Science tells us that it is the Earth’s atmosphere that makes a sunset so special: like a prism, the planet’s envelope of gases bends the different colors and wavelengths of light as the sun dips toward the horizon. Each sunset is unique and a result of ever-changing atmospheric conditions.
Yes, the physics of a sunset can get highly scientific, and while these nuggets of geeky wisdom are good to know, nothing beats the firsthand experience of beholding the flaming star’s setting beauty. And this firsthand sublime, sensory encounter with Mother Nature is truly spectacular from Sunset at Aninuan’s sparkling, sandy shores.
Perhaps no one is more acquainted with the spectacular sunsets at the resort than its owner, Lexy Niederer. This dynamic woman has spent nearly every day – over the last 10 years since she singlehandedly developed and opened Sunset at Aninuan – gazing upon nature’s intoxicating splendor.
“No two sunsets here are the same, I tell you,” she schooled us upon our arrival, over a hearty and delicious lunch of Filipino-style fried chicken, and a tangy tamarind-based soup of freshly caught talakitok (trevally) fish and veggies. “Sometimes, the sunset is super dramatic. Other times, it is more mellow.”
True to Lexy’s firmly-held observation, sunset proved a different treat on each of the two nights we spent at the island getaway: day one saw a pastel-hued palette, French-Impressionist in inspiration; day two, a vibrant display of reds and oranges, as though from Picasso’s Rose Period.
Sun-drenched, seaside sanctuary
Aside from its legendary sunsets, the resort also boasts an unbeatable location.
The parcel of land on Aninuan Beach, in Barangay Aninuan, Puerto Galera, in the southern Philippine province of Mindoro Oriental, first caught Lexy’s eye in 2006. She knew that it would be the perfect place to build her seaside sanctuary: Aninuan Beach is far away enough from Mindoro’s famed party place, White Beach, yet also close enough to the latter for visitors to get a dose of the storied “forever Spring Break” vibe, while indulging in the former’s sun-drenched serenity.
An avid scuba diver with a vivacious personality, Lexy likewise longed to fulfill her passion for diving and her penchant for people. “I love diving, and I love to meet all sorts of people. Having this resort helps me do both. Also, I wanted to have a place that would be like my baby, because I knew back then that my boys would eventually leave home,” she said, in reference to her two half-Swiss, young adult sons who now reside overseas.
She decided to initially lease 500 square meters of the land on which Sunset at Aninuan now sits, and soon after constructed three simple thatched cottages. To date, the resort – now fully owned by Lexy, and operated with the help of her Australian life partner, Mark Hughes – has 45 well-appointed rooms and suites, and five luxurious villas, spread out over 6,000 square meters of prime beach property. Recently, the establishment was bestowed the Golden Globe Annual Awards for Business Excellence, as the Best Premiere Resort, Mindoro Awards. No small feat for this awe-inspiring Filipina, originally from a rural town in San Pablo, Laguna.
“The beach and water are so clean. It is almost like a private beach. It’s so quite here, so serene,” Lexy mused, in passing.
A sunny slice of paradise
Sunset at Aninuan offers a range of engaging activities and water sports: kayaking, snorkeling at the house reef system (not far from the shore, but with a good collection of marine life), island hopping, scuba diving, swimming in the pool, hitting the mini gym and yoga room, playing a game or two of billiards, or maybe some beach volleyball, and going for some pampering at the resort’s very own spa, among others. I admit without shame that my favorite activity was plopping down on a beach lounge, book in hand, catching up on much-needed rest and relaxation. My reverie was only broken by Lexy and Mark’s gracious offers to drive us to nearby sites. First, to neighboring Mangyan Village, for an interesting peek into Mindoro’s indigenous culture; then to Mount Malasimbo and the nearby Ponderosa Golf and Country Club (owned by Mindoro local-legend, the late Tony Taylor, and his wife, Evelyn), for its breathtaking, sweeping 360-degree panoramic vistas of the beaches, world-renowned Muelle Bay, Verde Island (which is in the Guinness Book of World Records for most diverse marine life), and the gorgeous Malasimbo mountain range. In addition to a nine-hole jungle golf course, Ponderosa has a zipline, 600-plus meters up in the air, for thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies. Trekking remains a popular pastime for resort guests and, more often than not, Lexy herself leads the group on a hike to Aninuan Falls, Aninuan River, or through the lush foliage of the surrounding mountains.
Sunset at Aninuan is a family-oriented place, and Lexy and Mark are very careful to ensure that guests traveling with children are properly attended to. Beware the unscrupulous tourist; for this resort does not tolerate “funny business,” as Lexy and Mark sternly point out.
“I feel we have done something to change the [old] image of Puerto Galera, which [used to have] a reputation of being non-family oriented. Here, we welcome families, we love children. Parents can have their cocktails by the beach, and see their kids safely playing nearby,” said Lexy.
Authentic island vibe
Authenticity, elegance and comfort merge seamlessly, throughout the resort. Accommodations and amenities provide for a very comfortable stay, and are infused with luxury, whilst remaining true to the feel of a tropical island haven. Each guest room – designed in tasteful Neo-Asian style – has your usual creature comforts (TV, fridge, comfy beds, etcetera), but it is the stunning sea views and naturescapes which are most commendable.
Dining at the in-house restaurant is a belly-busting treat, with an extensive Filipino and international array of home-style dishes. Some of my personal favorites were savory Sizzling Tofu with Veggies, succulent Grilled Tanigue (mackerel, which was the day’s fresh catch), and tasty Chicken Cordon Bleu with creamy mashed potatoes. The pizzas are also a must-try for their appetizing toppings and perfectly crisp homemade crust. Also on the bestsellers list are Chicken Schnitzel with Fries, and Bratwurst and Rosti with Curry Sauce.
Ray of hope
One of the most remarkable aspects of Sunset at Aninuan is its in-house dive shop, Scuba for Change. Managed locally by Englishman and Dive Instructor Karl Marchant, this first-of-its-kind dive shop is a non-profit outfit, which is dedicated to uplifting the local community through scuba.
“All our profits go back to supporting the local community,” Marchant pointed out. “We work very closely with Stairway Foundation, a Mindoro-based NGO committed to children’s rights. We help teach and train up Dive Masters and hopefully, even instructors. We instill environmental awareness within the children, as well.”
“Sunset at Aninuan, Scuba for Change, and Stairway Foundation all have a very synergistic relationship. We are seeing wonderful things happen with the children here,” added Hughes.
Sunshine and cheer
The sun isn’t the only source of warmth at the resort, for this radiates, too, from the team of dedicated staff members. Ingrained with a deep sense of hospitality, each and every one of Sunset at Aninuan’s 22 personnel are quick to offer genuine smiles, and courteous, efficient service.
“I think I have sort of taught my staff how to be psychic,” Lexy, who treats her staff more like family than anything else, laughingly said. “But really, ask my guests; our team here knows how to anticipate their needs.”
All this sunshine and cheer results in a higher level of guest satisfaction, which makes for return visitors (one guest has visited 46 times, over 10 years, while another stayed at the resort for 3 years, straight!), something for which Lexy is very thankful.
“Truly, the most fulfilling part of this job is when our guests come back. Even before they go away, they already book their return. In many cases, I am already part of their extended family. I watch their family grow. My guests keep me going, really.”
Into the sunset
In the near future, Lexy will be opening a public restaurant at the resort. “Right now, our restaurant is exclusive for guests, and a lot of people get angry at me,” she candidly revealed. She also plans on upgrading some rooms, and adding finishing touches to the villas.
Personally, she longs to travel more, and dreams of climbing into the sunset at Mount Kilimanjaro; but not anytime soon – she cannot seem to pull herself away from her beach baby. Maybe someday, Lexy might find herself on the peak of Africa’s highest mountain. For now, she is more than happy to find herself on her favorite beachfront bench, wine glass in hand, Mark by her side, to pay homage to Sunset at Aninuan’s daily sunsets, its constant glory.