Local paradise Balesin is inspired by the best of the world and is much closer to home than you think
BY CAT TRIVIÑO
PHOTOGRAPHY TIN LAGULA
Meet Balesin, the 500-hectare private island inspired by seven desired global destinations.
AlphalandBalesin Island Club is a members-only island that exemplifies the words “privacy” and “paradise.” Off towards the Eastern coast of Luzon and 21 kilometers southeast of Polillo, Quezon Province, this patch of heaven on earth is surprisingly near. I felt whisked away from reality, landing in a world where everything and anything I wanted i n a vacation was within reach.
I flew on an early weekday morning along with fellow MEGA team members JefFronda and Tin Lagula. Upon landing, I immediately caught sight of Balesin’s greenhouses. The island, masterfully planned by Eco Plan of Miami, Florida, USA, is developed for optimum sustainability, abundant in water and forest wildlife. Practices such as the use of a water reservoir for recycling, electric jeepneys, golf carts, and horses for transportation, the manifestation of organic gardens and vegetable farms for meals, as well as the preservation of the surrounding ocean all contribute to Balesin’s holistic approach to the environment. We were toured by DadsieCoscolluela, Balesin Island Club’s Head of Water Sports and Recreation Department.
The island is brimming with eco-friendly initiatives without skimping on the best and most luxurious facilities. Pathways and driveways were laid wisely as not to destruct large trees and biological habitats. Most of the furnishings are made from driftwood that lay around the island. The woodworks are crafted by the Ifugao natives that reside in the island, Dadsie shared. Most importantly, all proceeds earned by our Ifugao brethren from either commission on interior décor or guests and members’ purchases from the Ifugao Village shop, directly benefit them and their families.
In the Balesin Clubhouse alone one can already spend a considerable amount of time making use of amenities like private rooms for Mahjong and Poker, PS 3 and Wii Rooms, the screening room, the game room for billiard and table tennis, the EL Tordesillas Library, the Tabacalera Cigar Divan, and the KTV (karaoke) rooms. Outside, one can choose to pass time and relax in the lounge pool, one of the three whirlpools, bars and private cabanas that give you a stunning view of the ocean.
Inspired by the fusion of the Philippines’ local hilot, a Pacific Rim massage called Hawaiian Lomi, and Oriental and Western massages, the Balesin Island Spa has four Wellness Massage services and three Island Signature Massages available. Their best, the “Balesin Signature Massage” is an hour of the most therapeutic session beginning with the use of warm heated banana leaves to relax the body, then working towards a deep kneading massage using the arms and forearms. Contrasting down the middle of the bleached landscape is the black-tiled pool.
FUN IN THE SUN
The active and athletic guests of Balesin will find delight in the fully covered sports center. The the glass windows of the fully equipped and air-conditioned gym. A special room for yoga and other activities of the like are also available. Lined up neatly in another room are airsoft and paintball guns as well as its accompanying safety gear, perfect for those who are looking for that extra thrill. Completing the list of healthy indoor features is the health bar, serving low calorie meals and delicious protein juices. Outside, basketball and tennis courts, the paintball shooting area, and the archery range are also available.
In light of the island’s sustainable initiatives, horses are also available for recreational purposes. To this day, 15 horses are housed in the Balesin stables, accessible for guests’ use. Other than trail rides, horses can also be brought to the beach. It was also interesting to know that some of these horses compete locally and internationally in show jump competitions.
By late noon, I ventured to the Aquatic Sports Center by the Balesin Clubhouse to check out the water sports activities that were available. Snorkeling, wake boarding, surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, and deep sea fishing were just some of the island’s many water recreation activities. Compared to the activities in the more popular and public island destinations, the prices are relatively cheaper and there are no long lines. I tried out the kayak, brought it as far as I could, and lay down to relax. Cradled by the ocean’s quiet waves, I heard nothing but my own thoughts.
Having breakfast in Balesin, catching the breeze of St. Tropez, France by the afternoon, watching the sun set in Bali, and enjoying the most fragrant dinner in Phuket, Thailand in the evening, are all achievable on this dream island.
The main village takes the island’s name Balesin. A combination of ‘balete’ and ‘asin’, the name came about from a fisherman who spotted a tall Balete tree that, because of the island’s plane land, seemed to have emerged from the salt (asin) sea. Inspired by the very native setting and indigenous design of the Philippines, the village is the first and most occupied on the island with an ethos of staying true to a raw yet very luxe ideal.
South of Balesin Island is their version of exotic Thailand. Phuket village exudes the uniquely sensual Thai culture evinced by important elements in Thailand architecture such as multiple roof tiers and the decorative ornaments on its edges called a ‘chofah’ (Thai for “sky tassel”) made in a tasteful modern minimalist fashion, authentic puppets, and surging serpentine shapes that symbolize the deity Nāga, It was in this village where we met up with the island’s brilliant landscape architect and a key member in the design team Enrico Sison and the mercurial chair of Alphaland Corporation, Bobby Ongpin’s son Julian Ongpin. “Each new village that comes up easily becomes the new favorite. We’ll have to see when everything is finished to know that!” Rico quipped when I asked him what his favorite village was.
The St. Tropez village contrasts its village counterparts with traditional French interiors with hints of a Provencal lifestyle. Unlike the other villages’ stand-alone villas, St. Tropez takes the legendary Hotel Byblos as village inspiration. The exterior walls and interior décor is painted in solid and aged Mediterranean hues and inner walls in beautiful terracotta and gold colors. Rooms are designed to have that very comfortable rustic French finish and as soon as you step out to the terrace, the sight of the bright blue pool that overlooks the sea matched with the bold colored umbrellas made this village seem tailor-made only for the international beau monde.
I think I have said to more than three residents in Balesin that Mykonos Village had to be my favorite. The scenery stood out in striking blue and white and for a moment I forgot I was in the Philippines and kept resisting the urge to belt out ABBA’s “Mamma Mia.” Taking cue from the Greek island, the village structures recreate Cycladic architecture with its traditional whitewashed cubic design and bright blue-colored wooden doors and windows. By the village restaurant is an open-air deck with bars and whirlpools that give you an amazing view of Balesin’s sea cliff.
We then enter through the lawang, the beautifully crafted entrance gate of the Balinese estate. Drawing inspiration from some of Indonesia’s luxurious hotels and resorts with the addition of both authentic and reinterpreted Balinese artifacts, the village of Bali, Indonesia takes “picture-perfect” to a whole new level. Highlighting this village is the beautiful Nusa Dua bar, aptly named after the district of large international luxury resorts in Denpasar, Bali. The bar stands atop the calm pristine water and is adjacent to the two secluded water villas of the island. This was where I watched the sun go down with my colleagues. Water rippled with the soft winds, and the sky turned into a beautiful blend of blue and gold. As the lights of Nusa Dua turned on to greet the evening, I was stunned by Bali’s completely different but equally breathtaking look.
Finishing by this year are also the Italian Toscana village and Spanish Costa Del Sol village.
WELCOME TO THE CLUB
Balesin Island Club’s members enjoy 14 free nights every year in any of the seven themed villages plus all access to any of the island’s special services and facilities. Those interested in becoming an exclusive member may inquire through Balesin Island Club’s official website . On that site, I found the extensive RVO Balesin Updates written by Bobby Ongpin himself most fascinating. From general outlook to the very specific details, Mr. Ongpin’s vigilance and attention to the particulars are apparent in his updates and consequently in the way the private island is managed.
While traveling miles away to find the ultimate utopia can be most exhilarating, the opportunity is not always there. Balesin Island being so near the big city makes a quick escape to paradise even more possible and gives everyone even more reason to fall in love with the Philippines.