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Fascinated by Batangas

August 21, 2019

The Metro Manila Turf Club in Malvar with a view of Mt. Makiling.

A guide to enjoy the province’s rich heritage, scenic and gastronomic offerings via STAR Tollways

One of the most popular destinations not too distant from Metro Manila is Batangas. Home to the popular Taal Volcano and the Taal Heritage town, it has become more accessible with less than an hour of travel from Alabang through the Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR) Tollway — which is under San Miguel Corporation’s infrastructure arm, SMC Infrastructure.

The province has something for everyone — may it be families, beachgoers, thrill seekers, weekend warriors such as mountaineers, scuba divers, or cyclists; foodies, wellness enthusiasts, coffee lovers, and even those seeking religious or spiritual retreats.

“Because of faster travel, easier access, and added convenience, more people are encouraged to visit different provinces outside Metro Manila more frequently. This does a lot in terms of driving support or local businesses,” STAR Tollway President and CEO Manny Bonoan said.

Besides the many natural attactions that include scenic and diving spots, beach resorts and hiking trails, Batangas is also known for its strong kapeng barako, delicious lomi and historic sites, such as the house where the maker of the Philippine flag resided.

“Showing people different tourism destinations is something we advocate, not just through STAR Tollway but also through our other province-bound SMC Infrastructure expressways Southern Luzon Expressway (SLEX) and Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX),” Bonoan enthused, as the company invited the media including The Manila Times for a two-day familiarization tour of the province early this month.

“Every town is different and there is so much to see. Our country’s history is filled with many stories of trials and triumphs that have shaped our national identity. Batangas, in particular, offers a peek into the history in the Southern Tagalog region,” the SMC executive added.

History and etymology

Batangas was already a center of activity even before the Spaniards set foot anywhere else in the archipelago, with native settlements lining the province’s major waterway — the Pansipit River. Trade with the Chinese, Japanese and Indians was already exuberant as early as the 12th century. Archaeological findings show that Batangueños already attained high civilization in the pre-Spanish era, as shown by some jewelry like bracelets, potteries, stoneware, metal objects, dining utensils such as plates and chalices.

The name Batangas is said to have come from ‘batangan,’ a raft people used for fishing in the Taal Lake. It also means numerous logs found in the Calumpang River.

The first recorded name of the province, however, was Kumintang — whose political seat of power was the present-day Balayan, then considered the most progressive town in the region. When Taal Volcano erupted and destroyed a large portion of the town, the center was relocated to Bonbon, which is now the present-day Municipality of Taal.

Interchangeably, Batangueño and Tagalog — derived from taga-ilog or river dwellers referring to the Pasig River located further up north of the province — have been used by many historians, as Batangas was the real center of the Tagalog tribe.

One American archaeologist, Henry Otley Beyer, called the Late Paleolithic Period of the Philippines the Batangas Period for the province’s affinity to the precious stone known as jade, when jade-cult reached the shores as early as 800 B.C. lasting until 200 B.C. as evidenced by the large amount of the important ore found in excavated caves.

Malvar Town

Named after General Miguel Malvar, the last Filipino general to surrender to the American Forces at the conclusion of the Philippine-American War in 1902, the town’s biggest attraction is the Metro Manila Turf Club.

Th 45-hectare horse racing facility which can host as many as 3,000 fans during its twice-a-week races is one of three horse-racing clubs in the Philippines, established in 2013 — located just a short drive away from STAR Tollway’s Malvar exit.

With the growth of the sport and its following, competitors decided to breed Philippine horses for the races, whereas they would previously only race with imported horses. Jockeys and trainers would also pass on their skills to their children, and so forth.

Today, many of the current crop of jockeys and trainers at Metro Turf are descended from well-known names in horse-racing history.

Casa de Segunda is one of only two heritage houses that survived WW2 bombings. Here too lived the woman said to be the first love of Jose Rizal.

Lipa City

One of Lipa’s oldest houses, Casa de Segunda, residence of Doña Segunda Solis-Katigbak, said to be the first love of national hero, Jose Rizal.

Declared a national heritage site by the National Historic Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), it is one of the very few remaining Spanish-era houses in Lipa with Lileth Dimayuga-Malabanan as caretaker of the heritage abode.

The woman related that at one point in history, Lipa was the only supplier of coffee beans to the world and this made residents extremely wealthy. According to stories of older generations, buyers would bring sacks of gold as payment.

As there was nothing much for the residents to spend their money on, they built large houses for themselves.

But during World War 2, the invading Japanese evicted everyone living in these mansions.

The Japanese took residence in the big houses, which were subsequently destroyed when Americans bombed Lipa to defeat the Japanese toward the end of the war.

The house, now over 130 years old, survived the war and still has some of its original furnishings. The machuca tiles on its first floor, various heirloom plates and silverware from Europe, and Narra tables and beds, give a peek into the lives of affluent families in the 1800s.

Among the items that survived is a marble chess table Rizal played on with Manuel Luz, Segunda’s father.

Built in 1880, Casa Segunda is the perfect example of wealthy Filipino family’s home over a century ago.

Not far from Casa de Segunda is Hotel 1925, which keeps history alive through its restaurant Imprenta Modern Filipino Cuisine, inspired by the old printing press business of Lipa’s Mojares family.

Hotel 1925 is the first premium hotel in Lipa and is heavily inspired by Spanish architecture. Its president, Michelle Fabie, informed that the hotel was built in memory of her father Rufino “Pinong” Mojares, who was born in 1925.

The food in Imprenta uses local Batangas favorites, such as dulong, pajo, and tulingan.

Balete

With the more recent opening of STAR Tollway’s Balete exit, Batangas’ “honey capital” is now also more accessible to people from Metro Manila. Batangas, as a whole, is a good breeding ground for bee colonies and many families in Balete have taken to putting up their own farms.

Balete boasts of huge tourism potential for its breathtaking scenery. It is nearest Taal Volcano Island where the Sunset Tour at Taal run by Lima Park Hotel took media and SMC as part of the ‘Rediscovering Batangas’ roadtrip.

Home to about 20,000 people, Balete holds big tourism potential as it is quite scenic and is actually the nearest to the Taal Volcano Island. Among its attractions is the Sunset Tour at Taal run by Lima Park Hotel. The tour takes guests along the island, ending at their picnic site that provides a great view of the sunset.

Numerous resorts have also opened. Media guests stayed at the Nayomi Sanctuary Resort, which opened in 2015 and owned by the family of popular showbiz siblings John and Camille Prats.

Nayomi Sanctuary Resort pool.

The property is composed of a mix of traditional hotel rooms and glamping tents for those who would like a luxurious camping experience.

Taal Town

It is almost like taking a step back in time at the historical and cultural side of Batangas — the Taal Heritage Town, only around 30-minute drive from STAR Tollway’s Lipa exit.

With its hundreds of heritage structures, Taal truly epitomizes what a progressive town looked like in the 15th century. It is also home to several prominent historical figures.

One of the houses that is truly worth visiting is the residence of Marcela Marino de Agoncillo who created the first Philippine National Flag.

She and her husband Felipe Agoncillo, the Philippine’s first diplomat, are two of the most prominent residents of Taal. Their house is also one of the oldest, inherited by Marcela from her grandfather. Today, the house is a modern museum about the couple’s life and the history of the Philippine flag.

Basilica de San Martin de Tours or the Taal Basilica is the largest church in Asia.

Two churches stand out in Taal — the Basilica de San Martin de Tours or the Taal Basilica and the Archdiocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay.

Taal Basilica is a sight to behold with its classic Baroque architecture and intricate trompe l’oeil painted ceilings which deceives the eye to make it look as if the ceilings are three-dimensional. It dates back to 1878 and is said to be the largest church in Asia.

The Our Lady of Caysasay church opened in 1640 to honor the image of the Virgin of Caysasay — a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary discovered by a fisherman along Pansipit River in Caysasay which was then a small barangay in Taal.

According to legend, the image, which was kept in Taal Basilica, would keep leaving the church and be found again in Caysasay where it was first discovered. One day it disappeared and did not turn up for several years, until two girls saw the image reflected in a well. Today, that spot, called the Sta. Lucia Wells, is believed to have miraculous healing powers.

The Goco Ancestral House is also frequented by those who visit Taal. It was the home of Juan Cabrera Goco, who was Katipunan’s treasurer, and his wife Lorenza. Today, it is under the care of their grandson Pio Goco. He regularly hosts guests in the houses for a private lunch and walking tour of the town.

The Goco Ancestral House (left) was the home of Katipunan treasurer Juan Cabrera Goco, now under the care of his grandson Pio Goco (right).

He shares that the house is a classic “bahay-na-bato” which he feels is misrepresented as Spanish style, when it is a uniquely Filipino design.

“Spanish-style is a misnomer because there really isn’t anything like these designs anywhere else in the world. This is house made by Filipinos, for Filipinos,” he said.

For lunch, Pio served traditional Taal specialities on the same plates and silverware collected by his grandfather and parents. The inside of the house looks almost exactly as it did many decades ago with ornate wooden furniture, lamps, and various memorabilia.

The Taal Tourism Office, as well as some of the residents, actually arrange walking tours for those interested.

There is still quite a lot left to see and experience in Batangas. With the province’s rich history and culture, trips will look, feel and taste different every single time with numerous activities that can fill up many weekend itineraries.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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