Post and photos by Philippa Langrish
Weekend Breaks from Manila
As fun and exciting as Manila is, sometimes you just need a break from the city. We regularly leave the capital in search of some peace and quiet, culture, and the best nearby beaches. Here’s my top 10 favourite weekend breaks from Manila, perfect for all the family.
1. Step Back in Time at Sitio De Amor Farm, Laguna
Distance from Manila: 90km
The stunning grounds and historic 1920’s buildings make Sitio de Amor a dreamy location for a weekend break. This farm resort offers a number of accommodation options in a multi-hectare setting. Guests should be aware, however, of the resort’s no outside food policy, which is slightly unpractical since you need to order meals prior to your stay. We were not informed of this and therefore were not able to enjoy a lunch at the farm and had to eat elsewhere upon arrival.
However, the feel of the resort, impressive landscaped gardens and delightful treehouse where we stayed made it worth the trip. Dinner was delicious, with a spread of Lechon Kawali ( deep fried pork belly), grilled tuna, clam soup, Fern and salt egg salad, roast chicken and a yummy vanilla cake for dessert. You can bring your own booze (corkage fee applies) so all this was washed down with a couple of bottles of wine.
We stayed in a wooden house which had been constructed around a tree, complete with antique furniture and an enormous Jacuzzi style bath overlooking a little river. It was idyllic. There are six other properties to choose from, including some with four-poster beds, outdoor bathrooms and antique adornments. The old house (where owners Amor and George stay) has been painstaking reconstructed from a 1920’s traditional Filipino mansion. This is where we dined in the evening, at an old long wooden table illuminated by coloured lanterns.
Despite its peaceful and romantic setting the website offers much false advertising (so come with an open mind as things may not be as promised). For example, there were no birds in any of the aviaries dotted around the garden, the koi pond was empty, the horses were not ridable, and the lagoon had been drained. This was all slightly disappointing and put a bit of a downer on our stay. Nevertheless the infinity pool, sweeping views over papaya fields and sprawling grounds softened what was lacking. I would be keen to return to this enchanted place once everything is in full swing. We were told that the lagoon is only filled when they have big groups or when there is no chance of rainfall.
And for kids, it’s a great escape from the city. Watching the kids run free, splash in a pool, play traditional games and hunt for nature finds from the comfort of a cosy chair or hammock was a true gift. Sitio de Amor offers all of this all amongst a magical backdrop of time gone by. The children’s imaginations were in full swing around the old house as they discovered the antique rocking horse, coloured glass windows and enchanting doorways.
I like to occasionally take a technology detox in this crazy fast multi-media world we live in so the family can be together, playing, reading, talking and going slow. Sitio de Amor is a great place to find a quiet corner and relax, meditate, maybe do some yoga or scribble down thoughts.
Magda, the house keeper was very sweet with the children. She called them all Anak for the duration (which means son/daughter) and gave us her cell number so we could text her if we needed anything. She gave us a wonderful tour of all the property and made us feel welcome with her gorgeous smile.
I loved the unique design of the treehouse where we stayed and the onsite massage which we had. However, much like the other services at Sitio this needed to be booked in advance and was both times up to an hour late. I guess the feeling of going slow is a spell cast not just on the guests but the staff too!
Take a look at current rates and reviews on TripAdvisor
2. Stand Up Paddle Board in Matabungkay
Distance from Manila: 120km
Every year FiliSUP organises the National Wahine championships in Batangas. The SUP event doesn’t take itself too seriously and is great way to have some family fun, exercise and enjoy the sea breeze. We have headed down to the regatta two years running now and it never fails to disappoint.
This year we invited two other families along with us to check out the event. Stand Up Paddle boarding is a great sport for families since it is low intensity, and fun for all abilities – small kids can jump on and off the boards and practice their balancing while older children are able to paddle, race or simply relax on the water. It’s also a wonderful sport for “Mummies with Tummies” as it strengthens your inner core and tones your abs!
Every time we have visited, the children have spent hours floating on the paddle boards, paddling in the shallows and collecting star fish. The Matabungkay Beach Resort and Hotel, where we stayed, has penned in part of the ocean with ropes and buoys to make it safe for novice swimmers so the kids couldn’t float too far from us. Another highlight for our troop was the waterslide in the baby pool, which was ideal for my little two-year-old. There is plenty of shade around the resort making it a child friendly environment even in the afternoon heat.
The resort is a 3* venue with basic rooms but awesome facilities. There are paddle boards, kayaks, 2 swimming pools, floating bamboo rafts, picnic areas, a giant chess set, a water slide, fountains and a lovely beach area. The focus of our trip was the SUP competition, which myself and one of the other Mums had entered. The kids and Daddies got to bundle onto the floating bamboo raft which was pushed out into the ocean to cheer on the Mums. It was such fun.
After the race, we ordered some simple food, played on the boards and by the pool. That evening FiliSUP organised a feast on the beach, bonfire, a cookie decorating activity and prize giving. The beach was decorated with colourful beanbags, rugs, lanterns and festive lights. There were also speeches given by the beneficiaries, Carewell Cancer Foundation and the Verde Island Passage environmental research project. At the end of the night participants lit Chinese lanterns and made a wish for loved ones – it was a very poignant moment.
For more reviews of the resort, take a look at these on TripAdvisor
3. Island Hop in Puerta Galera
Distance from Manila: 150km
One of my favourite weekend breaks from Manila has to be Puerta Galera, which has the nearest virgin white beaches from the capital and boasts some of the best scuba diving sites in the country. It’s a short two-hour drive to Batangas and then a one-hour boat crossing across the Verde Island Passage. Although sea planes are also available straight from Manila to Puerta Galera and take a measly 30-minutes (ear-marked for my next trip!).
We took advantage of the school spring break and some very organised local mums who had invited us on a four-day trip staying at the quiet La Laguna Beach which is home to a few quiet guest houses, and a couple of basic three star resorts. Puerta Galera has a wealth of choice for places to stay from luxury 5* resorts, to basic dive centres, private Airbnb homes and native style villas.
Our kids spent most days on the beach or in the ocean. Island hopping is a must with the kids. They can spend hours jumping off the Bangka Boats, snorkelling and gorging themselves on fresh tropical fruits such as mangoes, bananas, watermelon and pineapples, which are all locally produced. In the evening my two little ones played on the beach and dipped in the pool before crashing into a deep sleep- worn out by all the sea air, activity and excitement.
The mums, meanwhile, discovered the gorgeous corals and marine life below the crystal clear waters and later amused ourselves chatting, preparing food and playing cards. The region is bustling with little bays which all have their own unique character. White Beach is the main strip, busy with nightlife and dive centres, while the smaller coves such as La Laguna, Coco Beach and Fisherman’s Cove offer quieter retreats. There are plenty of tricycles available to zip about from place to place or you can hire a Jeepney if you are a large group.
Take Note: Always take sea shoes for your kids to wear while swimming in the Philippine Ocean. There are some nasty little urchins and poisonous fish which lurk in rocky areas.
4. Take a Beach Break at Pico de Loro, Batangas
Distance from Manila: 80km
Pico de Loro is one of the closest beaches to Manila. We were looking for an escape away from the city for our little family and Pico de Loro Beach Resort was a great option. The resort is listed as “members only”. However, you can easily book a room through Air BnB as many of the rooms are privately owned and then rented out by the owners. You can also try Pico Sands Hotel.
The resort boasts a clean sandy beach (with toilets and showers), fabulous kids pool with a number of shallow pools joined together as well as fountains and walkways. I could watch Maya who can “just” swim on her own while holding Gillan in the baby friendly shallower areas. Maya, Gillan and her friend Sienna had fun on the beach, played in the waves, swam in the sea and pool and when it got too hot they retreated to the great indoor play area with their daddies. The resort even has a bowling alley in the basement which we will be sure to test out on our next visit when the kids are a bit older.
The sand in this region isn’t the powdery white but it’s as good as you can get in Batangas. The hotel itself is not the most aesthetically pleasing due to its large imposing condos. However, this is offset by the stunning walkways around the lake just in front of the hotel complex where the kids can see giant water lilies and feed the ducks. The Reef Bar restaurant located right on the beach, specialises in grilled food and is a great place to soak up that beach BBQ vibe. There are also some good hikes in the area for families.
For those adventurous families, Mt Pico de Loro is located a short drive away and offers great hiking if you are prepared to sweat it out in the heat. You can pamper yourself after a hike with a blissful massage at the hotels Rain Spa.
5. Walk with the Animals in Subic Bay, Luzon
Distance from Manila: 160km
About three-hours drive from Manila is Subic Bay, a strange mix mash of burgeoning tourism and the remnants of American military presence. The bay is dotted with Navy ships, while the main strip glitters with newly refurbished bars and restaurants. The bay is quiet during the day with a few retired US sailors enjoying lazy lunches, but comes alive at night with live music and performances.
We went purely to escape Manila and to discover Zoobic, which is reported to be the best safari nearby. However, there are plenty of water sports as well as wreck dives in the area. We stayed at The Lighthouse, which is a beautiful hotel at the end of the bay offering gorgeous food and a chilled out vibe. The beach around Subic is pretty dirty which is a shame, so choose a hotel with a good pool to cool off in.
The Zoobic Safari was a fantastic adventure for our little explorer. Our intrepid three-year-old couldn’t wait to get involved; holding a python, owl, riding a pony, watching her Daddy feed the crocodiles and tigers. Plus donating to the conservation project by giving her loose change to a parrot who put it in the money box. The interactive and conservation sensitive spirit of Zoobic will have your kids thoroughly entertained and informed of all creatures great and small. During the three-hour tour you can also try your hand at the local Aeta tribal skills.
As well as Zoobic Safari there is also nearby Ocean Adventure theme park, where you can swim with Dolphins and the Kabayo horse riding stables in the area. After a sweltering three hours at the Safari we were ready to sit down and have some well deserved nourishment. I am not a Tex-Mex kinda girl, however Texas Joes had me converted. Pigging out on their milkshakes,ribs and cheesecake was pure delight. Well I was 8 months pregnant!
After hours we wondered along the strip to catch some live music and soak up the atmosphere, which picks up as the sun goes down. This place has a unique charm of its very own. It is by no stretch of the imagination a beach paradise but the effort that has gone into reclaiming the disused military hubs has to be commended. I hope that Subic continues to develop its identity in becoming a real hot spot for those in need of a mini break from Manila.
6. Chill Out at Laiya Beach, Batangas
Distance from Manila: 140km
If you are in need of a beach fix and do not want to fly or go by boat then Laiya Beach is a great option for a weekend break. Located between three- and four-hours drive south of Manila, the beach here is clean and tranquil (unlike most of the other resorts in Batangas). There are several hotels to choose from along the beach. Pay the extra pesos and stay at a more upmarket hotel as the cheaper ones tend to scrimp on comfort.
The hotels offer the usual spa, restaurants and kiddie parks. We were happy to catch up on some repose while our daughter dug in the sand, played in the park and made friends with the other children staying at the resort. If you are travelling with teenagers chose a resort with some activities, as they may need more to entertain them than sand castles. The freedom the beach offers is a great respite from the city as the kids were able to run along the deserted beach keeping within eyeshot.
Take a look at these recommended family hotels in Laiya on TripAdvisor.
7. Unwind at Nayon Farm, Batangas
Distance from Manila: 100km
Nayon Farm in Alitagtag, Batangas has become our secret little weekend getaway. Time stands still here, letting the weekend coast by gently. Owners Beth and Neil bought the farm a few years ago and have been dutifully building a little haven to share with others. Booking is by special request only.
Nayon is a bubble of complete relaxation. There is not a soul around, except for the very obliging caretaker, William, who will happily climb up a palm tree and cut a coconut down for you. The property is private and self-catered. However, Beth can provide a cook on request.
Fringed by mango and swaying palm trees, and perched atop a small hill, the 150sqm house has two ensuite bedrooms, an open-plan kitchen/living area, and a generous front porch for whiling away the day and the best spot to enjoy the morning or afternoon breeze. The house is beautifully decorated in a simply Pinoy style with heavy dark wood furniture, large capiz (local shell) adorned windows, cool terracotta stone slab tiles and light white washed plastered walls.
The kitchen area is fully stocked with all utensils, a fridge, freezer and a good oven. But what is better is the little outdoor BBQ area next to the kid-friendly pool. I wanted this to be a great experience for my family so made sure we filled our cooler up with marinated meats, dips, crisps, veggies, beers, a few bottles of wine and breakfast supplies before we embarked on the two-hour road trip to get to Nayon from Manila. If you don’t fancy bringing your own food then ask the caretaker to look out for fishermen who regularly come by to sell freshly caught tilapia, bangus (milkfish), tulingan (tuna mackerel), and local prized fish maliputo from the lake at a discount.
My kids love the pool and the resident cows, chickens and bunny rabbit. The house has several board games for guests and my daughter loves playing the traditional game Sunka in the evening. We went for a little stroll down one of the nearby tracks to look for butterflies and local flora and fauna. For the more adventurous there is a steep track down to Lake Taal where you can hire a bamboo raft from local fisherman and take a trip on the Lake. Our two children where too young for the hike at this stage. Most of all the kids loved spending time together as a family, discovering nature, enjoying tasty food without any digital distractions.
To make a booking email: [email protected]
8. Dive at La Chevrerie, Batangas
Distance from Manila: 130km
La Chévrerie is a family owned resort constructed in the summer of 2014. It has been furnished inside and out with beautiful attention to detail. Lazyboy beanbags and hammocks are dotted around the pool, each room is furnished with a balcony day bed, and the restaurant is banked with recessed benches overlooking the ocean. The layout is fantastic for families because you can sit in the restaurant whilst keeping an eye on the kids playing on the lawn, in the pool or on your balcony/terrace. The resort is owned by a Frenchman and his HongKongese wife, so the food is a fusion of French and Asian cuisine. The menu is diverse and delicious, making for some very happy tummies after a full day.
My husband and I love to dive and we were able to take our daughter Maya (four-years-old at the time) on the dive boat with us while we took it in turns to explore underwater. The crew were so accommodating and took us to a beach between dives so Maya could play in the sand on shore. If you don’t want to bring your child on the boat, the resort also offers a babysitting service.
There were jellyfish in the sea so it wasn’t ideal for swimming off the side of the boat, but luckily there was a bucket with string on board which provided hours of entertainment as Maya collected the jellies, made them into families and gave them all names.
Back at the resort, the big grassy lawn around the pool gave the kids plenty of space to run around and they enjoyed diving into the hammocks and jumping in the pool. The resort has a selection of inflatable rings which amused Maya as she practised jumping through the hole in the middle off the side of the pool. Gillan (seven months at the time) loved dipping his toes in the pool, swinging in the hammock, discovering the soft grassy lawn and relaxing on the balcony day bed.
The beach is stony which was fine for us as rubber shoes are provided. The sea around Anilao is usually very calm so ideal for swimming with the kids. Maya found a few friends who had taken a half day trip to Somberro Island, where they had a seafood BBQ on the sandy beach. The island is famous for its snorkelling which makes it a great excursion for families with older kids. On our last day it was raining as a tropical storm was approaching. However, the hotel has a couple of pet baby goats which were brought down for feeding time on the lawn to entertain the children. Maya and Gillan were joined by the other little guests who all participated in the goat feeding.
Once the sun had set the resort was illuminated by twinkling fairy lights, creating a lovely atmosphere as the children finished off their play and trotted off to bed. I then sneaked off to the spa for a wonderfully relaxing facial. The spa has French doors which open out onto the sea; having a treatment with the sound of the waves lapping at the shore while the sun set over the horizon was pure heaven. I want to go back as soon as possible!
Take a look at current rates and reviews on TripAdvisor
9. Get a Health Kick at San Benito, Batangas
Distance from Manila: 92km
The Malarayat mountains overlook a dense tropical forest which sets the scene for total relaxation at The Farm at San Benito. The 50-hectare property has many hidden pockets where the family can relax, explore and enjoy, including a huge lagoon with central fountain. Yoga sessions, power walking and Tai Chi are some of the activities which can be enjoyed here.
I loved the chance to start every day with a yoga session before meeting the rest of the family for a healthy vegan breakfast of fresh fruit, granola and herbal tea. The swimming areas are serene with loungers surrounding the pool and a wooden play area for the kids. The best thing about the Farm is the beautifully designed accommodation – creamy linen furnishing, tactile teak cladding, and a heated private pool set atop a hill overlooking pink banana flowers, Jurassic palms and the blue mountains in the distant. The in-house spa offers a fantastic massages. I arrived a little early for my treatment so I had time to swim under the stars in the spa pool, which is illuminated by twinkling lights and candles.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that such a luxurious health farm not only welcomed children but that they provided activities for them as well. The kids enjoyed Mandala flower arranging, picking and smelling herbs and feeding the ducks with the resort’s friendly staff.
The gorgeous surroundings had a meditative effect on the children who didn’t even notice there wasn’t a TV in the room. Instead, they explored the grounds, marvelled at the ostentation of peacocks and played together in the pool. In the morning the kids were straight into the heated plunge pool which was like soaking in a huge warm bath surrounded by tropical trees, butterflies and the sounds of the forest. Pure heaven for their imaginations. My children loved the vegan chocolate bread, pasta and fresh juices available at ALIVE Restaurant.
10. Culture Hunt at Camp John Hay, Baguio
Distance from Manila: 250km
The Manor at Camp John Hay is a great base to explore Baguio and its surrounding areas. Situated amongst 246-hectares of pine forests on the outskirts of Baguio City, the manor is just a five-minute drive from the city and yet feels like a world away. Due to its elevation at 5,000 feet, Baguio has an average climate of 19C°, which makes it a great summer escape and the perfect weekend break from Manila.
I fell in love with the old school charm of Camp John Hay; the open fire and endless grounds to explore on foot or horse. They also have a lovely little Bikram yoga Studio and a nice spa. I was able to relax for hours while the kids played safely in the park, which was a stone’s throw from the restaurant. The restaurant has outdoor and indoor options making dinning with the kids a breeze. Meal times were so relaxing since once the kids had eaten they were in plain view playing in the garden or watching the fish in the pond.
There is so much for the kids to do a Camp John Hay and most of it is free or inexpensive. The play park, butterfly sanctuary, treetop adventure, eco trail and riding stables were all hits with my two kids. The grounds are home to the most special little butterfly sanctuary, which is run by the energetic and charismatic Loloy. He enthused my daughter with butterfly trivia, showed her how to catch and hold the butterflies and even performed some local magic on her knee when she grazed it. For Maya, Loloy and his sanctuary were magical and this is why we spent three hours in this petit little enclave sat next to a golden statue of the little mermaid watching the butterflies.
The kids also spent hours playing in the play park which is home to an array of kitsch animal statues. They loved climbing over the lion, elephant and bunny statues until they were called over for meal times. For an afternoon of free activity we headed to the Botanical Gardens which are close to the hotel. Here there is a great nature trail with Japanese war tunnel, peace garden and archways. The tunnel was a spooky little piece of war history that captivated the children’s imaginations. At the top of the gardens there is a nice gift market which sold souvenirs such as Itogon weave and carved wooden items.
Camp John Hay was a very comfortable base to plan our adventures around Baguio. Since I have two little children (one of which still naps), our adventures were usually half day excursions. These included a trip to Burnham Park, where we hired boats and rowed around the lake. Followed by a fun tricycle ride where the kids got to be the driver. We then had a little look round the market before lunch time.
Another highlight was visiting the Bencab museum which is about 20 minutes from the the Manor. This is a fabulous art gallery and museum, which houses the best local Filipino artists, native sculptures and artefacts. It has a wonderful café and garden for the children to play in too.
On our final day we visited the Tamawan Artists Village, which is a recreation of a native tribal village with stone statues, Itogon huts and a little eco walking trail. The children loved exploring the native huts since they were able to go inside and play make believe. The restaurant here serves tasty home-cooked Filipino dishes. They also offer art classes on request and host evening camp fires.
Check out the most recent reviews on TripAdvisor
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