The Residences at Secret Bay Owner Spotlight: John and Cathy H.

Seeking an exclusive escape on the Caribbean coast, John and Cathy H. began their search for a unique seaside oasis to call home. Keep reading to get a glimpse of their journey from being repeat guests at Secret Bay to purchasing their one-of-a-kind private villa residence at The Residences at Secret Bay overlooking the Caribbean Sea. 

Q: Describe your search for an ideal investment property and how you found Secret Bay.

With the passing years we found ourselves increasingly interested in finding a different kind of destination in our choice of getaway. Our evolved ideal? A place both calm and spectacular, private but with breathtaking views, seaside, yet elevated, accommodations beautifully designed to offer the best in luxurious amenities while integrating seamlessly into a natural yet dramatic setting. A sanctuary embedded in nature.  All these descriptors – and others – became key search words as we scoured the internet to attempt to sidestep the floods of standard promotional material that push high-volume tourist destinations. Some of our other search keys: quiet, remote, vista, exclusive, rugged beauty, sustainable, respect for nature, relaxed pace, rare species, escape.

That search at the beginning of 2012 produced a very short list of destinations that might match our dream setting. And in finding Dominica’s Secret Bay, its site immediately caught our attention with images of its clifftop villa estate positioning, the architecture of its villas, and the nature-conscious ethic pervading the project.

Q: Tell us about your first stay at Secret Bay, as hotel guests.

We travelled for a brief stay at Secret Bay. As it happens, Secret Bay had then only opened the previous year, 2011. We met Gregor, Secret Bay’s founder, and took advantage of his arranging us to see more of the island by boat and on land. Our first real experience on Dominica was the ride from the airport to the resort – a partly coastal, partly inland, jaunt – from Dominica’s northeast coast over to Secret Bay’s site on the west (Caribbean) side of the island. This was an eye-opener! The mountainous rainforest interior of Dominica makes for many streams and waterfalls, lush greenery, and winding, mountainside-clinging roadways. As newcomers we fell in love with the dramatic natural beauty everywhere, a new vista either rising up above us or falling away below us seemingly around every turn! 

Arriving at Secret Bay that first day created an irresistibly sensual experience. We were now standing, looking down at the sea from a clifftop of varying heights, all more than 100ft above the Caribbean. Try this: Stand in one spot on the promontories of Secret Bay; then turn slowly a full 360 for a panoramic feast of views …. one moment gaze out over the Caribbean to Guadeloupe in the distance, or to a nearby neighbouring headland across the bay to the north, “Cabrits”, at the base of which sits UNESCO World Heritage site Fort Shirley, or to the peaks of the island’s interior, lush and cloud-crowned, even as the sun shines on the more arid microclimate of Dominica’s leeward west coast on which Secret Bay is perched. Or look straight down from the clifftop to discover Secret Beach, an idyllic crescent-shaped seacliff-walled haven inviting snorkelling in the crystal-clear waters among rock outcroppings, or picnicking, or simply laying back and letting your soul soak up your surroundings through your senses. Accessible by kayak, Secret Beach is perfect for a uniquely private experience.

In the years after that first visit we have been back to Secret Bay multiple times, each time growing a closer sense of “home” on Secret Bay’s property and on the island generally. Getting to know more about Dominica, and about Gregor and his family – Dominican residents for more than 90 years starting with grandfather Elias’ settlement here in 1930 – has only more deeply rooted our certainty that no other place and no other resort owner could provide the same confidence we have choosing the land and villas forming part of the Clifftop Estate Residences.

On that subject, there were three other island destinations that we did visit to be able to compare to Secret Bay. While there were other beautiful resort/villa settings, when experienced in person none approached Secret Bay’s. 

Q: How has Gregor, founder of Secret Bay, played a role in purchase and how did that affect your feelings about purchasing an estate villa?

I like to say Secret Bay is a “six-star Resort with a six-star founder.” Gregor has always been available to speak to us one-on-one and does so with patience, understanding and clarity. You can appeal to this man with reason. 

In our experience speaking to the “owners” of high-end resorts elsewhere actually means dealing with an agent or employee of a company with a head office in some major city in North America or Europe. And the words “corporate policy” never go long unsaid. At Secret Bay, Gregor gave us an available ear, and an understanding disposition, open to considering other points of view.

In addition, Secret Bay’s unique clifftop setting, architectural “treehouse” style Zabuco villas, development vision including an art gallery, funicular, heli/EVTOL landing pad, micro-brewery and Secret Bay’s “Relais and Chateaux” quality recognition give nod to its 6-star status and Zing Zing Restaurant. 

It is no coincidence that Secret Bay has attained its worldwide recognition for excellence, and has as a core value an appreciation and respect for nature, with Gregor as vigilant founder and guiding hand.

Q: With the building of your Villa underway, can you describe the process so far? 

The number one feature that I love about the villas’ designs is that they convey the feel that they were always intended to belong in their Secret Bay settings, on clifftop slopes amongst the native trees. There is a feeling of timelessness, of the absence of flavor-of-the-month styling. The iconic Zabuco layout is a “Honeymoon” gem, a single huge bedroom with views out both ends of the villa; I particularly like the shower at one end with a sliding door that opens up to an uninhibited open air view down to the beach and waters of the Caribbean far below. 

As the early stages of readying for excavations and foundations approached, Gregor came to us with the suggestion that a small adjustment to the angle of the villa’s presentation toward the sea could create advantages for the views of both the Zabuco and its companion Mapou – something we wouldn’t have thought of, and did not add any cost … only value, due solely to Gregor’s discerning eye  for detail and a willingness to continue looking for ways to improve the outcome throughout the process. This attribute was also revealed  with our suggestion that, as only zero-emission vehicles would be allowed on the laneway to the Clifftop Villa Estate properties, it would be beneficial for each estate property to have a shelter for parking, equipped for charging electric vehicles. Gregor agreed. Another thought, not yet raised with Gregor, is to install a mounting for a telescope, to use to view the panorama of beauty, and for use for photography from one of the Zabuco decks. Ships at sea, the distant shapes of of neighbouring Guadeloupe’s archipelago, and Dominica’s status as a prime location for whale-watching are among the uses to which it could be put (Dominica is unusual in that nearby sheer-drop sea trenches thousands of feet deep make for ideal conditions for a year-round home for sperm whales, among others.

Q: How would you categorize your investment style? 

To say we are cautious investors is an understatement.  So, we first invested time over several years getting to know as much as possible about not only Dominica, but about who our business counterparts would be for the indefinite future. We did this also as a matter of due diligence, in the case of each other prospective resort property ownership opportunity we investigated in the Caribbean. 

Getting to know Gregor and his family’s history in Dominica was easily found and verified, as many sources exist in the form of articles and books about Gregor’s grandfather Elias, including his biography “ELIAS NASSIEF, Triumph Over Tragedy” by native Dominican Dr. Irving Andre, a Superior Court Judge here in Ontario. Dr. Andre recounts Elias’s arrival in Dominica in 1930 to establish businesses and raise a family, As the book title suggests, Elias persevered through setbacks at various points along the path to success, resulting in his recognition by Dominican author Gabriel Christian as “… a role model in local industry”, a testament to more than his business acumen, but also to his human touch, and his resilience in the face of hardship. Elias’s son Phillip (Gregor’s father) created another Canadian connection by obtaining a chemical engineering degree from renowned McGill University in Montreal. With the expertise gained through that education, Phillip was able to improve the processes for soap-making and other products made from local harvest by the family’s Dominica Cocoanut Products, which was successful enough to attract the purchase of DCP by Colgate Palmolive in 1995 after 30 years of operation. Phillip too has been recognized also for his appreciated role in business development in Dominica. 

Long-involved in the hospitality industry on Dominica, branches of Elias’s tree of descendants are providers of many of today’s goods and services on Dominica. A discussion of important Dominican families that have influenced the course of Dominica’s business and general modern history written by Oxford University alumnus and Dominica native and historian Lennox Honychurch  adds context to the prevalence of Gregor’s family in the advancement of local business. 

Q: What tidbits would you share about the Nature Island to someone that was unfamiliar with Dominica?

With a history enriched by centuries of alternating claims of dominion by several countries, Dominica was seen as strategic from military and shipping-route perspectives, but difficult to transform into a productive agricultural base due to its steep landforms. A treasure to discover is the Waitukubuli Trail, a national hiking trail consisting of 14 segments that Cathy and I will continue to explore on future visits, and invite friends and family to join in. Sweeping views among the steep mountains, deep river-creased valleys and a similarly dramatic coastline make this a source of images to retain for a lifetime. You cannot help but hear about and see the many waterfalls on the island (the twin falls at Trafalgar come first to mind), with enough rivers, as they say, for every day of the year. The island’s unspoiled and lush scenery explains its use for “Pirates of the Caribbean” filming, taking advantage of the eerily shaped buttress-rooted trees along the Indian River, and the naturally-occurring volcanic-origin black sand beaches marbled among the white, with ample stretches of the absence of signs of Dominica’s relatively sparse rural population, as if the first explorer had just arrived.

Q: What does the future hold for your new Villa Estate?

We have no predetermined sense of how many weeks per year we’ll spend in any or all of our estate villas. The beauty is in the optionality. We want to experience every season in every villa. We will allow the pattern of use to freely evolve, keeping in mind only that we will set our plans a year in advance to allow Secret Bay to offer occupancy to paying guests, so we will have a return on investment that is both experiential and monetary. The possibilities are many, and to be savored!

Ready to buy your own clifftop villa estate? Find out more here.


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