Nowhere but at Sonya’s Garden…

14 03 2010

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.


The Neophyte Driving Down to Tagaytay

3 02 2009

Getting to Tagaytay

Like any novice driver (I assumed), I was quite nervous as I drove down to Tagaytay via the SLEX.  With my mother beside me, I tried to keep my composure until we reached the Sta. Rosa exit.  I knew that once I get to this particular landmark, our journey would be less stressful.  True enough!  Aside from a few “asking for directions from the locals” (actually they were more of just confirming if we were on the right track), everything went quite smoothly.

My anxiety started when we left Splendido in a convoy a little before 8 p.m. for the trip back to Manila.  I didn’t know that the leading car was not aware that I was part of the convoy until I saw him two days later.  I told him I was driving the second vehicle, the first was a Nissan Urvan.  It was foggy that night, with no streetlights.  He was driving so fast that I can hardly catch up as I was not familiar with the curves and my car was not equipped with fog lights.  How fast we were running that time, I didn’t know as my speedometer was starting to fail to work.   I was stressed out even more when my mother told me that she can no longer see the road due to the fog.  “Mother, please, if you can just remain silent”, I told myself.  My original plan was to join a convoy who’ll drive back via the Aguinaldo Highway but they were still waiting for the other vehicle/s so I decided to join the other two vehicles who went ahead.  I realized they were taking the route via Sta. Rosa when we reached Rotunda.  There was no turning back unless I was willing to drive alone that night and take the other route.    

Upon reaching the Sta. Rosa exit, my anxiety grew even more.  I remember what my other friend who resides in Liliw, Laguna shared with me.  She would usually ask somebody to drive for her when going to a far and unfamiliar place or would try to leave Liliw earlier to escape from the traffic and be able to manage the road construction along the SLEX with ease.  At that time, I had to be more vigilant especially when it began to drizzle.  The traffic was slow moving so still manageable until we get to the Mamplasan Exit when the traffic was gone. But there was a heavy downpour when we were nearing Susana Heights.  This went on up to Las Piñas so I tried my best to be as cautious and alert as possible till we reach our village, then I heard myself sigh with so much relief.  I really thanked God for that safe journey.

Bag of Beans: Not Just for Coffee Lovers

2 02 2009

It took us about 1 1/2 hours to reach Tagaytay via Sta. Rosa, just in time for lunch.  I was considering either Josephine’s (the last time I dined there was during my MBA days, 13 years ago to be exact) or Leslie’s (haven’t tried it yet).  But mother wanted a simple lunch as we were heading to a wedding a little later.  Ok, let me think….

Bag of Beans

We still had an ample time to drop by Bag of Beans, so there we went first.  I was planning to just purchase some freshly baked goodies at the coffee shop but when we checked out the dining area a few steps down the left wing, my curiosity began.  I liked the ambience so I asked mother if we can take a look at their menu.

Dining Areas

After a quick rundown, no more dilly-dallies.  I ordered the must-try steak and mushroom pie for our starter.  Haha, what?  A pie for a starter? Why not?  I couldn’t wait till we get home to have a bite of this famous pie.  I wanted to taste it right there and then, while it was still warm.  When it was served, I didn’t realize it was that big.  Yeah, quite big for me.  Time to judge it…. It was not that outstanding to me.  The beef filling had a hint of a sour taste.  I couldn’t figure what made it taste a little sour.  Must be the mushroom?  Shouldn’t the steak be a little salty and sweet?

Steak and Mushroom Pie

Anyway, the puttanesca and the pan-broiled mahi-mahi were served simultaneously as our main course.

Puttanesca, Mahi-mahi, Cheesecake

The pasta was good for sharing while the fish dish was good enough for one person only, but we decided to share, anyway.  Both passed for a satisfactory rating.  The blueberry cheesecake, for our dessert, had a frozen ice cream-like texture.  I can say that this version of cheesecake was a little more than good enough for its price.

Back at the coffee shop, I bought two loaves of raisin bread and a box of cinnamon roll for pasalubong (small gift item from travel) and a souvenir mug for myself.

On the overall, Bag of Beans is also another good option for dining in the Tagaytay area.  It’s not just for the coffee lovers.

Tagaytay Here I Come

21 01 2009

myspace layouts

I haven’t seen Tagaytay after our Nurture Spa experience three years ago.   I and my friends were planning to come back to Tagaytay the following year for another breathtaking experience but this time at  Sonya’s Garden.  Unfortunately, it didn’t materialize due to conflict of schedules. 

This Friday’s wedding will enable me to see Tagaytay again (one of my dream locations for a vacation house) and hopefully will be able to relax a bit.  I’m going alone since the invitation stated that I got one reserved seat.  I’m a little nervous as of this writing coz it will be my first time to drive down south via the SLEX.  I’ve always been ”just a passenger” until two years ago when I learned how to drive.  So, I’ve been asking friends for directions and landmarks to get there in the most convenient way.  The wedding was set at 2 p.m. so I’m planning to leave my house at around 9 a.m. to give me ample time to go to Bag of Beans, Gourmet’s Cafe and Ilog Maria.