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A family rest house in Batangas transforms into an exclusive garden resort

A family rest house in Batangas transforms into an exclusive garden resort

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  • The 11-hectare El Jardin de Zaida is a picturesque middle ground for those who want to unplug but not be totally off the grid
el jardin de zaida casa molave

Domestic and international travel is back on its feet these past few years, and trend forecasters continue to see it booming. One of the travel trends that’s currently enjoying a boom is luxury travel, particularly on the wellness front.

And luxury no longer just refers to upscale price points. In the realm of travel, luxury now also entails a high level of exclusivity and comfort, with emphasis on experiences and wellness. Where previously, luxury travel often referred to trips made and destinations visited by celebrities, VIPs, and the world’s elite, now it encompasses premium experiences and accommodations. With more tourists now willing to spend more for comfort, convenience, and deeper experiences, it’s no surprise the luxury travel sector has seen an uptick.

This willingness to spend is seen across various age groups, with the retiree class now opting to spend more on travel—skip-generation travel (grandparents with their grandchildren) is also becoming a trend, with families opting to invest in time together. Millennials and Gen Zs meanwhile lean towards travel plans that emphasize “personal wellness” and “well-being experiences,” reports travel news outlet Skift.  

Put in another way, a luxury traveler’s needs would have privacy, indulgence, and wellness or pampering among their priorities. Coming from years of social and physical distance, authentic experiences that engage all the senses are something travelers are also willing to put a premium on. 

And with the current return to the so-called “real world”—oversaturated with technology, overstimulated by (social and traditional) media, news, and social interactions, and affected by the uncontrollable extreme heat conditions—it’s no surprise if more travelers, Filipinos in particular, are in search of staycations away from the busy city.

Now there is a wealth of boutique hotels, resorts, and BnBs popping up in nearby provinces, frequented by local, weekend travelers. Batangas, long known as a weekend destination for its beach resorts, is also home to a quietly sought-after staycation spot. 

Nestled within 11 hectares of lush greenery, El Jardin de Zaida is a family-owned resort, formerly the rest house of the Mago family. In 2018, they opened the doors of their home to turn it into a sprawling resort, featuring suites and deluxe rooms, pools, verdant gardens, and even a spa, restaurant, and bar. 

Home away from home

Tropical flora abound at every corner of El Jardin de Zaida, proving it true to its name. Rudy Mago, family patriarch and one half of the rest house-turned-resort’s founders, excitedly shares that some decades ago, he had planted several of the trees on the property, which have eventually been used in crafting the different furniture and elements seen around El Jardin’s different structures. 

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Aerial view of El Jardin de Zaida

He and his wife Zaida, after whom the place was named, are incredibly hands-on with the property’s development—and it shows, as every addition looks so organically placed and built.

The feeling of being at home emanates across the resort’s various facilities, especially in their prized suites. Named after their granddaughters, the different suites feature Filipino-inspired interiors, and are equipped with all the amenities needed for a comfortable stay. 

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Inside one of the premiere suites
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In one of the premiere suites, you can find a spacious living and dining room, with windows boasting views of either greenery or the quaint villa pool. The bedrooms are fitted with the softest sheets and plush pillows. Both the living room and bedroom have smart TVs. But it’s the suite bathroom that serves as the villa’s piece de resistance: an open-air space but private, still, with its high walls, allowing just the safest peep of the trees’ leaves peeking through a narrow space between the walls and the roof. The spacious premiere suite bathroom also features a tub, a separate shower (that also has plants!), and fully stocked, locally-produced toiletries. 

It’s tough leaving that bathroom, to be honest, but the resort’s other facilities are all equally compelling—and a shame not to experience.

Romantic views, enriching experiences

El Jardin de Zaida has two dining establishments—the restaurant Rodolfo’s and Rudy’s Bar and Lounge. The restaurant serves a variety of dishes, from Filipino cuisine and Filipino-inspired fare to international dishes. They offer classics like sinuglaw, a spicy and tart dish of grilled pork belly and fish ceviche; pork estofado; and mouthwatering crispy pork belly. Creative fusion dishes like their fresh spring roll featuring the very Filipino tinapa and salted egg with onion, tomato, and mustasa make for a refreshing and crisp mouthful of flavors. They also have very inclusive menus, with dishes like the spaghetti oriental that features vegetables and mushrooms as a meat-free food option. 

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Rodolfo’s Restaurant
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Garden views from inside Rodolfo’s Restaurant. Photo by Pauline Miranda

The simple creativity in their dishes are also evident in their desserts. As if we could’ve loved turon even more, Rodolfo’s take on the quintessential Filipino dessert adds a homemade caramel sauce that makes the turon even more irresistible. 

Being a resort so deeply immersed in nature, their salads—from mango shrimp to mesclun—also impress, with fresh greens drizzled with refreshing dressings.

Rodolfo’s also boasts literally homegrown ingredients. Calamansi and tamarind harvested from their farm are turned into fresh juices served to guests as their welcome drinks. Their native coconut trees on the grounds are sourced for dishes that need gata, while their dwarf coconut trees provide their coconut juice—served freshly cut and opened, too. 

The dining experience at El Jardin is also more enriching, thanks to the views. Rodolfo’s features large windows that allow diners to gaze into one of their gardens, while Rudy’s offers a wider view of the landscape. The resort also offers to arrange for garden picnics and dinners under the stars.

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Garden picnic set up outside Casa Molave. Photo by Pauline Miranda
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Small bites, fresh fruits, and fresh fruit juice served at the garden picnic. Photo by Pauline Miranda

The garden picnic is set up in front of Casa Molave, where you can ground yourself in greenery, and enjoy viewing the traditional architecture of the house. Casa Molave was a house bought by the Magos from a different town in Batangas and then transplanted into the San Juan property.

Aside from picnics and al fresco meals, El Jardin can also arrange for various other outdoor activities. The vast garden grounds are conducive for yoga sessions and outdoor sports like soccer and volleyball. Bicycles are also available to be rented, which can be used around the property. When calamansi is in season, they also allow guests to visit the calamansi orchard to pick fruits. Outdoor barbecues, bonfires, and even boodle fights can also be arranged. 

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Table setting for outdoor dinner under the stars. Photo by Pauline Miranda

Wellness treatments

Aside from the relaxation afforded by immersing in nature and being away from the city, El Jardin also has a dedicated spa facility that offers a variety of treatments. Rocio Spa’s Signature Bliss treatment for example is a holistic two-and-a-half hour session that starts with a relaxing bath soak and body scrub, followed by a full body massage, and capped off with a facial tailor fit to the guest’s needs—from hydrating, brightening, and anti-aging.

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Rocio Spa. Photo by Pauline Miranda
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Pandan tea served before the spa treatment. Photo by Pauline Miranda

Specific massages are also available. The Alaga massage is Rocio Spa’s version of hilot, perfect for those who feel the need to release muscle knots and blockages. Sigla, meanwhile, focuses on foot reflexology, making it a perfect post-travel treatment. The Ginhawa package is an Ayurvedic head massage designed to relieve tension in the head, neck, and shoulders. The package also includes hot oil hair treatment and eye detoxing.

For a full body treatment meant to ease tension in the back and limbs, and to aid in overall relaxation, they recommend the Hulay package. (They also say this package is designed to promote restful sleep, truly effective, because I fell asleep halfway through my massage!)

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A tranquil Japanese zen garden-inspired landscape inside Rocio Spa. Photo by Pauline Miranda

Before starting your massage session, guests can also use the spa’s shower and sauna facilities. Refreshing pandan tea and ginger tea are also served before and after the sessions, respectively.

A space to disconnect

El Jardin de Zaida truly serves as an oasis, especially for those in need of space and time for quiet. Being away from overly urbanized towns, surrounded by vast greenery, and actually having little to no mobile signal helps pry us away from being perpetually on call and online. 

The vast property allows for true relaxation, away from the stimuli and distractions we are bombarded with in the city. While they do have (pretty good!) internet connection in the villas and facilities, having that aspect of being disconnected forces us to really take in the view and the experience in front of us, resulting in a more enriching and restful experience.

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They strike the perfect middle ground of being a lush and luxurious space where one can truly disconnect if one wishes to—but not be totally isolated and off the grid, too. For families, friends, and partners who are in need of a space to relax together, El Jardin de Zaida, being only nearly three hours away from Manila, is the complete package. 

With luxuriously comfortable accommodations, delectable food and drink choices, a plethora of outdoor activities, and various wellness options, it’ll be a sure joy staying at this home away from home, even if it does cost a pretty penny.

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