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Destination Dining: Taal Vista Reopens In Tagaytay

From ribeye at the Fireplace to picnics on the lawn, this stunning hotel is still the idyllic escape you remember!

I still have that snapshot of eight-year-old me overlooking Taal Lake. I was with my siblings, posing for my Mom’s camera: we were all sunburned from our beach weekend in Calaca, Batangas. Tagaytay was the essential stopover, the halfway point for pasalubong of tawilis, buko pie, espasol and fresh fruits. In the picture, I was holding a half-eaten banana I’d picked off from the bunch my Dad bought in the palengke, and I was beaming! After all, it was the best snack with my best people with the best view. Over four decades later, I still had that very same smile all through my recent stay in the Taal Vista Lodge, or as its now called, Taal Vista Hotel.

Taal Vista Hotel | Taal Vista Hotel

 The route

The drive up to Tagaytay is the easiest and quickest it has ever been. Back in the day, there was no choice but to go via Roxas Boulevard to Las Piñas and through the small towns and salt beds of Cavite, then up via the Aguinaldo Highway. It was certainly a test of patience and a major investment in time. Nowadays, going through the Skyway to SLEX to CALAX route on a good day, one can get to the ridge in under 90 minutes, and under the speed limit at that. I love driving up in the late afternoons so that I get to Tagaytay early in the evening as the fog rolls in, the lights start to twinkle, and everything just turns absolutely magical.

Taal Vista Hotel at twilight. | Taal Vista Hotel

The hotel

Taal Vista was developed during the American Commonwealth as a much nearer option than Baguio for vacations in a cool climate. In 1935, President Manuel L. Quezon started holding cabinet meetings in the area where a lodge was eventually built in 1939, by the same family who established The Manila Hotel. During World War II, the Japanese Imperial Army used it for R&R. and were driven out in 1945 by the 11th Airborne of the United States Army: it was one of the first paratrooper missions ever during the Liberation of the Philippines. So much history!!! And no, this isn’t stock knowledge. I learned all this on the “History Walk”, a deeply engrossing and educational tour held daily within the hotel premises.

SM founder Henry Sy Sr. loved Taal Vista, and there’s an old photograph of him, taken by his wife Felicidad in 1954. In the black and white photo, Mr. Sy is seated comfortably on the grass on the grounds, taking in the magnificent view. I’d like to think that he was already dreaming of having his little piece of Eden overlooking the lake and the volcano. Half a century later, his company acquired the property, and renovated and refurbished the lodge to the grand hotel we know and love today.

The old Taal Vista Lodge. | Taal Vista Hotel
Don't miss the History Walk! | Spanky Enriquez

The rooms

“Truth in advertising” was the phrase that immediately came to mind when I stepped out the balcony of my Lake View room. It was postcard perfect. The pictures I took looked exactly like the “money shot” that the hotel uses in its website and social media posts. I understood how Henry Sy felt. And no, I couldn’t stay there for just a brief moment, just for a single glance. I stood there for a long time, gazing out, drinking in all the details of the “world’s smallest volcano” in the “lake within a lake”. 

That’s a misnomer by the way—that whole “lake” is actually the caldera of the gigantic volcano that dominated the landscape of Batangas during prehistoric times. During one particularly catastrophic and explosive eruption, the whole top of the volcano was blown off, gifting us with the Taal we see today. And yes, it is a gift. That view, that vista? For me, it truly is one of the wonders of the world.

That "postcard perfect" view. | Taal Vista Hotel
The well-appointed rooms. | Taal Vista Hotel

The dining

Chef Jayme Natividad has been masterminding the kitchen of not just Taal Vista, but also of sister resort Pico de Loro in nearby Nasugbu, for a decade now, and we should all be grateful. The chef arrived with a lot of excellent restaurant experience from his years in New York, and that passion and commitment to his craft is very evident in the dining outlets of the hotel. The Veranda and Taza Fresh Table, two of its signature restaurants, are worthy recipients of recognition from the most respected F&B award giving bodies. 

The Veranda | Taal Vista Hotel
Taza Fresh Table | Taal Vista Hotel
Sample the seasonal and regular menus. | Taal Vista Hotel

Using the highest quality of imported ingredients, and sourcing the best of the best from local artisanal producers, is second to none and non-negotiable. Ribeye for dinner at the Fireplace. Bibingka and Puto Bumbong and thick Tsokolate for a breezy merienda at the Veranda. And the most bountiful, beautiful and long, leisurely Sunday Brunch at Taza with a luxe French Toast made with brioche, and served with rashers of bacon.  Very New York!

The one delicacy that I loved most is the tiny ayungin, which was Jose Rizal’s favorite fish. It’s native to Taal Lake, silver perch as the Americans call it. Similar to danggit but even crispier, it’s sensational for breakfast with steaming hot garlic rice and soft scrambled eggs and strong cup of Batangas coffee. Ayungin made me forget, for once, about the mountains of bacon in the buffet. It is, after all, what I call the “bacon of the sea”. 

Puto bumbong | Taal Vista Hotel
Tapsilog for brunch? | Taal Vista Hotel
Ayungin, crispier than danggit! | Taal Vista Hotel

The leisure

The swimming pool is ever popular with children, and since days in Tagaytay can be quite warm, it’s a great idea for parents to bring their kids’ swimsuits and inflatable pool toys. The History Walk is a very enjoyable indoor activity, and the Glam Picnic, under the Himalayan Domes in the garden area, is a fine family bonding idea in the afternoons. 

There’s a special access gate to the Sky Ranch Amusement Park next door, the highlight and must-ride is the “Sky Eye”, one of the tallest ferris wheels in the Philippines at 207 feet high. 

But by far, the number one leisure activity in Taal Vista is… you guessed it and you love doing it too: Instagramming!!!

Have a glam picnic under these Himalayan Domes | Taal Vista Hotel

The experience 

Taal Vista just might be the number one family destination for all generations closest to Metro Manila. From grandparents to their great-grandchildren, there’s so much to enjoy, to see, and yes, to eat. During my stay, I was with blogger Gerry “Dude for Food” San Miguel and his mother, Tita Flora. She’s in her eighties, but had a wonderful time, as the hotel facilities are very senior-friendly. The walks to and from the rooms and outlets are easy and breezy, no stairs too difficult to climb, with elevators and escalators all around, and wheelchair ramps for mobility.

There really is much to do in Taal Vista for all ages; or if you’re like me, there’s so much not to do, but just look out into the lake, and fall in love with the view, over and over again, as so many people have done there for almost a hundred years.

The Henry Tree, just one of the famous views to fall in love with | Taal Vista Hotel

Pro tips

  • The best time to visit is on weekdays.  Weekend traffic in Tagaytay is inevitable.
  • My number one buko pie is Cecilia’s. You can’t miss it. Just find the store with the longest lines.
  • My favorite bulalo ever is at LZM, and their boneless bangus is equally legendary.

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Taal Vista Hotel, Aguinaldo Highway, Tagaytay, Philippines. Follow @taalvistahotel on Facebook or Instagram, or visit the website here.