There are few who dare to dream. Who revel in exploring the unknown, the depths of our true desires, diving in feet first, leaving the rest up to the whims of the world…
Interior designer and visual master Vianca Soleil is just one of those dreamers, who left the bright lights and bustling city streets of Dubai for a more serene, slower life. She followed her feet around the world, and finally settled where it all began, in the majestic tropics of Puro Island in Romblon, Phillipines. A quaint, untouched island framed by white sands, ancient palm trees and wild mangroves, scattered with authentic beach huts and beautiful locals, free from the spoils of modern civilization. Life here is unrushed and intentional, days are spent immersed in nature, collecting seashells and anemones, floating in crystal waters, exploring marbled coastlines, weaving straw hats, drinking in majestic sunrises, sunsets, and building her lifelong home and eco-resort, Unna.
Longing to know more, dreaming of escaping to distant lands through her story, we connected with Vianca and discovered there is so much more to island life…
You’ve travelled the world visiting some incredible destinations, what was unique to Romblon that drew you there?
Romblon reminds me of old Philippines, the way I remember it as a kid exploring islands with my family in the 90s. It’s all untouched nature, the marine life is so unique and the entire province remains un-touristy. It’s also abundant with marble which is one of the most exciting reasons that drew me here.
What was the defining moment you chose to pack up and move to Puro Island? Was that a difficult or easy choice for you to make?
It was definitely an easy choice as I’ve always longed to move closer to the sea. I lived that hectic city life for years and after having done some traveling, it did feel like I’d seen enough and that it was time to go back to the basics, to slow the pace. This is kind of an end goal for me.
How has the transition been for you since then, from city to island life?
I’ve been based in Romblon for over a year now and have fully embraced the life. Even back in the city, I was already questioning my routine, my consuming habits and have already simplified many aspects in my everyday. It was only a matter of applying what I learned works for me in the new environment I chose to be in.
What is life like on Puro Island? What does it look, feel, smell, sound and taste like?
Puro is a lovely little island surrounded by a couple of islets. The surprising thing is that given its size, it’s so rich in nature. We have mangrove forests, rolling hills, a fish and bird sanctuary, beaches that have either white sand, corals or marble bits and of course, those classic landscapes of rice fields and coconut trees. Our home is on somewhat of a cove so a lot of seafood gets trapped on our shore during low tide. It’s amusing that we get to eat all sorts of clams and uni for free. There are no roads nor establishments here so there’s always that element of exploration, of figuring out your own way. The island is quiet as the water is usually calm, just the sound of wind on trees and birds. This place to me is what peace and paradise feels like.
What does a typical day for you entail?
We’re currently on the construction phase of our home which I designed, both the architecture and interior so most of my time goes into overseeing the work and developing ideas. In between, I find time for swimming, hiking or paddling on my little boat.
What do you love most about Puro Island?
I love how intimate and idyllic this place is. Puro is the Filipino word for pure and it does live up to its name. I also love that we’re facing south. The palm shadows are a joy to observe throughout the day and on some months, we could see both sunrise and sunset from our shore.
What do you miss most living on Puro Island?
Sometimes I miss the convenience of walking to a grocery store, seeing so much choices and filling a cart with everything I need. I miss a good ramen. All those small and silly things I can do without. But I really miss my family. The plan was for them to take turns visiting me and I go to Manila every month but since the pandemic, we haven’t been able to travel.
What have been some of the most beautifully harsh realities and lessons you’ve since learnt living on an island?
I know more than ever that whatever comes at you, attitude is everything. There’s so much to be learnt from the island locals. They don’t have much and I can tell they’ve been through a lot yet they maintain a happy and uncomplicated disposition. That’s the kind of mindset I strive for.
What has been your philosophy, your guiding force behind creating this new island life?
My father lived a selfless life in service to others. Although I chose a different path and became a creative, everything I do is a push to emulate his example. As I create a life on the island, I hope to grow with the residents, to not only create beautiful things but to also have them benefit from this project.
What have you learnt about yourself since living there?
I challenged myself to be very hands-on hence doing the architecture which is a first time. Add to that, logistic headaches, typhoons and having no clue about a lot of processes. It was a steep learning curve. It took a lot of sweat, passion and some luck and in return I learned what more I’m capable of. That a plan considered too wild and overwhelming in the beginning, didn’t actually turn out all that bad.
How do you find balance between connection and seclusion living on an island?
That’s why I go to Manila once in a while. It’s important to find balance and to be present with my loved ones. Not being able to do so since the start of the pandemic has been difficult but group chats and Zoom calls have really helped. I’m also very close to my neighbors especially the kids. They’ve become my family away from family.
You’re planning on sharing your island life with others by opening up an eco-resort on Puro, tell us a little about that…
What started as a vacation home has evolved into a small eco-resort because our ideas kept on growing. We’re really grateful for having been able to build Unna, our dream home in a special place such as Puro. I see a lot of possibilities in what we have created and we would love to be able to share the experience. This is also a great way to provide livelihood to the residents and hopefully bring out the potential of the community.
What is the idea, ethos behind Unna?
Unna is firstly our family home. It’s a space and a feeling that brings us together. I also consider it my life’s work and it doesn’t stop at some point. We’ll keep creating as the island gives us so much inspiration. Our whole idea of Unna is still evolving but it’s always centered in nature and rawness.
What can guests expect to experience with their stay? When do you anticipate to be open to guests?
In true Filipino island style, it’s all about the simple pleasures, a sense of community and a lot of nature’s beauty. Puro is the ideal place to take in all of that and staying at Unna means home for you. It’s a slow build process and we are growing organically. Hopefully by early next year we’ll be ready to welcome guests.
What do you recommend for people to introduce a bit of island life into their own lives?
I’d say to have a more relaxed approach to things and to have a stronger appreciation and care for nature. You can also come stay with us and take a piece of Unna with you, or in the meantime, drift away to the easy sounds of my island playlist.
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