Amanpulo. The legendary hotelier Adrian Zecha opened this resort in December 1993 on Pamalican, an island that’s barely an hour south of Manila by a Dornier 228 twin turboprop plane. The setting is so beguilingly intimate, there is literally room for just the one resort and a private airstrip. In the intervening quarter-century, the resort has come into its own with remarkable grace, while service remains unrivalled in terms of intuitive attentiveness and complete discretion.
Much of the credit for this agelessness is due to Filipino architect Bobby Manosa, who based his design for the 18 villas and 42 casitas on the bahay kubo, a traditional Filipino home that’s characterised by open peaked ceilings, shaded verandahs, and expansive interiors cooled by cross breezes flowing through strategically placed windows.
At Amanpulo, he also inserted hammocks strung between coconut palms and timber decks into the jungle greenery. He oriented each villa and casita towards the sea, sky and, in the case of the treetop casitas, the soaring forest canopy. At every turn, nature crowds in. The very air murmurs with the wind and the gentle chirrup of black-naped orioles.
Manosa’s recent spruce-up of the resort wins applause for its subtle surgical intrusions – a swatch of new fabric here, a freshly carved decorative wall feature there. Each touch successfully side-steps the mistake many grand dames make of cutting and stitching too much. After his ministrations, the rooms look and feel refreshed, especially resplendent in their luxurious king beds and outsized bathrooms.
Just in time, too, for the resort’s suite of new guest experiences. One is a late morning jaunt across the narrow Sulu Strait separating Pamalican and the neighbouring Manamoc island. Here, on a thin strip of sandbar, in the middle of the area’s largest lagoon, guests swim in crystalline water, or pick their way through a crowd of horseshoe and mangrove crabs.
Meanwhile, farther west in the main Palawan archipelago, a helicopter from Amanpulo descends onto the Jewelmer pearl farm in Taytay. Here, in the warm swirl of the Sulu Sea, the rare gold-lipped Pinctada Maxima oyster is carefully nurtured for its lustrous South Sea pearl. The all-access tour canvasses every step of the process, from hatchery to harvest, through to the grading, matching and setting of what will eventually become coveted jewellery.
And that evening, back in the warm embrace of Amanpulo and the afternoon’s retail haul of pearls tucked away in the room safe, dinner is served on the beach – a dizzying spread of barbecued lobsters, and fragrant shrimp salads.
“What are your plans for tomorrow?” a staff member asks as he sets a heaped platter of grilled kebabs on the white-linened table.
In the gathering stillness, the quiet is broken only by the soft wash of the lapping sea. High above, the stars blaze like iridescent talcum powder sprinkled on black velvet. Tomorrow? It’s hard to think that far ahead.