Atmosphere Resort & Spa - July 2014

As much as Australian summers are magical, Australian winters (especially in Melbourne) are pretty bleak. And when your birthday is in July, a tropical island getaway to celebrate isn't an option. 

So now we live in the Philippines, my birthday was the perfect excuse to pack up and head to Dumaguete on the island of Negros Oriental for a perfect mini break! 

Atmosphere Resort has become synonymous in the dive community as bringing the best of both worlds - some of the planet's best diving on it's doorstep, combined with luxury accommodation and dining. 

AJVB - cannot wait to get in the big blue. 

AJVB - cannot wait to get in the big blue. 


Matt & Gabrielle Holder started Atmosphere in 2009, and today the resort has 14 suites, 8 garden apartment and 4 penthouses built on a former coconut grove at the edge of the Bohol Sea. 

Wish you were here?

Wish you were here?

Our suite was close enough to the pool that we could enjoy fresh buko and watch the sunset just before kids bedtime.  

The weekend was idyllic - a cycle of swimming, eating, napping - and colouring!

And if all that becomes too taxing, book in for a treatment at the amazing Sanctuary Spa - bext Thai Massage i have had (counting massages in Thailand too!)

Every afternoon, at 4:30pm, the friendly staff ring the bell to annouce the start of Happy Hour - 90 minutes where staff and guests alike meet, talk about their day and get to know one another, whilst the kids can splash in the pool beside. 

The infamous bell! 

The infamous bell! 

The gift shop offers carefully selected pieces which serve as the perfect souvenier from your trip to this little slice of heaven. 

Special thanks go to Adam, Matt, Gaby and all the staff who went above and beyond to make our long weekend so wonderful. For more information on Atmopshere, go to  http://www.atmosphereresorts.com/ 

Baler, Aurora - November 2013

It's a jungle out there.

Not my urban jungle - a highrise amongst highrises in the heart of Makati city. The real thing - steamy, mysterious, primordial.

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A few weeks back after some San Miguels at the incredible Plantation Bar, a friend and I got talking about her childhood home. A place of mango orchards, palm trees and untouched beaches accessible only by foot. Waterfalls, giant trees and farmers living their lives as they had for generations before.  Even though she warned the drive was a long one, by the next day we had our bags packed and were ready for our first Pinoy jungle adventure.

Baler is located in Aurora province, located on the North East corner of Luzon. Since the opening of Costa Pacifica and other great resorts, the area is gaining more visitors, but prior to that it was a place beloved by local and international surfers alike.

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On the 9 hour drive (there is a road over  the mountains, and a road around them!)  I was astonished at the clean air, blue sky and rural surrounds you simply don't have in Metro manila. Carabaos, cows, and children playing in mountain streams made my home seem like another world.

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As we drew closer to our destination, I said to my husband "It looks like evey Vietnam War film ever made". And turns out I was right.  During the 1970s and 1980s, the Philippines untouched jungle and countryside made it a favourite for directors such as Oliver Stone (Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July), John Irvin (Hamburger Hill) and Francis Ford Coppola. 

His iconolastic war materpiece Apocalypse Now was filmed primarily in the Philippines. The famous helicopter attack scene, known for its lines "I love the smell of Napalm in the morning" and "Charlie don't surf" were filmed around Baler Bay and an isolated beach now known amongst locals as Charlie's Point. 

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This magnficient spot is only accessible through rice fields and jungle. It is strewn with driftwood, has the occasional hut and of course, lots and lots of coconuts.

We stayed at the wonderful Azbahaen Leisure Resort & Farm where we treated like family. For three days we swam, ate and basked in the jungle sun. An enormous thank you to everyone there who made our stay so wonderful.

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Manila Hotel - October 2013

I'll admit it, I adore grand old hotels. The feeling of history, wondering who spoke with who, what whispers were uttered in the lobby and rooms - these buildings seem to breathe.

My intention was to combine these photos into a blog post about Manila Bay, but after learning the history of the Philippines first luxury hotel, I knew it must stand alone.  

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Celebrating its centenary last year, the Manila Hotel has been the host of war rooms, grand parties, a century's worth of international celebrities and was the location of key political turning points in Filipino history; the Japanese occupation, the seizure of the site during the Marcos' dictatorship, and of course the home of American General Douglas MacArthur for six years.

During his time as Military Adviser to the Philippine Commonwealth, MacArthur occupied the penthouse of the hotel. This has since been recreated with his original furnishings on the fifth floor. Not only is this floor a museum, but it's also a fully operational hotel room, complete with 24 hour butler service. 

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The details in this building were captivating - to the massive Doric columns in the main entrance to the palm leaf motif going through the stairwells... and the boardroom in the Presidential Suite was bigger than some apartments I've lived in.  

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The hotel has it's own "trophy room" if you like, filled with photographs and memorabilia collected over the decades. The Beatles, Ernest Hemingway and JFK were all guests, as well as HRH Prince Charles - there's proof! 

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During the Marocs Regime, First Lady Imelda Marcos was often seen dining in the Hotel's restaurants. Red carpets, garlands of flowers and perfumed air made the hotel an international destination for celebrities and politicians.  

Speaking of restaurants, the hotel has recently opened Cafe Ilang Ilang, complete with 8 cooking stations offering an international smorgasbord. You really can't fault a buffet where servers shuck oysters as soon as you order them, and even peel your prawns if you don't want to chip a nail.  

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Of course, even though the worst of rainy season is thankfully past, it poured just as i was beginning lunch. So... fingers crossed next time i can share with you the spectacular sunset over Manila Bay.  

JB x

Antonio's Tagaytay - August 2013

It seems as soon as you mention to locals and ex-pats alike you are visiting Tagaytay on the weekend, the immediate response is "You HAVE to go to Antonio's". Indeed, this restaurant founded by Chef Tony Boy Escalante in 2002, is synonymous with the region, and seems to be as famous as Taal Volcano.

I sound informed, don't I? Well, I wasn't. Truth be told, I didn't really understand what Antonio's would be like. After a stroll in the People's Park (me in a summer dress,  Husband in a tee and jeans), we asked our driver to stop off at Antonio's so we could "grab a quick bite".

After driving around in circles for around 45 minutes, we finally turned down a long, leafy driveway, eventually stopping at an immense gate. After being asked very cordially if we had a reservation (we ummed, ahhed and generally looked pathetic) we were eventually allowed to enter the gates to speak with the immaculately presented servers at the main restaurant. Apologetically, pleadingly, we asked if at all possible, we could have a quick lunch, pretty please. We were answered with warm smiles and shown directly to a table for two overlooking the verandah. 

 

Chandeliers in the trees and beautiful reclaimed brick footpaths

Chandeliers in the trees and beautiful reclaimed brick footpaths

Antonio's offers an amazing set lunch menu, whereby you choose a main and dessert, and your entree is served to match the main. Interestingly, Antonio's refers to what we would think of as a main as "Entree", and the entree in the traditional sense is a salad. We were both served Antonio's house salad with whipped Roquefort cheese and raspberry vinaigrette, served with a cheeky Chardonnay for me and a Malbec for Husband.

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And now, for the most important part - what we ate! 

L: The Seafood Sampler. R: Herbed Roasted Rack of Lamb with Cardamom Beurre Blanc

L: The Seafood Sampler. R: Herbed Roasted Rack of Lamb with Cardamom Beurre Blanc

L: Flourless Chocolate Cake. R: Passionfruit Pavlova

L: Flourless Chocolate Cake. R: Passionfruit Pavlova

The meal was completed with coffee and a glass of home-made limoncello.

In summary, my opinion is thus: The food? Flawless. The service? Flawless. The surrounds? Flawless.

Antonio's is both gastronomically & aesthetically world class, and I cannot wait to go again to celebrate a special occassion.  

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