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Weekend Time Travel: Taal, Batangas

No need to call Doc Brown, Marty McFly, and the DeLorean to travel back in time

 

Did you know you can travel back to as far as 1870 by just driving three hours south of Manila? Taal, Batangas is best known as the “Balisong and Barong Tagalog Capital of the Philippines,” but a visit to this quaint town is more than just collector’s item switchblades and exquisitely embroidered clothing. It’s a historical experience.

 

 
Founded in 1572 but permanently established in 1754 after the devastating eruption of Taal Volcano, the town of Taal is now a third-class municipality with roughly 51,500 inhabitants (as of 2012 Census). Its poblacion (town center) is the central business district where the church, municipal hall, and public market are located; it was patterned from the old Spanish configuration where the church serves as the center and where streets radiated, forming grids and blocks around the town.

 

 
There are several stories of how Taal got its name. Some say it’s because of the Taa-lan trees that lined the banks of Pansipit River (which used to be called Taa-lan River). Some say the name came from Ta-ad, an old Batangueño word for sugarcane segments.

 

 
Whichever way Taal got its name, it is definitely more than the Taal Lake and the Taal Volcano we know. The sleepy town of Taal is rich in history beyond mere books and lessons we got from school.

 

 
Here are more reasons to explore Taal, Batangas.

 

 
Rich, tangible heritage

 

 
In 1987, the poblacion of Taal was declared as a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Institute of the Philippines. After nearly 29 years, Taal continues to care for its rich heritage the best way they know how. Despite several threats to its well-preserved structures, present-day Taaleños fought as fiercely as their ancestors did. The town arc almost serves like a time-traveling portal. The sudden change from the bustling cityscape of Lemery to the centuries-old town of Taal is a sign of how much hardwork goes into the preservation of an entire town.

 

 

Taal is best explored on foot with genuine eagerness to soak in as much history as there are stories within the town walls. Start at the town center where Basilica Minore de St. Martin de Tours is located. Standing 291 feet long and 157 feet wide, this minor basilica within the Archdiocese of Lipa is the largest Catholic Church in Asia. Aside from its stunning interiors, visitors can go up the Basilica’s bell tower to get a breathtaking bird’s eye view of the town. The Basilica is also home to a church museum where guests can view church artifacts and town memorabilia. The entrance fee to the bell tower and museum is Php50.00 (roughly US$1.00) per person.

 

 

The biggest basilica in Asia, Basilica Minore St. Martin de Tours a.k.a. Taal Basilica

The biggest basilica in Asia, Basilica Minore St. Martin de Tours a.k.a. Taal Basilica

 

 

After Sunday Mass at the Taal Basilica

 
There are over two dozen ancestral houses open to the public, but some of the most notable are the Marcela Agoncillo House (home of Marcela Agoncillo, one of the women who made the very first Philippine flag), the Gregorio Agoncillo House (also known as the White House), Leon Apacible Mansion (Apacible was Emilio Aguinaldo’s finance officer; this is the first ancestral house museum in Taal, noted for its fascinating and well-preserved art-deco design), Ilagan-Barrion House (which houses
Galleria Taal, a camera and photography museum owned by Manny Inumerable), the awe-inspiring Villavicencio Mansion and the Villavicencio Wedding Gift House (soon to be featured on Expat Philippines). Some houses can be viewed free of charge, but most require a minimal entrance fee. Pro tip: Visit during the El Pasubat Festival (last week of April) where more ancestral houses are opened to the public.

 

 
Each house has a story to tell, if you listen close enough—stories of love, trials, triumph and defeat, stories about keeping the past, and stories about starting anew.

 

 
Classic, sumptuous fare

 

 
Pansipit River runs through Taal, connecting Taal Lake and Balayan Bay. This river is home to three fish species endemic to Taal: Maliputo, Muslo, and Tawilis. These three are must-tries when in Taal. So when you see them on a menu, make sure you order a platter of crispy Tawilis or a steaming bowl of Maliputo Sinigang for the table.

 

 

Sinigang na Maliputo

Sinigang na Maliputo

 
Taal is also known for its version of the Filipino classic: Adobo. In Taal, they use luyang dilaw or Turmeric, giving their Adobo a bright tinge of yellow and that complex flavor profile that goes very well with the salty soy sauce and tangy vinegar. Make sure to also try Taal Longganisa in any form you see it: Longganisa Pizza, Longganisa Omelet, Longganisa Pasta— anything really. Then just thank us later.

 

 
A visit to the Taal Public Market (or palengke) is a feast for the senses. It is the perfect place to experience the unique Taaleño warmth. Pro-tip: Buy your pasalubong (gifts and souvenirs) from the public market.

 

 
Make sure you have the following items in your list: Taal Longganisa (Taal’s version of sausage with the perfect amount of garlic, spice, and sweetness), Tapang Taal (marinated beef strips cured to tender perfection; your breakfast will never be the same again), Taal Tsokolate (locally made cacao balls, perfect for breakfast or merienda), and Suman (sticky rice treats cooked within banana leaf pockets, the one true love of Taal Tsokolate).

 

 
More than a weekend away from the mind-numbing bustle of the metro, a few days in this quiet town provides a refuge for tired and weary souls. So if you’re looking for the perfect getaway this coming Holy Week (or any time after), put Taal on top of your travel list.

 

 

 

 

Bird’s eye view of Taal from the Basilica bell tower

 

 

 

By CHING DEE
Photos by LEOVIC ARCETA and CHING DEE

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