Wednesday, August 8, 2018

TRAVEL | Anya Resort Tagaytay: Nice place but still rough around the edges

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Welcome to Anya Tagaytay Resort!

When you're a property brandishing your inclusion in the exclusive Small Luxury Hotels of the World, which of course you should be proud of, you better live up to your own hype. Anya Resort Tagaytay is one of only three such properties from the Philippines that have been accepted into the brand, which entails approval by SLH's board of directors and an annual visit from its team of mystery inspectors "to ensure consistently high standards of quality."

We tried Anya Resort Tagaytay for two nights and came in with fairly high expectations. Here's a rundown of our experience.

Booking and check-in
Apart from SLH's website and its own, Anya Tagaytay is also available on most online booking sites, so getting a room wasn't a problem at all.

Upon arriving at the gate, security asked for our names to confirm if we were guests at the resort. Thinking about it, I'm not sure how they deal with people just wanting to, say, try their restaurant or make some inquiries. Anyway, we proceeded down a road that's beautifully lined up with bamboo trees until another security team came into view and gave us instructions on where to drop our luggage off and park.

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What a short but scenic drive from the gate to the resort! Bamboo is 💚! 

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Our welcome treat.

Anya Tagaytay has what they call "lifestyle assistants" to handle everything for guests, so instead of queueing at the front desk, we simply sat back and relaxed at the lobby as one of them took care of our check-in. We were served butchi (glutinous rice balls with sesame seeds) on toothpicks and some citrus blend drink while waiting.

The check-in process wasn't the most efficient but at least we were comfortably seated. Obviously the resort still has to iron out some kinks here. We also weren't given any acknowledgement receipt for our cash deposit for incidentals; we had to ask for one. But okay, no big deal.

Architecture and ambiance
The resort has several structures scattered throughout the hilly property, all sporting a modern aesthetic inspired by traditional Filipino design. The exteriors are painted in a cream color and accented by dark wood and other dark brown implements. There are even a couple of faux capiz shell windows as decorative touches in the villas. Meanwhile, the roofs, though rendered in tiles, are reminiscent of the bahay kubo in terms of shape.

The main building has a bright and airy feel, thanks to its huge glass windows. Apart from offering great views of the surrounding landscape and the rest of the resort, they also allow lots of natural light in, and witnessing the lobby gloriously bathed in the afternoon sun was a welcome plus.

With several seating options, the lobby proves to be a lovely place to lounge. One need only pick a spot to go through the day's paper or enjoy a good book. Or catch up with social media, perhaps. As for the furniture and lighting fixtures, I find them generally tasteful, and to me the use of real plants and flowers only adds to the already elegant ambiance.

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The lobby.

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The lobby all lit up by the warm afternoon sun.

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Lifestyle assistants in action.

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The art installation for me is a good decision to highlight the lobby's high ceiling.

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I always like it when plants are used.

From the roundabout fronting the main building, the villas and the rest of the resort are accessible only on foot or via golf carts traversing through small, winding, concrete roads. Landscaping is nice but somehow the surroundings still feel a little "new." I guess the gardens still need to mature a bit, so let's give them time.

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Landscaping still needs to mature. Right now it still feels a little new.

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Small, winding, concrete roads in between villas.

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Anya ain't done yet. There's more to expect beyond this point in the future.

Our room
We booked a Junior King Suite, which has a floor area that runs from 47 to 69 sqm, depending on where your room's located. Ours was a corner room although I don't know about its size. All I can say is that there's enough room to move around.

The suite follows the same cream and brown shades as the main building. The aesthetic is minimalist and elegant--high ceiling, gorgeous accent wall, warm lighting, double curtains, and minimal decor. The accent wall against which the bed sits features dark wood and fabric-covered panels in a much lighter shade, with some embroidery at the center.

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Accent wall gloriously rising all the way up to the ceiling.

I loved our king-size bed, which netted me two blissful nights of sleep. The daybed was also nice, by the way. And if you needed some fresh air, the veranda offers a commanding view of the pool at a comfortable distance. It's also quite spacious, especially for only two people. Ironically, though, the door is small--really small--which to me diminishes the veranda's supposed grandeur.

As for amenities, there's the obligatory flatscreen TV (which, as usual, we never bothered to turn on at all), fridge, coffee and tea-making set, closet, electronic safe that can fit a laptop, and something that I really love in a hotel room--an ironing set (saves you a lot in pressing charges). There's also complimentary water and you can always ask your lifestyle assistant for more.

It's not all good, though, because for some reason the fridge was locked. We really didn't care much for it but we brought it up with the hotel staff upon checkout. They said they usually lock it for corporate bookings and they may have forgotten to unlock it. Nevertheless, they should be more thorough then since they're promising luxury.

Another is the positioning of the phone, which is customarily bedside. Instead, they placed it away from the bed, in a corner where the daybed sits. So every time it rings or when you have to call for service, you have to get up. Small thing, yes, but for a hotel room it matters.

While it's nice to see handwritten notes from the manager and housekeeping staff, turndown service was inconsistent. We were given some small chocolate treats and drinks on our first day and none on the next. So I'm confused what their standard service should be then.

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A section of the veranda in view, access to which is through a small door on the side.

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Our room as viewed from the opposite side.

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Lovely touches.

I know I keep using the word nice but the bathroom is indeed nice and Anya calls its bathrooms "Wow bathrooms" for a reason. Ours has a rectangular layout with the bathtub and shower room by the window, and the toilet on the opposite end. In the middle are a his and hers sink and vanity. Though not as grand, it kind of reminds me of our bathroom at The Grand Hyatt Macau more than two years ago.

In projecting an environment-conscious outlook, shampoo and other liquids are kept in ceramic bottles instead of plastic ones. It's a little difficult, however, to extract the lotion and conditioner owing to their viscosity. But I like the smell of their toiletries.

About what I didn't like, for one the shower's faucet handle was faulty, which kept on falling. Housekeeping also isn't quite as thorough in cleaning, if the water stains on the shower room's glass panel is any indication. Also, the socket by the sink suffers from some ill-advised design, which has a switch to enable it. However, their hair dryer requires an adapter, which presses on the switch every time you plug it, effectively rendering the hair dryer useless.

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Notice the water stains on the glass?

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Bathtub by the window.

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Oh, that faulty faucet handle.

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Our veranda allows us a great view of the pool, far enough to not be bothered by all the noise there.

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Our L-shaped veranda from a different angle.

Anya Tagaytay has three restaurants although I'm thinking they all share the same kitchen. But anyway, here's a little something about each one.

Samira is the resort's designated fine-dining restaurant, which has a dress code that supposedly doesn't allow shorts for guys. I panicked because I never thought about bringing any long pants as I was going to a "resort." Although we always found ourselves not hungry enough every dinner time to try this resto, this was where breakfast was served throughout our stay--and where I wasn't alone in wearing shorts.

If my memory serves me right, their dishes range from around Php 400 to over Php 1,000. They also have a set three-course dinner on offer.

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Samira's interiors.

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The afternoon sun blasting through and lighting up a section of the restaurant.

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Al fresco dining overlooking the pool area.

This was where we ended up having dinner for two nights (on one occasion because the third restaurant was already closed). Amra serves lighter fare like tapas and cheese although they also offer pasta and the like. And oh, wine.

Amra is smaller compared to Samira, and about half of its floor space is outdoors and is also the resort's designated smoking area. Unfortunately the wind sometimes carries the smoke indoors, which can be annoying.

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Amra, which is just a few steps away from Samira.

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Anila Café
An open-air poolside restaurant, Anila Café serves brick-oven pizzas, salads, and sandwiches. They can also serve you by your sun beds if you don't want to leave your spot by the pool. We were also able to order off their menu while we were dining at Amra one evening.

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A more relaxed dining experience at Anila Café.

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Comfy couches, brick oven in the background.

The food and service
We haven't tried any of the resort's full-on courses but from what we've had, and save for a few exceptions, food was good overall. Nothing that completely blew me away but good.

For one, I loved Amra's tomato soup, which was poured over croutons and tomato bits right in front of you. It had none of the sourness I usually experience with tomato soup and in fact it had a pleasant, tangy sweetness to it. The pumpkin soup was also good although the pumpkin bits needed a few more minutes of cooking. It was also nice of the waiter to let us have the "extra" soup each time, so I sure had my fill.

We had salad once, which had arugula, roasted pumpkin, and goat's cheese. As with the soup, though, the pumpkin bits were a tad undercooked for my liking. Their pizzas, on the other hand, are worth trying. Thin crust and in an elongated shape, they felt light yet filling at the same time.

Meanwhile, Amra's take on gambas featured prawns instead of the smaller-sized shrimp I'm accustomed to, all tender and flavorful. Although I can't take my mind off Terry's every time I'm eating gambas, this was undeniably still a good dish.

We didn't quite hit it off in the dessert department, however. Thinking of something light and palette-cleansing, the melon cubes we ordered with some lime sherbet seemed to be a mistake. The melon wasn't sweet and the sherbet had just way too much acidity. Thankfully their halo-halo turned out okay and I really loved their jackfruit and basil shake.

Regarding service, it was a little inconsistent. I mean, there were a couple of inattentive waiters but there were also a handful of really good ones.

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Top: tomato soup; bottom: the pumpkin soup before the liquid was poured over.

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Top: roasted pumpkin salad; bottom: gambas.

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Margherita and prosciutto pizzas.

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Left: jackfruit and basil shake and piñacolada; right: halo-halo.

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Top: melon cubes topped with lime sherbet; bottom: eggs benedict.

Deviating from the buffet standard of most hotels, Anya's breakfast starts off with a two-tiered tray of bread and pastries, butter, pineapple jam, a few slices of fruit, a few cold cuts, and a few slices of cheese. There's also a small glass of some pineapple juice blend and a choice between coffee or hot chocolate. You're then asked for your choice of main dish, which can be anywhere from your typical Pinoy fare of longganisa, tocino, and the like, to non-rice dishes like eggs benedict.

Although I wish it had a bit more hollandaise sauce, the eggs benedict was okay. What I definitely did not like was the longganisa. The texture was the hamonado type of longganisa and it was neither sweet or garlicky. It was simply wanting in flavor and reminded me of our office cafeteria's longganisa, which I abhor. This bothered the chef a lot when he asked me how the food was. Pastries isn't his strong spot either but in his defense, the bangus (milkfish) was fairly decent.

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Bread and pastries with a couple of this and a couple of that.

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Longganisa vs bangus. Points for plating, though.

Anya needs to improve their kitchen and waitstaff training, as service is still spotty. On our second breakfast, our pastry tray came way after our mains were served, and this after a couple of follow-ups.

Anya Tagaytay has pretty much enough facilities to keep guests entertained, and not once did we leave the resort throughout our stay. Some people may want something more, like maybe a basketball or badminton court, but we were just after a relaxing time.

Swimming pool
There's the gradated pool, of course, which has shallower sections for kids. It's nice, yes, although I find at least one side of it too close to foot traffic. I mean, I wouldn't want to be wading in the pool when there are conference attendees too close to me.

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The pool area.

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This area was once filled with dining tables for a conference. It would be awkward lounging in that small section of the pool over there, now wouldn't it?

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The pool is great for doing some laps.

Event spaces and function rooms
There are function rooms on the main building's second floor and there's also this separate two-storey villa that can be rented out for private functions (Kwittiegirl attended one here). The latter has its own lovely pool surrounded by tall shrubs. I suppose this would also do if you're a big group wanting some sense of privacy and exclusivity.

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I find this pool even lovelier than the resort's main pool.

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For private functions, complete with bedrooms, a common living area, and other features.

Anya has a tastefully designed library in its main building. The high ceiling and surrounding glass panels and windows provide the space a bright and airy atmosphere, while the comfy couches and armchairs make you feel right at home.

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The arrangement of the books is both functional and decorative.

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Pick your seat.

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High ceiling and glass panels all over provide for a relaxing feel.

Gym and spa
I haven't checked the fitness center but we've tried out the spa. Niyama Spa can only accommodate two guests at a time for now, so interested guests have to book in advance. According to the staff, it's just a temporary setup and their permanent location is still under construction.

After filling out the requisite checklist and choosing our massage oil, we were ushered into a spacious rectangular bathroom to change and went through another door and into the massage area. Our treatment started with a foot bath and scrub (using some salts). A few minutes into the massage I dozed off. My masseuse was good and I felt relaxed obviously. Once we reappeared at the reception we were treated to a few slices of fruit and some tarragon tea.

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The massage room.

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The treatment begins with a foot bath and scrub.

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Post-massage treat.

This didn't turn out as smoothly; something to do with their inability to open the safe where they kept our cash deposit for incidentals. The lifestyle assistants were nice, though.

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"Nya" Resort lights this up for about an hour or two each night.

In hindsight
Billing yourself a luxury hotel sure is a tall order and Anya Resort Tagaytay has stumbled in many respects. Credit, however, must be given to how beautiful the place is as a whole--there's no denying that--probably even more once their gardens have "aged" and everything looks and feels "settled."

The resort already has it. Sure, adding a couple more facilities would be nice but it's primarily the service that needs to be addressed. In all fronts--lifestyle assistants, housekeeping, kitchen, waitstaff, etc.--it has to be topnotch and consistent. Yes, there will always be noobs who may not be well-versed in their assigned departments but they should be closely shadowed by more experienced staff. After all, Anya commands quite the price. And no one--absolutely no one--should be cleaning your pool area like this:

Overall Anya Tagaytay ain't bad at all. The problem is they've set themselves up to very high expectations. Nevertheless I'm hoping to return one day to a much-improved experience. Yes, I'm still betting on you.

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Lovely floral setup by the stairwell. Easily brightens up a gloomy day.

Anya Resort Tagaytay is located along Buenavista Hills Road, Bgy. Mag-asawang Ilat in Tagaytay City. Here's a simplified map from their website for your reference.

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