Sunday morning at the Sunset at Aninuan Beach Resort blossoms with a provincial air—quiet, bucolic, carefree. From the window, one sees a staff member sweeping the front yard, the beachfront actually. Another places peach-colored hibiscus flowers on the tables. Two hammocks tied to dwarf coconut trees gently sway with the breeze. One by one, umbrellas are opened among the tables and lounge chairs, bright orange like giant exotic flowers. The sea is sapphire and gentle, kissing the shore with auburn sand. One goes out of the room and walks the sandy path, pass the lush bougainvillea, to have breakfast by the shore. The fried eggs, ham, whole-wheat toast, jam, butter and steaming coffee all taste fantastic—the best breakfast outdoor with hibiscus quiet on the table, umbrella filtering the sunlight, sand beneath the feet, sea breeze tickling the bougainvillea, the waves almost making whispering sounds.
Later, one has a glimpse of the vacationers and excursionists, mostly from nearby White Beach, swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, riding the banana boat and para-sailing. One can join them as the resort offers these activities, or enjoy the quiet morning longer, lounging on a beach chair or hammock with a book or watching the vacationers get dislodged from the banana boat.
Sunset at Aninuan Beach Resort is one of the best places to stay in the popular resort town of Puerto Galera, a favorite quick getaway of Metro Manilans being a short car and boat ride away and a popular diving site. One proof is a certificate of excellence, which hangs at the bar, awarded by TripAdvisor, a Web site where people rate accommodations, in 2010. The resort garnered a 4.5 rating out of 5.
One important factor is its location—a beach area that affords one privacy and quietude but not too far from the happening area when one feels the itch to socialize or party. Most of guests commend it for its tranquility. In Puerto Galera, people and structures seem to concentrate in Sabang and White Beach in the barangay of San Isidro. Many divers and foreigners stay in Sabang, while locals stay at White Beach with its long stretch of shore. The density of houses, accommodations, bars, restaurants and stores along White Beach is staggering. The night life here is also bustling, especially during holidays and weekends. To the west of White Beach, separated by rock outcrops and boulders, is Aninuan Beach. The area is mostly owned by the Ayalas, a prominent Spanish-Filipino family and has only two resorts—Tamaraw Beach Resort and Sunset at Aninuan.
"I'm so lucky to have this kind of place," says Lucila "Lexy" Niederer, who owns and manages Sunset at Aninuan, assisted by her nephew Lez Paul Funtanilla. "Because we are like in a secluded, semi-private island."
"I never dreamed of owning and managing a resort before but I have some friends who own resorts and hotels," she confesses. "It used to be a very small resort with just two huts, very limited water and electricity."
She bought the property and started to rebuild it.
"That I have zero experience working in a resort didn't really make my life easy. That I want everything to be perfect made it worse. It's really hard to get everything that you wanted. Most of the things are not available," she relates.
But her love for the place might have spurred her to go in building a beautiful place to stay for herself as well as for visitors.
"I'm a dive master, and I dove quite a lot in Puerto Galera," Niederer says. "I visited more than sixty countries but Puerto Galera is so different that it has a very special place in my heart. I keep on going back here. I just feel good being in this town."
After six years, Niederer managed to develop one of best resorts in town. Many accommodations here, especially in the White Beach area, can be spartan or inadequate, but Sunset at Aninuan is different—decent and charming.
The buildings are all painted clean white accented by grillwork and ironworks in black paint and with deep-orange sun motif—tasteful structures to compliment the beautiful surroundings. The original structure, with its sawali exterior, is kept, housing some rooms and the restaurant. Beside it is a newer building. Both have 17 rooms. The newest buildings, with 16 more rooms, stand by the swimming pool. The rooms are in several types—standard, standard family, deluxe, junior, superior, junior suite and superior suite—with de-riguere amenities.
The restaurant, which merges with a recreation area, has a floor made of bamboo slats and marble, and serves delectable dishes, snacks and drinks—Filipino favorites such as sinigang, adobo, afritada, gambas and pancit; sandwiches and burgers; sausages; chicken and beef pies; salads; pasta, including their very own Pasta Aninuan (penne with bell pepper, tomato, onion and fish or chicken); pork dishes such as steak Marengo, pepper steak and schnitzel; beef, chicken, seafood and vegetarian dishes; and dessert. Outside, a grass-roofed round hut serves as the bar. The beachfront can also serve as a dining area if one prefers it al-fresco.
"Most of our clientele are families and honeymooners from all over the world," Niederer reveals. "Most of them come from Europe and Australia. We had a few weddings also here, which is my most favorite job. Preparing and organizing for them makes me feel so great."
For activities, Sunset at Aninuan can arrange for many water recreations. Divers can go to the dive center, managed by its concessionaire AB Wonderdive. Then, there are several attractions of the town one can visit and experience.
"Puerto Galera has so many things to offer. Aside from the world-class diving that we have and our own house reef, we also have two beautiful waterfalls within one hour of hiking and a Mangyan village. We also have this golf course, which is 800 meters above sea level with a breathtaking view of the island. People are so great with their beautiful smiles and their honesty!" Niederer emphasizes.
Of course, just staying and being cocooned in the resort can be the main activity, "sleeping and waking up with the sound of the sea," Niederer adds. The sunset is spectacular here, and the name of the resort is an ode to that.
"The sunset is different every day," she sighs. "You don't get tired watching it with a sunset drink in your hand. The quietness of the place makes our guests keep on coming back, and also the service that we offer."
Despite the difficulties she went through developing the resort, Niederer finds fulfilment in running Sunset at Aninuan.
"My grand vision for Sunset at Aninuan is to keep my clientele so I can help improve the image of Puerto Galera. I want to create a very special, friendly atmosphere that guests will always remember, and maybe this will put us on the map," she says.
She continues: "I love most of the guests that I'm having! So nice and interesting people. I even have a lot of friends now, which were guests of mine before. I want to see their beautiful smiles every time they come back! It makes me feel proud if they keep on coming back and multiplying, bringing in their friends and families. And I welcome them with open arms again and again and again."
To go to Puerto Galera, there is a one-and-half to two-hour bus or car trip from Manila to Batangas using Southern Luzon Expressway and Star Toll. From the Batangas Port, one can ride a ferry for one to two hours to the resort town. Sikat Ferry offers air-conditioned bus and connecting boat (Manila-Batangas-Puerto Galera). Bus leaves Manila at 8 a.m. at the CityState Tower Hotel, 1314 A. Mabini Street, Ermita. Reservation can be made at (+63 2) 521-3344.
Buses ply the Manila-Batangas (Pier) route regularly. There are stations in Buendia Avenue, Plaza Lawton, Kamuning, Cubao and Pasay City-Edsa. At the Batangas Pier, there are ferries and outrigger boats going to Puerto Galera. They usually leave Batangas Pier every thirty minutes or hour. Boats arrive in Puerto Galera in different points—Sabang, Muelle, White Beach, Minolo and Balatero Port (ro-ro). If you bring your own vehicle, the regular roll on-roll off (ro-ro) ferry direct to Puerto Galera is the Montenegro Shipping Line at Terminal 3, leaving Batangas Pier at noon and departs Puerto Galera (Balatero Port) at 5:30 p.m. daily. The ferry can hold only six to ten vehicles.
The other option to reach Puerto Galera from Batangas is going to Calapan City. Its distance from Puerto Galera is about 51 kilometers, and it takes about one-hour drive.
Environmental Users’ Fee (EUF) for tourists is Php50 each. Main collection site is at Batangas Port beside the shipping lines’ ticket booths.
Contact Sunset at Aninuan Beach Resort through mobile numbers +63920-9318924 and +63920-9318946, and e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.aninuanbeach.com.