Monique Buensalido soaks up the coastal lifestyle in Hamilo Coast’s Pico de Loro
When sunny days come in, the sun, sea, and sand from the coast starts calling you away from the city. And with an 18,000-kilometer-long coastline in the Philippines, the pull is even stronger. Coastal towns (like France’s Côte d’Azur and the Italian Riviera) have always been the gorgeous, glamorous playgrounds of sunshine-hungry aristocrats and celebrities. They come in their convertible cars (the drive is too beautiful not to keep the top down) and yachts, then luxuriate on sandy shores and glittering waters. Before long, travelers found themselves drawn to the intoxicating beauty and charm of these towns. As they marveled at the majestic views of coast and took in the sea and sun, they easily enjoyed the quaint and relaxed atmosphere on land as well.
Most people think you can only get that atmosphere in Europe, but in the Philippines, that unique combination atmosphere is slowly coming to life in Hamilo Coast. Located in Batangas, Hamilo Coast encompasses 5900 hectares, with untouched forestry, mountain ranges, and a 31-kilometer coastline right at the head of Nasugbu. Batangas has always been known for its beaches and dive sites, but with a total of 13 hidden coves, Hamilo envisions itself to be more than an individual stretch of sand, but a premiere, picturesque Riviera.
That starts with the actual coast (after all, “Riviera” is an old Italian name that means “coastline”). As we drove toward the Ternate Tunnel that connects Cavite to Nasugbu (blissfully cutting the previous three-hour drive through Tagaytay to a quick 90-minute one along this route), we stared in awe at the absolutely gorgeous coast from along the mountain road. There were no yachts or fishing ports, but it was a refreshing sight—hidden coves, rugged cliffs, and even seemingly uninhabited little islands at a distance. Touristy as it was, we pulled over to take photos. From there, we could already see the outline of some of Hamilo’s coves, including our destination—Pico de Loro.
The first development on Hamilo Coast, Pico de Loro launched in 2007 as an exclusive residential resort village in a tranquil and natural environment, far away from the city yet still with all the comforts of a cosmopolitan lifestyle. Aside from the mid-rise residential buildings wrapped around a man-made lagoon, they have a gorgeous beach, a country club, and a hotel. Most of its facilities weave around the lush mountains, like the whole resort was quietly and thoughtfully tucked in there. That’s because Pico de Loro’s services and amenities were crafted to promote an active lifestyle among its natural, tropical surroundings.
We arrived at Pico Sands Hotel. Most members retire to their own units, but they (or their accompanied guests) can choose to stay here in their spacious rooms, all awash in clean whites and creams, and furnished with minimalist pieces in natural rattan and wood. After settling in, we hurried downstairs to explore the grounds. We immediately spotted the swimming pool of the Country Club, arguably the most popular and photographed area of the Club. The shimmering infinity pool faced out into the lagoon and the ocean, lined with inviting sunken lounges, and bordered by shaded areas. It was the perfect place to be immersed in the cold water and baking under the hot sun, with an icy fruit shake in one hand and a book in another.
The lure of the ocean was stronger though, so we hopped onto one of Pico de Loro’s free open-air shuttles and headed to the beach. Their 1.5-kilometer beach is an absolute treat for beach lovers, with fine, silky soft white sand on a gently sloping shore. Beach umbrellas and lounge chairs await those who want to sit, but their exclusive Beach Club offers an extensive list of kick-ass activities if you’re craving a little more action. Windsurfing. Riding an ATV. Standing up on a paddleboard.
And if you prefer something a little more rustic, Pico de Loro can arrange visits to the nearby coves around Hamilo Coast. Armed with sandwiches and fresh fruit from the Beach Club’s Sun Coral Café, we took to the five-minute speedboat ride to the cove next door. Santelmo Cove, named after the St. Elmo’s Fire that locals have seen in this area (the weather phenomenon that creates a lightning-like spark of plasma, not the 1980s coming-of-age film with the Brat Pack), has one of the most beautiful beaches on the coast. As our boat approached the shore, we sat back and took in the sight of the golden, sun-kissed, and isolated beach. We grabbed our snorkeling gear and dived into the water. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself swimming after large, colorful fish (not the small clownfish that we usually see in Philippine snorkeling spots) and straining my neck to see the giant clams on the ocean floor. The boatman even pointed out gorgeous, blue-trimmed corals and dived to pluck starfish. This cove is one of three marine protected areas in Hamilo Coast (Pico de Loro being another one of them), which is why the marine life here remains incredibly vibrant. In fact, Olive Ridley and green sea turtles have been known to nest here.
We emerged from our snorkeling and walked on the beach, feeling like we had discovered this virgin territory and claimed it for our own. There was absolutely no infrastructure throughout the cove—no huts, beach umbrellas, or sari-sari stores—and no other travelers, either. We came across a single table made of bamboo with a handful of chairs under a cluster of trees, so this is where we sought shelter from the sun and happily ate our merienda. Our pristine surroundings made us extra vigilant about cleaning up after ourselves; none of us wanted to be that annoying tourist who carelessly leaves a wrapper behind and ends up screwing with the entire ecosystem. One of the things that sets Hamilo Coast apart is their partnership with World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature Philippines, who regularly assists in in monitoring and nurturing the growth of flora and fauna, managing waste of residents and staff, and even regular coast clean-ups.
By the time the sun was sinking, we were back at Pico de Loro. The Beach Club had surprised us with a special dinner set-up on the beach. (Pico Sands also arranges al fresco dining on its lawn facing the lagoon.) Surrounded by torches and candles, we feasted on some of the Sun Coral Café’s specialties under the clear sky and glittering stars. Afterwards, we decided to skip the shuttle and walk back to our hotel. It was a bit of a walk, but there was something so energizing about being here; perhaps it was the mix of the sea breeze and the mountain chill. After breakfast the next day, we were raring to keep moving, and we started with a walk around the trail snaking around the lagoon. The Country Club also houses several fantastic facilities that offer a variety of activities: a bowling alley with billiard tables, a fitness center, a music room (for karaoke kings and queens), badminton and basketball courts (with bleachers on the sides, for the cheerleaders), and even covered tennis courts outside. They also have regular entertainment and sporting events, like AquaZumba Disco in the pool to the annual Pico de Loro Tri Invitational. And of course, there’s always trekking at nearby Mount Pico, which the resort is named after. With so much to do and see in Pico de Loro, we might just allow ourselves to be ensnared by its coastal, Riviera-like lifestyle more often.
For membership inquiries, phone (+63 2) 945 8000. To make a reservation at Pico Sands, phone (+63 2) 464 7800 or 464 7888, or <firstname.lastname@example.org>.