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    Three Places To Explore in Laguna

    Just a short drive from Manila, Laguna has a lot of treasures waiting to be discovered. Bathe in the hot springs at Los Baños, shop for tsinelas in Liliw, pick up some wood-carved furniture in Paete. You can picnic on the slopes of Mount Makiling or go boating on the Seven Lakes of San Pablo. In between these fun activities, take a little time to meander around this sleepy province and discover its hidden gems.

     

    Pila

    Heritage house in Pila

     

    Bibingka in Pila

     

    The picturesque town of Pila is an Instagrammer’s dream with the town plaza surrounded by beautifully preserved heritage homes. The town was declared a National Historical Landmark in 2000. Cora Relova, a native of Pila and one of its best known local historians and cultural guides, says that the earliest known written document in the Philippines was found in Laguna. This pre-Hispanic document is proof that the pre-colonial Tagalogs had a complex system of laws and customs—and were not at all the uncultured barbarians that the Spaniards thought them to be. Her chatty and utterly delightful guided tour of the historic town ends in her own ancestral home where she serves a merienda of local delicacies, including puto Biñan, kesong puti, and maja blanca with fresh buko juice.

    To arrange for a guided tour of historic Pila, inquire here

     

    San Pablo

    Sulyap's Pork Tapa

     

    Should you wish to stay overnight, head to the nearby town of San Pablo and check in at the Sulyap Gallery Café, a charming boutique hotel with a Filipiniana design aesthetic. Its wood details are sourced from heritage houses all over the country. The complex has a museum you can explore, and you can end the day sipping wine in the garden, chatting under the stars.

     

    Cafe Lago's fried Halo-Halo

     

    In the morning, take the short drive to Sampalok Lake to have brunch at Café Lago, which has a prime location by the shoreline. The owners, brothers Tony and Mandy Marino, headed the community drive that cleaned up the lake in the 1990s. Tony is a retired actor who had the plum role of the King in the Broadway version of The King and I in Australia. At the café, they serve their famous buttered chicken that is so popular with the locals. Its appeal is part nostalgia, bringing back memories of long summer holidays playing with cousins by the lake. Another crowd favorite is the deconstructed halo halo—crisp fried lumpia layered with ube halaya, nata, kaong and beans, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

     

    Victoria

     

    You should make time for at least one meal at the Itlog ni Kuya Eatery in the town of Victoria. In spite of its name, this is a perfectly respectable, even rustic, open-air restaurant that specializes in organic duck. So the menu features interesting delicacies like duck sisig, pancit canton with duck slivers, adobong itik, duck sinampalukan and even their own version of Peking duck. Don’t forget to check out their store for pasalubong. They make excellent balut, and the salted eggs are so delicious you can give them away as gifts. Made with organic eggs, they have a texture almost like kesong puti.

     

    A longer version of this article appeared in FOOD Magazine, Issue 3, 2017 

    Photography in Victoria by Pat Mateo

    Photos in Pila, San Pablo and Sampaloc Lake courtesy of San Miguel Purefoods