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One night, at one of the highest and loveliest places in the town of San Juan in the island of Siquijor, four people sat around a table, sipping mango coladas and watermelon mai tais. One of them was Mary Joy Dayot-Eriksson, operations manager of Coco Grove Beach Resort, discussing with French tour operator Paul Martin the benefits of checking out Apo Island Beach Resort, Coco Grove’s sister resort at the famed diving island. Another one was Leah, my teammate and photographer, seriously taking note of the differences in the two tasty cocktails we have been served, after she had of course photographed the spread. The fourth person was myself, seriously observing if Joy would be successful in convincing Paul to go to Apo, and perhaps eventually decide to take his clients to Coco Grove, the place where we all were right then, feeling the warm zing from our cocktails amidst the cool island breeze.
It’s yet to be known if Paul eventually did bring more international guests to Coco Grove, but as far as I witnessed that night, Joy was able to convince him to go to Apo and try out diving there. It’s hard to resist the convincing powers of someone who has served for 16 years Siquijor’s premier and pioneering resort destination. Her statements are always bold and brave, reflecting her pride and love for Coco Grove. She pointed out how Coco Grove is the biggest resort in the island in terms of room capacity and land area, how Coco Grove has been the best witness to all the changes that have been happening in the island, and how she and the entire Coco Grove team are not at all threatened by the rising competition. “It’s a healthy competition. How can we not like them (the other Siquijor resort owners) when we were once their home in the island?” she said. True enough, being a premier pioneer, Coco Grove has been the unspoken and unacknowledged model of other resorts, continuously setting, and raising, its own standards.
A taste of the world but all-Filipino
Mike and Hanie Butler, their children and their team of Siquijor locals prove to be successful in building something that has grown in perfect synch with the island. While the entire resort reflects touches of Tuscan and Balinese influences in terms of looks, they all work together in building (and growing) from scratch the key elements of Coco Grove, using local resources, with local hands, ultimately making everything Philippine-made and “all-Filipino,” as cited by Mike. The resort is self-sufficient, growing its own produce in a nearby organic farm, crafting its own beds and other furniture. They have in-house carvers, while the spread of the Coco Grove landscape and structures, including its interiors, were designed by the Butlers and constructed with the aid of their own team. “I’m very lucky with the team we have here,” noted Mike, even pointing out Joy’s sixteen years of Coco Grove work.
Mike was, at the same time, quick to add that while Coco Grove has been around for a long time, it is not an inch a period piece. It’s classy but contemporary, timeless but modern. Coco Grove villas, indeed, possess rooms that answer the various needs of travelers who want the best in comfort and pleasure. Their Premier Suite, for example, features a loft and full entertainment facilities, along with a luxurious jacuzzi in the bath, perfect for traveling couples. And while other couples may go for other favorites like the Executive, Deluxe, Standard and Club rooms, there’s the Superior Suite much-sought by families and those who travel in groups. Except for a few Club rooms, most of Coco Grove’s 94 rooms have verandas that offer picturesque views of the island.
And because “a lot of guests don’t want to stay in just one place,” as Mike noted, Coco Grove offers its guests the options of also partaking of the pleasures from its sister establishments, such as Coco Grande Hotel and Coco Amigos Restaurant in Dumaguete City, along with Apo Island Beach Resort in Apo Island. This allows Coco Grove guests more choices in enjoying their journey to Siquijor. Coming from Dumaguete, which is the usual jump-off point to Siquijor, they can have a taste of the city while also looking forward to diving adventures in Apo. They will always have Coco Grove anyway as their jump-off point, and all these are further made easier with Coco Grove’s own line of private yachts – Coco Esmeralda, Coco Adventurer and Coco Princess, which can carry from 28 to 80 guests. Trips to nearby Sumilon and Balicasag islands can also be arranged.
A pioneer pleasing our palates
I told Joy that since Coco Grove would be featured in asianTraveler’s food-and-travel issue, she better show us the dining options in the resort. She was up for the challenge and directed us to Coco Grove’s array of restaurants: Sunset Restaurant, Salamanda and Casa Coco.
In our maiden dinner at Sunset Restaurant, a coconut-infused dish stole the show – their spicy Native Chicken Halang-Halang, in a soupy sauce of coconut milk, ginger and chili. We also tried their version of the Filipino classic, Beef Kare-kare, in rich peanut sauce which went great with herbed rice.
We had our feast of seafood at Salamanda, where Hanie prepared for us a spread of their bestsellers. I highly recommend their Steamed Lobster in White Wine Sauce, Deep Sea Crab in Coconut Milk, Steamed Indangan Fish with Ginger Soya and Black Bean Sauce, and King Prawns in Garlic Butter and Lemon Sauce, all succulent, fleshy and fresh. Their Summer Roll, made up of vegetables and chicken, rolled inside rice paper wrappers and drizzled with a saucy mix of hoisin and Japanese mayo, was also unforgettable.
In our last breakfast at Casa Coco Restaurant, I ordered a plateful of bacon and sausages, plus a cup of piping hot brewed coffee. Coco Grove gave in to my every breakfast whim every day, whenever I overlooked pre-arranged breakfast sets and wanted specific items. But what made that last breakfast a true winner was the view of the sea, and the nearby great islands of Mindanao and Negros. Not too far was Apo Island, where our Coco Grove guides would take us next, and for which I had to power up from that breakfast, customized by the Coco Grove team, all for my hearty pleasure.