A Safari Lodge by the Sea: Inside the Gorgeous Donatela Resort in Bohol

  • December 26, 2018

Iberian thoroughbreds traversed green fields in the 7.5-hectares of Donatela in Panglao, Bohol. The way leading to the resort was lined with vibrant, tropical blooms. Bougainvillea, birds of paradise, lobster claws and shoeblack plants added bursts of color to a verdant horizon.

Before the property was converted into a resort, the previous owners intended to keep it as a botanical garden. Later, it became home for the former owner’s dressage horses, as well as other rescue animals. Today, the expansive property is managed and run by Enderun Hospitality Management.

The Pool Villa features a spacious balcony for lounging and a private pool for cooling off
The Pool Villa features a spacious balcony for lounging and a private pool for cooling off
Villa interiors are luxurious while remaining comfortable and cozy. Pieces were designed by former owners to create a sense of being in a royal expedition in the safari
Villa interiors are luxurious while remaining comfortable and cozy. Pieces were designed by former owners to create a sense of being in a royal expedition in the safari.

A Safari Lodge for Royalty

Accommodation for the stay, is one of only 12 villas in the resort. Guest check-ins are limited each day, creating the feeling that this little known piece of paradise is all yours. Villa rates begin at PHP 15,455.99 per night (and can lodge three adults). While the bigger Family Villas are priced at PHP 29,925.00 per night, and can accommodate up to six adults.

The villas are designed in the shape of a typical nipa hut with a thatched roof covered in anahaw leaves. Walls are done using weather-proof PVC, meticulously woven as a nod to local craftsmanship. Each villa has its own balcony, where guests can enjoy a fresh cup of brew or a bite of local delicacies. Before turning down each day, the staff leaves beautifully homemade kalamay, bico and banana fritters that give Donatela guests a taste of local flavors.

High ceilings with exposed wooden beams create a sense of space. A foldable desk, bar and vanity table anchor a design theme inspired by safari expeditions. These pieces are custom-designed to the specifications of the resort. The bar was built to fit a mini refrigerator, several crystal stemware, a Nespresso coffee maker and a tray for cups, cutlery, plates, and other nibbles. Curios and artwork, hand-picked from various parts of the world, hang on the walls, referencing a spirit of wanderlust that inform the resort’s design direction.

Double doors on one side of the space open to the bathroom and dressing area. Above the his-and-hers counter is a large mirror framed by sea shells. Each piece was hand-picked, sorted and attached by the hotel staff. The vanity tray holds all the bath amenities a traveler could want including lotion, soap, shampoo and conditioner from French beauty label Nuxe.

It was tempting to cocoon in the luxurious safari lodge, but staff suggested taking in Panglao’s famed sunset at the restaurant while enjoying a welcome drink.

Local materails were sourced to create custom pieces for villas, adding a distinct Filipino touch
Local materials were sourced to create custom pieces for villas, adding a distinct Filipino touch
On a clear day, the view from Paprika restaurant shows parts of Siquijor
On a clear day, the view from Paprika restaurant shows parts of Siquijor
Private dining at Paprika where specialities like Seafood ala Planca and Grilled Tomahawks are served with a view
Private dining at Paprika where specialties like Seafood ala Planca and Grilled Tomahawks are served with a view

The 1.7kg Tomahawk Masterpiece

A panoramic view of the Bohol Sea greet guests at Paprika Restaurant. The fine dining food outlet offers a menu of international favorites and seasonal specialties created by chefs Nino Tancinco and Steve Pragamac. The curated vinoteca was reason for heading out before dinner was served. A wine list reads: “I have selected a fine choice of champagne, red and white wines from the old and new world vineyards.”

Wait staff recommended a bottle of rosé from Portugal, which was served in a silver bucket. “Just the right temp,” he said. Light pink contents of the grape varietal were poured into the crystal stemware, a beautiful contrast to a golden sky.

The private dining room was set up for an indulgent meal. The resort’s general manager Herve Martin announced, “We will enjoy today’s fresh catch and our masterpiece—a 1.7kg grilled tomahawk.”

A heavy plate of the grilled meat was large enough to serve four to six persons. It was the “masterpiece” in the menu, though an odd choice for a restaurant by the sea. The tomahawk cut (priced at PHP 6,210.00) is marinated in herbs and seasoning, but did not overpower the fall-off-the bone, tender meat that was cooked medium rare. It is not-to-be-missed when in Bohol. “In fact, we have walk-ins who come here just for the Tomahawk,” says Herve. 

Seafood ala Plancha was a dish featuring the day’s freshest catch, enjoyed family-style. The large entrée included fish, squid, prawns and crustacean. “We serve generous portions so guests can enjoy sharing them with loved ones. As much as possible, we also try to do things farm-to-table. We have a small vegetable garden in the back, where we try to source most of our ingredients. For the seafood, obviously, these are fresh from the ocean,” explains Herve. “Our tomahawk is flown in almost every other day. We like to make sure that everything we serve is fresh.”

 

Private coves in Donatela
Private coves in Donatela
Private balcony and dipping pool in the Honeymoon Villa of Donatela
Private balcony and dipping pool in the Honeymoon Villa of Donatela

Around the Island on a Harley or a Chartered Flight

Buffet breakfast includes spreads of freshly baked bread, fruit juices and tempting strips of honey maple bacon. “Our bacon is something guests really love,” Herve shares.

There are many activities for guests during the day. Early mornings are usually reserved for whale watching, provided the weather is good. There are excursions to famous sights like the Chocolate Hills, the tarsier sanctuary, bee farms and other old churches. “What we are looking to offer aside from the usual tours are activities like riding around the island on Harley motorbikes or taking chartered flights via air taxi to see Panglao from above,” discloses Herve. “We also like to introduce guests to our local artisans like this jeweler who is known for creating intricate filigree pieces.”

The equine farm at Donatela is home to some of the finest dressage horses flown in from various parts of the world
The equine farm at Donatela is home to some of the finest dressage horses flown in from various parts of the world
The Spa at Donatela is a good place to unwind after a day of exploring the island
The Spa at Donatela is a good place to unwind after a day of exploring the island

Manicures by Monkeys and a Day with Destiny

There are interesting areas in the resort to enjoy without having to leave the premises. The mini zoo is filled with various avian species, some of which are extra chatty. “Hello. Bonjour. Gutenmorgen. Hola. Magandang Umaga!” chirped a white, multi-lingual cockatoo. Rescued monkeys and orangutans have also made the resort their official residence. “Some can be quite aggressive so I suggest you keep your distance,” warns Herve. “This one likes to give manicures.” He extended his hand through the grill and immediately the orangutan began working on the general manager’s nails.

A short distance away is a sprawling equine farm. “These are dressage horses. Most of them were flown in from Europe. We keep a full staff dedicated to training and caring for them,” says Herve. There are thoroughbreds, ponies and warmbloods in the stables, some of which just returned from a morning run. A white Iberian named Destiny, seemed the friendliest. It was hard to resist an offer to ride before soaking up the last rays of sun that day.

Donatela’s Spa Village is a place for unwinding after a full day outdoors. The option to get a massage in the suite is especially appealing after a quick dip in the pool and a refreshing shower.

A skilled masseuse set up the massage table inside the Safari-inspired villa. Oils and herbs were blended to create a sense of relaxation and tranquility. It was specially concocted to address a need for easing tension and tight muscles. Indigenous massage techniques were used to knead parts of the body. Within a few minutes, eyes were heavy and the body was in a complete state of rest. The signature massage set the tone for a restful evening. It also ushered in sweet dreams of being on a Safari expedition by the sea.

For more information and reservations visit www.donatelahotel.com