Majestic gardens are the pride of this Batangas escape 2
Casa Molave is a refurbished home from a neighboring town.

Modern pleasures meet old world Filipino living in this majestic Batangas garden escape

Three hours away from Manila sits this beautifully designed garden that’s a perfect weekend/weekday escape
JEROME GOMEZ | Jun 20 2022

There’s a lot of good things one can say about the San Juan, Batangas resort El Jardin de Zaida, but one that easily deserves the supreme compliment is its lush, sprawling garden. Greens seem to make up most of the entire 11-hectare property. Filled with rare tropical plants and dotted with tall, beautiful trees, the garden looks designed precisely to bring to fore nature’s allure, as well as the beauty of the resort’s structures. And, yes, give the active Instagrammer a ton of thoughtfully composed backdrops to take one’s selfie against. 

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The garden landscape was designed by the family’s favorite landscape artist Mike Asinas.
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A Japanese garden near the Rocio Spa.

“The landscape definitely gets most of the attention,” confirms Andrea Mago, director of marketing and daughter-in-law of resort founders Rudy and Zaida Mago. Designed by the family’s long trusted landscape artist Mike Asinas, the greenery is really one of two reasons El Jardin de Zaida was even born in the first place. “Initially, it was not supposed to be a resort or events place. The intention was to build a rest house with a beautiful garden,” adds Andrea. 

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One of the well-appointed villas designed by Ted Narciso.
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The small pool near the deluxe rooms.

A year or so later, however, Rudy and Zaida decided “the big, big garden” would need maintenance, which meant it needed funding. And so the Magos decided to make a business of it, turning the property into an events place first until expansion efforts just kept going. The villas were added in 2017, and the Rocio Spa, named after one of the couple’s granddaughters, was built and opened in 2020. “And now here we are!” says Andrea. 

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Where to watch the sunset.
El Jardin founders Rudy and Zaida Mago
Founders Rudy and Zaida Mago in their original rest house that the former designed in collaboration with their interior designer, Guia Tiongco. Choosing to name the resort after Mrs. Mago was a romantic gesture from Mr. Mago.

A good three-hour drive from Manila, the resort is perfect for a quick getaway, with enough amenities and amusements to fill a weekend of relaxation. The villas are spacious and luxurious, with huge bathrooms that will make one think of never leaving it for an entire morning. There are two swimming pools—a small one under the shade of a lovely tree, and a much bigger one where the family can spend sunset hour. 

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The Rocio Spa.
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Inside Rocio Spa.

Everywhere you look there’s a delightful piece of Ugu Bigyan creation, Mrs. Zaida being a fan of the famed potter, and his workshop just a short drive away in Quezon. Apart from the spa, there is a restaurant (named Rodolfo’s, run by a chef trained by the legendary Billy King of Baguio’s Manor Hotel), a chapel, and a calamansi orchard where guests can do calamansi-picking. There are also two bahay kubos—not exactly for staying in but guests are welcome to hang out in them or have their meals served there. 

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Ugu Bigyan decorative pieces on the wall at Rodolfo’s restaurant.
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The heirloom four poster bed is the centerpiece of Casa Molave’s second floor.
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One can take in the majesty of the gardens from this second floor window of Casa Molave.

The one closer to the entrance is the original structure built within the property. Designed by Rudy Mago, it’s the rest house that started it all. “Pre-resort days, we would put inflatable pools on the garden, set up picnic blankets, and play with our daughters Olivia and Lily who were then just babies,” recalls Andrea. “Summer days were spent just loafing around. We would have the occasional visitor who would marvel at the gardens and the bahay kubo.” 

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Filipino touches abound, like in this walkway at the reception area.
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The garden resort at dusk.

The second kubo is called Casa Molave and is a two-storey structure that could effectively take you back to much gentler times. It’s actually a rehabilitated, refurbished transplant from a nearby town called Calubcub. Bought by the Magos in 2014, it has since been transformed into the charming display house it is today by interior designer Guia Tiongco. “Some 35 years ago, my father in law planted Teak and Mahogany trees,” shares Andrea. “The wood from some of those trees were used in refurbishing that house. He set up a workshop in the property and churned out tables, chairs, window framesand a few decorative pieces.” 

The open layout of the first floor is a favorite of guests who like to do boodle fights here (this has also been a wedding and wedding reception venue). Meanwhile an heirloom four-poster bed is the second floor’s piece de resistance, and the balcony the most ideal place to marvel in the artistry that went into the resort’s landscape. Taking in this view is one of the great pleasures of being in El Jardin de Zaida—apart from spending sunset time by the big pool while enjoying a margarita and the restaurant’s Quarter Pounder Beef Burger with fries on the side.

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Rudy Mago set up a workshop in the property and churned out tables, chairs, window frames and a few decorative pieces from the teak and mahogany trees he planted.

For Andrea, El Jardin de Zaida is an extension of her in-laws’ “passion for building and creating and doting on things and people.” Asked what features she is most proud of in the property, she mentions the “warm welcoming interiors” by Guia Tongco, and the Rocio Spa and the villas designed by seasoned architect Ted Narciso. She refers to them as “little pieces of tropical heaven.” 

A boodle fight setup at Casa Molave
A boodle fight setup at Casa Molave’s ground floor veranda.
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The luxurious bathroom in one of the premium suites.

The designers and architects worked very closely with the founding Mago couple to transform the resort into the warm, inviting and very tastefully done escape it’s become. “My father and mother in law were both very hands-on with the design and construction. They always are,” Andrea says proudly. “They have fantastic eye for detail. This is why you will feel that the features of the resort were done with love.” 

[Photos by Aldwin Aspillera]