Amanpulo: A Peaceful Paradise
November 29, 2018 | BY Marielle Antonio
Stephanie Zubiri-Crespi flies 360 kilometres south-west of Manila to experience the true meaning of luxury on “the peaceful island,” Amanpulo
In a country made up of thousands of islands, Amanpulo is the one that has repeatedly been called the most beautiful one in the world. From the private propeller plane making the 70-minute journey from the Manila airport, you’ll see a number of landmark places, but prepare yourself for when you finally set eyes on the island: a swathe of powdery white and emerald green, iconic to those that have seen it before, and utterly longed for by those who have yet to experience its wonders.
Amanpulo’s home island is called Pamalican. It is elongated and almost completely flat, encircled by five kilometres of fine, white sand, and surrounded by coral reefs and a marine sanctuary, where hawksbill and green turtles nest. Even among the legendary islands of Palawan, Pamalican stands out—radiating an enduring mystique that must come from the ultra-private nature of Amanpulo, which is first and foremost a paradise built on raw island. Nearby, you’ll find only the friendly neighbouring community of Manamoc.
Born from the idea of retreat in 1988, the Aman Resorts, whose name derives from the Sanskrit word for “peace,” came to the Philippines 25 years ago to fashion a refuge that would meticulously frame its natural settings and give travellers a sense of peace and belonging amidst an extraordinary, historical landscape. Pamalican was the perfect spot, and as anybody who has spent some time in Amanpulo will agree, it feels truly off-grid and worlds away.
Designed by the renowned Filipino architect Francisco “Bobby” Mañosa, Amanpulo is the only property on the island. Its casitas, a tribute to the traditional Filipino house, the bahay kubo, are made from natural materials such as wood, marble, and pebbles; and distributed along the beach or nestled in the treetops and in the hillside overlooking the resplendent Sulu Sea. A stay at any of these luxe lodgings will ensure that you wake up to a majestic frame of the ocean, and that your path leads to either the beach or to the middle of the island, which remains lush and unspoilt.
Softly crashing waves, rustling leaves, birdsong, or silence—these are the daily sounds on the island, and it is perhaps to complete the feeling of being totally adrift that Amanpulo has devoted a place on the premises to the restoration of the mind, body, and soul. Amans around the world are known for their spas, and Amanpulo’s own concept, the Aman Spa, includes not only a range of rare, organic ingredients that are globally sourced for their purity and potency, but also a complete yoga studio that occasionally brings in visiting practitioners to work with the guests. Both are set high above the rest of the resort to give sweeping, healing views. “With the spa being on the hig hest point of the island, it’s amazing and very peaceful,” shares Amanpulo’s General Manager Audeline Witjaksono. “It’s quite a responsibility to make sure that the spa really awakens your five senses, and I must say, 98 per cent of our guests have mentioned they have never had treatments as they experienced at Amanpulo.”
Amanpulo’s promise to remain fully natural includes the way it handles the various cuisine offered on the island. There are five dining spots in Amanpulo, which all make use of the harvest from its organic gardens. The recently brought in Arva specialities, which draw inspiration from Italy and the Aman Venice, were launched as part of a special menu at the Beach Club.
All eight dishes showcase locally grown, expertly prepared food that lifts farm-to-table dining on the island to an entirely new level. The Lenticchie In Insalata, a dish made of lentils, apple, avocado, and Cuyo cashew nuts, is just one example of the way Amanpulo gives importance to the heritage and sourcing of its meals. Charmingly, guests are also invited to catch their own fish, following sustainable fishing practices on the island. “With regards to the food, one of the things we’re really focused on is to give Amanpulo that sense of place, so we try as much as possible to use local products and local providers,” Witjaksono says. “We like to showcase what the culture is about, and our pride and joy is the organic farm. We use what the farm produces, not only for the guests but for the staff as well.”
The lifestyle writer and environmental advocate Stephanie Zubiri-Crespi, who the Philippine Tatler Traveller brought to Amanpulo for this issue, timed for the special occasion of the resort’s 25th year, describes it as a place where one doesn’t have to do too much to be reinvigorated. “In everything it does, Amanpulo teaches you to connect with nature,” she says. “That mindset carries over to so many things.” For example, she has always been an admirer of Amanpulo’s efforts to care for everything around it. One sign of this is the people. “Everybody seems happy to be here and to work here,” she says. “In fact, one of the most beautiful things about Amanpulo is that [a majority of the] staff comes from either the island itself or the neighbouring one, Manamoc.”
"It is a relief to know that such a place exists—a peaceful, pristine paradise waiting to bring more travellers closer to nature"
Only 15 minutes away by boat, Manamoc is a key figure in the incredible history of Amanpulo. From the beginning, the resort set out not only to co-exist with its neighbouring island but to also enable it to thrive. The relationship between Amanpulo and Manamoc has become quite special because of the way the two have worked together to ensure that succeeding generations from the community have access to a higher quality of life. Amanpulo gives priority to Manamoc in terms of work opportunities at the resort, and spearheads learning programmes for young ones and grown-ups alike. On the other side of that, the resort has benefitted from the way the locals have devoted themselves to preserving and showcasing both Manamoc and Amanpulo to curious, discerning travellers from around the world.
"Amanpulo has devoted a place on the premises to the restoration of the mind, body, and soul"
Manamoc, a rustic and friendly locale, is an option for when you’re plotting out what adventures to have while in Amanpulo. On one side of the island, you’ll see a sandbar where a special spread can be arranged for a picnic. Next, just as on Pamalican, the reefs surrounding Manamoc are ideal for snorkelling. They can run quite some distance from the beach, so a small boat is required to reach the perfect spot. There is a broad but shallow lagoon on the southwest side of the island surrounded by fringes of precious mangroves and, of course, Manamoc’s highest peak, the 220-metre high Mount English, to scale and conquer. As most of the touring staff at Amanpulo is local, they will happily take you through.
Though its seclusion is what makes it so enchanting, there is also a feeling at Amanpulo that is quite communal. Families from privately owned villas in one area of the resort trickle in during the day for a meal or a game of tennis, some ambling in from a hike or a diving trip. Staff come and go discreetly but cheerfully. The sounds and smells that echo throughout the island are those of nature—always pleasant, welcome ones. Now and again, it’s possible to cross paths with other sun-kissed guests quietly traversing the beach. “What I love about this place is that they make you feel like each time you come back, you are coming home,” says Stephanie. “They know you by your name, give you your own buggy for going around, and bring you straight to your villa without you having to check-in—I love that freedom about the place.” The best part is, the buggies that visitors use to go around the island are solar-powered, one more way to live and stay sustainably on Amanpulo.
Stephanie comments that her visits to the island have had a huge effect on how she views true luxury. “Pure luxury is being able to forget what time of day it is, or to altogether forget time and remove yourself from ordinary life where everything is in hyperdrive,” she shares. “I think that nowadays, we tend to add too many things into our lives and somehow try to outdo each other. But Amanpulo has never tried to outdo. It just does and that’s enough.”
She is already looking forward to a second visit to the island before the year ends, filled with sunset walks and perhaps a rosé or a cold island-brewed beer in hand; or with activities (that her sons would love, like kite-surfing and island discovery) that teaches guests about birds, bayawaks (monitor lizards), marine life, as well as takes them star-gazing.
To future first-time visitors, she also has a few words of advice. “Be prepared to completely disengage from your daily life,” she says. “Take it all in and just be there.” As someone who has travelled extensively to local destinations, Stephanie hopes her fellow travellers, especially Filipinos, will remember to be mindful of their surroundings, beginning with getting to know the locals and what they like about their home communities; and continuing into being a responsible visitor. “I would say, bring around a tumbler to help the environment, but leave behind all of your judgments. As you would in a foreign country, walk, wait, sit in the sun. Look at everything with fresh eyes.”
Amanpulo is a stunning destination. By all accounts, simply stepping onto the island improves your perspective. The visuals alone are enough to beguile anybody to make their own promises to the earth—to interact more with the natural environment and to care for it, rather than merely expect it to cater to the need to get away. It is a relief to know that such a place exists—a peaceful, pristine paradise waiting to bring more travellers closer to nature.
A Beautiful Organic Garden
One more thing that makes Amanpulo special is the resort’s well-maintained organic farm, where vegetables, herbs, and spices are grown; harvested daily; and brought straight to the kitchens. The resort’s passion for keeping everything fresh and natural has led to the practice of authentic farm-to-table dining, inspired by the traditions of Italy and the experiences of the Aman Venice.
The kitchens serving Amanpulo’s five dining areas all have access to the resort’s inhouse organic garden and mushroom shed, as well as to local and artisanal suppliers from the neighbouring island of Manamoc, among others. As Amanpulo’s Instagram page will show, a visit to the greenhouses and other areas of the garden will also yield “a harvest of warm, welcoming smiles” from the gardeners, not to mention new lessons and an appreciation for the efforts that go into farm-to-table dining.
The organic garden at Amanpulo is a draw for both travellers and professionals alike. Its Executive Chef Andrea Torre, who gives great importance to understanding the source of the produce and the heritage of the dish, and who recently moved to Amanpulo, finds great joy and excitement in serving the resort’s discerning guests directly from the garden.
Perhaps the best showcase of farm-to-table living at Amanpulo is the special menu of eight Arva dishes that have recently been added to the list of offerings at the Beach Club, Amanpulo’s Mediterranean restaurant. These make use of fresh produce such as tomatoes, basil, lentils, and radicchio, purple yam, and much more that can all be found in Amanpulo’s greenhouses
A Hardworking Community
Amanpulo has shared its entire history with the neighbouring island of Manamoc. Working closely with the Andres Soriano Foundation, Amanpulo and Manamoc have put their efforts together to ensure that everybody on the island has a chance to pursue prosperity right in their home community. Before Amanpulo was built, Manamoc depended on two kinds of livelihood: fishing and seaweed farming. The island’s remote location also meant poor access to basic services like medical treatment, education, and transportation and, ultimately, a limit to local economic growth. But today, Manamoc is a bustling community that has been helped by, and regularly interacts with, Amanpulo in terms of work and learning opportunities.
Amanpulo currently runs twice-a-month learning programmes led by in-house practitioners. This includes a computer class for students of Manamoc National High School; a gardening masterclass that teaches island residents to grow their own food; and food and cooking lessons at Manamoc Elementary School. At the same time, Amanpulo encourages Manamoc’s youths to dream big and to develop themselves in order to bring long-term benefit back to the island. As it marks its 25th year, Amanpulo has launched a scholarship programme that will fund the university studies of one exceptional high-school student from Manamoc. Amanpulo hopes that this effort will open more doors and inspire the young people of the community.
Beyond that, Amanpulo and Manamoc are involved in protecting and conserving the terrestrial and marine ecosystem. Planting and maintaining mangrove forests are part of daily life, and twice-yearly coastal clean-up events are actively participated in by locals and resort guests, who understand that preserving the natural environment is the most essential activity on both islands.
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