I CAPPED my 2016 with a solo trip to Cebu in the third week of December.

Now, I welcomed 2017 with a bang through a road trip to the southern and western part of Panay Island. On the second day of the New Year, I hopped on a ferry to Iloilo City for an adventure towards Malalison Island (or Mararison Island) in Antique. My travel buddies were Maricar Dabao and Jojo Vito, both of whom share my enthusiasm of exploring places.

Breakfast with Madge and Netong’s

But before we hit the road, we first warmed our tummies with authentic batchoy at Netong’s La Paz Batchoy and native coffee at Madge Café, both found inside the La Paz Public Market. It’s one of the best batchoys I have tasted and I savoured my breakfast so I would have the energy for the rest of the journey.

The heritage structures in southern Iloilo and Antique

Our first stop was the Molo Church, or the St. Anne Parish Church. It was closed during our visit so we roamed the plaza in front of it and crossed the other side towards the Molo mansion where a pictorial was being held. The stops we made were brief as we had a long way to go, especially with several towns to pass through.

After taking a few snapshots, we proceeded to the St. John of Sahagun Church in Tigbauan where beautiful mosaic paintings are found inside its premises.

The next destination was the Church of St. Nicolas of Tolentino in Guimbal which was also closed when we got there, yet the exteriors alone were enough to catch our attention. Of course, we wouldn’t miss stopping by the Unesco Heritage Site of Miagao, which is the Sto. Tomas de Villanueva Parish Church, to see the marvelous relief artworks on its façade. We also made a brief visit at the camposanto of the San Joaquin cemetery, which was sadly ransacked by treasure hunters.

Antique also has interesting old structures and historical landmarks that we saw along the way. We passed through this Malay Settlement Landmark in Hamtic, which has a huge golden "salakot" sculpture inside the shrine.

Another structure that caught our interest was the old Patnongon church and convent, which is now a school, as well as the ruins of its old municipal building.

Fish spa, kawa, and bignay wine

We went through winding roads that gave us a glimpse of the mountains and the seas. And before the sun finally descended on the horizon, we were able to reach our destination, the Tibiao Fish Spa, where we decided to stay for the night before we would continue to Culasi and then Malalison Island the day after. It is conveniently situated along the highway.

There we met Antique’s officer-in-charge of the Provincial Tourism Office, Flord Nicson Caliwag, who gave us a preview of the different attractions in Antique.

It was amazing that we also accomplished a lot in a short span of time since we arrived in Tibiao. First, we were welcomed with a homemade Bignay wine, which we enjoyed immensely. Flord brought us to the home of Dr. Miguel and Mrs. Leonor Labrague, who make the Alowihaw Hills wines –Bignay wine, Passion Fruit wine, and Wild Grape wine (Bika-Bika), among many others – the raw ingredients of which can be found growing wild in the mountains of Antique.

Then after our dinner we enjoyed the ticklish, yet relaxing fish spa experience in our accommodation. To ward off the cold of the night, we also had a dip in the warm water heated by fire in a "kawa," which was predominantly used before in the making of muscovado.

What a way to open my 2017! Read more about our adventures in Malalison Island in my column next week.

Claire Marie Algarme blogs at http://firsttimetravels.com. Follow her as @firsttimetravel on Twitter and Instagram.