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It’s the kick off of 2015 and they’re all doing it (the mainstream press that is). So, as a professional traveller I thought I’d add my pinch of salt – or spice. Culled from decades of travel, here’s my short-list of affordable destinations that give you the best of all worlds … in 2015.

Here’s a general article I wrote about the charms of Samana, published in the latest issue of House & Garden. I’ve added in some pics to illustrate it. All this to urge people to go there! Read this earlier post too, here

THE ALTERNATIVE CARIBBEAN Fiona Dunlop travels to the Samaná Peninsula, off the north-east Dominican Republic, and finds a tropical paradise gently developed by tourism, with tranquil beaches, mountainous scenery and a fascinating cultural mix

Before shutting down completely over the holiday period, I thought I’d write a post that is less about place, more about mood and approach to life. For me, workwise, 2012 was very focussed on the Dominican Republic, with a total of 7 weeks travelling round the beautiful island (yes it is, despite public misconceptions based on the much publicised all-inclusives). And that brought some memorable images of an attitude to life that has nothing to do with wealth, success or celebrity.

10 days ago I was lapping up Caribbean light and UV on my final research trip to the Dominican Republic. Shame about the country’s name really, it sounds so serious, but what a neverending source of wonder that island is. As usual, between less sybaritic pursuits, I found myself on a fast track to another piscean overdose, this time on the northeast coast and adjacent peninsula of Samana, aka paradise.

It’s quite normal in a tropical country to want to escape the heat, although given the ongoing cool wet in the UK, not everyone here would understand that notion. Yesterday, while dashing through yet another torrential downpour, I thought longingly of the arcaded streets of Latin America – giving rain protection and shade. All over their colonies, from Mexico to Peru, Cuba to Hispaniola, conquistadores ducked and dived the elements, whether rain or shine, in style. Perhaps the UK should sit up a bit and think of building arcades, as in this pic in Baracoa, Cuba? British colonies like Singapore had porticoed shophouses after all, courtesy of Raffles.

Two weeks in the Hispanic Caribbean has done wonders, not only to my contribution to a travel website but also to my state of health. Anyone dipping into this blog over time will have gathered how close food is to my heart, stomach and soul. Back for my second trip this year to the Dominican Republic, a constant flow of fresh seafood topped by the odd minty mojito, plus copious tropical fruit for breakfast meant that the word(s) well-being is not descriptive enough.

After three weeks of bingeing on divine seafood that had just leaped out of the Caribbean, I am now working out exactly WHAT I ate. As this was the Dominican Republic, names were in Spanish, but they by no means matched the ones I’ve already come across in Mexico and Spain. An example: in Dom Rep red snapper (a fabulously flavoured flakey fish) is chillo, which in Mexico is huachinango – a classic of Veracruz cuisine. But even more complex is the discussion on langosta and langostino.

Some countries have a branding problem. I’m just back from the Dominican Republic, a country that projects an unfortunate image of heaving all-inclusive resorts, merengue on the beach, sex-tourism and cheap food & booze. In reality only a tiny bit of the country claims those categories, though I’ll admit to having indulged massively in the last one. Cheap, fresh lobster, oysters even (quite divine), cut-price mojitos, Presidente beer…. And these chaps below (near the spectacular 9-km beach of Bahia de las Aguilas) are obviously having a great time- who wouldn’t in such a setting?