Escape to the country

Sometimes in order to find life, we have to live slower. Manila residents tired of city living and retirees are heading to laidback Cavite, says Monica De Leon

View of Taal Lake from Tagaytay Ridge, Cavite. By Christian Sangoyo
Imagine waking up to stunning lake views, the sound of chirping birds, the sun on your face. The air is clean and crisp, the scent of grass and aromatic plants occasionally carried by the breeze. Breakfast is prepared by your house help. On the table are fresh cow’s milk, freshly ground and brewed coffee, raw honey, home baked bread, eggs, salad and fruit, all from neighboring organic farms. If you feel like it, you hit the mountain trail for your morning walk or go to the lake for a swim. Other days it’s the club for a round of golf.

This is laidback lifestyle for many Cavite residents and retirees. The appeal of this province south of Luzon, and about an hour’s drive from Manila, is not just the slower pace of life, but a whole list of benefits — lower cost of housing compared to Makati City, temperate climate, the appeal of mountain and coastal living, proximity to Manila, surrounding local farms, and leisure facilities.

Roxaco new projects assistant vice president, Monti Nilo, says Cavite has “good commercial, institutional and healthcare facilities; the cool mountain climate of Tagaytay City and Silang town, and seaside views of coastal towns of Ternate and Tanza; and attractions like golf courses (Riviera and Eagle Ridge)”.

Chef instructor and single mom of three Cathy Tagle-Garcia, who spent most of her growing up years in Dasmariñas, Cavite, said her father semi-retired in Cavite in the ‘90s, predicting it would become a progressive province in the future.

Turned out he’s not far off the mark as Cavite is now a hot destination for Manila holiday home buyers, retirees, and city slickers looking to invest in affordable housing close to Makati.

Housing

Both Nilo and Garcia say that Tagaytay and its neighboring town Silang are the most ideal retirement locations in Cavite. Garcia adds to her list the more laidback towns of Alfonso and Mendez, both located just off Tagaytay.

A detached two-bedroom house with a garden in Tagaytay and Silang costs about P6 Million (about US $140,000), compared to almost triple its cost in Makati City. A condominium unit in the same area sells from P2 Million, compared to the P5.5 Million starting rate in the Makati area. If you buy a 100sqm lot and build a house in Silang, now a hot retirement destination, it can cost from P1.8 Million or more, depending on the design and finish.

Nilo says housing prices are lower in provincial towns like Ternate, Tanza, Mendez, Alfonso and tend to be higher in developed and urbanized cities like Bacoor, Imus and Tagaytay. Tagaytay and Silang are premium and highly desirable areas, with prices going as high as P15,000 to P18,000 per square meter for a residential lot in a developed area. Commercial lots are priced at around P3,000 to P4,000 per square meter.

“Both Tagaytay and Silang have a cool climate, clean environment, and are progressive and accessible. Tagaytay gives you the opportunity to live in a resort setting complete with city conveniences. Those who’ve chosen to retire here are affluent, generally in their 50s and older and are able to take time off work. Their main purpose for buying a property is to escape from the stressful city living and enjoy the fruits of their hard work.”

Garcia says many Cavite households have either an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) or seaman as head of the family, able to afford a more comfortable lifestyle. Gated subdivisions in Dasmariñas, Bacoor, Imus, Silang and Alfonso cater to this market.

Dasmariñas, interestingly enough, has been attracting the commuter market, ex-Manila residents who’ve chosen to buy homes in this area, putting up with the daily commute to Alabang, Makati and Quezon City.

According to Garcia, Ternate and Naic both have a retirement village for expats, mostly married to Filipinos. “They have such a nice community there, like those typical American suburbia neighborhoods.”

The Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA) has a few housing projects in Cavite, such as Alta Monte Leisure Suites along Magallanes Drive in Brgy. Kaybagal, low rise condominium units set in a 13-hectare property; and Tagaytay Prime Residences, a mixed commercial and residential condominium.

South Forbes has developed “boutique communities” in Tagaytay and Silang in Cavite, and Sta. Rosa in Laguna, offering housing for every budget, from luxurious mansions, detached homes, to low rise condominiums, all with access to a golf course.

Profriends, targeted at first time home owners, sells two-storey and three-storey town houses in Bellefort Estates in Bacoor, Cavite.

Master suite at Anya
Anya Resort & Residences
is high-end housing aimed at second home buyers. You can buy a condominium unit and use as family holiday home anywhere from two weeks to six weeks a year, depending on your unit of choice. The rest of the time, Anya leases out the unit for you.

Anya’s developer, Roxaco, is launching its “branded residences” in 2016, consisting of one-, two-, and three-bedroom fully-fitted units in low rise condominium buildings. Buildings A (three-storey units) and C (four-storey units) are now for sale, from P10 million.

The investment suites, consisting of fully furnished condominium units designed much like resort suites in Asian tropical style with rooms opening up to its private verdant gardens, away from the town center, are targeted to be operational by the first quarter of 2016.

Cost of living

Cost of living is pretty much the same as in Metro Manila, except that food, particularly fruit, vegetables and livestock, is generally cheaper and fresher since you get them straight from the farm or the local market or street vendors.

Cavite, which is bound by Laguna to the east, Metro Manila to the northeast and Batangas to the south, is made up of forest land, agricultural land, and residential area. Some of the produce grown here are coconut, corn, pineapple, leafy vegetables, herbs, coffee, and flower-bearing plants. Animal and animal products like white cheese and milk are available in local farms.

Tawilis (freshwater sardines) and other endemic fishes are caught in nearby Taal Lake.

Along the Tagaytay-Nasugbu Highway you’ll find eateries specializing in bulalo (bone shank and marrow stew, a local delicacy). Mahogany Market on Mahogany Avenue, just around the corner from the eateries, sells fresh beef and other meat, as well as fruits and vegetables at prices cheaper than Manila. The market is open daily from 4am to 9pm. At the wet market’s lower level, stalls of meat vendors display hanging beef carcass, slaughtered daily at the slaughter house located right within the market premises.

Creus Meat Stall sells beef that comes from grass-fed cows in Lagili or Padre Garcia in Lemery, both in Batangas. Kalitiran (oyster blade) and sirloin cost P220 to P230 per kilo, cheaper by P60-P70 than in Manila; tenderloin sells for P350 to P380 per kilo, about half of Manila’s P700 per kilo cost; and bulalo (shank) for P220 per kilo — a teeny bit cheaper than Manila’s P260 per kilo cost. Beef from male cow is easier to tenderize so it’s a little pricier compared to beef from female cow but nonetheless is still a lot cheaper compared to Manila’s rates. You can also buy from the market anything from smoked milkfish to yellow ginger, and local rice cakes.

Health care

There are at least three to five hospitals in every town or city in Cavite. De La Salle University Medical Center, the first hospital in Cavite to provide full range cardiovascular services, continuously upgrades its facilities and health care services, says Garcia. Among its range of services are executive checkup and laser therapy, and centers for hearing, eye, hemodialysis and diabetes.

Makati Medical Center, one of the leading and established hospitals in the country, has a full range of medical and surgical services. It is an hour’s drive from Carmona and Silang in Cavite, passing through SLEX.

A treatment facility at St. Luke's Medical Center Bonifacio Global City Taguig
St. Luke’s Medical Center Global City
 in Taguig, about an hour’s drive from Cavite, is one of the newest hospitals in the country. It offers a one-stop diagnostic, therapeutic and treatment center, the 256-slice CT scanner able to gather high resolution images of the heart and brain in about five seconds, and PET CT scan, the most advanced diagnostic imaging for cancer to date.

For a holistic health approach, Nurture Wellness Village, tucked in a quiet area in Tagaytay, not only provides holistic wellness services in a relaxed setting but has also partnered with experts to help customize treatments for patients suffering from diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes. Its partner experts include Dr. Sam Dizon for alternative and complementary medicine programs, Healthway Medical for executive checkup, Brahma Kumaris for meditation and lifestyle counseling, and Tagaytay Hospital and Medical Center for medical, laboratory and emergency services.

Every Wednesday, Ilog Maria Honeybee Farm founder Joel Magsaysay gives free Bee Sting Therapy sessions to patients suffering from all sorts of diseases. Magsaysay says the procedure awakens the immune and nervous system to help the body fight back the disease. Send an sms the day before the session to confirm the schedule.

Homemade bread and fresh coffee roasted right within Gourmet Farms in Silang, Cavite
Leisure & activities

From going on a tour of organic farms to betting at the races, or engaging in serious retail therapy, Cavite has activities to suit most needs. Gourmet Farms is a 12-hectare estate in Silang that grows organic produce like lettuce and herbs to supply to hotels and sell in supermarkets. They make their own line of herbal teas, salad dressing, sauces and dips, also sold in retail outlets; and products like lettuce and pesto chips are sold only at the farm’s café. Coffee is a big favorite here. The manufacturing plant right within the farm roasts about 120 tons of coffee beans a month. Enjoy your freshly ground barako coffee or the prized civet coffee, or buy any of their eight blends — they can even customize blends — either packed as raw beans or ground. While there’s a coffee nursery right within the estate, coffee is heavily grown at Gourmet Farms’ satellite farm in Benguet, where the conditions make for better coffee beans.

The farm claims it’s a pioneer in the country of the farm-to-table and bean-to-cup concepts, even before these became popular. The farm’s restaurant, The Dining Room, serves Mediterranean dishes cooked using ingredients from the farm’s own backyard. A salad bar offers various greens and dressings.

One of the farm’s more attractive offerings is coffee pairings. For P500 per person for a group of 10, you can join an interactive farm tour, a coffee pairing activity, learning which coffee blend goes well with certain local delicacies like rice cakes. Other activities are lettuce picking and herb planting. Or why not splash out on Solitudo (P10,000 per person, minimum five per group) a holistic program that incorporates detox and retreat.

Gourmet Farms has 10 crisp garden-set villas, designed for retreat and teambuilding programs, and a charming chapel.

The shop at Ilog Maria Honeybee Farm. By Daniel Soriano
Ilog Maria Honeybee Farm
, also in Silang, run by the Magsaysay family, led by the dad Joel, offers informal tours. Drop by for a look-see of the family’s real life farm and eco lifestyle. The 14-hectare property, with its seven rivers, is where the Magsaysays naturally farm honeybees for honey and honey byproducts like propolis, honey cider, toiletries, beeswax candle, among over 100 products they use and sell in small scale. Only surplus bee honey is farmed and one bottle sold per customer. About 80% of the farm is run by solar panel. The farm converts used cooking oil into biodiesel to power their vehicles; use a windmill for their water source, and a biodigester which transforms human waste into gas.

Yoki's Farm features hydroponic farming where greens like lettuce grow in nutrient-filled water instead of soil. By Daniel Soriano
Yoki’s Farm
(+63922 801 4220) in Mendez has orchid and anthurium nurseries. Orchid varieties you can buy are vanda, mokara, phalaenopsis and cattleya, selling at P150 per piece. Anthurium costs P250 per patch. The farm also has greenhouses where they grow semi-organic greens (lettuce, spinach, arugula) and herbs (wansoy) through a method called hydroponic planting, a mini zoo, and a huge warehouse with a vast collection of oriental antiques, gathered from the owner’s many travels abroad. You can see countless brass works, a collection of old lamps, period costumes, and ships carved out of jade stone.

See the Sisters-Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration, a.k.a. the pink sisters of Tagaytay to ask their help in prayers. The pink-donning nuns are forbidden to speak and to be spoken to, following their duty to dedicate a life of adoration, praying for priests and the laity. Write your petition on a sheet of paper and drop it in the drop box for the nuns to include your petition in their prayers.

St. Mary Magdalene church in Kawit, Cavite. By Daniel Soriano
Visit St. Mary Magdalene Church in Kawit, a beautiful church built in the 1600s. It features a brick wall facade, and tinted glass windows on both sides of the church. The central niche enshrines the statue of St. Mary Magdalene.

The race track at the Manila Jockey Club in Carmona, Cavite
Stop by the Manila Jockey Club for horse racing and betting. The race club’s park in Carmona is a 77-hectare property, featuring the Turf Club where races can be viewed either from the ground floor (P10 entrance) or the VIP section (P50 entrance) on the Racing Floor. Turf Club also houses the Chantilly restaurant and a casino floor where you can play slot machines, baccarat, or bet in other sports like football. The oval where the horses race is massive. The inner track measures 1,250 meters while the outer track is 1,500 meters. There are twice a week races, and at least one Stake Race (big race) per month starting May. For race schedule, visit www.manilajockey.com

If you want to start owning and training race horses, best to contact horse owners associations like the Metropolitan Association of Race Horse Owners.

Shop ‘till you drop at Ayala Center in Makati, a one-hour drive from Silang. It features five shopping malls-cum-lifestyle centers: The upmarket Greenbelt, which carries brands like Gucci, Ferragamo and Bulgari; Rustan’s, a compact upscale grocery, department store and beauty shop; The Landmark, best for local and budget buys; and Glorietta and SM Makati.

Paseo Greenfield City and Nuvali, both in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, a 20-minute drive from Silang, are the go-to places for outlet shopping for branded items like Aldo and ZARA.

How to get there.

If you’re off to places such as Silang and Tagaytay, from Manila, the best way is to take SLEX, exit Sta. Rosa, Laguna, and drive all the way to Aguinaldo Highway, which traverses both towns. Or if you are to go to towns like Dasmariñas, General Trias and Indang, take the Carmona exit. Cavitex, the five kilometer highway at the fringes of Manila Bay, is the fastest route to get to the eastern towns of Cavite.

To commute to Tagaytay, there are vans and FX vehicles now that take the SLEX route with station at the EGI Mall near the LRT Gil Puyat Station.

There are Cavite bound buses at the terminal at the back of Coastal Mall in Paranaque. If you’re en route to towns like Bacoor, Imus, Dasmariñas and Silang, take any of these buses, which ply the Aguinaldo Highway. From the same terminal are buses that are Ternate bound. These buses will pass through Cavitex, passing along the way the towns of Kawit, General Trias, Tanza, Naic and Maragondon through the Centennial Road. Take a jeepney from Naic to Marogondon or Ternate, and from Naic corner Indang Road to Indang town proper.

To commute around Tagaytay, you can either take jeepneys or tricycles, with the latter more logical to take if you are to get to side streets along the Tagaytay-Nasugbu Highway. Jeepney and tricycle fare varies depending on how far your destination is.

Orginally published in InFlight Traveller July to August 2015. Updated March 2016