BAGUIO:  NEW  LUXURIES,  OLD-WORLD  CHARM

MANILA, June 2, 2005
 
(STAR) RENDEZVOUS By Christine S. Dayrit - Mountain berries, elder flowers, summer roses, apricot, chamomile, peppermint and sage: a recipe for the elixir of vigor permeated the air before lathered, scrubbed, coated then rinsed with cool mountain water on my refreshed skin. As this magical treatment deliciously conspired to calm my mind and body as it soothed my soul, I took a precocious peep through the window sill and allowed my imagination to admire what lay beyond –the splendor of the exquisite gardens of flora and fauna, the delightful variety of local and international cuisine of chef Billy King of Le Souffle, a sprawling Jack Nicklaus 18-hole golf championship course and the effervescent fragrance of centuries-old towering pine trees seemed to leave civilization behind.

While being pampered like royalty at the Palm Garden Health Spa at The Manor of Camp John Hay, I reminded myself that even with this new world-class luxury – this is still the same Baguio of my childhood.

With the refreshingly cool climate that averages 19 degrees Celcius all year round, Baguio spells tradition and for nearly every Filipino has a special memory of the picturesque mountain province.

In the early 19th century, the Spaniards came across this mining valley and dueled with the indefatigable tribes to take control of the land’s treasures. The mountain tribes proved unruly despite Hispanic rule in the area. As a result, land was partitioned and distributed to the landed gentry. It was however the Americans who discovered and developed the vast recreational potential of this pine covered city nestled 5,000 feet above sea level. After building Camp John Hay, the Americans ingenuously carved Kennon Road from out of the mountain to link Baguio to Manila.

Camp John Hay, having captured the hearts of many as one of the most favored destinations, was named in honor of John Milton Hay, the secretary of state under William McKinley. Today, Camp John Hay boasts of the new Camp John Hay Manor with its well-appointed 177 rooms inclusive of 53 suites, which offer five-star service and accommodations. The hotel’s gracious resident manager Jocelyn P. Ompoc, who was formerly group and conference business manager and director of catering and meeting services in The Peninsula Beijing and Pudong Shangri-La in Shanghai respectively, toured us around the magnificent property.

Perched on a grove of wooded hillsides and hiking trails, the rustic four-storey edifice allows a dramatic view of the Cordillera Range. Built of cedar wood and stone, the secluded luxury, retreat manor evokes feelings of warmth and cheer. The stained glass windows glow with filtered light while the huge fireplace in the entrance adds intimacy to the chandeliered dining rooms.

Breakfast, lunch, snacks or dinner at the Manor Restaurant are a feast in every sense. The menu is abundant with fresh, full-flavored foods including seafood, steaks, roasts, ragouts, pastas, Japanese specials, curries, freshly baked breads, an international selection of wines and cheeses, sausages, sensational salads, tarts, souffles, pies and more – all exquisitely prepared and presented. Among the popular dishes on the menu that chef Billy King is famous for are the rack of lamb with freshly made mint jelly, seafood bouillabaisse, goose liver marinated salmon, and seafood salad. King also heads the food and beverage service of the John Hay Trade and Cultural Center, which features state-of-the-art audio and video equipment. This venue is ideal for conventions, seminars, exhibits, stage plays, concerts and social events.

Guests at Camp John Hay can go hiking in the eco-trails, explore their butterfly sanctuary or ride their imported trail horses from Virginia. For Tiger Woods’ fans like me, the Camp John Hay Golf Course is heaven on earth. This Par 69 course is the only one in the country to use cool season bent grass for that golfing nirvana.

After a healing Mass at the Pink Sisters Convent on Leonardwood Road, we visited nearby woodworks store PNKY Collection where turning houses into homes is an art. Breathing new life into the old is the forte of Pynky Gomez-Magsino, the indefatigable woman behind this collection which incorporates glass, stone, tile, rattan, bamboo or wrought iron with wood as her main medium. It was in the late ‘70s when Pynky’s path from collector to creator was set. Today, Pynky’s is a foremost provider of Filipino antiquities, furniture and lifestyle accessories that highlight outstanding craftsmanship while providing a sustained livelihood for Filipino carvers and artisans. Recent additions include the PNKY Home, which is a four-room bed and breakfast (B&B) that offers guests a "cozy home away from home" and the PNKY Café run by gracious Eleonor Chan, Pynky’s business partner. The quaint café serves comfort food like fresh juices and salads, gourmet tinapa and tuyo with mountain rice, mushroom and cheese omelet, grilled fish and mango salsa, pastas and many more sumptuous dishes. The tinapa pate with garlic bread is truly delightful as an appetizer. For dessert, we sampled the home made Italian biscotti, super moist decadent chocolate cake and creamy carrot cake served with freshly brewed cappuccino.

New luxuries in this city of old world charm were further explored during a visit to the newly opened North Haven Spa located at the Avelino neighborhood which is a 30-minute drive from the Manor. This elegant day spa that offers a variety of professionally administered services has found its home in an old ‘60s Baguio house transformed through creative design: 100-year-old bricks from an old church in Floridablanca blended with river stones. Ifugao fabrics, Asian furniture, aromatic candles and romantically lit massage rooms integrate the local culture with spa therapies endemic to the region. Indulge in the many delightful treatments like aroma baths, massages and natural scrubs made from freshly ground Benguet coffee, Cordillera rice and yes, strawberries just picked from nearby La Trinidad Valley.

Winsome owner Lala Gonzalez, who received her spa orientation education in Thailand, enthuses that time spent at the spa is a precious chance to focus on oneself, and totally exhale, while getting a fresh perspective on things that really matter. As the full moon lit the ebony skies that evening, the lights of the homes surrounding the North Haven Spa illuminated its backdrop into a diamond-studded hill of tranquility.

The visits to The Manor at Camp John Hay, PNKY’s B & B and North Haven Spa were a unique experience. Basking in this haven of perfect serenity and beauty is a journey inward – a rediscovery of the pleasures of the mind, body and soul. This quintessential experience left me relaxed, physically revitalized and perhaps even spiritually renewed. A trip down memory lane to the Baguio of my childhood always instills a sense of nostalgia and appreciation for the finer things in life. The danger here is that I might never want to leave.

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For more info, call Camp John Hay Manor at 845-0892 or log on to www.campjohnhayhotels.com or post a note at cjhmanor@skynet.net.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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