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!