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European Backdrops in S.E.A

Couples who wish to have an European – more specifically, Spanish – setting as backdrop for their weddings and dread the distance there and the costs involved, can consider the Philippines as the W&T team discovers.

text ALLEN LEUNG ❘ Special thanks to buda buddies and philippines airlines

Only about three and a half hours away by air and with the country’s national carrier Philippine Airlines flying there from Singapore daily, getting to the Philippines is as speedy and convenient as jetting to Hong Kong or Taipei, both popular pre-nuptial photography destinations for couples in recent years.

And what’s special is historical ruins after the country’s Spanish rule for over 300 years  between the 16th and 19th centuries still remain, even in the capital, Manila.

One such rustic charm that exists through the old ruins and surviving architecture left behind by the Spanish rulers in the capital city is the area called Intramuros, which literally means “within the walls”, a former fortress that was surrounded by high walls and a moat during the colonial period.

It is today the only remaining district in Manila where old Spanish-era influences were still being retained.

Located along the southern bank of the Pasig River, the former walled city has a perimeter measuring 4.5 km with its buildings including the roads originally constructed almost of stone blocks, possessing similar architectural trails one can see in other Spanish defenses like the Caribbean.

At its prime, Intramuros was an important legislative and religious hub for the Spaniards where the governor’s palace and several Roman Catholic churches were built within the walled city.

One of the churches still remaining today is the Manila Cathedral, also known as Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Built originally in 1581, it was damaged and destroyed several times before its present cathedral, now one of the most popular churches for weddings in the capital.

An imposing Romanesque structure, the church’s entrance and façade graced by statues of famous saints sculpted in Roman travertine stone is a favourite background for couples after their weddings in the church. Another famous church popular for weddings, or just pre-nuptial shoots, there is the San Agustin Church which is still remembered by many as one blessed structure in Intramuros spared by American bombing in 1945.

The church, believed to be the oldest in the country, is notable for its combination of styles – Doric lower columns and Corinthian upper columns – which perhaps explains its popularity with wedding couples who want to have an ancient European backdrop in their photographs.

Filipina wedding planner Joey Lopez Del Prado who operates between Singapore and the Philippines says she can make arrangements for couples here to even host a wedding reception and ceremony in the churches’ compounds even if they are not marrying inside the churches.

But she points out that wedding venues and backdrops for pre-nuptial photography are aplenty within Intramuros built by the Spanish rulers in 1606.

One popular spot is Fort Santiago, a favourite promenade for artists, lovers and wedding couples to shoot pictures of the nostalgic romance of a bygone Spanish legacy with its gardens. It was the garrison that once imprisoned the Philippines’ national hero Jose Rizal before his execution in 1896.

In fact, Joey said almost every street and corner within Intramuros gives photo opportunity for excellent European backdrop for the wedding couples’ album.

One can just walk around the stone-filled paths, or use the pleasantly decorated horse carriages, to see old gunpowder rooms used as recently as World Wall II, seminaries and chapels.

Today, Intramuros also houses some of the higher education institutions in the Philippines, including the Mapua Institute of Technology, Lyceum of the Philippines University, the Colegio de San Juan de Letran and high schools such as the Manila High School.

Besides the old buildings housing the education institutions, Joey points out that the Intramuros Administration has also made available several old landmarks in the area for wedding use which are for hire.

They include Casa Manila Patio, San Diego Gardens, Puerta Real Gardens, Plaza Moriones and Trellis, and Almacenes Reales, the former Royal Warehouse, which can accommodate guests of between 60 and 1,000.

WHAT TO EAT

Evolved from centuries of mixed influences from Chinese, American, Spanish and even Hispanic, Filipino cuisine is a blend of indigenous ingredients that are surprisingly delightful and palatable. Compared to Bali’s babi guling, Philippines’s version of whole roasted pig – lechon – deserves equal of higher billing. The skin is totally crispy without the strong ginger taste found in babi guling. Equally popular is crispy pata otherwise known as deep-fried pig’s trotter. Healthier options include must-try dishes like sinigang, a sour broth cooked with either meat or seafood and goes well with steaming hot white rice.

WHERE TO SHOP

SM Mall of Asia, also know as the third largest mall in Asia, houses the SM Department Store while the SM Hypermarket is situated within the north parking building. Located in Bay City, the spectacular Manila Bay view can be seen from this shopping complex. In Mekati City, giant mall Greenbelt is made up of five sections connected by a three-hectare park that comprises lush landscapes and water features. It is especially idyllic to hang out on a lazy afternoon at one of the many coffee joints.

WHERE TO STAY

The Bellevue Manila has more than 200 well-appointed rooms and is suitable for large and small groups. They also have special arrangements with Fernbrook Gardens to facilitate visitors with accommodation and easy access to this latest wedding theme park in Asia.

Sofitel Manila is known for having “the longest buffet” in the capital. Free champagne is served at breakfast while the dinner menu comprises of the freshest seafood. The spectacular view of sunset over Manila Bay, hailed as one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world, is another good reason for the hotel’s popularity.