Free-spirited and enigmatic, the Philippines is a land of big smiles, paradise islands, delicious cuisine and much more. It’s not your typical South East Asian destination, with a predominantly Catholic population and 377 years of Spanish occupation, but the Filipino way of life puts celebrations, fiestas, food and close family ties at the forefront.

Top Tip...

“When people think of the Philippines they often think of just a beach destination, especially Boracay, but there is much more to the country and we recommend visiting several islands”

NEILL PROTHERO, FAR EAST PRODUCT MANAGER, COX & KINGS

Perfect 5

  1. Chocolate Hills: Bohol’s 1,268 cone-shaped Chocolate Hills are the island’s main attraction. The endangered Tarsier monkeys, one of the world’s smallest primates, can be observed in their natural habitat.

  2. Festive flavour: San Isidro Pahiyas Festival is a colourful celebration on May 15. Every house is adorned with fruits and flowers and processions are held in honour of San Isidro de Labrador, patron saint of farmers.

  3. Historic town: Vigan in Ilocs Sur is a well-preserved 16th century Spanish colonial town with rustic mansions and cobbled streets. Visitors can explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site on a horse-drawn carriage.

  4. Volcanic vibes: Mount Pinatubo is one of the country’s 37 volcanoes. In Central Luzon, it last erupted in 1991 and is still active. A hiking tour takes in moon-like landscapes, rivers and a crater lake with magnificent vistas.

  5. Getting fruity: The fruits in the Philippines are among the best in the world, especially the mangoes. Elsewhere, talented chefs are starting to turn Manila into one of the world’s emerging foodie capitals.

Foodie paradise

Filipinos are, it seems, obsessed with food, which is why the culinary scene in the capital Manila is now bursting at the seams with eateries ranging from casual street food to fine-dining establishments serving cuisine from around the world.

Talented home-grown and foreign chefs are bringing innovative dishes to the table, fuelling a culinary revolution that is earning Manila a place among the world’s foodie capitals. Filipino food is a hotpot of Chinese, Spanish and Malay influences, but beyond traditional favourites such as Adobo, Sinigang, Halo-Halo and regional specialities, the local palate is warming up to more quirky, fusion-inspired fayre.

Manila’s gastronomic epicentres are Makati City and Bonifacio Global City (The Fort), both frequented by hip millennials, while the Manila Bay area’s City of Dreams is a one-stop hotspot packed with restaurants, bars, nightclubs and casinos. It’s also home to the swish Nobu, Crown Towers and Hyatt hotels.

The buzzword in funky dining at the moment is ‘Toyo Eatery’ from chef-owner Jordy Navarra, who worked at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck in the UK, and Michelin-starred Bo Innovation in Hong Kong.

Tasting menus are also popular with foodies, and a must-try is Gallery Vask, the sole Filipino restaurant to make it onto Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2016 and 2017 list, thanks to José Luis ‘Chele’ González, whose repertoire brings indigenous ingredients to the fore. Culinary tourism in the Philippines is the one to watch.

Dreamy islands

Of the 7,107 islands that make up the Philippines, the Palawan Islands are the country’s pride and joy, gems endowed with pristine waters, untainted coastlines and secluded powder-white beaches. Its magical sub-tropical landscapes are made up of dense jungles, mountains, and the five-mile long Puerto Princesa Underground River, one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. It’s no surprise then that Palawan takes number one spot in Travel + Leisure’s 2017 list of ‘The World’s Top 10 Islands’, adding to its pole position in last year’s ‘The Best Islands in Asia’ category.

This is paradise in every sense, and preservation of its biodiversity – marine life, endangered endemic species such as the Palawan Hornbill, Philippine Pangolin, Palawan leopard cat and Palawan bearcat – is what responsible tourism is all about.

El Nido’s Bacuit Bay is graced by limestone cliffs and lagoons, and is home to luxury resorts, while Coron will delight divers with its Japanese shipwreck sites teeming with barracuda.

Coron’s terrain is punctuated by karst rock formations and steep cliffs rising above tranquil turquoise lakes, while over at Puerto Princesa the fishing village of San Vicente’s Long Beach is a 14-kilometre stretch of white sandy shores. This is the time to go, before development takes over (but hopefully not), as it did in Boracay Island, which morphed from a sleepy island getaway to a party island capital.

There are still quiet corners left, and if you can tear yourself away from beach life several dive sites cater to all levels. Plus all manner of water sports can be enjoyed.

Wellbeing retreats

Manila’s energy can overwhelm the senses, but visitors arriving from a long-haul flight can rest assured they will get quality pampering from the city’s top-notch spas. They can indulge in a massage at Dusit Thani Manila’s Devarana Spa, a facial at Shangri-La’s The Spa or a candle oil massage at Fairmont Makati’s Willow Stream Spa. Luxurious day spas offer specialist treatments, and the Filipino-style hilot massage will do wonders for aches and pains.

But the ultimate in wellbeing retreats is The Farm at San Benito, worth a trip for a genuinely life-changing experience. Just a 90-minute drive from Makati, The Farm is an oasis ensconced within 48 hectares of coconut, coffee and cocoa plantations overlooking Mt Malarayat in the province of Batangas. It’s all about natural, organic living – medical assessments, alternative treatments, yoga, spa indulgences, delicious vegan cuisine, and elegant villas with pools. Just a short drive away is the region’s surfing coastlines.

Ends of the earth

On the wild islands of Batanes on the northern-most tip of the Philippines the main islands of Batan, Sabtang and Itbayat are blessed with craggy cliffs, rolling hills and mountains shrouded in mist. Basco, Batan’s capital is the starting point of the adventure. Peruse the coastal scenery, meet locals, visit the Basco lighthouse and historic Mahatao Church and wallow in wild beauty of Diura beach. Stay at Fundacion Pacita hotel; former home and studio of the late artist Pacita Abad.

On board a faluwa, a native boat, head for Sabtang island, where traditional Ivatan limestone dwellings and ancient burial grounds open doors to the past.

Where to book it

Hayes & Jarvis have a 12-night deal in March 2018 starts from £2,799pp. The deal includes four nights at the five-star Pan Pacific Manila, four nights at the five-star El Nido Lagen Island in Palawan and four nights at the four-plus-star Discovery Shores in Boracay. It includes flights with Philippine Airlines.

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