I’d already heard about Balesin Island, off the eastern coast of Luzon, since way back in high school from my classmate Anthony Tordesillas whose father, the late Board of Investment Head Edgardo Tordesillas, acquired the island from Felipe “Baby” Ysmael in 1967, and set about building tourism facilities on the island. A chance encounter with Anthony after high school elicited an invitation to visit the island with him but for reasons I can’t recall, I wasn’t able to join him. After Anthony’s passing in 2012, I thought the opportunity to visit this now members-only, private leisure getaway, now called Balesin Island Club, has finally passed me by.
That is, until my wife Grace and her boss Engr. Loy Ganzon were invited to a wedding there as godparents. We gladly joined them. From the Alphaland Aviation Lounge in Manila, we got to Balesin via a short 25-minute flight on board their 68-seater ATR 72-100, landing at the island’s aptly named E.L. Tordesillas Airport. From the Welcome Center, we were all brought to our respective villas via air-conditioned vans.
The island’s name is a combination of two Filipino words: balete (local name for a banyan tree) and asin (local word for “salt”). Now Alphaland Corp.’s flagship project, Balesin Island Club is a 500-hectare, 5 kilometer long tropical island paradise with 7.3 kilometers of pristine white-sand beaches. Around 10 percent of the island has been developed to create this award-winning luxury resort.
Balesin, master planned by EcoPlan of Miami, Florida, USA, to optimize ecological sustainability, was meticulously designed to be in perfect harmony with its natural surroundings.
With the enhancement of everything in its environment uppermost in their mind without scrimping on luxurious, top-notch facilities, Alphaland adapted the “Three Pillar Innovation”—People, Planet and Profit.
They reduced the amount of waste and ensured sustainable development via island-wide rain water harvesting (runoff from the 1.5-km. airport runway provides over 100 million liters of water annually), 80 percent water recycling (for landscaping during the summer), reverse osmosis plant, on-site eco-friendly transportation, organic farming and alternative sources of energy. The island’s coral reefs were also managed for diving and sustainable fishing. During the 14th United Nations World Tourism Organization Awards, the resort nabbed second place for Innovation and Excellence in Tourism—the first in the history of the Philippines.
A world completely unto itself, this beauty of an island has seven themed villages patterned and inspired from the most alluring, world-class luxury beach destinations where everything—from architecture, interior design, landscaping and food—is recreated: Balinese for Bali Village, Greek for Mykonos Village, French (Riviera) for Saint Tropez Village, Spanish for Costa del Sol, Filipino at Balesin Village, Italian (Tuscany) at Toscana Village and Thai for Phuket Village.
We all stayed at the latter. Our villa had a jacuzzi plus an outdoor deck with daybed, lounge chairs and tables, all facing a white-sand beach and the sunset. As we just stayed on the island for three days, we didn’t get to experience all the different cuisine the island had to offer but we did get to try breakfast at Balesin Sala (Balesin Village) and the Main Clubhouse (the centerpiece of the resort together with the state-of-the-art wellness facility), Spanish cuisine for lunch at Casa Grande (Costa del Sol) and, for dinner, Thai cuisine at Sawadee (Phuket Village) and Japanese cuisine at Sakura (Main Clubhouse).
A scheduled afternoon tour, this time via an air-conditioned bus, took us around the island, visiting each of the themed villages, the 14-suite Balesin Royal Villa (situated on a bluff with a view of Lamon Bay), the Family Picnic Grove and Organic Farm (where seafood and organic produce, for the restaurants, are cultivated at specially made fish pens and greenhouses, respectively), the Aviary (where we had intimate encounters with some exotic birds), and the Chapel across it (where the wedding was to take place).
Aside from beaches, all the themed villages have swimming pools. My favorite is the dramatic indoor/outdoor Poseidon pool at Mykonos Village, with its infinity pool looking out into the ocean. Nearby are two outdoor jacuzzis. Aside from the air-conditioned vans, jeepneys and buses, the resort also uses electric golf carts to go around the island to reduce its carbon footprints.