I have always enjoyed my visits to Cebu. I love how it has all the comforts of a cosmopolitan city but the charm of a small town. As a Manila girl, it’s fantastic that, whenever I’m there, I could head to the beach in just half an hour.
Air Asia, considered the world’s No. 1 budget airline, flies to Cebu several times a day, leaving me no excuses not to take a mini-holiday. Here are some places I recommend.
The coolest city hotel
Stepping into the Henry Hotel is like walking into an industrial-style New York loft. It has varnished cement floors and walls and a mix of fashionable and kitschy decor.
It’s perfect for travelers looking for something new and exciting. Each of the 38 suites is different from the other, so you won’t get the same room twice.
If you visit Rica’s, the hotel’s in-house restaurant and cafe, you’ll see how the quirky design extends throughout the oversized main dining table and chairs and cheeky sayings on the wall, such as, “My favorite animal is steak.”
If you book an XL or XXL room, you get access to the Reading Room where you can peruse books and magazines, play board games or just relax with a cup of tea. It’s near most places of interest and is within a compound with several places to eat and have drinks.
Every nook and cranny of this hotel is photogenic, so don’t forget to take lots of pictures!
Log on: thehenryhotel.com
Most fashionable beach resort
Mövenpick Hotel in Mactan boasts an all-white lobby. Save for some aqua sofas and chairs, the place is pristine, airy and effortlessly chic.
Stroll down further and you’ll see the swimming pool and the rest of the resort, including Ibiza Beach Club and the beachfront. Don’t hesitate to wear your most stylish kaftans and bejeweled sandals here.
This is the Swiss brand’s first hotel in the country. There are fun parties and events held at Ibiza Beach Club with international DJs and live music.
Try to get a room with a beach view for a fantastic sunrise every morning and a panoramic glimpse of the beachfront and the sea.
Log on: moevenpick-hotels.com
Best family hotel
All families want the perfect getaway, but there are some who end up compromising what they want to accommodate the children, while others have no choice but to bring the kids to places that don’t cater to their needs.
The Shangri-La brand is known as one of the best in the world, and for those visiting Cebu with their families, this may be the place for you. Aside from the usual water activities like jet-skiing and snorkeling, kids can have fun playing miniature golf on the 14-hole course, or spend the day at Adventure Zone, a multi-level indoor play center that, incidentally, is of all ages.
My daughter stayed in there for a good five hours, allowing me time to laze by the pool; and when she was done, the center called me to pick her up!
For adults, there is a health center, jogging trail, a tennis center and a 400-meter zip line.
There’s also a children’s pool and a playground in the pool area, where parents can stay comfortable while watching their younger kids play.
Log on: shangri-la.com/cebu/mactanresort
Best dessert place
Tymad, according to its owner Philippe Estienne, means “good restaurant” in a Celtic language from Brittany, France, where he hails from. The restaurant is known for its crepes, galettes (savory crepes made with buckwheat flour), the best croissants in town, and other French fare.
But I went there for the dessert. If there is one thing the French can do well, it’s pastries. I was slightly overwhelmed by the number of plates in front of me, but managed to try them all. Don’t miss the Opera cake, layers of almond sponge cake soaked in coffee syrup, ganache and buttercream; and the mille-feuille or Napoleon, which literally means “thousand leaves,” and alternates puff pastry and custard filling.
I also loved the classic strawberry cake with fresh berries, but my favorite, tarte tatin, did not disappoint for its consistency. Great place for an after-dinner wind-down with dessert and wine, or afternoon merienda.
Log on: tymadbistro.com
Best international resto
When I asked what made the cauliflower side dish at the Lebanese restaurant Beqaa so good, I was told: “We sprinkle it with sumac.”
A plant whose fruit is used as a spice, sumac has a tangy flavor that makes or breaks a Middle Eastern dish. It’s a staple in Lebanese cuisine, one of my favorites, and Manila seems to be lacking in this department.
Beqaa is a good date place, with dim lighting perfect for an intimate evening. Make sure to try the roast chicken marinated in toum, a Middle Eastern aioli of sorts, lemon and spices; and the falafels, which are nice and crispy on the outside and full of chickpeas and garlic flavor on the inside.
I think Lebanese cuisine is still a mystery to Filipinos, and what better place to get acquainted with it than a restaurant that flew in its GM’s Lebanese mother to teach the staff her recipes?
Log on: theabacagroup.com/beqaa
It’s called A Cafe—a place for a long, lazy brunches with your best friends. Aside from staples such as bacon and eggs and French toast, A Cafe also offers nonbreakfast fare for those craving for heartier meals.
Try the fried chicken and biscuits with white gravy. It’s quite a large serving, so unless you’re famished, order it to share, plus another dish or two.
Braised beef short ribs and homemade meat loaf are also on the menu for those who want something comforting to warm the tummy, plus a healthier version of chili made with turkey.
It also offers Eggs Bennies with messy yolks covering each bite of ham or salmon.
I was happy not to have skipped out on dessert even if I was full. The star of my morning was the warm brownie with vanilla ice cream—so delicious I almost did not want to share!
Log on: theabacagroup.com
Best long Sunday lunch
Fancy a long, lazy lunch with great food and a nice view that won’t break the bank? Look no further than La Maison Rose, the “Pink House” that has been around since the 1930s and was once home to one of Cebu’s affluent families.
With Alliance Française as its current tenant, it serves as a center for exhibits and film screenings, but most importantly, it’s home to a restaurant run by two young French chefs, with an authentic menu at surprisingly reasonable prices. Try the best-selling goat cheese salad, and grilled foie gras with pain perdu.
If you love fish, order the grilled salmon with tarragon butter sauce; for a more regional fusion flavor, get the grilled tanguigue with far noir, a traditional buckwheat flour dish from Brittany, where the chef is from, and apple cider sauce.
Dessert is also a winner. Try the creme brûlée; and for something on the fusion side, order the mango poached in red wine and spices with caramel mascarpone.
Take home some macarons or croissants from La Vie Parisienne, the bakery next door. All ingredients are imported from France and baked on site.
Log on: facebook.com/LaMaisonRoseCebu
Best place for a nightcap
If you need a place for a few postwork drinks, or a nightcap to end a great evening, the Scrapyard on the second floor of the Henry Hotel is a great option. Aside from its signature and classic drinks, it’s a nice venue for those who want good piped-in music without the stressful ambiance of a busy club.
The music is actually just mash-ups and current hits, but the crowd enjoys intimate conversation and a good drink or two. It’s even better if you’re staying at the Henry, as you can drink more and just roll into bed after.
The hotel’s industrial design extends to the Scrapyard with its varnished cement floors and walls and quirky decor.
Log on: facebook.com/Scrapyard.Lounge
Best seafood meal
What better way to enjoy a seafood meal than to do so while overlooking the sea? Shangri-La Mactan’s Cowrie Cove not only has the freshest catch of the day, but is romantic to boot—a great place for intimate dinners or date nights when you want to impress.
We started off with a coconut-based seafood soup served in a real coconut shell, a whimsical way of serving it, considering the upscale ambiance, but a good reminder you that you are outdoors, on an island.
On the menu are what you would usually find in a good seafood resto like grilled prawns and pan-fried scallops alongside less common fare such as parrot fish.
Enjoy your meal with a glass of wine and an awesome view.
Log on: shangri-la.com/cebu/mactanresort/dining/restaurants/cowrie-cove
Best sunset drinks
If you need a place to unwind and enjoy a cocktail or two, Ibiza Beach Club is it. Located right by the waters at Mövenpick Hotel, the all-white theme of this ocean-side bar and outdoor lounge is oh-so-chic.
There is usually a DJ starting late afternoon, and entertainment varies from live bands to fire dancers.
We tried the signature cocktail, Ibiza Beach Club Mojito, a great twist to an already refreshing drink. The Latin Lover is equally delicious, with a tequila base and a mix of pineapple, lemon, lime and passion fruit juices topped with blue curacao.
If you get the munchies, it has Mediterranean and Asian tapas to satisfy your palate. A few favorites include truffled fries, Greek kofta and paella de mariscos.
If you’re really hungry, go for the churrasco or Brazilian style barbecue with 14 courses of fire-roasted meats and seafood carved tableside.
Log on: moevenpick-hotels.com/en/asia /philippines/cebu/resort-cebu/restaurants/restaurants/ibiza-beach-club/
Most authentic Italian food
Antica Osteria, owned by an Italian and his Filipino wife, opened to fill the lack of “real” Italian food in Cebu. Glauco Muzzi hails from Parma, a city known for goodies such as Parmigiano-Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma.
Glauco joined me at the table and served dishes native to Parma. After a charcuterie platter and some Parmegiano, we moved on to the first course called Bomba di Riso, a traditional dish from Emilia-Romagna, essentially risotto but shaped like a cake and stuffed with wild boar.
The second course was Rosa di Parma, a beef fillet rolled and stuffed with Parmegiano-Reggiano and Parma ham. What you’ll get here is no-nonsense, no frills, delicious and authentic Italian fare.
Log on: facebook.com/pages/Antica-Osteria-Inc/204652636234119
Best place for a romantic dinner
Everything about Abaca reflects good service, privacy and romance. Anybody looking for a quiet place for some alone time with a special person would be crazy not to pick this place.
Apart from the ambiance, the food is fantastic. The place bakes its own breads daily. Don’t miss out on the prosciutto and goat cheese flatbread and lobster and crab ravioli.
All the herbs are homegrown in its little pocket garden, so you can be assured that everything is fresh.
Try to get a table closest to the water, open a bottle of wine and enjoy the good food and the company you came with.
Log on: abacaresort.com
Fly at low fares with Air Asia through www.airasia.com. Enjoy web check-in and mobile app feature for easier and stress-free travel. Air Asia flies to and from Cebu at Naia 4.