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Forget the flowers, head south for Valentine's Day - Metro US

Forget the flowers, head south for Valentine’s Day

Flowers and chocolates may be ideal gifts for Valentine’s Day but many couples are opting for a more exotic treat in a tropical, luxury setting.

All-inclusive Caribbean resorts that cater only to adults are becoming more popular with Canadians. Few do it better than Excellence Punta Cana at the far eastern end of the Dominican Republic.

The 450-room Excellence Punta Cana is about an hour’s drive from the modern, efficient thatched-roof airport, positioned in a series of low rise buildings along a half-kilometre stretch of soft, golden sand.

Our late evening arrival didn’t prevent a warm Dominican welcome with chilled glasses of sparkling wine in the lobby, a seamless check-in and, in our large suite (four-poster, king-size beds and marble floors are standard), a bubble bath in our double Jacuzzi with rose petals, candles and incense — a great romantic start to a week’s vacation.

In the morning we awoke to gentle sea breezes blowing through scores of dancing palm trees and a perfect 25-degree temperature. The breakfast buffet convinced us that this resort was special. In addition to the usual goodies (including excellent waffles, fresh-baked bagels and outstanding coffee) two types of caviar were offered as well as mimosa and Bloody Mary stations.

Fine cuisine is beginning to set the Dominican Republic apart from other all-inclusive resort areas of the Caribbean.

One of the reasons Excellence seems to excel (while attracting guests from honeymooners to seniors) is its policy of a la carte dining every evening in its eight theme restaurants. There’s also an emphasis on fresh, local produce. Choices include Chez Isabelle (French), Agave (Mexican), Barcelona (Mediterranean, including excellent tapas), Toscana (Italian), Spice (Pan-Asian), Oregana (informal pizza and pasta), The Lobster House (sadly, only Caribbean lobster) and The Grill steakhouse (the favourite of the meat-loving Greens from Edmonton).

Once a week there’s also a Dominican night, usually on the beach, where chefs prepare local specialties including roast suckling pig, fish in coconut sauce, stewed goat with rum and oregano, yucca with garlic and onions, plantain pie and Dominican sausage.

Any couple wanting a special, romantic dinner by the sea can choose (at extra cost) a private, candlelit meal directly on the beach with a special menu, unobtrusive service, fine wines and an unbeatable ambience. Honeymooners (wedding packages are a specialty here) often choose this candlelight and moonlight option.

In the Caribbean, the sun is the same wherever you go. The water is virtually the same. It’s how you’re treated that makes the difference.

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