“Would you like me to unpack your bags for you, Ma’am?” The gentle voice of our smiling-faced butler, Vicente, broke my fatigue-induced stupor.
We had just arrived at the resort by speedboat, jetting across waters darkened by the indigo night sky; the last leg of a journey by air and over land from Manila to the city of Kalibo, instead of the nearer sea port of Caticlan town.
I sat there, wearily pondering Vicente’s tempting offer, yet cringing at the thought of four days worth of resort wear hurriedly thrown helter-skelter into my smallish duffel.
My weariness gave me pause. The beauty and luxury, however, of our destination gave me longer, deeper pause.
At the Shangri-La Boracay Resort and Spa, pause-inspiring beauty is in no short supply. Neither is excellent service. Nor are smiling-faced butlers, for that matter.
Beauty and the beach
Morning broke to still-dismal weather; habagat (southwest monsoon) rains, being the culprit. But nothing could dampen our spirits. After all, there we were; in a fabulous island resort on a hillside overlooking the ocean, at the northern tip of Boracay Island.
Boracay has, since the early ‘90’s, remained one of my favorite get-away spots. But much of the island has been affected by a whirlwind of change, and not necessarily for the better. Not so at the Shangri-La Boracay. Inspired by the earthly paradise depicted in James Hilton’s classic, the Lost Horizon – the crux of the hotel chain’s name and philosophy – Shangri-La Boracay is 12.5 hectares of lush, tropical sanctuary, and 350 meters of splendid beachfront. Guest rooms and villas number 219 elegant, luxurious abodes; set in Neo-Asian structures which exist in perfect harmony with the resort’s natural environs. Think: walls made of limestone, pathways meticulously inlaid with stones and pebbles, an abundance of flora (51 species of trees and plants), fauna (42 species of birds, a variety of flying foxes, and some long-tailed macaques), capped by sunsets resplendent with warmth–just a few elements of an awe-inspiring masterpiece signed by both man and God.
Tabitha, my editorial partner, and I stayed in the Tree House Villa; an incredibly spacious two-storey arrangement, with a majestic view of the ocean and the island’s surroundings. The villa lacked for nothing (complete with private jacuzzi), and was every bit as inspired as it was functional.
“Ah luxury, how wonderful is your lap?” The rhetoric looped in my mind, as I lounged in the villa; happier than the happiest clam.
Nothing but the best
Patricia Javier, spirited Director of Communications and our charming host while at the resort, explained that this is all part of “taking it higher.” WAY higher.
“Boracay is already on the global map. What we want is to provide a different experience; a new level of luxury on the island,” she shared.
Guests are pampered with absolutely all stops pulled out, by the most hospitable of staff.
Facilities and amenities rival the best of the best, the world over: Seven food outlets, a fully equipped health club, Adventure Zone (good luck peeling your kids away from the giant slides, ball pools, and nature center), Entertainment Centre (for the bigger kids at heart: arcade games, a sports bar, karaoke room, and home theater), a world-class Spa, to name a few.
A recreation colleague is on hand to put together an itinerary of activities both within the resort and on Boracay’s main White Beach, should you wish to venture out.
The force of life
A visit to the Shangri-la Boracay is incomplete without scheduling some time at Chi, The Spa. Chi goes beyond posh exteriors, to reveal a deeper gem: a soul imbued with tranquil serenity.
This tranquility is all-pervasive, making it a sanctum for those in need of restoration. It touches, releases and restores the very force of life itself.
Therapists, Maria Cecilia and Cecilia, led Tabitha and I away to our treatment villa for one hour and a half of encompassing healing, by way of the Philippine Hilot signature treatment. Founded on the ancient art of Philippine massage and traditional diagnostic methods, this treatment is designed to detect areas of energy imbalance and energy blockage.
Sounds a tad intimidating, I know, but all misgivings melt away as warm coconut oil and banana leaves are placed over your body, applied by skillful, healing hands.
I soaked it all in: The delicate fragrance of Chi (a signature mix of pomelo and calamansi essential oils); the heady aroma of virgin coconut; the blissful heat on the surface of my skin; distributed in even, precise strokes. In that moment, I wished for time to stretch on forever.
Dining is indeed a happy indulgence at the resort, no matter where you choose to eat –Vintana (international cuisine), Sirena (finedining seafood restaurant), Cielo (al fresco faves by the beach), or Rima (authentic Italian cuisine), to name a few options.
Thanks to Executive Chef Scott Brands’ exacting spirit of perfection and expertise, unfailing quality is evident in each and every meal enjoyed at the resort.
His bright blue eyes beamed with pride as he explained over coffee, in a lilting Scottish accent: “I’m a strong believer in the authenticity and excellence of a restaurant. It’s not just about accepting the norm of quality, but taking it to the next level.”
A taste of Tuscany
My existential crisis lasted four days: Look fab in my bikinis, or enjoy exquisite food. Food won each time.
Rima, the resort’s authentic Italian restaurant, provides the perfect romantic island dining experience. Situated in a tree house, the almost musical rustling of leaves sets the ambience for fine Italian cuisine.
The author of each heartfelt creation is Milan-born Chef Marco Ghezzi, who cooks with gusto and passion.
“I love my job, because this job is from the heart. When you love this job, you don’t mind that you have no holidays, you don’t mind working hard.” he shared.
We dined on four delicious courses–five, if you include dessert. Two light and refreshing salads were first on the list: Insalata Di Anatra (a lovely concoction of smoked duck breast and raddichio, tlavored with raspberry balsamic vinaigrette), and Insalata Rima.
A hearty bowl of Zuppetta Di Mare came next; the rich, perfectly seasoned broth bringing out the fresh flavors of clams, squid, prawns and mussels.
Main courses followed on the heels of the starters, and we found ourselves pacing our bites, what with more goodness to come: Trofie Vongole (I drool as I remember the homemade short pasta, delicately coated with savory clams, porcini mushrooms and cherry tomatoes); Risotto al Radicchio Rosso e Barolo (exquisite red wine risotto with red lettuce); Costata di Manzo con Salsa al Gorgonzola (beef tenderloin, slow-cooked with the bone intact, with braised shallots and a decadent gorgonzola sauce); Filetto di Salmone Scozzese Affumicato con Asparagi e Pomodori Secchi (heavenly, oven-roasted Scottish smoked salmon with sundried tomato and asparagus).
And last but not least – my own personal waterloo – dessert: Super scrumptious Rima tiramisu (among the best I have tasted), and sweet cannoli. At this point, I toyed with the idea of calling for Vicente, to perhaps roll me to our villa, which – thankfully – was just a few steps down the road.
The cookie thief
Speaking of Vicente, I did have to call for him, but earlier that day. Upon my return from the beach to our villa, I noticed a mess of brown crumbs in the villa’s living room. Closer inspection revealed a bag of chocolate cookies that had been mischievously ripped open. The perpetrator, I was told by the resort’s pest control department was a macaque. Monkeys on the resort generally keep to themselves, but you do have the occasional opportunistic one. AND I had left the balcony door ajar. Vicente apologized profusely, and rather sheepishly, as he cleaned up the mess.
The next night, towels fashioned into two monkeys – one “swinging” from a hanger and one “sitting” on our bedroom’s commode – greeted us. Between them, a bag of chocolate and a note: “Sorry for eating the cookies,” simply signed, “Monkey.”
We laughed, thoroughly touched and amused by the gesture. It was something my father, or perhaps my sister would do; to make me feel better. It was a gesture of family. Monkey was forgiven.
The heart of paradise
And this, as we discovered in a rather amusing way, is the heart of the paradise that is Shangri-La: Family. Amidst the lavish accommodations, incredible amenities, and five-star facilities, you are not a mere guest; you are family.
The heart of luxury beats with a sense of family. And this makes the world of difference.