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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The splendor of Las Casas Filipinas

A MAN dressed like a gwardya sibil greeted us by the entrance. Donning his salakot, he ushered us into the lobby, where men in Barong and women in Baro’t Saya were busily attending to other guests. A trip to Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar would feel like traveling in time.

The heritage park in Bagac, Bataan in Central Luzon is the perfect setting for historical period dramas. Unlike Calle Crisologo in Vigan, Las Casas Filipinas is a sprawling 400-hectare complex speckled with restored Spanish-Filipino houses.

If it weren’t for the view of Mt. Mariveles, one would think that the Old Manila was rebuilt on a set, with the entire background designed to resemble the Spanish-colonial era.

The site is brimming with daytime and evening activities that even the non-adventurous can appreciate. To experience it all, I would suggest staying overnight in one of the suites.

For a group of four to six, one suite costs P11,000 which is inclusive of the heritage tour and buffet breakfast. Although vintage architecture is reflected in the room’s interior, modern facilities such as WiFi, bathtub, telephone, and television are still available.

In the heritage tour, we unearthed the secrets—some of which were outrageous—of the families who used to dwell in the Spanish-Filipino houses, which were built originally in Bulacan, Batangas, Quiapo, Ilocos Norte and Sur, Pampanga, and Cagayan.

I marveled at how everything was intricately preserved, knowing that before rebuilding them piece by piece, most of the houses were dismantled and transported to Bagac first.

Although some of the structures were just replicas, no chip in the wall seemed out of place; there was a story behind every design, sculpture, and furniture. Among the most popular is Casa Biñan, the ancestral house of Doña Teodora Alonso, whose courtyard served as a shooting location for the movie Heneral Luna.

The beach facing west gives an unparalleled view of the sunset, something which my mother thoroughly enjoyed. When it eventually got dark, lamps illuminated the streets and lights from the villas cast a soft glow that made the entire site look magical.

Perhaps the highlight of our trip was the cruise—a 30-minute boat ride that granted us views to the casas from a different angle. Despite the morning heat, what I felt during the experience was ineffable; I was dwarfed by the enormity of the 27 ancestral homes surrounding us.

The breathtaking landscape and architecture accentuated that natural grandeur of the site. As we snaked through canals and passed underneath several bridges made of bricks and stones, I imagined this was how a gondola ride in Venice must feel like (I even half-expected the boat operator to start singing opera).

This left me feeling wonderfully insignificant, seeing how the clear sky complimented the beauty and colors of the scene around us.

After immersing in Filipino heritage, culture, and craftsmanship, we finally bid Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar goodbye, but not without the promise of visiting again.


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