Want a taste of vintage Philippines? Try a Taal Heritage Town tour in Batangas. You’ll also see the largest church in Asia and taste the yellow adobo!
Not memory lane, but memory lanes.
Typically, when you’re looking for a heritage village in the Philippines, the first destination that comes to mind is Vigan up North Luzon or Intramuros of Manila. However, there is a lesser-known destination for everything old-style Pilipinas, and that is Taal Heritage Town.
Poetically, it is the hometown of many of our local heroes particularly our chief flag seamstress, Marcela Agoncillo. Add the largest Catholic church in Asia and what is believed to be a healing well and you get a town every inch Filipino! No wonder the heritage village has earned Certificate of Excellence at TripAdvisor.I’ve been dreaming of going to this heritage village because I’m a lover of history. So for Independence Day and advance Father’s Day (dad was a history teacher before a lawyer), my family drove all the way here. I found one afternoon too short for this trip, so two weeks later, I came back and stayed overnight.
I’ve been dreaming of going to this heritage village because I’m a lover of history and old places with stories. So for Philippine Independence Day and advance Father’s Day (dad was a history teacher), my family drove all the way here. I found one afternoon too short for this trip, so two weeks later, I returned and stayed overnight.
Here’s more that I found out in June about the Taal Heritage Town tour:
Taal Town’s Historical Museums and Ancestral Homes
Just by walking through its streets, a vivid memory paints itself in my mind. I can imagine Spanish-era locals doing their daily routine inside the centuries-old capiz windows, Narra wood panels, faded adobe walls, and antique doors. The streets were small and narrow, just enough for horse-drawn carriages to pass by. Within the neighborhood are some of the prominent names in Filipino society:
Marcela Agoncillo Museum. What I absolutely loved about Taal is that matriarchal side of our culture show. It is the heroines that take the spotlight, and most heroes are known as “the husband of”. Marcela Agoncillo, the chief seamstress of the first national flag, is the ultimate celebrity in town. Her ancestral home became one big museum telling the story of the official symbols of the Philippine Revolution and her life as a wife and mother.
Don Apacible Museum. The Apacible brothers, doctor and lawyer tandem, also hailed from the old town. Leon and Galicano are one of the well-educated political figures during the Spanish colonial times. Their ancestral home was where secret meetings happen.
Goco Ancestral House. It’s highly recommended to go on walking tour with Pio Goco if you want a local to take you around. He is the grandson of the owner of the Juan Cabrera Goco and Lorenzo Deomampo, the former of which is the treasurer of the Batangas revolutionary forces. Pio’s tour also starts with homecooked Taaleño dishes by his brother, Chef Robby Goco.
Taal Museums with Entrance Fees
I really admired the efforts of the third- and fourth-generation locals who preserved their clan’s house and even opened them to the public. Though they did not remain in their hometown (like most of us do), they still saw the importance of retelling their ancestors’ stories:
Gliceria Marella House (PHP 100). One of the advocacies of the Casa Gliceria Marella de Villavicencio, dubbed as the “godmother of the Philippine Revolution”, was to remember the forgotten hero. She and her husband, Eulalio Villavicencio, both coming from prominent families in Batangas, helped finance the local revolution. Yet both were not formally recognized as “heroes”.
Gliceria donated the S.S. Bulusan, a steamer clad in the Filipino flags that transported ammunition and weapons to the fighters in Manila. Eulalio also personally wrote a PHP 18,000 cheque for the National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, to finance the publication of his two famous novels.
The guided tour around this bahay na bato described the typical upscale Filipino home and the customs surrounding the, during the 1800s. It ended with a cup of tsokolate-eh and sweet suman, then a typical Filipino merienda.
Gregorio Agoncillo Mansion (PHP 70). The prominent White House cannot be missed en route to Brgy. Balisong. The Gregorio Agoncillo Mansion bears the statue of his uncle, Felipe Agoncillo, husband of Marcella. Felipe’s sister married Emilio Aguinaldo, the first Philippine president; Gregorio himself married the daughter of Gliceria Marella de Villavicencio.
Back then, you look for your sweethearts at home. When you come from a prominent family even in a small town, you don’t need to go too far for a spouse. Marriages are often arranged by parents within the same town to preserve their prestige and share businesses and influence.
Galleria Taal (PHP 100). If you’re into film photography or SLRs, you would really appreciate the camera museum in Taal. It features one of the oldest and widest ranges of cameras I’ve seen — vintage film, underwater, video, panoramic, and collector’s items. They have brands from both Asia and Europe as technology progressed over the 20th century. Plus points for the collection of Old Manila pictures.
Villa Tortuga (PHP 50). Its old-fashioned store window is truly eye-catching on the outside. Upstairs Villa Tortuga is also an ancestral home on display, but it’s a bit dim and musty. For me, the place is only worth visiting if you’re going to take photos wearing colonial era dresses at the price of PHP 250.
A Glimpse of Filipino Culture of Religiosity
Folk Catholicism, our own version of living out our faith, is very much present in Taal Heritage Town tour.
Miraculous wells and disappearing Virgin Mary figures brings mystery, while the biggest Catholic church in Asia gives the town prominence. I’m nowhere near religious, but these stories — true or make-believe — show the aspirations of Filipinos who came before us:
Taal Basilica (Basilica of St. Martin of Tours). The most famous landmark of Taal is the Basilica. Its claim to fame is being the biggest one in Asia, though to be honest, I didn’t really think it was awe-inspiringly huge.The original site of Taal Church was in San Nicolas before the entire town had to relocate after Taal Volcano’s famously devastating eruption. What’s left now are ruins made from coral rocks and egg. But the town definitely wiped out the memory of that tragedy by creating an even more massive structure.
The original site of Taal Church was in San Nicolas before the entire town had to relocate after the volcano’s famously devastating eruption. What’s left now are ruins made from coral rocks and egg. The town wiped out the memory of that tragedy by creating an even more massive structure.
Our Lady of Caysasay Shrine. A fisherman once cast his net on the banks of Pansipit River and brought out a small image of the Virgin Mary. Kasay-kasay is the name of the bird that frequents the river, to which the figure was named after. He donated it to the church, under the care of Maria Espiritu, only to lose it from the urn every night, and return before daybreak. Only after the Caysasay Shrine was built that the figure never left again.
Sta. Lucia Miracle Well. A few minute’s walk from the Caysasay Shrine is a place to bring the sick and stricken, where the water is believed to have healing powers. A shortcut road to town is in fact called Caysasay where the “apparition site” of the figure was.
Children near the well sold maroon-colored candles for PHP 20 which you can use to make a wish. You can afterward get down the well to rub water to the ailing body. We were toured by Editha, a child who recited the entire story of the disappearing figure and the miracle well in one breath. She claimed she herself was one of those healed.
Pasalubong to Buy and Food to Try
In case you’re not Filipino, pasalubong is a term we use for a homecoming token. Something you buy to remember your trips by, such as crafts and delicacies from the destination you’ve been. It’s part of Filipino custom to bring something back home when you travel. As such, here are some unique finds or potential pasalubong ideas found in Taal Heritage Town:
Adobong dilaw. The Filipino dish adobo is dubbed a national dish because each town has their own recipe. Typically, soy sauce is used, giving it a brown color. But in Batangas, they have adobong dilaw or yellow adobo because of its use of turmeric that makes it look more like curry.
Tapang Taal and Longganisang Taal. Like the adobo, longganisa and tapa have their own recipe in Taal. Their longganisa (pork sausage) is dry and garlicky; tapa (traditionally horse meat, but often beef) is tender and sweet.
Panutsa. A common local delicacy is peanut brittle, which are peanuts is round-formation solidified by caramel.
Balisong. An entire barangay (village) walking distance from the town proper is called balisong, a world-famous Filipino self-defense weapon.
Balisong or “Batangas knife” is basically a folding pocket knife that can be concealed thru its metal handles or can pass up as pens. The name actually came from “baling sungay” or folded horn in Tagalog because the blades are used to be made of carabao horns.
Barong Tagalog. Our national dress, barong, is a Filipino formal attire of an embroidered top typically made of pineapple fibers or abaca (leaf of a banana species endemic to the Philippines; also called Manila hemp). Taal town’s public market also has gowns for all occasions such as weddings and festivals. Truly Tagalog.
Tips for your Taal Heritage Town Tour
- Best time to visit. Summer is always a good time to walk around heritage villages as the monsoon rains can be avoided. Try going at the month of April for the El Pasubat Festival, the celebration of everything the village is known for!
- Where to eat. Don Juan Boodle House is the go-to place for locals and tourists alike. They serve all your favorite Batangas food (mentioned above), Pinoy military-style AKA boodle. That is, a banana leaf is laid in the middle of the table with rice in the middle, Tapang Taal and Taal Longganisa on the side, cups of adobong dilaw on the corners. Great for sharing starting at PHP 499.
- Where to chill. At nighttime, try visiting Agaton Resto Bar and Lodge for the live music and beer. Meet the ever so hospitable Eres Ilagan who was a former crooner and who lends his place for local musicians.
- What to wear. On a Taal Heritage Town tour, it makes sense to wear your most comfortable and casual outfit. No need to worry about dress codes even when visiting the church. Keep the weather forecast in mind, though.
- Where to stay. Ancestral homes in the village offer quaint bed and breakfast options starting at PHP 850 per head including breakfast. Check out my review of Tampuhan Cafe, where we stayed.
- What to bring. Cameras, of course! Bringing cash is also important. Although you can just walk around, some museums charge a fee for entrance. Umbrellas might also come in handy in case it rains or during harsh sunny days. If you’re a student, bring an ID so you can avail of discounts at paid museums.
- Travel safety in the Philippines. We might be a Third World country, but crimes and scams can be avoided if you knew the common moduses. Read this artcile on how to have a safe travel in the Philippines.
- How long the Taal Heritage Town Tour lasts. If you plan to go sightseeing the entire village, allot at least two days for the affair. It will make the long drive more worth it. Plus, everything looks better at night when the lights are dim. Take it from me — I came back for just that purpose!
- Other nearby Old Taal attractions. Do you want to know the other side of Taal? Take on a Taal Volcano hike or visit Tagaytay attractions.
Finally, I’ve been to Taal Heritage Town twice. If my wish at the Sta. Lucia Well indeed come true, I’d go back to offer the Virgin Mary some flowers.
How to commute to Taal Heritage Village: From Cubao or Buendia, ride the JAM or DLTB bus going to Lemery (PHP 178). Get down at Flying V and ride a jeep to Taal Town (PHP 10).