Misibis Bay offers the best of Bicol
Mayon Volcano did not show us her perfect cone in the three days that we spent in Albay. That was just a sign, our guide told us, that we had to return. Despite that, Mayon certainly made her presence felt—looming over Legazpi, no matter what part of the city we were in. She was, I realized, part of the soul of the city. Mayon Volcano and typhoons have shaped the city and the lives of its citizens, mainly through tragedy, but also with blessings. As we toured the city, our guide pointed out swaths of green strewn here and there with large volcanic rocks. These were the paths through which lava flowed during eruptions. In another place, a monument of crosses to remind people of a barangay that was wiped out by one of the many destructive typhoons that sweep through the Bicol region on a regular basis. And yet the lands around Mayon Volcano are rich and fertile, providing much of the produce that feeds the area. We were told it’s the reason that many of the farmers who live in the foothills of the volcano are reluctant to evacuate when there are typhoons or lava warnings—they want to protect their land.
Before heading for our ultimate destination—Misibis Bay Resort—we did a quick tour of the city. We were told that it would be difficult to leave the resort once we got there.
A meal of Bicol regional specialties, heavy on the chilis and coconut milk, is always on the top of my agenda. We had lunch at 1st Colonial Grill, famous for its sili (chili) ice cream. While the restaurant has a general selection of Filipino favorites and short orders on its menu, its Bicol specialties interested me the most. Tinutungang manok is chicken stewed in chilis, ginger, lemon grass, and coconut milk that has a smoky flavor because it was made with toasted coconut meat. Some people add green saba bananas, which I have never had before. The green saba tastes more like a root crop than a banana. Other must orders are the tinapa fried rice, a very clean tasting kandingga (chopped up bits of offal with the kick of chili and vinegar), and tinutong na bigas ice cream (made from toasted rice).
Another good place for a meal is Cysyd (pronounced “seaside”) at the Embarcadero. It sits by the water in Legazpi’s port area, and has a beautiful, almost unobstructed view of Mayon Volcano. Try the rich and spicy laing, and kinunot na pagi—shredded stingray cooked with coconut cream and more chili. And for dessert, head over to the Hotel St. Ellis for a slice (or a whole cake!) of their delightful pili nut cheesecake, one of the best cheesecakes I have had in a long time.
On a tour of the city we saw Nuestra Señora de la Porteria Parish Church (Daraga Church), built by the Franciscans in 1772. It sits on top of a hill that (again) overlooks Mayon Volcano. We also visited the tragic, but beautiful, Cagsawa Ruins. Built in 1587, the church was burned down by the marauding Dutch in 1636. It was reconstructed in 1724, but in 1814 Mayon Volcano’s most violent eruption swallowed up the surrounding houses and killed nearly 2,000 people who took refuge inside the church. Today, only the top of belfry and a few walls remain, surrounded by greenery.
On the one-hour drive to Misibis Bay in the resort’s brand new tourist bus (so new and current that it has USB slots to charge cellphones under every seat), we were greeted by winding asphalt roads that hugged the mountain on one side and dropped down to the sea on the other, spectacular views of the ocean, and few and far between, some small nipa-thatched communities. Most surprising of all were the solar-powered streetlights.
Misibis Bay is a five-hectare luxury resort on the southeast tip of Cagraray Island, which is so close to the mainland that you barely notice you have crossed a bridge onto the island itself. Cagraray is one of several almost interconnecting islands around Albay Gulf, and the resort sits facing the Pacific Ocean.
We had been invited to try out the new Pacific Ocean View Rooms in a mid-rise building on the far end of the beach, and as we walked around the rest of the resort, I realized why we were told that it would be difficult to leave once we arrived. It was the combination of thrilling outdoor activities and the calm serenity of the spa and rooms. Misibis Bay was like the Lotus Hotel and Casino in the Percy Jackson books, before I knew it, three days had passed and I didn’t want to leave.
My room contributed a lot to that. It was bright, with clean lines, and all the amenities I need most in a hotel room. The woven furniture and accents acknowledge Albay’s weavers, and the welcome kit of a banig bag with slippers doubled as a beach bag. My standard room even had a freestanding bathtub—separate from the shower and toilet enclosure, in the middle of the room, facing the windows looked into the ocean. The bathroom area could be enclosed by curtains (creating a private area) or left open to highlight the room’s open plan. But more important, the whole feeling of the room made me want to sink into my big, comfy bed and do blissful nothing. If you’d like to lie in bed and stare at the ocean, ask for one of the sea view rooms.
The lure of all the activities pulled me outdoors. Misibis Bay has a lot of water sports activities. They can all be done safely because a man-made breakwater creates an oasis of calm. And so all of us on the trip tried out stand up paddleboards, jet skis, kayaks, wind surfing, sailing on a hobie cat, and snorkeling in the resort’s marine sanctuary. We also drove ATVs around the resort’s winding roads and eco-park to view their beautiful church-on-a-hill, the zip-line and area for team-building activities, and the amphitheater. When planning your outdoor activities, look for Jeff, the activities director—he can do everything from teach you how to paddle board and kayak, to take you on a tour.
Set high on a mountainside, the Greek-style amphitheater has a beautiful view. The resort’s staff set up sunset cocktails for us one evening, and while the sun didn’t really cooperate, we did see a spectacular lightning show. The staff at Misibis Bay is excellent at setting up events, and thinking of all the small details. Another night we had dinner on the beach, surrounded by lights and torches as we dined on fresh grilled seafood, steaks, ceviche, and very good laing. The staff can also arrange lunch in a private cove, a few minutes away from the resort by boat. Approaching the cove, we saw a boodle feast of adobo rice, binagoongan baboy, giant shrimps, grilled chicken, fresh fruit, and cookies set out on a banana leaf covered table. We were greeted with glasses of chilled white wine and juice, and a giant wooden bowl filled with flowers and water so that we could wash our hands. After lunch, we swam, or lazed on beanbags—because, yes, beanbags had been brought over by boat for our comfort.
At the moment, the resort’s dining option is the Spice Market, an all-day café that serves local and international dishes. They do well with simple grilled meats and fresh seafood, Bicol’s regional specialties, and Asian-inspired dishes—most of the easy-to-eat food I look for when at the beach. One meal, we feasted on spicy crabs and appetizers of tasty hummus and pita bread. For breakfast, be sure to try the beef tapa and corned beef, tiny fish that have been fried till crisp, and a homey, chocolate-intense champorado. And for dessert, or a midnight snack, do not go home without trying the leche flan turon served with cinnamon crème anglaise. Soon, I understand, two new restaurant concepts will open—a burger snack bar, and an Asian restaurant.
Misibis Bay Resort is run by Enderun Hospitality Management, which has put in a young and hard-working staff. Their warmth, hospitality, and friendliness are palpable, and are a large part of the resort’s charm. I also appreciated the way the resort incorporates local elements into its design and food.
I would return to Albay and the rest of the Bicol region, and recommend it to people who are looking for more than just a white sand beach. It has the beaches, yes, but it also has the whale sharks in Donsol, Sorsogon, Mayon Volcano, and hiking and ATV adventures, wakeboarding in Camarines Sur, surfing in Camarines Norte, waterfalls, coral reefs, and a rich and spicy cuisine. And when I am tired from all that hard work of adventuring and eating, well, there’s Misibis Bay Resort, a view of the mighty Pacific Ocean, and a big bed I can sink into.
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Misibis Bay Resort is located in Cagraray Island, Bacacay, Albay Province, Bicol Region, Philippines; www.misibisbay.com. For reservations and room rates, email [email protected]
By: CJ Juntereal