Based on the descriptions shared by a colleague way back then – salad of greens and petals, eating area amidst enchanting garden, no walk-ins but reservations only – I was certain that I was going to like the Sonya’s Secret Garden. So after our overnight stay and pampering moments at the Nurture Spa in December 2005, I and two friends stopped over for lunch and from there the brief introduction to this once secret garden started. We inquired if we can take a look at one of the rooms. The staff took us then on a walk-through of one of the big cottages and the restaurant area. There we decided to have our relaxation vacation the following year in Sonya’s.
It didn’t happen in 2006 and the following years not because we chose another destination, but because we had conflicting schedules.
I finally had a chance last January with my balikbayan (Philippine nationals who are permanently residing abroad or those of Filipino descent who acquired foreign citizenship and permanent status abroad) relatives. They had to attend a wedding in Tagaytay so I suggested to spend a night at Sonya’s, not because it is situated in Tagaytay (only a few know that it is located in Alfonso, Cavite) but because it is very close to Tagaytay.
The frontage and parking area had the same look, as far as I can recall, plain rocks laid down on an uncemented ground, no landscapings. At the back of my mind, there was this line of speech for my companions, “No, please don’t get discouraged yet. There are many beautiful surprises to redeem this lack of interesting scenery.” I was right. My sis-in-law’s mother was sort of disappointed but remained silent about it until we got into our cottage. Here, the old adage, “First impressions last.”, didn’t apply. Later, she described Sonya’s Garden as more beautiful than the Butchart Gardens of Vancouver, Canada.
To go to the reception area, we walked down the pathway of wood planks and stones amidst fire trees, butter bushes, then, lo and behold, a wooden huge gate. Countless flowering plants of all sorts abound in the unmanicured lawns along the way and then chimes of various shapes and sizes hanged in either the trees or verandas with those relaxing tones and…
stone bowls of different sizes with colorful petals afloat welcomed us.
Our admiration of the place increased as we were ushered to our respective cottages, named after herbs – with an ante-room and furnished with wood furniture, big beds clothed with crisp white sheets complemented with soft white pillows in embroidered cases. Moroccan glass lanterns hanging so freely in the high ceilings provide a more relaxing ambience. What I liked the most in the cottages is the spacious bath area of pebbled flooring with huge flat river stones to step on, equipped with shower head of the rain-dome type, adorned with an arrangement of floating petals in a stone bowl. Fresh-smelling toiletries made exclusively by Ilog Maria are arranged in a receptacle. Next to the bath area, I also liked the nook where two soft white pillows await its occupant. This place which is overlooking (in our cottages) the small wilderness is an ideal place to read a good book or just curl up and relax. Other items of interest are mirrors set in Indonesian woodcarvings mounted on the wall, gauzy white cloth that serve as a shower curtain, shell-beaded curtains and bits & pieces of antiques.
After we settled our things in the cottage, we went out to explore the area and there we met the owner, Ms. Sonya Garcia. So we walked with her toward the location of the Panaderia (local bakery) and Country Store and we passed again through the pathway of wooden planks and stone. From that spot, she let us smell a huge pink flower and asked how it smelled. “Does it not smell butter?” So we learned that it’s called butter bush. Actually it is a tree bearing that baby pink-colored flower.
Then dinner came. It was truly filling with fresh greens (lettuce only, no arugula, nor fennels and parsley as described by others) and an assortment of toppings e.g. cheese, corn, cucumber, boiled egg, pineapple, mango and toasted broad beans with two kinds of dressing to choose from – Sonya’s secret dressing or vinaigrette; freshly baked bread from the Panaderia with various dips such as basil pesto, white cheese, anchovies, bruschetta tomato toppings, mushroom pate, black olive tapinade and fresh green peppercorn in olive oil; and pasta with two kinds of sauces – sun dried tomato and chicken cream – and salmon belly. If the salmon was not too oily, we would have consumed it all but it was redeemed by the entire hearty experience. For the sweet ending, we had glazed sweet potato, banana rolls with sesame & jackfruit and a small slice of chocolate cake from the Panaderia. Everyone enjoyed the drinks – refillable freshly squeezed dalandan (local orange) juice and the ender of all enders the tarragon tea, which tasted like hot rootbeer.
Is there a better way to end the day than to spoil your senses? So the ladies had the Magnolia Package which is a complete head-to-toe, two-hour pampering rituals, consisting of aromatherapy steam bath, foot spa, manicure and pedicure and Sonya’s Signature Massage. My brother delighted himself in the Bentosa with Hilot Massage (an ancient hilot technique which utilizes tiny pieces of a local herb called damong maria that are burned in air tight glass cups. This creates heat and suction as the cups are applied to nerve points of the back. The treatment, combined with Filipino hilot techniques on the back and legs, promotes balanced blood flow, stimulates circulation, removes toxins and dissipates cold spots).
The following morning, we joined Ms. Sonya for the basic yoga session which we arranged upon our check-in. We just did a few sun salutation poses. It was such a very personal encounter with her. Initially, I and my brother were the only present but my sis-in-law joined after a while. After the session, we took a leisurely walk in the garden and there she showed us some unique and very colorful flowers which are often the subject of artists then toured us in her greenhouse of mostly herbs. She let us taste the stevia, a substitute for sugar, and the others, of which the names we could no longer remember.
And for our last meal, breakfast that is, we had her version of adobo, fried boneless bangus and omelet, paired with her fried rice (has similarity with bagoong rice), mango salsa, thick hot chocolate drink (there’s coffee for coffee lovers). To our request, her staff also generously served us again her freshly-baked wheat bread.
I still would want to visit this place maybe during the firefly mating season co’z during this time fireflies come out and light the place even in the darkest of nights. So firefly watching! It will be another interesting experience, nowhere but at Sonya’s.