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More than just nostalgia: Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar heritage theme park

In the Philippines, some of the theme parks include the Enchanted Kingdom, Star City, and Sky Ranch.

There is, however, one theme park that stands out in its own unique way, and that is Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar.

Located in Bagac, Bataan, much has been said about Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar which has been described as a beach resort, convention center and heritage destination all rolled into one. However, it’s the heritage theme that makes Las Casas a different story altogether. It is very enriching for the mind and soul and a great escape from city life.

What earthquake?

A three-day familiarization tour was organized for us, members of the media, in July. Before leaving on board the Las Casas coaster, we were treated to breakfast at the Victory Sports Café, courtesy of Las Casas Quezon City, and left shortly after 8 a.m.

While we were cruising along North Luzon Expressway, news about a Magnitude 7 earthquake with an epicenter in Abra started to flood social media platforms. Pictures started coming in of heritage sites in Ilocos being damaged by the earthquake, making us wonder if Las Casas had suffered a similar fate.

At around 11 a.m., the coaster reached the entrance of Las Casas with no signs that it had been affected by the earthquake. It was like entering a hacienda similar to those featured in old Filipino movies. It had a long driveway that brought you into another world back to the past, one that’s free from the hustle and bustle of city life.

After a refreshing welcome drink and cold towel to wipe off the fatigue of the three-hour coaster ride, we checked in and were whisked away to our rooms to freshen up. Haydee Dimawala and I stayed in one of the rooms at Casa Tuguegarao. You could feel the age of the casa as the wooden stairs creaked as you walk up to our assigned room.

Lunch was served at Del Rio, the house next door to Casa Tuguegarao. While we were enjoying our meal of Paella, fish, egg and Potato frittata, Jorge Vilanova, Las Casas Consultant and General Manager, took time out from his terribly busy schedule to welcome the group.

Workshop tour

To go around Las Casas, you have to be prepared to do a lot of walking and if you are lucky, you can take the jeep, the only mode of transport allowed within Las Casas. What was probably the highlight of our first tour day was the visit to the workshop area. Since it was pretty far from the casas, we had to take a jeep to get there.

There we saw how those people, who live in nearby barangays, worked together to produce various materials from brickmaking, wood marquetry, mosaic tiles, fiber glass mosaic, wood carving mosaic, furniture-making, and more. These pieces are solely for the use of Las Casas.

As sunset was fast approaching, we made our way to the pier to experience the Las Casas Sunset Cruise. It’s an opportunity to explore the tranquil waters of the West Philippine Sea as the sun beautifully sets into the ocean. The weather was very cooperative, and we were allowed to enjoy this one-of-a-kind experience. After the sunset cruise, we rushed to the majestic Hotel De Oriente where we watched a cultural show featuring the Las Casas dance group.

If there is one place that you should visit at Las Casas, it’s Hotel De Oriente where you get to see the intricate woodwork that is incorporated into the walls, floors, and ceiling.

We had a treat that evening as we watched the couple Jen and Jang Lopez perform the tango. Their dance routine emphasized the vibrant and playful style of movement, rich expressions, and improvisation that requires close connection and passion between dancers. The couple performs weekly.

We ended the day with dinner at Casa Jaen I near the swimming pool, where we enjoyed Kare Kare, Lumpiang gulay, Inihaw na tilapia, among others.

Buffet breakfast

Our second day started with a buffet breakfast at the Binondo Hall of Hotel De Oriente and what a fare it was! There was a selection of kakanin, bread, daing, soup, and even salad. After breakfast, we hurriedly went back to our rooms to shower and prepare for the day’s activities.

We proceeded to Casa Lubao where we enjoyed a kalesa ride. We passed by an old structure that was brought from the University of the Philippines in Manila. Not content with the kalesa ride, Haydee drove us around the compound this time on a golf cart where we got to see more of Las Casas.

Nearby resorts

After everyone had their turn on the kalesa ride, we made our way to two neighboring resorts. The first was Rancho Bernardo Luxury Villas and Resort, tagged as the first luxury mountain resort in Bataan. It sits on an eight-hectare property that boasts of private villas with an outdoor jacuzzi, curated gardens, koi ponds, and a palace-like events space.

Many celebrities have stayed at Rancho Bernardo, where reportedly, one celebrated a birthday and a couple got married. The roads in the compound are steep, so visitors ride on golf carts to go around the resort.

After a very sumptuous lunch, we proceeded to La Jolla Luxury Beach Resort. It is located on a 60-hectare tropical estate with a 300-meter-long coastline. We had our merienda of lasagna by the beach.

Upon our return to Las Casas, we got the chance to enjoy the Balsa Cruise and saw the many murals carved out across the river by the craftsmen and artists. Unfortunately, we had to cut short the Balsa Cruise because of the low tide.

Our last meal was dinner by the beach where we enjoyed Inihaw na pusit, Tilapia, Pork, Tortang talong, and so much more. It was an enjoyable time to sip a couple of beers, unwind and recap the three days spent at Las Casas.

On our last day, it rained. This could mean that Las Casas was sad that we were leaving, or it was just time for us to go home. After another sumptuous breakfast at the Binondo Hall and purchasing packs of dried fish, we hurriedly finished our packing and made our way to the coaster for the three-hour ride back to Manila.

We would recommend Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar for those who like to travel back in time. I would go back and take on the tour so that I would be able to absorb the story of each and every casa at Las Casas. Before that happens, I have to start getting used to walking long distances again.

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The article was originally published in Business Mirror and written by Anne Ruth Dela Cruz.

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