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These resorts in Palawan and Marinduque offer meaningful, millionaire-style holidays


The economic crunch, the discouraging state of the environment and our constant search for meaning has changed the way we travel. Today, all over the world, travelers are taking stock of where they go, why they go there and who stands to gain. Environmentalism, spirituality, and social relevance have become such key factors in the destination bucket list that even the once snobbish world of luxury resorts has put on a conscience. This month, Smile takes off for more meaningful millionaire-style getaways at two new resorts that are on the cusp of this new trend in luxury. 

Left to right: (Top row) Rocks and flora in Mangenguey, Bellarocca view and the pitogo plant native to Palawan. (Middle row) Dedon’s Orbit sofa at Bellarocca, Filipino-Catalan cuisine and clear waters at Mangenguey. (Bottom row) Sweeping views, a solo moment and architectural details at Mangenguey

barefoot luxe

The remote 2.5km-long, 13-hectare island located in The Calamianes, Northern Palawan sits at the center of one of the world’s richest yet endangered marine bio-diversity zones, the Coral Triangle. Here, monitor lizards, hawksbill turtles, dugongs as well as over 43 bird species, live among its ancient dwarf hardwood forests, centuries-old limestone cliffs and caves, and pockets of white sand beaches. Set against this magnificent backdrop, thickly laced with bougainvillea and an occasional flock of Palawan tits, rests the first phase of the Mangenguey Island Resort. It’s a compound that now contains three cottages by the beach, two suites and a tropical house, where guests can lounge upon pillows, have cocktails, play pool and dine on cuisine infused with Filipino and Catalan touches, all the while enjoying the free exchange of ideas. Native Filipino architecture blends with neo-classical columns, stark minimalism, and European baroque pieces as well as common, indigenous materials — created by craftsmen from Baguio, Cavite, Ilocos, Manila and some parts of Mindanao — are elevated cleverly into stylish accents that enrich the atmosphere.

The Mangenguey Island Resort promises to be a self-contained, environmentally sound and all-embracing dream destination. It is a haven for artists, internationalists, and spiritual types, a living blueprint for the future world communities. The main house’s generous spaces, white walls, and fantastic ventilation ranks high in the resort’s chill-out indulgence factor. Some of the suites open up into a common living area, as well as into another suite, which extends the space considerably. Here, an entire family, or group of friends, can actually have the island to themselves. The architecture is called native baroque; the ambience, barefoot luxury. And no one epitomizes this better than the woman who coined these terms, the inspiring resort founder, Helena Carratala Mander.

In Culionon, a Palawan dialect, the word mangenguey refers to the thunderous sound of waves, a fitting metaphor for the brave, defiant woman who stands as the island’s demi-goddess, steward, and protector. Mangenguey, Helena’s home for the past four years, is her masterpiece, vision, and work of art.

And her taste is impeccable. The beachside cottages, for example, made of simple materials like anahaw, bamboo, nipa, and wood, have green, red, yellow and blue walls – an unexpectedly complementary combination. Even the lighting is perfect. There are none on the ceiling, to discourage the use of unnecessary lights, but there are red lamps to complement green walls. Even the main house — made of recycled wood, concrete, broken bricks, shells and local stones — has yellow lighting that bathes you in a relaxing glow.

“The idea is to show that true luxury is design, not how much money or Italian marble you pour into the project,” says Helena, who has a penchant for wearing turbans and flowing dresses. “The only thing the islanders know is fishing,” she says. “Every craftsman who came here took an apprentice from the island. Today, the locals can make tables and know other things, like hotel and restaurant management. Mangenguey is like a school. As we continue building, we’re training the native population to develop new skills.”

And this is what makes Mangenguey special. More than just a luxury destination, it is a shining example of how to build a first-class resort without ever compromising the health and beauty of the environment

Constructing the resort, and running it, leaves a very small carbon footprint. Water systems rely on rainwater collection; and there is a recycling program for organic and non-organic waste disposal. The strictest environmental standards are observed as the priority is to preserve this paradise.

After four years, Mangenguey is a work in progress. Eventually, the island will have 86 residences, 46 guest cottages, restaurants and a courtyard — a series of pavilions that will house a grand library, a multi-disciplinary studio with work spaces, a clubhouse, a salon with a small theater, a great kitchen with indoor and outdoor dining, a spa, and a classic amphitheater with a retractable awning. Residents and guests will enjoy music concerts, literary soirees, and films in the salon. Helena has taken café society to a whole new level, bringing it to island living. “Mangenguey is beyond a resort. People can see this beautiful island community and say, ‘That’s something I want to be part of.’” Mangenguey Island Resort, tel: +63 (920) 954 4457 / +63 (917) 815 1313, email: carratala@mangenguey.com, www.mangenguey.com

Organic Extravagance

The last bastion of biodiversity in Marinduque is found in its southernmost tip, on majestic Mt Malindig, rich in therapeutic falls, natural healing springs, and sulfuric baths along its base. With a crown of three peaks, Mt Malindig got its name from the archaic Visayan word, which means steep and elegant — and it is — sitting on Elefante Island, on whose jagged edges the white, Mediterranean suites, terrazas and villas of the idyllic Bellarocca Island Resort and Spa, are nestled.

Just six months in operation, Bellarocca is already attracting business executives, foreign diplomats, and a well-heeled clientele. The secret, it seems, is the resort’s three-pronged approach to service. It offers leisure resort aesthetics, modern conveniences, and wellness amenities. Guests have iPod docks and speakers, telephone units from Belkin, and 24-hour internet connectivity in their hotel rooms. There are vegetarian choices on the menu, meditative music CDs at the sunken poolside bar, and the option of having a yoga instructor at the fitness center. Bellarocca calls this organic luxury. The term appeals to a kind of traveler who is sensible, discriminating, experienced with first-class resorts and who already leads a healthy, holistic, and environment-friendly lifestyle.

“We are very aware of this balance,” says Sheila Evano, travel sales manager for Genesis Hotels and Resorts Corporation, the group that manages the resort. “We want to be known not just as a luxury resort but as a green one.” Green, in fact, is the fi rst color one sees upon approaching the island. There are the emerald hues of the sea as well as the lush vegetation on the rocks. They conduct environmental activities for kids and take part in recycling programs for its waste. The mark of eco-consciousness can be found from every impeccably kept corner of the resort. Those behind Bellarocca believe that one does not have to sacrifice taste or style in order to live with – rather than against – nature.

“When we first arrived here, the mountain was brown,” says Hazel Gabito, guest services and recreation supervisor. Elefante Island, she explains, was just a dry, elephant-shaped stone.

Today, it has a nursery for seedlings, a re-planting program, and a battalion of gardeners to keep the island verdant. “It looks more like a tropical island now. It is so much greener.”

This also makes a stunning backdrop for the island’s villas. There are Sony Bravia Plasma TVs in all of the resort’s 69 accommodations, complete with DVD players and stereo systems. All bathrooms offer shower pleasures from Hansgrohe’s Axor brand, fi xtures from Koehler and personal care from the world’s most luxurious, eco-conscious brands.

Despite its apparent decadence, however, this first class destination is down to earth. That Bellarocca helps build sustainable communities adds to the feel-good factor. “This is part of management’s commitment to Marinduque,” says Swiss national Rudolf Studer, one of the resort’s consultants. “We give the locals training, skills development programs, and a chance to earn a livelihood.”

While all the rank and fi le employees of the resort come from Marinduque — a more-or-less standard practice among island hotels — many of them have had little or no education. Everyone was trained from scratch, and those who made it have a sense of gratitude and achievenement. They welcome guests by song and dance in the traditional Putong ritual, and pride themselves on fi rst-class service laced with genuine warmth. Whether it’s a smile from a gardener, a cliffside tai-chi class, or a private massage, guests receive a meaningful pampering that proves the difference is in the details. Right now, only 12 guests can be entertained at a time, so make your reservations soon. The Bellarocca Island Resort and Spa corporate sales offi ce, Suite 2804, 28th Flr Ayala Life - FGU Center, 6811 Ayala Avenue, Makati City, tel: +63 (2) 382 8831, e-mail: info@bellaroccaresorts.com