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The otherworld of Balesin

10/09/2013 | By: Pola E. del Monte, High Life Staff Writer

THERE is so much beauty in the world that only a privileged few can see. In a secluded private island in Quezon, less than half an hour by air, colossal Mediterranean-style hotels and petite cafés -- in the enticing colors of butter, strawberries, whipped cream and the sea -- dot a French village called St. Tropez, whose white-sand coast rolls down to the seaside of other areas inspired by (and named after) the beach capitals of the world.

The royal blue and pure white Cycladic cubic architecture of the Mykonos village is festive with the beats of a cosmopolitan nightlife and the aroma of a delicious Greek fare in the balmy air. A horse-drawn-carriage-ride away is Costa del Sol, an enclave of sultry two-story Spanish Mediterranean-style casas that gaze upon the sands and waves at their feet. From there, chauffeured golf carts can transport tourists to native Asian villages where Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines unveil their restful oriental sunset.

This is the wonder of Alphaland’s Balesin Island Club: the world’s best tourist destinations converging in a paradise 60 nautical miles east of Manila. It is a private sanctuary of the select and privileged, a quick 25-minute private jet ride from its hangar along Andrews Avenue. Despite its proximity to Metro Manila, the island remains “a world completely unto itself.”

PRIVATE ENCLAVE

The 500-hectare tropical island paradise boasts 7.3 kilometers of pristine white sand beaches and seven themed villages inspired by world-class beach destinations: Balesin, Bali, Phuket, St. Tropez, Mykonos, Costa del Sol, and the soon-to-be-finished Toscana. The development occupies only five hectares or 10% of the island, which retaining most of its natural splendor.

The exclusive Club started selling membership shares back in 2011 and share prices have been steadily appreciating since. Members are given 14 free nights in any of its villages, where they can recline by the landscaped pools and gormandize at authentic specialty restaurants with a breathtaking view of the ocean. They may endorse non-members as their guests.

Though tucked away from the metropolis, the private island is brimming with a full set of facilities: lounges, restaurants, a game room, souvenir and sundries shop, a library, screening room, cigar divan, KTV rooms, mahjong and poker rooms, a hair salon and barber shop, Wii room and internet gaming room, business center, medical clinic, sports center, and a beautiful open-air chapel. A 200-strong operations team is ready to give 24/7 assistance to members, even if there are just four of them on the island. To maintain safety, payment for goods and services can be made only through credit card.

Balesin Island Club limits the number of cars for use on the island. However, whisking across seven villages in a 500-hectare island is a breeze with the on-call chauffeurs on golf carts (or jeepneys for larger groups). Members may also choose to walk, ride a horse, or rent a mountain bike to get around. The Club has a private plane on standby for any emergency.

TOP-NOTCH DESTINATIONS

“Bonjour,” greets balmy St. Tropez with its palm-lined driveway, tres chic Mediterranean architecture and Provençal artistry. In this village, members can enjoy panoramic sea views of the Pacific Ocean from their balconies while a large-lagoon style swimming pool lures for some afternoon soaking. French delicacies are served at the St. Tropez restaurant with options like Escargot a la Bourguignonne and Coq Au Vin.

Mykonos, the location of the battle between Zeus and the Titans in Greek mythology, stands in stark contrast to the other Balesin Villages. Its whitewashed houses with blue windows and doors transport members to the Greek isles instantly. A sea cliff view, narrow winding streets, open air deck with bars and whirlpools draws members in for cocktails. Mykonos village is famous for the authentic Greek delicacies like lamb ribs and chops.

The regal, old Spain-inspired Costa del Sol village has the largest villas in the entire island. The Spanish casas are two-stories high, with beds on each floor, furnished with exquisite wood work, chandeliers and mosaic tiles. The village serves a myriad of Spanish gourmet dishes, among them, the famous tapas.

Yet the Phuket, Bali and Balesin villages remain the most enigmatic, evoking the serenity and romantic tranquility that Asian beaches are known for after all. They were constructed on the side with the best view of the sunset. The villas in these villages are said to be more popular because of the cool, relaxing atmosphere.

LUXURIOUS LEISURE

Alphaland Corp. is chaired by former trade minister and the Philippines’ 14th richest man, Roberto Ongpin.

With the kind of demographic that Balesin Island Club set out to attract -- high-profile and well-traveled people -- Ongpin knew that the P4-billion development required a special kind of eye. He commissioned architect Rico Sison, with whom he has a 20-year working relationship (the pair ‘s first project together was Tagaytay Highlands), to design the facilities and landscape of the luxury island. Mr. Sison was sent to all seven places, where he spent soaking days soaking in the sights.

Needless to say, the commissioning was a success. The seven villages remained faithful to their inspirations because of the accuracy in detail, starting with the paints, which were custom-designed by Boysen and applied by expert artists, up to the marvelous flourishes carved by Ifugao tribesmen who were exposed to the furniture of other cultures.

Each of the seven villages has a restaurant serving specialty cuisine: Filipino, Indonesian, Thai, Greek, French, Spanish, and Italian. Seafood specialties are served fresh from aquaculture around Balesin Island. For the sourcing of other ingredients, Balesin has its own organic farm abounding with poultry and vegetation, but a number of food items require to be flown in fresh via jet three times a week (raw fish is sourced from Japan, for example).

“You can’t have a multi-star resort without the proper food that goes along with it,” said Island Director and CEO Michael Asperin. “What we did is to really get the best,” he added. To prepare for culinary delights served in Mykonos, Balesin flew in Chef Thansis Koumpradis, who is said to own the best restaurant in the Greek island of Rhodes. Koumpradis spent a month with Balesin’s staff, teaching them the secrets of Greek cuisine.

Meanwhile, the kitchen of the St. Tropez restaurant is led by Chef Sau del Rosario, who spent seven years in France and other countries, working as Executive Chef in several well-known Parisian and Côte d’Azur restaurants, including the Jules Verne, Le Divellec -- both Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris -- and the Restaurant L’Univers in Nice, also a Michelin-starred restaurant. Previously a Balesin exclusive, restaurant Sakura by Chef Edo San saw a recent expansion in Manila so that his guests do not need to fly to the island to have a bite of his superb Japanese food -- a testimony to the dishes’ delectability.

‘TOTALLY BALESIN’

Mr. Asperin reveals that the Club is investing greatly in architecture, food and hospitality because they want “to create a culture that is ‘totally Balesin.’” He leads the 200-person entourage of hospitality staff that go through rigorous continuous training under Mr. Asperin’s strict “one-strike policy.” “We have to make sure that all employees, when they join us, know what this, Balesin, is all about. Our expectation is that they deliver equal to the standard, or better.”

Indeed, what makes Balesin remarkable is how it merges the best of both worlds -- the finest destinations in Europe and Asia, and the warmest hospitality in the world -- in a singular experience. Balesin lures and begs never to be forgotten, from 60 nautical miles away and beyond.