Location: Barangay Pag-asa, town of Bagac, province of Bataan, Central Luzon Region, island of Luzon, Philippines
Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar is an 18th-century heritage park and open-air museum located along Umagol River, in the town of Bagac, Bataan, Philippines. It was created in 2003 by Jose “Gerry” Acuzar, owner of New San Jose Builders, and opened it to the public in 2010. It is managed by Genesis Hotels and Resorts Corporation.
It presents a 400-hectare sprawling settlement of 27 Spanish colonial-heritage houses from various cities and provinces of the Philippines (e.g., Biñan, Bulacan, Cagayan, Ilocos, La Union, Manila, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, and Quezon City). Each house or “casa” was dismantled in situ (in its original place), brick by brick, numbered, transported to this site, where they were reassembled and restored. The houses are often made with a stone foundation on the ground level and made of wood on the upper floor. If parts are missing, bricks and woodwork were replaced to resemble the original structure.
If you have arthritis, no worries, dear Seniors, the property offers the following transportation facilities to take you around:
- Bicycle – reserve, for a fee, per hour;
- Jeepney – pick-up starts in front of Casa Mexico and drops off at Casa New Manila;
- Kalesa – a horse-drawn carriage; reserve at the Concierge and meet Makisig, the horse, used for this traditional mode of transportation good for 2 to 4 persons;
- Golf Cart – reserve at Casa Mexico for a fee per hour, whether self-driven (maximum 4 persons) or tour guide-driven (maximum 3 persons); and,
- Tram – a vehicle which goes around the property along a metal railway or track.
For Seniors who can afford and who have an architectural, cultural and/or historical interest, this place is for you! You will also have lots of “muni-muni” (reflection) time while strolling from one house to another along the brick pavements or cobblestone streets, or while riding any of the above vehicles and feeling the gentle to strong (depending on the weather/season) wind from the Beach Area, direct from the West Philippine Sea. If you love taking selfies or unique Spanish architecture, more reason to go, just apply lots of sunscreen! If you enjoy spending time walking/strolling with family or “balikbayan friends”, enjoying freshly-baked pandesal from La Panaderia or native delicacies for “merienda” (snacks) at La Parilla/Pica Pica, indulging in local fruity-flavored “sorbetes” (ice cream) peddled by a roving “sorbetero” (ice cream vendor) wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat, swimming, sunbathing and appreciating the beautiful sunset while sipping beer/cocktails by the beach, and without the “noisy” nightlife of the city even for just one night, then check this destination out!
Stay at least overnight to enjoy this unique resort and savor its beauty on a leisurely pace, preferably on a weekend, to witness traditional native activities (listed below). I visited this nostalgic property on February 2017, along with my high school buddies as part of our 45th jubilee. There are 217 rooms to choose from; check-in is 2 pm and check-out is 12 noon.
We checked-in at the first “casa” or house upon entering the compound, the Casa de New Manila Quezon City.
I stayed with my husband in a Deluxe Room with a “retro ambiance” yet still enjoyed the comforts of air-conditioning, a queen-sized bed, television with cable, an in-room safety deposit box, a bathroom with hot and cold water and a separate bathtub and shower, and breakfast was also included.
Other types of rooms are the:
- Executive Suite – located at Paseo de Escolta with a view of the plaza and gazebo; for 6 adults; with 3 queen beds with 2 extra beds;
- Family Suite – located at Estero de Binondo with a view of Plaza Marcelino (river view) or beach front, for 6 adults, with 3 queen beds and 2 extra beds;
- Large Superior Deluxe – located at Estero de Binondo with a view of Plaza Marcelino (river view, beach front, or plaza); for 4 adults, with 2 queen beds and 2 extra beds; and, the
- Studio with Loft – located at Paseo de Escolta with a view of the plaza; for 4 adults, with 2 queen beds and 2 extra beds.
Visit its website for prices/availability/more information: www.lascasasfilipinas.com
The following tours are offered (but note that schedules/prices may be changed, so inquire beforehand):
- A WALKING HERITAGE TOUR held about 7 times daily (9:30 am, 10:30 am, 11:30 am, 1:30 pm, 2:30 pm, 3:30 pm, and 4:30 pm), subject to weather conditions, for 1,500 pesos. A trained and eloquent tour guide gives the history of each house. Experience this special one-hour tour with your “amigos/amigas” or family.
Here are some tips for you to maximize this tour: choose comfortable footwear that is easy to remove and wear (since you will be required to leave it at the door of each house before entry; wear socks for hygiene, if desired; wear comfortable and light clothes; during summer or hot days, apply sunblock, wear a cap or hat and even bring an umbrella; and, bring water for hydration. If it is windy, bring a shawl or something to keep you warm and, for ladies, apply a lip balm to protect your lips.
Since my husband and I stayed overnight, we availed of this tour and learned to appreciate more of our country’s rich history, architecture and culture. The tour guides were fluent in both English and Tagalog.
- An ALL-DAY TOUR for a minimum of 5 persons, with 2,000 pesos nett per person, paid in advance, and cannot be combined with other promotions. There are several schedules daily, subject to weather conditions.
- A RIVER/BALSA TOUR for a minimum of 4 persons per ride, on an “intimate and romantic” cruise around the property using a “balsa” (raft) for 500 pesos each. You can leisurely float along the Umangol River and the glide along surrounding balconies, brick walls, verandas and arched bridges.
- A HOTEL DE ORIENTE TOUR is a tour of the faithful replica of the first luxury hotel in Binondo during the Spanish colonial era of our country, for 200 pesos. It is the property’s “premier 3-floor convention center” which can accommodate functions for at least 10 persons to banquets of up to 600 persons. Its lobby boasts of wooden sculptures crafted by Betis and Paete carvers, both well-known for wood-carving.
- A WORKSHOP TOUR is an in-house workshop where woodcarvings and bricks are traditionally made. The tour starts at Casa Mexico and is held Tuesday to Thursday (9 am/3 pm) and Friday to Sunday (9 am/11 am/3 pm).
- BATAAN TOUR PACKAGE – Please inquire at 09178329361 (Monday-Saturday, 8:30 am – 5:P30 pm) or visit their website mentioned above.
- An ART TOUR is coming soon.
Dining outlets include: (1) The Beach Bar; (2) Café del Rio – a tapas1 bar at Casa Sta. Rita; (3) Café Marivent at Casa New Manila – a Filipino-Spanish restaurant at the 2nd floor of the said casa; (4) Cusina ni Nanay Maria – a Filipino restaurant located at Casa Unisan; (5) La Bella Teodora at Basa Biñan – an Italian restaurant located at Casa Biñan; and, (6) La Parilla and Pica Pica – an open Filipino “street food and beverage” outlet located at Plaza de Castro. I enjoyed their turon (fried, sweet banana spring roll), bibingka (Filipino rice cake), puto bumbong (steamed, rectangular, purple rice cake) and salabat (hot ginger tea).
Other activities are (but schedules/prices/venue may be changed, so inquire beforehand):
- Carabao Parade and Race – A colorful parade which starts at 4 pm at Gate 2 and extends to the Beach Area every Saturday and Sunday. A carabao (Filipino swamp-type water buffalo) race and a “palosebo2” are also held at the Beach Area.
- Center of Filipino Arts and Culture – An exhibit at Casa Candaba, open daily from 9 am till 5 pm.
- Cockfighting – A famous Filipino pastime held every Sunday at 10am at the back of Casa Tondo.
- Cultural Show/Mini Fiesta – A show of traditional Filipino dances (maglalatik3, singkil4 and tinikling5) held every Saturday at Casa Hagonoy/Paseo de Escolta at 6 pm (sundown).
- Entertainment and Game Room – A room located at Casa Lubao, just a few steps away from Tulay ni Lola Basyang which offers billiards, darts and other board games free of charge, open daily, from 7 am till 7 pm. Contact a Game Coordinator for Filipino games like: patintero6, piko7, sipa8 or sungka9. Casa Lubao also offers fish feeding for 50 pesos.
- Fotografia de la Escolta – A professional in-house photography studio where you can schedule a photoshoot wearing the traditional baro’t saya10 or barong11.
- Music Shop – A guitar and ukulele shop located at Paseo de Escolta (beside Fotografia de la Escolta).
- Napiya Spa – The in-house spa and wellness center located at Paseo de Escolta (Room 212) which offers the traditional Filipino massages like “bentosa12”, “dagdagay13” and “hilot14”. It is open from 10 am till 9 pm.
- Pocket Performance – A performance held at the Tanghalang Tasulok every Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 9:30 am/11:30 am/2:30 pm/4:30 pm.
- Sunday Mass – A Catholic mass held at the church called Santuario de San Jose every Sunday at 10:30 am.
- Swimming Pool and Beach Area – A “batis15”-inspired swimming pool open daily from 7 am till 9 pm; the Beach Area is open from 6 am till 6 pm daily.
- Water Activities – Activities such as banana boat, boat ride, island hopping, jet ski, kayaking and wakeboarding16, subject to weather and current conditions. Make it to Yasa Point for a zip line ride, ATV17 ride, mountain biking and wall climbing for the younger members of your family.
This property is part of Historic Hotels Worldwide and part of the Conde Nast Jahansens Luxury Global Collection and Peninsula Hotel’s Pencities Luxe Guide. It is also the 2017 Asia Awards of Excellence winner.
Here are three “casas” and their stories:
Casa Byzantina, a 3-storey, intricately designed “floral” stone house from Binonda, Manila, built in 1890 by Don Lorenzo del Rosario, using Neo-Byzantine19 and Neo-Mudéjar20 influences with elaborate and delicate embellishments. It was demolished in 2009 and transferred to Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar.
Casa Luna, built in 1850 and owned by Primitivo Novicio, the uncle of the famous Luna brothers: General Antonio Luna (the first Filipino general who fought in the Philippine-American War) and Juan Luna (the renowned Filipino painter, sculptor and political activist). It was originally located in the municipality of Namacpacan (now Luna, in the province of La Union, named after the brothers). The house is symmetrically constructed and reflects the typical Ilocano18 stone house, with a “cochera” (a garage for carriages and “carrozas” as well as a storeroom for farm produce) at the ground floor, an “entresuelo” (a mezzanine for the servants), the main second floor for bedrooms, toilet and bath, the grand living room, kitchen, and an “azotea” (a flat roof/platform on the top of the house) at the back.
Casa Mexico-Pampanga, a stone house from the municipality of Mexico, in the province of Pampanga, salvaged from a junk shop and reconstructed based on an old photograph.
Overall and personally, this cultural escapade was memorable for me and my high school buddies. We had enough quality time to bond with each other amidst our leisurely strolls as well as “kalesa”/tram/jeepney rides. We had so many beautiful pictures to look back to in the years to come!
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The following terms are defined for interested readers, especially non-Filipinos, those with “Senior-Moments”, and those too busy or lazy to Google such terms:
1Tapas are small, savory Spanish dishes.
2Palosebo is a traditional Filipino game for boys during a town fiesta or on special occasions in the provinces using a long, straight, polished and greasy bamboo pole with a small bag or flag tied to the top as a reward to whoever could successfully climb, reach it, and retrieve the bag/flag.
3Maglalatik is a male folk dance from the Philippines where coconut shell halves are secured onto the dancers’ hands and on vests upon which are hung 4 or six more coconut shell halves. The dancers perform the dance by hitting one coconut shell with the other, alternately on the hands, on the shoulders and body, to the beat of a fast drumbeat. NOTE: The dance means “latik-maker”, from “latik”, a syrupy, caramelized coconut cream used as a dessert sauce or garnish, used in Filipino cookery.
4Singkil is a popular folk dance of the Maranao people of Lake Lanao (in Lanao del Sur, Mindanao), performed during celebrations and other festive occasions, based on the epic legend, Darangen, the pre-Islamic Maranao interpretation of the ancient Hindu Indian epic, the Ramayana, an ancient Indian epic poem which narrates the struggle of the divine prince Rama to rescue his wife, Sita, from the demon king Rayana. This dance was popularized by the Bayanihan Philippine National Folk Dance Company, the oldest dance company in the Philippines, founded in 1957 by Helena Z. Benitez and debuted at Expo ’58 on May 27, 1958, upon the request of President Ramon Magsaysay. Originally, only royal women danced the singkil, as a conscious or unconscious way of attracting potential suitors. A kulintang (an ancient musical instrument composed of a row of small, horizontally laid metal gong kettles, upon a rack, accompanied by larger, suspended gongs and drums, played by striking the bosses of the gongs with 2 wooden beaters) and agung (an ensemble composed of large hanging, suspended or held, knobbed gongs which act as drones) ensemble always accompanies this dance. The female lead dancer gracefully steps in and out of closing bamboo poles arranged in either parallel, rectangular, or criss-cross fashion, while skillfully manipulating either a fan, scarf or by just artistically waving ones bare hands. NOTE: The name of the dance means “to entangle the feet with disturbing objects such as vines or anything in ones path.”
5Tinikling is a Filipino folk dance which involves 2 people beating, tapping, and sliding 2 or 4 parallel pairs of bamboo poles on the ground (or on 2 raised pieces of wood) held by 2 or more sitting or kneeling “clappers” or “clickers” as a percussion instrument, and against each other in coordination with two or more female dancers, wearing embroidered baro’t saya19, and male dancers wearing barong20, who step over and in between the poles, weave through the rapidly moving bamboo poles with bare feet and ankles, traditionally danced to rondalla music, an ensemble of stringed instruments (e.g., bandurrias, guitars, laúdes, octavinas or ukuleles). Traditionally, the poles are tapped twice on the ground on the first 2 beats then brought together on the 3rd beat, with the tempo progressing faster and faster. The dancers need to be skillful and agile not only to follow the rhythm but also not to get their ankles/feet caught between the poles as they are snapped closed. The barefoot dancers start with their hands at their hips or clasped behind their backs, but when the tempo becomes faster, they hold hands, then end by letting go of each other’s hands and stepping out of the moving bamboo poles. NOTE: Tinikling means “to perform like a ‘tikling’, a local bird” which walk gracefully and speedily between grass stems and run over tree branches.
6Patintero is a popular, traditional Filipino street game, using 2 teams, an attack and a defense team, with 5 players each. The attack team must try to run along the perpendicular lines from the home base to the back end, and return without being tagged by the defense players, called “it”. The latter must stand on water/fire lines with both feet each time they try to tag attacking players. The player at the center line is called “patotot”. The perpendicular line at the center allows the “it” designated on that line to intersect the lines occupied by the “it” that the parallel line intersects, thus increasing the chances of the runners to be trapped, even only one member of a group is tagged, the whole group will be the “it”.
7Piko is the Filipino version of hopscotch where players stand behind the edge of a rectangular box, and each should throw their “pamato” (cue ball or flat stone). The first to play is determined on the players’ agreement on the placement of the “pamatos” on a designated line/location and whoever throws the “pamato” nearest the agreed place, will play first. The next nearest is second, etc.
8Sipa is a traditional Filipino game where players kick or toss a washer covered with colorful threads using a foot. A player is thrown upwards and the player starts to toss the washer and counts the number of times s/he does it successfully without the washer touching the ground. The player who has the most kicks wins the game. Sipa literally means “kick”.
9Sungka is the Filipino mancala game played in a wooden board and cowrie shells or stones called “sigays”. A boatlike sungka board has 2 rows of 7 small pits called “bahay” (houses), initially with 7 “sigays”, with an additional bigger hole at both end of the board for each player, called an “ulo” (head) or “inay” (mother) or storehouse, for the captured seashells or stones, owned by a player to his/her left. A player empties one of his/her small pits and distributes its contents in a clockwise direction, one by one, into the following pits including his/her own storehouse but passing the opponent’s storehouse. If the last stone falls into a non-empty small pit, its contents are lifted and distributed in another lap. If the last stone falls into the player’s onw store, the player gets a bonus move. However, if the last stone falls into an empty pit, the move ends and the player is “patay” (dead). If the move ends by dropping the last stone into one of your own small pits, you capture the stones in the opponent’s pit directly across the board and your own stone. The captured shells are “subi” (deposited) in your storehouse. However, if the opponent’s pit is empty, nothing is captured. The first move is plated simultaneously, after which the players take turns alternately. The game ends when no stones are left in the small pits. The player who captures the most shells wins the game.
10Baro’t saya is the national dress of the Philippines traditionally made of piña (pineapple fiber); the feminine equivalent of the barong20. This conservative attire is composed of a blouse is called “baro”, with butterfly sleeves, and the skirt is called “saya”, generally fashioned out of opaque plaid or striped cotton and sinamay varieties. An “alampay” is a square kerchief usually made of the same fabric as the saya, worn over the “baro” to cover the breasts which also doubles as a veil, later called the “panuelo”. An overskirt made of a darker and thicker material called a “tapis” is wrapped around the lower half of the woman’s body and tied at the waist or below the breasts. It is the pre-colonial clothing of the Tagalogs and Visayans made of silk in matching colors, exclusively worn by women from the upper class; those belonging to the lower caste wore a “baro” made from pounded white bark fiber.
11Barong is the short term for barong Tagalog, the traditional, lightweight, long-sleeved, embroidered, formal shirt for Filipino males. It is worn untucked over an undershirt. It is considered the national dress of the Philippines.
12Bentosa is an ancient Chinese method used to remove aches and pains and improve the circulation by cupping. It is also spelled “ventosa”. It has 2 types: fire cupping and dry cupping. Fire cupping uses a cup or glass to suction the cold parts at the back of the body which lack blood circulation and have blockages so that they will have normal energy flow. It is executed with a glass cup, candle and oil. Massage oil is applied on the back to create a better seal on the cups, then a candle is lighted with a cotton candle ball on the top. Once the candle is lighted, the cup is placed over the candle so the oxygen is removed and the suction will appear when the skin bloats or puffs. The red marks that will appear after the cupping will disappear after 1-2 days. Dry cupping uses a glass/plastic cup on the skin using a pump so the air is removed by suction.
13Dagdagay is a traditional Filipino acupressure treatment for the legs and feet, originally from the Mountain Province of the Philippines, a way of accessing the body’s entire immune system through the soles of the feet. It begins with a soothing foot soak on healing herbs in a huge clay vessel and capped with a relaxing herbal foot wrap and massage. The therapist uses 2 bamboo or rattan sticks, in pack of finger pressure, to stimulate the soles and cleanse/purify the feet.
14Hilot is the ancient Filipino art of healing in rural areas where, originally, a “manghihilot” uses chiropractic manipulation and massage techniques to treat musculoskeletal ailments, to reset dislocated and sprained joints (ankle, fingers, knee and metacarpal bones). Modern spas use this technique to relieve stress and promote rejuvenation and balance the harmony of the body, emotion and mind, using warm strips of (naturally ionized) banana leaves laved with virgin coconut oil applied on the body before and after a session. The therapist identifies areas of energy imbalance in the body through touch diagnosis. A full body massage involves a combination of slow moving fingers and hand pressure over various pressure points throughout the back and legs, and relaxing the tension in the head and neck.
15A batis is the Tagalog term for a small stream, river or brook.
16Wakeboarding is a surface water sport which involves riding a wakeboard21 over the surface of a body of water. It is a combination of snowboarding, surfing and water skiing. The wakeboard is usually towed behind a motorboat or personal water craft at a speed of 30-40 km/hr, depending on the board size, weight, and type of tricks.
17ATV, or All-Terrain Vehicle, is a vehicle that is designed to handle a wide variety of terrain and travels on 3-4 low-pressure tires with a seat that is straddled by the operator, along with handlebars for steering control. The rider sits and operates it like a motorcycle and is stable at slower speeds. It is used in some destinations for a thrilling ride.
18Ilocano is a term which refers to the ethnolinguistic people who live, or come from, the Ilocos Region in the northwestern part of the island of Luzon7, in the Philippines.
19Neo-Byzantine is an architectural revival movement in the 1840s in Western Europe, prevalent among public and religious buildings, especially in Germany and Russia. It combines the Byzantine style with Eastern and Orthodox Christian architecture from the 5th till 11th centuries.
20Neo-Mudéjar is a type of Moorish Revival architecture which started in Madrid, Spain, in the late 19th century, and spread to the rest of that country. It is characterized by abstract-shaped brick ornaments for facades, arabesque tiles and horseshoe arches.
21A wakeboard is a small, mostly rectangular, buoyant and thin board with the core usually made of foam, honeycomb or wood, mixed with resin and coated with fiberglass. It has very little displacement and shoe-like bindings are mounted to it. Metal screws are inserted to attach bindings and fins.