By Anna Valmero INQUIRER.net AZURE is one word to describe the beaches of Anilao in Batangas. And it is also the name of the first five-star hotel to rise in the area. Batangas is known as Metro Manila's "Southern Doorstep" and it offers busy metropolitan executives an alternative for refreshing mini-vacations. About two hours of travel from Manila, one is transported to a place of fresh breeze and lush vegetation lined with clear, cobalt-blue waters. It is for this reason that in 2005, Vivere Hotel general manager Elvie Sanchez sent a team to scout for a place to develop a resort in Anilao. Elmer Garcia, officer-in-charge, said it took three years to develop the half-hectare lot where Vivere's Azure Hotel and Resort is located. Vivere Hotel architect Ryan Untivero and interior designer Ronnie Bugay conceptualized the native-inspired design of the hotel, which opened to the public in late 2008. Bugay designed each of the 13 rooms in the four-storey resort building based on a specific theme, said Garcia. The furniture is all Filipino-made--from the lounge area to the interiors of the rooms, said Garcia. Each room has glass walls so visitors can view the beach while inside the room, said Pete Dacuycuy, Azure information officer. Dacuycuy added the glass walls also allow natural light to enter the rooms. Meanwhile, some rooms have wooden azoteas where visitors can sit during midday to enjoy the sea breeze and the sound of dancing bamboo grasses or chirping birds. This way they can experience nature during their stay at the resort, he said. At the hotel, one can enjoy the infinity pool located 10 meters above the sea--which gives one a panoramic view of the sea and nearby snorkeling hot spots in the Sombrero and Eagle's Point islands. Few steps from the pool are open huts furnished with beds and pillows where one can take a nap, read a book or have a massage. (Upon booking, visitors are asked if they want to have a massage included in their accommodation package at Azure). Single and double kayaks are available at the resort, which visitors can use for free. The resort can also organize island hopping tours to Eagle's Point or Sombrero Islands, where visitors can enjoy hiking, bird watching and snorkeling. Being at the beach is also good opportunity to photograph or shoot sunset and sunrise. If you are fond of collecting sea shells, make sure you are up in the morning just after sunrise when a strip of the shore is exposed at low tide. Or you may bump into a Badjao who sells authentic pearls at a cheaper price, just as I did. Garcia said the management is planning to buy an island where guests can stay overnight, given the resort's proximity to snorkeling spots. Garcia said Azure caters to office functions, team building activities and family outings. Lodging and meal service package rates from Php7,500 per person for single occupancy (depends on room type) and Php6,500 per person for twin sharing.
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By Erwin Oliva INQUIRER.net HOW can you determine if a certain place has not been explored yet? You can Google it. I did that and found some travel websites and some online forums that had basic information about the place. But when I got to a Wikipedia entry, I was surprised that it only had a short description about Bantayan island. It included a short description of its location, the population, and the different towns on the island. Perhaps one travel website was right. Bantayan island is one of the "best kept secrets" of Cebu province. One possible explanation is that it takes half a day to get there, if you're coming from Cebu City. To get there, you have to travel from the city to Hagnaya wharf in San Remigo, where roro boats are docked. We went there using hired vans (I was sent there to cover an event of the Government Service Insurance System). The roro (a boat that can carry vehicles and people) ride took another hour to get to the Santa Fe dock. Here's a video I took of the roro vessel. And here's a photo of some kids diving for coins. Then using the same vans, it took us several minutes to get to Kota Beach, a resort with sugar white sand, and a beautiful sandbar just a few meters away from our cottages. Bantayan island is located in the western portion of the northernmost tip of Cebu (got that one from Wikipedia). I must admit that after hours of traveling, the sight of a wonderful, unspoiled beach made the trip worthwhile. I got this impression from other journalists who braved the long land trip and slow roro ride. A journalist had one word for Bantayan Island: quaint. It was quaint in the sense that it remained unexplored and unspoiled. Why? The Santa Fe dock was perhaps the cleanest dock I have seen so far in the country. Most of beaches in Santa Fe were untouched by human hands. There were also few people walking around, unlike Boracay where it was easy to bump into people during these months. If you want a quiet and relaxing getaway, this island offers some respite. The nightlife is also another story. There are several ways of exploring the island at night. The best ways is to rent the habal-habal or motorcycles that are for rent. One habal-habal can accommodate three riders. It can take you anywhere for less than a hundred pesos. But you can also walk to nearby bars and a 24-hour burger stand within the Sante Fe town proper. Some of these bars and restaurants are owned by foreign settlers. They usually serve seafood and meat (chicken and beef). Of course, most of them feature karaoke systems armed with hundreds of foreign and local songs. But you can also find live bands in some bars if you want a taste of the local music scene. During my brief stay, I can say that Bantayan island is a good place to go for people who want to escape the noisy and crowded city of Cebu. You can choose from a host of resorts. But if you want to go backpacking, the friendly local people can quickly point you to some affordable places. And before I forget, most people speak Cebuano on Bantayan island, but you can easily go around using English and a bit of Filipino. Here's a video I took of INQUIRER.net reporter Lawrence Casiraya talking about the pristine beach. Editor's note: Photos and videos taken by INQUIRER.net reporter Erwin Oliva.
By Joey Alarilla INQUIRER.net INQUIRER.NET reporter Lawrence Casiraya interviewed El Nido Resorts chef Rey de la Cruz and sampled the exotic delicacy known as tamilok. While it looks like a worm, the tamilok is actually a mollusk that burrows inside the trees in Palawan's mangrove areas. It's supposed to be an aphrodisiac, hehe :) Video taken by INQUIRER.net reporter Alex Villafania at Miniloc island on Nov. 17. For more videos from our Palawan adventure, check out my earlier post. And go to iVDO on Yahoo! for more videos from INQUIRER.net and our partners.
By Joey Alarilla INQUIRER.net UPDATE: Added a video. WE went to Miniloc island in El Nido Resorts, Palawan last week to cover the annual Synergy information and communications technology forum jointly organized by Intel Philippines and Hewlett-Packard Philippines. This year's Synergy was special because this was its 10th anniversary. Of course, since we were in paradise, we not only covered the ICT forum itself but also shot videos for iVDO on Yahoo! and Tales for the Nomad, as well as producing content for different sites under INQUIRER.net. We wanted to show multimedia journalism in action, meaning the coverage provided by the INQUIRER.net team that attended (we're informally known as the INQuboys, heh) not only included breaking news and Infotech articles, but also blog posts, podcast interviews and video. Because that's how we are over at INQUIRER.net -- we work hard and play hard, and we have fun while doing our jobs well. Here's an underwater video that INQUIRER.net reporter Lawrence Casiraya took with the waterproof Olympus mju 790SW digital camera that Axis Global lent us as a demo unit. We're evaluating different digital cameras for our Editorial team, and this baby has really caught our attention. Please be warned that you should stay away from the jackfish -- the big black fish with the sharp teeth you'll see in the video -- particularly when they're feeding, as these aggressive creatures might bite swimmers. Plus their tails are pretty sharp and may injure you if you come into contact with them. The guide warned Lawrence not to get too close, but our brave (or is it foolhardy, heh) reporter dove to catch the underwater feeding frenzy on camera. And here's INQUIRER.net reporter Erwin Oliva interviewing one of the resort staff members, Jeff (he only gave his first name), who weaves hats using coconut leaves and a nylon fishing line. I'll post more videos once they're online. Here's an underwater video INQUIRER.net reporter Alex Villafania took while snorkeling. For Alex's review of the Olympus mju 790 SW waterproof digital camera that he used to take this video, visit Tech Addicts.
CHECK out this video from INQUIRER.net executive editor Leo Magno. For more videos from INQUIRER.net and our partners, visit iVDO.
By Joey Alarilla INQUIRER.net FUNNY enough, we only went to Bohol Beach Club to have lunch. This was on June 24 when I flew to Bohol to cover the launch of three Animal Bite Treatment Clinics by the provincial government, in cooperation with Family Vaccine and Specialty Clinics Inc. and IP Foundation, the corporate social responsibility division of IP Ventures Group. Still, even that brief visit was enough to impress us with the resort's pristine surroundings and beautiful white sand beach. It was the first time for me and my companions to go to this resort, and I've actually vowed to go back there in the near future with my family because this place is truly a sight to behold. And we have pics and videos to prove it, heh. All photos courtesy of Jon Jone D.R. Javier -- except obviously for the one where he appears :) which was taken by one of the waiters. Here are two video clips courtesy of iVDO. And here are the photos. Go nuts over coconuts. Now that's pristine. From left to right, that's me, Sheila Rada of IP Ventures Group, Joel Pinaroc of Manila Bulletin, and digital photographer Jon Jone D.R. Javier. Talk about the sea's bounty. Needless to say, it was a good lunch. After lunch, it was time to take photos again. Here we are at the restaurant, except we moved to another table to hide the evidence of how much food we ate. And here's one na kunwari candid heh :) I'm pretending to describe how big something is. Sheila seems amused; Joel, confused :) If you get tired of the beach, you could always take a dip in the pool.