Bombarded constantly by different holiday ideas in my day job, I’ve well and truly caught the travel bug! An animal loving, arts-obsessed foodie, I love experiencing the local culture, wildlife and cuisine in any destination I’m lucky enough to visit.
Coming from a family of ‘foodies’, one of my favourite parts of going on holiday is getting the chance to discover the local food and drink. And when I got the chance to travel to the Philippines, I couldn’t wait to start sampling some of their dishes
Once ruled by both Spanish and American colonists, located in Southeast Asia and surrounded by water – it’s no surprise that the resulting cuisine here is a fusion of Spanish, American and Oriental influences and ingredients, with plenty of fresh seafood served in spectacular settings. Here's my pick of the best local dishes:
Filipino people love to eat and are some of friendliest people I’ve ever met, so when it comes to hosting a party, they know exactly how to put on a good spread. It wouldn’t be a special occasion without Lechón – Spanish for roasted suckling pig – and there’s nothing that gets the taste buds going more than watching the whole thing, slowly roasting over an open fire as the sun goes down, ready for your evening meal. This national pork dish is crispy on the outside with tender fall-off-the-bone meat that makes a great centrepiece for / addition to…
…a Boodle Fight!
Not that we ever technically got into a fight over our food, but a boodle fight is a Filipino tradition where everyone gathers around a long table full of food, spread over heated banana leaves, and eats with their bare hands. The ‘fight’ refers to the act of grabbing and eating as much as you can with your hands before the food runs out! The tradition originated from the military here, but now locals gather together bringing whatever they have to share with their community, including the fresh catch of the day, chargrilled meats like Lechón and chicken, sweet mangoes and plenty of sticky rice and salads. With so many delicious dishes on offer, the best way to experience this is to get stuck in and get messy!
One for daredevils – balút (or ‘eggs with legs’ as it’s also known) is a developing bird embryo. Not for the faint hearted, the egg is incubated for between 14-21 days, then boiled and eaten from the shell. It's said to contain plenty of protein and calcium so, if you fancy trying something a little different, this street food dish is a popular one with the locals.
(La Paz) Batchoy Soup
Made with a variety of meats (but traditionally pork innards) La Paz Batchoy is a hearty soup that provides the ultimate comfort food. Served in the markets to workers to keep them sustained during the early morning shifts, the meat is simmered with spices for hours before combining with vegetables and noodles to make a warming broth. A tantalising combination of salt, sweet and mildly spicy awaits…
Halo-Halo literally translated means ‘mix-mix’ – and, after ordering one, I understood why! A Filipino dessert or a refreshing snack to cool you down after a hot day exploring the city, this really does contain a mix of everything. At first glance, you might mistake it for an ice cream sundae, but it contains much more than that – yams, jelly, milk, flan, coconut, beans and even sweetcorn! In a dessert! This sugary concoction is definitely worth a try as you’re unlikely to experience anything else quite like it anywhere else!
Turon (banana fritters)
Filipinos love their desserts, which worked perfectly for my sweet tooth. One thing that did take me by surprise, however, was a new-found love for bananas – in all forms!
After visiting the Philippines, I realised I’d been all too simple with my banana consumption and have since been inspired to enjoy bananas in a multitude of ways (sweet banana chips make for a delicious and semi-healthy office snack it turns out!). But what I really fell in love with was Turon – a snack made of thinly sliced bananas, jackfruit and brown sugar rolled in a lumpia wrapper and fried until crispy. The result was a perfect pick-me-up whilst discovering island life. Obviously our group devoured the whole lot and couldn’t resist asking for more.
The Filipino version of lemonade, Calamansi is a small green citrus fruit that makes for a delightfully refreshing juice, Most importantly, it works even better when mixed with gin! The sour fruit is rich in vitamin c and consumed on a regular basis in the Philippines, but sadly it's not available in the UK! Thankfully I brought some Calamansi concentrate back with me, I loved it that much!
Don Papa rum
A rich and light amber-coloured rum served in a stylish bottle, this flavoursome drink is made using sugar cane from the island of Negros. It’s matured in oak barrels for seven years before being blended and the result is an incredibly smooth and fruity rum, that’s perfect served over ice. Sipping this, whilst watching the sun set over crystal clear waters, was the perfect way to end an unforgettable trip to the Philippines...
Chat to a Travel Expert about our holidays to the Philippines.
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Working for a travel company meant that, when I got engaged, one of the questions I was asked most was “Ooh, where are you going to go on your honeymoon?”
Being constantly surrounded by different holiday ideas and inspiration made it seem almost impossible to choose! Where to go, what to do … there were so many options. Being a big animal-lover, going on safari was definitely an item high on my bucket list, and with my (now) husband a keen wine-lover, South Africa soon became an obvious choice. And with a limited amount of annual leave, we decided we wanted to see as much as possible in a short amount of time, so decided a Garden Route self-drive trip with some beach relaxation in Mauritius to top it all off would be a great choice for our honeymoon...
Exploring Cape Town
We flew direct to Cape Town, staying at the renowned Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa. With the hotel’s dramatic location overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and having the magnificent Table Mountain as its backdrop, we were not disappointed. Its close proximity to Camps Bay, with free regular shuttles into the city, meant we enjoyed the best the area has to offer too – from the colourful V&A Waterfront to the rugged beaches and beautiful Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.
A particular highlight was watching the adorable South African Penguins on Boulder’s Beach and journeying to reach the south-westernmost tip of the continent at the Cape of Good Hope, a dramatic rocky promontory. We also had a very humbling experience when we visited Robben Island – learning about the island’s multi-layered history and visiting the maximum security prison where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27-year sentence.
A real highlight for me, though, was my birthday, when my husband treated me to lunch at La Colombe – voted TripAdvisor’s Best Restaurant in Africa. We enjoyed the seven-course tasting menu, sampling delicious dishes whilst enjoying the view of scenic vineyards.
Sipping wines in Fransschoek
After a few days in the city, we picked up our hire car and drove for just over an hour to reach Franschhoek – a wine lover’s paradise! We spent two nights here which gave us plenty of time to soak up the glorious sunshine, coupled with views across the vineyards, from onboard the Fransschoek wine tram. It’s an ingenious, hop-on hop-off way to explore the multiple vineyards peppered throughout the region. Starting at 10am and finishing at 6pm, we sampled 20 different wines(!) and discovered a new love of unoaked Chenin Blanc.
The Garden Route
The next day, we continued our journey across national parks and along coastal routes before entering the Garden Route proper; with lush forests on one side and dramatic cliff edges and ocean views on the other, it’s easy to see how the road earnt its moniker. Driving through picturesque Knysna, Mossel Bay and Plettenberg Bay, we arrived at Hog Hollow Country Lodge just before sun set.
Nestled deep in the forest, our lodge offered us complete privacy with incredible views over the verdant valleys and Tsitsikamma Mountains. We were quickly made to feel at home, and enjoyed canapés and pre-dinner drinks around a communal log fire whilst watching the sun dip below the horizon, before sitting down with to enjoy delectable home-cooked food – just what we needed after our long drive! And the farmhouse breakfast that followed the next day was just as good – affectionately named ‘The Whole Hog’ – it really was delicious and full of variety.
We spent the next day working it all off, and embarked on a hike through Robberg Nature & Marine Reserve, smelling the group of Cape fur seals before catching sight of them at the cliff edge below, and even spotted diving dolphins in the distance. We were also lucky enough to be given a private tour around the Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary, where mistreated big cats are rescued from all over the world.
Going on safari
Our next stop was the Shamwari Game Reserve for our safari. A definite highlight of the trip, we stayed in Bayethe Tented Camp which offered us a luxury experience like no other.
Pausing for a row of warthogs to cross the road, greeted at the entrance by impalas and monkeys chattering in the trees next to our outdoor shower, we instantly felt connected to nature, and this was before we’d even had a game drive. That evening, our host, Matimba, took us out in one of the 4X4s and we were lucky enough to come across a herd of elephants (including several babies). Those few precious minutes of silence whilst we watched them playing together was the best part of our trip and is something that I’ll never forget…
We observed a whole host of wildlife on our various drives, from a pride of lions prowling on the morning hunt, to hippopotamus heads tentatively peering out of the water and buffalo casually grazing on the grasslands. Shamwari Game Reserve is committed to responsible tourism with various conservation initiatives to its name, and a stay here also included a visit to the Born Free Foundation. Having watched the film countless times as a kid, it was amazing to see all their conservation work in practise.
Relaxing in a Mauritian paradise
While the 5am game drive starts were completely worthwhile to see the animals at their most active, I have to admit we were looking forward to some relaxation. We flew from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg and onto Mauritius. Here we blissfully got stuck into some down time, unwinding on one of the most beautiful beaches on the island at the LUX* Belle Mare hotel.
We spent our days sunbathing, cycling and snorkelling, and really loved the special touches that the all-inclusive resort offers – from learning to cook a Mauritian curry with the chef to searching for the daily ‘message in a bottle’, hidden somewhere across the resort with a surprise treat inside. We finally found our bottle on the last day – the perfect end to a perfect honeymoon.