For three days, travel agents and members of the media who joined the Subic Bay-Bataan Business Familiarization Tour were treated to a taste of luxury with nostalgia thrown in.
The nearly 4-hour journey from Manila to Subic first took us to the DOT-accredited, 4-star Le Charme Suites Subic where we were welcomed by Josephine “Jho” Floresca, the super hands-on managing director of the hotel, who first toured us around the hotel’s facilities and amenities. The only “bike-friendly” hotel in town and in Central Luzon, the French-themed Le Charme Suites is a true haven for those who go and visit Subic with their bikes.
After checking in at some of the hotel’s 46 beautiful, stylish and spacious rooms, we were treated to lunch at the hotel-owned Teppan 101, where its engaging chef cooked the food on a griddle right in front of us. Next up was a tour prepared by SBMA Tourism Department. Our first stop was the Pamulaklakin Forest Trail, an eco-tourism park, where we met an Aeta tribal elder Dominador Liwanag, fondly called “Tata Kasoy,” a renowned instructor of the Jungle Environmental Survival Training (JEST). Wearing his traditional red bahag and headscarf, he demonstrated to us how to start a fire, make cooking utensils and cook food using the versatile bamboo.
Our next stop was Subic Bay Yacht Club (SBYC) where we witnessed the Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony graced by Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Chairman Rolen C. Paulino Sr., Olongapo City Mayor Rolen Paulino Jr. and Bishop Bartolome Gaspar Santos of the Diocese of Iba. Back at Le Charme Suites, we were treated to a showing of “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” while having cocktails, from a giant TV screen around its world-class 25 m. long, 4 ft. deep, half Olympic-size swimming pool at the rooftop Ibiza Roof Deck. Others, including me, availed of the soothing traditional hilot massage at the hotel’s Tai Chi Wellness Spa.
The next day, we had breakfast at Ibiza Roof Deck where we were again joined by SBMA Chairman Paulino, who narrated how this premier free port has bounced back from the hurdles brought by the pandemic. After checking out of the hotel, we again departed for Subic Bay Yacht Club where we toured its facilities such as the Mistral Bar Music Lounge & Function Hall, Theater, and some of its suites prior to a Mongolian lunch buffet.
From here, we departed, via a coaster, for the nearly one-and-a-half hour (55-km.) drive, via the J.J. Linao National Rd., to Las Casas Filipina de Acuzar, a 400-hectare cultural heritage resort and open-air museum with an 18th century Manila vibe in Bagac, Bataan. Upon arrival at the resort’s reception center at Casa New Manila (built in 1926, it originally stood in Balete Drive), we were checked in at some of its 128 guest rooms and 63 “elite casas.” Some have swimming pools for guest use.
The resort’s main attraction is its heritage houses which were transplanted here by Jose “Jerry” Acuzar (owner of San Jose Builders), the heritage park’s proponent, in 2003 in order to save the structures from decay and neglect. The houses are disassembled from their original location and reconstructed inside the premise of the Las Casas Filipinas. For its preservation efforts, the heritage park was lauded by the Department of Tourism in 2021.
Evaluated for their historical, cultural, and architectural value, most of the notable houses such as Casa Bizantina (1890), Casa Hidalgo, Casa Majayjay (the oldest, built in 1744), Casa Jaen I (1901), and Casa Unisan (1839) date back to the Spanish colonial era but some, such as the Casa Lubao (1920), Casa Balanga (1920s), Casa Hagonoy (1936), Casa Meycauayan (1913) and Casa New Manila were built during the American era.
Trams, jeepneys and kalesas are normally used to go around the resort but we first toured the complex via a barge along the Umagol River and Estero de Binondo (which recalls the canals of old Manila), making stopovers at Casa San Juan (one of the most beautiful houses in the complex); Casa Balanga, Casa Candaba 2, and Casa Majayjay the oldest (built in 1744) and one of the most prestigious houses in the complex; it was home to at least four gobernadorcillos of Majayjay, Laguna.
Come evening, we proceeded to Hotel del Oriente, a replica of the hotel originally built in 1889 at Binondo, Manila, which serves as a convention and function venue. Here, we watched a special cultural show of traditional Philippine folk dances highlighted by the popular tinikling. Later, we were treated to an al fresco dinner of delicious Spanish cuisine, with live folk music, at Café del Rio Tapas Bar in Casa Sta. Rita. Other restaurants within the complex include Kusina ni Nanay Maria (Casa Unisan) and La Bella Teodora Italian Restaurant (Casa Binan). The highlight of my evening was another traditional hilot massage at the Tai Chi Spa at Casa Majayjay, coincidentally a branch of its namesake in Le Charme Suites.
On our last day, after breakfast, we checked out of our rooms, boarded our coaster, and toured other houses of Las Casas, making a stopover at the stone-paved Plaza Atienza (one of three major plazas) and the 3-story Casa Byzantina. Built in 1890 by Don Lorenzo del Rosario, this floral “bahay na bato” (it used Revivalist styles with influences of several Classical art movements) was originally situated in San Nicolas, Binondo. It is now considered the most expensive hotel in the resort.
The heritage park also houses artworks such as sculptures of children playing local games such as palo sebo, patintero, luksong tinik and tumbang preso in open spaces; a beach area with beach bar; the Casa Maranao, a torogan or Maranao royal clan house from Lanao in Mindanao built in 1873 by Togoran I Sabino Lakowa; the small Sanctuario de San Jose, a replica of St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Balanga used as a wedding location, and the Tulay ni Lola Basyang, a bridge that crosses the Umagol River, and a replica of the old Puente de España in Manila.