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!

 

 

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Good Company, Great Food, the Best Music: A Special Sunday Afternoon in Dominica!

Lise and Hans are the owners/managers of the award-winning Champs Hotel, Restaurant & Bar in Picard Dominica.  They first opened their doors in 2008.

Lise and Hans are the owners/managers of the award-winning Champs Hotel, Restaurant & Bar in Picard Dominica. They first opened their doors in 2008.

I had looked forward to enjoying a special outing to The Champs Hotel, Restaurant and Bar in Picard (near Portsmouth) Dominica to DSCF0301partake of their monthly Sunday Live Jazz Lunch for some time.  Part of the appeal was The Champs perfect venue – set high on a hill overlooking  pretty Prince Rupert Bay with the scenic Cabrits National Park and Fort Shirley in the distance and the expansive Ross University Medical School directly below.

Morne Aux Diables is a prominent massif of almost 3000' which is north of De Champs.

Morne Aux Diables is a prominent massif of almost 3000′ which is north of De Champs and towers over the town of Portsmouth (far left).

Prince Rupert Bay and the Cabrits National Park (centre left) feature promoinently from The Champs.  Ross University Medical School Buildings and Housing in Picard are in the foreground.

Lovely Prince Rupert Bay and the Cabrits National Park (centre left)  as seen from The Champs. Ross University Medical School Buildings and Housing in Picard are in the foreground.

Michele's back-up band consists of  very fine musicians.  Her husband' Junior' is on the  front right of the photo.

Michele’s back-up band consists of  the finest  Dominican musicians. Her husband’ Junior’ Delsol (right) is on the bass guitar.

The  afternoon’s exceptional entertainment would be provided by none other than  acclaimed  singing sensation Dominican chanteuse Michele Henderson and her Band.  And of course, the food! A delectable dinner menu was being prepared by American chef Eric Subin, who has definitely  made a name for himself on Dominica.

Chef Eric Subin  concentrates while his  cheerful assistants await his instructions. preparing the delcious menu selections for De Champs' Sunday Live Jazz Lunch.

Chef Eric Subin concentrates while his cheerful assistants await his instructions as they prepare the creative menu selections for De Champs’ Sunday Live Jazz Lunch.

My Canadian friend Nancy offered to drive, so I was able to put my feet up and enjoy the seaside sights on the hour plus drive up the west coast from Roseau to Picard.  I had not been at The Champs for over a year, and I was excited to renew old acquaintances, revisit a lovely property and partake of some of the best food and music that Dominica has to offer!

When we arrived around 12:30 p.m., we were cheerily welcomed by Hans & Lise and directed to our table for two with a lush coconut palm tree-lined southerly view of the Picard area  and the sparkling Caribbean Sea beyond it.  As we sipped refreshments and perused the menu, Michele (pronounced Mi-kel) came over to say ‘hello’ and hugged me warmly.  Although she was due to start her show at 1 p.m., we had a few moments to catch up on news and have a chuckle or two.  Her spontaneous outburst of merriment was prompted when I produced a photo of her with me and Marilyn Smith as the singers in the Beau Bois Ensemble back in 2003!  We reminisced and I gave her recent greetings from Marilyn, who now lives in Canada.

The Beau Bois Ensemble in April 2003, just before Marilyn returned to Canada.  Those were the days.  We had a great time, that's for sure!

The Beau Bois Ensemble in April 2003, just before Marilyn returned to Canada. Those were the days. We had a great time, that’s for sure!

As well, I asked the Dominican singer about her latest international and local performances.  Delightedly, she informed me that she was received extremely well at the recently opened Crescendo Jazz Lounge in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia by large crowds  for three nights in a row.  In Virgin Gorda (British Virgin Islands), she and the Band headlined an event called “Jazz on the Hill’ to great reviews.  Her feature at Dominica’s annual Jazz ‘n Creole pleased the huge audience tremendously.  Then she mentioned that she would be traveling to Sydney Australia  in the near future to participate in a church event to raise funds for some social programs.  As usual, she left me nothing short of impressed and she hadn’t even started to sing yet!

All of a sudden, it was 1 p.m.: time for Michele to start the show and for Nancy and me to make our lunch selections from the detailed menu.  Our helpful server answered our questions about ingredients and dietary concerns. Nancy chose the tuna dish and I opted for a vegetarian Indian specialty.  While we waited for the meals, we listened pleasurably to Michele on flute as she warmed up the diners for the afternoon’s  entertainment.  Her superb musicality was clearly evident in a funky Chick Corea rendition that had me tapping the

Michele is an accomplished trained flautist, as well as a superb soprano vocalist.

Michele is an accomplished trained flautist, as well as a superb  and versatile soprano vocalist.

table to the beat.

Nancy delights in the visual presentation of her main course: Sesame-Seared Tuna wiht Sweet Soy Glaze, Wasabi, Jasmine Rice and Temoura Onion.  She thoroughly enjoyed it too!

Nancy delighted in the visual presentation of her main course: Sesame-Seared Tuna with Sweet Soy Glaze, Wasabi, Jasmine Rice and Tempura Onion. She thoroughly enjoyed it!

Then our lunches arrived.

I was amzed a teh generous serving of Chana Masala with Mango-Apple Salad and Jasmine Rice. I really savoured all the Indian inspired flavours!

I was amazed at the generous serving of Chana Masala with Mango-Apple Salad and Jasmine Rice. I really savoured all the Indian inspired flavours!

We gazed at them open-mouthed: yes, we were hungry and the huge plates were filled up with our appealing orders.

By now, the room was packed.  Large contingents of faculty and students from Ross University Medical School were seated at long tables. Other Dominicans and expatriates filled all the remaining available space.  I was thankful that I had made a reservation, as I could see that late-comers could be disappointed or at least have to wait for a while to eat!

Lise and Hans take a little break while the rest of us take to the dance floor.  Sarah (centre) is a well-known restauranteur and food services consultant.

Hosts Lise and Hans took a little break while the rest of us took to the dance floor. Sarah (centre) is a well-known local restauranteur and food services consultant.

Michele doesn't just sing a song: she puts her heart and soul into it too!

Michele doesn’t just sing a song: she puts her heart and soul into it too!

We tried our best to finish everything on our plates.  I felt badly about leaving a bit – but I had already enjoyed some smooth and mildly piquant hummus with pita bread as an appetizer, for which Chef Eric is famous.  And there was no way I was going to pass up dessert.  While we let our dinners digest, we leaned back in our chairs to take in the mellow sounds emanating from the front of the room.  I was touched that Michele publicly acknowledged me from our earlier singing days. Then she belted out many well-known classical and contemporary jazz and jazzed-up favourites:  ‘Favourite Things’ (Sound of Music); ‘Livin’ my Life Like It’s Golden’; ‘Give Me One Reason to Stay Here’;’The Beat Goes On’ (her own composition at my request!); some popular reggae  tunes and many more over two enjoyable hours.

Michele's brilliant and expressive voice always please her audiences, whether she performs in a small room, a large stadium or on a concert stage! her husband Junior is on the bass guitar.

Michele’s brilliant and expressive voice always pleases her audiences, whether she performs in a small intimate room, a large outdoor stadium or on an international concert stage! Her husband Junior Delsol is on the bass guitar.

After that substantial meal, I knew what I wanted  to satisfy my sweet tooth with only the slightest glance at the menu.  I have previously tasted Chef Eric’s chocolate concoctions elsewhere so it is no surprise that the ‘dark chocolate cake’ was my choice.  It was only one mouthful before I exclaimed to Nancy that it was the BEST CAKE EVER!  It’s a good thing that I live a distance from Portsmouth or I might be found sneaking daily into the kitchen to ask for possible leftover slices!

However, I did savour it slowly, and endeavored to work off a few calories by hitting the dance floor with some of the ladies from Ross University. Wow!  Can they move it!  I also met

After my divine dessert (Dark Chocolate Almond Truffle Tart with Coconut-Cashew Crust), I had to work it off to the cool beats of Michele and her Band!

After my divine dessert (Dark Chocolate Almond Truffle Tart with Coconut-Cashew Crust), I had to work it off to the cool beats of Michele and her Band! Orla has her back to camera.  She was definitely groovin’ to the tunes!

up with Orla, a faculty member who had me laughing and singing on the trails during Hike Fest.  It was great to see her again – although at first we didn’t recognize each other without t-shirts, caps and boots!

Just after 3 p.m., the music wound down and we reluctantly dragged ourselves off of the dance floor.  I still had some cake to finish and then it was time to go!

It is such a pleasure and honour to know Michele Henderson. It's also a thrill to watch her career grow locally, regionally and internationally.  I wish her continued and endless success!

It is such a pleasure and honour to know Michele Henderson. It’s also a thrill to watch her career grow locally, regionally and internationally. I wish her continued and endless success!

It was such a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  Chef Eric’s culinary creations, Michele’s magical musicianship, the warm hospitality of Hans and Lise and the fantastic atmosphere at The Champs  guarantee that I will return for Sunday Live Jazz Lunch again very soon!