If Samal Island is an oyster, Pearl Farm Beach Resort is the unique and beautiful gem within. This native getaway in the midst of the Davao Gulf showcases the best of Mindanaoan culture and hospitality, proving that something authentically Filipino can be raised to world-class standards.
It’s sometime past four in the afternoon, and we’ve been on the beach for hours—the sand slipping away from our feet in treacherous dips, the clear blue waters of Mandaya Beach creating wrinkles on our fingertips and toes. Beyond the horizon, the sun was just beginning to descend onto the heavy clouds that loomed over Davao City—“That should be the 5:00 p.m. rain in Davao,” my companion remarks—the fading lights casting a warm glow on the lush forestry of Samal Island.
The sight was majestic—awe-inspiring even, and while most of us look to other countries for our dream destinations, the Philippines abounds in otherworldly places that are equally beautiful in their own right. The Island Garden City of Samal in Davao del Norte is no secret. With Pearl Farm Beach Resort, this little nook off the south of the country has been one of our most popular tourist destinations for a long time.
Unlike similar holiday places, the charms of Pearl Farm Beach Resort and Samal Island have not diminished over time. The island, with a population of approximately 100,000, remains largely undeveloped save for a few villages. On the other hand, since its conversion from an actual pearl farm to a premier beach resort in the 1990s, the Pearl Farm has continuously upgraded its facilities with modern conveniences, while retaining the authentic island feel by paying respects to the terrain it’s built on.
Designed by celebrated architect Francisco Mañosa, Pearl Farm is a modern-day tribute to Mindanaoan traditions. With nods to the Badjao, Maranao, Sama and Mandaya ethnic tribes, the skillful use of indigenous materials allows the colors, tones and textures of the structures to comfortably blend with the resort. The resulting experience is a luxurious yet completely native getaway—the true allure of the Pearl Farm, which has attracted tourists time and time again.
From the Pearl Farm Marina in Davao City, it takes 45 minutes to get to the Pearl Farm Beach Resort by one of their regular ferry trips scheduled thrice a day. There’s also the option of a chartered speedboat, which we took. Within 20 minutes of cruising through the Davao Gulf, the iconic Pearl Farm Beach Resort, with its high-pitched roof resembling an eagle’s beak, pops out from Samal Island’s sea of greens. Jutting out to welcome visitors is a long boardwalk with the talked-about Parola Bar at the end.
After welcome drinks and meeting the Pearl Farm’s marketing communications and PR officer Lish dela Torre Babela, we get on a smaller boat bound for nearby Malipano Island, a trip that took a mere five minutes. Malipano Island is also a part of the property and houses seven exclusive villas that are rented out to guests at a premium. These villas, each having its own veranda and outdoor tub, are designed with Maranao and Samal tribal influences—the peaked roofs fashioned after the salakot, a traditional Filipino hat. Scattered throughout the entire seven hectares of Malipano are a helipad and private beach, an events space and a chapel, making the island the ultimate beach wedding destination.
Back on the main island and located well above the resort are the Hilltop Rooms. Barely visible from the sea, these rooms blend in with the trees, what with its native materials and décor. Their verandas offer a sweeping view of the garden and the Davao Gulf.
Off to one side of the boardwalk on the ground level are the Samal Suites. Designed to preserve the ethnicity of its surroundings, these two-storey suites are Muslim-inspired with a roof structure that’s also reminiscent of the Philippine eagle. The rooms have a private set of stairs that lead straight to the beach.
Similar in style are the Samal Houses, which are modeled after the stilt shelters of the sea-faring Samal tribes. Built on seawater, the Samal Houses offer a stunning and romantic view of the Malipano Island and the surrounding seas, as well as Mt. Apo and the late afternoon sunset.
The Mandaya House, touted as the perfect accommodations for honeymooners (although personally, I would give that recommendation to the Samal Houses), is a tribute to the Mandaya tribal group, with the big rooms set in a native hut located right along the stretch of sand of its own beach.
This is where we found ourselves on that late Sunday afternoon. Long after the sun has disappeared, twilight descends and envelops the island in a periwinkle haze, gradually darkening to varying shades of blue as we emerge from the waters and head to dinner at the Maranao Restaurant. Situated by the infinity pool, the dining outlet affords an almost seamless view of the water, a perfect setting to enjoy Filipino and international cuisine. Most of the garden greens served are locally sourced from the island itself. The highlight of the dinner was the U.S. Beef Tenderloin Steak in Red Wine Reduction, although the Salmon Steak and the Chicken Florentine were equally appetizing.
One enchanting point of Samal Island and the Pearl Farm Beach Resort is that it is quiet and peaceful. Many other beach destinations in the country have an abundance of nightclubs, but you definitely won’t find any loud parties here. Pearl Farm does offer an option for a nightcap at the Parola Bar by the beach. Once a lookout post, the three-tiered Parola serves as the receiving area for guests during the day, and turns into a cozy spot to hang out in the evenings. On that particular night, they were showing a film on the ground level, while the second floor bar lounge welcomed guests who want to relax with a cocktail or a glass of wine. Like most of the resort’s facilities, this overlooks the sea; but with the late hour, everything was mostly dark except for the distant glow of Davao City’s lights. A quick 10-second blackout as the resort switched power sources gave us a fleeting but beautiful glimpse of the stars in the sky.
A quick chat with Pearl Farm Beach Resort’s general manager Josu Mikel Villaverde over breakfast the next morning cemented the impression that what the resort offers is an authentic island experience. “I was in love with the potential of the place,” he says after sharing that he used to be with Pearl Farm years ago, when he first arrived in the country from Spain. “I loved the attitude of the people, the sunlight, the nature, and the way the architecture was done. It’s so unique in the Philippines.”
Mikel has since resumed his position, and is set to further improve the resort with the ongoing renovations of some of its older accommodations; future plans include additional rooms and a floating restaurant. “We want to showcase the best of Davao through a five-star reality,” he concludes.
As far as realities go, the Pearl Farm Beach Resort is definitely one of a five-star caliber. Even with present-day amenities designed for a luxurious getaway, the modern-ethnic confection is a befitting tribute to Mindanaoan hospitality and architecture, proving that a truly Filipino experience can be elevated to world-class standards.
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by Patty Taboada
Originally published in Zee Lifestyle‘s August-September 2015 issue. For previous editions, download the Magzter app on your mobile device and search for ‘Zee Lifestyle‘
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Get Lost in this Not-so-distant Island Safari Paradise
LOST IN PARADISE
Tao Philippines Crusoe-style deserted island camp paradise is perfect for those who understand the luxury of simplicity and disconnection.
by Melo E. Esguerra photography by Scott Sporleder
Just when you think Palawan is fast becoming a second Boracay, where congestion of concrete buildings and human bodies have begun to define the island experience more than the pristine beaches of white powdery sand, the Lostboys of Tao Philippines came up with a new island project that guarantees an escape to paradise. They call the island Camp Ngey Ngey.
The Lostboys have taken over the abandoned resort of Manguengey in Busuanga, a remote island in Palawan. They have kept the ruins from the typhoon and built their signature bamboo Tuka huts around the main beach of the island, which serves as the camp area. Just a short walk away you’ll find jungle trails that lead to three other wild beaches, preserved reefs and windswept cliffs encompassed by crystal blue waters. And on certain days, when the winds are strong, one side of the island becomes a good site for surfing.
Eddie Brock, one of the founders of Tao Philippines, explains how this concept of an island safari came about. “When we took over Manguengey Resort, we were stuck with the idea of how to run it. We do not know how to cater to resort guests, the individual choices and needs, and menus,” he admits. “Tao’s expertise is to show travelers something new, something more raw and adventurous. We decided that we will not worry about things we don’t understand, and stick to what we do best. One of the best aspects of a Tao trip is creating an atmosphere of connecting with other travelers, disconnected from digital clot—without the worry of planning, wallets and keeping a status. Five days out in the remoteness with the islanders in control leads to a positive attitude: guards down, inhibition is off and open to meet new friends.”
The camp is accessible through the three day/two night boat safari from Coron, with beach and reef stops en route the camp and back. Guests will be joining other travelers, staying in individual Tuka huts dotted along the beach. There are lounges, a dining and kitchen area, and open hang-out places. Currently, the big mansion from the old resort is being restored into a villa that can accommodate a family or group of friends.
The island can be reserved for big events like weddings, parties and other meaningful gatherings.
In the island, there is no room service, no menus, no WiFi. You will arrive as strangers, you will eat together, swim together, laugh together, drink together, and get to know each other offline. Become part of the magic of Tao, and see what happens!
For more information on how the trip to Camp Ngey Ngey works, log on to www.taophilippines.com
(This article has already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s June 2017 Men’s Issue, “Lost in Paradise” on pages 110-113.)
THROWBACK THURSDAY. Our Stylish Voyage on a Boat with Loida and Richard
With hosts Loida Montesclaros and Richard Forteau, we take entertaining to the high seas.
by Shari Quimbo photography Steffen Billhardt
The sky was decidedly gloomy on the Sunday afternoon Loida Montesclaros and Richard Forteau invited a small group of us for a sail, the clouds getting darker as I make my way to Porter’s Marina, where the Blue Planet was docked.
“Richard built the boat himself in Cebu,” Loida explains, going on to share that he was the former honorary French consul in Cebu. “It was built here, and I designed the interiors.”
All that work certainly paid off—Loida and Richard would often sail the boat out to different Philippine destinations such as El Nido, Siargao, Boracay and the Gigantes Islands in Iloilo. These could mean days-long journeys that sometimes meant dealing with some rough seas. Quick day trips, much like the one we were about to embark on, were also a regular past time.
Loida gives me a quick tour of the boat then shows off her tropical spread. With its bright blue and white floral seating, the cabin’s dining area is already a pretty festive site. “I wanted to keep it simple,” she tells me, arranging her fresh fruits around on the banana leaf-covered wooden slabs she was using as serving trays. “And I wanted it to look more local, more tropical. We are on the water, after all.”
The bamboo slats of the dining table were the perfect backdrop to Loida’s spread, which featured tropical fruits alongside an entire roll of lechon belly, fresh lumpia, empanada and steamed shrimp.
The highlight of the table, though, was the chicken liver pate, a dish that Richard makes himself. “Luckily, the French love to cook,” Loida jokes conspiratorially.
Finally, it was time to take the vessel out onto the high seas, and the group makes its way above deck to enjoy the view. The cool sea breeze was a bit stronger than usual, something that had to do with the dark rain clouds looming above us—something that would have deterred any other group, but not this adventurous bunch. Armed with a glass of champagne in one hand and a biscuit smeared with pate on the other, many stand against the railing, admiring the sight of the sky turning orange above the Mactan Channel.
And then it starts to pour. No matter, though—as the rain pounds against the deck, the party finds its way down below. A bottle of wine is opened, and then another, while a second pot of pate is transferred on a plate. Our captain waits until the waves calm before he brings us back ashore.
(This story has already been published in the printed edition of Zee Lifestyle Magazine’s November 2016 issue as one of the Entertaining Features on pages 82-85.)
Experience authentic Korean Barbeque at Da-In Restaurant
Filipinos are crazy for Korean barbecue. As such, there are a lot of places that are offering Korean barbecue. But Da-In restaurant isn’t just one of those restaurants.
Located in Salinas Drive in Lahug, Cebu, Da-in restaurant is a joint project between the Creative Cuisine Group and Da-Won restaurant. With state-of-the-art grilling stations in each table and various Korean cuisines ready to be served, Da-In would surely sate your Korean barbecue cravings without any hassle.
Visit Da-In restaurant today!
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