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Go Back In Time In Taal

Here is a fresh, new way to experience the beauty of Taal’s heritage town

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By PAOLA NAVARETTE

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Taal Basilica’s shrine

Just two hours away from Manila is the heritage town of Taal in the province of Batangas.

Famous for its old structures and ancestral houses, the town is a perfect destination for those who want to temporarily escape the bustling metropolis.

When you think of visiting historical landmarks in Taal, one usually opt to commute by riding a provincial bus or driving for three hours.

Now, there is another convenient and delightful option that gives tourists a view of Taal from another perspective.

When driving to Batangas, you can go south via South Luzon Expressway (SLEX), pass through the Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR) Tollway, and take the Lipa exit to get to Taal.

Most of the heritage sites in Taal are approximately 15 to 20 minutes, even through the occasional traffic.

Feast for the Eyes, Soul

With travel time spent on the road reduced from three hours to two, pilgrims can easily explore the heritage churches of Taal such as the Basilica de St. Martin de Tours, touted as the largest church in Southeast Asia, standing 88.6 meters long and 48 meters wide.

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THE LARGEST CHURCH IN ASIA Taal Basilica from the outside

Among vintage lovers, the secret is out about this church dedicated to the patron saint of horses and interracial harmony.

Arich Onal, a member of the Taal Municipal Tourism Office, told us that parish priest Msgr. Fred Madlangbayan has recently explored the church and unearthed items such as silver goblets and golden cups.

Upon studying, Madlangbayan found that the treasures date all the way back to year 1755. They are now displayed in the church for appreciation and general education of the public.

Designed by Spanish architect Luciano Oliver, one of the artists behind the conceptualization of San Agustin Church, the chapel boasts of grand adobe interiors and intricate mosaic floors. Tombs and crypts of prominent members of society during the Spanish colonial period can also be found here. Town tale also says that the tomb nearest to the altar is the one who contributed the most to the church.

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Gravestones can be found inside the Taal Basilica

Perched on an elevated patch of land in the heart of the town, the cathedral dominates the Taal landscape and can be seen even in some portions of the municipal of Lemery. For P50, you can go up to the Basilica’s bell tower and admire the breathtaking panoramic views of the town from a bird’s-eye view.

Nearby is the Archdiocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay, which draws hordes of pilgrims to venerate the 17th-century image of Virgin Mary, which was said to mysteriously disappear and reappear.

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Devotees donate dresses that can be worn by the image of Mama Mary

The image, according to local legends, was found by a fisherman named Juan Maningcad, in 1603, in the Pansipit River in Barrio Caysasay, Taal. It was a barrio filled with silvery kingfishers, known in Filipino as “casay-casay.” Spaniards pronounced it as “caysasay.”

Caysasay chapel was originally built by the Chinese in 1611, near the spot where the image was founded in 1603. It was followed by the restoration done by former Taal minister Fr. Alonso Rodriguez in 1639.

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Caysasay Church’s coral-hewn shrine

One of its striking features is its facade—the interior is highly ornamented, and is exquisitely made with coral stones, making it stand out from other Baroquestyle churches in the country.

Not only will the chapel make you feel tranquility, but it also transports you back in time and provides a glimpse of the Catholic faith’s beginnings and its role in the spiritual and cultural development of Batangas.

A 10-minute short walk from the church will take you to the ruined Twin Wishing Wells of Santa Lucia, a site reputed to have miraculous healing powers.

The 11-feet-deep well on the lefthand side is believed to have powers to heal head and neck illnesses, while the six-feet-deep well on the righthand side is for those who wish to have their body ailments treated. They say, it works depending on your faith. Many of us drank the water from the well and it was surprisingly tasteless and refreshing.

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Water from the miraculous well

It is said that thousands of people from all walks of life have traveled long distances to visit the well and drink the crystal-clear water.

Every now and then, numerous faith goers return to the site to offer flowers, rosaries, and donate dresses to the saint as a sign of their fulfilled petitions.

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Rosaries from faith-goers

Timeless Flavors

A visit to the Grand Lady of Batangas will not be complete without tasting its heirloom dishes and delicacies.

One of Taal’s earliest bahay na bato, the Goco Ancestral House located at Calle H. del Castillo, was formerly the residence of former Ambassador Raul Goco and his father Juan Cabrera Goco, the treasurer of the Katipunan.

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Goco House’s interior

Goco Ancestral House is likewise a museum of Spanish colonial antiquities. The house itself is a 142-year-old structure, replete with ornate chairs, dark wooden panelings, and latticed capiz windows.

The traditional house was restored in 1999, and was declared a National Heritage House in 2001.

It is currently taken care of by Juan Goco’s great grandson Pio Goco, who worked in the US for years before returning to the country and re-opening the ancestral house.

Now, there is another convenient and delightful option that gives tourists a view of Taal from another perspective.

Aside from touring guests around Taal, Pio offers lunch or dinner by appointment.

At Goco’s, each meal starts with a complimentary turmeric and calamansi juice. They recommend pairing it with panutsa, a dessert composed of caramelized peanuts embedded in discs of hardened brown sugar and topped with sea salt to balance the sweetness.

Keeping true to homegrown traditions, Goco Ancestral House serves a mouthwatering array of Taaleño savory dishes including adobo sa dilaw, a chicken dish braised in vinegar and turmeric. The use of turmeric, in place of soy sauce, gives off a robust color and a distinct rich flavor. Another must-try is the Tao Po salad, an assortment of tomatoes, avocados, and onions.

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Tao Po salad

Like their preference for the yellowish adobo, the Taal version of tapa is different, too, being made of pork instead of beef. Served as thick chunks of pork, the tapa has the right balance of spices, making it truly delectable.

Another staple dish in the town is sinaing na tulingan, skipjack tuna braised together with sun-dried tamarind and pork fat for six to eight hours. The dish, according to Pio, should be carefully cooked since the tail of tulingan is highly poisonous, but most Taaleños know how to cook it by heart, and in the right way—true-blue ala eh style.

To cap off the meal, guests can try the restaurant’s homemade suman tablea. Here, you can pour a large amount of tablea chocolate sauce over your sticky rice dessert, while enjoying the house’s rendition of Barako coffee.

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Pio Goco smelling the Barako Coffee

Pio said the best way is to have the Barako in black, no sugar. And before the first sip, one should take a deep whiff and enjoy its aroma.

The leftover chocolate from the suman, he said, is best mixed with the Barako, turning it into a mocaccino.

It is interesting to view Taal from another viewpoint. Besides museums, churches, and heritage houses, the route to Taal Heritage Town via STAR Tollway adds another reason to visit this southern province.

STAR Tollway, which starts at the intersection of Maharlika Highway and the South Luzon Expressway in Sto Tomas, Batangas and runs south to Batangas City, reduces the travel time to two hours.

San Miguel Corporation completed the new STAR Tollway bridge in 2017 after the old one was damaged due to the onslaught of Typhoon Nina.

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