Or why you wish you were quarantined among the many secrets of the Boholanos, Amorita or little darling included
I was on Panglao Island in Bohol when the Philippine government declared a new round of strict quarantines in the National Capital Region and surrounding provinces like Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal. My last day was no less quick, frantic, and hurried than the flight for exile before a revolution, although in hindsight why didn’t I think of purposely having myself marooned on the island indefinitely or at least through Holy Week?
I was at Amorita Resort, in a pool villa with a king-sized bed, a patio, and a plunge pool, nestled in a 120-square-meter lush garden. It would have been perfect for the week of contemplation encouraged during Holy Week and then necessitated by the reimposed lockdown on account of the COVID-19 surge. In a quiet corner of Panglao Island, the award-winning luxury resort is perched on a limestone cliff overlooking Bohol Sea and descending on one side to Alona Beach, the one-kilometer-long stretch of beach famous for its white, powdery sand and rocky cliffs and its bounty of corals and reef fishes. But Panglao, with its sinkholes, its dive spots, its caves, of which the most famous is Hinagdanan Cave, is only one jewel in the crown that is Bohol.
Bohol is underrated. When people abroad ask me where they should go in the Philippines, it is almost always top of mind for me. That’s because I’ve had some of the best adventures in my travel memories there.
One early morning, on a boat trip to the Virgin Island, I was looking at a rainbow over Bohol Sea and it took me a while to realize I wasn’t the only one in awe of the spectrum of buoyant colors in the sky. Surrounding me were hundreds of dolphins—hundreds!—like cars during morning rush hour on EDSA.
In Bohol, I’ve had the privilege of snorkeling over not one sea turtle, the sight of which is privilege enough, but three or four or more on the sea bed 20 meters below me. In waters so clear, schools of fish in neon and rainbow colors appeared floating in empty space and, like the sea turtles, each the size of a small car beneath them, they moved at a pace and in a way that, as in a slow-motion film, I found mesmerizing and meditative.
Bohol is a bounty of adventures. While I am no stranger to waterfalls, it was only in Bohol that I felt what it was like to be inside a waterfall, the water raging, rushing, pouring down on me from 60 feet overhead. It was the Can-Umantad Falls in Candijay that was once off limits to tourists because it was once infested with rebels.
In a quiet corner of Panglao Island, the award-winning luxury resort is perched on a limestone cliff overlooking Bohol Sea and descending on one side to Alona Beach, the one-kilometer-long stretch of beach famous for its white, powdery sand and rocky cliffs and its bounty of corals and reef fishes.
There’s more to Bohol, beyond the Chocolate Hills, beyond the tarsier, beyond the fireflies. For one, jumping into any of the sinkholes brimming with waters that sparkle like sapphires on the less traveled roads to Quinale Beach in Anda on the eastern coast is an experience many of us still dream of.
But this year, just a week before Holy Week, I was only there, upon the invitation of my friend Ferdi Salvador, for a dinner, the fourth edition of Amorita Resort’s culinary program, BEats (Bohol Eats), featuring a collaboration with Manila’s powerhouse chef and entrepreneur Florabel Co-Yatco in observance of National Women’s Month. It was the first time Amorita brought in someone from outside Bohol for BEats. The first few editions put the spotlight on local heritage restaurants like Bougainvillea and Sisa, as well as on Amorita’s very own chef, Sarah Melgar, who prepared a fantastic four-course dinner with duck cooked two ways as the main course.
“BEats is our way of elevating the food experience in Bohol,” explained Amorita GM Leeds Trompeta. “What started as a local pop-up event to help out other good restaurants in Bohol grew into a passion project featuring other world-class dishes, such as Chef Florabel’s, to our guests. By organizing BEats, we were able to support other restaurants that might have suffered during the pandemic, introduce the local products and produce of Bohol, and educate our guests with the cuisine and the produce the province has to offer.”
Chef Florabel, nicknamed “Chef to the Stars,” was a perfect choice to level up BEats. Hers is a life in food, a main event for her family, whether cooking or eating it. She has amassed years of hard work in the kitchen replicating the comforts and the flavors of the food she grew up with and, as a result, she now has a growing list of reputable restaurants in Metro Manila, including Crisostomo, Elias, Corazon, and the eponymously named Florabel.
With all health, sanitation, and social distancing protocols in place, the dinner in Bohol, like the previous editions of BEats, was a success, held at Amorita’s acclaimed Saffron Restaurant, an open structure that extends on its side to an infinity pool and Bohol Sea beyond and to the surrounding gardens.
The chief mission of BEats is to help the local food community, particularly the farmers, the fishermen, and other food producers. Despite her exacting standards, Chef Florabel did not lose sight of the mission. Her menu, which included sunset cocktail pica-pica of kare-kare on prawn crackers, spicy tuna on crispy nori, and chicharon curls with nata de coco, incorporated a lot of local produce. All the main vegetables, herbs, seafood, and fruits used in every course of the menu—the baked kesong puti and nuts in filo pastry served with assorted greens in aged balsamic vinaigrette for salad, free-range chicken binakol, a Bohol dish, with lemongrass and malunggay for soup, and grilled tiger prawn served with pasta in crab fat sauce with basil and roast US Angus ribeye in soy calamansi sauce served with mashed sweet potato and native vegetables for the mains—were sourced in Bohol. For dessert, Chef Florabel served Bohol tablea and peanut butter torte with Philippine mangoes.
Amorita Resort COO Lyba Godio more than oohed and ahhed over Chef Florabel’s take on the culinary program. “With BEats, we saw the opportunity of ticking off all the boxes: helping our surrounding community, providing our team with additional means of income, and providing our guests with a one-of-a-kind experience during their stay,” she said.
On offer at the resort, if you are looking for a trip after our suspended Holy Week vacation plans, is what Amorita calls Romantic Rendezvous, a four-night package in a pool villa, one romantic dinner, and a free RT-PCR test for guests coming from Manila in partnership with Hero Laboratories. This intimate escape for two starts at P60,000++, inclusive of daily breakfast, roundtrip airport transfers, and other resort amenities.
Also available is the resort’s Hello Sunshine full-board package. Starting at P30,000++ for two nights, this blissful package includes daily breakfast at Saffron and free lunch and dinner with drinks during the entire stay.
In my conversation with Leeds, he spoke to me about micro moments or happiness in increments. I told him life, with or without the pandemic, is like just that. Everything we experience, happy or sad, good or bad, is only a moment in time.
Amorita is perfect for those who relish solitude, which is best spent in any one of the resort’s 82 suites or 16 villas, its two infinity pools, its gym, or, later when it is allowed to open, the Sea Tree Spa. Apart from Saffron, which specializes in authentic Filipino heritage cuisine, dining facilities include the sophisticated Tomar Restaurant, which offers delectable tapas, wine, and whiskey, and the innovative Turchino, which serves a modern twist on classic Italian dishes.
But only a 10-minute drive from Panglao International Airport, Amorita is also the perfect jump-off to the wonderland that is the rest of Bohol. I believe there is so much more in Bohol, the gallantry and goodwill of its people, for instance, or more of its heritage cuisine, than we speak of now whenever we say it’s more fun in the Philippines.
Call Amorita Resort at (038) 532 9002 or 0917 726 4526. www.amoritaresort.com