The last place you might expect to find a replica of a 16th-century European medieval village is smack dab in the middle of the Caribbean. Altos de Chavon Village, set high on a hill overlooking the Chavon River is a surprising yet stunning architectural gem set in the La Romana section of the Dominican Republic.
History of the Village
This architectural masterpiece is a re-created village done in stunning detail from its 5,000-seat Roman-style amphitheater to its cobbled streets, hand-cut wooden doorways, and glorious Church of St. Stanislaus, consecrated in 1979 when Pope John Paul II sent the ashes of Poland's patron saint Stanislaus and a hand-carved statue from Krakow to commemorate the occasion.
If you're a guest of the nearby La Romana resorts, this is a must-visit stop. The village is free to guests at Casa de Campo since it is part of that resort. All others pay an admission fee. Casa de Campo is a massive resort complex set on the Caribbean Sea with a broad range of accommodations including hotel rooms and villas, two world-class golf courses, and amenities such as polo fields, a shooting center, marina, shopping mall, and much more.
The Altos de Chavon village was created in the late 1970s by Italian master designer and cinematographer Roberto Coppa, and designed by Dominican architect Jose Antonio Caro.
Local artisans crafted the sprawling village's stone pathways, buildings, and decorative ironwork. Each stone was hand cut, wooden door frames crafted by hand, wrought-iron details hand forged. It is a remarkable re-created village that you will swear has been here for centuries, not decades.
What You'll See When You Visit
Cobble-covered, narrow pathways are lined with lanterns and shuttered limestone walls surround many Mediterranean-style restaurants and boutique shops, many of which carry the diverse creations of local artisans.
There are galleries of art here as well: a central component of the village is the on-site Altos de Chavon School of Design. The intensive, two-year art and design program here focuses on four areas: fashion design, graphic design, interior design, and fine arts/illustration, and works with a controlled-curriculum arrangement with Parsons School of Design. Graduates here gain acceptance automatically with Parsons in its BFA program at its New York or Paris campuses, or other participating institutions throughout America.
The most stunning feature of Altos de Chavon, besides the view of the Chavon River, is the amphitheater (fun fact: Frank Sinatra opened the inaugural concert series here in 1982 -- it still sees air time on PBS stations in the United States as "The Concert of the Americas."). Other notables who have appeared here include Andrea Bocelli, Duran Duran, and Julio Iglesias.
For the history-minded, do check out the Archeological Regional Museum behind St. Stanislaus Church, loaded with pre-Columbian artifacts that give keen insight into the island's rich history; the collection includes more than 3,000 pieces include some that have been featured in exhibits in museums in New York City, Paris, and Seville.
There are ample eating and shopping opportunities in the village as well, with some of the restaurants requiring evening reservations. Shops within the historically re-created walls sell fine cigars, embroidered linens, jewelry, and clothing. And the design school has its Altos de Chavon Studios here as well, peddling pottery, fine arts, woven crafts and more. Other shops include Casa Montecristo Cigar Lounge, Bibi Leon, and Casa Finestra.
A visit to Altos de Chavon is well worth the time. Plan on spending at least half a day there, as photographic opportunities abound around every cobblestoned corner.