We’ll just say it from the outset: any trip to Albay revolves, as it should, around mealtimes. What to eat and where — for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks — ought to be plotted out before anything else. Sure, sightseeing matters but in Albay it’s not just about interesting places, it’s about interesting places from which to view the same natural landmark: Mayon Volcano. Here, we share a two-day itinerary designed to ensure that you get your fill of Albay’s best.
7am Start the day with a classic power breakfast of Bicolano food at The Oriental Hotel’s Jasmine Restaurant (G/F The Oriental Legazpi, Taysan Hill, Sto. Niño Village, Legazpi City; +63 917 430 5915, www.legazpi.theorientalhotels.com/jasmine-restaurant). Perched atop Taysan Hill, The Oriental offers what are possibly the provinces’ fanciest digs — 115 rooms, a full-size pool and buffet dinner outlet — but its real draw is the stunning, uninterrupted vistas: of the city sprawl, the Albay Gulf and, beyond it, the always impressive Mayon Volcano.
10am Drive over to the town of Camalig, all the way to Sumlang Lake (Camalig). The villagers claim that this is the best vantage point from which to feast your eyes on the mighty Mayon. Specifically, while seated on a handwoven rattan chair (designed by local entrepreneur and barangay chairman Felipe Noe Mapa) perched atop a balsa or bamboo raft in the middle of the lake.
12pm While in Camalig, check out the Church of St John the Baptist (B. Buena St, Poblacion, Camalig) one of the town’s landmarks, whose original wood-and-thatch structure was built by Franciscan missionaries in 1579. A second, sturdier structure of stone was built in 1605 but it too was laid low as a result of two volcanic eruptions, one in 1766 and the other 1814. The moss-patched church and the bell tower of today dates back to 1837. Camalig, however, is better known as the home of the region’s (and perhaps the entire country’s) best pinangat (pouches of taro leaves stuffed with a mix of taro leaf strips drenched in coconut milk, shrimp paste, bits of pork and dried fish and of course, chili). Look for Zeny’s Pinangat on a stretch of the national highway closer to the town center.
2pm After lunch, head over to the Cagsawa Ruins (Daraga), remnants of another Franciscan-built church that was likewise destroyed in Mayon’s 1814 eruption, which was reputed to the volcano’s worst ever. All that’s left of the original complex, built in 1724, is the three-story belfry, now all chipped and weathered stone, with weeds sprouting in centuries-old cracks.
3pm Make your way back to Legazpi for a mid-afternoon break at DJC Halo-Halo and Snack Inn (Lanco Business Park, Legazpi City; +63 52 480 6868), where the star of the menu is a rather unique take on the classic shaved-ice-and-preserved-fruit snack. DJC’s take on the halo-halo may not have the usual ingredients — like brown beans — but every serving is topped with dollops of ube halaya (boiled and grated purple yam), caramel custard and cheese.
4pm Head over to Embarcadero de Legazpi (Legazpi Blvd, Legazpi City), described in tourism literature as a “world-class waterfront lifestyle hub”. It’s obvious that a lot of effort has gone into developing the complex, whose aim is to revitalize the port district: there’s a mall, a hotel, an events arena, a semi-alfresco dining strip and a 90ft Skywalk that operators say offers the best views of the gulf and, you guessed it, the volcano.
7pm When you’re ready for dinner, head over to Small Talk Café (Doña Aurora St, Legazpi City; +63 52 480 1393), a cozy little restaurant on a quiet turn just off the city’s main avenue. Here, local specialties are given an Italian twist: pasta with basil and pili nuts instead of pine nuts, pasta with pinangat and Mayon-inspired triangular pizzas stuffed with pinangat and Bicol Express (pork simmered in coconut milk and chili).
7am Drive to the small town of Guinobatan for a breakfast of logganisa that you can either enjoy at the local market or at Yangmatt Lechon and Eatery (National Highway, Guinobatan), right on the highway. Guinobatan longanisa are local garlic sausages that pack a ton of flavor into their barely one-inch length. Dip them in vinegar and chili and you might find it tough to stop.
10am If you’re looking to walk off breakfast, the perfect place for it is Kawa Kawa EcoPark (Ligao City), a few minutes’ drive from Yangmatt. After ascending a small hill, you’ll come to a circular ledge with a rounded slope in the middle. Locals liken the strange geological formation to a kawa, the local word for a wok-like cooking pan with a rounded bottom.
12pm Aim to make it back to Legazpi City in time for the lunch buffet at Balay Cena Una (F Lotivo St, Brgy. Bagumbayan, Daraga; +63 52 435 4338; balaycenauna.com), a showpiece of a restaurant — designed as a grand bahay-na-bato (traditional stone house) — where many locals take guests to experience the best of Bicol cuisine.
2pm Passing up the chance to try a local favorite, Sili Ice Cream — an original creation of homegrown chain First Colonial Grill (Old Albay District, Rizal St, Legazpi City; +63 52 483 1212) — would be, well, silly. The chili-flavored ice cream, whose formula came to co-owner Rowena Aspe (she runs the chain with her husband, Bong) in a dream, comes with varying degrees of heat. We won’t shove you out of your comfort zone when it comes to chili, but you know what’s on your bucket list. Let’s leave it at that.
4pm Head over to Daraga Church (Sta. Maria St, Daraga), aka Nuestra Señora de la Porteria Parish Church. Yet another structure built by Franciscans, who apparently figured its hilltop position in Santa Maria would keep it safe from the lahar, it’s a beautiful, nearly 250-year-old church. One of the most vaunted attributes of Daraga, which enjoys National Historical Commission of the Philippines’ protection, is the spectacular views it offers of Mayon Volcano.
7pm End the day, and the weekend, back in the city center at Ysabelle’s (Rizal St corner Doña Aurora St, Legazpi City). Occupying a converted old house, this restaurant’s marquee dish is a blend of Bicolano and Ilocano specialties — its Bicol Express is made with bagnet, the air-dried and deep-fried pork specialty from the far north.
This article originally appeared in the July 2015 issue of Smile magazine.