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Mediterranean On The Caribbean

Puerto Plata is still far away, and we’ve been itching to check out nearby Altos de Chavón, so we hit the road. Near La Romana, on the grounds of the Casa de Campos resort, Altos de Chavón is a replica of a 16th-century Mediterranean village. Built in the 1980s by Gulf+Western founder Charles Bluhdorn as a cultural center for the people of the Dominican Republic, Altos de Chavón seems fantastically out of place in the D.R. Dominicans in period dress mill about, available for photo opportunities. Artisans sell their wares, and bistros lend the place a modern European flair. A paddleboat straight out of a Mark Twain story churns the waters of the Chavón River, and off in the distance, the world-renowned Dye Fore Golf Course, designed by Pete Dye, challenges even expert players.

The whole surreal scene reminds us of a movie set, and with good reason. Bluhdorn, whose company owned Paramount Pictures, adored the D.R. Paramount set designer Robert Coppa designed Altos de Chavón, and Dominican fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, a good friend of the executive, decorated the hotel rooms at Casa de Campo, where Bluhdorn entertained many movie execs and stars. The country served as a stand-in for Cuba in The Godfather: Part II, and the Chavón River played the part of the Mekong in Apocalypse Now. Perhaps if Bluhdorn hadn’t died returning from the D.R. to the U.S. in 1983, the country would be a Caribbean Hollywood today. We walk over to the Regional Museum of Archeology. The curator, Diógenes, discusses the many Taíno artifacts, art, and diagrams on display, and we leave Altos de Chavón for Santo Domingo all the more impressed than when we arrived.