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Private Island Paradise in the Philippines

Private Island Paradise in the Philippines

In the Philippines’ undiscovered Calamian Islands lies a newly developed private island property called Ariara.  One of over 7,000 islands which make up the Philippines, this 125 acre tropical island is covered in part by jungle, edged with white sand beaches and surrounded by coral reefs and azure waters.

Conceived over a six-year labour of love by British owners, Charles and Carrie McCulloch, Ariara introduces an idyllic private retreat, designed and staffed like a luxuriously appointed and impeccably managed private home, to accommodate up to 17 guests on an exclusive basis.  Aimed at travellers like themselves - people who like to escape busy lives on exotic adventures with friends and family but don’t do hotels – the McCullochs have created the ultimate destination for a private paradise to have all to yourself. 

“However stunning a location, I have always disliked the lack of freedom and individuality imposed by hotels”, says Charles. “The continual reminder that your bill is imminent, having to sign for everything from a bottle of water to renting a snorkel and the inevitable compromise that comes with sharing your space with others really gets to me.  Our most favourite travel experiences have been staying in African lodges which retain the feel of a private home and are fully staffed by the owners’ personal staff.  Nothing is too much trouble and yet it’s informal and intimate enough to truly relax with friends and family.  Why not apply this idea to a tropical island?  Something without the commercial feel of a hotel, more personal, more real, more private yet still with all the luxuries.”  And so the journey began…

The McCullochs appointed renowned Filipino architect Jorge Yulo and the multi-talented Belgian expatriate Peter Ponnet as Project Manager. Together they went to great lengths to design the property with the least impact on its pristine environment to provide 25,000 ft2 of luxurious accommodation.

Accommodation consists of eight spacious villas and cottages situated along Ariara’s 600m main beach with uninterrupted views out to the sea and neighbouring islands.  All bedrooms have private terraces and gardens, scattered with hanging chairs and hammocks.  Many have vaulted ceilings, four-poster beds, walk-in wardrobes, enormous bathrooms and open-air showers.  Every item of furniture on Ariara has been designed, made and upholstered in-house using local carpenters and craftsmen in the island’s own workshops or outsourced to Filipino artisans.  Materials were sourced locally and all furnishings created with traditional skills:  huge marble baths carved from single blocks of Romblon marble and wooden baths crafted using traditional boat-building techniques; local wood and rattan sourced from sustainable supplies; cushions made from tribal fabrics, woven by craftspeople from Mindanao in the South; and intricate wooden chests carved by indigenous Palawan woodcarvers.  Ariara’s decorative flair is accentuated by striking wall hangings, heliographs and ceramics made by a talented Filipino artist Ugu Bigyan. 


The focal point of day-to-day life on Ariara is The Lodge imposingly positioned at the end of the island’s 120m pier and designed for dining and entertaining.  An impressive marble-floored dining sala has a 12m high vaulted ceiling, wall-to-wall full-height glass doors - which open to catch the sea views and breezes - and a first floor viewing gallery above with a shaded terrace.  A spacious lounge leads onto the beach with an infinity pool and extensive deck area.  Inside, oversized sofas and a cinema projector offers a cozy cocoon to relax and unwind. 

The lifestyle on Ariara is very self-indulgent and there are no rules.  Each party of guests has exclusive use of this 125 acre tropical island and its 30 staff that includes a European Manager, two PADI Dive Instructors, Spa Therapist and Private Chef.  The talented Jonnel Sotto, formerly head Asian chef at Amanpulo, creates bespoke menus for a truly personalized approach to entertaining.  His Euro-Asian style draws on fresh local ingredients and traditional Filipino delicacies combined with an innovative flair to appeal to a western palate.  Favourites include: Seared Tuna, Pomelo and Arugula Salad; Spicy Pumpkin and Coconut Soup; Mango Beef Stir Fry; Balinese Chilli Squid; Soy Sake Shrimp and Ginger Aioli; Homemade Banana and Cashew Nut Ice Cream and Pineapple Sorbet.  Dining can be as sophisticated or ‘barefoot’ relaxed as guests like with times and locations entirely flexible and planned daily to suit guests’ preferences.  Pre-dinner cocktails can be served in different places each evening such as lounging cozily in beanbags in the pier cabana or a romantic candlelit spot on the beach.  Sophisticated dinners can be enjoyed around the huge mango wood dining table at The Lodge, laid out under the stars for a moonlit barbecue banquet or a beach party of succulent Lechon (spit roast pig). 

The perfect playground for adventurers and explorers, Ariara comes complete with a multitude of ‘toys’ and a number of activities and excursions on offer.  Each party of guests has unlimited use of Ariara’s six different boats including a beautifully refitted 100ft traditional Filipino tri-maran, the Karen-Joy.  With her 5 en-suite air conditioned cabins and expansive deck-space, the Karen-Joy is one of Ariara’s biggest highlights for guests to enjoy island-hopping excursions, over-night cruises and live-on-board dive trips to the more remote islands.  Visit deserted islands, local villages, or the remains of a 17th century Spanish fort being swallowed up by the jungle.  Venture further afield to the northern tip of Palawan to see paddy fields, trek to waterfalls and bathe in the beautiful hidden lagoons in Bacuit Bay where striking limestone rock formations are reminiscent of Halong Bay.  From the protected waters of the island’s house reef to exhilarating wreck diving on WWII Japanese and US wrecks, the Calamian Islands offer some of the most pristine diving in the world teaming with spectacular corals and a huge diversity of marine species that thrive in these clear warm waters.  Additional watersports include fishing, wind surfing, jet skiing, kayaking, water skiing, wake boarding, knee boarding, ringo-ing. 

Back on Ariara, relax on the beach or by the pool, laze in a hammock in a private spot, enjoy spa treatments with Ariara’s resident therapist or kick back in The Lounge Cinema.  Personal trainers, yoga instructors and professional nannies can be organized on request