Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Hotel and Inn Review: Villa Isabel Hotel & Resort (Sorsogon City)

Date of Stay: June 26-27, 2012

RATING (Scale of 1 to 10)
Location: ******
Rooms: ******
Condition and Cleanliness: *******
Staff Performance: ******
Room Comfort: *****
Food and Beverage: *****
Other Amenities: *****
Value for Money: ******

Villa Isabel Hotel & Resort

Two bed suite room
The Villa Isabel Hotel and Resort, a DOT-accredited, Class “A” resort  in SorsogonCity, has airconditioned, 2-bed  suite rooms (PhP3,000), single standard rooms (PhP1,200), double rooms (PhP1,400), family rooms (PhP1,600), twin rooms (PhP1,800), single suite rooms (PhP2,000), suite rooms with king-size beds (PhP3,000) and a penthouse (PhP4,500). 

All have flat screen LCD cable TVs, private baths with hot and cold showers, and free wi-fi access.
The hotel's restaurant
The hotel also has restaurant (free buffet breakfast until 8 AM), a free form swimming pool (free use until 9 PM) with jacuzzi and water slide, and a banquet hall with the latest audio and lighting facilities.  They also offer laundry and catering service.  

For those who want to bond with whale sharks (butanding), the hotel also offers tour packages to the laid back town of Donsol (van, banca, entrance fee, food and equipment, PhP3,900/pax).

The swimming pool with water slide and jacuzzi

Villa Isabel Hotel and Resort: Flores St., Burabod, Sorsogon City.  Telefax: (056) 211-4050 and 211-5422.  Mobile numbers: (0920) 903-5314 and (0920) 720-6477. E-mail: villa_isabel_hotelresort@yahoo.com. Website: www.villaisabelhotel.com

Interview: Philip Bartilet of AGAP-Bulusan (Bulusan, Sorsogon)

The author with AGAP-Bulusan president Mr. Philip Bartilet 

Entrance to Bulusan Volcano Natural Park (BVNP)
At Bulusan Volcano Natural Park (BVNP), I met up and interviewed, over a cup of brewed coffee and pili snacks, environment activist Philip G. Bartilet, the president of Aggrupation for Advocates for Environmental Protection (AGAP)-Bulusan, Inc. and past president (2010-2011) of the Philippine Ecotourism Guides Association.  

He is also the Municipal Tourism Officer of Bulusan town. 
AGAP-Bulusan, working hand-in-hand with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), protects and conserves biodiversity of the BVNP through Project PRESERVE (Participate Reforestation with Ecological Support, Education and Research to Validate the Ecosystems) which was launched in Lake Bulusan last October 31, 2011. Philip explained that the project was approved and funded by the Global Environmental Facility, Small Grants Program Philippines, United Nations Development Program (GEF SGP) of the UNDP. 

Its initial goal is to organized and mobilize communities within the BVNP as a participatory mechanism to mainstream biodiversity conservation in the local policies and resource-based management plans of people's organizations (POs) and government institutions. 

Second, it aims to harness the efforts of multi-sectoral representation from the 6 barangays within the BVNP to organize themselves into environmental biodiversity para-legal protection units focusing on research, monitoring teams and organizing illegal fishers as eco-guides and rangers promoting alternative sustainable livelihood.  It also aims to rehabilitate, within 2 years, the denuded, 50-hectare biodiversity habitat and maintain the surrounding ecosystems and eco-tourism attractions within the BVNP-Bulusan area via seedling propagation.  At least 20,450 agro-forestry seedling (pili, cacao, coffee, etc.) and 6,000 endemic hardwoods and watershed seedlings were planted in 6 identified barangay nurseries within the park area. 
Philip, the author and Bernard.  Behind are watercraft
(kayaks, water trikes) acquired by AGAP-Bulusan, Inc.  
Third, it aims to establish poverty alleviation mechanisms through the provision of eco-livelihood support.

This project, according to Philip, will provide an alternative source of livelihood to persons who have been continuously conducting illegal activities within the area, to totally refrain from such activities and eventually become the first persons to take care of the rich biodiversity of the BVNP as they will be trained to become eco-tourism guides (who will later become accredited guides of the Department of Tourism) or be deputized by the Department of Environment & Natural Resource (DENR) as forest rangers and Wildlife Environmental Officers (WEOs) with monthly compensation benefits.  

In a plan presented by Philip, sustainable para-technical training will be provided, both on agriculture and aquaculture development, with 42 participants coming from the 6 barangays within the area. 

Fourth, it aims to heighten the level of environment awareness of the primary stakeholders, particularly biodiversity conservation and sustainable management of the BVNP-Bulusan area.  The PRESERVE group will conduct a Dalaw Turo, with 8 courses that will focus on the environmental biodiversity richness of the BVNP, how it should be conserved and the bright prospects of the BVNP as a prime tourism destination.  It will also provide an impact study to heighten environmental initiatives so that stakeholders will become more value-driven rather than economy-driven.  They will also publish biodiversity conservation materials, manuals and learning guides as information education materials. 

The end goal of the project is to conduct comprehensive research on biodiversity and other environmental management-related studies and establish a data repository of the BVNP-Bulusan area.  This will include a monthly monitoring and inventory of flora and fauna of the BVNP, with the help of the academe who will provide an ecological profile of the resources of the 6 barangays within the BVNP. 

AGAP-Bulusan is also working on their proposal for a Canopy Walk and the Zip Tour (a variant of the zip line), a more affordable alternative while a feasibility study for cable cars is being considered.  Aside from these, wall climbing, rappelling and adventure rope courses are also being considered.  Together with the DOT Region V Office, LGU Bulusan and Wild BOARS (Bulusan Outdoors Adventures and Recreational Sports) Philippines, they are also organizing the 2012 Bulusan Triple Loop Eco Trail (Team Relay) Running Challenge Cup this July, a 3, 5 and 10-km. run along the periphery of Lake Bulusan and newer, challenging trails on the regular 21-km. Bulusan Eco Trail Running Cup.

AGAP-Bulusan, Inc.: Bulusan Social Development Center (BSDC) Bldg., 262 Sesbreno St., Brgy. Dapdap, Sorsogon City, Sorsogon.  Mobile number: (0918) 457-8767 and (0908) 896-8826 (Mr. Philip Bartilet).  E-mail: agapbulusan@yahoo.com.ph

Monday, 25 June 2012

Resort Review: Nature Hot Spring Resort & Inn (Irosin, Sorsogon)

Date of Stay: June 25-26, 2012

RATING (Scale of 1 to 10)
Location: ******
Rooms: ****
Condition and Cleanliness: *****
Staff Performance: *****
Room Comfort: ****
Food and Beverage: *****
Other Amenities: *****
Value for Money: *****

Nature Spring Resort & Inn

The spartan room
The mini-pool inside the bathroom
Irosin, sitting at the foot of the still active Mt. Bulusan, has a number of cold and hot springs located in Brgys. Batang, Bulawan, Liang, Monbon and Tongdol.  

Waters originating from these natural springs, flowing down through the creeks and streams and secondary rivers, integrates at the Cadac-an River, the primary river.  

The adult swimming pool

The children's pool
Nature Spring Resort & Inn, owned and managed by Mr. Reojun Y. Gabito, was opened in May 2007. It has airconditioned cottages with cable TV and skylighted bathroom with a unique, private mini-pool.  

Overnight rates are PhP800 (12 noon to 12 midnight) and PhP600 (6 PM-8 AM). 

The resort also has 3 steaming, free-form swimming pools of different sizes and depths (one exclusively for children), around which are changing and shower rooms; a canteen; grilling stations (for those who love to barbecue their own food); and picnic cottages. 

The clear, naturally-heated waters of the swimming pools, said to have sulfuric healing properties, are relaxing and soothing to the nerves, working wonders on aching muscles and tired bodies.  

Nature Spring Resort & Inn: Brgy. Monbon, Irosin 4707, Sorsogon.  Mobile number (0908) 279-9556. E-mail: reojun.gabito@yahoo.com. Entrance fee: PhP35. 

Resort Feature: Viento de Mar Beach Resort (Bagacay, Albay)

Viento de Mar Beach Resort

The black sand Sogod Beach
Fronting Roca Baluarte and along the highway is the volcanic, jet-black sand Sogod Beach, home to a number of Bacacay's beach resorts. One such resort is the sprawling DOT-accredited, Class “A” Viento de Mar (Spanish for “sea breeze”) Beach Resort, set in well-manicured grounds.   

Owned by Mr. Martin “Marti” A. Calleja of Bicol Adventure Philippines, the resort is divided into 2, one fronting the beach and the other located inland.  The one facing the beach has a house, good for 15 people, with 6 beds, a toilet and bath, kitchen and a hall.  There are also a 50-pax hall and 28 day huts for picnickers; 5 big (35-pax) and 23 small (20-pax). 
Day huts along the beach
The interior part of the resort, along the highway, has two 2-4-pax rooms with bath, two 4-6-pax airconditioned cabanas with common bath and two 5-8 pax small and three 10-15-pax big cabanas with toilet and bath.  All cabanas have anahaw roofing, attic balconies, refrigerator and cooking facilities. 

Mr. Calleja, a certified divemaster and PADI instructor, maintains a dive shop in the resort, said to be the only one in Albay.  The resort offers scuba diving at San Miguel Island and, further way, to Ticao Island (Masbate) where Martin’s brother also operates a dive shop at Ticao Island Resort.  Aside from scuba diving, the resort also offers horseback riding, billiards, biking, volleyball, kayaking, island hopping and hand line fishing.
The resort's cabanas

Viento de Mar Beach Resort: 1 Beach Rd., Brgy. Sogod, 4509 Bacacay, Albay.  Tel: (052) 820-1483. Mobile number (0918) 924-1842.  Legaspi City booking office: Bicol Adventure and Tours: 2/F V&O Bldg., Quezon Ave.. Tel: (052) 480-2266.  E-mail: bicol_adventure@yahoo.com. Website: www.bicoladventure.com.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Restaurant Review: Small Talk Cafe (Legaspi City, Albay)

The entrance hallway
The famous Small Talk Cafe, home to Filipino and Bicolano  cuisine with a touch of fusion, infuses local flavor into otherwise staple fare.  It is noted for its pasta pinangat/laing, the spicy and appetizing Bicol Express pasta and its delicious pili pie.  

The pasta pinangat/laing, the cafe's first Bicol fusion dish, is ravioli infused with pinangat, a local delicacy made from gabi (taro) leaves and gata (coconut cream), and covered in white sauce.  The Bicol Express pasta consists of alamangsili (local  pepper) and gata sauteed with garlic and pasta. 

A local favorite since 1995, this old ancestral house turned into a restaurant, owned by chef Ms. Bernadette Peralta Factora, has a quaint and laid-back atmosphere accented by old Albay memorabilia, paintings and pre-World War II photos of the city and Mayon Volcano.  

Its narrow but cozy entrance hallway cum waiting area opens into a spacious dining area.    As we arrived there early, the place was only half filled with patrons.  

Combination pizza
Tuna carbonara
I am not fond of spicy Bicolano cuisine, so I opted, from its interesting menu, for the combination pizza (2 flavors in 1 pizza crust: caprichosa and pizza Bicolana), Mayon pasta and the tuna carbonara (sauteed tuna blended with milk and cheese, a must try, PhP105).  The pasta dishes were served with 2 slices of garlic bread.

Mayon pasta

One half of the combination pizza had generous toppings of pepperoni, black olives, bacon, mushrooms and capers, while the other half had laing with mushroom, mozzarella, green pepper and pineapple chunks.  

To prepare myself for any extreme spice emergency, I ordered a mango smoothie.  The Mayon pasta is similar to the pasta pinangat/laing except the former uses red tuna sauce. 

By the time I was done with my delicious meal, the restaurant was already filled to the rafters with diners, truly an indication that I had dined in one of the best watering holes Legaspi City has to offer.  

Small Talk Cafe: 051 Dona Aurora St., Legaspi City, Albay.  Tel: (052) 480-1393 and 437-8708. Open 11 AM-10 PM.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Hotel and Inn Feature: Francesco's Inn & Restaurant (Daet, Camarines Norte)

Francesco's Inn & Restaurant

Twin bed suite
The spankingly new, 3-storey Francesco’s Inn & Restaurant has four tastefully-designed and decorated, airconditioned suites (king bed, queen bed, twin bed, PhP2,000-3,000) with private bath (bathtub for king bed suite), 21” LED cable TV (34” for king bed suite) and personal mini refrigerator, all served by a front desk office.  

At its ground floor restaurant, one can dine on pica-pica consisting of sizzling sisig (a Filipino dish made with parts of pig’s head and liver and seasoned with calamansi and chili peppers) and tofu and a chicken sate mixed with rice, served with a special peanut sauce and garnished with shrimp kropeck 
Queen bed suite

King bed suite

Sizzling pork sisig
ts restaurant serves pork (spare ribs, inihaw na liempo, pata tim, crispy pata, tenderloin, roasted asado, sinigang, etc.), beef (kare-kare, filet mignon, osso buco, beef steak, etc.), chicken (cordon bleu, pollo arrosto ala dazoikip sateh, etc.), fish (pescado en salsa verde, fish with oyster sauce, sweet sour fish, fish Picasso, etc.) and seafood dishes.

The restaurant also serves soup (bulalo, cream of mushroom, etc.), vegetables (chopsuey, pinakbet, beef ampalayabinagoongang talong, etc.), salads (Caesar, potato, pasta slaw, omelet, etc.), sandwiches (hamburgers, clubhouse, etc.) and pasta (pasta gamberi, lasagna, carbonara, etc.) and noodle (pansit cantonbihon, etc.) dishes as well as traditional Filipino (tapsilog, longsilog, tocilog) and American (ham and eggs, tuna omelet, etc.) breakfast.

Sizzling tofu

Chicken sate rice

Francesco’s Inn & Restaurant: Suzara cor. Dimasalang St., 4600 Daet, Camarines Norte.  Tel: (054) 440-0031.  Mobile number: (0917) 856-1642.  E-mail: am_aimee@yahoo.com

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Hotel and Inn Review: Taipei Gala Hotel (Taiwan)

Date of Stay: June 12-16, 2016

RATING (Scale of 1 to 10)
Location: *******
Rooms: *******
Condition and Cleanliness: *******
Staff Performance: ********
Room Comfort: *******
Food and Beverage: *******
Other Amenities: ******
Value for Money: ******

Taipei Gala Hotel
Taipei Gala Hotel  has 150 spacious and luxurious guest rooms and 10 suites.  All rooms and suites are decorated in a classic, contemporary style with art nouveau accents, and all incorporate state-of-the-art technology. Aside from the usual central airconditioning (with temperature regulator switch), private bathroom with bathtub and shower chamber, hair dryer, cable TV, minibar, IDD telephone, in-room safe, coffee and tea making facility and DVD player, we also had free unlimited internet access.
Room 2912
Established in 1980 and recently remodeled, Gala Hotel’s distinctive address, along Song Jiang Road, in midtown Taipei, places it at the heart of Taipei’s most prestigious shopping, cultural, and business neighborhood with the financial district right next door and  within walking distance from the hotel. Approximately 100 m. from the hotel is the MRT Xinzhuang Luzhou line Exit off Xingtian Temple Station.
Golden Ear Restaurant
Gala Hotel has 2 food and beverage outlets: the ground floor Golden Ear Restaurant and the second floor Golden Pot Chinese Cuisine which can accommodate wedding feasts, company banquets, family gatherings and birthday parties.  The former was where we had buffet breakfasts, dining on Western and Eastern cuisine over a cup of Blue Mountain or Santos coffee.   The latter, where we had lunch, serves traditional Cantonese cuisine such as steamed fresh abalone with green onions, lobster with mush garlic, shark’s fin soup, deep fried king prawns and steamed garoupa.  The hotel also has conference facilities, function rooms and business center.
Song Jiang Road
Taipei Gala Hotel: 186 Song Jiang Rd., Taipei 10467, Taiwan.  Tel: (+886-2) 2541-6888 (reservations) and (+886-2) 2541-5511 (operator).  Fax:(+886-2) 2531-3831.  Website: www.galahotel.com.tw.