Sunday, October 9, 2011

Thrilled to be in Tagaytay City

Sitting on a ridge 2,100 feet above sea level, Tagaytay never fails to turn on her numerous visitors, both foreign and local, who travel far and wide to bask in the beauty and serenity of this prime resort city in the province of Cavite. So near Manila—roughly 55 km or about an hour’s travel by car depending on the traffic—it provides a short but sweet escape for those wanting to take a breather from the heat, haze and humdrum of the metropolitan areas. 

Taal Lake and Volcano on a gloomy day
After Baguio, the city by the ridge is considered as “The Other Summer Capital of the Philippines” because of its year-long cool climate. The salubrious air that swathes Tagaytay is enough to lift your sagging spirits, taking you to a different kind of high in the highlands. With its fine breeze, fragrant blossoms, fresh fruits and veggies as well as fancy delicacies, the city is truly the ideal place for sight-seeing and staging outdoor activities such as horseback riding, zipping, camping, picnics and golf.

Way back in the 1990s, I first made it to the city by the ridge to attend a short training course on project planning and monitoring at the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP). I have rather few and vague memories of my experiences there, with the exception of the exciting times I spent with fellow trainees while basking in the breathtaking beauty of Taal’s volcano and lake from our vantage point at the sprawling grounds of Picnic Grove, one of the more popular parks in the city.

Since that first visit, I’ve made many quick escapes to the city whenever I’m near Manila. Of all the times I’ve visited Tagaytay, it’s the recent sojourn I made with Juju and Luz, my two intrepid Manila-based friends,  that really left many indelible memories. That Typhoon Quiel, following closely in the heels of destructive Typhoon Pedring, was battering the rest of northern Luzon while we were there was enough to make it so thrillingly memorable!

Certified adventure junkies like me, the two were unperturbed even as dark skies and intermittent showers greeted us while passing through the slippery stretch of SLEX. We were adamant that time. Inclement weather didn’t stop us from forging ahead.
Even if he was pestered by howling winds, slight drizzles and thick fogs, Juju safely maneuvered his car towards the town of Nasugbu in Batangas where he took us to see the secluded Caleruega Transfiguration Chapel (For more about this interesting church, check my travel tale at  
Before heading towards our ultimate destination, however, we made several quick stops en route to Tagaytay. First on our list was Nuvali in Sta. Rosa City.  On impulse, we decided to sneak into the state-of-the-art enclave developed by real estate leader Ayala Land—which has placed the thriving city in Laguna at the forefront of green development with functional living.  All I can say is this: That stopover in Nuvali lifted our spirits, turning us into nutty characters for an hour or so. Ah, the things that stormy weather and Nuvali can do to free spirits—they bring out the nut in you! Need I say more? The pictures say it all! 

Ming's Garden
From Nuvali, Juju continued driving towards Tagaytay. Before reaching the city proper, we passed by Ming’s Garden and Coffee Shop, located just along the highway, where we pulled over for some quick merienda

Owned by former First Lady Amelita “Ming” Ramos, it’s truly a showcase of one of her well-known hobbies—horticulture. An avid plant lover, Ming has filled the entire complex with lots of interesting flowers and foliage. Many of the plants there, especially the bromeliads, are colorful. The ornamentals that are up for sale are reasonably priced.

While waiting for our orders, we scoured the place and took snaps of anything that fancied us.  Our attention was immediately drawn to a glass cabinet in one corner of the coffee shop—inside it was a large stock of golf balls. Must be FVR’s mementos from his tournaments, I thought. If you’re a golf aficionado, former President Fidel Ramos’ collection from various international competitions would surely catch your fancy. 

Overall, the homey, laid-back ambience of Ming’s Garden soothed our tired nerves and grumbling tummies as we partake of the suman sa latik (rice cake with coco syrup) and banana cake which we paired with  hot choco and kapeng barako. Geez, it’s veritably one of the simplest yet tastiest meriendas I’ve ever had in years!

Final impressions: The garden is lovely and well-kept, the food delightful and delicious, the restrooms spotlessly clean, the staff friendly and accommodating. I guess it’s like that because of Ming, who’s said to be fuzzy and fastidious to a fault. Too bad, we failed to meet up with her and the former president since they had left earlier that day for Manila.

At around 10:30 a.m., we went on with the trip towards the city center, reaching it by almost noon. Juju then said that we take lunch first before going all the way to Caleruega. He suggested Josephine’s Restaurant, one of Tagaytay’s renowned gustatory landmarks. By the time we got to Josephine’s, it was already packed with weekend wanderers but we managed to get seated. Since it was a Saturday, we availed of the buffet lunch that is offered only on weekends and holidays. 

Separated from the part of the resto where food is served ala carte, the buffet room was set up like an al fresco reception area for a garden wedding. We haven’t dined in the open air for quite some time so having lunch at Josephine’s was a pleasant experience we relished to the max. 

Though the food served at the buffet table wasn’t that extraordinary, it wasn’t bad either. Mind you, the choices in the resto by the ridge are varied and are kept hot and fresh, refilled every now and then so that you get to taste each cuisine, composed of typical Filipino fare, whether you go there late or early for buffet lunch. After eating, we roamed around Josephine’s before embarking on a brief city tour.  

Had the weather been fine, we would have proceeded to the Palace in the Sky, which offers probably the most sweeping view of Taal Lake and Volcano. Started during the reign of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, the palace, intended to be a presidential mansion and guest house for the late dictator and his wife, almost became a white elephant following the EDSA People Revolution which overthrew the Marcoses. Good thing, the Aquino administration converted it into the People’s Park in the Sky, a monument to the dictatorship’s whimsical extravagance, that’s been opened to the public. 

Revisited after so many years, Tagaytay overwhelmed me. I was so impressed with its newfound sense of aggressiveness and vitality. Signs of prosperity are strewn all over the place. Where vast tracts of lands used to lay idle, now stand shopping malls, multi-story condominiums and posh hotels, among others. I shouldn’t be surprised though. With its natural beauty and abundant resources, Tagaytay has what it takes to be the next big thing within the CALABARZON area.  

Truly, there are so many wonderful places to explore in this favorite weekend getaway of many Filipinos. But what really thrills me, and probably other tourists, is the city’s breathtaking visual treat—the fabulous panorama of the world’s smallest volcano and its seemingly serene lake. Recently, this popular tourist destination hugged the international limelight after it was discovered by geologists to have “the world’s largest island within a lake on an island located in a lake within an island!”

Whew! That’s quite a puzzler! But here’s a simple explanation I’ve read somewhere: Vulcan Point is a small volcanic island in Main Crater Lake, which is found on Volcano Island in Taal Lake in the island of Luzon.  Got that?

Geez, it’s already my nth time to be in this fast growing city but I can’t seem to get enough of her and her world-renowned visual treat. Rain or shine, it’s always a sight to behold. :D 

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