A trip to tantalizing Tagaytay

Taal Lake, the dramatic setting of the famous Taal Volcano, is one of the most popular tourist spots in the Philippines, despite the fact that the volcano is still officially active. (Shutterstock)
Updated 05 April 2019
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A trip to tantalizing Tagaytay

  • Taking in the natural wonders of the Philippines from the edge of a volcano

DUBAI: Just an hour’s drive from the hustle and bustle of Manila, the capital of the Philippines, is a paradise on the rise: Tagaytay — a city built on the ridges of south Luzon that offers scenic views of a world-famous volcanic island.

The city overlooks the Taal Lake where the famous Taal Volcano is situated. Its postcard-worthy formation is a product of 33 violent historical eruptions, but it’s still one of the busiest tourist spots in the Philippines. The locals take maximum advantage of the location by hosting numerous viewing decks, allowing visitors to fully populate their Instagram pages.

It’s hard not to fall in love with the place; the warmth of the locals blends perfectly with the cool tropical breeze that greets visitors as soon as they arrive in Tagaytay — a literal breath of fresh air when you’re coming from the urban jungle. Its close proximity to the capital has made it a staple for weekend getaways, and a destination of choice for impulsive overnight trips. 

It pays to take the time to sample the city’s excellent local fare. (Shutterstock)

There’s no denying that Tagaytay’s reputation is built around its perfect location for the breathtaking scenery of Taal, but there’s more to this special city on the ridge than its panoramas.

There are numerous hotels around, and — naturally — the better view they have of the lake, the more expensive they get. The Taal Vista Hotel has one of the best spots on the ridge. Breakfast on the veranda is the perfect way to start a day of sightseeing.

Right next to the hotel is an amusement park called the Sky Ranch, where you could probably spend an entire day, should you wish. It has numerous restaurants, park rides, a zip line and the ‘Sky Eye’ ferris wheel, which stands 63 meters high, upping the Taal viewing experience a notch. 

But visitors don’t need to book a hotel room or ride the Sky Eye to enjoy the panoramic views of the neighboring volcano. A recreational space with built-in cottages and a spacious green courtyard is available at the Picnic Grove, located at the other end of the city. The 13-hectare venue also provides a number of family friendly activities — including zip lines, a cable car, and horseback riding. The eco-trail is particularly popular with tourists, getting them even closer to nature and Tagaytay’s lush greenery. 

Tagaytay is perched on the ridge overlooking Lake Taal. (Shutterstock)

Spanish colonization introduced Catholicism to the Philippines, and with it came countless marvelous cathedrals. Tagaytay has a few, but one always stands out for tourists — not because of its architecture, but because of the cloistered nuns based there. The nuns at the Pink Sisters Convent eschew the usual black-and-white attire, instead wearing the bright pink that has earned them their nickname. 

Perhaps the most interesting historical spot in the city is the People’s Park in the Sky — an urban park that is home to an unfinished mansion, originally intended to be the place where Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos would host then-US President Ronald Reagan on his 1983 visit, which was subsequently cancelled. The scaffolding is still in place, and now serves as a monument to the “greed, excess and arrogance” (Chicago Tribune, 1986) of the conjugal dictatorship that ruled the Philippines for over 20 years.

For some excess of your own, you can visit the Acienda Designer Outlet Mall. It has its own windmill — for reasons that aren’t immediately clear.

We can’t talk about Tagaytay and not mention its food. The popular Filipino dish bulalo is a local specialty; a light-colored stew made from beef shanks and marrow bones that are boiled for hours to really extract their flavor. Usually served with steamed jasmine rice, bulalo is perfect for Tagaytay’s chilly weather.

 The windswept city is a must for tourists who want to sample the natural wonders of the Philippine archipelago in the Pacific, deservedly lauded as one of the most beautiful places on earth. 

There are numerous places from which tourists can take in the stunning views. (Shutterstock)

 


Irresistible Istanbul: Turkey’s cultural capital

Updated 22 April 2019
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Irresistible Istanbul: Turkey’s cultural capital

  • The historic city — part European, part Asian — still has the power to capture hearts

DUBAI: Although the bulk of Istanbul’s historic sites lie across the Golden Horn in Sultanahmet, there’s something magnetic about Beyoğlu. It personifies Istanbul’s confidence and economic energy, is at the heart of the city’s most exciting nightlife, and has acted as a battleground for Istanbul’s modern cultural identity.

It is also home to the city’s main commercial artery — Istiklal Avenue, a wide pedestrianized thoroughfare that stretches from the steep cobbled gradients of Galata to the vast open space of Taksim Square. For most of the year it is populated by an endless sea of people either wrapped up against the onset of winter or basking in the glory of spring and summer.

Beyoğlu is where you’ll find much that relates to the world of art and culture. Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish Nobel laureate and author of novels including “My Name Is Red” and “Snow,” lives and breathes the district’s neighborhoods. You can follow in his footsteps if you like, tracing your way from Sahaflar Carsisi, the used-book bazaar that he used to frequent as a child, to the The Museum of Innocence and its quirky minutiae of 20th-century Istanbul life. The latter was created by the author as a companion to his novel of the same name and is located in a 19th-century timber house in Cukurcuma.

Then there’s the food. Take Ficcin as an example. Spread across a number of venues on either side of Kallavi Street, this wonderful restaurant serves both classic Turkish cuisine and Circassian specialties. That means kofta, artichokes, grilled chicken and an aubergine salad with yoghurt and garlic, and specials such as manti (Turkish dumplings) and the dish that the restaurant is named after — a meat-filled savory pastry baked like a pizza.

If you’re looking to stay in the Beyoğlu area, not far from Ficcin is the Pera Palace Hotel, a late 19th-century masterpiece designed by the French-Ottoman architect Alexandre Vallaury. Renovated and refurbished just under a decade ago, its grand, high-ceilinged interiors are awash with dark reds, velvet and gold, while the colors of the lobby, tea lounge and library are deeper and richer than when Agatha Christie and a cavalcade of early 20th-century celebrities made it their hotel of choice.

A short stroll from the Pera Palace is the former medieval Genoese citadel of Galata, now known as Karaköy and lying at the southern end of Istiklal. Its central, striking feature is the Galata Tower, built by the Genoese in 1348 and a reminder of the wonder of Istanbul’s pre-Ottoman past. Karaköy’s steep cobblestone streets are sprinkled generously with cafés and boutiques selling everything from Orientalist soap tins to Turkish towels and there’s a relaxed, laid-back kind of vibe.

From Galata you can walk down to the shores of the Golden Horn, crossing the Galata Bridge towards Sultanahmet and the district of Fatih (once the Byzantine city of Constantinople). It is here that you’ll realize the full impact of Istanbul’s allure. In peak holiday seasons it will be almost impossible to move within the maze of alleys that make up the Grand Bazaar, a colossal covered market that covers 64 streets and has 22 separate entrances. It’s easy to get lost, which is part of the appeal, but with up to half a million people visiting every day it can get extremely claustrophobic.

For a more sedate experience (although expect queues), Sultanahmet is a UNESCO world heritage site and home to both the Hagia Sophia and The Blue Mosque. At the latter you can sit beneath the continuous vaulted arcade that surrounds the mosque’s great courtyard, or marvel at the grandeur of its interiors, while the former’s magnificent giant dome and stunning mosaics remind you of Istanbul’s Byzantine past.

All of Sultanahmet’s main historic attractions are within easy walking distance of each other, including the Topkapi Palace, with its lavish courts and holy relics, and the underground delights of the Basilica Cistern. The sites are also within 10 minutes’ walk or so of the Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet, a fully halal luxury boutique hotel that first opened just under two years ago.

If you find the time, head to Pandeli. First opened in 1901, the restaurant is reached via a steep set of stairs near the entrance to the Spice Bazaar and is defined as much by its shimmering blue iznik tiles as it is by its traditional Turkish food. Expect views of Eminonu Square and delights such as lamb stew served on a bed of mashed roasted aubergine.

One thing’s for sure, visitors to Istanbul will not be bored. The many delights of this city straddling two continents could keep anyone busy for months. As the French poet and politician Alphonse de Lamartine wrote in the 19th Century, “If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.”