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THE GREEK-INSPIRED Meteora. Photo by Joseph Agcaoili

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PANORAMIC view from the master bedroom. Photo by Joseph Agcaoili

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COMMANDING ceiling mural. Photo by Joseph Agcaoili



Meteora in Tagaytay

By Rene Guatlo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:47:00 12/20/2008

Filed Under: Lifestyle & Leisure, Tourism

METEORA is a religious enclave some 400 km from Athens. Set on rolling hills, its monasteries rich in art yet detached from the world, it is a place for prayer and contemplation. It is the inspiration for a weekend retreat in Tagaytay, facing the famed double caldera of Taal Volcano, the lake, and the twin mountains of Makiling and Banahaw in the distance.

It was built almost a decade ago to mark a personal milestone for its owner, St. Luke?s medical director Dr. Joven Cuanang. From the start, the idea was to create a unique retreat fashioned from whitewashed concrete and stone, using San Esteban stones from
Ilocos for flooring inside and out. The doctor, who bought the property several decades earlier, wanted a simple box structure that would blend with its natural surroundings. He notes wryly how it was months ?before I saw anything above ground,? as the property is on a steep ravine and a king?s ransom had to be spent on the foundation.

Capiz windows serve as shade against the harsh glare of morning sunlight which streams directly into the den. Picture windows, a spacious roof deck and a large veranda provide an unimpeded view of the lake, volcano and surrounding countryside.

Part of the doctor?s extensive collection of contemporary Philippine art is housed at Meteora? works by such luminaries as Mark Justiniani, Elmer Borlongan, Tony Leano, Jose Santos III and Manny Garibay?all members of the legendary Salingpusa art collective that Dr. Cuanang nurtured in his other residences in Antipolo (now the site of Silangan and Pinto galleries) and New Manila (Boston Gallery).

The house also boasts of sculptures by Salvador Alonday, who molds modern materials, like resin, epoxy and cement, into beautiful sculptural pieces, using traditional casting methods. A graceful Mater Dolorosa near the first floor bedroom entrance has exquisite craquelure; while a life-sized Sabel stands guard by the fireplace?the only one of its kind, being the only one authorized by National Artist Bencab.

A large mural by Tony Leano serves as backdrop for the dining table, while an even more monumental work by Jose Santos III is a commanding presence at the second floor landing beside the master?s bedroom. Memorabilia from travels to Greece, Turkey and Morocco mix well with a small collection of Ilocos furniture and decorative items.

Cobalt-blue stoneware plates and bowls by Lanelle Abueva, wooden tribal sculptures and Moroccan lamps provide contrast to the unrelenting whiteness of the simple interiors. Outside, the yellow flowers on the intertwined stairways and bright red bougainvilleas provide some color.

The spartan, almost monastic quality of the place is enhanced by the minimal treatment?in lieu of furniture, cement and stone are formed into sofas and beds?seemingly carved out of the rock, with mattresses covered in the distinctive white-on-white of the classic designs of Ilocano abel fabric. A fireplace in the main living area provides warmth during the colder days of the year, while glass panels open up to relieve the mugginess of sultry summer days.

The second floor is made from solid timber floorboards. The doctor describes the home as a fusion of classic Greek proportions and the plain stark beauty that is the hallmark of Ilocano architecture. Even the doors of the two bedrooms and the closets are recycled from Ilocos ancestral homes. Mosquito netting is used as window treatment?a nod to the nearby town of Taal that was once a major source of fine kulambo (mosquito nets).

Meteora was designed as a retreat, a place for slow and quiet time for busy people to rediscover the solid feel of rough stones underfoot, the magic of a cold morning, the fragrance of a hot pot of tarragon tea, the rainbow in a drop of mist, the childlike anticipation in opening the first page of a new book, the art of doing nothing. The doctor calls it ?my refuge away from the city; far enough, but still accessible.?

This unique refuge is now open to the general public. The main house and annex may be rented, for small groups of up to ten adults, perfect for family retreats and reunions. Events and parties can also be scheduled, such as sit-down dinners for 24 persons or cocktails for 50. An accredited caterer provides food, drinks, chairs and tables with flowers/décor suited to the occasion.

Entry to the property is strictly by prior arrangement; walk-in guests will not be entertained. Call Josue Raymond Barona at 0917-332-0217 or email jrcb_barona@yahoo.com.ph for inquiries and reservations and directions to Meteora.

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