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It all started with a dream of a house on a hill, overlooking the clear blue waters of the Aegean Sea on some idyllic Grecian isle. This dream house would showcase a collection of art and historic memorabilia so extensive, it would make the most stoic collector’s heart skip a beat. The dreamer, a German national by the name of Hans Schoof, vowed to return to Greece at the end of his travels. But first, a trip to the Philippines; native land of one of his most-loved historic figures, Dr. Jose P. Rizal. Little did Hans know that what was intended as a quick stopover would prove the birthplace of his love, and the fruition of his dream.
In the Realm of Love and Dreams
Like many a romantic dreamer, Hans met a woman in the course of his travels–a Filipina by the name of Lani, from the quaint, laid-back, happy land of Bohol. Located in the Southern region of the Philippines, Bohol is blessed with beautiful vistas, charming countrysides, historic architectural structures, 1,776 famed “Chocolate” hills of coral limestone, verdant flora, diverse fauna, pristine beaches and – as you may have guessed – lush hilltops overlooking azure seas. The Grecian isle was ultimately replaced by the town of Baclayon in Bohol, and Hans and Lani set out to build the house on the hill. Fueled by passion and the desire to leave a legacy beyond themselves, the dream house has since grown into a luxury boutique resort they christened The Peacock Garden.
Nestled atop 11 hectares of sprawling gardens, sloping terrain dotted with majestic mahogany trees, and a breathtaking view of the Bohol Sea, The Peacock Garden stands testament to the power of love and dreams. A quick one hour and 15 minute plane ride from Manila to the city of Tagbilaran in Bohol, followed by a 20-minute drive to the provincial township of Upper Laya in Baclayon takes you to this very special destination. Ornate gates open up to the wonders of the resort, revealing grounds as beautiful and awe-inspiring as its regal namesake. I knew then that the next three days would prove a wonderful, unique getaway in this most romantic, almost mythical place.
The Pride of the Peacock
Like the famed bird, the Peacock Garden Resort has reason to be proud. A stroll through tranquil and well-polished gardens, cool and refreshing Piñakwan (the Peacock’s yummy signature pineapple-watermelon fruit shake) in hand , instantly transports you to a lavish realm of Olympian gods and goddesses. Opened to the public in 2009, the original house has since expanded to 33 deluxe rooms (the residence was built earlier, in 1995, on a lot adjacent to the grounds where the Peacock Garden is now located); each being well-appointed, custom-fitted, spacious and bright, with a commanding view of the mythical Greco-Roman inspired gardens, impressive infinity pool, lush tropical hilltops and crystal blue seas. Rooms are equipped with the comforts of home and beyond, to satisfy even the most discriminating of guests.
Ensconced within the resort are the Old Heidelberg Restaurant, with interiors steeped in history, mouth-watering European-inspired menu and extensive selection of wines and spirits; the Peacock Room, in which resort guests can enjoy breakfast and tea in simple elegance; the Laya Pool Bar and Patio, where refreshments are served right by the infinity pool; the plush Hemingway Cigar Lounge, for the sophisticated cigar, wine and port connoisseur; and Pim’s Games and Disco, where guests can sing and dance to their wee hours of the morning. A private wine cellar doubles as an intimate dining area, as well as storage for the owner’s exquisite wine collection, with bottles 100 years in vintage. Wide open patio spaces provide the perfect setting for wedding receptions, while the disco remains the ideal “after-party” venue. The fabulous Roman inspired Fontana Aurelia Spa make spa treatments a “must-do” while at the Peacock Garden, so be sure to include that in your itinerary.
There is also a wide range of activities for the adventurous traveler, including a one-hour and a half guided all-terrain buggy drive through secret caves, streams, and thick hillside foliage. Dolphin watching, spelunking, diving, day trips to nearby Alona Beach, and tours of all of Bohol’s wondrous sites are readily arranged by helpful resort staff.
Our tour of the resort began with a warm welcome from Amanda Iliscupides, Peacock Garden’s vibrant Marketing Director, and fiancee of Frederick Christian Schoof, Peacock’s dynamic General Manager and son of Hans Schoof. From here, a member of the hospitable and highly trained Peacock team showed us the many outlets of this luxury boutique resort, carefully elaborating on the distinct features of each, as well as on the vast historic collections of Hans. We found ourselves taken back in time to Old-World Europe, right in the heart of Baclayon province, as the resort tour turned into a mini-history lesson of sorts.
The Great Love Affair
Perhaps the most distinct romance within the Peacock Garden is the happy union of East and West. Personal collections of Hans reveal a love for all things Eastern and Western, ranging from 9th century European dinner and gala invitations to royal functions, to varied peacock statuettes and paintings; Greco-Roman statuettes and busts to framed prints of famous cigar smokers (from Hemingway to a native Ifugao woman named Uya, smoking hand-rolled tobacco leaves and the great-great grandmother of Chris). The most impressive collections of the lot adorn the Old Heidelberg restaurant: castle chairs from 19th century European estates mingle with noteworthy memorabilia of Philippine National Hero, Jose P. Rizal. Hans’ love of all things Rizal has led him to the acquisition of the very living room set Rizal used while he studied in Wilhemsfeld, Germany. Fencing caps and swords, 19th century beer mugs and song books, a piano and a couple of china hutches from the 1800’s are among the many conversation pieces in the restaurant.
Romancing The Stove
Eating at the resort is a love affair in itself, and the Cupid to this palatable romance is Old Heidelberg chef, Klaus Weingaertner. His remarkable affinity with all things food, perfectionist standards and expert techniques in the kitchen create a whirlwind romance between dish and diner. Chef Klaus desires to give diners an experience like no other, whether trying a new dish or one they’ve eaten numerous times before. He creates an unrivaled romantic gustatory rendezvous, meant to be savored and enjoyed with every scrumptious morsel. A word of advice; every calorie is well-worth it. So treat your diet as an ex-love and relegate its’ memory to a dark nook somewhere way, way back of a very high shelf, to be dusted off at a later time. Though the menu of the restaurant is predominantly European, Eastern-influenced specials are offered on a daily basis. Menus can readily be customized, as well, for those with specific dietary requirements. Meals begin with freshly baked homemade bread, paired with French butter, herbed whipped butter, and – be still, my heart – German Schmaltz from Hans’ grandmother’s recipe. Schmaltz is butter’s decidedly more raunchy, decadent and wicked but oh-so-yummy cousin, made of whipped pork lard with apple, onion, and bay leaf tidbits. It requires the virtue of a saint to put down the butter knife and push away the bread basket, but one must leave room for the actual meal. Start with a refreshing salad: perhaps the Smoked Salmon and Scallop Salad, with lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes and chanterelle mushrooms in a tangy raspberry-olive oil dressing. Or maybe the Fresh Garden Greens, with sautéed pork tenderloin strips, prawns, tomatoes, cucumber and onions in a spicy Thai dressing. I must say that Chef Klaus’ take on the Caesar Salad is incredible, and well-worthy of seconds, nay, thirds. Of their many main-course offerings, I especially enjoyed the super tender and juicy Grilled Mulwarra Beef Tenderloin with potatoes au gratin and black peppercorn sauce, and the very tasty Coconut Curried Chicken with Prawns. The Ostrich Steak Fillets with chanterelle mushrooms and red wine sauce is sure to satisfy your craving for adventurous and delicious dining. Take the afterglow of this hearty affair to the next level with one of the many delectable desserts on the menu. The deeply rich and luxurious Mousse au Chocolate Noir is simply divine! But don’t be too reckless in pledging your love because the light and creamy, almost sinful Orange Crème Brulee with Cointreau, with its crackling burnt sugar top and melt-in-your-mouth custard, is sure to steal your heart away. Add to that the harem of homemade ice creams, in unexpected yet enthralling combinations such as Mango-Chili- Coriander, Olive Oil and Balsalmic Vinegar, Vanilla Ginger, Wheat Beer and Port Wine, and voila! A dessert lover’s drool-worthy dilemma.
Your inner hedonist will delight over the Fontana Aurelia Spa as well. Featured in Conde Nast Johansen’s Recommended Luxury Spas 2012, and literally translated “Golden Fountain”, signature spa treatments bring the promise of relaxation and rejuvenation, leaving one feeling as royal and regal as a pampered princess. Fontana Aurelia uses only the finest of natural, organic products from the internationally acclaimed Pevonia Botanica Skincare, exclusively distributed by Universal Aesthetics. My first encounter with the product line (used by celebrities and famed personalities the world over) was through public relations manager Jennifer Casitas who arranged for our editorial team to receive the most amazing spa treatments each night of our stay at the resort. First up was the Flora Silky Skin Body Scrub plus Aromatherapy Cocoon, followed by the Essential full-body massage and express face treatment. Two and a half hours of bliss began with a detoxifying dry brushing of the skin, followed by a scrub with the finest of salts, and then a full-body wrap in a blissfully aromatic cocoon of safflower oil, squalane from green olives, panthenol, vitamin E and geranium oil. The heavenly medium-pressure relaxation massage and facial that followed put me on what felt like the alternate dimension of utter relaxation. The next night proved equally sublime. The Healing Soak in an outdoor tub filled with a bath of rejuvenating Moor Mud and warm water, followed by a hand and foot soak in red wine and scrub with Pevonia’s luxurious caviar line, were nothing short of heavenly. Catharsis came with the Veneris facial, with bee propolis, papaya and pineapple enzymes. I woke from another two and a half hours, a little disoriented and surprised to see I was, in fact, still earthbound.
It is the tranquil and positive air; the hope that lives in every dreamer, and the deep-seated love for the dream; this is the beauty that brings restoration, renewal, and resurrection for one lucky enough to enter the realm of The Peacock.