Southern Luzon via the Viaje del Sol

Discover Southern Tagalog’s best-kept cultural and culinary secrets by following the Viaje del Sol.

By Paula Bianca Abiog
February 03, 2011

There's more to the provinces of Laguna, Batangas, and Quezon than beaches, kapeng barako, buko pie, hot springs, and the Pahiyas Festival. Real Living's Paula Bianca Abiog follows the Viaje del Sol and discovers a whole
new world of visual and culinary art just waiting to be sampled.

Viaje del Sol

An alternative for weekend road trips, Viaje del Sol is a do-it-yourself arts and culture tour that stretches from Laguna to Quezon. The brainchild of Patis Tesoro, noted fashion designer and owner of Kusina Salud in Barangay Sta. Cruz, San Pablo, Laguna, Viaje del Sol is an informal group of quaint gallery-cafés, charming inns, interesting stores, and artists' workshops that promotes tourism around the area.

Viaje del Sol is not an organized tour—yet. Their website lists the different establishments, and originally offered a downloadable map, that travelers can refer to when making their own itineraries. The cafés, inns, shops, and restaurants included in the route are constantly changing, and many popular locations that were discovered as part of the Viaje del Sol may no longer be there (like some of the places mentioned here)-but you may call and visit them anyway. Just choose your destinations and drive your way through some of the cultural gems in the region.

If you begin your tour in Laguna, the route starts from the Calamba Exit of South Luzon Expressway. The journey will take around two to two-and-a-half hours, depending on the traffic. Most of the stops are about 30 minutes' drive apart from one another, and are located along or accessible from Maharlika Highway.

Carlito’s Workshop in San Pablo, Laguna
Photography: Miguel Nacianceno

Carlito's Workshop

Open on Saturdays. For the rest of the week, please call to give prior notice. Entrance fee: P150 per head

Businessman-turned-artist Carlito Ortega's passion for art is evident in his workshop/home, located just off Km. 88 of Maharlika Highway. His workshop displays brass figures sculpted in the self-taught artist's trademark detail—in his words, "hammered and crude." (Though we would like to think the overall effect is graceful and dramatic.) The workshop is open to walk-in visitors on Saturdays, when Carlito does his interactive art demonstrations. Weekday visitors need to call in advance for reservations.

Carlito's brass sculptures cost around P80,000 to P180,000. You can buy a brass figure straight out of his workshop at a discounted price, but you have limited works to choose from. Most of his pieces are sold during exhibits, which are handled by Gallery 9. Though not really a coffee shop, Carlito also serves rice coffee to his guests while he engages them in conversation about art and art appreciation.

Click here for Carlito's Workshop contact information.

Ugu Bigyan’s Collection
Photography: Miguel Nacianceno

Ugu Bigyan: Potter's Garden

Reservations for lunch must be made with a minimum of five persons.

An accountant by profession, Ugu Bigyan is a self-taught ceramic artist inspired by fellow potter Jaime de Guzman. Along with other artists like the Pettyjohns and Lanelle Abueva-Fernando, he is noted for his clay art. His high-fired and organic-glazed stoneware pieces are in high demand, and his works are used in luxury resorts like Amanpulo, El Nido, and Punta Fuego.

You can get saucers and bowls starting at P200 per piece, and plates from P800 to P1,800 per piece. His popular ceramic wind chimes (made up of delicate clay pieces in the shapes of leaves and branches) start at P1,000. You can also ask Ugu to make customized wood furniture. A dining chair costs about P3,500 and takes about a month to make.

Apart from housing Ugu's ceramics showcase, the Potter's Garden also has several huts in the midst of serene greenery where you can hang out and relax. Lunch, usually earthy Filipino and Asian fare plated in his own clayware pieces, is served in the huts, but reservations must be made, as Ugu personally handles the marketing and cooking duties.


Located right along Maharlika Highway, Earthkeepers looks like your typical commercial garden selling ornamental plants and landscaping equipment. What sets it apart from other commercial gardens along the highway is that the products are organic.

Here, you can buy indoor and outdoor plants by the pot from P25 per seedling to P5,000 for large pots of ferns. Pots of various sizes and landscaping materials can be bought for P45 to P1,500. The owners of Earthkeepers also advocate organic agriculture, and offer training seminars for composting and organic farming. Seminars for groups of 20 cost P500 per head, inclusive of lunch and merienda. Meals are also served at their restaurant, and the menu depends on their harvest.

Casa Rap in San Jose, Batangas
Photography: Miguel Nacianceno

Casa Rap

Casa Rap isn't part of the new Viaje del Sol, which has a number of additional destinations - instead, their farm in Tiaong, Quezon is marked as a tourist spot. But we still felt that the charming garden was worth a stop.

The wooden sign that says "Casa Rap" is partly obscured, so take note of the Km. 90 marker, otherwise you might miss this secret garden. Casa Rap started out as a "clearing house for environmental concerns," says Sister Emma Alday, who owns and runs the place with Sonia Alampay. It has since evolved into a restaurant and store selling pottery (Sister Emma studied under noted potter Ugu Bigyan), plants, herbs, and their own alternative food products as well as those from various convents and NGOs. When we visited, Sister Emma's artwork was on display amidst the lush plants of Casa Rap. The mixed media pieces were part of a one-woman exhibit that featured subjects inspired by nature. Little hand-painted signs were on sale for as low as P300, while big art pieces cost as much as P20,000.

Herbs such as tarragon, mint, and sweet basil can be bought for around P45. As Casa Rap is not equipped to sell plants off the floor, you can tell them which ones you want, and they will cultivate them for you. "In the trellis, we have around four flowering vines," says Sister Emma. "Every time [visitors] see the blossoms, they want to buy!"

Casa Rap is open daily from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM. You can also sit back and enjoy organic food products amidst the greenery, but it's best to call in advance. Otherwise, you'll have to wait patiently for what they call "slow food."

The Novelties Section of Pillar Plants and Novelties
Photography: Miguel Nacianceno

Pillar Plants and Novelties

A lot of antiques from Southern Luzon, and even from as far as Ilocos and Bohol, end up at Pillar Plants and Novelties. The shop has an "Ukay-ukay Pambahay" corner, which, as explained by operations manager Anjo Luces, is basically a "tambak system." For more organized shopping, head to the showroom which houses tables (including a massive table for 30, made of a very rare wood called balayong), armoires, escritorios, and other big pieces of furniture. There is also an antique jewelry store.

Run by husband-and-wife tandem Emil and Redempcion Pillar, Pillar Plants and Novelties has been around for 15 years. "Plants and antiques, they go well," says Redempcion, explaining that the two complement each other. "Ang antiques, nabubuhay 'pag may plants. ‘Yung plants, gumaganda din 'pag may antiques."

Apart from serving as an antiques shop, they also do landscaping, and have bed-and-breakfast cottages within the compound - you can stay overnight for as low as P1,200 for two persons (and that includes breakfast!). The newest addition is a coffee shop called Catalino's, overlooking Mt. Banahaw. A nursery for plants is in the works. Pillar Plants and Novelties is open from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM daily.

For a Smooth Viaje...

  • Plan ahead. Viaje del Sol is a suggested itinerary in the Laguna-Batangas-Quezon area, so it's best to check the Internet to get a complete list of places to visit, and to download a map of the stops you want to check out. Also, most of the artists' studios and some restaurants included in the list require that you call in advance to make reservations, so make the call before you go on your road trip.
  • Stay overnight. If you're planning on staying in the area for the whole weekend, stop by Casa San Pablo in Barangay San Roque, San Pablo, Laguna, a charming country inn where you can relax while planning for your next destination.

Where to Eat

What is a road trip without food? Make sure to include these stops in your itinerary.

  • Old-world Feel. Stop by for lunch or dinner at Sulyap Gallery Café, located in an old school compound in Barangay Del Remedio at San Pablo City town proper in Laguna. This quaint bahay-na-bato restaurant serves family favorites like kare-kareng sugpo (prawn stew with peanut sauce), pastel de lengua (ox tongue stew) and adobo (meat stew with garlic soy vinaigrette). Right across the restaurant is a gallery where you can buy Filipino antiques. Sulyap is open seven days a week, from noon to midnight.
  • Food Trip. Go on a culinary tour through Laguna and Quezon by signing up for Kulinarya Tagala. Organized by Fantasia Travel and Tours, this food trip takes you through cooking demonstrations and more, one restaurant at a time.