If you’re looking for a country house surrounded by pine trees and a sprawling lawn that’s perfect for an intimate garden wedding not too far from Manila, Casa San Pablo in Laguna might just be your best bet.
Tucked into a family compound, this charming resort is owned by avid art collector and hobby enthusiast Boots Alcantara and his wife, writer and magazine editor An Mercado-Alcantara.
Already a popular art, culture and foodie destination along the Viaje del Sol route, the resort is known for its eclectic and folk art collection and is an ideal getaway for those looking for something extra special on their big day.
Rina Bernabe-De Alban recently tied the knot there and reveals how she stumbled on the Casa San Pablo website while looking for a garden venue not that far from Manila.
“I immediately fell in love with the ambience and overall creative vibe of the place,” she recalls. “The place had loads of character and we knew we were going to have great photos.”
The place has a very “homey feel” that went well with the Filipiniana theme they had envisioned for their wedding, with planned giveaways like Kalinga coffee, ring engravings done in alibata and vows in Tagalog, Rina adds.
“Hotels in Manila can be quite pricey,” says resort owner Boots Alcantara. “To compensate for the distance, we offer very reasonable rates for the food and the venue and an altogether different experience.”
The basic package rate for the buffet dinner for instance was only P650 per head, and included longganisa (native sausage) pasta, tilapia (smoked fish) in beer batter with mango salsa, a very succulent lechon sa pugon (oven-roasted pig) with creamy liver sauce and “melt off the bone” adobong manok (chicken stewed in vinegar) as well as desserts and drinks. The dishes proved to be excellent and superior to other hotel-catered dinner-weddings I’ve attended.
While primarily designed as a bed and breakfast, Casa San Pablo is venturing into weddings as a new area of untapped growth, with tours to the surrounding countryside as an option to complement its other services
“In previous weddings, we made use of décor we already had on hand, like fresh flowers, twigs and centerpieces like papier-mache horses,” explains Alcantara.
However, the place has come up with three new package themes for weddings: Blue and White, Tuscan (a relaxed country chic motif) and Filipiniana. Casa San Pablo also caters to couples who have their own designs in mind and want to bring their own centerpieces and unique wedding touches. Different charges apply, depending on the set-up.
Alcantara is very hands-on when it comes to events and personally takes care of table arrangements himself during the event. On this particular wedding, the tables were set with a white and red country-motif table liner, colorful taka statues of women, large ornamental flowers in wine bottles as well as bowls of freshly cut garden flowers. Small candles in jars were strung on trees and lined on the pathways at night, adding to the romantic atmosphere.
Says the bride: “We didn’t worry too much nor spend a lot on styling the venue because we knew we could rely on Boots’ creative sense.”
Rina says the place is ideal for intimate to average-sized weddings, and for couples who do not want a big production but still want to provide a relaxed and fun atmosphere for their guests.
Everything from the pine-trees, the crawling vines on the walls, the hammocks, trellis-lined balcony and the cool, quirky details make the place a great setting for pre-nup and wedding photos.
According to Alcantara, Casa San Pablo can accommodate a maximum of 150 guests for overnight accommodations and 200 guests for wedding receptions.
“Weddings are hopefully a once-in-a-lifetime event and we want to make it a unique experience for the couple and their guests,” he says.
Aside from being a great venue for special events and quick weekend getaways, Casa San Pablo is also a favorite for teambuilding activities during weekdays, where guests can engage in scavenger hunts and pool activities.
The place recently started offering native culinary classes called “Kulinarya San Pablo” where guests try to recreate traditional Laguna recipes. The first class offerings include dishes cooked in gata (coconut milk), including their bestseller kulawo, a dish of grilled eggplant cooked in toasted coconut.
Alcantara says that most people automatically think of Tagaytay for weekend “out-of-town” trips, but observes that most places in Tagaytay can get really crowded.
“We see Laguna as an intimate getaway. A lot of the places here are literally just in our backyard,” he says, referring to other destinations in the Laguna, Tiaong and Batangas loop, including the workshop of brass sculptor Carlito Ortega and the garden home of potter Ugu Bigyan.
Alcantara also recommends a visit to the nearby Lake Pandin, where local women cook homemade lunches and guests can dine ashore after a river ride on a bamboo raft.
On a Sunday morning with relatively light traffic, it took roughly an hour and a half by private car to get to Casa San Pablo via the SLEX or ACTEX (Alabang-Calamba-Sto. Tomas) highway. •