Mention Ilocos Sur and immediately its checkered history and culture instantly come into mind, and for good reason. This 205-year old “Heritage Province” takes pride in some of the best colonial-era preserved ancestral homes, churches, town plazas, watchtowers and other vestiges of a glorious past.
The provincial capital city of Vigan has been one of the country’s most sought-after destinations because of its antiquarian village, delectable Ilocano and Spanish cuisine, weaving and pottery, and a host of other exciting activities.
Included in the elite Unesco World Heritage List and the New7Wonder Cities, every nook and structure in this postcard-pretty hideaway will transport you back to the nostalgic 19th-century era.
An intriguing building is the Hotel Luna which was built by Don Jose Florentino built in 1882 the four-story property as a wedding gift for his daughter Doña, and named it the Doña Carmen Florentino House.
A few years back, it has been painstakingly restored and repurposed into the country’s first and only museum hotel. It is also adorned with paintings, sculptures, and other art pieces, which are trademarks of properties of the Artstream Hospitality Group which owns and runs the hotel.
Its dining outlet, Comedor Restaurant, is not to be missed with its Spanish-Ilocano gastronomic experience. Literally meaning “dining place” in Spanish, it has a Castillan-inspired interior, with their classic brick walls that complement the hotel’s turn-of-the-century theme.
Small wonder, hotel’s Old World charm has endeared it to guests who want to dine with history and culture, and is a preferred venue for pictorials and mid-sized special events.
But apart from this all-too-familiar place, the peripheral municipalities have their own nature and adventure allure, which complements Vigan’s character.
The town of Santiago is the top-of-mind choice for beach recreation because of its picturesque and serene cove. Along the shores of this long coastline proudly stands Vitalis Villas, arguably the “Santorini of the Philippines” because of its clusters of blue-and-white suites which are closest you can get to the famed Greek seaside city.
Named after a prominent Ilocano painter, the sprawling property on the cliff by the cove is Hellenic in almost every sense: the architecture, ambiance, terrain, high-ceiling interiors, arched and domed motifs, art adornments, verandas dotted with foliage, and infinity pools overlooking the sea which shut you out from the outside world.
Its dining outlet called Petra evokes a Grecian feel, and tickles your palate with well-loved local and international flavors. Parthenon, named after the iconic temple ruins in Athens, is the hotel’s pavilion for special events and banquets.
As part of getting back into the pre-pandemic groove, it is in the process of revamping its menu to restore its Mediterranean cuisine and reopening the Snack Bar for a consummate Greek experience.
For an adrenaline rush, there’s a zipline which can glide you over the placid water.
On the other side of the cove is Vitalis White Sands which is situated near a fishing village which gives guests a sense of integration with the Santiago Cove community. Considered the little sister of Vitalis Villas, the boutique resort has a calm white sand beach where visitors can frolic, or indulge in watersports facilities such as jetski, banana boat, kayaks, pedal boats and stand-up paddleboards.
For a food trip, families and small groups can sink their teeth on the hearty Boodle Feast comprised of Pinoy grilled meats, soup, vegetable sidings, java rice, native desserts, and iced tea.
With the tourism reboot in the province, both properties have designed irresistible tour packages for families and groups to lure them into this one-of-a-kind getaway.
Situated near the Ilocos Norte boundary, Cabugao is nondescript town along the national highway, you might just miss it if you blink. But beyond its laid-back look, its sleepy shores offer a front seat to mesmerizing golden sunsets. The best vantage point to the kaleidoscopic dusk is the coastal village of Sabang where you can gaze at Salomague Island at the wooden boardwalk.
Another panoramic sunset spot for dinner is Leonardo’s Hut, a native-themed restaurant on stilts by the sea which is a must-see and must-try because of its delectable Filipino grilled favorites and local specialties.
Literally a swimming distance away from the shore, the white sand island is Ilocos Sur’s surfing spot which is part of the national competition circuit. In addition to riding the waves, the under-the-radar idyllic isle is also ideal for roughing it out under the stars, boating, and the marine life makes it ideal for snorkeling, freediving, as well as scuba diving.
With the confluence of culture, cuisine and adventure in its different municipalities, Ilocos Sur has earned back its rightful place as a top road trip hideaway.
Image credits: Bernard L. Supetran