The secret behind SecretSpotPH: Turning passion into purpose

From the set to the sea

It is not much of a leap if your happiness depends on it.

The journey from a buzzing, hectic, and strenuous life in the limelight brought erstwhile 1990’s MTV VJ, events host, and actress Shannen Torres and her family into a tranquil, rustic, and unspoiled corner of the Philippines that they now call home.  With her life partner, Brando Umali – one half of the dynamic duo of 1990’s rave era fashion house Warp (with then business partner Ronald Pasion) – they have retreated from the frenetic city life and its taxing exigencies into a paradise of their own making. 

No stranger to public attention and media frenzy, Torres and Umali have always longed for a life that is free from the intense pace of the urban lifestyle they have become accustomed to. Their lateral foray into event activations has brought them far and wide across the entire country, and it is through this constant seeking that they have found their rustic hideaway. What initially started as a desire to build a weekend haunt not too far from the city where work is situated, they ended up with a property that became a business, with the intent of sharing their newfound joy and peace with everyone who comes to visit. Theirs is a story of tenacity, resolve, and a conscious, deliberate effort to live a life according to one’s rules. 

A secret revealed

The result of their search is a piece of unspoiled beachfront property they endearingly call SecretSpotPH. If you have not heard of it yet, SecretSpotPH is a charming, idyllic resort along the coast of Sitio Talisay, Cabangan – a tranquil and obscure fishing village in the province of Zambales. It is one of the first resorts on the shoreline, offering a differentiated vacation experience to those who are looking for something less touristy than what the more popular surf town of Liwliwa has to offer. Here, people come to recalibrate, to bask in the relative quiet, to not be surrounded so much by giddy vacationers trying to do everything all at once. It offers halcyon days where doing nothing is the ultimate goal. It also boasts of the most transcendent sunsets that feel and very much look like a spectacular play of colors and light. The resort looks out to the horizon towards the South China Sea, and on very clear days, one can even make out Chinese barges and ships bobbing by. 

It is a family-owned resort – originally intended to be a weekend retreat for their own growing family – which was then transformed into a fully realized beach destination: designed and built entirely by the couple, with help from many of the locals. It is their dream escape, their secret spot if you will, which they have now openly shared with whoever needs a place to get away from the pressures of life and living. Its evolution into a six-villa property offers every visitor their own private space separate enough from the other guests, but with a shared pool they can enjoy together if they feel like socializing.

The resort reflects the kind of life its owners have always longed for. They have always advocated for a future where they can truly enjoy life – in its basic, purest form. “We firmly believe that you are what you do and through this, your true self shines through,” Torres explains. “SecretSpotPH seemed to be a natural addition to our lives, and my life partner built it intentionally with the goal of giving the best experience to everyone who graces our shore.” Great experiences have been had by many, with a growing consensus among its reviewers that it is indeed a place for relaxation, tranquility, and even romantic moments. 

Owning isn’t as easy as building

But, as with creating anything, the chaos always comes before the calm. Torres recalls the pitfalls of construction and operation in the early days of the resort, “Building SecretSpotPH definitely lent its fair share of lessons, wins, and losses that have made us stronger and wiser. Being in charge of constructing this place from the ground up, and then having to operate it on our own were really some of our biggest challenges. But, thankfully, we are supported by a team that helps us make this dream a reality every day. Together, we learn and grow as we strive to be better.”

“Our motivation comes from the small, daily triumphs when happy guests share their experiences, when they recommend us to others, and when they keep coming back. I’ve learned that it’s always the little things that are more significant and rewarding,” she muses. With its personalized service, thoughtful amenities, beautifully designed villas, and shared spaces, SecretSpotPH has become a true paradise of peace for those who seek it. Its obscurity is also one of its assets because it offers you a sprawling, serene beachfront uncluttered by the trappings of more populated beaches around the province. The allure of dining with the freshest catch of the day from the local fisherfolk is also irresistible. It is, indeed, a perfect getaway destination.

Build a life you don’t need a vacation from

Torres and her family have permanently relocated to Zambales as well – only coming to Metro Manila when work beckons – a move that was partly inspired by the pandemic, and partly by the desire to be where they are happiest. Of course, having a beach resort came in fortuitously during the COVID lockdowns, when outdoor space suddenly became the sought-after refuge and oasis. It was serendipity at work because not only has this move allowed them to personally operate the resort, but it has also offered Torres, specifically, a chance to revisit past passions that have been put on the back burner for so long. 

What started as a small batch of handmade soaps that she started eight years ago after attending a soap-making class is now set to expand to an entire line of sustainable products that will be called Folk Lore. Her growing love for all things natural and a realization that anything handmade is crafted more thoughtfully brought out the inner “albularya” in Torres. “Passed down through generations, this art of crafting things from nature lives on in us, and it is something to be marveled at and treasured,” she remarks. 

Along with her partner, Torres also operates food joints in Liwliwa: nestled in a collective burrow they call “Eskinita” is a burger spot called Zamburger and a chicken stand aptly called Chicka. “Living in the province makes one miss creature comforts and familiar haunts. Fried chicken and burgers are a forever favorite of ours, so we created our very own to make sure we always have what we want when we want them,” Torres notes. Their list of business ventures also includes a coffee shop called Liwa Lounge, which is set to have its soft opening in the coming days. For Torres and her partner “this is one for the bucket list. We have always wanted a café lounge; a place with good food, a chill lounge by day with offerings of classic favorites from our home that pays homage to family recipes, and a curated experience space on random nights that we host intimate gatherings with DJs, as we feature a wide range of musical flavors and styles.” Truly, the possibilities are endless now that they have found what they have long been seeking: contentment, togetherness, and peace.

“Never give up. Never stop believing,” Torres declares. To anyone who is thinking of pursuing their passions, she says, “Life will throw its share of curveballs to dishearten us all. Challenges will come from many directions: up, down, sideways, and in every way. Power through, get past it, and shine as you should. You can do it. We all can.” We must. We should: if only to find our own secret spot in the world where life will suddenly make sense, and being who we are will be all that is required.

Visit SecretSpotPH and experience a different kind of summer, one that is more about reconnecting to yourself as you dig through what you feel is already there. Who knows, you might also discover the one thing you have been looking for: a passion that you can finally turn into purpose.  

Passion Life Hack: Build your own “secret spot”

1. Take the off-beaten path. If tourists flock to it then move as far away from that place as possible.

2. Ask the locals. Often, they know of hidden spots that are quieter, less crowded, and more pristine than the popular haunts around.

3. Learn the surroundings. What can it offer? What makes it unique? Use that to guide you as you envision a life there.

4. Visit the local government. Inquire about the property and make sure it is legitimate and unencumbered. The last thing you want is a legal debacle when you start building.

5. Finally, focus on the potential and possibilities. Things will be difficult in the beginning but do not be disheartened. Remember your purpose and use that as your anchor. Navigate with hope.

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For more information on SecretSpotPH, Folk Lore, Zamburger, and Chicka Chicken, please visit the following Instagram pages: secretspotph.zambales,, and chickachicken.liwa.