(eTN) - In case anyone doesn't know, The Visayas Islands are in the central Philippines and are by far some of the most beautiful and unique islands in the world.
This tightly-packed island group is made up of seven major islands, namely Negros, Panay, Cebu, Bohol, Leyte, Samar, and Masbate.
When thinking Philippines these days, white sand beaches and dive resorts come to mind; rarely does one think âgastronomy.â Things are changing, yes, even in the Philippines, once only known for its adobo chicken and pork lechon (the roast suckling pig), it now boasts some world-class resorts and restaurants that are on par with the world.
The Visayas are no exception. On a recent trip to Cebu, gateway to the Visayas, (with an international airport and some of the world's best resorts), I was able to explore the variety of cuisine that is on offer.
First stop was the small ten-room AbacĂĄ Boutique Resort, Cebu's most luxurious and by far most exclusive resort on Mactan Island, not far from the international airport. It has six well-appointed suites and three villas, with furniture designed by Kenneth Cobonpue. The feel is Caribbean meets Asia.
If one ventures out of the room, it becomes quickly apparent that food here is taken seriously and the Mediterranean restaurant under Australian Chef Wade is the only serious restaurant on the island. The restaurant's fare is collaboration between Chef and owner Jason Hyatt and Australian Executive Chef Wade Watson. The menu is uncomplicated, and the food is delicious. They have a wood-burning oven where they cook their signature flat bread pizzas and their delicious steaks and roasted chicken.
In 2009 alone, the AbacĂĄ Boutique Resort made CondĂ© Nast Traveller magazine's Hot List of 140 New Hotels and 50 New Spas to Lose Yourself In. Check this out for yourself.
If AbacĂĄ weren't enough, while I was doing business in Cebu City, and staying at my favorite city hotel, the Radisson Blu, which incidentally also has the best buffet spread in town, I stumbled across AbacĂĄ's two âurbanâ restaurants conveniently located at âThe Crossroads.â Maya and A CafĂ© are also under Chef Wade's supervision and do not disappoint. Both have contributed immensely to the quality and attention to cuisine, which is available in Cebu.
Taking the short two-hour ferry ride to the island of Bohol, I was recommended to stay at The Peacock Garden. Somewhat apprehensive of doing so, as the hotel was not located on a beach, I decided to check it out anyway. My fears were quickly allayed when I was met at the dock by the hotel driver who quickly put my mind at rest through his overwhelming descriptions of the place. Upon arrival, the only words to sum up my reaction was âin awe.â I felt transported back to a Mediterranean-style villa on the Italian Riviera. Nestled on a hilltop with an expansive view of the sea, the hotel is located in the town of Baclayon. It is just a 20-minute drive from Tagbilaran city, the capital of Bohol.
The island of Bohol itself is something of hidden discovery as there is much to do, including visits to its many iconic attributes, such as the grassy hills, which turn brown in summer and are aptly named the chocolate hills. Stop off to interact with the world's smallest primate, the tarsier monkey, or just explore some of the island's Spanish heritage through its magnificent cathedrals.
Back at the inn, dining is a must, as host and co-owner's Chris and Amanda pointed out, the accent is definitely European with a strong focus on Germany. This not by coincidence, as the master behind The Peacock Garden is German. Hans Schoof and his wife opened The Peacock Garden in 2009, with a strong reflection of the owner's personality etched everywhere from the lithographs to the wienerschnitzel. The feel is totally unlike anything I have ever experienced in the Philippines and offers Asians a window on the âold worldâ through a pleasant and eclectic experience. The Visayas and the Philippines, like a good wine, gets better with time.