The Zamoras of Manila built the hotel on a flatland called “Ilong Kastila."
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This 80-year old Tagaytay classic once so charmed Henry Sy that he bought it for himself

Everyone who grew up in the south has fond memories of Taal Vista Hotel, the grande dame that offers a perfect view of the Taal Volcano and which also played a part in the country’s history.  
Jacs T. Sampayan | Dec 27 2019

If you grew up in the south, Tagaytay represented a sort of accessible reprieve, an escape just an hour away from the sweltering heat of daily life. Us southerners, we sort of have similar recollections: going horseback riding near Casino Filipino; taking yearly retreats at the spooky (I mean, really) convents or monasteries; grabbing a bite at Mushroom Burger or partaking of some of the best bulalo around; taking home anything from orchids and pineapples to ube jam and buko pie, and willingly subjecting ourselves to the painfully slow march of cars in and out of the famous caldera rim.

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While the ridge has seen rapid development in the last decade—high rise condos here and there, malls aplenty, and curiosities and attractions like Puzzle Mansion and Sky Ranch, all of which test the limits of this, essentially, narrow strip of road—Tagaytay remains anchored to its long history and enduring landmarks. Perhaps among the old reliables in the strip, Taal Vista Hotel holds a special distinction. As children, we would fight over the coin-operated binoculars to get a closer look at the Taal Volcano — best viewed from the Taal Vista property — as the adults watch over us, taking pictures and enjoying the cool air. 

 

War and peace

Having opened its doors eight decades ago, the property has a lot of stories to tell.

“Taal Vista Hotel, together with the Manila Hotel, are the grand dames of the Philippine tourism industry,”  says Richard Gramlin, the hotel’s general manager. Both built during the American colonial period, they are considered the oldest hotels in the country. And this year, the Tagaytay hotel is celebrating its 80th anniversary. “Its long history is as colorful as that of Tagaytay,” continues Gramlin, “shaped by the geography of the place and the political history of the region.”

A view of Taal Lake and the Volcano from the Lodge as published in Manila Chronicle in March 31, 1965.

Because of its heavily forested and sprawling landscape, Tagaytay was said to be a katipunero hotbed during the 1890s revolution. Since it is situated near a crossroads of sorts—the ridge and Taal volcano actually sit in two different provinces, Cavite and Batangas respectively—Tagaytay became a jump-off point for people going to nearby towns and provinces. In 1936, a few decades after the Philippines won independence, Tagaytay received national attention when it was earmarked for development as a tourist spot by Manuel L. Quezon, who was then just a year into his presidency. 

“The cool climate plus the spectacular view of Taal Volcano in the middle of Taal Lake made a perfect combination as a top tourism draw. The only thing lacking at that time was a lodging place for a weekend getaway,” Gramlin explains. “Quezon ordered the Zamoras of the Manila Hotel Company to build a lodge and golf course along the ridge of Taal Lake.” They did so on a stretch of flatland that resembled a nose called “Ilong Kastila,” and on October 7, 1939, the Taal Vista Lodge opened its doors to the public.

As with a lot of long-standing and prominent Philippine properties, the lodge played a part during World War II; it was converted to an officers’ quarters for the Japanese. In February 1945, the 11th Airborne Division of the US Army came down via parachutes onto the ridge to help in the liberation efforts.

A young Henry Sy, Sr. looks at his favorite spot at the Taal Vista property.

Over the years, the ownership of Taal Vista Lodge have changed hands, from the government to the Resorts Hotel Corporation, to the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP). And then it caught the attention of a future business icon. The late Henry Sy Sr., who used to visit Taal Vista Lodge and would regularly sit on the ridge overlooking the lake, became enamored with the property. In 1988, when DBP put the hotel on the block, Sy made an offer and acquired it through SM Investments Corp. (SMIC).

To meet the growing need for hotel rooms in Tagaytay, SMIC decided to close down Taal Vista Lodge in 1999 for renovation and expansion. Sy requested his daughter Elizabeth, says Gramlin, to oversee the work and subsequently appointed her to head SM’s hotel business interests as president of SM Hotels and Conventions Corp. On March 27, 2003, the lodge reopened as Taal Vista Hotel with a new wing to accommodate more conference facilities and amenities for business and leisure activities.

 

As time goes by

At the 80th anniversary intimate luncheon at the hotel’s Taza Fresh Table restaurant, Elizabeth Sy was among the guests. The art deco themed event named “As Time Goes By” was directed by former Cultural Center of the Philippines president Nestor Jardin and featured a seven-course meal that hearkened to its Commonwealth beginnings, including dishes that represented the changing times.

Taal Vista Hotel, then called Taal Vista Lodge, opened its doors in 1939.

The Shrimp with desiccated coconut and Adobong dilaw sa pan de bulilit hors d oeuvres were inspired by the events that shaped the country in the ’30s and ’40s. Meanwhile, the Nora Daza-captivated ’60s were represented by the Lumpiang sariwa with pancit buko. Glenda Barreto and the 1970s was what the hearty soup of braised beef, chicken and pork chickpeas, chorizo, cabbage, and eggplant was attempting to encapsulate. The mouthwatering Poached seabass with potato purée, baby carrots, zucchini, saffron beurre blanc and saffron foam, on the other hand, was influenced by the 1980s and chef Myrna Segismundo; The course jumps to the 2000s and Claude Tayag with the Sous vide Bukidnon wagyu strip steak with marble potatoes, mixed mushrooms and Amadeo coffee port sauce. And, finally, Madrid Fusion Manila in the 2010s was celebrated in the Bluepea coconut cheesecake with coco-caramel and dragon fruit coulis. The meal was meant to show just how important history is to the hotel, even as it looks toward the future.  

After reopening more than a decade ago, Taal Vista, just like the rest of the ridge, is eyeing for expansion. Gamlin says while they have chosen to retain the iconic theme-English Tudor aesthetic of the original lodge, the overall structure is much bigger because it has more guest rooms and offers more facilities.

The Taal Vista Hotel Bar in the 1940s.

He feels the property has evolved with Tagaytay itself as “it is like the logo of the city,” he says. “Today, the 80-year-old grand dame of Tagaytay appears more like a millennial lass appropriately attuned with the times.”

 

Taal Vista Hotel is along Kilometer 60, Aguinaldo Highway, Tagaytay. For more information, visit taalvistahotel.com.