It took this long for me to think of blogging about one of my favorite places in my own country. Perhaps because I visit it too often, or I took its beauty so much for granted. Tagaytay holds many happy childhood memories for me and my family. Both my parents are from Cavite where Tagaytay is. And many weekends were spent here, in a neighboring town called Silang, Cavite where my grandmother used to live, long before it became a favorite tourist destination. From Manila, it would take about an hour and a half traveling south for 60 km to reach Tagaytay to view the "volcano island" inside a lake called Taal Lake, or Lake Taal.
As a child, my ears got so used to many old folks' stories about Taal Volcano where one finds a lake within a volcano within a lake within a volcano. Yeah, I know, it sounds redundant. Can you imagine me listening to all these stories and this line which has now become an adjective to describe Taal Volcano back when I was still of pre-school age? It appears Taal Volcano made up for its size by always threatening to erupt, as if drawing attention all the time. Records show it is the smallest active volcano in the world. And for good measure, the old folks back in the province recount to this day all their experiences with Taal Volcano's mini-eruptions in the past until it was no longer news.
The story goes that Tagaytay Ridge where one gets a perfect view of Taal Lake and Volcano was actually part of a bigger volcano until a major eruption hundreds or thousands of years ago. Originally a huge volcano towering 18,000 feet, many people don't realize that it used to be one of the largest volcanoes in the world. Tagaytay Ridge is the rim of the volcano! Before it was "reduced" to its present size, Tagaytay ridge would have been only about a sixth of the way to the top of the volcano!! This caldera is now fringed with many tourist inns, hotels, restaurants and picnic groves. A major golf course (Tagaytay Highlands) and a casino (near Taal Vista Lodge Hotel) can also be found along this ridge. Most tourists make day trips from Manila to this place, missing out on an unhurried day of adventure which may include a boat journey through the lake to reach the volcano island (about 1,500 pesos or US $30 for the entire boat so you can split it among the 3 or 4 of you), a trek to the top of the volcano on a donkey (most recommended, unless you are very very fit but be ready to shed another US$20 per person), as well as trying out the many fine-dining and local restaurants in the area.
Many years back when Tagaytay only had picnic huts available for rent to locals bringing in their own picnic baskets, the place was famous for its many retreat houses and prayer centers. The cool climate and the now-lost "rustic innocence" of the place made for a very meaningful weekend of prayers and meditation. The retreat houses are still there. And many retreat weekends are still held there. The popularity of the place has also resulted in many foreigners deciding to stay permanently and setting up their own restaurants and shops there. These days, one can make trips to Tagaytay to try out this new Vietnamese restaurant (Bawai), or this Austrian-German bistro called Chateau Hestia, a greek taverna, or a lovely garden restaurant called Moon Garden run by a Belgian. Taal Vista Lodge Hotel is a newly renovated hotel complex , Josephine's Restaurant with its seafood delicacies still stands attracting both local and foreign patrons, the Discovery chain of serviced apartments run Country Suites and I must say, serves the best lamb chops, and of course there is Sonya's Garden and Antonio's - 2 of the fine dining establishments in the area. My personal favorite is Antonio's though that will set you back a good US$30 to $50 per pax. For local food, one can try Josephine's (their buffet is a steal at only US$7) and Leslie's (try their "bulalo" which is beef stew). As for the kids, there is Residence Inn and Zoo where you can spend an entire afternoon with small children. Lunch is also served in this place, a good way to spend an hour or two after checking out the zoo. Restless kids can go to a nearby playground while the adults enjoy their coffee after lunch, or simply wait out for the sunset while viewing the volcano.
There is always something to do in Tagaytay other than just taking in the view. The more adventurous go for the boat ride and donkey trek. The prayerful spend their
retreat weekends there and head back to Manila with emptied minds, restful spirits and re-energized bodies. The hedonists spend time in their favorite spas while their husbands play a round of golf in Tagaytay Highlands. The foodies try out the many food establishments, where the variety caters to every pocket range. The kids can check out the tigers, crocs, gorillas, etc in the zoo. Or simply rent out bikes or go horseback riding in the park.
I live in Makati, the financial center of Manila. This urban jungle has its advantages and disadvantages. Thank God for Tagaytay. In under 2 hours, we can enjoy its breeze and open spaces. There is just no way we will ever grow tired of Tagaytay!