Friday, July 31, 2009

Dine & Stay 3-Day Sale

I'm a fan of the Intercontinental Group, because they really do offer value for money. And this promo exemplifies this trait. Imagine, rates as low as P2,000 a night for Holiday Inn and just P2,500 for Crowne Plaza. Plus, if you confirm your bookings before Aug.2, you get 50% off on all buffet meals at their restaurants. This is certainly an offer you cannot resist. So go and splurge for less at any of the hotel of the Intercontinental group.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Chocolate Hills of Bohol makes it to the list of Most Astonishing Landscapes by Forbes Magazine!

I couldn't believe the picture. When my friend Donna shared this link in Facebook, I was astonished indeed. This is great PR for our country. But really, the Chocolate Hills never looked this surreal and otherworldly. Wow!

The name of these unique mounds comes from the fact that the green grass covering them turns deep brown during the annual dry season, but is does not hurt that they bear a striking resemblance to Hershey Kisses. The stunner is how perfectly uniform each of the conical hills are, and inevitably, first time visitors simply cannot believe they are not man made. However the scale of this construction project was best left to Mother Nature: There are too many of the hills to count—estimates range from over 1,200 to 1,700!

See the entire list here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Rainy Season Adventures

The rainy season is NOT a reason for you not to travel. This season is actually the cheapest time to explore, with a lot of resorts and hotels dropping their rates to fill in their vacancies. Though airline sales are already over for this season, you can still get great deals from PAL via their Econolight Fares (can only be transacted online) or from Zest Air (though I'm weary about their safety protocols). Cebu Pacific will have relatively higher fares, as their system increases prices as the seats fill up when the departure date is nearer. You can still get cheap fares even with one week or less to go before your spontaneous vacation.

But before that, where can you go in the Philippines at this time? Here are some of my top monsoon destinations.

1. Davao

The southern city actually gets relatively less rainfall, and typhoons rarely pass through this region. The waves may be rougher though than during Summer, so island hopping around Samal will be shortened and confined during the morning.

White water rafting is also the main activity here during the rainy season, when the rapids are stronger and more challenging. Or, go up the mountains and experience Mount Apo in all its glory. Stay at Camp Sabros in nearby Digos City, or have a day trip to Eden Nature Park. Zip down a line over huge canopies, spin yourself in zorbs, or go on a hiking trail in several nature adventure parks that have mushroomed in Davao. And at the end of the day, treat yourself to a seafood feast in Afat or grilled chicken in Banoks.

(photo credit: Jo Pilar, view of Apo from Camp Sabros)

2. General Santos and Sarangani

October is when the Tuna Festival is celebrated, so head further South of Davao to experience the merriment of fish. Then, explore the province of Sarangani - where a great white sand beach awaits, Gumasa Beach. There are also several other beaches in secluded coves around.

3. Cagayan De Oro

Though you can already go down the river in Davao, the Cagayan de Oro river offers a very different atmosphere. White water rafting here is more relaxing, and once you glide on calmer waters, you will be enveloped by the spectacular and peaceful scenery of both Bukidnon and Cagayan de Oro on opposite sides of the river. I like rafting here more, because it's more secluded and cleaner as well (Davao's river is brown because of mud and other sediments).

4. Surfing La Union, Daet, Baler and Siargao

Well, the eastern coast is generally rougher, so if you wanna get a good surf, traverse the coasts of Zambales, La Union and Ilocos. But this is also the best time to travel to Siargao, surfing capital, or even finally taking that trip to Daet, or taking the road less travelled to Baler. Calicoan in Samar is also a burgeoning surfing spot.

5. Palawan

Puerto Princesa also receives less rainfall compared to rainy Luzon and Visayas. Puerto Princesa is a treat to all travelers, as a lot of options are offered here, from backpackers to luxury seekers. Explore Honda Bay, or see what they hype of the Underground River is all about (really just a hype for me). Eat your way in the Vietnamese Refugee Village outside the city, or devour all you can in Puerto's several food spots.

6. Bicol Region and Batanes

Now this is risky, but when the conditions are right, meaning, no storm is approaching, the Bicol Peninsula and the Batanes Islands way up north have their best sunny weather at this time. Island hopping in Caramoan and Calaguas is perfect at this time (well, until August) when the Pacific Ocean is calmer.

In the end, it's all about trying to find a spot where you can shelter yourself from bad weather. Now is the time to avoid Cebu, Boracay, Galera and much of Luzon. Head down South for a more assured weather condition. Hurry, you've got two months left!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Vasco's in Subic

Subic is like home to me. It's my weekend getaway, more than Tagaytay. With the NLEX and SCTEX (expressways) linked together now, it only takes an hour and a half drive to Subic from Balintawak in North EDSA. That's like going to Makati during morning rush hour. And with more options than Tagaytay (though less on food), like shopping, beaches, mountains and adventure parks, Subic will always be my number one choice for that quick travel fix.

One of the coolest places in Subic is Vasco's. Dining by the sea with sails as ventilation (fans) makes you feel you're inside a galleon. That ambience is unmatched here, and gives Vasco's the charm it is known for.

Their menu is comfort food, offering a wide array of international dishes. You can have Asian favorites from curries to Filipino staples, or savor steaks and continental cuisine.

Their food is not the best though in Subic, so I must warn you. I am not promoting it as a food heaven, but more of a place where you can enjoy a night with your friends. A lot of people (especially foreigners) drink here. You must also try their breakfast too. I've had it once before, and I loved their pancakes.

Vasco's is indeed a treasure in Subic. And I meant that literally. Inside Vasco's walls are some real treasures reined in from the sea. Vasco's has a mini museum of artifacts that were once submerged in the rich history of Subic Bay.

These artifacts date back when the Chinese set foot on our islands in search of trade. Most of their merchandise are still intact here. The others come from the Spanish era, when galleons flocked our seas, in search of the pearl of the orient.

Vasco's is more than just a popular chill spot for hungry visitors, or even home for divers (they have a dive shop). They also offer accommodation, spartan, but pleasant and with character. You dine on a terrace hanging by the bay and when it's night, under the stars beside the brilliant lights of Subic nightlife.

Vasco's is located on the road going to the airport. I forgot the name of the road, but it's after the popular fishing spot where you can rent a bamboo raft to go fishing. Just keep your eye on the right side of the road.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Villas of Bellarocca

Perhaps the most compelling reason for you to go to Bellarocca are their villas - stunning, gorgeous, like a house for the gods. Named after greek gods, these villas are worth P50,000 a night, but we only paid P25,000 for each, after being upgraded. So, call us lucky and all, but our experience would not be the same if we didn't stay in these hedonistic dens.

Since we were a group of 18, we booked 6 villas in all, some had two-bedrooms, while the rest had only one. The villa above is our villa, Zeus, a two-bedroom suite with one of the most breathtaking views of the Sibuyan Sea.

It came with a 4-meter lap pool and a separate jacuzzi. When I first entered, I didn't know how to react. I wandered over to a balcony, which was connected to a bedroom. We immediately seized that room, knowing it had a great view. And it was the only bedroom among all the six that had a balcony like that.

The bedroom was large, with a huge king size bed. The sheets were very comfortable and spotless.

But what made my jaw drop was the bathroom.

They threw in a another jacuzzi tub, for more privacy. I wondered why they even bothered to put another room, which looked like it was for kids. The other room had the same bathroom set-up, but with two twins beds.

The kitchen and living area was detached from the bedrooms, to give it that villa feel. That area wasn't as impressive though. It looked like it can be found in any other home.

I can't stop raving about our views. It really made you feel you weren't in the Philippines. You were in Marinduque, and you can see small fishing boats crossing every now and then, but the atmosphere was different. It was peaceful and calm, very far away from anything you would associate the Philippines with.

I now move along to the other villas, all of which are differently designed. Each has its own character too. Like for instance, the wonderfully designed staircase above is located in the villa Hermes. It was a two-story villa, with a bedroom in both floors. It had more of an apartment feel because of this.

It also had a nice view of the mountains of Marinduque as it faced towards the island. The pool is also shaped differently. I was thinking this was more for a laid back couple, or a group of friends who just want to chill out.

Villa Eden is a one-bedroom villa with these signature beach pods. These lounge beds are so comfortable and actually rotates so you can face it anywhere. Villa Eden is for the relaxed couple as well, probably for an older set.

It also has a nice pool, quite smaller though than ours (Villa Zeus). There was a tree above the pool, so I was imaging that leaves fall to the pool once in a while.

The movie theater above can be located in Villa Valhalla. This was a party suite, with a large pool enough to accommodate 18 wild and drunken souls. I could see a rockstar rent this villa.

Now, we also took a tour of the Presidential Villa (picture above) that will set you back USD4,000 when it is completed. Yes, that's almost P200,000. Well, seeing it won't hurt anyway, and I primarily made the effort because I knew the view would be perfect. And it was. On top of the 400 sqm villa was a roof deck where one can hold a party for almost 100 guests. It was also the highest point of the island, hence, you see everything from up there.

The Presidential Villa is definitely way over our resources. It is meant for those rich and powerful who don't really care where their money goes. It has 4 bedrooms, a theater room, a huge living area, a furnished kitchen and of course, a pool, all housed in 3 floors.

Now, I didn't get to take a picture of the other two villas. One was Villa Neptune, another party suite, with a split type configuration, similar to villa Zeus, but with the pool in the middle. The villas of Bellarocca are not what I call luxurious, but gorgeous. The prices may be too high for the average or even the rich set of Manila, so I hope they lower the rates. I guess P30,000 a night would be sufficient. They would get more guests this way. Besides, this is the ONLY place in the country, that offers this experience. Perched along the cliffs of the magnificent Elephant island, the villas of Bellarocca are worth spending for, at least once in your life.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Beautiful Bellarocca

There are many places that I have been to that I fall in love with. These places are the ones that are breath taking, memorable and most of all, beautiful. Recently, I have been to one of the most beautiful places in the country. And it's not in Boracay, nor in Palawan, nor in Cebu and Davao. It's in an island pretty close to Manila, around 30 minutes by plane, or 6 hours by car and boat. I have fell in love with this place, this sanctuary perched on a rock that emerges from a glistening sea. The place is Bellarocca Island Resort and Spa in Elephant Island, Marinduque.

Bellarocca is one of the newest luxury resorts in the Philippines. To reach Bellarocca conveniently, one can take a Zest Air flight to Marinduque. Once in the airport, one will be greeted with a friendly and over eager staff. They take you through an hour's drive to a port where speed boats await to jet you to their island. It's the beginning of an experience that you will never forget.

Bellarocca was dubbed as the Santorini of the Philippines. The Mediterranean inspired resort complex is built upon a rock island. With white structures dotting the landscape, it looks like a resort in Greece, elegant, refined and inspiring.

There are several accommodation options in Bellarocca, from hotel rooms, to casitas and villas. We initially booked for 3-bedroom casitas, but since they construction wasn't completed yet, we were upgraded to the villas.

I just simply love the views from our villas. The one taken below is from the Presidential Villa (which I will feature along with the other villas of Bellarocca). All villas have a breathtaking view of the glistening Sibuyan Sea and for some, the majestic Mt. Malindig.

Bellarocca has top notch service, though, some of their wait staff can be further trained. Most of them come from mainland Marinduque, and serving some of the most demanding clients may still be daunting to them. Nevertheless, most of them wore a brilliant smile, and offered their help to almost anything. We went around in golf carts (talk about being treated like a rock star). You just request for one, and the cart will take you anywhere in the resort.

Don't go to Bellarocca looking for a nice beach. There's this strip of coral sand in front of the pavillon though, and it is sufficient enough to satisfy your thirst for sand. The beach faces mainland Marinduque, so the views remain stunning.

Perhaps what I love about Bellarocca is its ability to make you forget about everything. It seems like you're far away from Manila, even the Philippines. I really didn't feel I was in the Philippines, because the last time I had a similar experience was abroad. Bellarocca's design makes it picture perfect, exuding the epitome of gorgeousness.

Beauty is definitely what paints Bellarocca's charm. It is a place where you can relax and just simply enjoy life. It is heaven for most of us who were there for 3 days. Luxury does have a price, and it's all worth it. It's a good thing they had a 40% off introductory promo, for us to forget how much we're spending.

Bellarocca, or beautiful rock, is one of the best resorts in the country. If you can afford it, you better put this secluded piece of heaven in your travel list. More on Bellarocca's villas, restaurant and our island hopping excursion in Marinduque and nearby Romblon in my next posts.

+63 2 817 4211 / +63 2 328 8831


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