Flying in from Cebu, I land at Tagbilaran Airport 15 minutes earlier than scheduled. I expect to wait, but standing right outside the arrival area, under the sweltering morning sun, is Herve Martin, general manager of Donatela Resort. Greeting me in Tagalog, he is quick to offer a firm handshake. It is something I didn’t anticipate from the old expat I pictured he would be.
Martin, Filipino-French, is 32 and already quite experienced in his field.
He has taken the resort’s top position since what used to be Tarsier Botanika had a new owner, Udenna Corporation.
With wife Rosalyn, and daughter Zoe, he moved to Bohol last October to run the sprawling 7.5-ha botanical garden lodge.
“I didn’t have a lot of impressions of the resort because I had never heard of it, honestly. As a hotelier, I thought, how was I gonna clean this?” he says.
After surveying the lot and taking a good look at the space, he realized that there wasn’t much to fix really. “Nothing was needed to be done.”
That is due, in large part, to the previous owners, a couple who decided to relocate from Hong Kong to Panglao in 2007 to turn an expansive garden into a restaurant, and eventually, a luxury resort.
Martin says, “It took them about three years to build. Little by little, they started upgrading. The last addition were the rooms. The wife studied baking in France and so she taught the pastry team how to bake the goodies and breads.
“She’s also into classic dressage, while her husband is into design. They’re very well traveled and that’s where they got most of the inspiration when building the place.”
In good hands
Their tagline can’t be any more appropriate—luxury amid nature. Twelve villas, ranging from garden and family to the bigger ones, honeymoon and pool, come equipped with TV, a sound system, a mini bar, and high-speed internet.
The villas are roomy, allowing guests to enjoy solitude.
The place has a restaurant serving Danish pastries, Greek salad, BBQ Indian Chicken Tikka, and US Angus Grilled Tomahawk Steak, but also an expansive, equally satisfying ocean view. And to have all these offerings set organically in a lush and manicured botanical garden, well, that’s what makes the Donatela Hotel exclusive and unique.
“When I talked to the former owners and the staff, they knew that they had a perfect product—the food was good, the rooms were excellent, the garden was well designed and breathable,” Martin said.
Martin, who is the field manager of the Enderun Hospitality Management and who has ironed out the operations of many hotels and resorts including Corto del Mar in Palawan and Misibis Bay in Albay, was ready, willing and excited to take on this challenge.
There are many things going for Donatela (aside from the experience and expertise of Martin, that is)—a gym, a swimming pool by the bar, a clean-smelling zoo, grotto for prayers and meditation, cushy spa, the casual dining restaurant called Paprika, and horses and ponies for riding —that customers surely wouldn’t mind being cooped up in the resort for days.
But as much are there are amenities, facilities and worthwhile activities at everyone’s disposal, staying in any of the luxurious villas can very well be a respite on its own.
Each cottage is made to look like a bahay-kubo. The former owner drew inspiration from the Ifugaos. The interiors, however, is nothing close to basic.
Most of the materials were sourced locally, including the mahogany wood used for the villas’ strong log cabin-like foundation. It is readily evident that the well-traveled former owner has good taste.
A closer look reveals how much thought was put into its artful conception.
The imposing mini bar is like a traveling suitcase, with parts sourced from all over the country, done by a Boholano craftsman. The ceiling is high to prevent the heat from seeping through, and unlike many resorts, the bathroom is large enough (about a third of the total room space) to cater to a staycationers’ personal pampering.
Artworks make for appealing focal points, but the bed— grand, snug and inviting— makes for an easier trap.
What impressed me were the finer details: the circular lights at the bottom of the bed, which guests can turn on without waking up other people from their sleep; the unobtrusive rectangular window behind the bar, to hide air conditioning.
Martin explains, “In Bohol, electricity sometimes fluctuates. When this happens and the AC breaks down, we get a back-up aircon we stick into that hole, without hassling the guests in the middle of the night. The maintenance team can attach it, without disturbing them.”
It’s not hard to feel at home in the villa. “Guests have told us that they didn’t expect the rooms to be that good. There had been times when reality didn’t quite match the photos they saw online. But here, it’s usually the other way around. They get overwhelmed.”
Easy does it
Convenience is the new form of luxury, which is why Martin and his team have been thinking up strategies to make guests comfortable. For instance, the guest doesn’t have to sign up at the front desk. All the villas are connected to the main road so arriving guests are brought directly to their huts where a receptionist awaits to check them in.
The hotel is ecofriendly, using solar energy to power the lamps, and it has no water discharge to the sea. “Most of the water waste goes through an STP (sewage treatment plant) and we use all that to water our massive garden. It serves its purpose,” he says.
The return guest rate has been quite high. “We have some guests who spend a weekend here every two months. They like the place and service so much that they come back,” Martin says.
During my short stay, there was a chance to visit the Chocolate Hills and Loboc River. But joining the tours never even crossed my mind, especially since Donatela has more than enough reasons for me to stay in. –CONTRIBUTED
Donatela Hotel is at Km. 16, Barangay Hoyohoy, Tawala, Panglao, Bohol; visit www.donatelahotel.com