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Casiguran. It is understandable that the word often draws a blank stare, or a dismissive shrug of the shoulders. This small and quiet town in Sorsogon rarely makes it to the travel section of major dailies or the pages of glossy travel magazines. But like a mystical forest nymph, Casiguran reveals itself . . . to those who search in earnest.
One comes upon the town’s premier leisure destination with that same sense of wonder. Nestled at the foot of the 4th most active volcano in the country, Mt. Bulusan, and embraced by ancient woodlands, this secluded garden estate is quite easy to overlook. But here, under unimaginably blue skies and proffering magnificent sceneries, the worries and concerns of the daily grind are reduced to nothing more than vague memories. The place inspires introspection and stirs a longing for life that is simple and idyllic, yet pleasurable.
It goes by the romantic name, Recidencia del Hamor.
Born of a storm
Recidencia del Hamor welcomes visitors with a refreshing serenity. Unlike many seaside resorts that are marked by the frenzy of tourists running to and fro, the resort is relatively quiet save from the rustling of leaves and the soft patter of rain that receive us when we arrive.
“Before we started any development on the property, I read somewhere that nearly 67 percent of domestic tourists don’t like to vacation near the sea anymore. The story revealed that many have begun to take their vacations where there’s still nature to be enjoyed, which explains why eco-tourism is on the rise. That’s how the concept of Recidencia del Hamor started,” Casiguran mayor Jose Edwin Hamor informs us.
An engineer by profession before he decided to throw his hat into the political ring, Mayor Hamor saw the potential of the property soon after Typhoon Glenda wreaked havoc on the province in July 2014. Glenda’s fury felled many of the trees and cleared the land of some of the thick undergrowth. The devastation revealed a view unlike any other: At the southern end, Mt. Bulusan rose like a gigantic monolith, providing a dramatic backdrop to the arena of forests and greens. The northern side opened into a panoramic vista of the Sorsogon Bay and Albay Gulf nearly grazing each other, divided only by a narrow portion of the snaking peninsula.
“That’s why we built the main dining hall here,” Mayor Hamor points out. The pavilion, an open-air structure crowned by a nipa roof, sits on a knoll overlooking the gulf and bay. “On a clear night, guests can enjoy their meal and witness the sparkling lights of Sorsogon and distant Legaspi City. Where else can you have a view of two major bodies of water nearly meeting each other? Recidencia del Hamor is one of those rare locations,” the mayor exclaims.
Between the mesmerizing view and the pavilion is one of the most stunning features of the resort: a large main swimming pool whose clear, sparkling waters make an irresistible invitation to take a lap or two . . . or more. Shaped like a lagoon with asymmetrically curving sides, the infinity pool is covered with indigo tiles that seem to mimic the blueness of the sky, bay, and gulf—its running water appearing to overflow into the twin bodies of water.
“We don’t use chlorine to treat the water,” points out Martin Hamor who, with her sister Minez, manages the day-to-day operation of the resort. “The water comes directly from the mountain springs of Mt. Bulusan and runs off to the streams and tributaries surrounding the resort. So guests can enjoy abundant clean mountain spring water every time they take a dip in the pool. The pureness of the water makes swimming a refreshing and enjoyable activity.”
The resort did not forget its juvenile guests. A few meters away is another smaller, much shallower infinity pool where children can safely romp and splash in the water.
Villas of beauty
Lined at the eastern side of Recidencia del Hamor is the resort’s greatest source of pride and pleasure: twenty-five private villas that were built following the traditional Filipino architectural design of the bahay kubo (literally, “cube house”). The tiklad, or nipa thatch covering the roofs, cools the interiors and blend with the lush vegetation hemming the resort.
The spacious verandas bring to mind the romantic balconies of yore. In the daytime, the veranda offers a vantage point from which to enjoy the view, or a placid spot where one can get lost in a good book, unmindful of the passing hours. In the evening, one can put his feet up and surrender to the serenity of a starlit sky.
In the four premium villas, guests will experience complete pampering by simply stepping from the balcony into a trim, private pool surrounded by hedges of ornamental foliage and flowering plants. Luxuriating in the water, the world-weary traveler may indulge in a glass of wine as he takes in the majestic sight of volcano and sea.
Inside, the villa is a veritable sanctum of luxury with spacious beds, a day bed beside the glass windows that look out into expansive gardens, wood and nito furnishings that highlight modern Filipino furniture design, and objets d’art (such as woven baskets, trays made from twine, and ornamentations of polished wood) that are organic in inspiration.
“All the furniture and décor inside the villas were made by local artisans because we wanted to highlight the creativity of the design artists and furniture manufacturers of Sorsogon. We want our guests to experience the culture and the beauty of Sorsogon even in their rooms,” relates Minez Hamor.
Near the gate, at the far end of the villas, stands the Clubhouse, a handsome edifice of wood and nipa. The interiors are made warm by the wooden sliding panels, wide windows that let the sunshine in, couches made of nito, hardwood coffee tables, and the shiny floor planks. The building houses spacious sitting areas that can be transformed into seminar rooms for conventions—or banquet halls for social gatherings.
A river runs through it
While guests can only get a glimpse of the sea from a distance, water remains a strong recreational element inside Recidencia del Hamor—thanks to the stream that rushes from the volcano to the outer boundaries of the resort.
Over the meandering stream, the owners built an elevated path made of wood and rope, better known as the River Walk. Following the flow of the water, the 872-meter stroll takes guests through dense tropical foliage, flowering shrubs, fruit trees, soaring mahogany and hardwood, and boulders that sit stoically along the river’s path like mute sentinels.
Guests who can’t resist testing the shallow rivulet can descend from the walk and take a dip in the cool water. In this natural pool, it is not far-fetched to be a child once more and laugh out loud in a noisy chorus with the gurgling waters. At Recidencia del Hamor, the mayor informed us, guests fall asleep to the lullaby of the running water.
Deeper into the jungle, after a bumpy ride on a dirt road aboard one of the resort’s ATVs, a narrow trail gives way to a clearing that leads guests to the magnificent Nagsipit Falls. Rushing down from a mossy wall, its cool waters pour into a shallow basin that is surrounded by boulders. They say that in the summer, when school is out, the lagoon would be filled by shrieking children—diving, wading, swimming, and fooling around. But for now, all is quiet in this wet Jurassic world.
Fiery and pleasing
Often, the Bicolano’s legendary penchant for the fiery bite of chili leaves visitors wary. Happily, though, diners can still enjoy the traditional flavors of authentic Bicolano cooking at Recidencia del Hamor without fear of getting burned. Here, the cook will gladly adjust the level of spiciness of his concoctions to suit the guest’s preference.
It helps that Martin Hamor has had extensive experience in restaurant and kitchen management, having worked with a prominent international restaurant brand. “When I first came here, I made it clear to the kitchen staff that I do not favor fusion cuisine. I want guests to experience the goodness of Sorsogon’s culinary culture. But I also encourage their inventiveness, allowing them to create new dishes,” he says.
At the resort’s restaurant, foodies can have their fill of traditional Bicolano treats such as pinangat and the delicately flavored kinunot (shredded stingray meat cooked in coconut milk to which malunggay leaves and chili have been added). To this, the imaginative culinary team of Recidencia del Hamor has also introduced delectable innovations that are still rooted in the cooking traditions of the region, such as malunggay pesto (with tuyo flakes and malunggay leaves in lieu of basil), tinapa omelet (with the rich flavor of smoked galunggong), and lumpiang buko (spring rolls with shredded young coconut).
The resort also takes pride in their coffee blends, the result of endless experimentations in coffee roasting. It offers the slightly spicy but soothing Crazy Coffee, the Sea Coffee whose flavor and aroma carries a whiff of the ocean, and the signature blend, Recidencia del Hamor Coffee—a brew with a surprising hint of sugar cane.
On some hot days, however, when the weather is right and the flowers are in full bloom, a smiling server might hand you a tall glass of gumamela shake. It’s a cool drink with the sweetness of freshly picked hibiscus and the faint aroma of pine—an unexpected offering that will make your heart dance.
At Recidencia del Hamor, there seems to be no end to life’s rare but exquisite surprises.