Bohol's secret garden

CRAZY QUILT - Tanya T. Lara () - April 21, 2012 - 12:00am

First, there was the Chocolate Hills. Then the tarsiers sleepily clinging to branches in their sanctuary. Children waving along the mountain trails where we drove dune buggies and local kids on the Loboc River singing and dancing.

There were butterflies that were born hermaphrodites, as explained by a tour guide that can undoubtedly double as a stand-up comedian at night. There was even talk of a man so small he was the size of a Coke liter bottle, but alas, it was Good Friday  he wasn’t accepting visitors.

Then there was the sofa.

A sofa used by Jose Rizal in the 1800s when he was studying in Heidelberg, Germany, after which he would come home to the Philippines to operate on his mother’s cataracts.

Rizal’s Heidelberg sofa is probably not the first thing that would cross your mind  in fact, it would probably not cross your mind at all  when you think of Bohol. But there it is  cordoned off at the foyer of a restaurant called Old Heidelberg.

Let’s rewind a bit.

It was purely by happenstance weeks before the Easter break that I saw an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in years. We found ourselves talking about where to go for the long break and before I knew it, beauty and cosmetics expert Rhoda Aldanese had included me in her band of merrymakers  husband Vince Aldanese and friends Donnie Ramirez, Danelle Palang, Ryan Ros Calmante and George Salud  people I have known for years but didn’t know they were a group. So off we were on different planes and schedules on that busy Maundy Thursday, frantically texting whose plane had already taken off as Terminal 3 was packed and all flights were delayed.

Back to the sofa.

That sofa that belonged to Rizal now belongs to Hans and Lani Schoof, owners of the hilltop Peacock Garden Boutique Hotel & Spa in Baclayon, Bohol. It is displayed in the resort’s Old Heidelberg Restaurant and Wine Cellar, which also features vintage photos of Hans’ ancestry  one of them of his father sporting a nasty gash on his cheek from his fencing days as a student  and other collectible German memorabilia and European furnishings. 

That the resort is called a “garden” is both appropriate and an understatement.

It is actually an estate. Set on 11 hectares, Peacock Garden Resort recalls Europe with touches of the old world here and there, but with every modern convenience that people on vacation are looking for, starting with the infinity pool that overlooks the sea and well-appointed guestrooms with flatscreen TV.

Frederick Christian Schoof, general manager of Peacock Garden, and his fiancée, communications director Amanda Iliscupides, are two of the most driven and gracious young people I have ever met.

You can see their love of the place, having worked hard for the past two years. You can also see the wonderful relationship between Chris and his parents (his sister Kat is based in Manila). Chris relates that when Hans was a young adventurer, he slept in the ruins of the Acropolis. When he bought this land in Baclayon, he stood on the spot where the infinity pool would be built, looked at the panoramic views, the sea below, and said, “This is it.”

German connection: The Old Heidelberg Restaurant and Wine Cellar features German memorabilia that go back several centuries, curated furnishings, and a menu that includes German cuisine, eastern flavors and local favorites. It also has a wine cellar whose oldest bottle is from 1825.

Hans Schoof was on a world tour in 1986 and made a stop in the Philippines where he met a Boholana. “I saw this beautiful woman and fell in love with her,” he says. “I never wanted to leave.”

They got married in less than a year  25 years ago. After he brought Lani to Germany to meet his family, they came back to the Philippines right away where they opened the first Old Heidelberg restaurant on Mabini St. in Malate. A trained chef and hotelier, Hans ran the restaurant for more than a decade.

“I said when I retire, I would stay in Bohol.” In 1995, the couple bought land on a hill for a summerhouse. The private residence looks like a European villa, surrounded by wooded areas whose trees were mostly planted by Lani, winding paths, a guesthouse and a lap pool. 

Hans hired a German gardener and flew him to Bohol to look after the gardens.

Then all the local landowners began approaching the Schoofs to sell their land and pretty soon, the couple had more than enough property to build a resort. Hans got the idea of establishing his Old Heidelberg in Bohol. It may not have such a big market as the one in Malate but Bohol’s expat community is mostly made up of Germans, many of them resort and business owners.

So they built 12 rooms on top of the restaurant. Pretty soon, the resort expanded and now has 33 guestrooms that range in size from 270 to 560 square feet with views of the sea.

In the original wing of the hotel, the corridors display antique hand-drawn and handwritten menus from Europe. You can easily imagine yourself being transported to those days when the men wore hats and the ladies wore beautiful gowns just to have dinner in a restaurant. Hans also has collected about 300 cookbooks from 1700 to 1920.

A true getaway: The Peacock Garden has only 33 guestrooms and suites. Even when it’s a full house you get the feeling that you have the resort to yourself. Photos courtesy of PEACOCK GARDEN

His penchant for collecting antiques is not limited to restaurant memorabilia. Hans has a fleet of Bentleys in Bohol and Germany with a vintage red being used for weddings held in the resort; he has Rizal memorabilia that include the swords of the fencing fraternity, the Swabians, that made Rizal an honorary member.

Peacock Garden’s wine cellar (about 1,500 bottles and counting) has a bottle of wine dating back to 1825. Does Hans have plans of opening the bottle at all? “Yes, when I get the feeling of opening it.”

Over at the Hemingway Cigar Lounge, a comfy place with leather club chairs and wooden walls, you can choose from about 4,000 cigars from all over the world. 

“The most expensive ones are not for sale because they’re the last in all of Europe,” Chris explains. “But the very good ones on sale are around P5,000 to P6,000 per cigar.”

The cigar lounge features black-and-white photos of famous cigar lovers like Ernest Hemingway, Fidel Castro, Sigmund Freud and Al Capone, among many others.

But perhaps the most famous personality at Peacock Garden is, well, the peacock named Argus. At the time we were there, Argus didn’t have a peahen in his “home,” so he was squawking all day, perhaps protesting his loneliness.

Chris reveals that, apparently, Argus needs three to four peahens to be satisfied.

The Peacock Garden Resort’s Fontana Aurelia Spa is the only spa in the Philippines that’s included in Conde Nast’s Luxurious Spas 2012 book. Not surprising, since the treatments (named after gods and goddesses) include caviar facial, chocolate body scrub, and wine bath, among many decadent choices.

Wake up to this view: A premier room with balcony overlooks the pool and the sea beyond.

Chris says it was Amanda who designed the spa menu to appeal to their target market, which is Filipinos with discriminating taste, and foreign visitors from Europe. 

The resort has seen its share of romantic weddings, proposals and anniversaries. Amanda relates the story of a guy who planned his proposal with his soon-to-be in-laws and the hotel staff.

“They didn’t make their flight in Manila so they had to fly to Cebu and take the ferry to get here,” Amanda says. “The girl did not know what was in store for her. They had everything set up. The staff on duty had their cue, which was ‘Would you like to have your main course?’ as the time when the proposal was to go down.

“But they had overestimated the time to prepare everything he wanted  candles, flowers, cocktail tables at the poolside, a display of their pictures from the time they were together, and they wanted to synchronize it with fireworks.

“The staff said they would need about 15 minutes to be ready, except that they did it in five. So just after they served the bread, the waiter already asks, ‘Sir, would you like your main course?’

“The guy stands up and goes out to the pool area. Then they ask the girl to come out. As soon as she steps out, the pool bar plays their song  she’s not seeing anything yet because the hedge hides everything. As soon as she steps through the hedge arc she sees the candles, the pictures and flowers. Right after he asks her to marry him and she said yes, the fireworks go off.”

The hotel arranges everything for couples and doesn’t add fees for this service, the same way they arrange tours around Bohol, matching guests with accredited tour guides and transport services.

A slice of Germany in Bohol: The Peacock Garden Boutique Hotel & Spa owners Hans and Lani Schoof (right) with son Chris Schoof and Amanda Iliscupides.

Another proposal happened over the Holy Week. A well-traveled couple in their late 20s were touring the Philippines. It was their first time in the country. When they arrived, they witnessed an 85-guest wedding held at the resort. So they inquired about wedding packages because they loved the facilities and service.

Amanda says the guy was excited but the girl kept repeating, “Oh, we’re planning, but we’re not even engaged yet.”

The next day, Chris and Amanda were told that the couple was looking for both of them. Chris says, “I was thinking, did something happen on their tour? We found them taking pictures by the romantic dining area. When the girl saw me from afar, she came running, ‘Chris!’ and she showed me her ring. Her boyfriend had the ring all along, that’s why he was so excited when they were inquiring about the packages.”

Amanda says one of the more popular packages is the weekend wedding. Bride and groom and their guests fly in on a Friday, have their rehearsal dinner; on Saturday they have spa treatments in the morning, the ceremony and reception in the evening, and then they go to the private dance club where the celebration continues till 5 a.m. the next day; on Sunday they have brunch or lunch and then fly back to Manila in the afternoon. 

Many foreign guests, however, extend their stay beyond the weekend, making the wedding their vacation as well.

And how about honeymooners? Chris laughs and says, “Oh, sometimes we see them only at check-in and check-out.”

* * *

The Peacock Garden Boutique Hotel & Spa is located at Upper laya, Baclayon, Bohol. Visit www.thepeacockgarden.com, e-mail relax@thepeacockgarden.com. Call (38) 539-9231, (38) 416-0483.

For Cebu Pacific flights to Tagbilaran, Bohol, log on to www.cebupacificair.com.

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