Photo: Coulibri Ridge

Dominica’s Stunning New Resort Proves That Sustainable Luxury Can Thrive

Dominica Epic Stays
by Matthew Meltzer May 16, 2023

Like most everything in Dominica, the road to Coulibri Ridge is rugged. It’s the sort of deep jungle terrain that spills drinks and jars joints, and is generally avoided by anyone with motion sickness.

This kind of ride is why one comes to Dominica, the Caribbean’s prime destination for untamed nature. And just as the sea of banana plants, elephant ears, and ferns seem like they’re going to swallow your car, they break away into a clearing. Between you and a view out over the glimmering waters of the Caribbean, you see a sign for Coulibri Ridge.

The sleek stone palace at the end of the jungle is possibly Dominica’s most heralded resort ever. Not just because it boasts amenities like private plunge pools, two-story penthouses, and high-speed WiFi. But because it has fused high-end luxury and sustainability like no project before it, on this island or any other. The resort took nearly two decades to complete, but the result is a 14-suite revolution in luxury travel.

A lavish retreat in the thick of Caribbean nature

Coulibri Ridge sits on Dominica’s southern coastline, atop a hill overlooking the Caribbean with a towering green mountain seemingly steps away.

It sits in a valley that’s been inhabited for thousands of years, first home to the Arawak people then in colonial times a lime plantation. Eventually, a small collection of cottages was built here and served as a rustic resort.

It was while staying at this resort that French Canadian Daniel Langlois fell in love with this ridge atop the sea. He purchased the land with dreams of building a grand resort, and in 2005, he finally broke ground.

But building in Dominica isn’t as straightforward as it is in the US, or even in other islands in the Caribbean. The volcanic island is 289 square miles of treacherous terrain, and getting work trucks to his job site was nearly impossible.

“The entire project was built with just a dirt trail going up,” says Langlois. “You couldn’t just bring a mixing truck up here. All the concrete was done building by building, at a small plant we mixed locally. The steel was bent by hand. We had stonemasons from in town carving rocks. This was essentially a handmade project.”

After a dozen years, Coulibri Ridge was finally ready to open its doors in December of 2017. But Hurricane Maria had different ideas, and when the storm swept through the island in September, it set the project back years. Half a decade later, the resort finally opened at the end of 2022, nearly 20 years after Langlois first envisioned it.

Wind and solar power help keep mosquitoes at bay

Since its opening, Coulibri Ridge has been an immediate hit, landing on Conde Nast Traveler’s hit list of best new hotels, along with a slew of other superlative hotel roundups.

Much of its acclaim stems from its streamlined, modern minimalist luxury. Suites are divided between studios, lofts, and two-story penthouses with private plunge pools. All are done up in exposed volcanic rock and recycled teak wood, with low-slung modern furniture and stunning views of the ocean. Most rooms boast full kitchens with top-of-the-line stainless steel appliances, including refrigerators stocked with local fruit and fresh juice. If a stone castle were constructed with a 21st-century design, it would likely look like Coulibri Ridge.

And while the luxury is impressive, where Coulibri Ridge truly astounds is in its advents in sustainability. Look around the property, and you won’t see a single power line. That’s because the resort operates entirely independently of the island’s power grid, fueling its kitchens, suites, and restaurants with a mixture of solar and wind.

The roofs are topped with 90 solar panels, which feed 288 non-lithium batteries hidden in a bunker carved into the hillside. The subterranean location means that even when severe storms hit, the resort can stay up and running since its entire power system exists sheltered from the elements. During Maria’s aftermath, Coulibri Ridge was able to provide some power and water to the neighboring village of Soufriere while its infrastructure was rebuilt.

While about 90 percent of the resort is powered by solar, it’s also home to two wind turbines. The turbines look nothing like the towering windmills one sees in the California desert, which notoriously knock birds out of the sky with their immense blades. Coulibri Ridge’s turbines are horizontal wind turbines, specially designed not to hit birds or bats.

“If you go to the bottom of most big turbines, you see little birds all the time. We’ve never seen one dead animal at the bottom of ours,” Langlois says proudly.

Because bats can still roam free around Coulibri Ridge, they eat most of the mosquitoes. This sort of natural pest control means the resort doesn’t need to spray harmful chemicals and can still provide an itch-free experience.

Native stones and recycled teak wood

Coulibri Ridge’s sustainability efforts don’t stop at wind and power. Nearly every amenity on property was created with the planet in mind, from the water in the pools to the furniture guests sit on.

“Everywhere you see wood here, it’s recycled teak wood from Indonesia,” Langlois says as he knocks on a one-story loft’s teak walls. “They have a lot of old buildings and boats over there made of crooked beams that have been recycled. The furniture you have in the kitchen, the armoire in the bedroom, all of that is recycled teak. We took something cut 100 or 200 years ago and recycled it to make furniture for the project.”

The stones used to construct most of the buildings and the interior walls were nearly all sourced from the 285-acre property. Local masons carved the stones by hand, another reason the place took 18 years to build. Walkways and stairs are made from recycled porcelain.

Other surfaces and support structures are crafted from aluminum, the only completely recyclable metal that can be used in construction.

“You can take these ceilings or these doors, and 50 years from now you can make a Coke can out of them,” Langlois laughs.

Aluminum, he points out, also doesn’t develop mold. So where wood walls or ceiling beams might get moldy in tropical environments like Dominica’s, aluminum requires less maintenance and replacement.

The batteries used to store the solar and wind energy are lead, which, while Langlois admits are not the best for the environment, are also 100 percent recyclable.

“Five, 10, 15 years from now, those batteries are at the end of their life,” he adds. “We change technology, but these are fully recyclable.”

The gym has self-powered cardio equipment. The swimming pools are treated with iodized copper, which disinfects, as well as chlorine with no chemical residue. It’s a process Langlois says was first developed by the ancient Egyptians and rediscovered when NASA was looking for ways to purify water for moon missions without using corrosive metals.

The bedrooms are air conditioned, but the rest of the rooms are not, allowing the tropical breeze to cool suites naturally. The small amounts of concrete the resort uses are mostly to insulate the suites, meaning air conditioners don’t work as hard to keep the bedrooms comfortable.

The resort’s two restaurants — breakfast-lunch patio Mesa and dinner spot Vista — source many of their ingredients from the on-site farm, and nearly everything on the menu comes from Dominica and its surrounding waters. You won’t find beef at Coulibri Ridge, though the resort’s cows do provide some of the dairy. The menu literally changes nightly based on what was picked that day, or caught in the ocean that morning.

Langlois isn’t blind to the fact that many of his jetset clientele may not typically put sustainability at the top of their travel priorities, as a good number have arrived via private jet. Still, he says he hopes the full kitchens and comfortable amenities will encourage guests to stay longer, and learn how their luxurious lifestyles can still take the planet into account. His resort shows that luxury and sustainability can coexist, and even thrive. And while the gamble is large, if it pays off it may change the way high-dollar travelers approach the places they stay.

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