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The Green Gardens of San Pablo
Every so often, we long for the peace and quiet of the bucolic life. In the morning, we are awakened by the chirping of birds. At night, we are serenaded by the singing of crickets. Awesome!
Such a life is actually not too far away from the noise and the chaos of Manila. A two-hour drive from Manila via the South Luzon Expressway is San Pablo in Laguna. One of the country's oldest cities, San Pablo has been blessed with a cool climate nestled as it is in the foothills of three mountains: Mount Banahaw, Mount Makiling, and the Sierra Madre Mountains. If that wasn't enough, the city also has seven lakes: Bunot, Calibato, Muhikap, Palakpakin, Pandin, Sampaloc, and Yambo. It is no wonder then that the soil in San Pablo City is splendidly fertile paving the way for gardens full of orchids and plantations of coconut, lanzones, and rambutan all around.
In between the lanzones and rambutan are bed and breakfast affairs ran by families who believe in the wonderful art of doing absolutely nothing.
Casa San Pablo
Colago Avenue, Barrio San Roque, San Pablo City, Laguna
Casa San Pablo is a house of many rooms, each with a distinct story to tell. Spread over gardens filled with all sorts of shrubs and flowering plants, the rooms represent a fresh take on old things, a rustic version of shabby chic, if you may.
“Hanging by the Moment,” a large oil portrait of a stuffed bunny hanging from a laundry line by E.J. Cabangon, dominates Room 1, which is located on the first floor of the southwest end of the main casa. It has its own private deck with a garden view, bathroom walls covered with clay leaves by potter Ugu Bigyan, and floors with an inlay of weathered railroad tracks and brick.
Over at Room 2 is a collection of a little less than a hundred Hot Wheels cars encased in collectors’ boxes which also do fine work as side tables and wall art. Pen and ink drawings line a wall in Room 8 with its red–framed glass windows. But the most coveted, at least among lovers wanting to have a quick weekend getaway is Room 12, a stand-alone casita with sliding doors which open up with a great view of the palm garden. Works of art maybe found all around the casita including a large oil painting of Casa San Pablo’s pavilion by Malyn Banayog and nude charcoal drawings by members of the Saturday Group.
As beautiful as the rooms are, the great outdoors beckon guests to all sorts of adventures. Walking around its vast gardens not only make for a good workout, it is also utterly relaxing to the senses and rejuvenating to the soul. A swimming pool on one end soothes and refreshes, but a curiosity towards the crazy array of shrubs, ferns, trees, and flowering plants may be the more invigorating pursuit.
This haven of art and greens is also home to the Casa San Pablo Storytellers, little terra cotta clay figures created by its innkeeper An Mercado Alcantara. A writer and artist, An would, at times, prepare capsule activities including crafts workshops, cooking lessons, and storytelling sessions all in keeping with Casa San Pablo's invitation to guests to lead a life less harried and stressed.
Sitio de Amor Farm Resort
Km 88.8 Maharlika Highway, Purok Paraiso, San Antonio,San Pablo City, Laguna
When Jorge and Amor Bondad decided to build Sitio de Amor, they wanted nothing more than a place where it is possible for guests to do absolutely nothing. Well, they have definitely achieved their objective, and quite fabulously at that!
The Sitio de Amor experience begins the minute you get a peek of its tall, iron gates. Right there and then, you know you're in for an otherworldly experience – at least for urban warriors used to the fast lane. There is no Wi-Fi here. There is no television, no karaoke. There are no electronic disturbances which would distract you from your most important agenda – spending time with the people you love.
Tucked in between San Cristobal Mountain and Mount Banahaw, Sitio de Amor Farm Resort consists of several hectares of landscaped flora including an interesting selection of vines and shrubberies, hardwoods and bromeliads. There are aviaries housing wild doves and bengala pheasants as well as a koi pond brimming to the full with water lilies. The infinity pool, surrounded by shrubberies with birds flitting in and out of the water, looks like a page out of a travel magazine. There is also, yes, a lagoon.
The accommodations are adventures onto themselves. The three-storey Treehouse was painstakingly built around a Caimito tree with a gurgling brook at its feet. The Lanzones Room opens up to the river-fed lagoon. The Chico Room features beautiful vintage Bicolano heirlooms and an open-air bathroom. The Manga Room is furnished with an original four poster full sized bed with a views of the lush garden from the window. The Bondads have also reconstructed old houses around the resort as a reminder of Laguna's rich and colorful history.
There are many ways to enjoy doing nothing here. Exploring the orchards is one, spending time with a book under a tree is another. Take a nap in a hammock or pick rambutans in season. Swim a few laps in the pool or say hello to the pheasants. Ironically, doing nothing at Sitio de Amor is anything but boring.