A Weekend Surprise Called Antipolo

Text and photos by: Beng Fontiveros, Escape Manila Correspondent

I have a love-hate relationship with surprises.  On one hand it keeps you at the edge of your seat with wide-eyed anticipation that the best is yet to come.  On the other hand, it sets you up for an unprecedented level of heartbreak once the disappointment kicks in.  It was this edgy feeling that I had during an invite for the 2017 Tayo Na Sa Antipolo Tour hosted by Bienvenido Tours. The plan was originally a weekend stay at a resort in Antipolo when it suddenly evolved into a 2-day packed itinerary. I was also going through a career change so I thought what the heck.  Serve me some of your surprises, life! (Read: Visa-Free Countries for Filipinos)

Hinulugang Taktak by Flickr user Jepster

Anyway, when it came to travelling, I never thought of Antipolo as a go-to place.  I’ve only ever heard of Antipolo church and the crazy traffic of Ortigas Extension that leads to Antipolo, or Rizal, or someplace east? I am not even sure. But there is definitely not a lot of things written about Antipolo which makes this trip interesting.  To weekend travel sans the promise of a beach, I say Antipolo bring it on! (Read: Beaches Near Metro Manila)

A dash of history, culture, and horticulture
A secret shared amongst the devout is Boso Boso Church located in the outskirts of modern Antipolo.  The road may seem to lead nowhere but with a bit of patience, you will soon behold a centuries-old stone church dating back to the 16th century.  The church was not that extravagantly decorated, as you would expect in old churches.  But this one eerily but pleasantly transports you to a place frozen in time where the existence of wi-fi seems like an impossibility.  The church was eventually restored but the integrity (the original stones and the use of natural light) was well-preserved. 

For some reason, entering the church gave me a sense of calmness that one may get in the presence of something immaculate. Boso Boso Church’s patron is Nuestra Señora de la Annuciation, which is believed by the faithful to be miraculous.

On to a more familiar place, it being part of a classic folk song, “Tayo na sa Antipolo,” is Hinulugang Taktak.  Legend has it that in the olden days a huge church bell rung during the Angelus which gives an unbearably loud sound that irritated the townsfolk.  They then forced the priest to get rid of the church bell by dropping it in the river to which the falls got its name.  

And yes, you can hear the rush of the water even from afar.  If this were their idea of an unbearably loud sound, I would trade this anytime for honking buses and cars in EDSA during rush hour.  The place is now maintained by the local government and has undergone years of rehabilitation although up until now some say there is still a hint of smell.  It was a hint I didn’t catch actually and I was pretty happy to see a waterfall without having to trek for hours.

Another happy surprise was the Secret Garden of Doris.  Intriguing because of the “secret” in the name, plus I kept remembering the Secret Window, Secret Garden novel by Stephen King.  This association of course, is unfounded as Ms. Doris Lee, and her husband, Mr. Ansan Lee, both cheerily welcomed us.  She went on to tell us about the new seed she planted for her birthday.  She has long started this tradition of planting one tree every year during her birthday month, and this year’s baby was a peanut butter tree. 

Doris shared with us her heart on giving back to nature by cultivating the land, propagating plants big and small, and educating people on the importance of taking care of our environment.  She very well embodies the idea that if we take care of the soil, the plants, and the air, it will inevitably return the favor by nourishing us with fresh air, and amazingly good food.  She treats herself more of a custodian, a caretaker of things entrusted to her rather than just an owner of a farm.  

Blue Butterfly Pea Flower tea, only at Secret Garden of Doris

From soul food to real, yummy food
Antipolo is also catching up with Metro Manila with its diverse food offerings, from Filipino, Italian, Swiss, and Japanese, name it; apparently it’s all here.  So we were fortunate to be treated to a gracious lunch at Casa Nieves hosted by its owner, Ms. Michelle Lucas.  Casa Nieves prides itself with heirloom recipes which will guarantee #DietAnotherDay.

We were also served a sampler of the sushi dishes from Kampai Sushi Bar that she also owns, and by the way a few steps from Casa Nieves.  So if you still have space after downing their amazing paella, you can hop on for some beers and sushi nearby.

Michelle also took the time to talk to us about the entrepreneurial culture of Antipolo’s business people and it was anything but the fierce competition one can usually see in the business world.  She went on to talk about how they help build each others’ businesses up, and their collective dream to bring in more jobs, and drive Antipolo even further to progress.

A sumptuous meal in an unholy hour calls for coffee! Costa Coffee’s unique selling point is that all their coffee is handcrafted and the beans are especially blended for Costa Coffee’s sole use.  We also got to see a demonstration of how their signature flat white is prepared.  

Costa Coffee – From London to Antipolo

RnR during RnR
As far as your eyes can see is literally how Boso Boso Highlands Resort and Hotel is set with its 10 hectares of lush grounds.  The resort is perfect for conferences, and outings for big groups.  The place also boasts of its perfect view of the Sierra Madre mountain range which is so refreshing to the eyes.  The resort also provides a no-frills take on accommodation that actually encourages the guests to get out and have fun in the sun.

L: Lonelytravelogue seems to be lonely no more | R: Posing with Lady Liberty, Antipolo version

What better way to test old and newly-found friendships than a team-building activity! Our team of bloggers and writers were composed of familiar faces as well as new ones. Over the course of the tour, we’ve managed to crack a joke or two with each other, throw friendly banters (but of course!), and eat together.  Camp Tipolo gave us the perfect venue to test out some physical skills while working as a team.  There were a lot of things to try out like the Spider Web and Mud Slide, and we got to try the Tarzan Jump and Tight Rope. The activities were super fun and we ended that afternoon laughing our hearts out.

An afternoon meant for relaxation calls for a visit at Callospa Resort.  This resort is among the pioneers in the spa industry in the 90s and now offers a variety of spa services along with their uniquely themed rooms.  No two rooms are alike and the inspiration takes off from the color assigned to it.  Most requested is the Peach Suite with its overlooking view of the pool.

Peach Suite

Pools and a view of the Japanese-themed receiving area

Indulge the senses, enrich the heart
In moments that you want to have a bit of luxury without breaking the bank, Luljetta’s Hanging Gardens Spa and its adjacent accommodation, Luljetta’s Place Garden Suites is an oasis you just want to keep for yourself.  It’s the first and only hanging gardens spa in the country that gives off real Bali vibes.  The spa offers a variety of services in addition to a full access to their hydrotherapy pools.  There are also plenty of little nooks and crannies you can find where you can curl up, take a nap, read a book, or just enjoy some precious me-time.

Make sure to get this combo when in Luljetta’s. Feels like a warm hug.

Be on a world that’s utterly your own

A short walk from the spa is Luljetta’s Garden Suites where you can stay overnight.  I was here a couple of years ago and coming back, I can’t help but feel all “kilig” with the changes they made to the area. You certainly feel and see the time, effort, and love the staff and owners have put in for this place to become their guests’ little piece of paradise. The staff never fails to greet and are always attentive to your needs. Even the smallest space or bathroom décor is all well-thought out. Nothing feels out of place, and despite the seemingly intimidating beauty of the place, it feels a lot like home. 

If pool-hopping is in your bucket list you can also go to the nearby Loreland Farm Resort. Actually, Luljetta’s spa and accommodation sits on the same property as Loreland’s so you are getting the best of both worlds.  Loreland Farm Resort feels like it’s the younger sister of Luljetta’s – young, wild, and free. The resort is best for groups and families who would want to enjoy being in the water all at the same time. Similar to Luljetta’s, the resort also has a variety of pools to choose from.

Being able to experience Antipolo’s different facets during this tour proved that Antipolo is indeed more than its suman and kasuy, although these two are a hands-down favorite. I loved how holistic the tour was which made us experience a little bit of everything, although I’m told that there is a lot more to learn and explore here.  A well-deserved kudos should be given to Ramon Marinas of Bienvenido Tours in organizing this event.  No detail too small was overlooked and we were all taken care of. Heck, we even had travel insurance! Like duh, I often go abroad without travel insurance, bad I know, but the point is, no stone was left unturned just to make sure that we would enjoy and love the company we’re in.  I think the ultimate goal was for us to fall in love with Antipolo, and fall in love we did.  Needless to say, this trip was one of best surprises I’ve had in a really long time.

Ramon talks about the many other things Antipolo has to offer

Thank you Ramon, our sponsors, Filmico team, and the amazing bloggers who made this a super fun weekend!

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