PHILIPPINES. 24 hours in Taal
This weekend I found myself with 24 hours to spend in the historic town of Taal, a small district of Spanish Colonial houses with a history firmly planted in the Philippine revolution.
Built on a hill overlooking the smallest active volcano in the world (also called Taal) the narrow streets of the old town are famous for their historic homes which have been meticulously maintained to retain their colonial splendour. They don't yet have UNESCO World Heritage status but there's been a big push to get Taal on the list. And rightly so. Wandering its narrow streets past beautiful Spanish colonial houses makes you feel as though you've stepped back in time to the late 19th Century, and the dawn of the Philippine revolution. The houses provided a secret sanctuary where the most significant figures in the early revolution plotted the demise of Spanish rule. The "Godmother of the Revolution" herself, Doña Gliceria Marella Villavicencio, lived here and her secret support of the revolt through arms and shelter was instrumental in its success. It's a fascinating town and there's plenty to see, including the biggest church in Asia!
Here is my plan for 24 hours in Taal.
Start the day with a guided tour around Casa Villavicencio. "Casa V" dates from 1850 and once belonged to Eulalio and Gliceria Marella Villavicencio, wealthy shipping magnates whose son Don Eulalio married the famous Doña Gliceria Marella Villavicencio. It's a stunning house with dark Philippine hardwood floors, ornate ceilings of blackened tin and beautiful oil on canvas decorated walls - all original. A trapdoor in the dining room leads down to one of the secret meeting rooms used by the revolutionaries including the likes of Andres Bonifacio and Miguel Malvar. The excellent guided tour costs just 100 pesos and you get to enjoy a tasty selection of local delicacies at the end, served with a shot of pure melted hot chocolate.
Next up is the Villavicencio Wedding Gift House - a wedding gift from the wealthy Villavicencio family to their son Don Eulalio and his revolutionist wife Doña Gliceria Marella. It's chock full of colonial charm from the original tiled floors to the dark wood panelled ceilings and tiny balconies overlooking the walled garden.
Grab a quick coffee and red velvet cookie at Cafe G then pay a visit to Taal Basilica, the biggest church in Asia. Completed in 1878, the Basilica dominates the town square and can be seen from pretty much every street in Taal. It was designed in the neo-classic style and the grand alter and murals are strikingly beautiful. Check out the small chapel located around the side of the main building, hidden in a small garden.
If you still have the energy, the unique Leon and Galicano Apacible Museum is an 18th century house turned 1930's art deco masterpiece. Completed renovated in the 1930's its a beautiful mix of Spanish Colonial design with art deco furnishings. There are also antique furniture and Chinese relics dating as far back as the 17th century. The brothers Leon and Galicano both played important roles in the revolution - Leon fought alongside General Malvar and Galicano, a physician by trade, pushed for reforms for the Philippines while in Spain, and later represented the newly independent country of the Philippines as a diplomat.
Take in the sunset views from garden of the Paradores Del Castillo hotel. It's position up on the hill can't be beaten and the food is delicious.
SPEND THE NIGHT
Villavicencio Wedding Gift House is also a bed and breakfast and you can stay the night in one of two beautiful rooms. I stayed in the smaller room complete with ornately carved four poster bed and tiled floors and claw foot bath. It was one of the best I've stayed in!
Enjoy a grand breakfast spread at the Wedding Gift House in the beautiful surrounds of the original dining room. It's the perfect way to end 24 hours in Taal.
HOW TO GET THERE: Taal is around 2.5hrs from Manila. Take a Jam liner bus heading to Lemery from the Pasay terminal in Manila. Get off at Lemery then catch a tricycle to the historic centre (around a 10 minute ride). The bus ticket costs around 200 pesos and can be bought on board.
NOTE: Everything except the Basilica is closed on Mondays