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Puerto Rico, the new Caribbean luxury destination

It is one thing for a developer to simply bulldoze the old in a quest for the new, and yet another for a hotel to lovingly recapture a vista with a powerful history and re-envision it in the same spirit for generations to come. Such recreation is the philosophy behind the new Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, which is nestled on an expansive, 1,400-acre oceanfront estate once owned by the Laurance Rockefeller family and located about a half hour from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

With a nod to its storied 50s-era past, coupled with modern features showcasing the best of the future, the Reserve marks the latest high-end gem to grace the Puerto Rican shores. Opened in mid-December, it is already creating a buzz around the world among discriminating travelers, but is close enough for adventurous Floridians to visit for a long weekend of indulgence not so far from home. “I think the property is like a big park,” says Graeme Benn, Ritz-Carlton’s area vice president for the Caribbean and Mexico. “There is a sense of exotic sanctuary when you are there. It flows through everything.”

History, he adds, grounds the low-rise design with 100 oceanfront rooms and 14 suites. Guests get the flavor of the past amid world-class updates for sport and relaxation. Those include three championship golf courses, an open-air Botanico spa, the José Andrés signature restaurant Mi Casa, spacious hiking trails, an elevated boardwalk and a sunken garden along with an eco-educational program from Jean-Michel Cousteau called Ambassadors of the Environment. “This property has been built and maintained historically over the years,” Benn describes, noting designers even looked for 1920’s-era furniture that was once used by the estate’s original owner, Clara Livingston, to retain the treasure of its past. “It would have been a lot easier to design this in another fashion. But Rockefeller said no building shall be taller than the trees, and as a function of that, the recent developers here took great care to make sure that has been maintained, which is unique in a lot of resort environments.”

Giant native trees, including banyans, have been left untouched, as buildings have been constructed around the natural landscaping, giving the walkways a meandering, restful feel amid sea breezes. Spa services are offered in a hammock or even in a treehouse treatment room that ascends up into the jungle canopy and forest. Picture a giant garden filled with pineapples and herbs that are selected by guests and harvested on the spot for facials or scrubs. The experience, says Benn, encapsulates the natural environment, embraces an authentic sense of Puerto Rican culture, with all of passionate “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” service of The Ritz-Carlton brand. “There is an intense sense of place here, and sense of the environment,” Benn said. “The sound of the oceans, the birds, the frogs. It all sort of adds to this sense of magical enlightenment, all of these elements, because they are indigenous and the design is exquisite, creating something very special. It’s preserved the fauna and the foliage in a way you feel it hasn’t changed here in 100 years.” —Andrea Billups

Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve: 100 Dorado Beach Drive, Dorado, Puerto Rico 00646; 787-626-1100