Saturday, December 06, 2008

Finding Happiness at Alegre Beach Resort

In gay lingo, there is the phrase “Alona Alegre,” after the eighties sexy starlet, meaning alone. It describes my state when I stayed in Alegre Beach Resort, a posh getaway at the northeastern part of Cebu, not a very favorable thing especially with an aching heart and in a somber weather. Cold drizzle fell during my stay in late April, jabbing at my loneliness and doubts. The place’s honeymoon feel seemed to foment uneasiness. I often enjoyed solitude and serenity. Still involved in a trying affair, I was reacquainting myself with the sweetness of solitude, now in an exquisite setting.
Alegre is Spanish for “happiness,” so I tried to find it. I knew that it can be found in little things as much as in grand things—little things like dainty flowers on the bed and on the table, dewdrops on grass, the smell of old books and fresh soap, a faint smile, the softness of pillows and beds, a tiny seashell on the shore, the taste of a new dish with makopa, an old song, the fresh scent of rain, the falling of dried leaves on a windy day, the sight of an unfamiliar bird straying to the verandah, etc., and grand things like a spectacular sunset, a stretch of white-sand beach, a well-appointed room with spacious bathroom and bathtub all for yourself, etc. They may not solve problems but their beauty, if we can perceive and appreciate it, inspires us and invigorates to go on. There are many happinesses.

Alegre Beach Resort seems to have all the instruments for and embodiments of happiness. I opened the doors of my room, well-equipped, tasteful and promising an enjoyable stay. The wooden floors are polished and felt good on the feet. The furnishings were made of woven palms leaves or vines or had woven accents. The two beds were nice and comfortable. The room had amenities befitting a five-star resort— satellite television with in-house movies, tea and coffee maker, an in-room safe, IDD telephone, individually controlled air-conditioning system, a mini bar, among others. At the other end of the room was the spacious bathroom, a delight. The bathtub sat at the middle.

I let myself fall on the bed, smelled the clean bed sheet and hugged a large pillow, imbibing the serenity and the plushiness. Every now and then, I looked at the door and the verandah that opened to the view of the sky and sea.
Mostly I stayed this cocooned during my stay and roamed the resort premises. I did not venture out, uncharacteristic of me, especially being first time in this part of the Visayan island. Maybe I felt unadventurous or lazy. Alegre is located in the barangay of Calumboyan, a rather remote part of Sogod. There is a long trek out to the highway or town center. I procrastinated venturing out and ultimately reserved exploring Sogod to another trip.
“There is an attractive hot spring nearby, several waterfalls, a cottage industry producing woven products as well as other handicrafts, the local market with seafood products, several Old Spanish churches…” Alegre’s German-Austrian general manager Fritz Kahler enumerated the interesting sites in the area.
I could imagine them. Alegre’s “unusual” location is an attraction to me. In Cebu, most resorts clustered in or around the capital, Cebu City, and the nearby island of Mactan, including a Shangri-La property, the Plantation Bay Resort and Spa, the Pulchra Resort, the Hilton Resort and Spa, and the Maribago Bluewater Resort, all well-known. Resorts also are flourishing in the southern part of the province where there are numerous dive spots, the town of Moalboal in particular. There also is the beautiful Badian Island Resort and Spa in Badian, most well-known and posh among them.
The resorts in the city and in Mactan enjoy accessibility with the Mactan International Aiport just several minutes away. On the other hand, Sogod is about 80 kilometers away, about one-and-a-half hour drive.
“It seems to be a disadvantage [being in Sogod] when talking to travel agents due to the ‘long travel,’ but once guests travel [to the resort] they are generally enjoying the trip. We try to place emphasis on the fact that you get to see an interesting part of the island such as the fishing villages, the old Spanish churches etc.,” Kahler admitted.
“Most important is the natural white-sand beach. This is where Sogod got its name,” Kahler pointed to the one good quality of the town. “South of Sogod, all the sand is black.”
Kahler has been with Alegre Beach Resort for three years now and had been in the Philippines since 1978. “I have lived in the Philippines before, have a Filipina as my wife so I am traveling in and out for about 30 years,” he related.
Born in Klagenfurt, Austria, Kahler had been posted in many countries. Before Alegre, he “came from setting up a resort in Shenzhen, China, and “prior to that I was managing hotels and resorts in Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore among others.”
“I worked for ten years for Shangri-La and 15 years for InterContinental Hotels,” he added.
Also, he was the general manager of the Punta Baluarte InterContinental in Calatagan, Batangas, and the Davao Insular Hotel from 1978 to 1982.
“I had been to Cebu many times but am a bit disappointed how polluted and dirty it has become. Too much traffic and no solutions in sight,” Kahler lamented but added, “While Cebu is really the second largest city in the Philippines, it is in a way relatively small, and therefore despite heavy traffic one doesn’t spend hours stuck in traffic unlike in Manila. I go regularly to Manila; have been to Baguio, Boracay, Hundred Islands; traveled by car from Manila to Cebu, Davao, Batangas.”
Still, “the friendliness and smile of the people, the fact that they all speak English” made a good impression on the hospitality executive, perhaps enough to have a Filipina wife, Cynthia Valmonte, whom he met at Punta Baluarte while she was the food and beverage manager there.
Still, whenever he can he goes to the city to “try other restaurants and wines I haven’t tried before.” This he does during spare time if not listening to music, reading and playing golf and tennis, but “there isn’t so much time off since I live inside the resort,” he averred.
It may not be a very bad thing since the 17-year-old resort is lovely, an attraction itself despite the disadvantage of distance. You can go all the way only for the resort itself.
Alegre Beach Resort nestles on a slope that goes down to three coves with white sand. The whole property is actually 27 hectares, only seven hectares of which are developed. The developed area is beautifully landscaped with lush gardens.
“Its spacious layout offers privacy to its guests. Beautiful gardens with numerous flowering plants and trees complement the overall concept,” Kahler said.
Amidst the gardens are the accommodations—large huts they call cabanas. There are 19 of them, handsome with thick grass roof. Each has two separate rooms, totaling to 38.
“Alegre uses local and Spanish design features,” Kahler further explained. “Materials used are mainly from the area such as cogon, wood, etc, and the accommodation is spacious offering high-class comfort indoors and outdoors on the verandahs.”

The rooms can be called modern rustic. It is not the rustic in the sense that they are rough and plain. It is the kind that ensouls modern luxury. In the room, I loved the things that surrounded me. In the bathroom, I sniffed the soap that looked like a bar of white chocolate and smelled of peppermint candy. I almost ate it. The bathtub was strewn with flower petals, waiting for warm water and a warm body. I deemed a bath too luxurious for me at the moment. I opted to wander about.
The cabanas are connected by narrow paths made of coral stone and limestone, with thick and tall hedges bordering them. Sometimes, my walk took some time; I often stopped and looked at the fossils. The path goes to different cabanas, to the spa, to the three coves, to the restaurant, to the main reception area.
The Alegre Spa, once a guest cabana converted into the Serenity Cabana overlooking Talisay Beach, is of Zen Oriental design with hand-painted walls and embellished with handicrafts and tapestries from Indonesia. It offers massages, body wraps, body scrubs, facials and indulgences packages.
The three coves are named Talisay, Crescent and Fisherman’s with white sand and beach lounges with cobalt-blue cushions. The largest, Talisay, has the Cliff Seafood BBQ and Bar, also with a roof of dried grass, offering cocktails and beer, salads and freshly grilled meats and seafood catch of the day. Chairs and tables are set under the talisay trees with music, the Latin and reggae types, softly melding with the splashing of the shore.
At Fisherman’s Cove, the aqua sports center offer diving paraphernalia, diving tours and water activities. The list of diving sites in northern Cebu proves to be exciting—coral gardens, shipwrecks, a wreck of a lighthouse, and the marine sanctuary, which is maintained by the resort right at their marine doorstep.
“[The resort’s] owners are the Pathfinder Corporation, based in Manila and Hong Kong. Owners are divers hence the special emphasis on a dive station,” Kahler informed.
Non-divers can opt for snorkeling, kayaking, banana boating, Jet-skiing, plain boating, cruising, fishing and bird watching.
The sunset cruise and dolphin watching offer is particularly interesting. Bottle-nosed and long-snouted spinner dolphins are commonly spotted. Sometimes melon-headed and pilot whales show up. You can have island adventures to the Camotes, Calanggaman, Quatro Islas, Capitancillo and Olango, a bird sanctuary, which has restaurants on stilts in the barangay of Caw-oy. Olango Island is the destination for bird-watchers with the largest concentration of migratory birds found in the country, 48 out of the 77 species in the East Asian Migratory Flyway. This is aside from the 42 resident bird species. For fishing, one can expect to catch trevally, jacks, barracudas, groupers, snappers and mullets. From November to February, there are the additional Spanish mackerel, wahoo, bonito, mahi-mahi and small tuna species.
Alegre Beach Resort also offers a host of non-water tours and activities. Aside from the one-hole putting green of Alegre, the resort can take golfer guests to Mercedes Golf Course in Dayhagon, Medellin, and Club Filipino in Pulangyuta, Danao City. Their wives can have a shopping spree in Cebu City. There is a gift shop inside the resort, by the way.
On Sunday, the resort can take the religious to Sogod’s church and the non-religious to the cockfight at the town proper. The urban excursionist has a tour of Cebu City, while the outdoorsy types can have biking and trekking trips. Biking from Calumboyan to the town of Borbon is recommended. There is a tennis court for the Agassi wannabe. Indoor games and board games can be had at the game room. Look for interesting reads in its library. The resort also put up cultural shows. There are many diversions.

The conference rooms and the business center are for those who meant, well, business. They are at the airy, grass-roofed main reception hall with a chandelier made of a big wheel. It overlooks a 47-meter swimming pool with two children’s pools, which in turn overlook the Camotes Sea.
At one end of the resort is a gazebo overlooking the sea. The afternoon I stumbled on it, it was set up for a private romantic dinner. Bougainvillea blossoms were strewn on the path and the floor. The posts were adorned with fern leaves. The balls of light were on and the table carefully arranged. Someone will propose, I surmised.
There have been weddings here—“several dream weddings where guests from all over the world rented the whole resort for several days, an unforgettable way to get married,” Kahler recounted.
Beside the swimming pool is the resort’s main dining place, the Pavilion, an old but charming restaurant perched on a cliff. Its executive chef Martin Przewodnik oversees the preparation of Filipino, Asian and international dishes with pizza, pasta and seafood. There is a healthy “spa menu” and the chef’s specially selected items, slowly cooked in their wood-fired brick oven. Requiring advance order, the special items include baked fish of the day, U.S. beef top blade or pork leg in clay, and barbecued fish of the day, U.S. beef top blade or pork leg in banana trunk.
There is the regular buffet, which I largely partook. My food diary, April 25, 2008, entry listed mushroom salad, crabmeat and corn soup, rice salad, roasted potatoes, shrimp sisig Alegre style, chicken baked in tomato and pesto, macopa salad, chocolate cherry cake and seasonal fruits. The following night was largely Filipino—seafood sinigang, grilled liempo and parrotfish and kaldereta. There was my comment: “Delicious!”
During dinner, a band serenaded diners, who are mostly couples. I am okay with dining alone, but the though of people wondering about my solitude made my uneasy. I communed with my food, the flickering flame on the table and the night.
If not preoccupied with anything, I noted the other guests. Kahler said that Filipinos form three-fifth of their clientele and the rest are foreigners. “The Philippine nationals, either residing here or balikbayans,” he said. “Second is the Japanese, then the Koreans followed by Russians and others.”
“Local guests are mostly families, many for reunions, and balikbayans,” Kahler explained. “From the Korean market, it’s honeymooners. From the Japanese market, it’s mostly families as well as honeymooners. From Hong Kong, we get families who either purely come to relax or go diving and to play golf.”
All of course are in pursuit of happiness. Happiness though is always of the hedonistic kind. Pleasure can be derived from helping others and doing something for the community, which the resort itself also pursues.
“Alegre is firstly a very eco-friendly resort,” Kahler said. “It recycles all water for use in the gardens, collects rainwater for use in the laundry, staff accommodation and engineering, heats water for the kitchen using the excess heat of its pizza oven, grows organic vegetables and produces its own compost from leaves and grass.”
One manifestation of the resort’s ecological endeavor is the maintenance of a marine sanctuary, with a coral reef recovery and desiltation program that aims to preserve and protect the reef ecosystem and restore the biodiversity of the area. According to Kahler, it is a milestone for Algere, this “successful creation of our marine sanctuary, which contributed to a healthy increase in the fish population, which not only made the resort more attractive to guests but assists local fisherman in increasing their catch.”
Kahler further said, “Secondly, [the resort has] responsibility to the community. It supports community projects year round and subsidizes two schools. Thirdly, Alegre supports schools with a hospitality curriculum by accepting its students on a regular basis, training suitable candidates from the base up and hiring suitable candidates whenever a position is available. Promotion from within is a policy.”
I left Alegre Beach Resort very early morning. It was still dark, but we began our drive to the airport, passing by still sleeping towns, beautiful in their desolation. I did not think of the meaning of the name Alegre and instead had an image of Alegre as a place of quiet wonder.

Getting There
Several airlines travel to Cebu daily, landing at the Mactan International Airport. From the airport, Alegre is about 80 kilometers away (90 minutes by car). From Cebu City, Alegre is 66 kilometers away (85 minutes by car). Alegre Beach Resort is at Calumboyan, Sogod, Cebu.

Contact Information
Alegre Beach Resort’s reservation office at Sogod has telephone numbers (+63 32) 254-9800, 2549811 and 2549822 local 172, and direct line: (+63 32) 255-6388; fax: number (+63 32) 254-9833; emails and; postal address P.O. Box 1094, Cebu City Philippines.
The Cebu sales and reservation office is at Nivel Hills, Lahug, Cebu City, with telephone number (+63 32) 231-1198, fax number (+63 32) 233-7944, and email address
The Metro Manila sales and reservations office is at Unit 1204, Tycoon Center, Pearl Drive, Ortigas Center, Pasig City, with telephone numbers (+63 2) 634 7505 to 07, fax number (+63 2) 633-1833, and email address
The Tokyo general sales agent is Sanyo International with office at the fourth floor of Nonaka Bldg., 1-18-2 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo, Japan, with telephone number (+81 3) 3461-8585, fax number (+81 3) 3461-8550, and email address
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