If you’re among those who like to take advantage of the off-season reduced rates in airfare and resort accommodations and you have plane tickets to the Visayas, there’s a place in Kalibo that can refresh your senses and bring out the child in you in a way that Boracay’s white sand beaches cannot. The place is called Sampaguita Gardens Resort in New Washington, Aklan. I spent a night there with my family and some friends not too long ago and I felt that our overnight stay was much too short to enjoy the facilities to the max.
Sampaguita Gardens Resort is what I’d call a theme resort. If you’re familiar with the Precious Moments greeting cards, stationery, figurines and dolls, you’re halfway through understanding the theme. Sampaguita Gardens Resort was created by Sam Butcher, the same person who gave the world Precious Moments.
What’s so special about Sampaguita Gardens Resort? For one, it’s Christmas there twelve months a year. Second, while it has most of the facilities of a modern resort like a swimming pool, restaurants and a children’s playground, it also features wide expanse of gardens littered with priceless works of art. But let’s take that one at a time.
While day trips are not uncommon at the resort, the best way to really enjoy your stay there is to book overnight accommodations. There are standard/de luxe rooms for single, double or triple occupancy. There are gallery rooms that can sleep as many as 20. And there are garden cottages as well. All are equipped with their own bathrooms with hot and cold water, cable TV, coffee and tea making facilities. If you book a room, you get free passes to the pool, the circus rides, the Christmas Cottage and Sam Butcher’s Mansion.
We arrived at the Sampaguita Gardens Resort from Boracay. After checking in, we went to the poolside restaurant for a very late lunch. Because our friends had been there once before, they knew exactly which spots to recommend knowing how trigger-happy my finger was on my camera’s button. While waiting for our lunch to arrive, we walked to Sam Butcher’s mansion, passing the life-size iron horses along the way. Inside the mansion were a number of the legendary Faberge eggs, a framed painting done by the late Cory Aquino and countless objects of art.
After lunch, we spent the rest of the afternoon lazily, resting in the comfort of our airconditioned rooms and only stepping outside to the breakwater for coffee and a smoke while marveling at the endless expanse of the sea. Before sundown, when it was much cooler, we visited the chapel with the Precious Moments murals and frescoes, including an entire wall featuring the Lord’s Prayer illustrated with Precious Moments paintings.
The resort looked wonderful by day, but it looked magnificent by night. The lighted paths, the illuminated Christmas cottage and the multi-colored outdoor Christmas tree on the hotel’s terrace were visual delights that no shutterbug could resist. The overall effect was nothing short of fairy tale magical.
We woke up very early the next day to watch the sun rise. My husband and I stood on the breakwater waiting for the first glimmer of light to break through the horizon. If we didn’t look behind us, we could almost pretend that we were marooned somewhere and there were only the sky, sea and sun creeping slowly to light up the shimmering water.
Because no trip is complete without a little shopping, the next morning was spent inside Jojo’s Christmas Cottage where Precious Moments items were sold. Two storeys of dolls and ornaments – some of commercial quality; others, collector’s items. Dolls and figurines with the signature large droopy eyes with various skin colors and ethnic costumes. My daughters bought dolls and we were told that if Sam Butcher was in residence, we could have the dolls autographed by him. He happened to be in residence at the time, the dolls were sent to him and when they came back, his signature was on the sole of the dolls’ feet. Great souvenirs for a memorable overnight stay.
So, if you’re planning an off-season trip to Panay Island, you might want to visit Sampaguita Gardens Resort in Kalibo, Aklan. Details about accommodations, facilities and contact information are available in its web site at http://www.sampaguitagardens.com/.
This article was originally published as a travel piece for Manila Standard Today.