Think Swiss chalets. Think cable cars. Think miniature horses and pot-bellied pigs. Think an 18-hole golf course that follows the natural contours of a mountain ridge. Think of cool air and a home away from home. Think Tagaytay Highlands.
Just 90 minutes’ drive from Metro Manila, Tagaytay Highlands is nestled in a secluded corner of Tagaytay Ridge, commanding a dazzling view of Taal Lake and vistas of Laguna de Bay, Mounts Makiling and Banahaw, Metro Manila, Batangas and, on a really clear day, even the faraway island of Mindoro. From the verandah of my well-appointed suite at The Belle View, I could see hazily the perimeter of Taal Lake with Taal Volcano at its center. The sky was overcast and gray clouds seemed to blanket the view. Was the lady of the lake being coy that Saturday afternoon?
The promise of good food could drag me out of bed even on a Saturday afternoon. I thought the drive up to Tagaytay Highlands would give me time to nap for an evening of food tripping ahead. But I was wrong. When the van passed through the gates of this one-of-a-kind club resort, I could not command myself to relax. Going up and down streets that followed the contours of the Tagaytay Ridge, my eyes were treated to views totally unlike I’ve ever seen before.
There was a clear unimpeded view of Taal Lake, a wondrous sight that a shopaholic like me just couldn’t ignore. To the left were rolling hills of greens, golf courses that would surely drive any golf widow mad. From the Highlands Golf Clubhouse, we proceeded to the Country Clubhouse for lunch, the first in the day’s many stops.
Toscana is the Highlands Italian restaurant. Lunch was a hearty selection of a creamy soup, slices from a variety of thin-crust pizzas, a sampling of various pasta dishes and lamb chops. If you’ve been up the whole night the day before, a filling lunch is the best cure. Once you’re done, all you want to do is go back to sleep. But there’s so much to do and see at the Highlands.
As I enjoyed lunch, I would get up from the table every so often for an ocular of the Country Clubhouse. The Trellis Grill and Swimming Pool below us were an inviting refuge from the heat. And yes, the cable cars, which moved slowly past overhead, were a sight to see.
Next stop was The Spa and Lodge for an aromatherapy massage. The Lodge offers the services of a serviced hotel, although you must be a member to avail of its facilities. Designed like a log cabin, its interior hews closely to what you would imagine a highland lodge to look like. There’s a giant fireplace at one side of the lobby, an assortment of plush sofas to relax on with a drink in hand, and even a couple of moose heads to complete the look. The Spa, on the other hand, is open to members and their guests.
With two hours of free time after the massage, I was back in my suite at The Belle View. It is a fully furnished suite, complete with a kitchen and the amenities of any hotel suite. If you feel like catching up on the day’s news, the television offers a selection of terrestrial and cable channels. If you want to watch a movie, just ring the concierge for a list of movies available for your in-room VCR or DVD player. If you just want music, then pop in a CD into the mini-component and lounge the hours away. And that’s just the living room. The bathroom is complete with a Jacuzzi bath tub. And you are never away from a commanding view of Taal Lake. The bathroom has a glass wall with louvers you can close for privacy. Who can resist a view of the sunset at Tagaytay Ridge? With the glass sliding doors wide open, you can see from your tub the enchanting view outside.
Dinner was at the Winter Gardens of the Highlands China Palace. It was a nine-course meal of Cantonese specials, prepared specially by Highlands executive chef See Cheong Yan. The Highlands’ executives joined us for dinner, enlightening us on the club’s history.
William Ocier, vice president of Belle Corporations, which manages the property, says Tagaytay Highlands has always been envisioned as a family-oriented club resort.
“We wanted to produce something that is world-class and that Filipinos can be proud of, something that was conceptualized by Filipinos and built by Filipinos,” Ocier says. “In fact, many of our guests say that, when they come here, it’s like they’re not in the Philippines.”
When groundwork on the Highlands was started in 1991, the property had to be carefully carved out from the ridge to preserve the area’s natural contour. Roadworks were laid out before any actual construction was built in the resort. After developments were put in place, a program of redeveloping the environment followed to preserve the natural beauty of Tagaytay Ridge.
This month, Tagaytay Highlands is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a number of events to make the occasion special. Last night, Side A returned to the Tagaytay Highlands after 10 years in only their second concert at the property. There is an ongoing photo exhibit at La Belle Brasserie documenting the development of Tagaytay Highlands from day one. It also captures in photographs the Tagaytay Highlands experience. There is a special buffet today at the Country Club Verandah, Highlands Golfer’s Lounge and Midlands Verandah, featuring the specials in the property’s 25 food and beverage outlets.
Add to those 25 F&B outlets Zsa-Zsa’s, which is a videoke bar. On some weekends, the place may be deserted and you could have it all to yourself, which was what happened when we dropped by after dinner that night. Who needs one of the private rooms if you can have the whole lounge to yourself?
A quick tour of the club resort was on the agenda the next day after breakfast at the Log Cabin. The Pinecrest Village is designed like an Alpine village, the first residential project in the complex. The Villas house a cluster of single family units that are arranged on a ridge, with houses following a Mediterranean-Spanish colonial style. The Belle View is a 12-storey wedge of a building on Tagaytay Ridge that offers a perfect view of Taal Lake. Units come in a variety of single- or multi-bedroom suites to suit the needs of residents. The Woodlands is a more rustic development with houses made of cedar logs, while The Spa and Lodge offer hotel-type accommodations. Currently on development is Saratoga Hills, another residential development, and Plantation Hills, which offer weekend and amateur farmers an opportunity to develop their own backyard farms.
Lunch at the Midlands Golf Clubhouse was a buffet of Middle Eastern specials, complete with a shawarma station and a lechon baka station. However, we were all busy anticipating the evening’s dinner at Highlander Steakhouse. After much hemming and hawing, we all agreed on the prime rib, which was described as “pretty big.” Pretty big didn’t describe fully the Highlander’s prime rib; it was as big as a dinner plate. Accompanied by servings of soup and salad, as well as sidings of sautéed vegetables, Yorkshire pudding, corn on the cob and a mini gravy boat of your choice of sauce. It escapes me now whether it was pure Batangas or imported beef, but all those questions were laid to rest the next day. I texted my dinner partners what they thought of dinner. All they could answer was: “Last meal on earth.”
And did I mention that Tagaytay Highlands also offers a great golfing experience? But don’t take my word for it me, a non-golfer. You have to discover that yourself. However, you can be sure that I’ll make the trip up to Tagaytay Highlands again one of these days. I still have 20 more reasons to go back.