Travel Back in Time to the Best of Spanish Heritage Houses: Las Casas Filipinas
Aris Mape | Feb 21, 2015
A farmer and his carabao
A painting of the old Manila at Casa Mexico.
Casa Mexico's wood carvings is truly fine art.
The ceiling of Casa Mexico has a beautiful floral design.
The shops at Paseo de Escolta
Paseo de Escolta
Paseo de Escolta
Tour the wide property on a bike.
Paseo de Escolta
View from Casa Luna
Windows made of Capiz shells at Casa Luna
The author at Casa Luna
The pool at Las Casas
The fountain with statues of Filipino women in traditional costumes
Las Casas Filipinas
A replica of the Church of Balanga during its construction
A mural on the wall of Casa Vyzantina
The colorful ceiling of one of the rooms at Casa Vyzantina
With a grand Pinatubo tour closing the year, the first trip for the new year couldn’t be less fab. The choice was to head a little north to a land nestled in the waters of the South China Sea and Manila Bay, the breathtaking Bataan. Initially planned for two days and a night, the trip was cut short to a day tour. It was a tiring transfer from buses to jeepneys, but the experience was unforgettable. It was a breather from the stressful city life.
The hobbit left Manila past 7 AM and arrived at the Bataan Terminal about past 10 AM. The trip was long enough (rather too long) for a nap. The jeepney had to wait for passengers, so there was ample time to grab some boiled corn from one of the stores. The cold breeze blew. In no time, the hot corn on a cob was colder.
Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar (The Philippine Houses of Acuzar), a sprawling resort in Bagac, Bataan, is filled with restored Spanish mansions. The 400-hectare park was built starting 2003 by property developer New San Jose Builders owned by Jose “Gerry” Acuzar. Acuzar himself chose some 30 old houses and colonial buildings based on their historical, cultural and architectural value from various areas in the Philippines which were transplanted into the Bagac development. It was opened to the public in 2010.
At the entrance was the registration area, a bahay kubo where the ladies are dressed in Filipino costumes. Payments can be made in cash or credit card. The ladies will give you instructions and a map. At Casa Mexico, you will present the receipt and you’ll get some refreshment (sago’t gulaman). You can go upstairs and chat with the tour guides, and of course, take some photos. This is also where the tour starts.
A day tour costs P685. That already includes an hour of walking tour, a map, cold towel, free drinks, and access to the whole Las Casas (including the beach). They also have a buffet package for 30 persons. Because the tour starts at 1:30PM, you may want to explore the sprawling property ahead of the group of tourists. If walking around at noon doesn’t look interesting to you, you can rent bikes to add to the fun!
All over the place are fine sculptures. In the middle of the cobbled grounds is a sculpture of a farmer and his carabao finding refreshment in the sprinklers. Nearby is a scultpure of children playing “sipa”, a traditional Filipino game.
Another masterpiece is the “Palo Sebo”, a game usually played in town fiestas where the players have to climb a greased pole to win the prize. Beside Casa Unisan, there is also a lovely fountain with big statues of three Filipino women in their traditional costumes.
It wasn’t that easy to bike in the cobbled yard, and that’s what adds to the fun. While waiting for the tour to start, the swimming pool served as the hangout place. It was a gorgeous one, shining, shimmering, splending in the noontime sun.
Not too far is a bridge that crosses a natural river and joins the main grounds to the other part of the property close to the beach. The area near the bridge is one of the beautiful spots at Las Casas. The copper tiles by the riverbank adds grandeur to the scene, which looks perfect especially during the sunset.
A few steps from the bridge is the replica of Balanga Cathedral, one of the churches in Bataan. A new addition to the sprawling property of Las Casas, the church has been a popular venue to weddings.
And then the tour started. Dexter spoke in great English, a little animated, and caught the attention of the tourists, a number of whom were foreigners. Here are some of the Spanish houses featured in the walking tour.
This house which was originally in Mexico, Pampanga (not Mexico in the Americas), is a two-storey house that serves as the reception for visitors. The whole piece is lavishly designed with beautiful wood carvings, and the ceiling on the second floor is an elaborate floral masterpiece.
This house used to be in the busy place of BInondo in Manila. A major portion of the original house was transported to Las Casas to have a facelift, and now serves as the main hotel in Las Casas.
On the wall of Casa Vyzantina is a large mosaic made of colored tiles, which gives the guests a warm welcome. The ambience is first class, and the ceiling of its rooms is made of tiles with an attractive, refreshing floral design.
A museum with plenty of great historical memoirs, Casa Luna is a big square house named after Juan and Antonio Luna. The house was built in 1850.
The Luna house has several rooms, each of them with plenty of collectibles from the past. The windows are beautifully adorned by capiz shells.
Circling the house is a hallway which, according to the tour guide, was the only part of the house where the traditional Filipino servants called “aliping sagigilid” were allowed access to.
Casa Tondo’s balcony is simple yet beautiful. The minimalist beauty of the house is matched with the serenity of its surroundings. Beside the casa is a solitary tree, almost bare, lifting its arms to heaven.
This casa is a replica of the 16th century house of the Alonzos in Binan, Laguna.
Also known as Casa Quiapo, Casa Hidalgo is the first School of Fine Arts of the University of the Philippines. The school gave birth to brilliant artists like Fernando Amorsolo and Guillermo Tolentino.
In the 1970s, before it became the School of Fine Arts, the house was where prominent artists like Juan Luna and Felix Hidalgo used to train.
The four Cagayan houses are all from Cagayan Valley, Philippines. These are houses on stilts, designed for its location which is usually near rivers and seas. The basements of these houses were also used by the owners as storage of their crops or sometimes as pen for their animals.
PASEO DE ESCOLTA
Of the many buildings, I think this is the eye-catcher. Perhaps because it’s more vibrant compared to the others. The architecture, too, was adorable.
The columns bring to mind not only images of Spanish houses, but that of the historic halls of Greece. The building, which houses a number of shops on the first floor and hotel rooms on the higher floors, is a replica of 1900 commercial buildings in Escolta, Manila.
A day tour at Las Casas is a meaningful revisit of the country’s heritage. It’s more than a glimpse of history, a story of ingenuity and culture made richer over time. More than the houses and the bike ride, it’s a discovery of many things wonderful. For more information on Las Casas Filipinas, you may visit their website at http://www.lascasasfilipinas.com/.
HOW TO GET THERE
1. If taking the bus, take Bataan Transit from Cubao in Quezon City or Avenida in Manila. The fare is about P200 and the trip may take 3 to 4 hours.
2. From the terminal of Bataan Transit, take a short walk to the Bataan Transport Terminal.
3. Take a jeepney to Bagac. The fare is about P50 and the trip takes about 45 to 60 minutes. Tell the driver to drop you off Las Casas.
4. From the highway, take a tricycle to the site. The fare is P10, and the short trip takes less than 5 minutes.