Drop What You're Doing: Bicol Is Calling You for a Vacation
Perhaps I wasn't paying attention in class the day it was discussed, but the Bicol region is one confusing geographical jumble to me. I know it's in Southern Luzon, and that it's a jump and a skip from Quezon Province. The famous and very much active Mayon Volcano can be found there, as well as all kinds of deliciously spicy things coming out of Bicolano kitchens.
Luckily for us traveling to Misibis Bay that day, we got a quick geography refresher in the resort's spanking-new bus after the staff (including general manager Carlo Librea) collected us from the Legazpi City airport. The 45-minute flight from Manila passed quickly and uneventfully, so we were all ears and energetic, eager to learn more about the area.
Legazpi City is the capital of Albay Province, one of the seven provinces of the Bicol region. Albay is known most prominently for the majestic Mayon, a sight that is pretty much visible almost anywhere in the province. It has been said that once the volcano is no longer visible from your vantage point, then you are no longer in Albay. But, the first order of business was rightfully lunch and we were treated to the Bicolano classics at First Colonial Grill. Must-orders were definitely the kandingga (an offal dish reminiscent of bopis), their signature tinutungang manok, and tinapa fried rice.
Stuffed, we were whisked away in our bus for a quick tour of Legazpi. The sites included centuries-old Daraga Church; the eerily romantic ruins of Cagsawa; and, yes, on both occasions the bottom part of Mayon was in full view, the almost-perfect cone top obscured by clouds. Marketing consultant for Enderun Hospitality Management (Misibis Bay has been managed by EHM since 2014—one of the 13 properties they run) Ana Tuason Galang shared, "we decided to do this tour first because these places are really worth seeing." She added: "Plus, once we get to the resort, it would be difficult to leave." No, she does not mean this logistically.
Sprawling and private
After passing small towns and winding, mountainous roads, we reached the exclusive enclave of Cagraray Island in erstwhile sleepy Bacacay, Albay. The five-hectare property descends into the Pacific Ocean which makes for a diverse selection of outdoor adventures. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. We arrived at the beachfront resort after a 45-minute bus ride welcomed warmly by the Misibis Bay staff. Scoops of First Colonial's chili ice cream were in order, and the spiciest level for maximum effect. The first bite is pleasant enough with floral notes of pimiento, then the heat just takes over your entire face. Cold milk was served in anticipation of this, which aided me in actually finishing the entire cup.
We took the long route to our rooms so we can have a quick tour of the resort. We walked through the older villas, the spa, and the several pools—some private and others shared by all guests. The beachfront is protected from harsh winds and waves by a man-made breaker making the cove safe for swimming and water sports through the year.
Brand new accommodations
On the far side of the beach, a few steps away from the kiddie pool and restaurants, are the new mid-rise structures with the brand-new Pacific Ocean view rooms. While the villas have more of the traditional tropical aesthetic (with all the modern comforts, of course), the pacific view rooms are breezy, bright, and current.
The colors are redundant of clear blue waters and pure sand, while the woven furniture is a tip of the hat to Albay's local basket artisans. I was billeted in a standard room which is anything but, with its modern and first-class finishings that would make it very difficult to leave the arctic coldness within. A free-standing tub stands in the middle of room, an open invitation to soak while one stares out into the ocean or watches cable tv on the flat-screen. For more privacy, the bathroom area can be enclosed with curtains—a rather clever way at maximizing space and keeping it airy.
If the plan is to be active, beware of the beds. They are designed for maximum comfort with what felt like an extra layer of down and those hypoallergenic pillows which are never flat and cup your head perfectly. The soft cotton sheets complete this magical formula.
Most noteworthy, of course, is the view. If you wish for the optimal effect, request for a sea view room in the outermost building which juts out into the water.
Dining options in Misibis Bay are varied, especially when two new restaurants become operational—one is a snack bar serving burgers, the other an Asian concept. On our visit, their all day cafe Spice Market was where we enjoyed our well-curated buffet breakfasts which had some Filipino classics (the hamonado longganisa, dried fish, and champorado are our favorites) and continental options.
For our welcome dinner, we enjoyed a beachfront barbecue where we feasted on grilled steaks, prawns, ceviche, and many more, accompanied by some really good laing. They can also arrange for a Filipino feast at a private beach just a few minutes away by speed boat. Our boodle fight consisted of giant prawns, binagoongan baboy, adobo sa puti, salads, and adobo rice, with fresh fruits on hand for dessert. We dipped in tranquil waters when it got hot, and sipped white wine from glasses which the staff diligently refilled.
On our first night, we were greeted in our rooms with leche flan turon served with a side of vanilla cinnamon sauce. We suggest that you demand this on your visit, and do have it in copious amounts. It is worth the extra pounds. For midnight snacks, cold sandwiches or hummus and pita bread are light satisfying meals that can be enjoyed in your room.
Fun in the sun
While staying in your pacific view room might already be worth the trip, there is plenty to do in Misibis Bay for those who need constant action. Water sports include snorkeling, paddle board, jet skiing, and windsurfing, while a ride in one of the ATVs will take you around the property's steep and winding roads which are actually a bigger thrill than expected. For more seasoned riders, there is a much rougher trail which the guide can take you through going up a cliff. Ask for their director of activities, Jeff—he's the man.
While most local and foreign tourists set their sights on Boracay and the islands of Palawan, beautiful and tranquil Albay offers an often overlooked alternative that is worthy of your time. The rich history, mysterious ruins, mouthwatering delicacies, lovable locals, and accessibility are great reasons to visit. And if these are not enticing enough, a Misibis Bay vacation is really all the reason you need.
Misibis Bay is located at Cagraray Island, Bacacay, Albay Province, Bicol Region, Philippines. For reservations, email [email protected]. For more information, check check out their website www.misibisbay.com.