The Philippines does not seem to be on most folks’ radar. In fact, this nation does not figure highly on the travel destination list of most people. And it is such a pity indeed. For it is an archipelago blessed with 7,107 islands of fun (quote the local tourism authority).
Even if one visits, one may be confined to the “advertised” destinations within the country such as Cebu or Boracay. There is so much more and for the little red dotters out there, it is but just a short hop away. What a surprise for us as we found out from friends living and working in Manila that there is so much to do even within the environs of the metropolis. Within a 2-3-hour drive would be another world from the bustling and crowded metropolis of Manila.
Take Tagatay for an example. It is a ridgeline that overlooks the Taal volcano, about 50km to the south of Manila. Known as the start of the campaign in retaking of the city from the Japanese in 1945 during the battle of Manila, today one cannot imagine the tension of thousands of soldiers as they parachuted into this verdant landscape to commence a month-long engagement with the Imperial Japanese army that also committed atrocities of massacre during that heated fire fight.
Now normally the stretch of road leading to Tagatay would not be jammed. But when we went there during holy week in 2009, it took us more than 2 hours to get there. So, timing your visit would be a smart thing to do.
Living like daredevils
And the main attraction? A volcano. The Taal specifically. Having last erupted in 1977, this makes the trip really interesting in the sense it is a live one. Its huge caldera (land surrounding the cone) has submerged under water and is now a lake. In fact, you can even make out the figures of fishermen cultivating fresh water fish in the lake. It is such a lovely view. Come before June (typical typhoon season is from July onwards) and you are almost guaranteed fabulous views.
You can even descend down the caldera to the lake and take a cruise to the volcano island in the middle of the lake. And on that island is yet another lake within, hence the term lake within a lake or island within an island. Don’t know what we mean? Google it and search for Vulcan point. On Tal volcano island itself, you can ride on horseback and admire the reverse views from the volcano to the ridgeline. Unfortunately we did not, so this is the perfect excuse to come another time…
And this is not just a stop for a day. Staying in a fabulous place is a definite must. We stayed overnight in one of the many charming hotels that overlook lake Taal. On a lovely day, you can literally see many miles in every direction. This would be possible since there is no significant industrial development and sufficiently far from the smog of the city. Or simply relax in the views of the lake from the comfort of a well furnished room. We stayed a night at 8-Suites, overlooking the lake with one of the most glorious sun rises!
Tagatay also boosts of a large number of cathedrals dedicated to various saints. Therefore during religious holidays such as holy week (we call it Easter), the place can will be get jammed with pilgrims. In “normal” times, it is possible to stop at some of the many cathedrals and admire them. There is a shrine dedicated to saints that supposedly help women conceive!
All we want to do is have some fun food!
Of course there is a culinary side to Tagatay as well. Award winning chefs have set up here in the crisp highlands – such as Antonio’s. Being in an active volcanic area, the surrounding land is fertile and home to agriculture and the expected good ingredients as bounty from the land. Founded by a former lawyer, he has turned a part of his beautiful family home into a restaurant. Nouveau French cuisine is on offer, served with a strong Filipino influence – which itself had strong Spanish impact. If we have the opportunity to come back, we’d sure like to taste the confit of duck again…it was fabulous.
It’s one of the fine dining places on the ridgeline overlooking the lake and can be a little daunting to find – given that the house is tucked away in a private corner away from the main road. Be sure to book ahead, for it is wildly popular with locals and visitors alike.
From the gourmet dining, it’s just a stone’s throw to getting therapy for your tired body. Sonja’s garden is an eclectic mix of garden, wellness center and healthy dieting. While the ladies went for their hour-long massage, the ‘boyz’ decided to explore the gardens. Daffodils and Hyacinth grow side by side in the lush garden, which made it cool and moist.
There are also a number of pavilions lining the garden, where guests can recline and rest while enjoying the flora. We also found the herb garden, possibly the source of the garnishing for the lunch buffet. The lunch buffet itself is simple, focusing on a diet free from meat. Great place to do some cleansing of the toxins from your body. This is a place to relax!
So get out there!
There you have it, there is so much more to Manila than just the city. Without the need for long coach drives or flights, you can easily spend a long relaxing weekend. And it does not come expensive either. The night’s stay at 8-Suites did come up to under S$250 per night (good as of Apr-09) because of the views but you can surely find something more affordable. The meal for four persons at the award winner Antonio’s cost us less than S$300. Can’t beat that anywhere back in the red dot.
The next time you visit the Philippines for a business trip, take some time to “smell the roses” where you can. Or better yet, make a journey to touch the islands. They do give the Maldives a run for their money. We did not not regret it.
We made this journey in April 2009