A ‘Staycation’ in the North of Dominica at The Champs Hotel: Casual, Convenient and Comfortable!

Gwendominica takes a 'Staycation' for her birthday at Comfortel De Champ, a lovely little hotel in Picard, near Portsmouth Dominica.

Gwendominica takes a ‘Staycation’ for her birthday at The Champs Hotel, a lovely place in Picard, near Portsmouth Dominica. Photo taken by a helpful staff member.

As a treat for my recent birthday, I decided to spend a weekend “up north” in Dominica.  It had been some time since I had enjoyed the area around Portsmouth and Calibishie,  with its dramatic and varied topography, as well as prominent historic sites and natural attractions. Although I had only recently returned from Canada, this little adventure was most affordable, due to an on-island promotion called a ‘Staycation’.  This initiative is the brainchild of the Discover Dominica Authority, and a number of tourism partners are participating  by offering  Nature Islanders reduced rates at certain accommodations and activities during the summer months.  Amazingly,  Dominica is very different from one locale to the next, and a Staycation offers residents opportunities to appreciate various parts of their beautiful country and save money by staying home for a holiday!

When I read about the incredible accommodation and meal specials available at The Champs Hotel in Picard, near Portsmouth, I didn’t

Lise and Hans are the warm and welcoming proprietors of Comfortel De Champ in Picard, near Portsmouth Dominica. The Cabrits and Prince Rupert Bay are in the background,

Lise and Hans are the warm and welcoming proprietors of The Champs Hotel in Picard, near Portsmouth Dominica. Their hotel overlooks The Cabrits National Park and Prince Rupert Bay, which are in the background,

hesitate to book a room.  I am well acquainted with proprietors Hans and Lise, as I have previously stayed and/or dined there on other northern jaunts.  In fact, I am in the record books as their first guest when they opened in 2008!

It was an easy drive on the recently refurbished West Coast Road (E.O. LeBlanc Memorial Highway).  I was there in one hour and five minutes – record time for me – and that’s at 50-60 kms (not miles!) per hour from Roseau. Lise welcomed me warmly and then took me down two flights of stairs to my room.  I unpacked and headed upstairs for lunch.  Along the way, I met Hans and he suggested that if I could wait for a few minutes, the couple would join me, along with their marketing assistant.

I enjoyed a large ‘brunch-style’ lunch of scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and tasty home-made hash brown potatoes, prepared by renowned Chef Eric

Chef Eric has an excellent reputation on Dominica for his culinary techniques.  He and his assistant are preparing  tempting and tasteful Saturday lunch selections.

Chef Eric has an excellent reputation on Dominica for his culinary specialties. He and his assistant are preparing tempting and tasteful Saturday lunch selections.

and his assistants.  As we chatted, the energetic hoteliers brought me up-to-speed on all the latest developments and news of interest in the Portsmouth-Calibishie area.  I was amazed at some of the changes in the few years since I had spent any time “up north” on Dominica.  I was happy to hear that there was some progress in the tourism-related sector.  I would be seeing some of that for myself over the weekend!

My first plan was a boat ride along the famous Indian River, and I informed my hosts of this.  Lise immediately offered her driver to not only take me there, but to make an arrangement with a tour guide so that I would not have to choose  one once I arrived at the site.  More on that sensational trip in a subsequent post!

Upon my return a few hours later, I refreshed myself  in anticipation of The Champs  popular pizza night.  This hotel is in very close proximity to Ross University School of Medicine and many students frequent the dining room and bar area for a good meal and some refreshments after an intense day of study or exams.  Although many students were on a summer break, Lise informed me as soon as I arrived in the dining room that a take-out order for 20 pizzas had just  been placed by some  campus personnel, which might delay my order by half

The wood oven pizzas at The Champs are delicious, as they are completely home-made!

The wood oven pizzas at The Champs are delicious, as they are completely home-made!

an hour.  No problem for me – I had a sunset to watch  and a newspaper to read: I was on holiday, there was no rush!

The restful southerly scene from my garden-view room.

The restful southerly scene from my garden-view room.

A spectacular sunset from the  open air dining room at Comfortel De Champ.

A spectacular Caribbean sunset from the open air dining room at The Champs.

I could not eat all of my vegetarian pizza with extra goat cheese, so I put it in my room fridge for Sunday supper, as that is the one night of the week when meals are not served.  I would definitely not starve!

Early next morning, I awoke with joy to celebrate another birthday and gave thanks to God for this gift.  It was a beautiful day – and what better way to start it than with a ‘sea bath’. I walked down the steep hill from the hotel and then wended my way to nearby Picard Beach, Dominica’s longest stretch of sand.  I walked for about half an hour.  No one else was in sight.  It was only 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday!  I found an old wooden pallet near the seaside and dropped my backpack, T-shirt and shorts on it. Yes, I was already dressed for the water!  The soft sand under my feet made the entrance easy and I soon lifted them up and bounced around in the gentle surf.  The stunning scenery all around me provoked me to once again express gratitude to the Creator for His handiwork on the Nature Island.  I needn’t say any more about that.  Let me show you:

The Cabrits National Park and Fort Shirley (two dots on left hill) are any easy gaze across Prince Rupert Bay from Picard Beach.

The Cabrits National Park and Fort Shirley (two dots on left hill) are any easy gaze across Prince Rupert Bay from Picard Beach.

The sun is rising in the east, creating long shadows on Picard Beach, on Dominica's west coast.

The sun is rising in the east, creating long shadows on Picard Beach, on Dominica’s west coast.

The southerly view of Picard Beach, which merges with Coconut Beach.

The southerly view of Picard Beach, which merges with Coconut Beach.

Morne Aux Diables is the prominent northerly mountain which is clearly seen from Picard Beach.

Morne Aux Diables is the prominent northerly mountain which is clearly seen from Picard Beach. Portsmouth is located in the distance (middle lower left).

 

 

After the steep uphill walk back to the hotel, I was more than ready for a big Sunday brunch before heading out for the day.  I gorged on a fresh fruit bowl, pancakes and scrambled eggs on the side.  I knew I would need additional sustenance for walking around Fort Shirley in the Cabrits National Park before heading over to the village of Calibishie on the east coast.  (To be detailed in later posts).

That evening, Lise heated up my yummy left-over pizza.  Then she, Hans and I admired another stunning sunset.  It was their evening off, so I did not prolong my latest chat with them.  Instead, I excused myself and Lise set me up in the jacuzzi.

The delightful northerly view of The Cabrits, Prince Rupert Bay, Portsmouth and Picard from the Breakfast Room at Comfortel De Champ.

The delightful northerly view of The Cabrits (left), Prince Rupert Bay, Portsmouth (far right) and Picard (mid left) from the Breakfast Room at The Champs.

Comfortel De Champ is "Hospitality Assured" by the Caribbean Tourism Organization. It shows!

The Champs Hotel is “Hospitality Assured”  certified by the Caribbean Tourism Organization. It shows!

The jacuzzi/lounge area at Comfortel De Champ is like an outdoor living room - covered, of course!

The jacuzzi/lounge area at The Champs is like an outdoor living room – covered, of course!

There, I unwound for half an hour as I stared at the darkening sky  and the emergent twinkling stars.

Then I prepared a cup of tea in my room and sat out on the porch where I  watched the quiet evening turn into a restful night; tree frogs chirped and bats flitted to and fro. Shortly thereafter, I returned to my room, read for a while and then quickly fell asleep.

Next morning, I had to repeat my ‘sea bath’ experience, although the weather was a little more inclement.  It didn’t stop me though: wet is wet! Back at the hotel, my breakfast awaited me, but I didn’t feel as hungry as I had overindulged on the previous day (my birthday) and was feeling a bit queasy.  I explained my dilemma to Lise and Manuela, the cook.  I asked if there was any ‘bush tea’ (herbal) available and Manuela immediately offered to pick some fresh mint from the garden and steep it for me.  It had a soothing taste and settled my stomach quite quickly.  I was impressed with her thoughtfulness!

All of a sudden, my wonderful weekend was over and it was time to head back home.  Lise, Hans and I conversed for a while longer.  Although they would be taking a  holiday to Europe in the near future to celebrate Lise’s parents’ 60th (!) wedding anniversary, they first would play important roles in the organization of an upcoming Rotary Club  ‘Sweet Jazz’ fundraiser for the PortsmouthDSCF3111 Hospital Emergency Room.  This caring couple firmly believes in giving back to the community.  As I observed them once again in action, I could clearly see that they have what it takes to make The Champs Hotel-Restaurant-Bar a preferred choice for reasonably priced accommodation, dining and entertainment in the northern part of the Nature Island.  If you don’t believe me, take a look at the glowing reviews on Trip Advisor!

Oh, I shouldn’t forget to mention the bill : I only paid for Saturday lunch, apart from my greatly reduced room rate for two nights.  Both big breakfasts and the large pizza (two suppers’ worth) and all my non-alcoholic drinks were included in the price.  This Staycation offer certainly was an ideal birthday present to myself!

I strongly encourage fellow residents to check out The Champs when in the Portsmouth area. Prospective visitors can view their web site for great deals too!  For my forays ‘up north’ on the Nature Island, there is no better place for me!

 

 

A Birthday Celebration in Dominica’s Beautiful Interior

River Stone Bar 'n' Grill is a great place to spend a Sunday afternoon in Dominica's interior.

River Stone Bar ‘n’ Grill is a great place to spend a Sunday afternoon in Dominica’s interior.  It’s located on the Airport Road, about a mile east of Pond Casse in the centre of the island.

It's  a pretty drive into Dominica's interior from Springfield, which is situated on the edge of the rainforest at about 1,200 feet above sea level.

It’s a pretty drive into Dominica’s interior.

It was Nancy who suggested  that some friends should celebrate their birthdays, which are actually a few days apart at River Stone Bar ‘n’ Grill in Dominica’s mountainous interior. The proprietress, Maxine Alleyne-Esprit was acknowledging her own big day a little in advance – on Sunday August 25th, and was offering good food, smooth tunes and a chance to ‘lime’ (West Indian for hanging out and having a good time) at her establishment along the Laurent River near the village of Bells.  I had been there once before –  in May, after Hike Fest’s foray along  and through(!) the Layou River to experience the Jacko Steps and Jacko Flats.  I had so much fun dining, dancing and bathing in the river post-hike that day. I looked forward to a repeat performance as part of this birthday bash.

The only initial drawback was the weather: heavy rain was in the forecast.  It is not advisable to drive in Dominica’s interior on that kind of day, as landslides of rocks and mud and flash floods on the rivers are always possible.  We all chose to err on the side of caution and waited throughout that morning with hopes that the clouds would lift.  Miraculously (well, I think so), by midday, the sun started to shine, so we were a ‘go’!

Four of us met at Springfield Plantation in the early afternoon, where Nancy (the manager) offered us a celebratory drink before we piled into her vehicle for the half hour ride further into the rainforest for our birthday get-together.  As the skies continued to brighten, I admired the silhouettes of significant massifs as we headed  in an easterly direction.  When we approached the Pond Cassé round-about (traffic circle) in the middle of the island, I gazed in awe at Morne Trois Pitons, Dominica’s second highest peak,  which dominates the area with its multitudinous shades of green.

Our conversation was lively and chatty, as we caught up on each other’s news and plans.  In no time,  we approached the Laurent River Bridge and turned into the lane way that lead to our destination.  It was about 3 p.m., and at that time, we had the place to ourselves.  I think the earlier inclement weather prediction was holding people back from making the inland trip.  We did not mind, as we were there to have a good time, no matter who else was there!  We selected a table which was situated almost directly over the river.  It was close enough  to a sheltered overhang, if it actually did start to rain.

The birthday gals were in fine form as we relaxed on the lovely deck over the Laurent River.

The birthday gals were in fine form as we relaxed on the lovely deck over the Laurent River.

Liz and I professed to being very hungry so we ordered and subsequently tucked in to a huge lunch right away.  It was a feast that perfectly complemented the celebratory day.  Liz really enjoyed well prepared pork with a BBQ sauce, breadfruit, tasty ‘rice and peas’ (beans) and a hearty green salad . I devoured the ‘mahi-mahi’ fish, which was slathered  in a delicious herbal seasoning, along with the same delectable accompaniments.  It was a substantial meal, and we both  made short work of it!

As we were deep in the mountains, the sun quickly disappeared  as the afternoon wore on.  Liz was keen for a swim and wondered if I would partake of a ‘river bath’ too.  I was

When I look at a topographical map, it seems to me that the Laurent River originates from Morne Trois Pitons, which is over 4,500' high. No wonder it is so cold!

When I look at a topographical map, it seems to me that the powerful Laurent River originates from Morne Trois Pitons, which is over 4,500′ high. No wonder it is so cold!

tempted, and had even brought my suit along.  I declined but she went in, while I took off my sandals and sat by the riverside.  When I put my feet in, I quickly pulled them out: too cold for

Liz didn't seem to mind the chilly waters of the mighty Laurent, which passes close to River Stone Bar 'n' Grill near Bells Dominica.

Liz didn’t seem to mind the chilly waters of the mighty Laurent, which passes close to River Stone Bar ‘n’ Grill near Bells Dominica. A rock-slide from a previous storm is seen in the background.

me!  Yes, those mountain rivers can be chilly, as is the case with the Laurent.   Liz toughed it out, and it seems to me that she had fun! (She said it wasn’t so cold once in the water for a while, but I was content to stay mostly dry).

By the time we arrived back at our table, people with whom we were acquainted happened along. Soon it became common knowledge that there was a group of birthday girls in the house!

This fact was reinforced by Maxine, proprietress of the property, who made a general announcement over the D.J.’s sound system.  Seeing as the “secret” was out, D.J. David Sorhaindo played some appropriate birthday tunes, including Kool and the Gang‘s “Celebration” (1980).  Liz and I got up to move to the beat and stayed for a while on the floor while D.J. David played a sequence of favourite ‘Oldie Goldies’ from the 70’s and 80’s.  I was in my element – but I

D.J. David Sorhaindo knew how to members of the '50+" Club' on the dance floor. I had fun groovin' to the oldie goldie tunes.  Thanks David!

D.J. David Sorhaindo knew how to get a few members of the ’50+ Club’ on the dance floor. I had fun groovin’ to the oldie goldie tunes. Thanks David! (Note: his birthday was a few days earlier.  It was definitely a festive atmosphere!).

won’t say anything more about that – you had  to have been be there…

The birthday girls enjoyed their 'lime' at River Stone Bar 'n' Grill.  From left: Gwendominica;Sarah;Nancy; Maxine (proprietress); and Liz.

The birthday girls  enjoyed their ‘lime’ at River Stone Bar ‘n’ Grill. From left: Gwen;Sarah;Nancy; Maxine (proprietress); and Liz.

Of course, what would a birthday be without cake.  It certainly was my lucky day, because I savoured a sensational slice of  the homemade sweet prepared by Maxine’s mother.  I have to honestly say – it was one of the most delicious I have eaten in recent memory – it was so moist, flavourful and light.  Thanks, Mrs. Alleyne! I hope I will have the good fortune to order a slice or more when I return to River Stone next time.  Maxine, take note!  While another cake was making the rounds, I did sample it but I was more desirous of having an extra piece of the first one. And now you know why!

We lingered a little longer even though darkness set in all too quickly.  Then the rain did start, which signalled us to depart and   come back  to the relaxing River Stone Bar ‘n’ Grill another day.

Thanks Maxine, for hosting a very sweet birthday ‘lime’ which we enjoyed immensely.  It was a memorable afternoon in a super natural setting within Dominica’s beautiful interior. See you on another Sunday sometime soon. And Happy Birthday to you!