Momo Beach House is the most chill resort in Bohol

Lazy afternoons, nature and the sea at Momo Beach House on Panglao island, Bohol. Photo by Dominic Calalo
The 15-room Momo is like someone’s chic island manor. Visit, call 0915-9889932. Photos courtesy of MBH

When my best friend who lives in Canada told me last year she was going to vacation in the Philippines in January, we immediately started to plan an out-of-town weekend. People who know me know I love Palawan for its marine life and limestone cliffs, Boracay for its White Beach and food, and the third island province I never tire of visiting is Bohol.

“Bohol is for culture, churches, the sea and amazing landscapes,” I told Maria.

Indeed, foreigners who tell people they’ve been to Boracay are asked next, “But have you been to Bohol?”

Bohol has two things no other destination in the Philippines has: the Chocolate Hills, which are 1,700 geological formations that look like Hershey’s Chocolate Kisses spread across 50 square kilometers in Carmen  (they’re five million years old) and the tarsiers at two conservation centers, the world’s smallest primates that have been in existence for 45 million years.

Plus, there’s  Loboc River, which to me is the most scenic river in the country with coconut trees on the banks, bent toward the water as if bowing to welcome you.

Two hammocks and a wide, open sea to ponder. Photo by Tanya Lara
Paddle boards and kayaks are provided by MBH.

So we planned the trip in December, more than a month before she was actually arriving, bought tickets and booked at Amorita Resort and Momo Beach House, both of which belong to One-Of Collection, which manages hotels and resorts around the Philippines such as The Funny Lion in Coron, Sta. Monica Beach Club in Dumaguete and Momo Beach House in Bohol.

What I love about their resorts is that each one has its own distinct personality. They’re like children from different mothers — no two are alike and that’s the fun in it.

In Bohol, Amorita is the elegant child with its quiet villas with private pools, meandering gardens, amazing food (my God, the Peanut Kisses milkshake!) and discreet service.

Momo Beach House is the hipper version — the child that runs around barefoot in the gardens and climbs trees, the one that makes his parents laugh with funny faces, the one that catches fish on a boat with his father, only to release them again to the sea.

With Amorita located on a cliff, you can contemplate your life and probably come up with a plan for the next 10 years. If you contemplated your life on Momo Beach House’s hammocks — sandwiched between Momo Beach and the swimming pool — the furthest you will want to plan is dinner. In fact, you don’t want to plan that either. It’s that chill.

Beach Tree Cafe is an open-air restaurant with views of the pool and sea.
Apart from local comfort food, guests can buy the fresh catch of the day from local fishermen in the area and have it cooked.

“We developed Momo Beach House as a peaceful, inspiring destination where guests can share our passion for having a relaxing lifestyle,” says Ria Hernandez-Cauton, president of One-Of Collection. “Here, we foster a nature-driven culture so that guests can get away, exhale all the big city toxins, relax, and soothe their mind, body, and soul.”

Located on Panglao island and a 20-minute drive to Amorita and Alona Beach, Momo Beach House is an eco-chic boutique resort that “has emerged as one of the Philippines’ top resort destinations, offering world-weary guests an escape from the urban fray and multiple opportunities to rejuvenate in a beachside setting.”

The 15-room resort looks like someone’s ancestral manor with its whitewashed walls, thatched roofs and a pool in the middle. The dining room is an open space with couches and wooden tables and chairs and colorful throws.

The Aqua Room for couples.
The al fresco chillax lounge and dining room at Momo.

The rooms are in vibrant pastels with stunning seaside and sunset views, and a distinct architectural design theme incorporating white furniture pieces, locally sourced organic bath products, wooden poolside lounge chairs, a repurposed wine rack made from an old fishing boat, and a beachfront bamboo bar.

“Sustainability is an integral part of One-Of Collection’s business strategy,” says Ria. “The location of Momo Beach House is already blessed with a fantastic combination of sun, sea, and sky, and that’s why we designed in ways that integrated key features of these beautiful natural surroundings.”

Committed to meeting the demands of today’s increasingly busy tourists and wellness-oriented leisure travelers, Momo Beach House distinguishes itself with a wide range of features and services that make for truly holistic holidays: nature-inspired architecture, homestyle al fresco dining, environment-friendly amenities, and a homey, just chill vibe.

Getting away from the stresses of city life.
Beach volleyball, anyone?

“There is also much more to Momo Beach House than scenes of tropical idyll. Its Beach Tree Café is an all-day dining venue with a homestyle-inspired menu designed around locally sourced organic ingredients, and an approach to food that emphasizes health, freshness, clarity of ingredients, and local availability.”

Banking on the widely held notion that a healthy lifestyle is also necessarily an active one, the boutique resort serves as a venue for regular private yoga retreats and wellness activities, with an on-call yogal instructor available to lead practice sessions for beginner and advanced yogis and yoginis. Momo Beach House also provides kayaks and standup paddleboards for guests.

“Here at Momo Beach House, our approach to wellness is holistic,” says Ria. “The facilities, features, and services in our resort are all aimed at strengthening our ability to engage with and cater to travelers who demand greater options for getting away and rediscovering themselves.”

Chillaxing on Momo Beach.
Chilling at night at Momo Beach House.

Big love from Bohol’s Amorita Resort

Daybeds at Amorita Resort on Bohol’s Panglao island look out to the infinity pool and the clear waters of Panglao island. Photo by Tanya Lara
A school of fish in Balicasag island, half an hour’s boat ride from Alona Beach right outside Amorita. Photo by Dominic Calalo

You really can’t get any fresher than this. The scallops that chef Raphael Ongchiong baked in their own shells were fished right outside the restaurant, in the waters of Panglao island. The crust was made out of sea urchin that was pureed with butter and drizzled with breadcrumbs to give it a crunchy texture. In fact, all the seafood in this gorgeous spread of 17 pintxos (small bar snacks), tapas and paellas were locally sourced including the chupitos (baby octopus) and shrimps.

From sea to table, that’s how Amorita opened its new tapas bar called Tomar (“to drink” in Spanish). There was sangria and wine, there was flamenco, Spanish songs, and then there were the heavenly pintxos.

In a way that the seaside cliff resort Amorita (the word means “small love”) does everything, Tomar is classy in its physical space, ambience and food. It fuses traditional Spanish fare with Boholano creativity; it mixes furnishings of wood, steel and leather, resulting in a stylish restaurant.

Tomar (“to drink” in Spanish) at Amorita serves the best tapas, pintxos, sangria and Spanish wines in Bohol. Photo by Dominic Calalo
(Clockwise) Paella negra or paella with squid ink and gambas from Tomar; crispy binagoongan with mango, sisig quesadilla and the fabulous Peanut Kisses shake from Amorita’s  all-day restaurant Saffron. Photos by Tanya Lara and Dominic Calalo
Amorita CEO Nikki Cauton, COO Lyba Godio and chef Raphael Ongchiong. Photo by Dominic Calalo
One of two infinity pools at Amorita. Photo by Tanya Lara

With all the guests raving about the food, chef Raphael smiles and says, “That’s funny because I have never been to Spain.” Trained in the classical French technique, he did research by eating in Spanish restaurants in Manila, buying books and online sleuthing.

You can say he had tough taste testers: the young couple who own Amorita — CEO Nikki Cauton III and his wife, CFO Ria Cauton. Of all their travels, it’s Spain that keeps drawing them back, and in no small part because of the food.

Nikki says that when they were brainstorming on what new restaurant to add to Amorita’s poolside Saffron restaurant, they knew right away that they didn’t want the usual Japanese or Chinese restaurant that most hotels offer.

“Like me when I travel, I usually go on a food tour more than any other activity abroad. My wife Ria and I have done food tours in Madrid and Prague. That sense of vacation can be captured through a tapas and pintxos bar and such food goes well with wine or beer. A tapas bar is a good complement to a vacation because you want to celebrate and enjoy yourself, so we want to bring in that sense of festivity to Amorita.”

The menu was conceptualized by Nikki, Ria and chef Raphael. The first thing they considered — as they did when doing Saffron’s menu — was what was locally available in Bohol. Seafood was on top of the list with the freshest fish, scallops, shrimps and octopus coming from the clearest waters.

“That’s our philosophy whenever we do something. We find what’s abundant and endemic in Bohol and then we do the project around it. What’s great is that the local produce and ingredients of Bohol very much complement  Spanish food,” says Nikki, adding that Tomar wasn’t intended just for hotel guests or tourists, but also for Boholanos who want to enjoy a different kind of evening once in a while. “The chef and I are good friends and we’ve traveled a lot looking at Thailand and Bali to benchmark. We try to compete with the players outside the country, too.”

(Clockwise) The author Tanya Lara on a boat just after island hopping to the bizarrely religious Virgin Island with its beautiful sandbar, on the waters of Balicasag, enjoying Amorita’s poolside, and the pink kayaks on Alona Beach. Photos by Tanya Lara
Bedroom of the one-bedroom seaview suite.

Tomar is a great addition to Saffron, which serves some of the most innovative Filipino dishes I’ve tasted like binagoongan with manga, crispy sinigang, sisig quesadilla and more. We enjoyed a late lunch at Saffron after a morning of diving in Balicasag island, where we had encounters with sea turtles and colorful schools of fish in the marine sanctuary.

And for drinks, we had Peanut Kisses shake. Yes, those little mounds of delight — not just in a shake but as a shake. It’s like combining candy, peanuts, ice cream and the entire island of Bohol in a glass, and then blending it with ice cream. It’s brilliant!

Thinking out of the box is the Cautons’ secret to making Amorita one of the best-loved luxury resorts in the country. Nikki and Ria were only in their 20s and married for five months when they started the resort and neither of them is Boholano (Nikki’s from Ilocos and Ria’s from Pampanga). Falling in love with the province and its lifestyle of biking to the mountains on weekends, snorkeling and diving in the open waters was easy and quick for the couple.

The poolside Saffron restaurant on the ground floor and Tomar on the second floor.
Sunrise, sunset, a book and a hammock on the beach at Amorita.

“When we started in 2007, our goal was just to keep Amorita afloat. We were doing everything, I was driving the car, serving the food, but our standard from the start was very high. Then people realized that this property in Bohol was something unique — that this level of service could be had for a reasonable price and what a surprise that it was a local brand.”

What was 1.2 hectares before with 14 villas and 20 deluxe rooms is now 5.6 hectares with 14 villas that are being renovated until October and 82 suites. Amorita is one of the brands under One-Of Collection, which prides itself on distinctive hotels and resorts in prime locations such as Coron (The Funny Lion resort), Dumaguete (Sta. Monica Beach Club) and Bohol (Momo Beach Club).

Nikki says that they may do one or two more high-end resorts like Amorita. To which we raise our Peanut Kisses shake and say, “Cheers and big love to local!”

View of Panglao island from the balcony. For inquiries, call Amorita’s Manila office at 553-9549, 856-1443, email

Where I’ve been wandering
Some wanderings in 2014 and 2013: (upper photos) Rome, Provence, Barcelona; (middle) Vienna, Amsterdam; (bottom) Marseilles, Paris, Paros, Prague. (Photos by @iamtanyalara)

So, Macedonia makes it the 50th country I’ve visited in my lifetime. This post should really be titled “How I learned to make interactive maps” to remember where I’ve been.

A couple of years ago, an acquaintance mentioned to my colleagues that she had traveled to Guam with me on a coverage. I said I had never set foot in Guam. Ever. But she was so insistent that for a second I thought: did I really go to Guam and  forget all about it?

The answer is no. I had never been there, but it led me to think that there might be places that are slipping from my memory, though I loved being there at the time. (I forget where I put my car keys at least once a week, or is that twice?)

While I don’t keep a diary, working as a journalist all my life has taught me to mentally store details, atmosphere and conversations, to  take down notes even when I am not working. After I started my travel blog in January, I told my friend Cedric in Paris that I wanted to make maps of my wanderings to remind me of the stories I’ve been wanting to write for years, also because I’ve lost  thousands of pictures from some trips because I keep accidentally deleting them en masse.

He taught my how to do it over Skype, which was frustrating at first because I don’t know how to do shit on Google, then it got fun — and then obsessive. Each map can only have a maximum of 10 layers, and I’ve done mine per country. You can be as specific as per city and its sights or attractions if you have the time.

So here’s an example of how you can plot your travels. Trust me, don’t start until the weekend because if you’re anything like me, you’re not gonna stop till they are finished. Start mapping!

Untangling Bohol

The so called chocolate Hills in the Bohol province of the Philippines
The Chocolate Hills of Bohol — yes, named after Hershey’s Kisses because they look like someone had dropped 1,700 geological formations that look like chocolates when they turn brown in the summer.   Photo by P199/
Bohol03_by_ibarra tomas siapno
Doesn’t the little fella look like Yoda? The tarsiers, now found only in Southeast Asia, are the smallest primates in the world. Tourists have tried to smuggle tarsiers in bundt cakes and other knucklehead means. Photo by Ibarra Tomas Siapno/The Peacock Garden Resort

Of all places to plan a trip, we did it in a funeral chapel.

It was toward the end of March in 2011 or 2012. Some friends and I were at the wake for a friend’s father, and we got to asking each other’s plans for Easter. Holy Week in the Philippines is one of the longest holidays ever.

I work for a daily newspaper where public holidays don’t apply to reporters and editors (except for major ones like Christmas — and that’s only because I work in the lifestyle section and we print in advance. Editors at the news desk don’t get the day off even on Christmas Day or New Year).

But Easter Week is a different story. Good Friday and Black Saturday are the only two days in the year when there are no major newspapers printed. From Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday, Manila is traffic-free and people drive around aimlessly just because they can.

It is also the only time when 95 percent of restaurants and bars are closed on a Thursday and Friday. Why? Because Jesus is dead.

So these friends and I, we decided to go to Bohol (the Tagalog word buhol means “knot”), an hour’s flight from Manila, and famous for its Spanish churches and the Chocolate Hills. My friends were friends with the Schoof family, who owns the Peacock Garden Resort, and they could book us for the long weekend.

The Loboc River cruise on a wooden boat passes through forested riverbanks.  Photo by Nucksfan604/flickr
Bohol05_by_peter cons
The infinity pool at Peacock Garden Resort looks out onto the Bohol Sea. Photo by Peter Cons/Peacock Garden
Bohol has several churches dating back to the Spanish colonial period, many of them destroyed by a massive earthquake in 2013. Photo from

Unlike the party island that is Boracay, Bohol is quieter and is weird in its natural beauty— and by that I mean the Chocolate Hills and the tarsiers — but more on these later.

We fly into Tagbilaran airport and I meet the Schoofs at their resort — Hans Schoof, a German fella married to Lani, and their son Chris who later married the lovely Amanda.

Their resort sits on top of a hill with gorgeous views of the sea. It is a veritable secret garden that has peacocks (hence the name) and villas that face infinity pools.

The hotel’s main lobby features — in all mind-blowing improbability — our national hero Dr. Jose Rizal’s furniture when he lived in Heidelberg, Germany, where he wrote parts of his novels that led to the Philippine revolution against its colonial master Spain in the 1800s.

Why are these pieces of furniture here? Because Hans Schoof is a fan of this country’s greatest hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. Because who will not fall in love with Rizal? The man was a doctor, a linguist, a revolutionary, a writer who wrote two novels that laid bare the excesses and ridiculousness of the Spanish colonizers.

And he wrote the most moving poem, Mi Ultimo Adios, as his goodbye to his county and hid it in a cocinilla, a small stove, on the eve of his execution (he wrote it in Spanish, as he did his novels).

His novels, thinly veiled roman a clef, were the 1800s’ equivalent to “F*ck you, Spain!”

Bohol and Rizal — you don’t think of this unlikely pairing unless you meet Hans Schoof and are staying at Peacock Garden Resort. And even as you stand in the lobby with the desk where Rizal wrote his poem “To the Flowers of Heidelberg,” it feels surreal.

But decades ago, the young Hans came to the Philippines and fell in love, and after running a German restaurant in Manila, he and his wife decided to build a resort in her home province, standing on a hill and looking out at Bohol Sea.

Bohol’s secret garden. Our friends Chris and Amanda Schoof marry in Peacock Garden Resort in December 2012.
The crew’s all here at Peacock Garden for Easter 2011 or 2012 with Hans and Chris Schoof (right and second from right) and our dear friend tito Donnie who has passed on (left).
Bohol06_by_peter cons
The balcony rooms at the 33-room boutique resort look out onto the pool and Bohol Sea. Photo by Peter Cons/Peacock Garden

* * *

Nothing quite prepares you for seeing the Chocolate Hills for the first time.

You climb one hill and see them from an elevated deck — they are beautiful and weird all at once. They are perfectly formed natural wonders named after Hershey’s Kisses because that’s exactly how they look — brown in the summer and green in the rainy season.

They are a freak of nature, all 1,700 geological formations that look like someone dropped chocolate kisses on 50 square kilometers of the island — five million years ago.

We visited the tarsiers at the conservation center, with their big protruding eyes and the attitude of sloths (they sleep all day). They are the smallest primates in the world and have been in existence for 45 million years. Today, you can only find them on some islands in Southeast Asia.

My mind can’t even wrap around how long ago 45 million years is. You might as well tell me they are a gazillion years old and my lack of understanding for this length of time would be the same.

* * *

We spent an afternoon drinking mojitos and whiskey on Panglao island, watching swimmers, snorkelers, and dive groups boarding boats. In the evening, Rhoda and I went for a chocolate massage at our resort, which was preceded by a wine bath. I told the girl at the spa, “Don’t you dare pour all that wine in the bathtub.”

Needless to say, I was tipsy and giggly even before dinner started.

The resort’s restaurant is called the Old Heidelberg and in the original wing of the hotel, the corridors display antique hand-drawn and handwritten menus from Europe.

You can easily imagine yourself being transported to those days when the men wore hats and the ladies wore beautiful gowns just to have dinner out. Hans, a true-blue collector (including Bentleys), has about 300 cookbooks from the 1700s to 1920.
Bilar’s man-made forest was planted by the Boy Scouts decades ago. It is a two-kilometer stretch that leads to the Chocolate Hills. Photo from

One afternoon, we drove a convoy of dune buggies through the forests and mountains of Bohol and our guide was a forestry major who was so passionate about every single plant and tree we saw.

By sunset, we were back at the Schoofs’ nearby private estate on a hill where we went skeet shooting. I shot a clay pigeon (or clay plate or whatever you call it), the recoil from the rifle taking me by surprise.

What was most memorable for all of us was cruising through Loboc River with other tourists. The modest wooden boat held about 20 to 30 people and served modest provincial merienda.

The boat went winding slowly through the brackish waters, flanked by forested riverbanks. It made a stop at a balsa (floating wooden platform). We got on it, and children came out singing — the young girls wore pink skirts and the boys pink pajamas.

It put a smile on everybody’s faces.
Chasing dolphins at Pamilacan island (Photo from

If you take the river cruise or go kayaking at night, Loboc River is lit by thousands of fireflies. Unlike Manila, there is no smog here, there is no noise except for crickets, the skies are clear and the stars shine so bright.

It was a relaxing break that all of us needed from work, from our tangled lives. This was my last trip with three good friends who left the country to work as expats the following year.

The hospitality of the Schoofs, the simple living in the towns that we visited, farm huts against the backdrop of the magnificent hills, the five-star resorts, the churches for visita iglesia on days that we were supposed to be for reflection but we just couldn’t shut up or stop giggling, and the views as we drank vodka and watched the sun set on the Bohol Sea. And then there was a lot of laughter with friends.

In that sense, Easter became the celebration that it was supposed to be.
The Chocolate Hills during the Philippines’ summer months (March to June) look like Hershey’s Kisses, hence their name. Photo from