fact situated along this rural road. It becomes abundantly clear that you're in for something special as you drive up the driveway. It is simply the best place to stay in the Rio Grande area and a favorite of sophisticated travelers and well-heeled clientele.
If you're looking for a resort where you can relax and not have to lift a finger, this is it. The bespoke service begins at check-in where I am seated at a private desk. Aracelis, my check-in hostess extraordinaire, gives me a thorough rundown of the facilities and services. I'm enjoying my welcome drink of rum punch before I know it. At every opportunity throughout our stay the service represented a pattern of excellence I'd love to get used to.
The most desirable rooms are oriented to face the ocean. There are 139 guest rooms in all including 35 suites with private terraces. Rooms are just plain comfortable with muted color schemes, cozy beds, slick technology and amazing bathrooms. You'll have to stifle a a strong urge not to stuff a few bottles of the luxurious bath products in your bag. Our oceanfront guest room (room #1121) with two queen beds was like a small apartment with a semi-private entrance foyer, well-equipped wet bar and mini bar, large walk-in closet and balcony with couch and dining table.
Turn down service is top notch and not to be missed with slippers, ice, fresh towels and a rotating menu of cookies. On our last night, our turndown attendant leaves us a recipe so that we can replicate the cookies at home.
I am constantly on a quest for a perfect wood oven pizza; I just may have found it at Seagrapes where we eat a late Easter Sunday lunch that lingers nearly into dinner. The churrasco pizza combines steak, cilantro pesto, mozzarella, plantain and Pico de Gallo - surely an unusual combination that leads me to pizza nirvana. The chorizo is topped with marinara, shaved manchego and a balsamic reduction. They are both incredible.
But then there is the dessert that is so memorable I would consider flying back to Puerto Rico just to enjoy it again. The resort offers a weekly s'mores ritual for those fortunate enough to be visiting on Saturday right. For the rest of us s'mores lovers there is the adult s'mores dessert served at the oceanfront restaurant. It is a thin crispy crust topped with rich Nutella ganache, caramelized hazelnuts and house made marshmallows. The dessert is the must-hunt-down-the-recipe kind of good.
What drew me to this St. Regis property was the "Spa Without Walls". I am treated to a manicure in a private poolside cabana so I can experience the concept. If you want a massage on the beach or in one of the gardens, consider it done. For the more traditional spa goer, the resort is well know for its luxurious Remède Spa where many of the spas best features are located outdoors. The sanctuary is 10,000 square feet of breezy openness that weaves its way through lush greenery, pathways and courtyards; treatments are performed in one of seven treatment spaces reached by a winding path through the gardens. Tea, flavored water, dried and fresh fruit and cookies are available for refreshment. There is an outdoor hot tub with massaging waterfall, cold plunge pool, steam room and sauna. I appreciate the lightweight seersucker robes, extra-large lockers, privacy and exclusivity. When I'm offered a glass of champagne, I eagerly accept. Although it's barely 11 am, its all part of the decompression ritual.
The resort really quiets down in the evenings and we have the beach and pool area practically to ourselves. The pools are surrounded by atmospheric fire bowls and we swim by the light of these fires well past dark. The primary evening activity is dinner at the elegant and refined Fern or one of the local restaurants.
What I love about this resort is that it is rich in rituals and yet full of surprises. There is a 6 PM nightly champagne sabering ritual on the back lawn. If you bother to stop by to welcome the evening you'll be treated to a glass of champagne. This seems like a fitting end to the day. At 6 PM there is also a nightly fish feeding ritual in front of the plantation house that is a magnet for children. We regrettably missed the daily poolside iced tea ritual.
One afternoon we took a resort shuttle to the boathouse and borrowed bicycles. We rode for miles along a shaded riverside nature trail with golf course views. It was one of my favorite moments of my stay. Alternatively you can fish, kayak or try your hand (and feet) at stand up paddle boarding. It's cool and breezy down by the water even when it's steamy hot inland.
To balance out an otherwise perfect review, we would love to have enjoyed some onsite evening entertainment. Maybe cocktails and some live music by the pool or on the glorious oceanfront lawn behind the plantation house. Anything to keep us outdoors enjoying the company of other guests and the tropical night air. Instead we ended our glorious days with a swim or retreated to our private balcony for a glass of wine on our own. Not a bad way to end a day in paradise.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer and her family were hosted by the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort for two nights. A complementary manicure and lunch at Seagrapes allowed the writer to experience various aspects of the property. While this has not influenced this review, Examiner.com believes in full disclosure.