MANILA — Planning to spend Valentine’s Day with your loved ones outside the metropolis? Spend V-Day enjoying nature’s beauty just a few hours away from the city — in the beautiful provinces of Rizal and Laguna in Calabarzon region.
The Department of Tourism (DOT) is pitching for these two tourist destinations south of Luzon since their proximity to Metro Manila make them an ideal weekend getaway. These places are definitely a must-go as they offer nature’s finest.
Luljetta’s Hanging Gardens and Spa (Antipolo, Rizal)
With all the classic telltale of one’s love to their matriarchs, a likely Taj Mahal of India, Shah Jahan’s tribute to her wife Mumtaz Mahal, or the fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar II’s gift for his wife Queen Amytis, the Philippines also offers such poetic place in Antipolo-the Luljetta’s Hanging Gardens and Spa.
According to Ramon Maningas, managing director of the resort, the place was named after her mother Lolita.
Part of the 8-hectare land of Loreland Farms, Luljetta’s occupies three hectares of its cliff-side, a strategic location that offers guests a scenic view of the Sierra Madre range and Manila skyline at night.
Most visitors who come in are couples, family, and foreign tourists. It offers “the whole of the Philippines,” says Maningas since all woods and furniture they feature come from different regions of the country. Their day tour, which interestingly provides guests with free use of batik clothing to experience Asia, starts at PHP1,150, inclusive of use of locker, sauna, hydro massage pool, infinity pool, meditation lounges, towel, and snacks of Antipolo’s best suman (sticky rice).
Cloud 9 (Antipolo, Rizal)
Still within Antipolo is Cloud 9, a “sky resort” that offers a 360-degree view of Metro Manila, Laguna de Bay, Mountains of Sierra Madre, and Rizal province.
The vine-filled place is a perfect spot for couples who would love the idea of having their Valentine’s pictorial within the skies of Rizal, or for anyone who doesn’t dismiss having a bit of a challenge before the reward. The best way to hike the 360-degree viewdeck is through their hanging bridge but for those who are scared of heights, entrance below the deck is allowed.
Love locks are not encouraged at the 360-degree viewdeck but with several padlocks penned with couple names hanged by the tower’s safety grills, you could imagine yourself in one of those cute Korean dramas filmed in the popular romantic Namsan Seoul Tower.
Below the deck is the art studio of Othoniel Neri, Cloud 9’s resident artist and part of the team that created “Tagaligtas 44,” an acrylic on oil painting dedicated to 44 Special Action Force commandos killed in the Mamasapano clash.
In his studio with backdrop of his witty and pun-filled works of art are deep-rooted explanations of the society’s current status. A side-trip inside would give you a glimpse of attitudes such as the manana habit, ningas cogon and colonial mentality objectified through his canvass.
“Back then my style is anchored on positives, then I realized, luxury and comfort are just sugarcoat, we need to dig deeper until the roots,” Neri said in an interview.
Two years ago, when he participated in an exhibit in Chicago, Neri had a sudden realization and saw his reflection of someone who has something that’s missing. “[I realized] we need to use visual art to achieve an awakening,” he said.
Indeed, there is more to his gallery, a figurative and artistic social realist exploration one must not miss while in Antipolo. Also, there is an interesting impasto he is working on titled “The Marriage of a Bulldog and a Shitzhu,” an art he said may soon give birth to one or more canvasses featuring their offsprings.
Haranah Eco Park (Tanay, Rizal)
Given the so many activities you can avail from just the two destinations alone, the continuation of your Calabarzon visit is best paused in Haranah Eco Park seated within Tanay’s very own balcony.
The spacious park overlooks Laguna de Bay and the Sierra Madre range but at nighttime, Haranah will provide you a front row seat to see a crisp view of the constellations. One way to enjoy the park is usually with an overnight stay, availing the management’s signature activity, their “sleeping under the stars.”
Upon reservation, visitors are given the opportunity to camp at ease. A plus point is that they provide the tents and foams so you don’t have to bring one.
But the best part of Haranah Eco Park is their accommodating staff, which will make you feel at home while still in the zone of having your “away from the city” vibes.
Chef Romy Furio’s clean and simple tasting basil and tomato pasta is also a gem after your trip getting to their 16.2-hectare property.
Ten Cents to Heaven (Tanay, Rizal)
As far as all destinations included here are concerned, the Ten Cents to Heaven Leisure Park offers the most adventurous activities part of the media delegation had experienced.
The daunting two-way zipline that traverses through the park’s vast land is definitely a must try, perfect for both zipline junkies or beginners at that. The trip through the longest line, which is over 1 km takes less than a minute from point A to point B. Guests have the option to take a shuttle back to the base camp or suspend for another zipline ride all the way to their hanging bridge.
Compared to the Cloud 9 Hanging Bridge made up mostly of steel, the version of Ten Cents differs with the materials used for its “flooring” which is made up of wood planks. The latter’s walk through the woods though is less intimidating than the one in Antipolo.
The adventure doesn’t end with the long hanging bridge walk. The next stop back to the base (if you didn’t ride the shuttle) is rappelling, wall climbing, and free fall course. For someone that has not tried rappelling 60 feet all the way down at all, I can say that the experience is worth all the pre-climb jitters.
Aside from their adrenalin-pumping activities, Ten Cents is at par with resorts having the best view of the whole Rizal. According to the staff, guests can sometimes even witness a sea of clouds in their villa area.
Rizal Wind Farm (Pililla, Rizal)
Travelling to Calabarzon, Rizal and Laguna area, one will not miss what seemed like a scene lifted from Bangui, Ilocos Norte, South Luzon’s very own windmills. The Rizal Wind Farm is located in Barangay Halayhayin, Pililla, Rizal and is the first Luzon-based windfarm outside Ilocos. According to Alternergy, the giant fans account to 27 in total covering the whole municipality of Pililla.
By the highway, its picturesque lineup can already be captured in photos but for those who want to see the turbines up close, Alternergy welcomes all tourists at their visitor center. The lounge often serves as a stopover for tourists visiting Laguna.
Sulyap Gallery Cafe and Restaurant (San Pablo, Laguna)
A romantic dinner inside old houses with your significant other is also one good way to spend Valentine’s Day this year. Sulyap Gallery in San Pablo, Laguna houses five heritage mansions turned into hotel rooms and restaurant.
Within the Sulyap property, a previous school building now features the owners’ vast collection of antique furniture and vintage wines.
This Valentine’s Day, Sulyap is offering a special dining experience to couples who want to be serenaded and relive “delightful love and romance with a buffet and music by Playback Band.”
Among the menu are the Lengua en Crema Blanca, Chicken Barbeque, Gambas Ajillo with Mushroom Buttons, Beef Salpicao and Spanish Tomato en Pasta con Chorizo. To those who wanted to make their day extra special, Sulyap also offers special arrangement for couples who opt to eat in a more private space away from the crowd.
Lotus Pod Bed and Breakfast (Bay, Laguna)
The last stop of our Calabarzon emerging tourist hotspots tour timed specially for the love month of February was in Lotus Pod Bed and Breakfast tucked in Brgy. Puypuy, Bay, Laguna.
The Balinese-inspired sanctuary named after the pod or seed of the lotus flower has a meaningful explanation why it was named Lotus Pod. Like how each seeds can become another lotus plant, the management says their 3-hectare property also offers opportunities to its guests to do fun stuff as there are seeds in that pod.
Indeed there are, and majority of them are relaxing ones. Aside from dozing off in the casitas with its own hot springs, guests can laze around their huge nipa hut spa lounge. According to the management, there are at least eight casitas or villas in Lotus Pod, enough to accommodate guests without overcrowding.