The Balesin experience: The world in an island

06/18/2012 | By: Dina Sta. Maria, The Philippine Star, June 17, 2012

Manila, Philippines – What would you do if you had an island? One tucked between a mighty ocean and a peaceful bay, often visited by typhoons but even more often lulled by languid breezes, where the clichéd “crystal clear waters and pristine white sand” is an incontrovertible reality.

Such is Balesin island off Quezon province, with Lamon Bay on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. It has been turned into an exclusive resort club with man-made facilities to match what nature has so magnificently provided, a P4-billion venture that gives Philippine tourism a definite gold star.

Around the 424-hectare island are situated six distinct villages, inspired by the most luxurious beachside destinations in the world. Think St. Tropez in the South of France, Mykonos in Greece, Costa Smeralda in Sardinia, Phuket in Thailand, Bali in Indonesia, and a “local” Balesin village that sets the tone for the entire development.

While each village is distinct in architecture and ambiance, the spacious units all have the same level of luxury: fully air-conditioned rooms with patios or sundecks and in-villa jacuzzis, satellite cable television, king-size beds with 600-thread count cotton sheets, and bathrooms that even five-star hotels will be hard-pressed to match (some villas have indoor and outdoor showers).

The great temptation here is to do nothing, to go into a vegetative state where the greatest exertion is perhaps a walk on the beach (the island has 7.3 kilometers of pristine white coral sand, cool on the feet even at high noon) after eating more than you should (very easy to do, especially when the garlic prawns in the buffet are replenished every 15 minutes or so!).

But for those who are into activity, there are all sorts of water sports, horseback riding (you can have your cinematic moment of riding a horse along the beach at sunset), basketball, tennis, badminton, pingpong – and even a gym. The Thalasso Therapy Spa is a real treat, or you can opt for in-room massage service.

Guests go around the island in electric-powered golf carts (mountain bikes are offered too). The road around the island takes the path of least resistance – snaking around trees so they don’t have to be cut down – and is not paved, just tamped down everyday by a roller that trundles along, packing the earth for a rustic but smooth ride. In the areas around the villas and clubhouse, a tanker goes around on dry days watering the road to minimize dust.

Everything about the development is a notch above expectation, and this is most evident in its sustainability and respect for nature. Only about a quarter of the island will be developed. A 190-hectare virgin hardwood forest is home to diverse winged creatures – including fireflies. There is reportedly a really old and huge tree deep in the forest (we did not attempt the trek) with a trunk so wide it will take several people with outstretched arms to encircle.

Rainwater is harvested by trenches on both sides of the 1.5-kilometer runway (over 100 million liters are harvested a year). There is a desalination facility, reverse osmosis plant, sewerage treatment plant, and water recycling (up to 80 percent) facility.

Obviously, no effort is spared to keep the island and its surrounding waters pristine. There is no dynamite fishing or other forms of illegal fishing allowed (a highly trained but thankfully unobtrusive security force, aided by a radar site, sees to that) around the island, which has a 2,500-hectare marine sanctuary, Snorkeling just a few meters from shore, you can see turtles and rays, and innumerable fishes of different sizes, shapes and colors. There are also lobsters, mud crabs, groupers, yellowfin tuna, mahimahi and other seafood that make the dining experience at the clubhouse restaurant a truly gourmet affair.

Balesin Island Club is a project of publicly-listed Alphaland Corp., a joint venture of the London-based Ashmore Investment, one of the world’s largest investment managers with over $65 billion in funds under management, and Roberto Ongpin’s RVO Capital Ventures Group.

Balesin is intended to be a high-end, top of the line property. Around 5,000 club shares will be sold locally and internationally. A share entitles the member to 14 days of stay at any villa. Initial price was P1 million a share; the going rate now is about P2.5 million and is expected to go up to P3 million by the third quarter of the year, when most of the construction on the island will be completed.

Alphaland chairman Roberto Ongpin stresses, “We do not intend to be, and will never be, all things to all people. But what we do will be unique, and will definitely be done well.”

Alphaland president Mario Oreta adds, “Balesin is wonderful and fantastic… Our vision is to be different – to develop high-end and internationally competitive resorts because we believe tourism is the next big thing that will happen to the Philippines.”

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