Altos de Chavón is as romantic as it is unforgettable
The 16th century Mediterranean look of the village was conceived by Italian set designer Roberto Coppa, who closely supervised its construction, seeing to the placement of every stone. The style was Coppa’s, but it was American industrialist Charles Bluhdorn’s vision and support that built this place as a living, lasting tribute to the art, culture, and education of the Dominican Republic.
Legend has it that the project began in 1976, when the construction of a road near the Chavón River blasted into a stone mountain. At that time the American company Gulf+Western Industries owned the Altos de Chavón property, and Bluhdorn, its chairman and CEO, had the idea to use the stones created by the blasting to build a village. He imagined creating an artists’ village along the lines of St. Paul de Vence, in the south of France. And so construction began, and was completed in the early 1980s.
Although G+W sold its Dominican holdings to a consortium in 1983, Charles Bluhdorn’s daughter, Dominique, stayed on and is today the president of the Altos de Chavón Cultural Center Foundation, a charitable organization comprising an art gallery, an artist-in-residence program, the Altos de Chavón Regional Museum of Archaeology, and the Chavón School of Design. The school’s La Romana campus, at Altos de Chavón, is where fine art and filmmaking are taught. (The school’s other campus, in the Miraflores section of the capital city of Santo Domingo, is the site for studies in fashion design, interior design, and communication design.) The School of Design has been an affiliate of New York City’s Parsons School of Design since 1983.
To truly know Altos de Chavón, amble along the village’s narrow cobblestone pathways, looking at the stucco walls, the forged ironwork lanterns, the lush gardens and flowering vines that scale trellised walls and arch overhead. Discover Chavón’s small cafes and international restaurants, and visit the shops selling diverse crafts, from trinkets to fine jewelry, plus the work of local artisans. Don’t miss the art gallery, which exhibits the work of invited artists and students from the School of Design, or the Regional Museum of Archaeology’s collection of pre-Columbian artifacts, unearthed in the surrounding areas.
Chavón also boasts three crafts workshops, one for ceramic objects both utilitarian and decorative; a weaving studio, where native cotton is loomed into tablecloths, placemats, rugs, bags, and tapestries; and a silkscreen workshop, where T-shirts get emblazoned with designs and artists can have multiples of their work produced. All three workshops are open to the public.
An architectural standout of the village is the handsome St. Stanislaus Church, named after the patron saint of Poland in tribute to Pope John Paul II, who visited Santo Domingo in 1979 and gifted a relic of the saint to the church. The church overlooks the Fountain of the Four Lions and a river-stone mosaic plaza that is a popular wedding venue. In this church, on November 6, 2004, Spanish Prince Louis Alphonse, Duke of Anjou, married the Venezuelan heiress María Margarita de Vargas y Santaella.
Chavón’s eye-popping 5,000-seat amphitheater has had an illustrious roster of musical acts. Sinatra and Santana inaugurated the place in 1982, and since then The Pet Shop Boys, Sting, Caetano Veloso, Charles Aznavour, and Julio Iglesias, to name a few, have been featured there.
For night life, there’s Genesis, the Altos de Chavón discotheque, a popular spot for visitors, villa residents, and Casa de Campo guests. Rounding out the late-night music scene are Onno’s and Good Vibes, open till the wee hours of the morning.
Altos de Chavón is undeniably picturesque, with its panoramic vista of the Chavón River, the rolling greens of Casa de Campo’s Dye Fore golf course, and the mountains in the distance. In the cool blush of early morning’s awakening light and in the mellow warmth of dusk’s crimson glow, Altos de Chavón is as romantic as it is unforgettable.