Friday, 17 February 2017

Resort Review: Vitalis White Sand (Santiago, Ilocos Sur)

Date of Stay: February 17-18, 2017
RATING (Scale of 1 to 10)
Location: ******
Rooms: ******
Condition and Cleanliness: *******
Staff Performance: ******
Room Comfort: *******
Food and Beverage: *******
Other Amenities: *******
Value for Money: *******

Vitalis White Sand
This 3-star, 3-storey hotel, along beautiful Santiago Cove, has 27 stylish and comfortable airconitioned rooms with private ensuite bath with hot and cold shower, hair dryer (on request), bathrobes, rainshower head and toiletries.  
It also has cable TV; NDD telephone; IR electronic lockset system; blackout drapes, coffee and tea making facility; mini refrigerator; complimentary bottled water; writing desk; balcony and free wi-fi. 

The 30 sq. m. Standard Rooms have a queen size bed and mountain (PhP5,000) or ocean (PhP4,500-5,300) views; the spacious 48 sq. m. De Luxe Room has 2 queen size beds and mountain (PhP5,500) and ocean (PhP4,900) views; the Ocean Family Suite (PhP9,500) has two adjoining rooms; while the Penthouse Suite (PhP11,500) has 1 king-size bed and 2 queen-size beds. 

Rates include breakfast and use of the pool and billiards. Children 12 yrs old and below sharing bed with parents are free of room charge. Check out/check in time is 12 noon and 2 PM respectively  
For over and above minimum capacity, an additional charge of PhP1,000 net/pax will be charged, inclusive of breakfast. PhP495 will be charged for additional breakfast for 13 years above and PhP350 for  7-12 years old only.
The resort's swimming pool

he resort also has a 24-hour front desk, restaurant (Fishermans Boat Grill), coffee shop, outdoor swimming pool, children's pool, poolside bar (Macario),  cabanas, conference room, designated smoking areas, business center, videoke, billiards and beach volleyball. Some public areas have free wi-fi. The clean, private white sand beachfront has cabanas and beach lounge chairs.

A watersports haven, it offers jetskis, banana boat, kayak, pedalboat, paddleboard, wakeboard, snorkeling and scuba diving. Its Vida Verde Spa offers massages, body treatments, facials, manicure and pedicure. The daily breakfast (6 - 10 AM) is plated (garlic rice, eggs, Vigan longanisa, etc.) but includes a salad bar, cereals, milk, hot chocolate, brewed coffee, fruit jams, soup choices, etc.
Fishermans Boat Grill

It also offers laundry, luggage storage, concierge, currency exchange, airport transfer, tours, ticket information, express check-in/check-out, free self parking and room service. It is the sister resort of the  luxurious Santorini-inspired Vitalis Villas, located just across the cove. A shuttle (5-min. drive) and zipline (P350) connects both resorts.
Vitalis White Sands is located 13.9 kms. from the town center, a 10-min. drive from Manila North Drive (National Highway), a 40-min. drive from Candon City and a 45-min. drive from Vigan City.

Sister resort Vitalis Villas located just across the cove
Watersports facilities along Santiago Cove

Vitalis White Sands: Santiago Cove, Brgy. Sabangan, Santiago, Ilocos Sur.  Website: Reservation and Information Centers: Manila: (02) 404-4784, Subic (Zambales): (047) 252-9978.
How to Get There
From San Fernando Airport in San Fernando City, head north, along Airport Rd. for 950 m., turn right toward Pennsylvania Ave. for 400 m., take the first right onto Pennsylvania Ave. for 290 m., take the first left onto Mabini St. for 1.5 kms., turn right onto Ancheta St. for 300 m., turn left onto MacArthur Highway for 49.9 kms., continue onto National Highway for 19.6 kms., continue onto Manila North Rd. for 20.3 kms., turn left toward Sabangan Bridge for 1.3 kms. then finally turn left onto Sabangan Bridge for 81 m. Santiago Cove will be on the right.

Re-Launch of Narvacan Outdoor Adventure Hub (Ilocos Sur)

Narvacan Outdoor Adventure Hub (NOAH)

View of Bantay Abot Hill from our Hobie Cat
The Narvacan Outdoor Adventure Hub (NOAH),  a very unique adventure camp and outdoor sports complex in Narvacan, Ilocos Sur, was opened last October 2012 by the local government headed by Mayor Zuriel S. Zaragoza.  

All the various extreme activities offered will surely showcase one’s adventurous side and are very close to the elements: water, wind, earth and fire. NOAH hosts the Philippines' first full-scale Via Ferrata (literally meaning “Iron Road”), a vertical 280-meter climb into a steep rock wall of the majestic 1,050-foot high Bantay Abot Hill designed with the regular tourist in mind - no climbing experience required.

NOAH, another reason to visit Ilocos Sur (aside from the Earthquake Baroque churches and the Old World charm of Vigan), is now a major tourist destination and a significant leap in the transformation of the once sleepy agricultural municipality of Narvacan into an adrenaline junkie's paradise.  
It aims to promote tourism and the beauty of the town with its grand, rocky mountains and magnificent view of the sea.
NOAH Business Manager Joey Cuerdo (center) briefing members of media

Top V Hotel
Last February 17, members of media as well as foreign and local bloggers, me included, were invited by Mr. Joey Cuerdo (Business Manager of NOAH and President of Outward Bound Gear, Inc.) to sample NOAH’s newest attractions that would complement its Via Ferrata – paragliding, Hobie Cat sailing, kitesurfing, windsurfing, 4x4 ATVs, dune buggies, etc..  
We were all billeted at Top V Hotel along the National Highway and had breakfast at NOAH’s Arko Restaurant where we feasted on the very popular bagnet (deep-fried, crispy pork belly). Narvacan, also known for selling the best bagnet  in the region, celebrates the Bagnet Festival (also started in 2010 by Mayor Zaragoza) on during the town’s founding anniversary every December. 
Learning to kitesurf from the shore

A quick lecture on windsurfing
along the shore
Uniquely located Bantay Abot Hill, directly in front of a 3 km. stretch of beach (from the abandoned Sulvec Port all the way to the Narvacan River), causes a special wrap-around, mid-day, side shore wind in the land breeze, making learning to sail, wind surf and kite surf safe as it does not pose the danger of getting blown out into the open sea.  
Joined by 62 year old British travel blogger Dave Gatenby, we individually tried out windsurfing and, with a pilot, enjoyed the sea breeze and the offshore scenery via Hobie Cat sailing. 
Winsurfing looked easy when tutored along the shore but was it was a different matter once I tried it on water, trying to catch the wind and balance.
The author tries his hand at windsurfing

The author and Dave
While we were thus engaged, others brought out the Mad Max in them by exploring the mini sand dunes, an exhilarating, off-road experience tailor fit for first time riders, and following the hilly track via dune buggies, 4 x 4 jeeps and ATVs. A number of ramps provided lots of thrills.
NOAH is a perfect venue to conquer one’s acrophobia (extreme fear of heights) and Dave and I joined others as we donned, with the assistance of the staff, protective gear such as helmet and other rappelling and climbing gears, all high-quality equipment from abroad and, with bottled water, hiked, under the scorching sun, to the base of Bantay Abot.  
Dave hiking to the base of the hill

Making our way up the hill
To climb, we had to pull ourselves up to get above some boulders, pushing me to my limits as I am not used to this kind of activity. Along the way are handy ropes and cables. All the time, while climbing, I was actually clamped into a steel cable so that, when I slip, I will still be attached to the cable, saving me from a fall.
Upon reaching the zipline platform, I decided not to proceed with the Via Ferrata as, though I am not afraid of heights, I wasn’t reasonably fit and I needed strong legs and upper body to do it.
Instead, I exited the hill via NOAH’s 520 m. long zipline. Moving at 40 kph, my ride lasted about 50 seconds as I zipped down, with a bird’s eye view of the beautiful scenery, to the Bay Boulevard.

The zipline facility
Others continued on with the trickier Via Ferrata, climbing the vertical, 300-foot high rock face aided by steel steps drilled into the rock, a setup like climbing a step-ladder.  
There were diagonal portions on the Via Ferrata that required spreading their legs wide to maintain balance and keep them upright. Reaching the top was the highlight of their climb. They descended the summit by rappelling via a Tyrolean traverse cable  - perfectly safe as its safety feature actually allowed one to let go of their hands even when suspended 200 feet from the ground.
The view from the zipline platform

The view from atop the hill
The highlight of our NOAH experience was to be paragliding (Hence the media launch theme “Love is in the Air”), a competitive as well as recreational sport. Wind conditions change throughout the day and only three people were able to try it in the morning. 
However, there were several windows within the day and, during the late afternoon, we rode pickup trucks along a zigzagging dirt road to the top of Bantay Abot, followed later by the paragliding gear and the visiting staff of  Sarangani Paraglide,  the first and the only paragliding company in Mindanao, who will fly tandem with us.
The author all geared up and ready to go paragliding (photo: Dave Gatenby)

I was the third to try and my pilot was Mr. Carlaa Montero. We positioned ourselves along the slope, with the chute spread out above us and, when the wind rushed in, ran off the heights and were soon airborne. 
Exhilaration soon rushed in as I savored the joy of flying, at the same time mesmerized by the beautiful and breathtaking vista of the rugged Ilocos Sur landscape, mountain ranges and the vast blue West Philippine Sea spread out before me.  After a 15-minute flight, we made a solid landing at the beach. The piece de resistance of my NOAH adventure, I can now scratch paragliding from my bucket list. Check out my paragliding video here.
The author in flight (photo: Dave Gatenby)

View from the air

Prior to our return to Manila, we had merienda and did an ocular tour of Vitalis Villas, a beautiful Santorini-inspired resort with Greek-style villas perched on a mountain cliff overlooking the beautiful, cobalt blue waters of Santiago Cove.
Villa Vitalis

Narvacan Outdoor Adventure Hub (NOAH): Bulanos Beach, Brgy. Bulanos, Narvacan, Ilocos Sur. Tel: (02) 734-8883. Mobile number: (0919) 349-8473 (Two-6 Olangco).  Facebook: Instagram: @narvacanoutdooradventurehub. 
Via Ferrata – PhP800
Via Ferrata + Rappelling - PhP450
Hobie Cat (with pilot and intro to sailing) - PhP800 for 30minutes, max of 2 pax
Zipline - PhP300
Windsurfing lessons - PhP2,500 for six hours, minimum PhP1,500
Windsurf Board rental - PhP800/hr.
Kitesurf gear rental with license - TBA
Paragliding - PhP2,500/tandem 
4x4 tour - PhP2,500 up to 5pax 
Campsite fee (for overnight campers with your own tent) - PhP150 per head (shower and toilet facilities are included) 
How to Get There: From Manila, take the NLEX up to the very end of TPLEX. Upon reaching Narvacan, take the national road. In Narvacan, turn left to what they call “Crossing” to Brgy. Bulanos.  Roughly after 10 minutes, you’ll should see NOAH on your right. 
If commuting, take Laoag City or Vigan City-bound provincial buses (Partas, Farinas, etc.) and drop off at Narvacan. From the town proper, ride a tricycle to NOAH. Travel time is around 8-9 hours.

Hotel Review: Top V Hotel (Narvacan, Ilocos Sur)

Date of Stay: February 16-17, 2016
RATING (Scale of 1 to 10)
Location: *******
Rooms: ******
Condition and Cleanliness: *******
Staff Performance: ******
Room Comfort: ******
Food and Beverage: *****
Other Amenities: *******
Value for Money: ******

Top V Hotel

This one-storey roadside hotel, beside a Flying V Gas Station and Tapa King outlet (open: 6 AM – 10 PM), has 12 cozy, non-smoking airconditioned rooms with private bath with hot and cold shower, 32-inch flat screen cable TV and WiFi connectivity.  Check out time is 12 noon and check in time is 1 PM.
De Luxe Room (Room 112) 

Function Hall
The de luxe rooms (basic 2/maximum 3, PhP1,785.72) and the two connecting rooms (basic 4, maximum 6, PhP3,526.79) have double beds while the family single room (basic 4/maximum 6, PhP2,232.15) has one double bed and one single bed. Extra adults can be accommodated in these rooms are charged PhP150 per person. Breakfast is not included in the rates.
Swimming pools

The hotel also has two swimming pool (adult and kiddie), well-maintained garden, 200-250-pax function hall, 30-pax function room and free parking.  They offer room service. 
The hotel is a 30-minute drive from Vigan City, a 2-hour drive from Laoag City (Ilocos Norte), a 1-hour drive from Bangued (Abra) and a 4-hour drive from Pagudpud (Ilocos Norte). 

Top V Hotel: National Highway, Poblacion East, San Jose, Narvacan, Ilocos Sur. Tel:  (077) 604-0113 and(077) 604-1103. Mobile number: (0977) 784-1898.