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Getaway in Ilocos Norte

One hour by air from the hurly-burly of metropolitan Manila is its exact opposite: a stress-free haven of windswept beaches, dramatic vistas and well-preserved reminders of the Philippines’ cultural heritage.
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Ilocos Norte, Philippines

The Overview

Just north of Manila, the province of Ilocos Norte provides a glimpse into the archipelago’s distant—and recent—past.

One hour by air from the hurly-burly of metropolitan Manila is its exact opposite: a stress-free haven of windswept beaches, dramatic vistas and well-preserved reminders of the Philippines’ cultural heritage. Already well known to surfers, scuba divers and golfers, the province of Ilocos Norte in the northern Philippines has everything it takes to be a major travel destination. So get there before it’s discovered by the hordes. There’s something for everyone, from the adventure traveler to the time traveler.

What to Do

Big waves pound the famous beaches in the town of Pagudpud into a fine powder. A different kind of sandy experience awaits visitors at the dunes that extend from Paoay to Laoag—a vast, open space of shifting hills straight out of Mad Max (except that there are no demented riders out to get you). Scuba diving sites abound in the towns of Pagudpud, Currimao, Badoc and Burgos. There are, however, limited facilities for equipment rental.

The entire province is dotted with churches, convent ruins and watch towers dating back to the Spanish colonial period. Sentries once looked out from the 19th-century lighthouse on Cape Bojeador in Burgos town, scouring the horizon for pirate ships. It continues to serve as a lighthouse, this time powered by solar panels. The town of Bacarra has an ancient bell tower, and the church ruins house seventeen-string wooden harps.

Sitio Remedios, a resort village in Currimao, consists of seven authentic Ilocano houses preserved and reconstructed along the South China Sea. Named for the towns they came from, these old wood-and-stone houses have been rebuilt around a plaza of coral stone. At the center of the village plaza is the Capilla San Miguel, a chapel dedicated to the Archangel Michael. Next to the chapel is the Sentro Iloco de Juan Luna, which serves as a lecture hall and gallery featuring the works of contemporary Filipino artists inspired by Juan Luna, the Ilocos-born artist and revolutionary hero.

A more recent glimpse of Philippine history is afforded by the many edifices dedicated to the memory of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, a native of the province. There’s also Marcos himself in his mausoleum (Barangay 10, Lacub, Batac), where a continuous stream of admirers and curious tourists pay homage to the former strongman.

What to Buy

The woven fabrics known as abel Iloko are particularly beautiful—exquisitely detailed, and well-nigh indestructible. The Museo Ilocos Norte (General Luna St., Laoag; +63 7 7770 4587) sells select baskets and abel in its gift shop.

Where to Eat

For those seeking the true Ilocano cuisine, each town has a market teeming with native delicacies including longganiza (sausage), bagnet (pork cracklings), empanada (filled pastries), cornick (crispy corn kernels) and tupig (sticky rice cake).

Herencia Café
(McArthur St., Barangay 14, Sangladan, Paoay; 63-77/614-0214) serves the quintessential Ilocano dish pinakbet—a sort of ratatouille—on pizza, along with other local dishes. La Preciosa (Rizal St., Laoag; +63 7 7773 1162) is known for its Ilocano dishes and a rich selection of cakes and pastries.
 
When to Go

Ilocos Norte summers—usually March to August—are famously hot. The best time to visit is from October until early March, when the weather is cooler. May is a good time to go to observe the Santacruzan festival—when the town beauties don their best clothes in pageants that commemorate the discovery of the true cross by Empress Helena and her son, the Emperor Constantine.

Getting There

Laoag, the provincial capital, is 45 minutes by air from Manila, 80 minutes from Hong Kong and Taipei. Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific operate daily flights from Manila, while local bus companies provide regular bus services between Manila and Laoag (usually 10 to 12 hours one way).

Where to Stay

Luxury accommodations are available at Fort Ilocandia Hotel (Barangay 37, Calayab Laoag; +63 7 7772 1166; http://www.fortilocandia.com.ph; doubles from US$123); Saud Beach Resort (Pagudpud; +63 7 7764 1050; http://www.saudbeachresort.com; doubles from US$80); and Sitio Remedios (Barangay Victoria, Currimao; +63 91 7332 0217; http://www.sitioremedios.com; doubles from US$150). In Laoag, Balay da Blas (10 Giron St., Barangay 7-B; +63 7 7770 4389), a bed and breakfast with seven suites (from US$40), provides a comfortable home away from home in a quieter section of the city. Java Hotel (Fariñas Caltex Station, Bacarra Rd., Barangay 55-B; +63 7 7770 5996; doubles from US$50), in the north of the city, is a comfortable boutique hotel.

 


 

Published on Aug 31, 2009

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