by Anne Dimon
Tainoti. That is the official greeting here at Melia Punta Cana Beach Resort, in the Dominican Republic. In the traditional Taino language, “tainoti” means “I greet you with love because you are family.” The history and culture of the Taino – the island’s indigenous people – is woven into the fabric of this adults-only, all-inclusive resort. For instance, each day a local expert visits the resort to share his or her passion or expertise about the local culture with interested guests.
As the Editor of Travel to Wellness and the President of the Wellness Tourism Association, I visited recently to learn more about this WTA member, and to experience their new Wellness Inclusive concept. Built on five spaces of wellness: social spaces (activities), silent spaces, sensory spaces, culinary spaces and personal spaces, along with a significant respect for nature and exploring the local culture, the program launched in January of 2020, and is the first-of-its-kind for the Spain-based international Melia brand, now with 350 plus hotels and resorts around the world. Also of note – as environment sustainability is an increasingly important consideration under the umbrella of Wellness Travel – in 2019 Melia received the Most Sustainable Hotel Chain in the World Award from SAM – The Sustainable Wellness Agency.
The 478-room Melia Punta Cana Beach Resort offers a collection of buildings surrounded by gardens and connected to swimming pools and the beach by a network of walkways. The exclusive The Level section of the beach-side resort, houses 24 Wellness Suites by Stay Well, all with the standard Stay Well amenities including an air purifier, an aromatherapy diffuser, circadian rhythm lighting, a Stay Well Mattress with memory foam derived from plant extracts and a Vitamin C-infused rain shower. Sitting on a table in each of The Level guest rooms, a card with the words Eco-Facts on it reminds quests about the benefits of sustainable practices. For instance, I was surprised to learn that the average water consumption per hotel stay is a whopping 92 gallons (350 litres), but by being eco-conscience – for instance, being responsible with laundry service – can help reduce consumption of water to the point that in just one year can save the equivalent of water consumption for 22,000 families in just one disadvantaged area of the world. That certainly shows how the cumulation of small behavioural changes in our daily lives can have a major impact in ways we never even considered.
When it comes to healthy food options, The Level section of the resort includes an exclusive all-day restaurant and lounge, plus outside the Melia Punta Cana Beach Resort parameters, there are about a dozen other restaurants that are part of this massive complex. All restaurants offer special dishes for those guests who are part of the Wellness Inclusive concept. With prior notice, chefs are also prepared to cater to various dietary restrictions.
Daily activities that are part of the Wellness Inclusive concept include air yoga, various culinary lectures/workshops, SUP yoga, aqua spinning and aqua Zumba, Pranayama breathing exercises, a guided run and other options. There are at least six scheduled activities each day, with many led by local experts.
One day during my visit, met up with local holistic expert Kyra Montagu (pictured above) who visits the resort each week to offer guests the opportunity to experience a traditional mud cleansing. Kyra explains that the natural local mud – collected from the mountainous regions of the Dominican Republic – is “detoxifying, anti-inflammatory and good for a variety of skin conditions.”
The mud is applied by hand, then washed off in the ocean using sand as a natural exfoliant. Turning patches of the ocean a clay red color before becoming part of the sand beach, the 30-minute treatment is a fun and refreshing cultural ritual that dates back centuries and is “an authentic DR experience” Kyra tells us.
Born in the U.K. but one who has lived on the island since she was an infant, Kyra is a naturopathic doctor and Ayurveda specialist, and the founder of Ki-Ra Holistic Living, a 10-room retreat offering weekend and weeklong programs.
Bikes are available free of charge to all Wellness Inclusive guests and there are twice weekly guided tours around the massive property that includes sevenhotels, six spas, countless pools, immaculately groomed and maintained gardens. We cycle past natural lakes and ponds that are home to wildlife, and Wellness Spaces including Timeless Rocking Chair and Flamingo Oasis, where an accompanying sign explains that the exotic birds have inhabited the Caribbean since Taino times, when the birds were looked upon as spiritual beings bringing good fortune. There are many other peaceful spots to enjoy a quiet rendezvous – just you, up close with nature.
Another day, Krishna Duddukuri, a chef from a local Indian restaurant who has lived in the DR for the last 13 years, and who visits the resort once a week to lead an Ayurveda-focused cooking workshop which includes a demo and lecture on the food philosophy and practices of Ayurveda.
Today, Chef Duddukuri is speaking about the benefits of Rasam, a soup made with ginger, turmeric, tomatoes and other vegetables, and a dishe called Khichdi (a protein-packed lentil-based Indian staple). The group has the opportunity to dine on these delightfully healthy dishes, and it’s all part of the Wellness Inclusive concept. During the class, Chef Duddukuri doles out time-tested Ayurvedic beliefs and practices:
- It is important to have a balance of flavors in our daily lives – sweet, salty, spicy, bitter and astringent.
- Protein-rich lentils are often a substitute for meat in India.
- Tumeric is called “the Goddess of Life” and it is even used in Indian wedding ceremonies.
- Chopped ginger mixed with honey and lemon can be stored in the fridge and taken by the spoonful daily to ward off colds and sore throats.
- He also quotes the Dali Lama: “It is in our hands to choose everyday if we want to be happy or not.”
Another culinary offering that is part of the Wellness Inclusive concept is the Organic Vegan Workshop & Lunch led by Melia Punta Cana specialty chef Fernando Corona. Like Hippocrates, best remembered for his famed quote “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” Chef Corona espouses the health benefits of food, in particular, individual vegetables.
Beets, for instance, are high in iron and Vitamins C & K. We tried them raw, thinly sliced and tossed with orange vinaigrette.
He points out that pumpkin seeds eaten raw, kill parasites. Toasted, they add protein and fibre to meals. Kale is high in calcium and potassium. Why do we need potassium? Two spoonsful of apple cider vinegar each days helps strengthen the immune system. For travelers, staying healthy on the road begins with a healthy immune system.
Take away: When it comes to vegetables, the crunchier, the better. And when it comes to “steak,” his famous Vegan Steak – made with chick peas, black beans and lentils – is a must try. Chef Corona was kind enough to share his super easy recipe for Vegan Steak with us.
Spa treatments are also part of Melia’s Wellness Inclusive
Something one doesn’t often find at an “all-inclusive” resort are spa treatments included as part of the package. But they are included as part of the Wellness Inclusive at Melia Punta Cana Beach. Guests are entitled to one 30-40 minute treatment per person, per day.
Opened in July of 2019 the 10-cabana, adults-only YHI (pronounced G) Spa is a beautiful marriage of nature and architectural design. The walkway that leads from the lounge to the relaxation pool area and treatment cabanas is built over a natural pond complete with resident tortoises. The spa menu includes a variety of facials and body treatments with a focus on authenticity and giving back to local communities. The signature skin care product, used in many of YHI Spa treatments and therapies, is Moringaia https://www.moringaia.com handcrafted in the Dominican Republic from the Moringa plant. Support for the local product is one way the resort contributes to the ecological and economic development of some of the most impoverished regions of the island.
Wellness for all!
One of the things that specifically impressed this writer is the resort’s employee program for wellness ambassadors. Designated Wellness Ambassadors proudly wear a pin engraved with the word Wellness to indicate they have experienced everything a guest would as part of the Wellness Inclusive concept, and can speak knowledgeably about every aspect. The resort’s staff have also immersed themselves into the Wellbeing 360 experience through a special program created specifically for staff and that includes a health-focused menu in the employee restaurant, nutritional consultation, massage workshops that teach employees how to find pressure points via reflexology, a wellness library for employee education, Zumba classes, meditation and more.
What’s next? Melia Punta Cana Beach Resort is working on hosting local and international retreats from weekend to week-long programs. This is already and an excellent beachfront option for a self-guided, adults-only, all-inclusive Wellness Vacation. Soon, guided Wellness Retreats. Sign-up for our free monthly newsletter and we’ll keep you up to date.