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Calm. Beautiful. Private. “This is like St. Bart’s was 25 years ago.” The dancer and choreographer Mikhail (“Misha”) Baryshnikov sighs as he surveys the rugged, palm-studded land near the home he’s building in Punta Cana, on the eastern shore of the Dominican Republic. “I loved St. Bart’s, but I sold my home there because the island had become a very public place. Here, it’s so raw. The beaches are not that developed or manicured. My family can ride horses along the shore to the marina, and I can play golf whenever I want.” Baryshnikov’s home sits on land developed by the Grupo Punta Cana, a partnership that includes singer Julio Iglesias, fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, Dominican businessman Frank Rainieri, and Theodore W. (“Ted”) Kheel, the renowned labor lawyer who initially invested in land here more than 30 years ago. Under the joint aegis of Kheel and Rainieri, the group has transformed its collective 30 square miles into a phenomenally successful enterprise. Not only did the group members build and operate a world-class resort, but they constructed and now own an international airport — with a thatched roof, no less — handling as many as 200 jumbo jets a week, delivering passengers mostly from Europe and South America to the 20 resorts, including a Club Med, that now dot the shoreline. But even as the throngs of Argentinean and German tour groups crowd the other resorts, Punta Cana Resort and Club remains a sophisticated oasis of calmness and natural beauty. Situated at the southernmost end of Resort Row, this haven lays claim to three miles of white-sand beach (Punta Cana means “white point”) and 300 acres of prime real estate. (Homesites, sans homes, range in price from $80,000 to $400,000, while homes such as Maison Baryshnikov can cost up to $3 million.) The marina moors yachts of every stripe. De la Renta himself designed and appointed the sumptuous two-story golf villas, all of which feature huge hot tubs, marble floors, and panoramic views of the Caribbean. Wake to the smell of orange blossoms carried on the ocean breeze, sit on the second-story deck with a plate of fresh papayas and mangoes, sip a caf� con leche and consider the possibilities. And those abound. There’s golf, for one. P.B. Dye’s year-old course design rivals his father Pete’s masterpiece, The Teeth of the Dog, which lies two hours south at Casa De Campo in La Romana. Over at the marina, divers can scuba or snorkel along the longest coral reef off the island of Hispaniola, visit shipwrecks or travel out to Catalina and Saona Islands. Charter a boat and billfish for white marlin, or troll the reef for snapper and grouper. Or, if you like, saddle up and ride horses along the water. Most significantly, in addition to swimming in the cerulean sea or lounging by the pool, Punta Cana Resort guests can walk a trail through some 1,500 acres — about 10 percent of the total property — that has been set aside as an ecological reserve to be used by The Cornell Biodiversity Laboratory for the study of native plants, animals, and marine and microbial organisms. According to Conservation International, the Caribbean is one of the world’s top 25 biodiversity “hot spots” — areas where the diversity of plant species is particularly abundant but where it’s in trouble. You’ll marvel at the red mangroves and freshwater springs, and the outsized mangoes, guavas and other tropical fruits. But the real wonders happen in the enormous lab. In the two years since the facility opened, Punta Cana scientists have already identified a number of naturally occurring anticancer and antibiotic fluids; scorpion anti-venin; various means of mosquito population control; and agents to regenerate the area’s reefs. Kheel, who attended Cornell Law and organized support for the facility, loves the idea of the resort as a living laboratory. “We’re the only resort in the world,” he says proudly, “with a teaching and research university affiliation, and it’s going to grow in importance and size.” The reserve also provides organic fruits and vegetables for the resort’s five restaurants — all of which serve memorable food. La Cana, the property’s more upscale restaurant, specializes in a Dominican-style ceviche (with tomatoes and onions), lobster flamb� in a mango salsa, and a burly filet mignon marinated with ginger and coriander. You’ll die for Mamma Venezia’s nightly Italian preparations, which include wild guinea hen with onions and carrots, and seafood risotto. The restaurant and nightlife scene centers around La Tortuga, the open-air, buffet-style restaurant and club that stages a weekly Dominican feast. Make sure you leave room for some flan de leche or flan de pina, accompanied by coffee so rousing it’ll inspire you to dance to salsa music on a very full stomach. And while you’re out there shimmying, don’t be surprised if some guy named Misha asks to cut in. IF YOU GO Punta Cana Resort and Club: www.puntacana.com Tel. (809) 221-2262 Only American Airlines has regularly scheduled flights to Punta Cana (through San Juan). Travel agents can arrange for direct charters through companies like Apple Vacations, which also has information on the other area resorts: www.applevacations.com

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