CRAZY QUILT By Tanya T. Lara (The Philippine Star) Updated February 20, 2011 12:00 AM Comments (0)
Something funny happened to Bellarocca on its way to a global list of island hotspots. The West Australian’s John Borthwick traveled all over and chose the top 10 islands in the world, a list that came out just last month.
Marinduque landed in the No. 2 spot, following Sicily, Italy. Marinduque, of course, is home to the famous Moriones festival during Holy Week, where Christ’s passion and death is reenacted with the blind centurion Longinus as the central character — and after which the masks are designed. Its position on the list is also due in large part to Bellarocca, an island resort patterned after Santorini, Greece, with its white-washed cliffside houses perched on the Aegan Sea.
The funny part of that list is that Santorini, the inspiration for Bellarocca, is only No. 10!
In this case, Bellarocca, which means “beautiful rock,” has surpassed the “original.”
Other islands on The West Australian’s list are Reunion in the Indian Ocean, Manihi in French Polynesia, the Maldives, Phu Quoc in Vietnam, Kauia in Hawaii, Koh Lanta in Thailand, and Zanzibar in Tanzania.
Marinduque has been on several lists of must-discover islands lately. CNN’s Tiffany Lam last year told travelers going for the “next-gen Asian hotspots” to “forget Phuket,” as she includes Marinduque as Asia’s next major tourist destination.
Elle Canada had the same opinion. Whereas Phuket may have been the great island to flock to several years ago, Marinduque is the “now” island. “There are no Starbucks on this volcanic Philippine island — life in Marinduque calls for a calmer pace. (Think white-sand beaches and sulfuric hot springs.) Its sole concession to luxe tourism is the Bellarocca Island Resort and Spa, which sprawls over its own island. Indulge your spiritual desires in the Meditation Sanctuary and your sensual ones in the Cigar Bar.”
So what’s so special about Bellarocca? One, it is so near Manila — 35 minutes via Zest Air, which unfortunately is the only airline that flies to Marinduque and only four times a week at that, with another 40-minute land transfer from the airport to Bellarocca’s port, and a 10-minute speedboat ride to the island.
From afar, it does look like an elephant half-submerged in the waters — in this case, the Sibuan Sea.
The 10.2-hectare Bellarocca is very exclusive — and rightly so. It is a far cry from other island resorts in the country as it caters to guests who don’t mind paying a premium price for tranquility, luxurious amenities (Molton Brown toiletries in the villas, anyone?), and doing water sports without having to fall in line or bumping into other guests.
This privacy was taken to the extreme by a group of 20 Russian millionaires one time. They rented and paid for the entire island for their group to enjoy for the weekend — all the accommodations for 70 people. Imagine that, all the villas with their own private plunge pools and Jacuzzis, the casas, the hotel rooms, the lap pools (one near the hotel, the other near the sea), the koi ponds, the undulating paths and walking trails, and even the golf course just off the island — all theirs to enjoy privately. Th emost expensive villa? A three-bedroom house atop a hill with a floor area of 450 square meters, good for nine adults, and at $5,000 per night.
“Our only condition was for them to tell us which villa or casa they were staying for the night, for purposes of security,” says John Tanjangco, director of sales and marketing for Bellarocca, and marketing and press relations head for Genesis Hotels and Resorts, which runs Bellarocca and the Astoria Hotels.
Service, Bellarocca-style, is part of the luxurious experience.
We stayed in a two-bedroom villa with another couple and we understood immediately why John said that 90 percent of their guests never leave their villa until departure time. Unless, of course, it was to get a massage at the spa, which perched atop a cliff and surrounded by the woods.
Our 200-sq.m. villa has two bedrooms and a separate maid’s room, an eternity plunge pool and Jacuzzi overlooking the Sibuan Sea, and amenities such as flatscreen TVs, DVD players, stereos, a living room and dining room, kitchen, and wraparound balconies. I did mention the Molton Brown toiletries, right?
“And Hermes is god of what?” I asked. “Luxury leather goods?”
Well, I wasn’t that far off. Hermes is the messenger of the gods, and the god of merchants, thieves and oratory.
Oh, but we did leave the villa!
Bellarocca, after all, is not just about luxurious rooms — it is an island where you can stroll and stretch your calves as the terrain is undulating (or you can call for a golf cart to pick you up and take you around).
On our second day — after a night of rest, great food at the hotel restaurant, card games, laughing our asses off watching Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Bellarocca has a good selection of titles in its DVD library), and dipping in the plunge pool — we headed out to the sea.
The water sports desk at Bellarocca is complete with equipment for diving, snorkeling, jetskiing, kayaking and other activities.
We chose to snorkel — and my fear of water (I can’t swim!) quickly disappeared somewhat with the presence of Bellarocca’s go-to-guy, August, who guided us into the snorkeling area of the sea.
I had never really been comfortable in the water, but this time, the fish — for which August provided bread for us to feed them — and coral reefs were just so….entertaining. It was like watching TV with all the marine life swirling below you.
And that’s just snorkeling — looking at marine life from the surface of the water, 20 to 30 feet below you.
The following week, I enrolled in scuba diving classes.
The thing about kayaking, I guess, is coordination. You paddle in a synchronized manner to go straight, you paddle on the right to turn left, you paddle on the left to turn right.
You can actually kayak around Bellarocca — if you got the energy for it. We did maybe half an island turn and landed right smack on the beach at the end.
One strong wave, almost halfway around the island, our kayak turned over and the paddles began floating away. The waters were deep, the waves were rough. Thank goodness August was paddling not too far behind — solo.
After about 10 minutes — which seemed like an eternity and I was wondering what parts of my life would flash before me — he and R. managed to turn the kayak right side up, rescue the runaway paddles, and haul my ass back on the kayak.
We made it back to the beach. Needless to say, we had a hearty dinner after all that — and another DVD marathon.
Three days, of course, is short for a vacation, but for a mini break, a quick getaway, a pick-me-up weekend, it can’t better than Bellarocca.
I hate to use the word “paradise” to describe anything — unless I were actually at the doorstep of heaven and St. Peter is telling me to enter the pearly gates.
But Bellarocca sure comes close.