Manila Luxury Travel Guide

Manila Skyline
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The Manila Hotel’s swimming pool has been newly renovated. The garden in the pool area provides a spectacular view of the sunset.
The Manila Hotel’s swimming pool has been newly renovated. The garden in the pool area provides a spectacular view of the sunset.

Metro Manila is a sprawling urban conglomeration and an atypical Asian city, as it has very strong Spanish and — more recent — American influences. English is widely spoken, the Filipinos are the friendliest people you can meet, luxury hotels abound and shopping goes from fancy to fun in glittering shopping malls and markets. Local pearl jewelry makes a great souvenir but — unless you spend in the thousands for genuine Filipino South Sea pearls — they are freshwater Chinese, so hard bargaining is the name of the game.

The 104-year-old Manila Hotel (ph; 011-632-527-0011) is all you could want from a grand hotel. The sweeping lobby has a heritage and animated cosmopolitan glamour that made us feel it was the place to be seen. We learned that when Hemingway stayed here, he famously said, “You haven’t seen Manila if you haven’t been to Manila Hotel.” JFK, The Beatles, Marlon Brando and Michael Jackson are the other notable guests to have stayed at the hotel.

Makati Shangri-La, a five-star hotel located in Manila’s commercial district, is within a walking distance from some of the most popular shopping malls.
Makati Shangri-La, a five-star hotel located in Manila’s commercial district, is within a walking distance from some of the most popular shopping malls.

We also discovered that when former First Lady Imelda Marcos visits, the red carpet is still rolled out, and that Imelda added many of the heirloom features like the fairy-tale crystal palm trees in the fine-dining restaurant, Champagne Room, which is headed up by Executive Chef Konrad Walter ([email protected]; 011-632-527-0011, ext. 1282). In the Ilang-Ilang Restaurant, with its eight live cooking stations, we ended up with such a dizzy plateful of Japanese, Italian, Indian, Chinese, Filipino and Thai favorites that we had to skip the luscious desserts.

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In the small museum, we admired photos of General MacArthur’s six years in residence, but could not visit the penthouse, MacArthur Suite, the largest in the hotel, which is being refurbished. Until it is ready, for top VIPs reserve the Presidential Suite, and the person to reach out to is Resident Manager Gerhard Ludwig Doll ([email protected]; 011-63-521-2509). In the original five-story building, the Park and Bay Suites have city, seafront or pool views. In the 70s tower, we liked the romantic Honeymoon Suite with spiral stairs from the bedroom to the airy parlour, and the Intramuros and Sunrise & Sunset Suites that, we thought, offered the best views.

All rooms have a charming Filipino-homey ambiance and smart bathrooms with Asprey toiletries, and the suites have access to the MacArthur Club Lounge. Tip: Book early for busy December, New Year and Saint Valentine. For personalized VIP and airport arrangements, contact Guest Service Manager Genevieve Fojas ([email protected]) who can set up private visits to art galleries, helicopter and yacht scenic tours and reserve spa pampering for your A-listers.

Makati Shangri-La’s Presidential Suite is the largest in Manila, and comes with a butler.
Makati Shangri-La’s Presidential Suite is the largest in Manila, and comes with a butler.

Makati is the capital’s elegant financial and commercial district and home to the Makati Shangri-La, which is walking distance to some of Manila’s best shopping malls like the up-market Greenbelt. We stayed in a Horizon Executive Room, which gave us access to the Horizon Club Lounge where we had breakfast and also enjoyed the Evening Cocktails — a generous selection of wines and beers and a great hot and cold buffet. One morning we tried the Circles Event Cafe for breakfast, and there was a much larger choice. But as the Makati is one of Manila’s premium business hotels it was really busy, although the smiling staff did keep everyone happy.

General Manager Alain Borgers ([email protected]; 011-632-813-8888) told us the Makati’s restaurants are very popular, also with locals, so guests should make reservations as soon as they arrive. Best Buy: The all-you-can-eat Dim Sum lunch in the Shang Palace offers fantastic value.

We had an elegant dinner in the Sage Bespoke Grill that has a downstairs bar serving handcrafted cocktails and tapas and featuring live bands. The Grill’s top offering is a staggering 45-ounce Black Angus tomahawk steak, but we were very happy with the melt-in-the-mouth broiled lobster tails. Tip: Book early for Sage’s popular monthly Wine Dinners with Executive Chef Paul Lenz ([email protected]; 011-632-813-8888, ext. 7374), guest sommeliers and gastronomes.

We visited one of the three Speciality Suites, which are on the 28th and 29th floors. With two bedrooms, a spacious sitting room, dining area and kitchenette, they are perfect for large families. They also have bidets which are not very common in Asia and so are a real treat. The 800-square-foot Deluxe Suites are another prime choice for business travelers who like extra space.

Top Tip: If you have A-listers who want the best, be sure to book the Presidential Suite, which is the largest in Manila and comes with a butler. And for all your VIP needs, you will be in good hands with Head Concierge Jing Castalla ([email protected]; 011-632-813-8888), who is a member of the Clefs d’Or, that elite concierge club for which nothing is impossible.

For chilling out, there is a pool area and tennis courts, a well-equipped gym — which is particularly busy in the evenings — and a spa. Not to be missed is the Afternoon Tea & Treasures in the Lobby Lounge: large colorful boxes with a dozen drawers conceal mignon sandwiches, cakes, macaroons and lavish patisseries. And in the lobby, a string orchestra plays from afternoon through the evening.

We knew the Nobu Hotel Manila was in the City of Dreams. But as we love surprises, and never do Internet searches on places we are going to visit, we had no idea what to expect. Well, it was a real eye-opener: An urbane resort with three golden-facaded luxury hotels, a casino, a glowing dome and a children’s entertainment center.

The Nobu is acclaimed Chef Matsuhisa’s first property in Asia, and is Japanese-themed with an intimate feel that belies its two towers and 321 rooms. A willowy and very beautiful ambassadress, wearing a floor-length gown featuring heritage Japanese fabric, checked us into our Nobu Suite. We loved the pink cherry blossom silver-leaf panels in the luminous sitting room and bedroom, and the minimalist bathroom with its heated, pop-up-lid WC and Natura Bisse toiletries. The style in the 28 Executive Rooms is more dramatic with black calligraphy brush-strokes on walls and carpets and, like the suites, there are views over the pools and the manicured gardens, which at night turn into a twinkling fairyland.

The Manila Hotel’s fine-dining restaurant, Champagne Room, is well-known for its lavish décor that includes crystal palm trees.
The Manila Hotel’s fine-dining restaurant, Champagne Room, is well-known for its lavish décor that includes crystal palm trees.

To find our bearings we stopped by the concierge desk and learned so much from Head Concierge Ariel Banaag ([email protected]; 011-632- 800-8080, ext. 2905). Ariel is a history buff and we were fascinated by his knowledge of the city. He told us not to miss Corregidor, the island in the bay which the Americans retook from the Japanese in 1945. Tip: If you are looking after honeymooners, ask Ariel to set up a romantic day-trip to this historic island complete with a Nobu picnic lunch and champagne.

Food is, of course, front line with Chef Nobu’s restaurant where breakfast is also served. The floating cabana tables are in high demand for couples so advance bookings are a must. The knowledgable and utterly charming staff — no toffee-nosed nonsense here — explained each of the eight courses of our Omakase dinner, which was as luscious as it was theatrical. And surprise surprise, in Manila the signature dish is not fish, but a heart-throb Tiramisu of almond and hazelnut chocolate sponge with white chocolate mousse and fondant glaze. To work it all off there is the gym and the spa where Manager Jeane Carlos ([email protected]; 011-63-917-543-0597) can be counted on to help with advance bookings. We had and liked the popular Renewal Massage which is a blend of yoga stretches, Swedish massage and acupressure.

For VIP needs, General Manager Marlon Hirsh ([email protected]; 011-632-692-2901) has all the answers. He told us City of Dreams is loved by all ages for its classy hotels, casino, Dreamplay children’s entertainment, night clubs and restaurants that include the Michelin-starred Tasting Room in the Crown Towers, Hyatt’s The Café, which has an interactive show-kitchen, and Crystal Dragon — where we had a delicious crustacean-themed lunch — as well as the great eateries, and the luxury shopping, in the Boulevard shopping mall. 

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