Perfect weekend getawayBy Tessa Prieto-Valdes
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Keeping harmony with the natural landscape of a site is a challenge to all developers. The best to do so is by integrating their designs with the tropical elements, resisting the urge to slather everything under a layer of concrete.
That’s what I love about Balesin Island Club (www.balesin.com). Seven different villages are being constructed on the 500-hectare island, but nowhere does it feel overdeveloped.
The signature village, Balesin Village, is set among the sands and coconut trees of the main beach, thus easily acquiring the Philippine ambience that the site is named after. Near the entrance is a huge balete tree, which gives the island its name. Beautifully preserved and lit up at night, the tree serves as the first of many photo opportunities on the island.
Architect Rico Sison is a key member of the design team at Balesin. This gifted designer knows every rock, stone and tree on the island. He works very closely with Bobby Ongpin, the mercurial chair of Alphaland Corporation, the developer of Balesin.
Rico incorporates the lush, unhindered rainforest throughout the development of the island resort. For instance, the roads are natural sand, tamped down and meandering through the foliage.
Wandering north of Balesin Village, we come to Bali, with two of its villas built over the water, framing the Nusa Dua Bar. This bar is one of the best places from which to view the sunset. Each village has its own restaurant, bar, pools and villas.
Curving into the Pacific Ocean side of Balesin is Mykonos Village, after the famous Greek island. Authenticity is achieved in the details. The ceramics in Mykonos are all from Greece, and the food was created by chef Thanasis Koumpiadis, who Bobby says owns the best restaurant on the Greek island of Rhodes.
Mykonos Village also has an extensive deck along the water, which I can imagine will eventually host parties until dawn, with one or two of the guests ending up in the jacuzzis along the deck. Like all the other villas, each Mykonos villa also has its own private jacuzzi, in this case found on the upper deck of the two-story villa.
Not all the villages on Balesin are villa style. The St. Tropez village is a three-story hotel inspired by the famous Byblos Hotel in France. Here, Rico and interior designer Monica Olbes have unleashed their color palette, and I feel right at home with the bright yellows and neon greens that I love.
Of all the village entrances, St. Tropez probably is the most dramatic, with a Royal Palm-lined driveway leading up to the hotel. The rooms all overlook a central courtyard with a giant, freeform pool in the middle. The St. Tropez village also has an extensive beach, with the fringing reef extending way out offshore, and thus protecting the swimmers from the large and unruly Pacific.
On the southern tip of the island is Phuket Village, with its individual villas snuck in between the woody forest and beachfront. The beach is framed by an islet on the left and a small peninsula on the right, creating a shallow pond of quiet water, devoid of waves and perfect for swimmers. Phuket’s village pool is a beautiful, 20-meter-long sliver in black tile, with sandstone Buddhas serenely watching all around.
Two other villages are set to open by summer. Costa del Sol will bring an Ibiza-flair to the resort, while Toscana will be an Italian inspiration. I’m excited to see how the design team will execute both with the mastery with which they have accomplished all the others.
Balesin is more than just villages, of course. The resort also has a massive Sports Center, with a full gym, tennis courts, badminton courts and even a rock-climbing wall. Just outside are an Equestrian riding ring and a Paintball course.
And on my last visit there, I was surprised that regular masses are now held in the island’s Chapel, and that there is a full-blown Spa with a 30-meter pool for laps. Next to the Spa is a golf driving range.
The entire development continues to set a high bar for sustainability. Ecologically sensitive alternatives for power generation, water desalination and water harvesting and recycling are in place, thanks to assistance from EcoPlan of Florida.
There is a sewage treatment plant to provide filtration, and a zero-waste program to prevent buildup of nonbiodegradable waste. My fave eco-friendly measure though is how the rainwater from the 1.5-km concrete airstrip is harvested and purified to provide potable water.
Balesin is already generating enormous buzz. Just a quick, 25-minute flight from Manila, the island is a perfect weekend getaway with a clearly growing number of accommodation options—from trendy Mykonos to more family-style Balesin.
As the Alphaland team continues its incredible pace of development on Balesin, I can only imagine the continuing excitement. Paradise is found on Balesin, and it is here already.
Follow @tessavaldes on Twitter or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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