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Close Encounters

Updated: May 18, 2018

By Ruby Asoy-Lebajo

Photos by Donald Tapan

Safari Hotel brings the savannah to Vigan

Thinking of going on a safari this year? You don’t have to go far. The heritage city of Vigan in Ilocos Sur is now home to the newly opened themed luxury hotel and resort called Safari Hotel managed by AURA Hotels and Resorts. This is the first of its kind with close encounters with safari animals alongside the hotel’s five-star accommodation in the North.

Facade of Safari Hotel

Inviting pool area

Safari Hotel is the brainchild of former Ilocos Sur Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson, who also owns the famous Baluarte Mini Zoo and Safari Gallery. The soft opening was last December 2017.

Lobby of the hotel

“It was more or less five years ago that he envisioned to build this property. He started building it two years ago,” shared Victor Marc N. Montesa, the resort manager.

Room with jacuzzi

The resort’s design came from the suggestion of its Korean architect-partner Shaun Kim and his group. It presently has 21 rooms, while another 49 villas and room clusters are being constructed at the back of the 10-hectare property. The entire estate covers 300 hectares, which also serves as an animal sanctuary. It is now home to a number of animals, including giraffes, ponies, zebras, lions, kangaroos and tigers. Definitely, hotel guests will have an enjoyable encounter with these lovely creatures.

Two-bedroom hotel room

“We just let the animals roam freely around the grasslands right beside the hotel. And yes they would make a great backdrop for your selfie photos.” said Montesa.

Only two months at his post, the Resort Manager shares his leadership style: “I want people to think and to use their common sense, and the gut-feel of doing what is right and what is wrong. I have a lot of young staff now. We have been doing a lot of training for them.”

Baluarte Zoo and Resort complex lies within hectares of land.

Taming the tiger

A Unique Place

What makes the resort different from other properties in Vigan? Montesa cites three distinct offerings of Safari Hotel.

Foremost is the serenity of the place: “Once you’re here, you will feel relaxed communing with nature. It will be worth the long drive. Children will be happy here also, because of the animals that they will see and can have a close encounter with.”

Second the service, which comes from the heart: “Passion comes in when you do things from the heart. It’s like enjoying and loving what you do.”

Delicious Italian food at Dario Ristorante Italiano

Italian Home Cooking

Third is the delicious food. Safari Hotel has an in-house Italian restaurant called Dario Ristorante Italiano, named after Dario Gardini, the restaurant’s owner and the hotel’s food and beverage.

“It’s traditional Italian home cooking,” said Montesa. “We also have an open kitchen to showcase the cleanliness and the quality standard of food preparation.”

Of the dishes we tried, our favorites were the carpaccio, assorted Italian cold cuts, toasted fresh bread with mushroom sauce, Calabrese pizza, homemade tagliolini with fresh salmon and caviar, homemade garganeli with shrimp in tomato sauce, homemade tagliatelle with truffle cream and parma ham, and lamb chop grill with herbs. They were truly appetizing and satisfying.

A variety of developments is now in the pipeline for Safari Hotel. These include room expansions, providing an entertainment area for guests, exclusive transportation options via Partas Transit, chartered flights to the resort, and the development in the next two to three years of religious tourism that will once again put Vigan on the world map for the second time, after being hailed as one of the world’s New 7 Wonders Cities.

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