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If you’re feeling adventurous, why not head to Pamplona?

Paul Durano shares the adrenaline rush of running with the bulls at the San Fermín festival in Pamplona.

The crowd starts to gather at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento in front of the town hall when I arrive at 6:30 AM, trying to find a spot I can claim as my own, running in my head my guide’s suggestions for novice runners. As time passes, I am surrounded with people dressed in the traditional attire—all white, with a red scarf around the waist and a red handkerchief around the neck. I cannot help but notice the nervousness that shows in their faces and the many ways they manage to hide it.

(Photography by Paul Durano/Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, October 2016)

(Photography by Paul Durano/Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, October 2016)

As the countdown begins, everyone eagerlywaits for the signal the policia does a final sweep of the crowd, checking for things you’re not supposed to bring with you and removing the occasional drunk.

At 8:00 AM, the first rocket sounds off and you feel the tension in the air as runners look behind them. The second rocket sounds off and pandemonium ensues. People are running through cobbled streets, followed by the hooves of six bulls and their guiding steers.

You try to make your way through this throng of humanity, extending your elbows to keep from being crushed; looking in all directions, trying to find a way to move forward, sidestepping those who have fallen while, at the same time, avoid getting trampled by either the people behind you or the bulls. From the corner of my eye, I see the bulls coming up behind, thundering on.

Here I am in Pamplona, in the Navarre region of Spain, on the fifth day of the 426-year-old festival of San Fermín, which is held each year from July 6 to 14 and has the enciero, running of the bulls. The annual fiesta, made famous by American writer Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises, involves a run each morning at 8:00 AM, starting on the second day of the festival. The run starts at Calle Santo Domingo, where the bulls are released from their holding pen to chase a few thousand people for about two to five minutes, and finishes in the bullring (plaza de toros in Spanish) where the bulls meet their end that afternoon.

(Photography by Paul Durano/Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, October 2016)

(Photography by Paul Durano/Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, October 2016)

The morning before I left Madrid for Pamplona, news coverage of the event showed two bulls staying behind on the route and wreaking havoc amongst the runners. The next day several runners were injured. I watched a guy being loaded into a waiting ambulance from the balcony of my apartment rental. During the festival, 12 people, including four Americans, have been gored in the running of the bulls. Despite the obvious dangers, people still come to experience the adrenaline high of running with the bulls.

San Fermín Festival is bigger than just the running of the bulls; it is a fiesta for all ages, young and old, men and women, and for people the world over. The Plaza del Castillo is where it all comes together, with live concerts and locals dancing to traditional music starting at mid-morning. Packed bars and restaurants stay open until the early hours of the morning. Surrounding the Plaza are several places to discover, and people walk around with a cup of wine, beer or sangria. Don’t be surprised to see people sleeping off their hangover in the streets anytime of the day. And let’s not forget the Spanish cuisine! It’s the biggest party in the world.

(Photography by Paul Durano/Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, October 2016)

(Photography by Paul Durano/Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, October 2016)

Pamplona has a lot to offer during the nine-day festival. Each day includes a bull run, a parade of Giants, a bullfight, live concerts, fairgrounds, all-day music by the brass bands from the peñas, Toro de Fuego (flaming bull), and an international fireworks competition. An in the hours between, it’s parties everywhere!

After the morning bull run, things tend to quiet down and you can take this opportunity to explore Pamplona. For pedestrians only, there’s the beautiful Old Town with its stone-paved streets that winds its way through the historical heart of the city. The Plaza del Castillo is the center of life and lined with restaurants, cafes and hotels. The most important monument of the city is Santa Maria Cathedral, which is part of the Cathedral Museum containing the largest amount of artistic and historical treasures. Other interesting places to check out include the Casa Consistoral (City Hall), Navarre Museum, Citadel & Vuelta del Castillo Park, Taconera Park, and the Church of San Lorenzo.

(Photography by Paul Durano/Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, October 2016)

The morning before I left Pamplona, I managed to squeeze in my last run, this time making it all the way to the bullring. Once in the bullring, the bulls are directed back to their pens, and a few minutes later, fighting cows or Vaquillas are released into the ring with the remaining runners in an unofficial “bullfight.” It is quite a sight to witness the thrill of ordinary Joes acting like would-be matadors getting their butts kicked by the Vaquillas up close.

It was a wonderful end to six days of festivities, and an adrenaline-filled run with the bulls. This is one more thing off my bucket list. But, I might just go back someday for another run.


Club Serena: A ‘Serene Luxury’ Experience in the Heart of Cebu’s Diving Mecca

photography by GPA Art and Photography

A three-hour drive, or more, depending on traffic, the fishing town of Moalboal in the southwest of Cebu Island is an extremely popular destination for divers and weekenders who love the white sand and pink sunsets. It is also a favorite place to stay for expats looking for a laid-back life of endless coffees or cocktails.

Thankfully, the big chain resorts haven’t discovered it and places to stay are mostly small family-run resorts. But if pampering is what you are looking for, there is only one hotel to book in Moalboal. Club Serena Resort is a 1.7-hectare beachfront property perched above coral rocks, presenting a unique union of luxurious accommodations and a host of activities to be enjoyed. This hidden gem is reached through a dirt road away from the main highway. Fronting a wide swath of white sand beach, it is an easy walk past several smaller resorts to reach the main town.

Recently renovated by noted architect James Jao, the new Club Serena has 17 rooms, three swimming pools, a restaurant, and a beachfront event space, all designed with modern Filipino aesthetic. On the drawing board are more rooms to be added, an expansion of their modern dive shop, and their popular Kids’ Club program. Their food outlet, Mira, offers all-day dining, favorite among visitors and locals, as well as the growing expat community that has settled in Moalboal. 

Club Serena offers diving courses for adults and kids by their resident operator, Seven Seas Aquanauts Phil. Corp, a PADI 5 accredited diving facility operating since 1988. For a complete list of the courses and their rates, please call (+63) 917.872.6367 or (+63) 905.459.5307.

The resort encourages above-water activities as well, and they have several paddle boards and kayaks available for guests to use.

For rates and more information, visit www.clubserenaresort.com or email sayhello@clubserenaresort.com or (+63) 917.872.6367 or (+63) 905.459.5307. You can also visit their Facebook page for updates.

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This is How the M.I.C.E. Alliance Initiative will Lift Boracay to New Heights

Leveling up Boracay in more ways than one

by Ryan Daniel R. Dablo

Saying the name “Boracay” instantly casts a spell, taking the listener to a daydream of immaculate, pale beaches, swaying palm trees, the music of breaking waves, and the vacation of a lifetime. The tropical island Eden is storied and renowned – a difficult enchantment to lift from any wayward tourist’s mind. But what if we were to tell you that Boracay is so much more? Can you build upon perfection? Yes, and this, ladies and gentlemen, is how. 

One is never too far away from the beach! BNCC is only a stone’s throw away from the Boracay Newcoast Beach front.

Boracay Newcoast Convention Center (BNCC), located at the heart of Boracay Newcoast will soon host the biggest conventions, exhibitions and other large-scale events in the island starting second quarter of 2022.

After the difficulties of the past few years, the stage is finally set for a massive Boracay reboot. The creative gears turn once more, and this time they will catapult our favorite beach capital to new heights. The cornerstone of this renaissance is the M.I.C.E. Alliance initiative, short for meetings, incentives, conferences and conventions, and events and exhibitions. The establishment of the Boracay M.I.C.E. Alliance will allow focused efforts in creating sustainable and eco-sensitive tourism development projects while synergizing with stakeholders to create long-term solutions and opportunities for all partners. The alliance is set to drive awareness, readiness, and expansion of product offerings that will be crucial in making the island competitive with other M.I.C.E. destinations. Working closely with the Department of Tourism Region VI and the Tourism Promotions Board, the alliance is primed to provide support to the areas that are involved in this major undertaking.

Cleofe Albiso, Boracay M.I.C.E Alliance Chairperson

BNCC enjoys state-of-the-art facilities and can accommodate about a thousand guests depending on set-up and conduct multiple events at a time.

No one is more emphatic than M.I.C.E. Alliance chairperson Cleofe Albiso in describing how the different sectors of Boracay are pivoting from tourism to tourism plus. In brief, Boracay is challenging its own boundaries to become not just the pre-eminent tourist destination but also a corporate and business mecca. Turns out, if a venue is grand enough to host a wedding, wouldn’t it be just as grand to host a white-collar conference? Sky’s the limit for possibilities like this. At this moment, the island is abuzz with networking and making connections, training and empowering the hospitality services, polishing the infrastructure, revving up the transportation facilities, and all-around gearing up to go toe-to-toe with other M.I.C.E. hubs and be worthy of the tagline, “the best place for M.I.C.E. in a tropical paradise.” All hands are on deck and – after the extended global hiatus thanks to the pandemic – everyone is ready, nay, eager to meet and greet the guests. And, of course, we would be remiss not to point out that Boracay is more than halfway through completing such a tall order. The island is as well-oiled a machine as it could be, boasting 294 DOT-accredited hotels and resort, a staggering 4,500 seating capacity for meetings and conventions, and 12,400 room keys available in the island. Talk about volume! Plus, Boracay is already postcard-perfect, the very stuff that vacation dreams are made of. Why not turn the dial up to eleven and let it become a compass point for more than a summer getaway? This is the logical next step in realizing its vision of being not just a place to be, but the place to be.

Savoy Hotel Boracay like Belmont Hotel, and the soon to open Chancellor Hotel is also walking distance away from BNCC making it an ideal spot for both business and leisure trips.

So, yes, by all means think of the idyllic strolls on the beach, the luxurious caress of the ocean as you free-dive, the sheer delight of sand and surf while island-hopping, the adrenaline rush of aquasports, parasailing, cycling, or driving an ATV up Boracay’s foothills, the psychedelic glow of fire-dancing and party lights at night, the breathtaking sunsets, the larger-than-life adventures, or the hundred other ways it can lavish or reinvigorate your soul. Think of all of that, and then some. Because Boracay has its eyes on something greater: it is poised to become the premier starting point and last stop for tourism, entertainment, corporate gatherings, exhibits, and any other event the imagination can dream of. 

Paradise Garden’s Mabuhay Convention Center can fit 850 guests at a time.

For corporate set-ups, a 60 person function room is also available at the Isla Function Room of Paradise Garden.

Think of your company meeting. Now, think of your company meeting and the fun that’ll ensue right after. Picture that in the most scenic of vacation spots. Tempted already? Who wouldn’t be? You’re already in paradise. With business here and leisure literally just a stone’s throw away – heaven on earth, wouldn’t you say? 

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For Our Next Travel Destination, We Dream About Koh Samui in Thailand

Impressive views of the Gulf of Thailand welcome you at the Arrival Sala

Silent Sanctuaries

Mayenne Carmona discovers the Four Seasons Resort in Koh Samui is a quiet oasis to recharge and rejuvenate…

What does one expect from a Four Seasons Resort? Everything! Firstly, it will definitely be ranked no less than a five-star hotel or resort. Most importantly, it would not fall short of all your expectations: excellent cuisine, topnotch comfort at your fingertips in a well-appointed villa, courteous staff who offer impeccable service, and every other detail you could possibly need—down to the last cotton bud. After all, a Four Seasons Resort is always designed by a top-rated architectural team and interior designers.

The moment I stepped into the Four Seasons Resort at Koh Samui, I felt all my cares washed away by the soft waves of the bluest sea. The fresh air cleared my sinuses in no time, and the gentle breeze was a much needed caress to a tired mind and body. It was truly paradise regained for me and my friends. We were a motley group of career-oriented people who needed a much-awaited break from work, and this was the perfect choice for us.

Each Villa has a butler to cater to the guests’ every whim. The afternoon we arrived, we requested a sunset dinner by the beach, and much like a genie, our butler whipped up a romantically set candlelit dinner for six. A five-course delicious Thai dinner was prepared by their well-trained chef.

Our days were spent languishing by the beach, having daily massages, attending yoga classes, doing water sports and enjoying every bite of Thai cuisine. Golf carts transported us wherever we wanted to go within the resort. This vacation brought all my senses to another realm, and restored a weary soul to perfection. 

Four Seasons Koh Samui, I look forward to seeing you again!

Koh Samui is the third largest island of Thailand in the scenic Gulf of Siam. It is a 45 minute flight from Bangkok. Sandy beaches, coral reefs, coconut trees and abundant tourist resources make it a popular holiday destination.

For more information on Four Seasons Resort, visit their website at https://www.fourseasons.com/kohsamui/

(This article has already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s March 2016 Travel Issue, “Silent Sanctuaries” written by our columnist Mayenne Carmona for La Vie En Rose on pages 32-33.)

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