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Revisiting Villa Escudero

There are two feasts that gather and unite Filipinos: food and faith.

A unique culture of Filipinos is their love to share sumptuous food during family reunions, festivals, birthdays and endless list of occasions.

Ask a Filipino out for a casual meet and it’s not going to happen in an office setting, a gym, or a yoga studio. Instead, heading out to a coffee shop or a restaurant would be the first thing suggested. Western people don’t usually get it that Filipinos simply meet to eat or eat when they meet.

With more than 300 years under Spanish colonial influence, devotion to the Catholic faith is deeply ingrained among Filipinos. The traditional Catholic processions are still popular in the Philippines, mostly in provinces.  

The Villa Escudero Coconut Plantation Resort in Tiaong, Quezon, more than 1,000 hectare land South of Manila recently hosted the Feasts of Faith and Food to celebrate “Our Lady of Rosary.”

Legendary coconut baron Conrado “Don Ado” Escudero, heir to the idyllic country side resort said San Pablo,Laguna is blessed to have maintained its rich traditional Catholic devotion such as the annual procession of different images of Blessed Virgin Mary.

At 84, Don Ado still joins town officials in the annual Passion for Peace procession that usually takes more than two hours as a family tradition. He said his mother was a long time Hermana Mayor of the Catholic procession.

Don Ado recalls that the statue of the Our Lady of Rosary was built using the old gold coins collected by his mother.

The resort is one of the oldest tourist destinations in Southern Tagalog, originally a sugarcane plantation when it was founded in 1880s. The children of Don Placido Escudero and wife Dona Claudia Marasigan converted the crop to coconut in 1990s.

Villa Escudero was formally opened to the public as a resort in 1981 and has then become the host to historical events that include some activities of Miss Universe in 1994.

Director Rebecca Labbit of the Department of Tourism (DOT) region 4A said the resort is an icon for Philippine cultural heritage seated in a well preserved natural landscape in the boundaries of Quezon province and San Pablo Laguna.

She said the resort offers unique attractions such as the Carabao drawn carriage with visitors being serenaded with Filipino folksongs. “ Villa Escudero is a pride for the Southern Tagalog region because it has able to maintain its rich cultural heritage features and natural ecosystem.”

From the reception, the ride takes visitors to the Labasin Waterfalls Restaurant, a center piece of the Villa Escudero. Visitors can feast on traditional Filipino buffet lunch, kamayan style (eat with your hands, people!) while they soak their feet on running water.

The buffet lunch is a feast of traditional Filipino cuisine such as beef caldereta, inihaw na tilapia, roasted chicken in bamboo, pinakbet ( Ilocano vegetable dish) and unlimited banana-q on stick.

Guests can now look forward to more exciting Filipino dishes at Villa Escudero as famous International chef Cornelio “Cocoy” Ventura III takes on board the kitchen.

Chef Cocoy hails from San Mateo, Isabela a rich farming community. As a student at Cornell University, Chef Cocoy learned about Villa Escudero through the 180-recipe book of coconut dishes, compiled by Don Ado, who is an alumnus. He was later invited to become the chef of the resort.

While working as chef in the US, Chef Ventura has prepared food for Hollywood icons Al Pacino, Danny Glover as well as Filipino broadway star Lea Salonga.

After enjoying the sumptuous buffet lunch, guests will be treated to traditional  dances and music at the resort’s pavilion. Guests can also enjoy a quiet afternoon at the coffee shop enjoying the view of the lagoon. The brewed coffee from Sagada combined with the famous ‘sinuk-mani’ or rice cake are must try for visitors.

The resort also serves halo-halo and other rich desserts, natural fruit shakes and juices. What excites guests at Villa Escudero is the experience of tasting sumptuous native food while reliving the country’s rich culture and traditions.

Behind every sip of coffee sourced by Chef Cocoy from the hidden mountains of Sagada is a story of a hardworking farmer who has not been tempted to use fertilizer to prevent spoiling the soil’s nutrients. 

Chef Cocoy has also introduced native food items for take home of guests such as biscuits, sweets and the must try coconut jam.

There are also new amenities for families and large groups visiting Villa Escudero. These include the newly opened swimming pools for children and an infinity pool overlooking the lagoon for adults.

One of the favorite activities at Villa Escudero is bamboo rafting on the still waters of the lagoon. Visitors will feel safe wearing life vests and escorted by lifesavers as they enjoy paddling on a native bamboo raft.

Villa Escudero is home to a private museum, considered one of the largest in the country and host to various artifacts, mostly religious items.

The picturesque garden outside the museum is ideal for a relaxing walk, a few biking activities, and even getting married.

With its lush garden, rustic country side ambiance, a horse-drawn carriage to transport the bride to and from the chapel, Villa Escudero is a perfect wedding destination.

Don Ado believes that the resort takes its pride of carrying the rich Filipino cultural heritage despite the temptations of modernizing its amenities.

Villa Escudero can be reached two hours travel by land via bus or private car from South Luzon Expressway (SLEX). The entrance fees range around P1,200 to P1,600 inclusive of the buffet lunch at the Labasin Waterfalls Restaurant and use of amenities. — LA, GMA News