Tabaco City, Albay | Bicol’s City of Love
For all its friendliness, quaint town romance & encompassing acceptance of the diversity of humankind, Tabaco City prides itself as Bicol’s City of Love. Here, this affection is as hot as its chili, as easy breezy as its coastal fringes & as heartwarming as you can imagine.
I have to admit that it wasn’t love at first sight. My first visit here was in 2011 for a quick run at work. Then it was seconded by a spontaneous detour when I did a crosscountry roadtrip in 2017. And in the summer of 2018, I just let it slip through the night before sailing to Catanduanes early the next day.
What’s there to love about Tabaco City?
After a few failed attempts to experience Tabaco City, I finally got the chance to feel its real life vibe when I got invited to the celebration of its town fiesta. This time, I had an entire week to indulge on so many wonderful things that I missed in the past.
The weeks leading up to June 24 are always a great time to visit Tabaco City as it stages Tabak Festival & the feast of St. John the Baptist. It celebrates the ingenuity of tabak making or bolo smithing as one of its prime local crafts.
This merrymaking rejoices many things Tabaceño: their adoration for its revered patron, its bountiful harvests & the charms of its crafts. It also hails its people’s skills, talents & beauty that make them proud as Bicolanos.
Admirably, this festival gives every group in their community a time to shine in various variety shows. There’s one for LGBTQ, for LGU employees, for hip-hoppers & cosplayers. There are events for farmers, fisherfolks, bladesmiths & even teenage moms.
One thing that fascinates me about Tabaco City is its abounding view of Mayon Volcano. And, I highly toss this place as one of the best spots to catch her elusive beauty. I surely had a fantastic week waking up to her allure from my hotel’s window.
I chased her from the sea, from the plaza & from the road. I hunted her from fields to farms & from islands to highlands. She’s just so all around & that makes the town naturally spectacular.
And if you can’t really get enough of her from a panoramic distance, you can scale up to Mayon Planetarium & Science Park in Buang. Saddling at 2,800 feet above, this spot offers not just observatory facility & museum but also a breathtaking view of this side of Albay.
The city’s town center is compact. Sleek commercial buildings grow in cheek by jowl with its old architecture. But even at first impressions, it’s easy to spot that its townscape is laid out in a Spanish quadricula.
Everything revolves around the 1800s baroque church of St. John the Baptist. Across the road are the centennial school of St. Louise de Marillac & the City Hall that is reminiscent of American period state architecture from the mid-20th century.
Just around the bend is a heritage house that dates back to 1868 done in the classic “bahay na bato” colonial construction. In the American Period it became the office of the Bell, Smith & Company, an abaca trading firm that reminds us today of the city’s affluent past. Today, the heirs of then famous poet, Angela Manalang-Gloria own it.
While there’s not many of its kind left in old Spanish strongholds in the country, interestingly, Tabaco City has kept its cemetery chapel intact. It is called Cimburrio, built in dark volcanic stones & rock similar to the church.
As much as my love for fleeting sunsets, I am fascinated with waterfalls too. In the foothills of Mt. Masaraga is Oras Falls, the city’s only waterfall. It may not be plunging high but it’s definitely never short of beauty & fun.
But what’s a trip to Tabaco City without visiting its famed San Miguel Island? This side of the city is lovely with quite a few local resorts around. But there’s one spot here that not many tourists know about — Punta.
Soak in the dramatics of coconut trees & tall cogon grass, the murmurs of the waves & the castaway feel. And if you come in at the right time, Mayon in full view wouldn’t be too bad for a background.
With everything that I did for a week here, I have to confess that I spent most of my time eating around. Sorry, overeating around. Laing, Bicol Express & Pinangat are a staple food here. They’re irresistible & so are DJC’s halo-halo, sinapot & pili brittle.
But if there is one food that’s very Tabaceño, dig for marcasotes, an effin’ yummy muffin. Created by the Borganio family in the 60s, they’re still baking it the traditional way today in giant claypots.
Tabaco City is a quaint town in the face of a bustling modern world. Most people still go for home-cooked lunch & dig into Sunday markets. They still pause for the angelus & takes joy in bygone style padyak rides.
It may not be the prettiest place & not even the most famous. But somewhere, somehow, there is something about this city that captures your heart & tickles your imagination. Yes, because Albay is Tabaco too.
For tour information, visit the Tabaco City Tourism Office.
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For island-hopping in Tabaco, contact
Kuya Hermie Biron at 09168734408