Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Paradise has a name


If paradise were to have a name, it may very well be Amanpulo, a luxury resort situated on Pamalican Island, a 5.5 kilometer-long 90-hectare private island among the Cuyo group of islands in southern Philippines surrounded by seven kilometers of white sand and coral reefs.

The joy of an Amanpulo holiday begins a few minutes before touchdown as one finally spies the island after a short flight on a chartered Dornier 19-seater turboprop jet from Manila. I've got claustrophobia so I'm quite nervous about flying in small planes; but the thought of an Aman holiday is certainly enough to ensure that I make great efforts to conquer my fears and weather the short flight in a small plane. Fortunately there's enough to keep a worried person occupied. Each seat has a folder filled with information about the resort and the island; and since the plane is not flying so high, it's quite interesting to see the topography below in detail.

Vision of loveliness below

After about 50 minutes onboard, we broke through some dark clouds and suddenly found ourselves basking in sunshine with Pamalican Island directly in front of us. That first view of Amanpulo from the air, in its unadorned splendor amidst a deep green-blue sea, is magical.

At Amanpulo’s tiny airstrip, general managers Nicholas and Christine Juett, and their team, were waiting to warmly greet us – they do this for each new visitor; most arrive on one of two daily chartered flights, but some do take their private yachts or jets -- and escort us to a waiting golf cart that would be our main mode of transportation for the duration of our stay on the island.

Our beach casita, one of 29 seafront accommodations, was a few steps from the beach but it was still hidden by enough trees to offer privacy. Designed by Philippine architect Bobby Manosa, each casita is inspired by the local bahay kubo (nipa hut) and concieved in neutral colors, using all native materials and furniture for its interiors. It has cool wooden floors, floor-to-ceiling glass windows, and a wonderfully large bathroom space.

Civilization amidst a rocky island with wild vegetation

At close range, Pamalican Island itself is mostly made up of rather hardscrabble terrain, rocky roads, and some stubborn-looking vegetation that has been left to grow wild. But this in itself is part of the charm of Amanpulo: it offers nature undisguised and up-close but with uncompromising luxury never too far away. Amanpulo is all about the marvels of completely getting away from it all, along with the modern comforts of the best hotels in the world.

Sand as soft as baby powder

And, of course, Amanpulo’s pristine beaches, with white sand as pure and soft as baby powder, is the main reason why many people travel halfway around the world and pay a small fortune just to stay here. In this age of pollution, overpopulation, and over-development, there’s something incredibly luxurious about having a beautiful beach all to one’s self.

“We have a lot of regulars,” confirmed Noel Barrameda, Amanpulo’s sales & marketing manager, who we met at the clubhouse after breakfast one morning. “We even have a couple who spend a month here every year.”

Later, we met Christine Juett at the tennis courts. She’d just squeezed in a game, in-between the resort’s more hectic operating hours. “I’ve been working for Aman Resorts for 20 years now,” she told me. “All the resorts are beautiful, but Amanpulo is really special. Even guests who’ve been to most of the Amans tell me Amanpulo is their favorite.”

Amazing service

For me, however, the best feature of Amanpulo is its stellar service. We've holidayed here several times and the service has never ever failed us. This resort gives you the impression they don’t know the meaning of the word “no;” and the fact that all kinds of requests are being made on an island literally in the middle of nowhere – the nearest large city is at least eight hours away by boat – makes this even more impressive.

On one visit, I asked for breakfast to be served on the beach. Without hesitation, a full American breakfast was flawlessly prepared and set up, and a toaster was even waiting for us at the shore. On another visit, my husband decided he wanted to have a haircut right on the verandah of our casita. Within an hour, a lady with a pair of shears appeared on our doorstep. On our most recent trip, we had no challenging request in particular; but we noticed how unobtrusively but completely the needs of guests were taken care of.

For instance, at any time of the day, our golf cart was always replenished with bottles of cold water. And whenever we headed down to the beach, we always found our beach umbrella open, with fresh towels and insect lotion waiting. Wherever we went on the island, as well, staff waited to greet us with smiles and cold, scented towels.

Perhaps what’s most impressive, however, is the memory of each staff member for the names and details of guests. Guests on Amanpulo do not sign any chits unless they wish to do so, and yet they are almost never asked for their names or details. We ordered what we wanted at various restaurants and then left when we pleased, without a word about orders, prices or bills. Amazingly, when we checked out at the end of our stay, all our expenses were accurately summarized.

What's the secret?

“What’s the secret?” I asked the waiter at the Windsurf Hut, where we stopped to have a margarita pizza before our flight back to Manila. There were three smiling staff and a chef on hand and we were the only customers, so we had the place to ourselves. “It’s impossible to remember everyone who comes and goes, so I can’t understand how most of the staff know who we are, when no one has asked us our names.” I already asked other staff members the same question but had failed to get a satisfactory reply.

Like everyone else I asked before him, he smiled and replied, “It’s in our training to remember.”

In turn, Amanpulo’s personalized approach is an experience guests never forget.

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CONTACT INFORMATION
Pamalican Island, Philippines

Tel: (63) 2 759 4040;
Fax: (63) 2 7594044

Email: amanpulo@amanresorts.com

Mailing address: PO Box 456, Pasay Tramo Post Office
Pasay City 1300, Metro Manila, Philippines

NEED TO KNOW
The climate is tropical with two seasons. The dry season usually runs from November to May and the wet season with scattered showers from June until October.

HOW TO GET THERE
Amanpulo is accessed by scheduled charter flight from Manila. Guests fly directly to Pamalican Island in a 19-seat, twin-engine turboprop, landing at the resort’s private airstrip. Flight time is one hour.

WHAT TO DO
Enjoy a private barbecue at Gary’s Nest. Located at the end of the pier on top of a rock, Gary's Nest is probably the most romantic place on the island for a barbecue. Guests are picked up from their casita and driven to the pier via an amazing torch-lit road. A wonderful meal, a romantic set-up with a view of the entire island, and your own chef and attendant await at the top of the stone stairs.


Sail into the sunset. Book a private sunset cruise that sails along the island’s shore and then eventually heads out into the open sea for a gorgeous sunset view. To enhance the mood further, cocktails and appetizers are served as a guitarist serenades you with romantic favorites.

Brush up on your tennis. Amanpulo has three courts (additional are opening soon) and tennis professionals on hand, ready to hit balls with you at anytime. On our last visit, three little kids were learning from the pros.

Explore the island on your golf cart. Drive around the island and enjoy getting lost, knowing it’s a small island and you’ll always somehow find your way back. Some parts look completely wild and uninhabited, with absolutely no one around.

This entry appeared in a previous issue of Travelife Magazine.

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