Tuesday, July 31, 2012

24 hour mini break #2 - Sonya's Bed and Breakfast

After my overnight girls-only Shangri la Mactan getaway, I discovered the priceless benefits of what 24 hours away from it all can do for one's sanity.
I have since dubbed this as my much needed and deserved "mini break". 
Something to turn to when the going gets a little too rough.
This July, I was able to do my second 24 hour mini break -- very different from the chic, colorful, sunny, snazzy and sophisticted  Shangri la experience but extremely gratifying nonetheless.

The mini break started right after lunch on a Friday afternoon.  My friend and I were off to Tagaytay, to spend a night at the much vaunted and talked about Sonya's Bed and Breakfast. Since we would be passing along the Sta. Rosa road, I made sure that we would stop for a late lunch at this restaurant that I had been wanting to try.

Cecil's Cafe is just past the strip malls of Sta. Rosa and Nuvali and is tucked away into a little two story building -- don't drive too fast or you'll miss it completely.

The interiors are warm, homey and have this "country" feel.  The walls are decorated by souvenirs from the owner's travels abroad.  Everything is done to enhance a comfortable and cozy atmosphere.
When we arrived, the chef and owner, Cecil, was busy behind the counter, but she still called out a friendly and welcoming hello.

This is the real reason why I wanted to try Cecil's Cafe.  The sign outside said that Cecil's was the new home of the (then) famous Green Patio fresh lumpia.  And true enough, the coasters are still from that now defunct restaurant.  I have many yummy memories of Green Patio, which used to be in the old Greenhills Arcade in the 1990's.  They served very good Chinese food but the killer draw was the fresh amoy lumpia.

We ordered the lumpia and it was as filling and tasty as I remembered it -- with a freshly made egg crepe wrapper and all the wonderful vegetarian filling.  Cecil came over to our table and said that her mother in law used to own Green Patio Restaurant and passed on the lumpia's secret recipe to her.  In addition to the lumpia, which is listed as a specialty of Cecil's, the cafe also serves pasta, salads, cakes and pastries.
But of course, nothing beats this fresh lumpia -- this will make me come back to Cecil's again and again!

After the late lunch, it was onward to Sonya's Bed and Breakfast.
I had been to Sonya's Garden before, but had never experienced staying overnight.
My friend warned me there would be no t.v., no air conditioning, no swimming pool --but there would be a spa, vegetarian food,  silence and solitude.  That would be more than enough for me.

As we entered the bed and breakfast area, closed off to all except those actually staying there for the night,  a riot of shrubbery, flowers and this pretty little fountain set the tone for the rest of our stay.

A sign reminds everyone that this is a place where loud laughter, boisterous talk and karaoke (all mainstays of Pinoy week-end getaways)  are anathema to all.

An overnight stay at Sonya's includes dinner and breakfast.  The meals are served in a pretty cafe, surrounded by greenery.  Starched linen tablecloths, mismatched but colorful china, polished silverware and vases artfully decorated with flowers freshly picked from the garden give mealtimes an old fashioned and genteel elegance.

Dinner consists of Sonya's famous all you can eat salad, greens grown in her gardens are garnished with fresh fruits like mangoes and jackfruit plus there are singkamas strips, eggs and my favorite, dried pop beans or patani.

I am a little too greedy and make myself a huge portion, drizzling Sonya's secret dressing on top. So good and guiltless too!

After the salad, the friendly and efficient waitstaff bring the pasta course, again it's mix what you want and eat all that you can.  There are two pasta sauces, one that is tomato based and one that they call cream of chicken.  Small saucers of mushrooms, capers, sun dried tomatoes, strips of salmon belly and a vegetable ratatouille are also on the table -- so you can mix and match the toppings with your chosen pasta sauce.

After dinner, we take a walk towards the spa where we have booked treatments for tonight.  Sonya's Garden offers so many nooks and crannies like this daybed draped with a lace canopy.  Throw pillows with colorful crocheted covers make this a comfortable and inviting place to sit, to talk or just to while away the hours.

Sonya's  has this wonderful spa that offers relaxing and stress relieving treatments.  Tucked away in a corner of the garden,  it's something that you mustn't miss.  
The signature massage is unique and different and took out all the kinks and knots in my neck and back.  

After the massage, it was time to head to the room.  As this sign says, "enter and find a world of beauty".

My friend and I stayed in a villa which had its own little garden with a stone fountain.  So quaint and so pretty!  Fairy lights lit up this path at night which made it even prettier.

We enjoyed this huge and spacious room -- with three queen beds and the most comfortable and soft pillows and mattresses.  Three beds are too much for just the two of us but we loved the abundant space.


The room was furnished with typical period Filipiniana furniture.  The coffee table thoughtfully came stacked with different kinds of books.  After all, with no t.v., one should go back and rediscover the pleasures of reading.

The next morning, this large basin of flowers floating in water made for a lovely start to my Saturday.

It was back to the cafe for breakfast -- this wall along one side features different types of china in various patterns and designs.

Breakfast is Filipino and home style -- there is  a talong omelet, daing na bangus, scrambled eggs, a mango chutney and chicken and pork adobo along with garlic fried rice.  As in dinner, eat as much as you want and they will refill the plates with what you like and need.

After breakfast, this 24 hour mini break was about to come to an end.  Before leaving, we made sure to stop off at Sonya's Country Store that sells organic products grown in her garden,  items like bed spreads and pillow covers made by the women in the nearby community and even the gorgeously scented soaps and lotions used in the spa.

Then it was time to drive off for the road back to Manila and to real life.  This second 24 hour mini break was vastly different from the Cebu break but both served to remind me that no matter how busy I am, there should always be time to stop,  smell and enjoy the flowers!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar - Back in Time in Bagac, Bataan

My Bataan cousins were home from Texas and we wanted to spend their last week-end doing something different together.  
We ended up "discovering" a treasure right in our own backyard.
Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bagac, Bataan is a mere 40 minute drive from Orani, the town where we come from.  
When I first heard about it, and most specially after I had seen it -- I thought that it was an inspired and inspiring idea -- to gather as many old and  historic homes from the Spanish era which continue to  languish in various states of ruin and disrepair -- and then transport these homes to one place where they could be lovingly restored for  generations to see, appreciate and in some cases, truly experience.
Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar  is a real eye opener and well worth the three hour drive to this small town in Bataan.

When you arrive at the gate of Las Casas, you can immediately see the many old houses that are in this venue.  
Each was bought by the Acuzar family from the current owners and transported, stone by stone, plank by plank, nail by nail - then rebuilt and restored until it looks as much as it originally did, generations and generations ago.  
Each house is named for its place of origin.  This house on the left is called Casa San Miguel and the three story house, which also functions as a luxury hotel is called Casa Vyzantina and was plucked out of certain demolition from Binondo, Manila.
While most of the houses function as historic pieces -- there are quite a few that have been reworked to livable state -- you can rent specific houses -- atmosphere, spirits and all -- and find yourself living as your great grandparents probably did - at the turn of the century.

At the center of the "plaza" stands Casa Mexico which also serves as the resort's ticket and administration office. When we went up to get our tickets -- we were served cold glasses of sago at gulaman, perfect on this very hot and sunny day.  
We also had to take off our shoes before we entered the main house -- the better to maintain and preserve the centuries old patina of the old wooden floors.

Las Casas offers different types of ways to enjoy the resort.  You may stay overnight in some of the old houses or you can take a day tour.
The day tour package that we chose included entrance fees, lunch and a guided tour.  We were led to
Casa Unisan, "rescued" from Unisan, Quezon.  This house has a rather dramatic and blood curling back story,  but for now, it has been exorcised of its past and serves as the main restaurant of Las Casas.

While lunch was not lavish, it had that small town, home cooked flavor.  You can choose from two plated meals -- grilled fish or grilled pork with a side of that vegetable staple, pinakbet.

After lunch, it was time to do the walking tour.  A very knowledgeable and pretty young lady in Filipiniana dress acted as our guide.  The sun blazed mercilessly overhead and thank goodness, we were given native straw hats to shield us from the heat.  The first house we came to was this pretty little house called Casa Meycauayan.

The streets of Las Casas are cobblestoned, to add to the period feel of the place.  The houses are spaced quite well apart and the walking tour includes stops at the more interesting and historic  houses. Allow for more than an hour for this guided tour.

Here is the door to Teodora Alonzo's original home in Laguna.  While the house behind it is actually a replica of her real house, this is the original door.  Apparently, the citizens of Laguna raised a hue and cry when the house was put up for sale so it still stands there but this faithful replica gives us an idea of how she and her family lived.

I found this marker on one of the largest houses called Casa Quiapo. Casa Quiapo, "saved" from Calle Hidalgo in Manila was apparently where the University of the Philippines' Fine Arts Department was first housed in 1908.  Now, this huge stone mansion with its original piedra china tiles stands as a major  landmark inside Las Casas Filipinas.

My cousins, who are surnamed Luna, were thrilled when our guide took us to Casa Luna -- originally built in Luna, La Union.  It is one of the very few houses in Las Casas where the owners turned over everything, from structure to furniture and furnishings.

This is the well kept living room in Casa Luna.  It was great to see all the original portraits, paintings, furniture, knick knacks -- a fascinating glimpse into a bygone era.

The tour draws to a close near Paseo de Escolta -- now a multi story hotel.
On the ground floor are small stores selling souvenirs, local crafts and refreshments.
Most interesting would be "Studio Escolta", an old fashioned photography studio  where you can put on period clothes and have your photo taken.  In sepia or black and white, if you wish.
That souvenir would really be the most fitting way to remember an afternoon of heritage, culture and history at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar!