MANILA, JULY 2, 2006 (STAR) RENDEZVOUS By Christine S. Dayrit - Imagine: Paris without the Eiffel Tower, the Himalayas without Mount Everest, China minus its Great Wall, and Tagaytay without the dramatic view of Taal Volcano within a lake. It’s unimaginable. Our impressions of these places are intertwined with these historic sites and man’s innovative creations.

As an avid wanderlust, I must say my favorite destinations nearest the city of Manila are the areas south of Manila particularly Silang, Tagaytay, Alfonso and Laurel. The dominating feature of these areas’ majestic landscapes is the Taal Volcano, in addition to the dormant volcanoes from Makiling to Banahaw where lava deposits have made the soil very fertile. The popular Tagaytay Ridge is believed to be part of the crater of a much larger, long-since-collapsed volcano. The rich terrain and cool weather make this haven comparable to Napa Valley in California and Salinas, the "Salad Bowl of the World," 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean and Monterey Bay. No wonder, Tagaytay and its environs have been established as the lettuce capital of the Philippines, where acres of neatly lined hydroponic greens are cultivated in modern greenhouses of Basic Necessity; where the freshest honey and its by-products are created at Ilog Maria, both in Silang; Sonya’s Bed and Breakfast and its newly opened spa in Alfonso, and many gourmet restaurants are just some of the attractions that make this haven truly exhilarating.

As if these weren’t enough, welcome the newest "jewel," a testimony to man’s innovative genius in architectural planning, the newly inaugurated Splendido Taal Golf and Country Club. The golf clubhouse was designed by leading architectural firm RR Payumo and Partners in collaboration with Steven Leach and Associates for the interiors. Here, the sky reaches down to meet the horizon, serenity is an experience, and peace follows you wherever you go.

As I strolled down the romantic, Spanish-Mediterranean-inspired complex, I was reminded of the beautiful missions in California and moved by its spirit. The spirit of those times is most palpable within the structure itself. It drifts down like a blessing from the wood-beamed ceiling to the Machuca-tiled courtyard with giant urns and a Hispanic flowing fountain. I wandered off from the jovial crowd as the ceremonial inauguration started and felt transported to the movie set of yesteryears when Hollywood romanticized the mission era through the movies of Zorro set in historic Old California.

The picturesque Splendido Taal Golf Club, sprawled on a 152-hectare valley nestled amid the mountain ridges of Grand Taal with a scenic view of the volcano within a lake, as well as glimpses of Balayan Bay at a distance, is part of JAKA Investments Corporation’s Splendido Taal Residential, Golf and Country Club real estate development project. It has one of the most scenic yet challenging golf courses in the Philippines, adding to the recent sea of change that has revolutionized the laid-back game of golf. Splendido has an 18-hole, par 72-track championship course designed by world-famous PGA tour player Greg Norman. The golfing world’s well-known "Shark" utilized every part of the terrain to challenge golfers of all skill levels with this deceivingly friendly golf course. The signature hole, Hole No. 8, is a dramatic par 3, 213-yard drive over a picturesque ravine that is as steep as it is wide. The ravine provides a visually intimidating mental challenge, requiring the player to carry over 200 yards to clear the hazard. Golfers will enjoy roaming the fairways in search of perfection just over the next rise – which is perhaps the kindest bliss that golf bestows upon its devotees.

Surrounding the Splendido Taal golf course is the 87-hectare residential area of Splendido Taal likewise owned by JAKA Tagaytay Holdings Corporation and developed under a joint venture agreement with Sta. Lucia Realty and Development, Inc. The Fil-Estate Group of Marketing Companies is the exclusive sales and marketing arm for the residential property. Located in the town of Laurel in Batangas, Splendido Taal is an enclave of elegant living where one can either own a residential lot or membership shares in either the golf club or the country club.

The passion for experiencing new cuisine entices us to sample regional specialties and the foodie in us is satisfied. Inevitably, some culinary destinations take preference over others. Spanish food connoisseurs can now dine and savor specialties created by consultant chefs Ed Quimson and Heny Sison at La Esquina Spanish Restaurant. Its name is derived from its strategic location in one corner (esquina in Spanish) of the golf clubhouse that provides discriminating diners an exhilarating view of the 9th green as it stretches majestically through the expansive full-height glass windows.

For starters, try the Tigres, fresh mussels stuffed with sautéed Spanish chorizo, aligue and shrimps topped with cheese and baked with a dash of paprika to give it that distinctive Spanish flavor; the Batido de Sardinas or whipped cream and sardines blended into a pate and frivolously served on an upturned goblet with melba toast; and the Alcachofas Infanta Leonor, heart of artichokes sautéed in butter with garlic and Spanish chorizo.

La Esquina features three types of paella – the Paella Alla Christina, named after my godmother Cristina Ponce Enrile (JAKA chairperson), the spicy Paella Negra with squid and squid ink, and the Paella de Mariscos or Seafood Paella, all following traditional recipes from Valencia.

The Ladera Golfer’s Lounge, perched atop a small hill from which its name was derived, has a more relaxed ambience with the Spanish-Mediterranean character of the clubhouse emanating through with its high wooden ceilings and wrought iron chandeliers. Its adjoining verandah is a perfect venue to enjoy desserts and coffee, al fresco.

The menu at Ladera has a more international flavor to suit the varied tastes and preferences of golfers. At Ladera, one may sample Tagaytay’s signature dish, bulalo, which is a pot of braised bone-in beef shanks served with vegetables, or even some fusion dish such as Peking Duck Mami, Chorizo Carbonara, or Philly Steak Pizza.

With the popularity of tapas bars and all things Spanish here in Splendido, we discovered the pleasure of ending a meal with mouthwatering sweet temptations like the "Tropical Splendido," which is essentially meringue generously filled with pastry cream topped with a delicious combination of tropical fruits and native suman, macerated in calamansi juice and brown sugar; and the sinfully delicious Decadent Chocolate and Chocolate Pizza that even Domingo Ghirardelli would approve of.

Cocooned amid dramatic scenery and windswept gardens overlooking the waterscapes of Taal Lake, this sanctuary, timeless in character, brings one into a tranquil world that is Splendido.

For more information about Splendido, call Mike Cedo, Splendido Taal Golf Club’s general manager and golf director at 0920-9380819.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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