We were very fortunate to have kind friends of ours offer to take us on a day trip to Tagaytay. These friends are Filipino and from Manila, but now live in our home city of Perth, Australia. They have been here visiting family and generously gave up a whole day to spend with us.
Tagaytay is in the Province of Cavite and overlooks the amazingly spectacular Taal Lake and the Taal Volcano. This is an easy way to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city for a weekend as it is a short distance away. This is a very busy holiday place but when you’re staring at the view and breathing fresh air, you really don’t seem to notice the crowds.
“A volcano within a lake within a volcano within another lake”
(Taal Vista Hotel)
Taal Lake & Volcano
The first eruption was recorded in 1572. The Spanish originally declared the area connected to the South China Sea, a Province called Taal. This was a center for trade until another eruption closed the connection between the lake and the ocean and demolished the settlement. Tagaytay was a key area of the Spanish Revolution in 1896 and in the 1930’s plans were made to turn this area into a major tourism destination. Around the time the rich earth was beginning to be used by migrant farmers to provide produce to the surrounding area. During WW2 the Japanese used the Taal Lodge as their officers’ quarters and in 1945 the Americans parachuted down to help liberate Manila. The last volcanic eruption was not that long ago, just back in 1965. Today this town is a hub for development and holiday makers. The Taal Vista Hotel is known as the central location of a lot of the town’s history and the current drive to create a values based community.
Heading into the town along the narrow rode I was taken with the number of street food stalls and small shops. The most abundant are the furniture shops and fruit stalls. We so badly wanted to stop the car, get out and walk the distance taking in all the sights, sounds and flavours. We will save that for our next visit.
Our tour guides had a wonderful itinerary planned for us. It started with a stop at the Taal Vista Hotel which boasts the most spectacular views of the volcano and lake. After reading the history of the area displayed inside the hotel, we wandered around the vast grassy gardens with our jaws dropping at the beautiful site. We were blessed with a wonderfully clear day with white clouds dotting the landscape. The children played on the grassy hills that cascaded down the cliff face from the hotel, as we took pictures and breathed in the fresh air. A stall of local crafts sat neatly at the bottom most corner and we brought spices and a few hand painted fans to keep us cool.
From here we drove through the main street. Such a busy space filled with eateries, hotels and local shops. We headed out where the space opened into beautiful mountainous farm land. Down a narrow winding road we arrived at the magnificent gardens of Antonio’s. We were here to have a walk around this stunning property and admire the beautiful architecture and garden design of this tucked away paradise. A husband and wife team created a Spanish haven rich with gardens, secret nooks and crannies, an open air bar and stunning restaurant. The children played hide and seek amongst the trees as we walked around exploring this incredible garden space. This is the type of place you see in magazines and on TV.
Sonya’s Secret Garden
Following this we went to Sonya’s Secret Garden. Another wonderful place which reminded me of my mum and made me think of her as I walked through the gardens. An Old English garden haven this time, complete with winding pathways, hidden village style shops and an array of magnificent flowers everywhere you look. A bakery seduced us with her sweet scent and we purchased some traditional sweets to try. We purchased Polveron and Pastillas which the children greedily snacked on. These are traditional sweets made with powdered milk and sweetened condensed milk.
We drove back into town to enjoy lunch at a lovely restaurant called Bag of Beans. Another location oozing in character and charm. Walking down a rambling brick stairway adorned above with colourful lanterns, a hidden garden opens out with tables sat amongst tree’s dripping in more lanterns. Local crafts decorated walls, and little water features provided the wonderful sound of trickling water as we sat and enjoyed the afternoon.
By now the clouds were coming in and it had started to rain. It was time to head home. Before we left town we had one last stop on our itinerary. It seems that this is a rite of passage; one does not dare leave the Province without a visit to Rowena’s bake house. Rowena’s started as a street vendor and now has this outlet in Tagaytay. Famous for its Buko (coconut) Tart, we were amazed at the crowd inside this shop, the queue was almost out the door with patrons, arms laden with boxes of the various Tarts on offer. We stocked up on Buko and Mango Tarts which were still warm from the oven, and an array of sweets to try.
As we left a Peddler was selling his Taho. The peddler carries two metal tubs using a bamboo pole held across his shoulders. Taho is made with soft tofu, tapioca beads and caramalised sugar water called Arnibal. It was served warm and was just delicious. Our friend said he would have this as his breakfast as a school boy. Despite the sugar component I would happily serve this as breakfast as the tofu and tapioca provide filling nourishment.
We drove away watching the ferocity of the clouds rolling in across the lake. As we appreciated that we got to see the lake in the calm before the storm, the distant mountains disappeared before our eyes. The force of Mother Nature is magnificent. I am constantly in awe of her force and beauty, her unpredictability. Especially when I get to watch her awesomeness roll in across mountains and water, the way we just had.
Here comes the rain
On our way out of town we stopped at a fruit stall to purchase some local fruits to try. We brought some Mangostine which are a dark purple round fruit. The outside is tough and thick. However when you break her open you find soft, silky flesh that is a delight to your senses. Sweet, a little tangy, it is like a party in your mouth! The second fruit we tried was the Sinegwelas, or Spanish Plum. This is a small oval fruit about the size of a fresh date. Purpley-pink with dark green in colour when ripe, this little fruit only flourishes in the summer time. We were lucky we got in before the season came to an end. This little fruit has bright yellow flesh with a big seed inside. Tart to taste, the texture is a bit like a pear. When not quite ripe it is hard, but when ripe it is soft and squishy. I didn’t like these as much as the mangostine but BB loved them both.
Sinegwelas, Mangostine and Sweet Treats
At this fruit stand we also brought some Espasol to try. This is a local sweet made with rice flour and coconut milk. Sometimes it is flavoured with Ube and it is rolled in sweetened flour so it isn’t so sticky. This is not really my thing, it is a gluggy consistency and not as flavoursome as Suman, the sticky rice treats I prefer.
Fruit, Home Wares & Wallis Tambo’s
Next stop was down near the furniture shops that dotted the road side. SB and I are looking at having furniture made and we started looking at a few places who might be able to help us with what we are after. I went to a stall to buy a Walis – Tambo which is a broom for Lo’ob (inside). BB had a lovely time playing with it, so I got FB a little small one to play with too. I thought this was what my cleaner was asking me for so I was pretty happy with myself. It turns out she wanted the Wallis – Ting Ting for Labas (outside). She did think my attempts to speak Tagalog were pretty amusing though so I was forgiven. I also gave her some of our sweets.
By now it was getting really late and it was time to head home. As we drove away, we snacked on Pandecoco which are sweet buns with a coconut filling. This is a traditional snack, considered the ‘poor man’s food’. The sweet filling is made with coconut flesh cooked with brown sugar until sticky and caremalised and is used to fill a white bread dough. They are a delicious snack.
We had another amazing day and SB and I spent that night at home talking about what amazing friends we have. New friends here, and older friends back home, we just feel so blessed with our lives. We talked about how when we move back home, we will show our Filipino friends around our home town and take them down south to the place I grew up. I certainly look forward to that.