CULTURAL POTPOURRI| A Summer Escapade to Balesin

JUST when I was finalizing plans with the contractor to start on a construction project for my family, my dearest cousin Mariels Ebro Almeda-Winhoffer called me up before the Holy Week. She asked me to fly to Manila to be with her during her brief stopover before she flew to Tokyo for a business meeting. The first ever woman President of IBM-Philippines who is currently assigned to a post in IBM Chicago, Mariels so compelled me with her charm, “If you love and care for me, you’ll come and visit me in Manila even for just a few days. I love you, dear cousin.” Now, with such a message, it would seem so heartless of me not to agree to her request. I often surrender when the word love is used for persuasion. And as if to further ensure herself of my appearance, she promised to take me to an unforgettable summer getaway: Balesin Island Club.

     Arriving in the heartlessly traffic-plagued Manila was no joke especially with this summer heat. I headed straight to my brother’s condominium in Legazpi Village, Makati City, where I would be staying for a week by my lonesome. Mariels’ well-trained driver informed me that I would be fetched to attend a welcome dinner hosted by her cousins, Malo and Angeli Ong. The venue was at the Canton Road of Shangri-La at the Fort. I was also advised to bring my things for the Balesin trip as we were taking the early chartered flight the following day. Which only meant that I had to spend the night with Mariels in her Bellagio luxury residential condominium unit at the Fort which overlooks the Manila Golf Course. Bellagio is situated close to the Bonifacio Global City’s business, commerce and leisure center.

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LUNCH at the Spanish Costa del Sol (l-r): Victor Silvino, Michael E. Dakudao, Mariels Almeda-Winhoffer and Claudette Cordon

  Shangri-La at the Fort rises to a majestic 250 meters high and is considered as one of the tallest towers in the country. It boasts of a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold-certified green development that is committed to the highest standard of sustainable design. Mariels introduced me to her entrepreneurial cousins, Malo and Angeli Ong, who warmly welcomed us as we entered the rich confines of Canton Road. Both Malo and Angeli are obviously well-traveled, refined culture buffs. It was a joy to hear these successful businessmen talk about art and cuisine, among other interesting topics. The loving couple ordered a 12-course fine meal which was all about modern Cantonese cuisine. Canton Road’s indulgent modern cuisine is slightly sweet in its impressive flavor and served in a delicate and intricate presentation. Canton Road’s chic interior is infused with celadon-colored patterns and textured silk panels reminding me of sophisticated Art Deco designed restaurants of Shanghai in the past. Honestly, Malo and Angeli Ong’s dinner was an exceptional as well as an elevating dining experience for this simple provinciano.

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WELCOME dinner for Mariels Almeda-Winhoffer hosted by Malo and Angeli Ong at the Canton Road of Shangri-La at the Fort

     Early the next day, Mariels, Victor Silvino of IBM, businesswoman Claudette Cordon and myself took a pleasant 25 minute plane ride, which landed us at the E.L. Tordesillas Airport in Balesin. The chartered flight was full of excited excursionists that bright weekend. The Balesin Island Club, Roberto Velayo Ongpin’s Alphaland Corporation’s flagship project, is a unique, members only, private leisure getaway. The 500 hectare tropical island paradise with 7.3 kilometers of pristine white sand beaches is an amazing natural beauty. Master-planned by EcoPlan of Miami, Florida, USA, the Balesin Island Club was designed to be environmentally friendly; and to fit perfectly with its natural surroundings. It’s truly an island paradise suited for moneyed urban souls in search of peace and harmony to rejuvenate themselves from the harsh realities of city life.

     Upon registering at the Balesin Clubhouse, which is an impressive Asian tropical architecture at its finest, a guide is assigned to orient first time visitors to the Balesin Island Club. Indeed, this unique island resort is revolutionary in its inception. “Water harvesting, 80% water recycling, a reverse osmosis plant, on-site eco-friendly transportation, organic farming, and alternative sources of energy to reduce the amount of waste and ensure sustainable development on this amazing island. All these are accomplished without sacrificing on luxurious and top-rated facilities,” informed the official guide as he continued, “The Club right from the start was envisioned to enhance everything existing in the environment. A large, lush forest sanctuary, and the protection and maintenance of the surrounding marine sanctuary would definitely elicit admiration from the guests.” The Balesin Island Club is determined in preserving the environment with the highly valued help of its clients.

     From an architect’s point of view, the Balesin Island Club was envisioned, conceptualized and designed with fully furnished villas and amenities to make it a top luxurious beachside resort. It is definitely one of the best luxury resort destinations in the country.

     Balesin has seven themed villages designed with impressive villas and suites. These include Balesin, Phuket, Bali, Mykonos, St. Tropez, Costa del Sol and Toscana. In each village, everything from the architecture, interior design, landscaping and food is authentically recreated. It’s like visiting these foreign places without having to leave this beautiful island paradise. And you get to enjoy the wide array of international cuisines from rellenong pusit to pescado en salsa verde to sambal udang to shrimp saganaki with ouzo to spaghetti alle vongole veraci alla Roberto. And you can complete your Balesin gastronomic experience with a cochinillo at the Spanish Costa del Sol. Of course, we had our chill sessions made perfect with Balesin’s signature concoctions of Balesin Zombie, Margarita, Mojito and Pina Colada.

Indeed, this summer escapade was a most memorable one for me. Mariels and I also had the chance to reconnect with the remaining elder members of our Ebro clan. Her close friends Claudette Cordon (who supplies Duty Free Philippine shops) and Victor Silvino (businessman and avid art collector) proved to be such gracious friends. I couldn’t ask for more.

Thank you, dear Mariels Ebro Almeda-Winhoffer, for brightening my summer escapade with beguiling Balesin. Yes, she’s saying hello to her former Assumption San Lorenzo classmates in Davao.

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