A lot of my childhood memories included family visits to Tagaytay City, the country’s other summer capital (after Baguio City), where we enjoyed the cool and crisp (average temperature is 22.7º Celsius) mountain air and a picture-pretty view of Taal Volcano from its original grand garden view deck—the English Tudor Mansion-style Taal Vista Hotel.
A generation later and now with my own family, I again made the 60-kilometer (1.5-hour) drive to this city and its notable landmark which is deeply entrenched in the history and heritage of Tagaytay City.
The hotel has its beginnings way back in 1935 when the Zamoras of Manila Hotel bought six hectares of flatland perched atop an incline along Ilong Kastila (people say it resembles a nose or ilong) from American Hammon H. Buck, the Superintendent of Schools in Batangas. Two years later, a lodge was built, its architect probably Andres Luna de San Pedro (son of renowned painter Juan Luna) who, just a few years earlier, renovated another landmark, the Manila Hotel, to accommodate a suite for Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
Its contractor was probably the well-known Pedro Soichi who built the Manila Metropolitan Theater. Both were favored by Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon who was then, as I still am now, equally fascinated with Tagaytay, so much so that, on June 21, 1938, he converted Tagaytay into a chartered city by virtue of Commonwealth Act No. 338. Upon the lodge’s opening on October 7, 1939, Quezon frequently held cabinet meetings in its premises.
During World War II, the lodge was converted into quarters for Japanese officers. Between 1956 and 1964, Tagaytay began to be promoted as a major tourist attraction of the Philippines and Taal Vista Lodge was one of its leading attractions. In fact, it was the public viewing ground to major as well as mild to moderate eruptions of the volcano on September 28, 1965, from 1966 to 1970 (lasting from three to 65 days), 1976 (September 3 to October 23 ), 1977 (October 3 to 4 and November 9 to 12), 1991, January 12, 2020 and July 1, 2021.
In 1973, Taal Vista Lodge, now a three-star hotel, boasted a large pavilion for dinner and dancing, a bowling alley, a golf course, a billiards hall and a horseback riding area beside the lodge. One its many regular visitors was a young man who often chose one spot in the grounds from which he gazed out and dream. That dreamer was the late Henry Sy, Sr. whose SM Investments Corp. (SMIC) would later acquire the hotel in 1988. In 2002, he had the hotel rebuilt in the style of the original lodge and added 2 new extensions on the east side of the complex to provide 128 rooms, conference facilities and amenities. In 2004, this reinvigorated and now first-class hotel welcomed back guests and visitors as Taal Vista Hotel.
It was under this new scenario that I wanted to sample what the hotel had to offer. From its original 25 cabins, the hotel now has 264 exquisitely-designed and well-appointed guest rooms, all offering spectacular views of verdant gardens (Mountain Wing) or of Taal Lake and Volcano (Lake Wing). All are fully-equipped with electronic entry lock, cable LED TV, IDD/NDD phone, minibar, coffee and tea making equipment and in-room safe. Wi-fi is available throughout the property. The original building now houses the hotel’s 2-hour Front Desk, business center, shops, ballroom meeting rooms and the 25 Ridge Rooms.
Aside from its rooms and fantastic volcano and lake view, the building’s focal point are its four food and beverage outlets, all taking you far beyond the plate, whether al fresco or from within, as their panoramic floor-to-ceiling glass windows allows diners to watch, aside from Taal Volcano and Lake, the fog rolling in, the captivating sunset and, at nighttime, the stars or the pinpoint lights of fishing boats and the lakeshore towns. The blissful and breezy Veranda offers authentic local dishes as well as a variety of international dishes. Its weekend lunch buffet, featuring the hotel’s heritage cuisine, offers a collection of Filipino favorites with a twist with a cultural dance group providing entertainment. The classy fusion of setting and landscape is a perfect place for intimate dinners and cozy get-togethers. At Taza Fresh Table, with its garden atmosphere perfect for intimate social events, you can enjoy laid-back dining with garden-to-table vegetables and herbs (some locally grown in the hotel’s Organic Herb and Vegetable Garden), handmade pasta and sauces, and meats smoked in the kitchen. Both have a live cooking station and have been recently certified by Green Choice Philippines for their efforts in sustainability. During all our meals, we were also serenaded with oldies by a strings trio. We were also treated to an in-room dining experience for dinner. Alta Ridge Bar is open from Thursday to Sunday.
The grand and iconic Lobby Lounge, with its natural motifs, is an ideal rendezvous for sinful desserts, a lazy after-dinner conversation, evening interludes and winding down moments. Its well-stocked bar offers light meals, coffee or cocktails. Here, warmed by the cozy fireplace, you can sample hot chocolate while listening to nightly piano music. The Cake Shop, a pastry shop, offers tasteful desserts such as their famous pan de coco, ensaymadas, empanadas, pan de sal as well as Spanish-style Bangus in Corn Oil.
At Rain, The Spa, we had a relaxing, one-hour Awaken the Senses Massage. Ms. Sheena T. Pelaez also took us on a very informative one-hour “A Walk Through Time” guided tour of colorful history and heritage of Taal Vista Hotel (evolution from its beginning, through the Philippine Commonwealth Period, World War II, Taal Volcano’s eruptions and up to the present), Taal Volcano and Tagaytay City. For art enthusiasts, the hotel’s walls are lined with paintings of noted Spanish-Filipino artist Juvenal Sanso (a childhood friend of Mr. Sy), other Filipino artists as well as colorful botanical lithographs. The hotel also has a free-form outdoor swimming pool, a grand ballroom, 13 well-designed and flexible function rooms, muscle-stretching gym, boutique (Kultura Butik) and golf putting green.
Image credits: Benjamin Locsin Layug