Shangri-La Resort and Spa at Boracay is a lush garden paradise of a cove. Here, we feel as if the wide vistas and the muted sounds of the trickling waterfalls and fountains, coupled with the chirps of birds unusual for city folk like us, are at once comforting and inviting.
With 219 rooms that include 36 villas, tucked away into the hillside and spread over a 12-hectare area, Shangri-La Boracay promises a stay that can be as discrete as it is pleasurable. As we walk into the main lobby, we are welcomed by Jennifer Bagus, assistant director for communications. She is no stranger to hosting writers and magazines to their properties but there is a seeming calm that surrounds her and rubs off on us as we exchange pleasantries about this trip. She presented me with an exciting itinerary, and I share here the highlights of a unique Shangri-La escapade.
A PLACE TO REST MY HEAD
The Punta Bunga beach is the primary beach area of the resort and boasts the sugary fine white sand that Boracay is famous for. With the main pier jutting out on the Southside, it stretches for almost a kilometer before thinning out on one end into a collection of rocks. The sapphire blue waters extend gently out into the sea and just a short distance from the shore, the Marine Reef sanctuary provides man-made homes for the local fish as one of its ecological initiatives.
The Seaview Suite’s king size bed would easily fit a family of four. I find a couch that is not just like any other but straddling a hand woven abaca rug, and faces out into the wooden French windows with its grand vistas. While waiting for our first round of seeing the sights, I took a bottle of sparkling water from the fridge and realized that this water is filtered and carbonated right at the resort. Yes, they do have simple plain mineral water too, but I was impressed at how Shangri-La truly never fails to surprise with these little details that make a world of difference.
The room is swathed in rich warm brown and yellow hues reflected from the wood and natural fibers all around. The suite looks out to the horizon and is one of the gems in the accommodations that Shangri-La Boracay offers.
GASTRONOMIE AT THE RIMA
Overlooking the beach from a distance while nestled amidst the lush profusion of trees and the night sounds of the forest, the Rima is the Italian restaurant of the property where Chef Omar Ugoletti is a whirlwind of a chef, flitting in and out of the kitchen, sending his creations to us. Tonight is no exception as we savor the Degustacion he prepared.
The menu speaks of a restaurant in the midst of an evolution from its Italian roots and towards its more Mediterranean heritage. Omar’s penchant for varying his technique is honed from many years of exposure to the culinary techniques of the masters. Born in Anconin, we understand how the Mediterranean impacts the flavor profiles he presents. A short stint in Gordon Ramsay’s Chelsea helped to build the discipline needed for the molecular gastronomy evident in tonight’s dishes. Add to that his history with three-Michelin starred chef Umberto Bombana, it guarantees a night of gustatory pleasure.
We start with Tuna tartare sheltered in a teepee of crispy thin bread sitting on an avocado crumble and caviar garnish. The clear tomato jelly provides just the right touch of acidity to give closure to the tart saltiness of the caviar. The tuna itself blends with the cream and the crumbly bed on which it sits. This is quickly followed by the Vitello Tonnato con capperi e verdure staggione – a poached veal scallop, prepared Sous vide. This dish maintains the rich softness of the veal that doesn’t bite back but surrenders to the mouth. The Tuna and caper sauce is really what gives it depth that marries the flavors of the land and sea.
Pasta is the easy favorite and counts among the most popular of all Italian food. The twist in this ravioli is that it is filled with a liquefied parmesan cheese. The pieces sit on a smooth granite plate, a gray slate offering contrast to the different geometric shapes of green circles, yellow triangle and a star shaped item colored with red beets – it mimics the colors of Italy.
The Red Snapper is a white fleshed fish that gives well to frying, the flat top or in a broth. Ala Sous vide though, in the parsley and clam broth, there are flavors that any other technique would simply lend a hint of but instead boldly reveals the fish in the fish. Chef Omar separates the skin and crisps it on a pan as a top garnish, to provide texture to the herb crust.
As we progress into the night, we come to what we thought would be a perennial favorite, suckling pig, slowly cooked for better than half a day sitting on a mildly pickled red cabbage set on a shallot and mustard seed demiglace. Chef Omar has thoughtfully taken the skin and crisped it on a hot pan to roll the meat into a small porchetta.
To finish this cavalcade is yoghurt ice cream on a hazelnut praline mousse, garnished with black sesame sponge.
There are other dining choices at the resort, such as the Sirena Seafood Grill which allows you to select from an anteroom filled with the fresh catch and have it prepared as you like; and Cielo which serves pizzas, sandwiches and drinks at the Alon bar by the poolside.
MEET YOUR CHI AT THE SPA
Chi (or Qi) is a Chinese term for the life force or energy. The Chi Spa is a sanctuary for refreshing or increasing this life energy. The Chi Spa is entered through an alcove surrounded by lush greenery, leading into a gazebo serving as the waiting room where you can sip the welcoming ginger tea. The gentle amber lighting that surrounds the circular structure and the faint smell of frangipani permeates the cool air within.
The treatment begins with a quick once over with the attendant’s bare hands. She applies something warm and smelling distinctly of coconut oil. Part of the treatment is the use of warmed banana leaves to stimulate the skin and the organs beneath it to speed up circulation. With a steady kneading beginning with the extremities and working its way into the torso, I drift in and out of consciousness not wanting to surrender myself completely to this pleasure, but the body is weak and before long I turn over and continue the dreamless state between wakefulness and sleep until a with a slight tap, it’s over.
The spa offers a selection of treatments ranging from straightforward massages such as the Filipino Hilot (including a four-hand massage involving two therapists), and Chinese acupressure all the way to specific ones that target the feet, hands and special treatments for the skin. This includes a soothing and healing full body treatment that is said to be able to maintain the tan you get from the sun while soothing the burnt skin. This has certainly prepared our life force for the coming activity.
TAKE ME AWAY TO DREAMLAND
The Sunset cruise traverses the coastline starting at the Punta Bunga beach and rides the wind south towards Station 2 and Station 1, before doubling back and making it onto the Shangri-la property just in time for the sunset. Sunny Ang, entertainment manager of the resort, wishes us the best as we make our way into the water. We start off slowly, the wind barely picking up the slack on our sail as our captain turns into the wind. “Duck,” he says and we bend our heads down as the wind catches our sails and spreads it wide, much like a parachute catches the wind, and soon enough, the spray coming from the forward part of the Cat creates a wake. The sound of the sea wind and the water splashing lends a sense of adventure and conquest. But of course, we’re just going around the cove in a 45-minute sail along the coast.
The stunning sunsets on Boracay have been written about endlessly, but this experience gives you a panoramic view of the horizon as the sun disappears behind a palette of yellows and golden browns, juxtaposed against the deep blue. The trip ends soon enough, and as we break the surface onto the beach, all I notice is the big smile on my face as I jump off the Cat and step back on terra firma, just in time to see a couple walking along the romantic beach towards a lonely table for two. It was a marriage proposal, and that romance is certainly a memory to treasure, and a perfect vision to end the day.