A (prelockdown) celebration amid the pines

3/15/2020 | By: Tessa Prieto-Valdes

A breath of Benguet pine-scented fresh air, a spectacular sunrise view of a mist-covered Cordillera mountain range, and a breathtaking sunset while sipping strawberry wine! These are the things we all need to get back to in these complicated, challenging COVID-19 days. Embracing Mother Earth with love and kindness is the way out for all of us.

We were lucky to enjoy the recent leap year weekend in beautiful Alphaland Baguio Mountain Lodges (ABML), before these days of community quarantine hit us all. Hosted by Alphaland chair Roberto V. Ongpin (RVO), the special Feb. 29 celebration in Baguio was to welcome my hubby Dennis Valdes as the new president of Alphaland Corp.

We carefully arranged all the party details and activities with Alphaland’s Baguio team, Alex Cenzon and Sienna Muncada. The weekend started with a sunset cocktail party at the cliff-top lawn overlooking an enormous, untouched valley, with several pop-up booths of local artisans and entrepreneurs around so that the group could shop while enjoying their sundowners.

I have to thank all the locals who brought their wares to the cocktail party. Myk Hernando set up his Coffee+ booth with his Ilocos-grown beans; Anton Mendoza of Dielles and Antonio showed off wonderful sunflower honey and amazing fruit wines; Christina Eric Coronacion of Blue Carrot had some exciting chilis, ube jams and other local wares; and my faves, Amparo and John Magallanes of Amparo’s Apothecary, had an extensive range of soaps, massage oils and personal care products. We also had entrepreneurs selling strawberries and deliveries of preordered raisin bread from Baguio Country Club.

ABML is a master planned development of lodge-style log homes, situated on an 82-hectare property with an elevation over 5,000 feet, and just 9 kilometers from Baguio on Ambuklao Road. The property is full of lush Benguet pines and pollution-free mountain air. There are five log cabin designs to choose from, all sited to maximize the views of the surrounding Cordillera mountain ranges.

The log cabins are built in clusters of five to eight homes, each with its own cistern that collects rainwater from the roofs of each building. In addition, each home has a complete backup genset. All landscaping is provided and maintained by Alphaland, to their usual superior standards.

The biggest decision for me was whether to invest in a four-, five- or six-bedroom log cabin, since it’s hard to tell whether just some or all of our kids might go up to Baguio with us. Dennis and I also toured the smaller quadruplex units with two-and three-bedroom, condo-style layouts, but all with expansive decks and views.

I love the way the log homes have actual working fireplaces, and are already fully furnished, each with a kitchen, griller and even a wine cave. In the bathrooms, there is a private sauna and a Japanese-style, wooden bathtub. I hope that one day, RVO gets the idea to put up a full on Japanese onsen in the Clubhouse.

Some of the log cabin owners have made their homes available for weekend rentals, which is a good way to visit for those wanting to try out the ABML experience. For inquiries, call tel. no. 0948-2508387 or 0917-8045786, email slmuncada@alphaland.com.ph or check out Alphaland on Facebook.

Our dinner party at the main Clubhouse was beautifully styled by a local florist, BB Wedding and Events Styling. Everyone enjoyed the sumptuous spread and had more fun during the games and jamming with music duo Chris Adriano and Donna Belmonte.

MG Philippines lent our group five MG cars for to drive up to Baguio. Ace photographer Marty Ilagan shared that the MG RX5 SUV was easy and comfortable to drive and took the curves of Kennon Road very smoothly. The other MG models were the MG 5 and MG 6 sedans, and the MG ZS Crossover. Special thanks to MG and Volvo Philippines president Albert Arcilla and good friend Popsie Gamboa for arranging all the car assignments.

180-degree view
Fila Philippines CEO Cris Albert took a short ride on an AirTaxi helicopter. Cris and hubby Butch shared a spacious four-bedroom log cabin with Zaldy and Nova Veluz. Their daughters teamed up with ours to share a bunk-bed room. Thanks to these couples, we had prizes from Fila and Buddy’s Pancit Lucban during the weekend, to add to the swag bags with personalized gifts from Norman and Mye Cruz of Adworks Graphics, Michelle Sacramento of Mimsac, and Michelle Ongpin-Callaghan of Tabacalera.

On Sunday, we celebrated mass in the stunning chapel, where the pews have a 180-degree view of the beautiful mountain range. After the lovely ceremony, we had a Benguet pine tree-planting event to commemorate the weekend.

We worked up an appetite after the tree planting, so as most of the guests drove off, our last group lunched at The Barn along Ambuklao Road and later dropped by Mama’s Table along the same street. The home of 98 years young Lola Bitay Tinio is a by-reservation-only restaurant that serves an eight-course menu of all home-cooked dishes.

After lunch, we went straight to the BenCab Museum. Luckily, National Artist BenCab was there and personally toured us. Built on a promontory, the museum commands a breathtaking view of the adjacent gardens, the surrounding mountains and the South China Sea in the distant west.

BenCab has been fascinated with granary gods, lime containers, native implements, weapons and other outstanding examples of indigenous arts and crafts of the Cordilleras. The Bencab Museum also supports other artists, and this month, it is the art of Arturo Sanchez, Jr. His acrylic and clear-cast, resin-encased collages feature the shifting narratives that are prevalent in his works.

Baguio City is still undeniably one of the best places for holidays. I will have a more extensive feature in an upcoming issue of Lifestyle Asia, so watch out for that!

More pics on Instagram @seaprincess888.

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