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Special feature: Amanpulo, Palawan, Philippines

Palawan in the Philippines has recently rocketed to the top of many travellers’ wishlists after being consistently featured in several travel publications as “the best island in the world”. While it is only recently that this ecologically diverse region of Philippines has gained prominence, the world’s foremost luxury resort group Aman clearly recognised the beauty of Palawan back in 1993 when it opened Amanpulo on Pamalican Island in the northeast district of Palawan. Amanpulo Beach Seasoned travellers who have stayed in the Maldives, Caribbean, Fiji, Hawaii, Australia, Bora Bora and other exotic locations and who have also stayed at this acclaimed resort have proclaimed it “the best beach in the world” – and arriving and landing on the island’s private airstrip, it is easy to see why. Amanpulo aerial But the Aman experience naturally begins well before, at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport, where following immigration and customs, I am received by Aman’s airport representative and taken to the gate entrance where the car awaits. The car, stocked with refreshments, light snacks and WiFi, transports me to a private hangar where Aman’s lounge offers more of the same. From here, it is a short 1-hour ride in a twin-propeller plane. Pamalican Island is sandwiched in between Manamoc Island to the southwest and Quinluban Island to the northeast. The group of islands first appear as the plane descends, clearly visible with the distinct luminous mix of aquamarine and turquoise coral-fringed waters that disturb the otherwise deep blue. Amanpulo Villa Upon arrival and being greeted by the resort staff, I am shown my room – one of 29 Beach Casitas that line the southeast coast – with a selection of fresh fruits, canapes and juices awaiting as a welcome amenity, along with a carefully handwritten welcome note. There are a total of 40 rooms at Amanpulo sprinkled either around the beach or scattered among the forest that engulfs the middle of the island. Leading in from the Treetop Casitas, Hillside Casitas, Deluxe Hillside Casitas, Beach Casitas and Treetop Pool Casitas, for larger families there is a further selection of 1, 2 and 4-bedroom villas, each with private lap pools, dedicated housekeeping staff and a private chef. Amanpulo Beach Casita The casitas take inspiration from Filipino twin-roofed bahay kubo dwellings. The Beach Casitas offer direct access to a private section of the beachfront beyond the wooden sundeck, paved by sand and hammocks hanging between trees. The 68 square metre (732 square foot) Beach Casita is decorated in Aman’s signature understated elegant style. While the bedroom is perhaps a little too bare and shows its age in design, the Cebu marble bathrooms have been recently slightly refurbished and redecorated to modern standards, offering twin vanities and a standalone bathtub, separate toilet and shower, and ample room and space. But the rooms aren’t particularly designed to spend much time in, because the star of the show here is the beach. Amanpulo Bathroom The beach circumnavigates the 2 kilometre long by 500 metre wide island, and it is entirely possible to walk across the coastline, resulting in a gentle 90-minute walk. Due to the length and width of the island, each casita is supplied a golf buggy and two bicycles to use. But sometimes, it is easier to walk around the outside allowing for a casual stroll on the beach. The powder white, soft sand that is perfectly cool for a barefoot stroll even at the peak of day is a result of the high silica content that is pervasive throughout, and slopes gently into the turquoise waters. Amanpulo Beach With a starring beach and crystal clear waters, it is no surprise that snorkeling and diving at this resort is highly prized. Although it is possible to snorkel by the beach, unlike the Maldives, most of the coral is quite far from the coast and snorkeling and diving aficionados will prefer to take the boat to various snorkel and dive spots; Amanpulo runs two complimentary snorkeling trips a day, and all non-motorised water activities are free of charge for equipment hire. The southern tip of the island is home to a school of blacktip reef sharks. It is possible to snorkel and dive with a host of tropical fish, blue starfish, lobsters and giant sea turtles. The coral here, however, is not quite as colourful as other exotic snorkeling and diving spots worldwide. Amanpulo Beach Come sunset, I was invited to experience the Kawayan Bar – a private floating bamboo pontoon in the middle of the sea, replete with canapes and light snacks and a drink of your choice, prepared by the ever-ready attendant. The Kawayan Bar also offers the chance to feed fish using leftover bread at the resort. Amanpulo Kawayan Bar For the more actively inclined, the 30-metre main pool by the Clubhouse offers the chance for laps; artificial-turf tennis courts dot the island in pairs; there are several options for yoga, a well-equipped gym, and even the recently opened “Jungle Run” – a mini-bootcamp designed to weave in and out of the foliage of the forest. Amanpulo Clubhouse Pool Those who want to relax or laze around will also find plenty in the way of options: the shaded yet colourful bourgeanvilla trellises accompanied by sunbeds and sunloungers by the Clubhouse, a world-class spa and of course any section of the beach. Owing to the physical size of the island resort, there is also a West Villa Clubhouse which somewhat replicates the main Clubhouse with a smaller lap pool, and is easier to access for those staying at villas and casitas in the northwest sector of the island. Amanpulo Spa For a resort of its capacity, there are surprisingly ample dining options at Amanpulo. The Clubhouse, by the main pool, presents simple Southeast Asian- and Filipino-influenced fare, but also serves light Western cuisine. The Beach Club serves small plates and Spanish tapas, and is another sunset vantage point. The Lagoon Club, currently only open for dinner, serves Western grilled food, while Picnic Grove is a beautifully casual lunch spot with its pizza oven and lush setting just off the beach. Food at Amanpulo is of an exceptional standard, and particular highlights were the Filipino breakfast with longanissa, fried milk fish, garlic rice and eggplant salad for breakfast, mangrove crab and sushi for dinner at The Clubhouse Restaurant, the croquettes at The Beach Club and the filet mignon and salmon steak at The Lagoon Club. The meals were some of the most delicious I’ve had in my lifetime, and the resort retains the Aman simplicity of no-frills cuisine; simple home cooked food served in an elegant and pleasing manner. Amanpulo Lagoon Club The atmosphere at Amanpulo is serene, relaxed and appropriately casual, and the guest is always made to feel welcome, which is in large part due to Aman’s legendary service standard. Although the resort initially attracted more romantic couples owing to its location and romantic vibe, following the expansion and completion of the villa, it caters equally well to families with children of any age. Again, much of that is owed to the local staff, who are always smiling and more importantly always on point – from understanding preferences such as my companion requiring a glass of milk every morning, or preferring warm water even in the heat of summer, and never missing a beat and anticipating guest requests and desires with utmost sincerity and a wonderful smile. Amanpulo Sea Months after departing, on a gloomy day in the city, it is hard not to think back to the gentle breeze, the soft sand and the sound of the water at Amanpulo. Disclosure: Our stay was courtesy of Amanpulo.

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