Friday, March 30, 2012

Bellarocca, Santorini in Marinduque

The first time I saw a picture of Bellarocca, I instantly knew I wanted to visit the place. The "rock island" label sold me on it. I had been to a couple of islands before, but never to a rock island. So last year, I impulsively booked a vacation without the consent of my husband.:)

Photo from Bellarocca's website.

I made a booking for a 2-night stay in a 2-bedroom Terraza. The cliff side Terrazas offer the best view of Mt. Malindig, the mountain right across the island of Bellarocca. Locals also call this potentially active volcano "Mt. Malindik", from which the name Marinduque may have originated.

A view of Mt. Malindig from Bellarocca. (Photo from Bellarocca's website.)

The 2-bedroom cliff side Terrazas. (Photo from Bellarocca's website.)

A night stay here costs a whopping USD 540, but I got a little discount from buying from a coupon site. Kids below 12 years old stay for free. Maximum of 2 kids per room. Daily breakfast is not included in the package, though.

After purchasing the voucher, I immediately called Bellarocca's booking office to make a reservation. It was  rather absurd, however, that they were requiring us to make our flight reservations 8 months from our vacation date. They said they would be needing our flight details immediately to arrange for the boat and land transfers. This did not make it possible for me to take advantage of airline seat sales.

And since we have an extra person in the group, they were also insisting that we pay for the additional charges through their office in Makati. When I requested if it's possible to pay at the resort since it was quite inconvenient for me, the booking officer said it's completely necessary to pay in advance. Due to this, I was forced to inform them that our extra person is still indefinite about her stay. I just confirmed her booking a few days before the trip. So, they had no choice but to allow me to settle the extra charges at the resort.

Finally, we arrived at the domestic terminal for our much-awaited Bellarocca trip. We were informed by Zest Air that our flight was delayed by approximately 4 hours. Zest Air is the only flight provider to Bellarocca. They operate one flight in and out of Marinduque daily.

From buying a few cinnamon rolls and asking around the airport, I learned that flight delays are quite common with this airline. Luckily, we got an update that our waiting time was cut short to two hours.

At the tarmac of the Manila Domestic Airport.

Our first time to fly with Zest Air.

It was a little stuffy inside the aircraft and the air conditioner was not providing enough ventilation. Still, it was just a small 56-seater plane and as long as it gets us safely to our destination, I would be happily satisfied. The flight was short and I noticed that the plane didn't go very far up. I can still see from the window, the land and sea below.

After 30 minutes, we arrived smoothly at the Marinduque Airport. The Marinduque runway was unexpectedly longer than that of Caticlan Airport. I was expecting for a bumpy landing but the plane touched down fluidly and we were ushered out of the aircraft immediately.

A rare photo of an airport without the usual busy throng of people. It would be near impossible to get another shot like this one elsewhere. 

The tourists had just arrived.

The Bellarocca staff was already waiting at the airport. They immediately took care of our luggage and assisted us to the waiting air conditioned van. We were also given cold towels and bottles of cold water to refresh ourselves. After a few minutes, our van departed for our 45-minute trip to the resort. It's interesting to note that the land transfer was even longer than the flight.:)

Bellarocca Resort's air conditioned van provided some welcome relief from the stale smell and uncomfortable seats inside the Zest Air plane.

Along the way, I noticed that Marinduque was a very underdeveloped city. From the small boats along the rocky shores, one would immediately get the impression that their chief means of livelihood is fishing. The Bellarocca staff also informed us that large-scale mining used to be prevalent in the area until the local government imposed a 50-year mining moratorium to prevent further environmental damages.

Fishing boats lined the shore.

It was quite depressing to see impoverished homes and unpaved roads when you're on your way to a 5-star vacation. But it's reassuring to know that the existence of Bellarocca had contributed a lot of income to the province of Marinduque. In fact, I had been told the local airport would not be open today if not for the tourists that visit this Greek-inspired resort.

One of the local homes we passed by.

The island of Bellarocca from afar.

We arrived at the shore with the other guests. And when I counted, we were all 27. Which meant that Bellarocca's guests normally occupy more than half of the plane to Marinduque. We were each asked to wear a life vest for the short boat ride. The docking bridge was damaged when Typhoon Pedring hit the province weeks ago. A small boat served as a makeshift bridge for guests to cross to the waiting speed boat that would take us to the resort.

Devastated by the wrath of Typhoon Pedring.

It was a smooth 5-minute ride across the Sibuyan Sea, unlike our boat transfer to Boracay. But the shaky passenger platform, where we were unloaded, gave me quite a scare. It's a good thing that a considerable number of Bellarocca staff were present to assist us to safety.

The view from the speed boat.

We were welcomed with flower leis by women singing native songs and were then ushered to the welcome lounge where we were able to comfortably remove our life vests.

The scenic welcome lounge.

A golf cart took us to the hotel where we enjoyed our welcome drinks while signing the guest information sheet. The resort manager gave us quite a lengthy description of the resort and its facilities. He also informed us that we can arrange for a free tour around the resort.

Bellarocca Resort lobby.

The koi fish pond at the lobby.

Our welcome drink, Lemongrass Iced Tea.

This lemongrass iced tea was such a hit with my son. He finished off the entire glass with one long sip.

Our Terraza was a little smaller than I imagined and I was a bit disappointed by its lack of furnishings. I don't know if it's just the Greek way, since the white structure was inspired by homes in Santorini, Greece. We all agreed that the accommodations had a 4-star feel and was lacking the 5-star appeal.

The dining area of our 2-bedroom Terraza.

The stairs to the basement lead to the master's bedroom. The second bedroom is  up at the second floor.

The resort's welcome note.

Mini-bar snack items. 

The canned juices and sodas will set you back big time.

I also have a few issues with the master's bedroom. Apart from the small shower area, which does not provide enough space for comfort, the movable glass shower enclosure was also not too effective in blocking the spray of water from the shower head. This resulted to a tiny flood on the floor. 

Bathroom amenities.

The air conditioning unit was also blowing air directly to our faces. We tried to change the settings but the unit was wrongly-placed and we had no choice but to sleep with our feet facing the headboard. Not that I mind too much. We sleep the same way at home, since we have yet corrected the error of our contractor, who made the same mistake of placing our air conditioning unit at the wrong spot.:) But paying for a 5-star accommodation, I couldn't help but expect for more.

When I checked the second bedroom, it's good to see they're not having the same problem with their air conditioning unit and their shower space was noticeably bigger. They do not have a bathtub, however. But I would choose the added space over a soaking tub.

We have an extra person, so we requested for an extra bed to be made. 

The extra person rate is PHP 6000 net for a 2-night stay, inclusive of round trip land and sea transfers. 

After our luggage arrived, we proceeded to the hotel restaurant. The food was a bit pricey and not as bad as I read from other blogs. In fact, I would say the food and the elegant restaurant with a great view, lived up to the hype more than the resort itself. Either Bellarocca had changed their menu or I was just really hungry to be critical every meal time.:)

Cold towels were provided every meal time.

Bread Roll. Hands down, the best roll I ever tasted.  And I'm not even exaggerating. Usually, I would eat only half a roll with butter before a meal. But I ate two of these before each meal and another one after. I even forgot the butter. It's that good.:)

Roasted Chicken (PHP 580++)

Lechon Kawali (PHP 430++). I highly recommend this one.  It's perfectly cooked and served fresh out of the kitchen.

Adobong Pusit sa Gata (PHP 430++). Yummy and unique.

Fish and Chips (PHP 480++). Better than Fridays'.

Pancit Canton  {Canton Noodles} (PHP 600++). Cooked with a different twist. I found the mixture of  bell pepper and the noodles a little odd,  but not bad at all.

Club Sandwich (PHP 450++) Could be better.

Pesto Pasta (PHP 380++) Serving was too small.
Mediterranean BLT Sandwich (PHP 295++).

Eggplant Lasagna (PHP 450++). Surprisingly good. Really Italian.

Rockets, Pears & Parmesan Salad (PHP 380++). The contrast of the sweetness of the pears with the saltiness of the parmesan was perfect. A must try.

Boneless Daing na Bangus (PHP 365++).

Arroz Caldo (PHP 180++). Broth was too thick and the serving was not enough to satisfy my morning appetite.  At least, it came with two boiled eggs as condiment.

American Breakfast (PHP 230++)

Pinakbet {Meat Vegetable Stew in Shrimp Paste} (PHP  450++)

Pork Adobo (PHP 450++)

Panfry Meatloaf (PHP 300++). Totally not happy with this one. The meatloaf was a little bland and looked more like slices of ham.

Bellarocca Chef's Salad (PHP 460++). This salad is full of good stuff and the dressing was light and nice. Absolutely filling!

Royal Beef Burger (PHP 430++). Very hearty. The baked beans added  a tasty Southern twist.

Lemongrass Iced Tea (PHP 180++). My son's favorite. Although I still would prefer the plain lemon iced tea, it's refreshingly new.

Fresh Coconut Juice (PHP 120++)

Fresh Coconut Shake (PHP 220++)

Orange Juice (PHP 100++)

Banana Split (PHP 220++)

Although some dishes (like the Pancit Canton) are big enough for 2, a regular meal with a glass of cold drink would cost you around PHP 700++. Salads and desserts cost around PHP 500/order. So be prepared to splurge on food a little, because you would not have any other choice. The only dining option inside the resort is the restaurant or the room service which would cost even more.

The restaurant has huge tables that can fit a large group.

The spectacular view of Mt. Malindig provides a nice distraction and gives the place the right blend of small town charm and resort appeal.

We checked out the view outside the hotel restaurant. It was simply astounding. Mt. Malindig, even with clouds covering its tip, was magnificently perched right in front of us. The mere sight of it didn't make me cry but it did make me forget the amount of our food bills a little.:)

This phenomenal view drew us out of the indoor restaurant.

There were also koi fish in a pond that my husband thought were incredibly smart. He noticed that the fish followed him wherever he went, probably thinking he would feed them. The "smart fish" were following his reflection in the water but when he put the camera to block his face, the fish quickly lost their interest. I don't know if this was just a coincidence, or can koi fish really do that?:)

Guests may request for a golf buggy to pick them up for a trip to the resort's infinity pool. It was a 5-minute scenic ride. We took the opportunity to snap photos of the resort villas which we passed by along the way.

It was a little cloudy that day, but we were able to enjoy an hour at the pool before the rain poured its fury.

On our way back, we saw a huge lobster being sold by some local fishermen to the resort. I didn't dare ask how much the lobster would cost in a plate, but when I asked how much they bought it from the fishermen, everyone seemed to have forgotten the cost. Of course! You don't divulge to your customers just how much you're profiting from them.:)

We also passed by the resort's second pool. We didn't swim in the hotel lap pool because the view was better at the infinity pool. But this is a cool place to swim for hotel guests, whose rooms are just a few steps away, without the hassle of waiting for a golf cart. The infinity pool also closes earlier at 7pm, while the lap pool is open until 11pm.

We also checked out the entertainment room/library. A collection of DVDs and board games, as well as books, can be borrowed for free. There were also comfortable sofas and chairs where families can converge for some recreation. A pool table, foosball, and two computers with internet connectivity also provide a good diversion for guests who couldn't maximize their stay due to the inclement weather.

The beautiful weather on our second day gave us more time to enjoy the infinity pool, as well as the small beach. The cute canopy sofas were perfect for some relaxation beside the pool, which was very child-friendly. Its deepest part was less than 4 feet.

We descended a tiny stair to arrive at the beachfront which was painfully rocky. The fine white sand placed by the resort was washed away by strong waves brought by the typhoon. It was really hard to walk with my wedge flip flops but when I tried to go barefoot, the protruding rocks hurt the soles of my feet too much. My 6-year-old niece even had to put band-aids on her scraped toes after our brief stroll at Bellarocca's stony beach.

A small piece of history hidden in the sands of time. Who knows if this spoon had its place in ancient history...or maybe not?:)

Guests can enjoy kayaking, windsurfing and snorkeling for free. Other motorized marine sports equipments are also available for rental. My sister and her fiancee tried the kayak and they were accompanied by a guide who followed them around to ensure their safety.

After bidding our final goodbyes to the infinity pool, we went back to our Terraza for a quick shower. And I was thankful that they finally replenished our complimentary bottled water supply. Only one bottle per person, including kids, is provided per day and 2 bottles came with the tea and coffee making facilities. We tried to drink as much water as we can at the hotel restaurant during meal times to avoid having to spend for drinking water. Considering the heavy price tags of the items in the mini-bar, a bottle of water will most definitely not come cheap.

My sister, who is a karaoke enthusiast, finally convinced us to go crazy on the microphone. The resort has this nice karaoke bar and we had it all to ourselves for some time until the bar happy hour when guests started flocking to the place.

My son is just clueless as to what all the commotion is about. Poor boy was forced to put up with a bunch of frustrated singers for an hour. If he could only walk, he would definitely have stormed outside the room.

The resort offered buffet dinner on our last night. This is the first time they prepared a buffet feast since we arrived. I was told by a waiter that they only do so when they reach a certain number of guests. The price per head for the buffet is PHP 870, inclusive of taxes and service charges.

Assorted bread, fruits and cheeses.

The vegetable cream soup was amazing. It totally kick-started my appetite.:)

Appetizers and Salad Bar

Main Entrée

Dessert spread

And then again, I pigged out on desserts. Just my weakness!:)

Our final bill was waiting for us when we got back to our Terraza. Everything's as it should be except for the "Diatabs" charge at the end of the bill. This was totally hilarious and we had a good laugh teasing each other  about who among us ordered the antidiarrheal medicine. At the end, we requested to have the bill reversed because no one owned up to the crime. My mom was exceedingly defensive, though.:)

I made a call to the front desk using the Skype phone, which wasn't as hard to use as I once thought. After a few minutes, a personnel picked up my credit card and returned with a charge slip and an official receipt. I decided to settle the bill to avoid delays as we were scheduled to leave very early the next day.

Unfortunately, the Zest Air flight to Manila every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday departs at 820 a.m. This requires us to leave the resort on or before 6 in the morning which shortened our 3-day stay to two nights.

We wanted to try the state-of-the-art home theater stereo system in our room. So, we borrowed a DVD of The Blind Side, the movie that gave Sandra Bullock her first Academy Awards best actress trophy.

Plasma TV with complete DVD player and home theater stereo systems. 

By this time, we had already become used to the electricity that goes off and on from time to time. The power supply in this rural town is still unstable and electrical outages are quite common. The resort, however, was quite fast in switching over to generator power. Usually, it takes them less than a minute to restore the electricity.

But not tonight. Of all nights! It took them over 20 minutes and to make it worse, the lights came back on but our air conditioning unit at the master's bedroom failed to work. It took more than an hour and several calls before they were able to fix the switch, which they said, was outside the Terraza unit. Seriously, a thing like this should never happen at a 5-star deluxe resort.

We received an early call the next day that our Zest Air flight was delayed by an hour again so we took the time to snap some photos from the terrace. Mt. Malindig is truly majestic in the morning with the sun still creeping out from behind the clouds. Birds were also flying all over the place, chirping the sounds of nature.

After an hour, a golf cart fetched us and brought us to the dock where we had to suffer again the terrible descent to the wavering platform before boarding the waiting speed boat. On our way to the shore, I overheard three Chinese Filipino guests airing their disappointment with the General Manager of the resort. They were saying that there were 6 of them in the group but they were forced to leave their companions and ride our speed boat, which can only carry 3 more passengers, because the General Manager grumpily pushed them to go. They did say, though, that this same General Manager greeted them warmly when they arrived. Maybe, he just woke up on the wrong side of the bed that morning.:)

After buying a few pasalubongs (bring home for relatives and friends), we boarded our return flight to Manila. Just a warning to visitors, the Marinduque Airport does not have a baggage scanner. So you might want to pack your private stuff carefully unless you want your undies to pop out in plain sight. Not that mine did.:)

Native delicacies. The "Saludsod Pancake" is a must try!

The Arrowroot Cookie (Uraro in Tagalog) is Marinduque's most famous export.  If you're craving for some,  I have seen a few groceries in Metro Manila selling these.

It's a little expensive to buy "pasalubongs" inside the airport. If you still have more time on your hands, you might want to check the other stores nearby.

My verdict: I think Bellarocca still has a long way to go in terms of competitiveness with other luxury resorts in the Philippines. But it is the best option if you want to experience Santorini without having to go very far from home.

Bellarocca Island Resort and Spa
Barangay - Tungib - Lipata, Municipality of Buenavista

Corporate Sales Office:
Suite 2804, 28th Floor, Ayala Life-FGU Center
6811 Ayala Avenue, Makati City

Phone Numbers:
+63 2 817 7290
+63 2 310 9931


Katherine de la Cruz said...

I like how detailed you describe things. Setting the right expectation. Ü

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