I was in Manila recently attending a travel conference, and we, the participants, were given options to choose an excursion trip outside of the capital city. There was a long list of excursions to choose from but I wanted to explore a place that was close to the city for a day trip – a tour which didn’t require me to leave my very comfortable hotel in Manila very early in the morning to commute to the tour pick-up point. Therefore, I chose Villa Escudero.
Located about 100kms south-east of Manila, Villa Escudero is a working coconut plantation and hacienda in the city of San Pablo in Laguna Province. It was founded in the 1870s by Don Placido Escudero and was originally a sugarcane plantation but converted into a coconut plantation in the 1900s by the Don’s son Arsenio. Arsenio Escudero who was an agriculture industrialist, commissioned the construction of a hydroelectric plant – Labasin Dam – to supply water and to generate electricity to his coconut factory and the plantation house. When the Labasin Dam was constructed in 1929, it was the first working hydroelectric plant in the Philippines at that time.
Villa Escudero Plantation was opened to the public in 1981 as a tourist attraction, designed to provide tourists a peek into historical life in the plantation. Village and museum tours are available, food, accommodation and recreational activities are set up for tourists to relax and experience the rustic ambience, away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Upon our arrival at the villa, we were greeted with lush groves of coconut trees. As soon as we got ourselves sorted out with hats and welcome drinks, we walked towards a pink-coloured church which is now the museum, belonging to the Escudero family who – over the many decades – had inherited and collected historic, religious relics and cultural artefacts, some dating back to pre-Hispanic times.
After the museum tour, we were given a short tour of the plantation on board a carabao (water buffalo)-drawn cart, serenaded by a native singing duo at the back of the cart. We rode slowly into the resort area, passing by park-like and yet provincial settings. Just as I was feeling a little dreamy with the lush greenery and fresh air, it was time for us to alight the carabao cart and to head towards the restaurant where we were going to have our lunch.
The main attraction of Villa Escudero is the alfresco restaurant. The restaurant is situated below the spillway of the Labasin Dam and diners get to enjoy their buffet lunch with the cascading “waterfalls” in the background. Not only is this a unique experience, diners have to wade into the flowing (and cold!) ankle-deep water to get to the tables and the buffet spread.
The restaurant had prepared a sumptuous feast for us: vegetable salad, pumpkin soup, roast chicken, beef, barbecue pork, grilled fish, banana fritters coated with caramelised sugar for dessert, and fruits. But the main food highlight presented to us on a platter was the lechon – a whole pig skewered on a long spit roasted over charcoal. Lechon is a popular dish for the Filipinos particularly for special occasions, taking centre table in any gathering or celebrations. The lechon dish would feed a whole family for the day and probably for subsequent days with any remains cooked in stews and other dishes.
After a couple of hours of tucking into delicious food, with much reluctance, we had to tear ourselves away from our waterfall lunch, to explore the rest of the resort. Unfortunately, it was starting to rain, thus we took shelter at the Coconut Pavilion which overlooks the Labasin Lake on which situated on one side is the row of accommodation. As soon as the rain subsided, a few members of our group went bamboo-rafting on the lake.
As the old saying goes, all good things come to an end, thus it was time for us to leave the villa and return to Manila. The following week I had mentioned to a Filipino about this excursion. Although he has never been to the villa, he has heard positive reviews about the resort. But the one thing which he said struck me was that Villa Escudero is a place which you will hardly find foreign tourists. It’s true – Villa Escudero is a domestic tourist attraction for which I found it rather delightful and charming.
*I was a participant of the Travel Bloggers Exchange (TBEX) Asia-Pacific 2016 conference. The excursion to Villa Escudero was organised by Tourism Promotions Board of Philippines. Opinions expressed in this article are my own.
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