Lunch in the waters

Villa Escudero's waterfall restaurant.

LETTING your feet cool down by the crystal clear waters, listening to undisturbed nature around you, while eating a delicious meal is an ideal way to spend one’s afternoon.

That is how I spent last Saturday’s lunch while I visiting Villa Escudero Plantation along with the first ambassador’s tour group to the Philippines.

Villa Escudero offers visitors a unique dining experience at their waterfall restaurant. It has several dining tables set up along a man-made waterfall (which is actually a hydroelectric dam) and visitors can dig into their authentic and sumptuous Lechon cuisine lunch.

The estate’s staff told me that they clean the waterfall area every day to get rid of the slippery algae. So walking along the river is quite safe. However, there is still quite a bit of current and one should exercise caution while walking along the river.

Conrado Escudero (left) and Philippine ambassador J. Eduardo Malaya (right).

It was definitely a pleasant experience to dip your feet in the cool waters after a day of walking and the tiring three-hour journey to the plantation from Manila. The somewhat therapeutic and relaxing current of the waters sliding pass your feet was a fun and exciting twist to your regular lunching experience. It was definitely a highlight of my visit to Villa Escudero.

The history behind Villa Escudero is an interesting one. The 2,000 acre plantation is one of the oldest in the Philippines and is located south of the city of San Pablo, Laguna province and on the border with Quezon province.

Villa Escudero's church has been converted into a museum housing artifacts collected by the Escudero family.

The Villa dates back to the 1800s and it was once a vast jungle owned by a native chieftain by the name of Gat Polintan. However, he suffered problems stemming from maintaining his 29 wives and was forced to sell his land to Don Placido Escudero and Dona Claudia Marasigan in 1872.  

Through years of hard work and perseverance and with the help of six family workers, the Escudero’s used the land to plant and harvest sugar cane. But in the early 1900s, their son Don Arsenio Escudero converted the plantation to plant coconut instead.

Don Arsenio is regarded as a pioneering agriculture industrialist in the Philippines, as he built the country’s first working hydroelectric plant (Labasin Dam) to supply energy to his coconut factory and the Escudero Plantation house.

Villa Escudero's beautiful grounds.

In 1981, Conrado Escudero, the grandson of the founders of the estate, persuaded his family to open their estate to the public as a resort. The plantation soon became a well-known tourist attraction, which embodies Philippine culture and history in a breathtaking rural setting. 

The whole estate brings you closer to nature as you are surrounded by beautiful flora and fauna. It is a nice getaway from the hustle and bustle of Metro Manila. I definitely consider Villa Escudero a must-visit destination for a feel of rural life in the Philippines.

Visitors will be able to experience Tagalog farm life, experience traditional Philippine culture, and take a journey through time and learn about the history behind this pristine getaway.

A carabao ride to take you around the estate.

The picturesque estate is a heaven for photographers with it’s dirt roads, endless greenery, and flowing water features. The relaxing atmosphere of village life definitely enables you to wind down and enjoy the simplicity and richness of simple life.

On top of providing visitors with a terrific view, Villa Escudero also provides several activities to keep you occupied. Adventure seekers can choose to go hiking, cycling, swimming, or bamboo rafting.

Those looking for a more leisurely getaway can explore the history and amazing eclectic artifacts the Escudero family has accumulated over the years through the museum tour, beautiful cultural dance performances, a carabao (buffalo) cart ride while being serenaded by locals throughout the duration of the journey.

The lobby at Villa Escudero.

The resort has also since expanded offering accommodations, more restaurants, sports facilities, and a conference centre.

Villa Escudero is a great example of ecotourism with the plantation using clean energy, building from natural materials like their native bamboo, and showcasing the natural beauty of the Philippines.

It's impressive to know that Villa Escudero still has a working coconut plantation and hydroelectric plant (which has been turned into an attraction itself). The plantation also uses solar energy to power the estate.

It is also nice to see that all the plantation’s staff and their families working and living on the estate’s grounds. You really get a vibe of a close-knit community, just like a small village of their own.

Dining tables at the waterfall restaurant.

Visitors will also be able to watch the staff and their children perform in the excellent cultural dance performances choreographed by National Artist Ramon Obusan.

I had the pleasure of meeting Conrado Escudero who prides himself as the president and general manager of the thriving Villa Escudero. He is still very much involved with the day-to-day running of the estate and makes it a point to greet his guests personally.

“It is very much a family business. I am the third generation and now there is a sixth generation. And we are still involved in running the resort,” said Conrado.

“We made all the decorations here (in the cultural performance hall) ourselves,” he told me.

When I complimented him on the amazing natural beauty of Villa Escudero, Conrado told me that he enjoys the peace of being among undisturbed nature.

“We also offer bird watching. We have around 117 species of birds here. You can trek around the plantation and watch the many different birds we have here,” Conrado told me.

He also tells me that his whole family enjoys collecting things. The plantation’s church is in fact filled with the countless artifacts his family has accumulated over the years from religious artifacts, WWII relics, ethnic clothing, butterfly collections and even national hero Jose Rizal’s original letters.

A trip to the museum is a must see for history enthusiasts, you can literally spend hours studying the amazing collections!

“I even have my own private collection in my quarters on the estate,” he said.

To conclude my day-trip to Villa Escudero, Philippine ambassador J. Eduardo Malaya aptly sums up our trip to the estate as: “This is the Philippines!”

“Villa Escudero has everything that the Philippines have to offer. It has the natural beauty, the culture, history. I would definitely recommend first time visitors to visit this place,” said Eduardo.

I agree with ambassador Eduardo. Villa Escudero is a fantastic nature getaway for tourists and locals alike who want to relax and experience Philippines culture at its best!

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
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