LUISITA BECKONS 2001

Philippine Daily Inquirer
Sunday Lifestyle Section

By Cathy Babao Guballa

Photo by Mike Alquinto



Hacienda Luisita has forever been synonymous with two things-the Cojuangco clan and its vast sugar plantation. Longtime residents of Tarlac still refer to the 6000-plus hectare property as the Central whose origins date back to 1957 when Jose Cojuangco Sr. and Sons acquired Hacienda Luisita from Tabacalera. The sugar refinery was completed in 194 and for the longest time, sugar milling was its main business.

Today, Hacienda Luisita has evolved into an industrial, commercial and residential area. Two technoparks, central Luzon's first integrated shopping and multi-cinema complex, and a golf and country club all make their home in Hacienda Luisita. Its latest addition is a relatively small and charming hotel that boasts of warm, hacienda-style hospitality and surprisingly five-star amenities. Central Park Hotel, Hacienda Luisita's newest resident, makes for an ideal stop-over for families on the way to Baguio, young families looking for a short break away from the city or for avid golfers eager to conquer new fairways on a fabulous course designed by the legendary Robert Trent Jones Sr.


Park in the Central

Driving to Tarlac one weekend, I was initially apprehensive of what to expect from this new hotel. Though my husband had stayed at the hotel a couple of weeks earlier for a business conference and was impressed by what he saw, there was always that male-female perspective thing so I continued to be a bit wary.

Leaving our Quezon City home at 7:30 a.m., we arrived at Hacienda Luisita shortly after 10. Driving past charming Luisita Plaza, and the newly built Aquino Center, we entered the gates of Luisita. Security here is very good. You need to pass through two gates, the guars ask for proper identification before you are finally let into the area that houses the hotel, the industrial park, the sugar mill and the private residences of the Cojuangcos.

From a distance, the hotel itself looks simple and unimpressive. To be honest, it looks like a brand new modern schoolhouse. Provisions have been made fro bougainvillea to crawl up metal railing s but until that time when it blossoms (probably next summer), the building itself is very basic.

However, it is when you step into the small but charming lobby that the hacienda-style warmth becomes evident. As soon as you step into the cool comforts of the hotel, you immediately feel relaxed and welcome. A very lean staff of 13 mans the 39-room, two-story hotel.

Central Park's young and amiable general manager, Jaime Berenguer, tells us that everyone in the hotel has been trained to do multitasking. "It's also because of the leanness of the staff that makes it possible for them to know practically every guest staying in the hotel by name," he proudly says. "We'd like to run it like a home but with first-class amenities-a five-star (hotel) in quality minus the stiffness."

Thus, over here, the warmth is genuine, the smiles natural. One wonders if efficiency is not sacrificed when all rooms in the hotel are occupied. Berenguer tells us they have experienced full house several times during company conferences. "It's an exciting time," he says. "Everyone's on their toes and we really try our best to make sure everything goes smoothly."

Beside the lobby is the dining area, Bistro Azucar, run by the same people who own the popular grill and seafood restaurant Coconut Grill, located a few meters down the road from Hacienda Luisita. Right outside it is a small, sunny patio with navy blue parasol-covered tables here people can take lunch or dinner al fresco or sip cocktails early in the evening.


Amenities

The 39 rooms are small, cozy and comfortable, configured with either two double beds or a queen-size bed. A family with two young children would fit comfortably, but larger families would be better off in two adjoining rooms. Being three months old, everything is naturally spanking new and very clean. Rooms are designed very simply, in muted colors of white, beige and black, somewhat Japanese-inspired.

 

hacienda luisita

 

 

Each room has its own air- conditioning unit, a 21" flat screen color TV with, take note, cable, a fully stocked mini bar and telephones with IDD and DDD. Best part of the room, however, is the bed, which has duck feather-covered comforters together with duck-feather pillows.

 

 

 

 

 

Berenguer, whose previous experience was with the Kowloon Panda Hotel in Hong Kong and Richmonde Hotel in Ortigas, makes sure that materials used are first-rate. "We try to maintain high standards," he says with a smile. However, Berenguer is quick to add that it's "high-end casual-in keeping with the hacienda-style atmosphere that the hotel wishes to maintain."

Deluxe rooms come with a bathtub while Superior rooms have a shower. Both types are fitted with, to my surprise, detachable showerheads, which is not usually the norm in provincial hotels. There is, of course a centralized hot-water system. In additions, the usual laundry, dry-cleaning and pressing services are available and requests may be made for smoking or non-smoking rooms.

My children immediately felt at home at Central Park. The 10-year old sank into a chair and read. The 2-year old surrounded himself with pillows and parked himself in front of Cartoon Network. After an hour though, they were both itching to take a dip in the pool.

The hundred-meter pool is located in the Las Haciendas de Luisita Clubhouse, which is also equipped with a covered tennis court and basketball court. The clubhouse is a five-minute ride from the hotel by car. On weekdays it is open to the public but made exclusive for hotel guests when the hotel is fully booked. There is a small kiddie pool cum Jacuzzi where one can sit and soak one's cares away.

Since it is safe in Luisita, biking, hiking or jogging around the Hacienda is a good form of exercise. Just do it very early in the morning or late in the afternoon as the sun can get really nasty between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.


Tours

Arrangements to tour the hacienda by car can be made at the front desk but prior arrangements are necessary. On the afternoon we were there, we were able to view he two bustling Technoparks - Luisita Industrial Park, which is Tarlac's first industrial park and Luisita Business Park which caters to all types of business offices.

From the technopark, we passed through the various phases of Las Haciendas de Luisita, a golf residential estate located along the fringes and peripheral areas of the golf course.

Each of the phases is named after a daughter of the late Jose Cojuangco Sr., the most notable being that named after former President Cory Aquino. A quick breeze past the fringes of a wall where one can take a glimpse of the private homes of the Cojuangco clan. The weekend we were there, a private boys school was holding a camping trip within the hacienda itself.

Past the private homes, we were brought to the sugar central whose administrative offices still are housed in buildings of Spanish architecture. We were told the buildings date back to the time when Tabacalera still owned the property. It's a good thing he Cojuangco family has managed to preserve these old buildings, which have become such a rarity.

At the edge of the sugar central is a quaint decades-old chapel, designed by Jose Cojuangco Sr. and Pacing Calma. It has a unique design such that its steeple seems to appear like it juts out of a rock. Called Our Lady of Fatima Church, it is where, we were told, most of the Cojuangco children and some grandchildren have chosen to get married. Deep in the heart of the hacienda, it is very private and solemn.

Before heading back to the hotel, we passed by the Aquino Center, a gray marble and glass edifice, which is currently in the finishing stages where Ninoy and Cory's memorabilia will be housed. Last stop was the charming Plaza Luisita commercial center, which is lined by centuries-old trees. The commercial complex boasts of a mall and several restaurants (Max's, Jollibee, Pancake House). Within the mall itself are several shops and cinemas and a great Japanese restaurant (Sakura) whose only downside is its poor exhaust system (common to most Japanese restaurants, anyway) but nevertheless, it's still so much worth the food trip. So if malling continues to be your thing even while on vacation you can still get al little bit of that at Luisita.



Golf Club

The best form of recreation at Luisita, however, still remains to be the golf and countless golfers from Manila have returned again and again to get their "fix" on Luisita's fabulous golf course. Robert Trent Jones Jr. has designed many fantastic golf courses in Manila, but his father, the legendary Robert Trent Jones Sr., designed only one in the Philippines and that of course is in Luisita. The elder Trent Jones has the most number of courses designed in the Top 100 Golf Courses in the United States.

A visit to the Luisita golf course is simply breathtaking-even for a non-golfer like myself. Standing on the balcony of the golf club, you have a view of a lush green fairway that seems to stretch on and on. Even on a summer day, one can find shade beneath the majestic and centuries-old Balete trees that are in abundance. The sound of water coming from a nearby fountain is most refreshing; the gentle rustling of leaves and the happy humming of birds who have made their homes on the trees delight one's soul. Perhaps it would be safe to say that this is one golfer\s paradise, thus many a golfer has found himself/herself returning to this course.

Central Park has golf packages, which they have found to be quite popular among the golfing set. For P3,000/person/night on weekdays, one can get a room with breakfast and 18-holes on the fabled course. Spouses who are non-golfers can accompany their hubbies, and the kids can tag along, too, with no extra charge. Golf package rates on weekends are slightly higher.

But if golfing isn't your thing, you can still come to Luisita; drop by for 24 hours and break journey to or from Baguio or even for a brief break from the frazzle of the city. Plans are afoot to offer spa/massage services for the ladies, too. Rooms are currently at P2,29/night for Deluxe or P2,631 for Superior.

"Home experience and value for money is what we're all about," Berenguer says. Add to that the warmth and graciousness of hacienda-style living. That's certainly one vacation I'll take anytime, golf or no golf.

For inquiries, call Central Park Hotel at (045) 985-1912 or 24.



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