An Unusual Hot Bath (Tibiao, Antique)

From Bugtong Bato Falls, we all took a different foot trail, this time making a 20-min. hike to Bugtong Bato Falls Inn where we were to have our lunch, on an outdoor bamboo picnic table, of fried fish, pork adobo and steamed rice plus delicious, homemade coconut and mango flavored ice cream for dessert.

Our picnic area

Our picnic area

After this filling repast, an unusual treat awaited us – an exotic and soothing hot bath in a kawa, a huge wok (fryer) that was transformed into a jungle hot tub (PhP200), an idea similar to Japanese ofuro hot baths which use rectangular wooden tubs.

The row of baths being prepared

The row of baths being prepared

The kawa with "ingredients" added in

The heated kawa with “ingredients” added in

We were supposed to have this at Kayak Inn, an upland riverside resort operated by Tribal Adventure Tours, an adventure outfit, but there was no supply of spring water needed to fill the kawa.  Luckily for us, Bugtong Bato Falls Inn also offered these unusual hot baths – with spring water available.

Meditating inside the fryer

Contemplating the fate that awaits me inside the fryer

The five big, recycled kawas, cauldrons used for cooking muscovado (raw brown sugar) and taken from abandoned sugar mills, are filled with natural flowing spring water fed from a pipe.  Then, a real fire, fuelled by chopped wood, rice hulls, charcoal and dried palms, is placed underneath the kawa to heat the water Guyabano and guava leaves, said to cure skin disorders and add aroma, are then added as “ingredients” to the now heated water, together with ginger slices and flower petals.

Jandy's turn at the cooker

Jandy’s turn at the cooker

Once the water temperature was right, I took the first shot at experiencing the feeling of being “cooked alive,” the wooden ladle adding a nice touch. While having my hot dip, I felt my muscles, tired and tense after a morning of strenuous hiking, being relieved as the heat permeated my skin. As the kawa can fit two, Jandy joined me after a few minutes.  During the session, an attendant controls the fire so that it does not become too hot.  The thickness of the kawa prevents the fire from scalding our skin.

Father and son bonding moment in a kawa

Father and son bonding moment in a kawa

All the while, I enjoyed the sights and sound of the nearby forest.  It is recommended to just stay there for 20 to 30 mins., otherwise you’ll end up like a prune.  Truly, a “must do” while in Tibiao.

Peter's Lodge

Peter’s Lodge

For those, who want to stay overnight, you can stay at Peter’s Lodge, just beside the baths.  The 2-storey nipa and bamboo lodge, which could be rented overnight for PhP1,500, has a fan-cooled bedroom on the second floor, a 6-pax ground floor dining area, and a bathroom.

Fan-cooled bedroom

Fan-cooled bedroom

6-pax dining area

6-pax dining area

Peter’s Lodge: Brgy. Tuno, Tibiao, Antique. Mobile numbers (0920) 499-6903 and (0939) 492-8554.

Katahum Tours: Tibiao, Antique.  Mobile numbers: (0919) 813-9893 and (0917) 631-5777. E-mail: flord@tibiaofishspa.com. Website: www.katahum.com.

How To Get There: Tibiao is located 73 kms. from San Jose de Buenavista, 12.6 kms. from Barbaza, 17 kms. from Culasi and 89 kms. from Brgy. Caticlan (Malay, Aklan).

Tibiao Fish Spa (Antique)

One of the highlights of our Antique Heritage and Media Familiarization Tour was our visit to the unique and much talked about Tibiao Fish Spa, opened in June 2009 by Flord Nicson Calawag, a 2008 Marine Fisheries graduate of the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences of the University of the Philippines in the Visayas (UPV), Miag-ao, Iloilo (he placed 8th in the 2008 Fisheries Technologist licensure exam). One of a few of its kind in the country, it is considered as the most affordable fish spa in the world.  A form of ichthyotherapy (from the Greek word ichthy meaning “fish”), this fish spa has to be seen and experienced by young and old alike.

Tibiao Fish Spa

Tibiao Fish Spa

This fish spa, formerly located at Flord’s residence, was transferred to an 800 sq. m. lot about 1.5 kms. away from his residence after the November 9, 2013 Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) hit Tibiao, severely damaging his residence as well as the rest of the town.  We arrived a day before its formal reopening at its new location.  Before we indulged at this one-of-a-king experience, we had to wash your feet well before dipping it in the pool.

Jandy and I enjoying this one-of-a-kind experience

Jandy and I enjoying this one-of-a-kind experience

While most Asian fish spas use imported “doctor fish (Garra rufa) from Turkey, which are costly to acquire and difficult to maintain, Tibiao Fish Spa uses and indigenous and locally-bred fish species called Therafish from Antique.  The unique feature of the fish is its sand-paper texture teeth. In this way, it can effectively exfoliate our dead skin. Aside from fish therapy, they also offer reflexology and massage.There have been studies wherein interactions with animals have been found to have therapeutic benefits on children with autism and the calming effects of fish nibbling on Jandy’s toes in the Tibiao Fish Spa seem to justify that study (just look at his happy face above to find out).

TerraFish feasting on my dead skin

TerraFish feasting on my dead skin

The fish spa offers three different tanks that houses levels 1, 2 and 3 therapy fishes.  As the stage goes higher, the fishes get bigger.  Stage 1 does micro-massage, Stage 2 removes the dead skin cells while Stage 3 does the heavy-duty work of removing the soft calluses and thicker patches of skin.

Stage 1 Tank

Stage 1 Tank: micro-massage

The water, which is slightly chlorinated, is changed once to three times daily, plus a recirculating system continuously subjects the water to sediment and activated carbon filters as well as UV sterilization.

Stage 2 Tank

Stage 2 Tank: removing dead skin cells

At first, I was quite scared and uncomfortable having my feet pecked, nibbled or tickled by hundreds of these little fish.  But, after a few minutes, I soon found it to my liking and got the hang of it, learning to just relax, lie down on a pillow and have a nice nap while listening to music and letting the little sea creatures do their work “eating up” the dead skin cells, calluses and cuticles of my feet. At the same time, they stimulate pressure points to relax the body and release stress. Truly, an exciting, exfoliating and soothing sensation that’s worth a try as it is safe and totally pain-free.

Stage 3 Tank

Stage 3 Tank: removing soft calluses and thicker patches of skin

Other branches are found in SM City Iloilo (opened October 20, 2010) and SM City in Pampanga. A branch will open soon in General Santos City (South Cotabato).

Tibiao Fish Spa: Purok 12, Brgy. Malabor, Tibiao, Antique. Cost: PhP100 for 30 minutes. Students are charged a discounted rate.  Mobile numbers: (0919) 813-9893 and (0917) 631-5777. E-mail: flord@tibiaofishspa.com.  Website: www.tibiaofishspa.com.

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Tibiao Fish Spa: Lower Ground Floor, SM City Iloilo (beside Baron Barber Shop and in front of Iloilo Bingo), Benigno Aquino Drive, Mandurriao, Iloilo City, Iloilo. Tel: (033) 302 9897.

Rates: Classic Fish Spa (30 mins. PhP120), VIP Fish Spa (45 mins., PhP250), Full body massage (1 hr., PhP350), Half body massage (40 mins., PhP250) and Foot reflexology (20 mins., PhP100).

Tibiao Fish Spa: 2/F, Cinema and Food Court Area (beside David’s Salon and in front of Chowking), SM City Pampanga, NLEX cor. Jose Abad Santos Ave., San Fernando City, Pampanga.  Tel: (045) 437-2574.

How To Get There: Tibiao is located 73 kms. from San Jose de Buenavista, 12.6 kms. from Barbaza, 17 kms. from Culasi and 89 kms. from Brgy. Caticlan (Malay, Aklan).

Symbios Holistic and Wellness Sanctuary (San Mateo, Rizal)

I recently got an invitation from Ms. Melissa Dizon, a professor, former Exec. Director of North Philippines Visitors Bureau (NPVB) and a Lakbay Norte colleague, to join her in a dance-movement therapy session to be conducted by Ms. Riza Regis (an author, she also conducts crystal healing sessions) at the Symbios Holistic and Wellness Sanctuary, an extension of the BioVitale Holistic Center.  

Dance-movement therapy session with Ms. Riza Regis

The center, a brainchild of owner Dr. Sonny Viloria (a proponent of complementary medicine which blends scientific Western practices with Eastern mysticism), is located in San Mateo, Rizal.  Aside from dance-movement therapy, the center also offers laughter yoga (by Paulo Trinidad); Reiki healing (by Mr. Arnel Belenzo); meditation, sound therapy and shiva-shi movement (by Ms. Yet) and lectures on natural medicine by Dr. Viloria himself. 

Mandala Farm Estates

I met up with Melissa, with her daughter Bianca and her friend Mr. Jon Ryan ” J.R.” Ng (a photographer and magazine writer), very early in the morning at the Jollibee outlet at the Welcome Rotunda in Quezon City.  With J.R. at the wheel of his car, we motored all the way to Mandala Farm Estates where we asked the security guards at the subdivision gate for directions to the center.

The gateway to the center

After some confusion with the given directions, we finally made it to the center’s parking area where we were met by Mr. Ronnie Cruz Bernardo, the center’s de facto media consultant.   From the parking, we entered a marble gateway with wooden swing doors, flanked by a Buddha statue and a door bell, and went down, via a pathway (which varies from a combination of gravel, stones and railway sleepers, to stamped concrete) with a number of horseshoe bends, to the center’s native-style, open-air pavilion.  

A pond and foliage-lined horseshoe bend
Another horseshoe bend along the gravel 
and stamped concrete  trail

The pavilion had a floor of polished wooden planks and bamboo slats and wooden columns that supported wooden rafters and a roof of nipa and bamboo.  It is furnished with eclectic furniture from Pampanga, Thailand and Burma, a large area rug plus lots of Eastern statuary of deities (Kuan Yin, Buddha, etc.), all tastefully arranged by Mr. Chris Munar. One side of the pavilion has a breathtaking view of the mountains of Rizal. 

The native-style pavilion
The view of mountains from the pavilion

At the pavilion, we were welcomed with a merienda of suman which we washed down with oxygenated water or a refreshing and healthy tea made with lemon grass (tanglad) and camote tops (talbos) infused with mint and sweetened with muscovado sugar.  

Lemon grass and camote tops tea

After merienda, Ronnie toured us around the 6,000-sq. m. sanctuary. Near the pavilion are Balinese-style, tastefully designed and furnished cottages (made with concrete as well as local wood, nipa, bamboo and sawali) with capiz windows that can accommodate 6 guests while below the pavilion is a social area (where one can set up tents) with a koi pond and mini fountain.  Beside it is the food tent and the sun therapy (essential for natural healing) area with its pair of cushioned lounge chairs.

Sun therapy area
A Balinese-style cottage

Part of the nature trail is lighted, come cool evening, by eco-friendly, solar-powered lamps and the natural light of fireflies (alitaptap).  Just about every nook and cranny of  the center is filled with the healing sound of natural water.  Running within the property is a crystal-clear brook which feeds a man-made, stone-lined lagoon (an ideal swimming area) below with cool spring water.  On one side of the lagoon is an Eastern-themed bas relief while overlooking the lagoon is a wooden meditation platform.  

The man-made lagoon
The meditation platform overlooking the lagoon

A pond, with a covered bamboo and nipa platform (where one can do fishing), is filled with organic tilapia, floating duck weed and Azola (mosquito fern), a natural weed that is very rich in protein, vitamins and minerals.  Smaller ponds can also be found along the trail.  The piece de resistance is a small waterfall whose natural beauty inspired Dr. Viloria to buy the property. 

The tilapia pond
The center’s resident waterfall
The hilltop meditation platform

Up a hill, accessed by a wooden stair, is a meditation platform, a mini version of the pavilion, where one can do yoga, meditate, relax or just take a mid-afternoon siesta while enjoying the great nature view.  Intersperse within a shady bamboo and giant fern grove are a pair of wooden benches and a native hammock (duyan).

A duyan and benches beneath a bamboo grove
A small pond

Come lunch, we were all served, inside a food tent, tawilis, pinakbet, kalabasa in coconut milk, pako (vegetable fern) salad and clam soup, all complement with organic rice cooked in pandan leaves.  This self-sufficient center promotes the locavore lifestyle – eating food that is locally produced.

Food preparation cottage

Meals served here are prepared, by chef Jen (a London-trained therapist and food connoisseur) at her food preparation cottage, from mostly homegrown, organic ingredients; from papayas, guavas, bananas, camote (sweet potatoes), taro, wild spinach, medicinal herbs and spices as well as tilapia and free-range (stress-free with no hormones and antibiotics) native chicken and ducks.   From these, they are able to prepare their very own signature dishes such as laing, chicken adobo, banana heart salad, chicken sinampalukan (sour soup with chicken and tamarind leaves) and tilapia in coconut milk and petsay.

Our locavore lunch
Our merienda cena of lumpiang ubod

Prior to leaving the center, we were all treated to a merienda cena, again at the food tent, of fresh lumpiang ubod, a Negros Occidental (especially in my mom’s hometown Silay City) favorite (and mine).  This spring roll is filled with sautéed ubod (heart of palm), shrimps, tahure (bean cake) and bits of pork.  Its sauce, topped with roasted garlic bits, created a unique flavor. Melissa and I liked  it so much, we shared a second piece.

In the near future, the center plans to include regular hilot (the ancient Filipino art of massage) and dagdagay (a soothing and cleansing routine using native sticks for tired feet, from Ifugao and Mountain Province) service for its regular patrons.

Symbios Holistic and Wellness Sanctuary: Mandala Farm Estate, Timberland Heights, San Mateo, Rizal.  
BioVitale Holistic Center: G/F, CRB Bldg., EDSA, Cubao, Quezon City.  Tel: (632) 448-7625 to 26. Mobile number: (0921) 260-8459.

P.D.C. Spa Town: My Very First Spa Experience (Capas, Tarlac)

Volcanic Ash Spa Treatment

After our visibly tiring and tiring Pinatubo trek, a late (4 PM), a 5-course Filipino lunch awaited this visibly spent and famished bunch of media men, travel bloggers, camera crew and NPVB/MNTC personnel at P.D.C. (Pinatubo Development Corp.) Spa Town in Brgy. Sta. Juliana in Capas, Tarlac, also the jump-off point for our early morning Pinatubo trek.  Also awaiting our tired bodies and aching muscles was a relaxing and rejuvenating series of spa treatments unique to Pinatubo in a first-of-a-kind model in fitness therapy and well being. 

Mud Pack Treatment (L-R, Me, Dandi Galvez, Gabby 
Malvar and Art Villasanta)

But first, we had to shower away the dirt and grime of the trail hike from our tired bodies.  I, and the rest of the guys  (Dandi Galvez, Art Villasanta, Karlo de Leon, Frank Dizon, Gabby Malvar, Ivan ManDy) as well as some of the ladies (Nina Fuentes, Izah Morales, Isabel Malvar and Melissa Dizon), opted to try out first the volcanic ash spa treatment (I don’t know if we availed of the sulfur or salt treatment) while others were having their soothing signature massage in the 100-pax massage parlor.  Here, we were buried for 30 mins. in a relaxing body wrap with heated, sulfur-laden volcanic ash to remove body wastes by drawing out toxins and impurities that are embedded deep within the skin’s pores. Volcanic ash is said to be high in sulfur which not only helps our body not only to resist bacteria but actually to destroy it. It is also said to lessen body cholesterol.   

The Signature Pina-Thai-Tsu Massage

Next was a facial and body mud pack. When applied to our skin’s surface, the soothing wet clay lifts, firms and exfoliates, softening and stretching our skin to make us look revitalized and healthier with a more youthful looking complexion.  After a while, we took to the showers again to remove the dried up clay.  Our final pampering, to improve blood circulation and relax our tired muscles and joints, was the Spa’s 1 hour and 20 minute signature massage – the “Pina-thai-tsu,” a unique combination of a traditional Thai and Shiatsu massage, with a few local massage techniques (hilot) added in.  There’s nothing like an ideal series of treatments to soothe our tired muscles and joints, improve our blood circulation and invigorate our body after a long and punishing day of trekking, making the most of this fantastic Philippine experience that is Pinatubo.  The whole 3-course spa treatment costs PhP1,500 per person or PhP500 per treatment   

P.D.C. Spa Town: Brgy. Sta. Juliana, Capas, Tarlac c/o Pull Travel Destination Corporation, Clark Office: G/F Oxford Hotel, MA Roxas St. cor N. Aquino Ave., Clark Freeport Zone, Pampanga.  Tel: (045) 499-0629, 493-0031 and 615-0454. Email: pdcspatown@yahoo.com. Website: www.pinatubospatown.com.

Hotel Elizabeth: A Touch of the Mediterranean in Baguio (Benguet)

The Mediterranean-inspired Hotel ElizabethThe first day of our Manila North Tollways Corp. (MNTC)/North Philippines Visitors Bureau (NPVB)-sponsored Lakbay Norte 2 media tour started in Baguio City, the Philippines’ “Summer Capital,”  where we checked out the city’s vibrant art scene, notably the Tam-awan Village in the morning and the BenCab Museum (and meeting BenCab himself) in the afternoon.

It was overcast during the former and it rained at the latter but the sun did peek out, albeit for a short time, just enough time for us to be awed by the Mediterranean splendor of Hotel Elizabeth, the place where we were to stay overnight, as we entered its driveway flanked by gazebos on one side and beautiful landscaping on both sides. It was more so when we entered its lavish but tastefully-decorated atrium-like lobby.  

Check out “Hotel and Inn Review: Hotel Elizabeth

Our 4-bed De Luxe Room

Dandi Galvez, Ivan ManDy, Art Villasanta and I were billeted in one of its stylishly furnished and European-inspired four-pax carpeted suites. Come nighttime, we were treated to dinner at the Floral Cafe where we partook of creamy vegetable soup, rosemary chicken with fish fillet and marinara sauce and steamed vegetable sidings plus a dessert of pastries and fruit.  Wi-Fi was strong here and in the lobby, though weak in our room.

After this delicious three-course meal, a number of us decided to burn our excess calories by exploring nearby attractions such as the Mansion House (and its Pool of Pines) and Wright Park, both 200 m. away.  The Good Shepherd Convent and Mines View Park are also within that same distance.

Floral Coffee Shop

Come early morning, after a equally delicious breakfast at our previous watering hole, hotel owner Ms. Jean Salonga-Fernando toured us around the hotel’s other rooms.

Hotel Elizabeth: 1 Felipe St. cor. Gibraltar Rd., Baguio City, Benguet.  Tel: (632) 911-2161 local 148 and 912-2691 (direct line).  Fax: (632) 912-2693. Website: www.hotelelizabeth-baguio.com.

Pearl Farm Resort (Island Garden City of Samal, Davao del Norte)

My first visit to Pearl Farm Resort in Davao, during the the November 2007 Flavors of Spain, so enamored me with the place so much so that I decided to return, this time with my whole family in tow.  

The Parola at Pearl Farm Resort

This 11-hectare, Class “AAA” resort, located on a secluded cove at the Island Garden City of Samal’s Kaputian District, was formerly the home, since 1958, of the Aguinaldo Pearl Farm which produced cultured pink, white and gold pearls from white-lipped oysters brought from Jolo.   It ceased operations in 1980 but was developed into a world-class beach resort, opened in 1992.  It started out with 10 hillside cottages and 2 Samal cottages on stilts.  

The resort’s white sand beach and backdrop of greenery

Today, the main resort has expanded into 70 guestrooms (17 standard Hilltop rooms, 21 superior Samal Houses, 6 executive, 2-storey Samal suites and 19 de luxe Mandaya Houses and 7 Malipano Villas) made mainly with bamboo and wood and harmonizing with the clear, blue sea, the white sand and its backdrop of impressive greenery.

Davao International Airport

We book flights with Philippine Airlines and left Manila for Davao City, the gatway to the resort, on the very early 4:30 AM flight.  We arrived at Davao International Airport by 6:30 AM and were whisked, via a resort van together with other guests, to the Pearl Farm Marina in Lanang.  From its developed wharf, we were to be transported to the resort via a large motorized outrigger boat.  Our boat left by 8:30 AM and the ride took all of 45 mins.

Waiting for our boat at Pearl Farm Marina

We arrived at the resort by 9:15 AM and we were checked in at a luxurious, 2-storey, Muslim-inspired Samal Suite, specifically Suite 1.  This was convenient for my octogenarian in-laws as this particular suite was the nearest to the Maranao Restaurant, allowing for shorter walks.  Noted architect Francisco “Bobby” Mañosa designed the cottages and villas as close as possible, in both materials and form, to the different Mindanao tribes they were named for: the Bagobo, B’laan, Maguindanao, Tausug, T’boli and Yakan.  Ours was the Tausug.  For its depiction of regional traits, the resort received the Kalakbay Award for Best Resort for two consecutive years (1994 and 1995) and was one of the venues of the 1994 Miss Universe pageant.  

The Samal Suites

The Samal suites (as well as the cottages) were patterned after the stilt houses of seafaring Samal tribes of the Sulu archipelago. My wife Grace, my kids Jandy and Cheska and I occupied the master bedroom, with its king-size bed, on the second floor while my in-laws occupied the living room on the first floor which was converted to another bedroom with a sofa bed with trundle bed being provided.  Both floors have their own private bathroom with the masters’ provided with a bathtub.

The master bedroom

Both rooms are airconditioned and provided with cable TV, a well-stocked mini-bar, coffee and tea making facilities, safety deposit box and hair dryer. Our veranda,  overlooking the serene blue water, had a private staircase leading down to our very own small yet private beach. A jar of water and a coconut shell dipper are placed near the entrance to our suite so that we may wash away the sand after a day of barefoot walking on the beach. In local custom, this gesture is also symbolic of a cleansing of the spirit.

The converted living room

After checking in at our suite, we all proceeded to the Maranao Restaurant for brunch.  This cavernous dining pavilion, replete with tribal motifs, has a menu with an assortment of international culinary influences, all wonderfully prepared by Filipino chef Edgar Chavez.  The buffet features Spanish paella and calamares,  Madras seafood curry, Italian pasta, Japanese tempura and even Thai tom yum soup plus sweet pomelo, mangoes and other tropical fruits.

Maranao Restaurant

Cocktails, plus inspiring views of the sea and nearby De la Paz and  Malipano  Islands, can be enjoyed at the Parola Bar.  Both restaurant and bar offer free Wi-Fi internet access.  The resort also has two swimming pools, one of which was built right on the shore, giving the illusion that the pool water meets the sea, while the other has a jacuzzi.

Infinity pool
The resort’s second swimming pool

The Ylang-Ylang Spa, located beside a waterfall and beneath swaying coconut palms, offers several indulgent body and beauty treatments based on natural products.  They include a relaxing Papaya Body Scrub, a revitalizing Honey and Cucumber Facial Cleansing and the refreshing Floral Foot Soak. Massage therapies, embracing the most effective European and Asian techniques and using the stress-busting and soul-soothing power of coconut oil, includes the healthy aromatherapy massage.

Ylang-Ylang Spa
Getting around the resort was easy as there are two shuttles, one of them electric-powered. The Mandaya weaving house has a couple of tribal women making colorful tribal dresses, costumes and jewelries.  Pearls, hats, T-shirts and other accessories can be bought at the nearby boutique. There are also 2 function rooms, 2 tennis courts, game room (billiards, chess, mahjong, etc.), children’s playground and a mini-aviary. 

The Game Room
Aqua Sports Center
Function Room
Mandaya Weaving Center

An aqua sports center offers windsurfing, fishing, jet skiing, sea kayaking, island hopping, banana boat rides, Hobie cats, wave runners, snorkeling and scuba diving.   Here, we tried our hand at sea kayaking, Grace and Cheska on a tandem kayak while Jandy and I took single kayaks.  Donning life jackets, we paddled all the way to Malipano Island.  On our way back, it started to rain, some swells started to appear and my kayak capsized.  I floated around for some time, not knowing how to get back on my kayak.  Luckily, the staff at the Aqua Center noticed my predicament and rescued me, using their speedboat.

Cheska and Grace on their tandem kayak
Jandy on his single sit-on kayak
That’s me bringing up the rear


Pearl Farm Resort: Kaputian District, Island Garden City of Samal, Davao del Norte. Tel: (082) 221-9970 to 73.  Fax: (082) 221-9979.  E-mail: pearlfarmresort@fuegohotels.com.  Website: www.pearlfarmresort.com Davao Citysales office: G/F, Anflocar Corporate Center, Damosa Bldg., Lanang.  Tel: (082) 235-0876 and 234-0601.  Fax: (082) 235-0873.  E-mail: dvosm@pearlfarmresort.com.  Manila sales office: 15/F, 1504 Corporate Center, 139 Valero St., Salcedo Village, Makati City.  Tel: (632) 750-1896 and 98.  Fax. (632) 750-1894. E-mail: mlasm@pearlfarmresort.com.

Taal Vista Hotel (Tagaytay City, Cavite)

Taal Vista Hotel

A lot of my childhood memories included family visits to Tagaytay  City where we enjoyed the cool and crisp (average temperature is 22.7 degrees Celsius) mountain air and a picture-pretty view of Taal Volcano from its original grand viewdeck: Taal Vista Hotel. I wanted to sample what the hotel had to offer, so I brought along my wife Grace, kids, Jandy and Cheska, plus in-laws, and stayed two nights in 2 (out of 88) interconnected superior rooms. On arrival, we were welcomed by the soft-spoken, Mr. Ikuo Itoi, and Ms Zeny Alcantara.

Check out “Hotel and Inn Review: Taal Vista Hotel

De luxe room

The hotel has its beginnings way back in 1935 when the Zamoras of Manila Hotel bought six hectares of flatland perched atop an incline along Ilong Kastila (people say it resembles a nose or ilong) from American Hammon H. Buck, the Superintendent of Schools in Batangas. Two years later, hotel was built. Its architect was probably Andres Luna de San Pedro who, just a few years earlier, renovated another landmark, the Manila Hotel, to accommodate a suite for Gen. Douglas McArthur.

Its contractor was probably the well-known Pedro Soichi who built the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila. Both were favored by Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon who was then, as I still am now, equally fascinated with Tagaytay. Upon completion, Quezon frequently held cabinet meetings in the lodge’s premises and, on 21 June 1938, he converted Tagaytay into a chartered city by virtue of Commonwealth Act No. 338.

During World War II, the lodge was converted into quarters for Japanese officers. Between 1956 and 1964, Tagaytay began to be promoted as a major tourist attraction of the Philippines and Taal Vista Lodge was one of its leading attractions. n fact, the hotel was the public viewing ground to the 28 September 1965 (8 PM) major eruption of the volcano as well as mild to moderate eruptions from 1966 to 1970 (lasting from three to 65 days), and mild eruptions in 1976 (3 September to 23 October), 1977 (3 to 4 October and 9 to 12 November) and 1991. In 1973, Taal Vista Lodge, now a three-star hotel, boasted a large pavilion for dinner and dancing, a bowling alley, a golf course, a billiards hall and a horseback riding area beside the lodge.

One its many regular visitors was a young man who often chose one spot in the grounds from which he gazed out and dream. That dreamer was Henry Sy whose SM Investments Corp. would later acquire the hotel. In 2002, he had the hotel rebuilt in the style of the original lodge and added 2 new extensions on the east side of the complex to provide 128 rooms, conference facilities and amenities. In 2004, this reinvigorated and now first-class hotel welcomed back guests and visitors. Today, it remains a landmark deeply entrenched in the history and heritage of Tagaytay City.

Taal Vista Hotel Historical Mural

The original building now houses the hotel’s front desk, business center, shops, ball room and meeting rooms. At the hotel foyer is the 26-ft x 8-ft. Taal Vista Hotel Historical Mural, a joint project of Paolo Alcazaren and Felix Mago Miguel.

Seasons

However, the building’s focal point are its three food and beverage outlets: Cafe-on-the-Ridge, Season’s, and the Lobby Lounge. Both take you far beyond the plate,whether al fresco or from within, as their panoramic floor-to-ceiling glass windows allows diners to watch, aside from Taal Volcano and Lake, the fog rolling in, the captivating sunset and, at nighttime, the stars or the pinpoint lights of fishing boats and the lakeshore towns. cafe-in-the-ridge, offering a la carte & buffet service, recreates the cuisine and ambiance of two continents, featuring a menu that distinctly highlights the simple elegance of Europe, the carefree disposition of Spain and the Asian mystique was offered with live entertainment at night. Season’s, where you can dine of the finest gourmet creations made from the freshest of the season,  is a classy fusion of setting and landscape, is a perfect place for intimate dinners and cozy get-togethers.

The Lobby Lounge, with its natural motifs, was an ideal rendezvous for a lazy after dinner conversation, evening interludes and winding down moments. Its well-stocked bar offers light meals, coffee or cocktails. Here, warmed by the fireplace, we all sampled hot chocolate while listening to a piano.Try sampling  the Chocolate Eruption, a sinfully delicious dessert concoction prepared and baked, minutes before serving, by Canadian executive chef Bill McGrath.

Swimming pool

The tropical style Ylang-Ylang Spa, ran by French doctor, Charles Sutter and his Filipina wife Pristine in Davao, applies all-natural techniques and ingredients rooted on the principle of  “touch therapy” which has been proven to stimulate the release of endorphins which is supposed to make you happy.

The hotel is in the midst of a Php 650 million (US$16 million) expansion which will add 133 more rooms, 6 function rooms, and a 1,000-seater grand ballroom. By the end of the year, the hotel will have a total of  261 guestrooms, 2 grand ballrooms and 16 function rooms.

Taal Vista Hotel: Tagaytay City, Cavite.  Tel: (046) 886-4325 and (046) 413-1000.  Fax: (046) 413-1225.