Tropical Beach Lovers Wedding, Puntacana on Dominican Republic has it all!

Standing knee deep in warm undulating turquoise ocean within minutes of getting off the plane from Atlanta. I took a moment to simply take it in. The sensual quality of wind, sun and miles of gentle waves along the shore of this small part of Puntacana, Dominican Republic immediately infuse your soul with peace and send you right into “island time”.

I had come here to consider this site for a wedding weekend for at least 100 guests, maybe more, followed by a week long honeymoon for the bride and groom. With so many things to consider, I sat by the beach and made a list of parts required for the itinerary of such an event, check boxes and all. In order to be sure that there was everything we would need in the area, I had additional inspiration from the handsome bartender at the Tiki Bar on the beach. Doing this research was clearly going to be tough duty….

With hundreds of people invited, one of the elements of this destination wedding is convenient travel for family and friends. Since there are frequent flights from Atlanta, it should be easy for anyone wanting to fly over to the party. With the resort’s assisted arrival and departure program, it took me under 10 minutes from landing to be in the private shuttle for a 5 minute drive to my room at the Westin Beach Resort of Puntacana.

Lodging required for so many guests could easily be accommodated by where I was staying. Guests could each have rooms in The Westin with each spacious room offering a balcony looking over two swimming pools, hot tub, tall palms swaying in the breezes and paths wandering to the beach. The Westin also has a large formal dining restaurant called Anani, a Tiki Bar by the pool, and a charming bar and restaurant on the sand. Along with a Lobby Bar, there is a Cigar Bar by the pool. All of this nestled against a wide white beach that stretches  as far as you can see in either direction with gentle waves providing background music day and night.

The plan was for the groomsmen and bridesmaids to be together. This seemed to be perfectly suited a short distance up the beach to the boutique hotel Tortuga Bay. Modern rooms recently updated stretched along the beach where rooms were hanging over the sand and sea. Additionally, there is a designated area at Tortuga Bay where any guest of Puntacana who checks out in the morning but has a flight home later in the afternoon can relax after checking luggage, and spend the day enjoying the beach, pool and restaurant until departure time.

The bride’s family and the groom’s family each requested a rental house large enough to host siblings and their children, as well as offering a place for gatherings. The bride’s family wanted to host a cocktail party Friday afternoon, catered at this house before the rehearsal dinner. I saw several lovely homes that are part of the Puntacana property for just this purpose.

Friday evening family members and the wedding party would have a rehearsal of the beach side ceremony followed by a dinner under the stars at the Playa Blanca Beach Restaurant. The menu here is fresh and locally caught, and gives the feeling of “going native”. While luscious island inspired courses are served, toes wiggle in the sand as the moon rises over the glistening sea. It is an easy walk down the tiki lighted beach to the Westin after dinner.

The plan also included the groom’s family hosting a catered Saturday morning brunch at their house followed by golf at the La Cana Club featuring a Tom Fiazio designed 18 hole course for as many as liked to play.

Saturday afternoon is to be left for relaxation at the Six Senses Spa, exploring the 50 acre forest reserve called Puntacana Ecological Foundation which includes swimming in fresh water lagoons that leave your skin tingling with freshness, or riding horses on the beach before the wedding scheduled to begin at 6:00PM.

This would be held at The Grill Restaurant, an ocean breeze infused palm covered patio next to the white beach, with a world famous chef who prides himself on his signature taste and texture combinations. The Grill is adjacent to an elegant spacious indoor spaces of tall white beach side galleries.

Sunday morning, the Westin hosts a huge brunch for its guests. It was undecided if there would also be a brunch hosted for the wedding party, but there were many options for locations and catering styles.

As with any plan, there need to be choices. There is a sweet small catholic church in Puntacana Village if that is the bride’s preference. Each of the restaurants has options for indoor or outdoor dining and dancing. Puntacana has wedding planners who will happily help the families design the wedding that dreams are made of, and locate flowers, delicacies but they are very willing to work with a wedding planner from offsite.

There are so many choices, that if you are interested in planning your own destination wedding, I would recommend visiting this site and then talking to one of the wedding planners who have experience and can make suggestions to make your dreams come true! Puntacana beach wedding ideas.

To select from the many lodging options that Puntacana has to offer:Different lodging options for your wedding party.


Port Wines, Century Old Vines and Ancient times along the Douro River in Portugal with Viking Cruises

It felt incredibly indulgent: hopping from my cozy bed just long enough to toss the curtains open, then plunging back into the covers so I could sip coffee while watching the dramatic landscape of Portugal’s Douro Valley ease by the boat. Passing hillsides are carved with narrow terraces from 800 years ago, their singular purpose to provide level space in the impossibly vertical terrain for growing port wine grapes. The landscape looks woven and pleated, a textured view of the mountains as seen sparkling in the sunlight from the river.

We had a whole week on the Douro River, which seems to be marked by the contrast between trips to its historic shores and comforts of the easy, modern river passages.

Mountain climbs up and down restless switchback roads in extremely comfortable coaches led to wandering around in narrow, ancient streets so old you could hear the sigh of ages. You could put your shoes where others had walked wearing clanking armor and touch walls covered in hand-painted tiles centuries old.

Returning to the boat, life was filled with soothing movement along both narrow and wide parts of the peaceful river aboard s/v Hemming. The evening begins with cocktails, chatting about the day’s experiences, and news of tomorrow’s adventures from the brilliant program director, Alexandra. The organization of excursions is smoothly and professionally executed for a variety of activity level preferences and led by guides who make all transitions effortless.

Portugal may not be famous for its exotic cuisine, but Viking Hemming might be the oasis of inspired dining for all meals: luscious dinners in the handsome white linen dining room were exquisite (and frequently followed by live music and dancing in the lounge.

Our cabin was very comfortable for two, including a small living room where I tended to stretch out before dinner, pretending to read but actually just drifting with the passing scenery. The veranda off the sitting room became our pre-breakfast coffee nook while the French porch off the bedroom allowed us to open the sliding door and enjoy the warm evening breezes off the river at night without fear of taking an accidental swim.

We found ourselves in a new environment at every turn: from the vibrant twin cities of Porto and Gaia to venerable teeming universities; from ancient, whispering castles and fierce stone fortresses to small cozy towns of only a few farmhouses. Portugal is not a land of fences – most places, you can rest on a wall built during the Crusades or run your hands over the centuries-old carvings on a cathedral’s lintel. That removed, museum quality so frequent at historic sites is not here – instead, you can believe for a moment that you might have lived in this world.

And history abounds in Portugal. As it was not bombed during WWII, there are buildings still standing which were constructed in the 1400s. Time spent surrounded by these ancient beauties is time well spent. An afternoon at Castelo Rodrigo, for example, a fortress built in 1209, passed walking the shoulder-width granite cobbled paths and marveling at how much of this old stone place was still standing; more of it is being reconstructed by UNESCO.


The seemingly 100-mile view from the top made it easy to understand why this spot was chosen for the stone fortress some 800 years ago; how they built it, however, was much harder to imagine. Two churches, several homes and sheds all made of stone with narrow, winding streets between, a minaret, and a synagogue, all safely sheltered from invaders on top of this mountain, surrounded by endless stone wall. Quite a thing.

The modern Castelo Rodrigo has a few small shops selling local handmade sweaters and crafts, a tiny restaurant and café making sandwiches and pastries, and of course, the vendor offering a wide array of  local port wines. All these are nestled in old stone structures that insist you duck to enter the doorways. Where there were hundreds of people here centuries ago, there remain only 16. While the restoration work progresses slowly, Castelo Rodrigo exudes charm and a sense of hand-built grace that you can feel in every stone you rest your fingers on.

Each day brought a new, magical experience. One evening found us boarding our coaches for a short ride to Convento de Alpendurada for dinner in the gothic vaulted cellars of a beautifully-kept monastery. The next morning’s late breakfast onboard turned into a race of sorts as a tiny, easter egg colored train chugged alongside the river.

Post-race, we visited Mateus Palace — that’s right, the one from the bottles of wine in which we all over-indulged during the 60s. It is still lived in by the same family that built it centuries ago and still guards the seemingly endless fields of grapes and flowers, formal and maze gardens. I found the reflecting pool I remembered from the bottle, still creating a magical illusion, perfect symmetry with occasional ripples.

The university town of Cuimbra was another highlight — this is the very town where J.K. Rowling studied and which served as the site for her Harry Potter’s magical school Hogwarts. Rowling was faithful in her depiction, right down to the hooded, floor-length black capes worn by the students. At one time, Cuimbra was the largest city in Portugal, until the cities of Porto and Gaia surpassed it as financial capitols, thanks to trade routes with China and South America.

Cuimbra is also famous for its unique brand of Fado, the Portuguese form of musical storytelling. Incredibly dramatic, Fado is almost like a one-person opera telling the story of love, loss or pride by highly revered singers, generally accompanied by one or two stringed instruments. This is very serious stuff to the performers, and in Cuimbra, the singers of Fado are akin to demigods.

The library at Cuimbra is divided into three segments on the subjects of Law, Medicine, and Natural Science & Astronomy. Impossibly tall tiers with more than 3,000 books each, accessed by rolling ladders, with sections painted in dark red, dark green or black and heavily trimmed in gold, each containing the world’s total knowledge of those three subjects on intricately carved shelves, gilded rails, and hard-carved wooden ladders – so invitingly beautiful you want to climb about and read them all.

Every day was filled with these adventures. From our start at Lisbon, where we walked the tiny, cobbled streets of Alfama (which remains an intimate community of families who have shared alleys so small you could practically shake hands with your neighbor across the street), to the old port of Belem where the wealthy merchants built enormous wooden fortresses after the devastating earthquake of the mid-1700s so they could watch their gold- and spice-laden ships come and go from the working harbor.

Port wine is an all consuming  topic in Portugal, and they love their wines with a passion. We visited at least one winery each day, and sure enough as you went along you really did could discern the difference between the vineyards.  Technically, in order to capitalize the “P” in Port Wine, it must come from the Douro Valley and have an alcohol content between 20-23 percent.  Ruby Portos are not aged long, just 1-3 years. Tawny Portos can be aged for decades in huge wooden barrels while colors fade and sugars mellow. All are sweet though, and is meant to be enjoyed without further aging although an open bottle will stay tasty for up to a month due to its higher alcohol levels.

The Douro River trip is a peaceful one: once you get past the first lock, you travel from lake to lake with lazy elevator rides in the ship in between. The terrain is restless, lush, and dotted with farmhouses, vineyards, and small towns. The excursions are diverse and captivating, the staff professional. I am already looking forward to luxuriating on my next adventure on the river with Viking!

Viking River Cruises to the Douro River Video:

Clip from Upscale Living Magazine

Slideshow of the Meteus Palace:

Castelo Rodrigo:

Reviews of Portugal’s Port wines:

SIDEBAR: Port Wines

Strange as it sounds, the sweet wine that we know as Port owes its popularity to the fact that the  French and the British were squabbling in the 18th century, and the British blocked the  French harbors to shipping which shut off  french wine exports like a tap.


The  British turned to Portugal for its requirement. The Portuguese  began fortifying  their wines with local brandy to raise the alcohol level so that the wine would not spoil as it was shipped in barrels to be bottled on site. This brandy stopped the fermentation leaving a higher sugar level than traditional wines,  a sweeter taste and a higher alcohol level. Since it was shipped from the Douro River city of Oporto it became known as Port Wine.

There are three main types of  port wine: White, Ruby and Tawny.  White  Ports are meant to be drunk young, although some of it does get aged. Ruby Port is barrel aged, also intended to be drunk while young and tend to have a more fruity flavor. Tawny Ports are aged in smaller barrels and have a tawny color.

Just because anything this rarefied could not possibly be so simple, there are dozens of sub categories to each of these type s including Vinho Verde, Vintage and LBV (Late Bottled Vintage).

While on the Viking Douro River  cruise we visited a winery almost every day and sampled offerings from Burmester, Sanderman, Taylors and Croft  as well as many blends. There is a very wide variety, really something for every palate. In addition, the portugese use these wines for desserts, as well as mixing lemon and seltzer with some which I found wonderful on a hot day.

Movie Star History, Grace and Fine Dining at Chico Hot Springs, Montana

After leaving Bozeman civilization for a stunningly beautiful drive through the mountains of Montana, at the very end of the road lies a surprising oasis. Recorded first in 1865 in an explorer’s diary Chico became a mecca for people weary of body from rugged Montana days, or frail of health from all over the region in the 19th century. The natural heat and earthy minerals of these heated waters developed a reputation for relief from everything from kidney issues to skin disorders, while many just came to “plunge” because it feels so good.

We arrived on a cold blustery Montana day in February of the 21st century, with snow in the air, a chill in the bones and the ground crusted over. As we walked past the “Welcome Home” sign by the door, and into the large old fashioned Victorian main lodge, the fire was roaring in the wood stove, wonderful smells were creeping from the dining room, and returning visitors who were on a first name basis with the clerk behind the desk were signing into their favorite room for the weekend. Clearly glad to be “home”. The settled charm of a place with well over a hundred years experience at comforting visitors was immediately felt by all of us. Though we had never been there before, we did indeed feel welcomed home.

As I walked through the door of my room at the Lower Lodge, its comfortable slightly modern western interior, four poster bed and golden wood walls provided a sense of shelter from the harsh horizontal snow outdoors. My recently married daughter and her husband had a room upstairs that made them wish they had known about Chico Hot Springs when they were making wedding plans. I resisted the urge to ask for details, but they felt very cozy in their room.

Chico hourse barnBehind the Lower Lodge we found the Horse Barn, and were greeted by several horses with a layer of snow on their backs, and a sweet dusting of snow in their eyelashes. Chico is famous for horseback trail rides into Yellowstone National Park, carriage rides through the mountains, and ponies to introduce younger people to the ways of horses. The mountains surrounding Chico summon the spirit of exploring on horseback, and the horses seemed ready to answer that call. We also found that dog sledding tours were available there. We were very sorry to miss the chance to see the mountains from a sled with a team of dogs, or from the back of a horse as there is something of that quiet way of travel that stirs the soul in these huge rugged mountains. Every direction you turn the mountains call like a song on the wind.

Chico CottageAfter exploring outside for a while, we decided to take the “plunge” in the hot springs ourselves. Bathing suits in hand we ventured back to the main lodge and through the long winding halls to the huge natural spring pools. On the way we became acquainted with much of the history of this end of the road. The walls are covered with over a century’s worth of photos, maps, newspapers and other bits of history which tell a wonderful story of the evolution of a remote natural resource that has evolved with grace. It also tuned us in to looking at everything inside around us, a real treasure trove of eclectic adventure.

The outer pool is 44’ long and naturally heated with fresh spring water every day. The inner pool is smaller and hotter and under a roof, with “curb” service from the “Saloon” next to it. Both pools make your skin tingle with freshness, your muscles melt with pleasure, and your belief that there could be any problems in the outside world disappear.

After a short nap in my snugly room, we walked back to the main lodge and found the dining room. It is welcoming and comfortable, and everyone seemed to know each other even though they might have just met. We where we were immediately struck by the sophisticated menu.

Montana is famous for its beef, but fresh fish, pork and duck along with their own homemade bread and Chico grown herbs and vegetables were as beautifully prepared as surprising. Perhaps we were seduced by the clean snowy air combined with a long soak in the hot springs pool, followed by the luxuriant and mandatory four poster nap before dinner BUT the offerings in the dining room are a mountain miracle. Beef in Montana has a well deserved reputation, and Gavin’s vanished with barely need for a knife. I ordered the duck, which I try most places that it is offered, and Chico’s was among the best of the best. Crispy outside and richly tender inside. My daughter ordered trout, which she declared wondrously fresh and sweet, with a light lemony salsa on top.

Breakfast at Chico is another distinctive adventure, with three buffet tables laden with everything you can think of for breaking fast, and then some. One whole table filled with fresh pastries, and on top of that there is a menu of specialties! All the offerings were so tempting, so irresistible, that when we left we decided we needed a break from eating for the next 48 hours!

Chico Hot Springs is truly one of the most beautiful ways I have ever seen for taking a break from the world. I would like to go back and stay for a week, ride horses, hike in the mountains, sleep in that wonderful nest of a bed and let the universe take care of itself without me. Spend time in the dining room too, did I forget to mention that? I am sure that I would come home ten years younger and a few pounds heavier.

Luscious Dining and then Chico’s Famous Flaming Orange – the Ultimate follow up.

But the most astonishing thing of all though was their signature dessert, the Flaming Orange. I saw columns of fire erupting in the dining room, but I was so focused on the richness of the duck that I didn’t even think to ask what it was. After dinner though, our waitress informed us about the house specialty. She then arrived at the table with what was clearly an orange that had mounds of cream on top settled into what looked like a small iron skillet. With no fuss at all she torched it and yet another 3’ high geyser of flame shot upward and produced that singular campfire smell of burning sugar with the tang of citrus. It was just as interesting to taste as it was to watch too!
How to get there:
163 Chico Road
Pray, Montana (MT)  59065
get directions