Expectation can be a terrible thing. For weeks Mr Smith and I have been counting down to our Philippine weekend jaunt. Fantasising about tropical downtime has kept us afloat during Hong Kong’s chilly winter. As we board the private jet that is whisking us off to Amanpulo, our luxury escape on Pamalican Island, I start to fear that nothing could match my inflated expectations. Yet the moment the sea transitions from undulating expanses of dull blue to vibrant turquoise edging onto white sand, it dawns on me that any disappointment is going to arise from returning to normal life. It feels as though we’ve been granted VIP access to this privileged private isle. Mr Smith and I don’t need to exchange words – our jaws drop in unison and mouths remain wide open for the duration of our stay.
Aging gracefully seems to be Amanpulo’s mantra. Built almost 20 years ago, the hotel hasn’t attempted to modernise itself unnecessarily. Rather than relying on modern gadgets and trumped-up design, the setting, service and quality speak for themselves. While the rooms feel more rustic than ritzy, this pared-back charm allows the beauty of the island to stand out rather than be overshadowed.
Sprinkled across the island is a seductive range of facilities, but instead of lingering in the library or seeking out the spa, we make a beeline for our Beach Casita, gloriously separate from anyone and anything else on a secluded stretch of beach. Our giant villa is simply styled with dark wood furniture and crisp white cushions. The sprawling bedroom leads through to a bathroom of the same size, where a pair of straw hats urge us to head along the path, past our two-person hammock, down towards the sea. As I scan the horizon, toes ensconced in cashmere-soft sand, Mr Smith dons his new hat and declares himself the modern-day Robinson Crusoe.
From this private patch, there’s not a soul in sight, allowing for hours of sun-kissed book reading and sea-swaddled embraces. Rather than feeling hauntingly empty, the lack of human interaction (continued in the spa and restaurants) heightens the romance of our stay.
As we’re drawn into this laid-back way of living, however, paradise decides to spit up some romantic hurdles. A real chore is choosing how to navigate between the sprawling restaurants, hilltop spa with panoramic views, pavilion-lined pool and our homey casita.
Mr Smith’s preference lies in scooting along the interior paths (flanked by reclining lizards and coconut trees) in our golf buggy, whereas I’d rather amble around on bicycles or walk barefoot along the deserted beach.
Occasionally interrupted by gourmet meals and mojitos, my scheduled relaxation is also compromised by my desire to satiate Mr Smith’s restless energy and accompany him kayaking and snorkelling. Mealtimes fortunately provide a lull in decision-making as we resolve to sample all the culinary treats on offer. We spend an eveningdeconstructing a crab overlooking the sea at the Lagoon Club, enjoy a lazy lunch grazing on tapas at the Beach Club, and linger over breakfast and fresh coffee in the shade of the elevated Club House restaurant, surveying the pool and island beyond.
After two days of self-imposed lethargy and replacing our everyday woes with inane island dilemmas (caipiroska or Cosmopolitan?), we approach our final evening keen to preserve our love-struck sentiments. Strolling barefoot down to the beach from our casita, we stumble upon a candlelit table for two, surrounded by bamboo torches and wicker lanterns flickering across the sand. Despite not letting me drive the golf buggy and causing me to blister my fingers kayaking, Mr Smith is positively back in my good books for arranging this. He glows, not only from sunburn but brownie-point-earning.
As a guitarist serenades us, I realise only one thing could elevate this picture-perfect evening: a proposal. Unfortunately for me, mine had come 12 months too early… Finally, induced by cocktails and wine, I fall asleep on our hammock, snoring contentedly and leaving Mr Smith to remember why he doesn’t spoil me as often anymore.
Before leaving the next day, I force us to slowly circumnavigate the island, allowing Amanpulo’s charm to seep into my memory. Paradise this idyllic should only be experienced once – stay too long and real life becomes unbearable. As we step back onto the private jet and glide from our VIP island and back to reality, I start to wonder if the whole weekend had been a dream. Could such secluded perfection really exist? Would God create such a paradise and only grant access to so few? Then I remember, God didn’t create this haven, Aman did.