MANILA, MAY 15, 2006 (STAR) By Lynette Lee Corporaland Kathy Moran - Look at how times have changed. Tagaytay, used to be a sparsely populated place, only had a few establishments to speak of years back. Once upon a time, people flocked to Tagaytay to have a retreat, buy fruits and plants from roadside stands, go horseback riding, visit the infamous Palace in the Sky, savor bulalo served canteen-style, and if they could afford it, spend a night at the popular Taal Vista Lodge. Of course, Tagaytay’s main reason for being is its spectacular view of the world’s smallest volcano and its picturesque lake.

These days, Tagaytay is enjoying a boom, but not of the pyroclastic kind. Instead, there has been a construction frenzy going on in this once sleepy town in the last few years. Alongside familiar fruit and flowering plants stands rose establishments that would make visitors think they didn’t really leave Manila. Now, if this is good or bad depends on how one looks at the situation. One thing is sure though, never has Tagaytay been more convenient as far as accessing creature comforts is concerned.

It’s with this kind of perspective that we set out to Tagaytay one Saturday hoping to unwind and forget the fast-paced lifestyle we’re so used to living, without sacrificing quality and ease.

And so, after gassing up at Shell along SLEX that early Saturday morning and loading ourselves with a light breakfast of muffins and a dose of caffeine from Starbucks, we began our Tagaytay road trip.

It’s strange how, when you’ve a work schedule where you never get to see the sunrise on a daily basis, the early morning sunshine could offer so much comfort. Add to that the cool and cleaner air up in Tagaytay and you’ve got a promising day coming along.

First stop was Breakfast at Antonio’s, an all-time favorite whenever we find ourselves in Tagaytay or just passing through. With a consistently well-trained and courteous staff, a welcoming atmosphere, elegant interiors, a spectacular view of the Taal Volcano and Lake, and hearty food, Antonio’s is certainly a breath of fresh air in these parts. Your senses are wide awake – the air smells of delightful herbs and pine; freshly-ground pepper and tangy mustard playfully tease the taste buds; the morning mist and dew-covered blooms soothe tired eyes; your ears effortlessly pick out a soft concerto of crickets, a fitting backdrop to a Josh Groban album wafting from the restaurant’s well-placed speakers. Personal favorites include the omelette quatroformagie, Hungarian sausage, Italian garlic sausage, dalandan slush, and the fragrant and flavorsome tarragon tea. If you want to sample bliss at breakfast, stop by Antonio’s in the early mornings and you’ll leave feeling like a million… if you ever want to leave at all.

After enjoying an extended breakfast, we decided to go into pampering mode and go to Taal Vista Hotel’s Ylang-Ylang Spa for our favorite massage and treatments — a combination salt scrub and peppermint foot bliss for Kathy (who seemed a bit tired after the drive from Manila) and hot stone massage for me using herbal and organic ingredients. A quick look at Yalng-Ylang Spa’s signature treatments revealed a wide variety of combination treatments ranging from massages half an hour long to a whole package of four hours! Its products, too, are quite varied with such ingredients as lemongrass, rice, coffee and lavender, to name some, and different blends. We didn’t leave the spa premises without first purchasing some salt scrub, lemongrass foot polish, oil burners, eucalyptus and lavender oils. As far as I was concerned, the hour-long hot stone massage left me wanting more. Every stroke from the smooth stone had me sinking deeper and deeper into slumber. Somewhere in the distance, I could hear someone snoring; it was only later on that I’d realize that that someone was me.

Refreshed and fully recharged after the heavenly massage, we turned our attention to some shopping. Next stop: The Cliffhouse. A complex of restaurant buildings and stores, The Cliffhouse is a quiet place for those who want to take their time strolling about, having snacks, and doing some unhurried shopping on the side. We cooled our heels perusing the items displayed at the Domicillo Home Store and promptly fell in love with a set of Ugu B’gyan tea set, a wide selection of scented candles, a set of hand-made paper notepads, organic insect repellent sprays in lemongrass and eucalyptus scents, herbal soap bars, which we all ended up buying for friends back home. The store has a great collection of jewelry and furniture pieces but since we were on a budget, we just contented ourselves ogling them.

After burning some calories shopping and sightseeing, we made our way to another famous Tagaytay spot – Sonia’s Garden. This secret garden of Tagaytay habitués is not so secret anymore as we noted the mild traffic at the gate and the hungry crowd waiting for their orders. With grumbling stomachs and parched throats, we readily helped ourselves at the table groaning with wholesome grub – all the greens you could take topped with an assortment of dressings, most ingredients of which were plucked from Sonia’s, well, garden. After carbo-loading on pasta and freshly-baked bread, we finally finished our meal with some light dessert and cups of tarragon tea yet again.

Siesta time meant walking along flowering shrubs, under shady trellises, and relaxing Cleopatra-style in one of Sonia’s Garden’s draped daybeds tucked among the trees and greenery. A relaxing massage or two is also an option. Apart from bread, one can also buy potted herbs and other souvenirs.

Satisfied and happy with how the day was turning out, we thought, hey, we could get used to this every weekend. Still high from the healthy meal we partook of, we proceeded to Gourmet’s Café to choose from among its numerous organic products such as sauces and juices to take home with us. A favorite stop of health buffs, Gourmet’s Café’s coffee packs a lot of punch for those mid-afternoon drowsiness. A short stop at Country Suites Discovery Tagaytay to check out their offerings, and to purchase some other stuff, and we were off… back to the hustle and bustle of polluted city living.

Tagaytay may have become a bustling city but it has its natural charm that never fails to leave an impression. Our mini-adventure proved that life’s simple pleasures are just within arms’ reach. Oh, and the best part of it all is that we didn’t have to reach out for thick wads of cold, hard cash. "Impossible!" we could almost hear everyone exclaiming. It’s true, though, for all we had to do was to bring along every single girls’ best friend – that versatile, slim companion that certainly packs a wallop. No, get serious, will you? We’re not talking about feminine napkins or panty shields here. We’re referring to that small, handy card we fondly call HSBC Mastercard, and which we used for all our purchases that hassle-free day.

So, you must be wondering by now why we didn’t bother to bring on this trip. Well, you see, we had an ulterior motive. Every P500 charged on our HSBC credit card sends us closer to the ultimate adventure of a lifetime – a European tour package to Paris and London! Three days and two nights would be spent in London, while four days and three nights would be spent in Paris, France with a free Louvre walking tour. Plus (and this is a big one), P100,000 credit will be loaded to the lucky one’s HSBC card. Shopping will never be as fun – and as exhausting – with this kind of treat.

The promo will end May 31 so we are on a buying, er, charging spree mode if only to get closer to the Mona Lisa and maybe get a chance to see if there are any codes left to crack in the tradition of that controversial film Da Vinci Code. But we digress...

Now, if we’re not lucky enough to bag that European tour, we could apply online for a Mabuhay Miles Visa for the Million Miles Away with Mabuhay Miles Visa promo and perhaps win 1,000,000 miles in grand prize. That would take us on 16 trips to the US, 66 trips to Hong Kong, 125 trips to Boracay, and more, all for free. For every P1,000 spent on the card, we get one raffle ticket.

These are just two of HSBC’s ongoing promos which are too tempting to pass up. We suggest that you just check it out on your own at www.hsbc.com.ph and maybe you’ll find something of interest. But for us, it’s Europe or bust. If you catch us wearing that mysterious Mona Lisa smile, you know exactly why.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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