The Philippines is a fascinating country of contrasts; of tranquil countryside and noisy urban sprawl; of vertiginous mountains and golden beaches; grinding poverty and ostentatious wealth. Many of the rural farmers carry on as though the last couple of hundred years never happened, while just up the road are humming mega-cities that appear transported from the future. It’s not a place for doing things by half.
I was lucky enough to spend the very best part of a week here recently at a few contrasting hotels. The first was a high rise in the relatively sleepy Bacolod City. The other, an oasis of calm in the chaos of Manilla, all thanks to Don Papa rum who invited a selection of the UK's top press and bloggers to experience this beautiful country where they make their famous rum.
Don Papa Rum is a genuine Philippine premium rum, inspired by the island’s legendary revolutionary leader, Papa Isio and the dream-like landscape, Don Papa was launched in 2012 and now present in over 20 countries including France, Germany, Spain, UK, United States of America, South Africa, Belgium, Italy, and Japan.
The Seda Capitol Central hotel is smack bang in the middle of the ‘City of Smiles’ – Bacolod which is the capital of Negros island aka Sugerlandia, where Don Papa grows, harvests and processes the raw material sugar cane which produces the molasses for their rum. Efficiently, a short drive away is the Bago Distillery where the molasses is fermented, distilled, aged and turned into the finished product ready to be shipped and bottled.
The first of these smiles was waiting for us at the airport, where our super friendly driver, Bayani, greeted us. It’s often said of a country that its greatest natural resource is its people. This isn’t always true, but it definitely is with the Philippines. The genuine friendliness and willingness to go out of their way to help were a constant throughout our stay.
Once at the hotel we were ready for a siesta, so after a long trip it was a relief to find that it errs on the side of luxurious. The entire hotel is very tastefully furnished – light and airy, rather than cosy, which of course is the last thing you need here! There’s good wifi throughout, much-needed air conditioning and an excellent, also much-needed, pool. The bed was one of those King-size+ jobs; you almost needed Satnav to find your way out.
The brand new building overlooks the Provincial Capitol Lagoon, the Negros museum and the capitol building itself. Of course, being so central, it’s walking distance to everything, including Pala Pala seafood market, barely five minutes away and another five to the spectacular San Sebastian Church. As usual, when this close to the equator I divided my time between sightseeing outside and ducking into shops or popping back to the hotel for a little air-conditioned relief. It was great having such a central base that allowed us to do this.
Before heading to the airport we had to fully immerse ourselves in the Filippino lifestyle, which for us Brits is a visit to a secluded island staying in traditional beach huts and we found this paradise in Lakawon. Finally we left time to visit the beautiful Ledesma ruins in neighbouring Talisay City. This was a little different to the English ruins I’ve become accustomed to. While those date back to medieval or even Roman times, Ledesma was built only last century. Despite the condensed history it’s well worth a visit, especially if you can arrange one around sunset. It made for a beautiful, romantic end to our visit to the city of smiles.
Flights from the UK: I flew with Philippine Airlines where you can experience service from the heart onboard the Philippines' only 4-star airline. Flying non-stop daily between London Heathrow and Manila, Philippine Airlines has full-flat beds in Business, with Economy Class also equipped with personal TVs, USB ports and onboard wi-fi. Enjoy in-flight dining with a vibrant mix of Asian, Spanish and American cuisine offering a mosaic of flavours that are all passionately prepared.
Here are the lead-in fares:
LHR-MNL from GBP 579
LHR-BCD from GBP 670
LHR-MNL from GBP 2989
LHR-BCD from GBP 3079
salamat sa pagkakaroon mo sa amin (thank you for having us).
Next stop, Manila…