Bonsai Paradiso

Leave a comment

On land that used to be planted with pineapples, Bonsai Paradiso is not very easy to find. One can get there only with detailed directions provided by the owner, based in Tagaytay City.

The owner started collecting bonsai 15 years ago, starting with balete, Tagaytay cherry, and other species that were then generally available on the Tagaytay roadside stalls selling bonsai. Upon his retirement 3 years ago, bonsai has become his primary occupation

Paradiso is the name he gave to his retirement home. Originally, the landscaping consisted of mature earth-balled trees. Narra, mahogany, agoho, Benguet pine, arocaria, African tulips, and a few fruit bearing trees were planted all over the property, surrounding the house. Shrubs and flowering ornamentals completed the landscape, with carabao grass as ground cover.

But bonsai has taken over. Most of the tall trees were pruned since bonsai trees need full sun.

The collection includes many local species, from deciduous trees to fruiting and flowering ones. To those who are not into bonsai, tree species like bluebell, tugas, kambilog ( kamuning bilog), kamtulis ( kamuning tulis), suimei, yangya, Argao, mulawin, lemonsito, ficus and some more may sound strange. Then there are also bonsais that most people will be familiar with, like santan, bayabas, balimbing, and bougainvilla.

A best-in-show Mulawin Surot
An award-winning Bluebell
Argao Taiwan created as a forest
A Best-in-Show, Ficus and Pepper tree in a 2-point set-up
Bonsais all the way to the roofdeck

There are also trees originated from Taiwan and Vietnam.

The owner takes one on a tour, too, of the materials that start with cuttings as he promotes sustainable bonsai.

Cuttings for sustainable bonsai
Cuttings fir sustainable bonsai are all around the area where this authentic Ifugao native house stands

Workshops are conducted frequently among members of the Cavite Bonsai Club, where newbies are always welcome. Bonsai Basics are discussed, and newbies get a chance to witness and do hands-on participation on many phases of bonsai creation and maintenance. There are no entrance fees charged. And most visitors even get free coffee.

Bonsai Paradiso is located in Tolentino East, Tagaytay City.

Abundant Place in Silang

Leave a comment

Located on the Diversion Road in Silang, where all the gardens are, is Abundant Place,  a cafe that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I used to pass this way when I go to Tagaytay via Daang Hari and on to Imus and Dasmarinas. When one gets to Silang and bypasses the road to the town center, one is greeted with flowers and other ornamental plants left and right, throughout what seems like a 2-kilometer stretch. In fact this place is a weekend destination for gardening enthusiasts. Coming from Imus and Dasmarinas, Abundant Place is on the right, and quite difficult to miss because of its prominent signage.



My very first encounter with Abundant Place happened many many years ago when I chanced upon their display of interesting foot stools made of “banig” material along the Sta Rosa – Tagaytay Road. Then I bought 2 foot stools and ordered mosquito nets (not the nylon variety) with sea shells for accent for my Alabang home bedroom. Thus when I saw the Abundant Place signage in Silang, and saw “breakfast” I stopped to check.




At the entrance to the store is a blackboard with the day’s menu. I opted for pork tapa, 2 orders for myself and my driver. Plus cafe barako.

My bill for 2 breakfast orders with coffee, including the 10% service charge, was P330.00

My bill for 2 breakfast orders with coffee, including the 10% service charge, was P330.00


The cafe was done in a very creative way, using concrete, stones, bamboo, nipa, shells, beach sands, white screens, and many interesting accent pieces. I was so impressed with the cafe’s  design. I couldn’t believe it that the owner, who also did the place, is actually a pastor.









While waiting for my breakfast to be served, I went inside the store and browsed at the items for sale. I wanted to buy so many items and the only thing that stopped me was the thought that I needed to first create some structure in my Tagaytay weekender to replicate the look of the cafe. I actually bought one item, a tiffany lamp for P500.00

my find, for P500.00

my find, for P500.00





I so loved the place I thought I’d take photos and include in my blog. When in the area, make sure you stop and you will not regret the visit.




Sonya’s Garden near Tagaytay

Leave a comment


At the onset, I say that Sonya’s Garden is near Tagaytay. Most people would think it is part of Tagaytay even as it is located in nearby Alfonso. What the heck, it is a prime Tagaytay destination !

Calaguas Nagaland Nov 1 2013 017


Calaguas Nagaland Nov 1 2013 016

Calaguas Nagaland Nov 1 2013 020

I started going to Sonya’s when it was nothing but a small structure with about 4 or 5 tables plus 2 or 3 tables on the loft. Guests then had to make a prior reservation, and one is actually privileged to secure a number to call from someone who has been there. In one of my earlier lunches, Sonya’s Garden had to (politely) decline a top matinee idol who came without prior reservation and, obviously, can not be given a table.  From that quaint set-up many moons ago, Sonya’s has become a complete destination, and can now house guests in their bed & breakfast.

Calaguas Nagaland Nov 1 2013 024

How did this place become hugely popular? I learned that in the beginning,  friends would have themselves invited by the gracious Sonya who served them delicious, healthy lunch. They came rather often that they started offering to pay for the food they ate as they did not want their friend/hostess to be bothered with her time and actually spend for the bother. Until these friends started bringing their friends, paying for their lunch. Thus, the business was born.

People go there for the salad

People go there for the salad

Again, in one of my earlier trips, a group of movie scribes were seated on the next table, together with a major actress then at the peak of her career. Apparently they came from a shoot. I chuckled (trying to hide this reaction) when I heard the movie scribes say “ayyy, puro damo naman pagkain dito, sana nag bulalo na lang tayo”. Indeed, the main draw of the place is their garden salad and Sonya’s secret dressing. Guests garnish the greens with fresh fruits like papaya, chico, langka, and other fruits in season. Plus shredded boiled eggs, olives, capers, and parmesan cheese. After the salad comes bread with dips of sun-dried tomato, pesto, anchovies, etc. The main course is pasta. Fresh dalandan juice is overflowing. Desserts include turon or camote. All these for something like P650 per person.

Main course is pasta

Main course is pasta


From its humble beginnings, Sonya’s guests are now directed to one of its many pavilions, each one actually a garden. On some days, I have seen two wedding receptions being held simultaneously. And I have also seen busloads of visitors. Even the parking area has more than quadrupled from the first time I set foot in this beautiful garden.

Calaguas Nagaland Nov 1 2013 012


Today, they also have a Panaderia (bakery), a country store (where I buy my supply of Sonya’s secret salad dressing and some home accents), a spa, and a bed & breakfast.

Calaguas Nagaland Nov 1 2013 025



On a recent visit, Sonya herself toured me around the B&B.

Sonya’s B&B is one of a kind. It will make the guests feel like they are in an affluent provincial setting. A group of friends can actually occupy a house and assign themselves to the rooms and beds. And converse in its living room. And be amused when they shower in the very unique toilet/shower set-ups, with stones as floor cover. Indeed, everything is unique and the experience will be something friends will talk about for a long time. See for yourself.


one of the B&B facilities at Sonya's Garden

one of the B&B facilities at Sonya’s Garden


Come in! One of the B&B accommodations

Come in! One of the B&B accommodations


the living room of one of the houses at Sonya's B&B

the living room of one of the houses at Sonya’s B&B


view from the second floor

view from the second floor

iPhone 5S 538

iPhone 5S 539


iPhone 5S 543

iPhone 5S 547

the bathroom, with stones on your feet

the bathroom, with stones on your feet

see the bathroom at the left end of this photo

see the bathroom at the left end of this photo

iPhone 5S 553


I am writing about this amazing place without any favors. I have paid for all my lunches and dinners on all my visits to Sonya’s. Probably why she decided to give me this tour.

Calaguas Nagaland Nov 1 2013 023

How much does it cost to stay at Sonya’s B&B? P3,000 per person on weekdays, P3,400 on weekends and holidays, P5,000 for single occupancy. These rates include early dinner or lunch, with breakfast. The B&B has 14 cottages and 18 rooms.

How do you get there? From Tagaytay, drive south past Mendez and on to Alfonso. When you see Tagaytay Royale Estates on your right, immediately turn right on the next road which is called Buck Estate. About 2 kilometers onward and you will see the Sonya’s sign.

Or you can call to book: 09175335140, 09175291080, 09175161080

Visit their website :



Caleruega is probably known as the most popular wedding chapel around Tagaytay. It is much photographed, and the image of the chapel of Transfiguration is most likely etched on the visitor’s, or prospective visitor’s minds.


But what exactly is Caleruega? Caleruaga is a town in Spain, the birthplace of St. Dominic de Guzman, father of the Order of Preachers. The Filipino Dominicans wanted to honot the legacy of their founder by naming this retreat destination in his honor.

Many people think of Caleruaga as a Tagaytay destination. It may very well be, because it is but two kilometers or so away, near Hillcrest (formerly called Evercrest), in the town of Nasugbu, Batangas. Its topography and climate will indeed make the visitor think he is still in Tagaytay.


The Cenaculum is the very first structure that one will see upon arrival at Caleruega. This is also the gateway to the Chapel of Transfiguration, and to the retreat center accommodations. I would advise visitors though to save the visit to the Chapel of Transfiguration for last. Toilet facilities are available inside the cenaculum.

The Cenaculum

The Cenaculum

It is advised that visitors park their cars around the fountain in front of the cenaculum from where they can start the short walk to the koi pond, the hanging bridge, and the tent chapel.  For tired legs, park benches are available on a shaded area near the parking slots. (UPDATE: Friends and a reader have reported that Caleruega does NOT anymore allow parking inside).

Park here so you can make a quick exit when you are done with your visit.

Benches near the parking slots

Benches near the rotunda/open space in front of the Cenaculum


Walk to the road on the right if you are facing the cenaculum. It is a beautiful walk, with interesting hand carvings representing the Stations of the Cross on what they call the Manaoag Drive. You will arrive at the beautiful koi pond surrounded by ferns and walkways, leading to the camping area and amphitheater.

Manaoag Drive Via Crusis

Manaoag Drive Via Crusis





The hanging bridge is lovely. The walk uphill to the tent chapel is easy, and I counted 100 steps. There are benches around for those who may get tired easily.



walk up the hill from the bridge to the tent chapel

walk up the hill from the bridge to the tent chapel

the tent chapel of Transfiguration (not to be mistaken for the main chapel accessed from the cenaculum, which one should save for last)

the tent chapel of Transfiguration (not to be mistaken for the main chapel accessed from the cenaculum, which one should save for last)


Walk back from the tent chapel via the same route taken going there. Relax and have a drink, or buy mementos at the Garden Cafe. Or visit  the lettuce greenhouse, and the plant nursery where you can buy seedlings.




The pamphlet handed out to visitors define Caleruaga as a sanctuary amidst the beauty of nature where pilgrims are open to prayer, to creative transformation, and to Gospel values. While there are camping grounds, visitors must not, and can not use the grounds like they were camping near the beach. The whole complex is a No Smoking zone. Silence near the retreat centers is observed.

Silence Here please

Silence Here please




accommodations and facilities for retreatants

accommodations and facilities for retreatants

From the cenaculum, take the door on the right and find the signages leading to the chapel. You will pass thru the retreatants accommodations (section just above). In front of the chapel is another famous icon: the sculpture named “Thy Will be Done”. Say a prayer or two inside the chapel. Or attend mass is one is scheduled.

The Chapel of Transfiguration.

The Chapel of Transfiguration.


right in front of the chapel : Thy Will Be Done

right in front of the chapel : Thy Will Be Done


For your inquiries, please email or call +639218304226 during daily office hours 8:00am-5:00pm, Manila time.


Regular Sunday Mass is at 11:00 AM at the Transfiguration Chapel of


Visitors pay an entrance fee of P30 per head. Their phone numbers are +63 921 270 9890 and +63 921 830 4226.  To get there, I have searched online for a map and here is what I deem to be the best, just note that Evercrest has been renamed Hillcrest :

There is now a sign from the main highway on the right side, at the corner of Evercrest, that says CALERUEGA. Follow the road from there.


Go to Tagaytay:

From Makati via SLEX (South Super Highway) take the Eton exit. Follow the TO TAGAYTAY signs and turn right after the Tagaytay Public Market towards the Tagaytay rotunda. Upon reaching the rotunda. Take the road going to Batangas and follow this map..

Alternatively, from Manila take the Coastal Road and take the Aguinaldo Hi-Way passing thru Imus, Dasmarinas, and Silang and on to Tagaytay. Follow map.

From Tagaytay: take the road to Batangas until you reach the next town of Alfonso (where Tagaytay Royale and  Sonya’s Garden are). Immediately after Alfonso is the town of Nasugbu. Go past the “Welcome to Batangas” sign. Drive on until you get to Hillcrest (formerly Evercrest).

Take that road on the left. You will see the entrance to KC Hillcrest Hotel on your right. Drive past Hillcrest, past the Don Bosco Chapel on a Hill, until you get to a crossroads. Take the right turn (there is also a Caleruega sign) and drive until the end of the road (before you reach the end of the road which is Caleruega, you will see hillside accommodations on  your left). The road stops at the entrance to Caleruega.


PUBLIC TRANSPORT: Take any bus that passes thru Tagaytay. These are buses destined for  Nasugbu, Balayan, Lian, Tuy or Calatagan. Get off at Hillcrest (drivers/conductors might still know it by its former name Evercrest, be aware) in Batulao, Nasugbu, Batangas (the conductor can drop you there).Tricycle service is available at Hillcrest entrance. Or hike 2 kilometers to Calerueaga..

you will drive past these hillside accommodations

you will drive past these hillside accommodations


Tagaytay Picnic Grove


The Picnic Grove  is probably the most visited spot in Tagaytay, or maybe neck and neck with the other popular destination nearby, the Palace in the Sky which is now known as People’s Park.

This park is open to the public and tables, pavilions, picnic huts may be rented.

This pavilion rents out for P500 a day

The viewdeck is where visitors can take beautiful photos of the Taal Volcano and lake below, of the Palace in the Sky, and the zipline start point.


Palace in the Sky, now called People's Park, as seen from the viewdeck

the zipline station, below the viewdeck

zipline thrill, as photographed from a poster inside Picnic Grove

if you don't feel like Superman, you can take the cable car ride instead

Or you can take a walk thru an eco-trail

walk down the eco-trail

There is a hostel with swimming pool inside the park.


The park is huge, with ample parking, several picnic areas and family sheds.

Tagaytay Picnic Grove is managed by the city government. All fees are paid at the Payment Center inside the park, beside the Administration office.

Fees :

Entrance fee : P50.00 per head – – – 4 years old and above

Parking Fee :

Car P50.00, Van/coaster/jeep P50.00, bus P100.00

Cottage Rentals :

Table P100.00, Picnic Huts P150.00, Family Sheds P300.00, Pavilions P500.00.

The viewdeck can be rented for functions, P2,500.00

For more information, Tagaytay Picnic Grove can be contacted by telefax: (046) 4830346

Moon Garden Tagaytay : was Martha Stewart ever there?


Moon Garden is my favorite breakfast place in all of Tagaytay. Not one among friends I have brought with me there left unimpressed. Unfortunately, they have recently imposed a “by-reservations only” rule, with a minimum of 12 persons in the party, at P400 per head for breakfast, and P600-700 per head for lunch or dinner.   I guess I now just need to round up friends to continue my Moon Garden experience.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Venue for Weddings

They have since changed their business model from a walk-in restaurant into a venue for events, most especially weddings. The tables are not your usual tables from furniture shops – –  they are long panels of old wooden floor or old doors made into dining tables. And they are done up like Martha Stewart is the resident housekeeping head.

Bed & Breakfast

Or I could book a B&B, even if my Tagaytay house is just 8 minutes away. Or maybe book friends there. A friend I suggested the place to said they enjoyed their wedding anniversary stay in one of the rooms, and felt like they were on a second honeymoon. And why not? You will feel like you two are alone in the place. It is so private there are only 8 rooms within the vast expanse of the garden. . And the concrete that serves as bed-frame surely won’t creak.

at the back of the headboard is the shower. No doors - you have to be really intimate to share the room

the matress is on concrete - - guaranteed not to break, and not to creak

when in your cottage, the view will make you feel like you are alone, and you own the whole place

How’s the Food?

The house specialty is cochinillo which my friends describe as”lechon baboy na nag gym”. Would you believe there is a virtually fat-free lechon?

And then there are my usual favorites. I always ask for their home-made yoghurt and their guyabano shake. Here is the menu:

Bed & Breakfast for 2 is only P2,990. Moon Garden is along SVD Road in Tagaytay. Contact Peter Geerts at 09175023118 or inquire by email :

A message from Peter came in recently, giving another number for reservations: 09399139097 and ask for Grace.

Tagaytay Sidetrip: Around Taal Lake on 4X4

1 Comment

I thought it was going to be an easy ride around Taal Lake.

Mission: Drive around the Lake

In our previous descents, we always took the Ligaya Drive route from Tagaytay to Talisay. The view is fantastic, and the road is good.

Easiest access to Talisay from Tagaytay

This time, we took the zigzag road from the Tagaytay rotunda. A year ago, this was practically impassable. But it is now 100% finished, although some sections were only asphalted.

The 12 kms zigzag road to Talisay starts at the rotunda

At kilometer 59, I saw 2 bridges one after the other, both with strange names. How does Alingayngay Bridge or Pinaglintikan Bridge sound to you?

The zigzag road is about 12 kilometers from the top, ending in Barangay Leynes in Talisay. I have been to this part of Talisay before, countless times, each time having a drink at Gloria de Castro’s picnic place. Or having fried tilapya, ginataang tilapya, or inihaw na tilapya for lunch. And a cold beer while marveling at the view of the volcano at dusk. Aling Gloria pioneered tourism here, accommodating foreigners in her home, earning her consistent mention in Lonely Planet and other travel books.

Barangay Leynes in Talisay, end of the zigzag road

On this trip, we skipped Aling Gloria’s place, and immediately turned right. This brought us to the town of Laurel. I remarked that this spot around the lake is probably the best. It is not as “developed” as Talisay which now has probably a hundred resorts dotting the lakeside.

Taal Lake from Laurel, Batangas

There is a spot from Laurel where you can drive up to Tagaytay, passing through the area where Splendido stands. We decided to stay within the lakeside. The next town is Agoncillo, and this brought back memories when my friends and I used to visit an officemate who had siniguelas trees in her backyard. But we went to Agoncillo then via Lemery, not from the lakeside.

Siniguelas tree

close up: siniguelas fruit

Thus,I never imagined how rough the travel can be. Or maybe because Typhoon Ondoy has just hit the country, and did not spare this lakeside town. Within the lakeside, there were portions that seemed impassable, and the road literally merged with the lake. The maneuver is made worse when the road is on a bend, and you can hardly see where the road would go. And because the Toyota 4×4 Hi Lux is not an amphibian, I felt like we were, at any moment,  going to be submerged in the lake.

After successfully negotiating the lakeside, we found ourselves in roads that looked worse than feeder roads, or farm-to-market roads. Apparently, Ondoy caused all of these, washing away the asphalted roads, with several sections of higher ground eroded or washed out. I swear the trip took on the nature of a 4×4 trek around Pinatubo.

Road leads to the water's edge

My 4x4 trail : no government here?

The place is difficult to reach, to say the least. Thus, within Buso Buso, where, roads are for 4×4 trekking, there are no shops. Ambulant vendors try to make a living in the area. An entrepreneur thought that maybe a mobile grocery and sari sari store is just what is needed in this place.

A mobile 7-11

We stopped at past 12 noon in a “pondohan” where I saw kaldero at kaserola and tables and chairs. We ordered puso ng saging, one slice of pork chop, and one slice of afritada. Plus rice and 2 bottles of Coke. The bill went up to a princely P100.00 flat.

Moving on, it felt like driving in an uninhabited area where we only followed trails.Next we came to an area where roads got a bit better.

Fishing net : the lake is a source of livelihood

Coconut leaves are dried, for fuel

Until we finally saw civilization. Within Agoncillo proper, I saw some really beautiful homes. Big homes. Contrast this to the next barrio, just where we came from, which seemed like no man’s land.

We left Agoncillo for Lemery, and drove back to Tagaytay. Still, I couldn’t believe that a 4×4 adventure trail existed almost within my Tagaytay backyard.


Update: May 27, 2010

With nothing to do, I thought I’d check out my neighborhood 4×4 trail. I found the water level in the lake has gone down, There is no more bend where “the lake meets the road”. Workers are doing the pavement, and, hopefully, the roads will be passable even after a typhoon. But when I say passable, I mean just that – – – passable. I couldn’t believe it that way after Ondoy, and even after the elections, the roads have not improved a bit. Now, I have concluded this may not have been caused by Ondoy. The flooded lake, yes. But not the status of the road itself. The roads are so bad you would wonder if this area is within the jurisdiction of any local government. It is as if the governor does not know that such road existed in this first class province. It feels like there is no mayor, no congressman. Or maybe they are not part of the Philippines. On a positive note, I will always have a place for 4×4 experience.

This time, too, I went on to Lemery town. Lemery is 45 kilometers from the Tagytay rotunda starting point., to complete the trip around the lake.

From Lemery, I drove to Lipa via Batangas, took the STAR tollway and made my exit in Tanauan, heading back to Tagaytay via Talisay.

From the Tanauan exit, the first barangay is Santor, and then Talaga. A good place to visit is the Mabini Shrine, the birthplace of the Sublime Paralytic.

a shrine in Talaga, Tanauan, built where Apolinario Mabini was born

A few kilometers away and you will get to the town of Talisay. Talisay is a destination in itself among garden enthusiasts. There are hundreds of backyard gardens selling plants – – from trees, to shrubs, from fruit trees to  ornamentals. I bought a mango tree from Talisay, and right now the tree has at least 50 mango fruits waiting to ripen.

Talisay marker, cut out letters to promote Tali Beach?

Corn on the cob by the Talisay roadside

I took a quick snapshot of the Talisay Municipal Hall and headed back to Tagay tay, this time thru Ligaya Drive.

Along Ligaya Drive, one can see locals on horseback, fire trees on the road, and three areas being developed by Filinvest as mid-to-high-end residential subdivisions. The 3 areas are collectively called Leuna de Taal. The area nearest the lake is called Orilla, with easy access to the exclusive clubhouse on the lake. The Bahia is at the midpoint of Ligaya Drive, and has views of the lake. The highest point among the Leuna de Taal properties is now being developed as a townhouse community. Units are sold for P3.6 million, with the splendid view of Taal Volcano and the lake as bonus.

Along Ligaya Drive