The French have a knack for discovering the best holiday destinations across Asia, and when we found ourselves at a gorgeous resort full of French families it was obvious they hadn’t been sharing with the rest of us.
Recommendations are passed down the expat lines and back to families and friends at home with strict instructions of secrecy. Many of the families at this resort in the Philippines have traveled from France for a stay of a week or more, the rest are expats from across Asia on their third and fourth stay. It’s an addiction, something keeps pulling them back to the Coco Grove Beach Resort, Siquijor.
And the French know their stuff. Of the more than 7000 islands in the Philippines, Siquijor is at the top of the list for a family resort holiday. Just a 30 minute ferry ride from Dumaguete, this Visayas island is renowned for its white sand beaches, plunging waterfalls and elusive faith healers. A fear of witchcraft stifled the flow of local tourists to the island for many years, and while its popularity is rising its beaches, jungles and waterfalls remain lazy and unspoilt.
Staying at the Coco Grove Resort and being particularly un-French has them curious. ‘How did you find out about this place?’ they ask protectively (um, the internet), and means we are the only Australian family here. My six year old, Emily, quickly befriends Felicia and while they can’t communicate in words, they get along just fine, playing for hours and hours on the sand and in the beachside pool.
The resort fronts the Tuboc Marine Sanctuary along a white sandy beach lined with palm trees, lounges, cabanas and hammocks. A beachside pool, one of three scattered through the resort, is huge and blue surrounded by palms, banana leaves, frangipanis and hibiscus with a swim up bar and shallow childrens’ play area. The beach is only metres away, always enticing us for a snorkelor dive to discover more about the beautiful marine world beneath the surface.
Hand in hand, floating just a few metres off shore, Emily and I watch families of bright orange clown fish dart in and out of their anemone homes while plump blue starfish curl into coral crevices or recline on the sandy bottom. Colourful fish of all shapes and sizes swim lazily past us, feeding from the corals or zigging and zagging away to hide in secret places.
Each morning Emmie and I sit at a table on the wide sand, just metres from the water and order the Filipino breakfast - tea, delicious tocino pork with boiled rice and tomato and two fried eggs, fresh fruit and juice. Lunch is chicken and rice or spaghetti by the pool, with our dinner beachside from the restaurant or at the weekly beach barbecue featuring local entertainment, fire dancing, and traditional songs and dances from the staff.
Outside the resort is an amazing natural world to explore including the sensational jade green Cambugahay Falls, white sand beaches like Palliton and Apo Island for swimming with turtles and other marine life. And you may also wish to find a Bolo Bolo - faith healer - although I sadly had no such luck. ‘He is a carpenter by day,” one of the staff told me. “And he is working on a house that’s out of range. We can’t get him on his cell phone.”
The slowing setting sun sends golden light down to the water and guests meander to the beach to watch the sky turn dazzling shades of red, orange and pink. Apo Island is silhouetted across the sea and fishing boats bob in the shallow while families play and couples hold hands and sip their evening drinks.
‘Don’t tell anyone about this place,’ a suspicious Frenchman tells me as I watch the sun sink below the horizon. ‘It’s our little secret.’
Our friend April and her family from Globetrotting Grommets have also stayed at the Coco Grove Beach Resort and you can read their review here.