Saturday, August 16, 2008


SO NICE... SO ... SO NICE...
I'm in love with the Sofitel Philippine Plaza. Yes, I'll admit it. I am. But I have to say, it wasn't always so. Once upon a time, I hated every hotel in Manila. Truth be told, up until recently, when it came to recommending luxury accomodations in our ever loyal and noble city, I was at a total loss. All hotels near the heritage districts were either too boring, too gross, or too anonymous. There was no hotel that offered a luxury experience distinct to the City of Manila. The Manila Hotel had gone to hell, the Manila Hilton and Sheraton both left the country, the aesthetics of the Hyatt went totally 21st century anywhere-in-Asia, and all the hotels in Makati, were, well - in Makati, and not downtown. It seemed like Manila lost all it's thunder when it came to looking for any luxurious "Filipino" accomodations - until the Sofitel.

Originally built for the Westin group, The Philippine Plaza (top photo, upper left) was one of seven scandalously sumptuous hotels that Imelda Marcos commissioned for Asia's first IMF World Bank Meeting, hosted by Manila back in 1977. Built at a cost of U$20 million dollars, it was designed by Leandro Locsin, National Artist and architect of our national theater, the Cultural Center of the Philippines. And aside from being the regions first Westin Resort, The Philippine Plaza boasted of having Manila's largest hotel rooms (above), the country's most elaborate swimming pool, an indoor garden with fountain, and modernist public art done by another National Artist, the painter and sculptor, Arturo Luz - all set amidst 12 acres of landscaped greens fronting the Manila Bay.

The hotel was a casual mix of Philippine hospitality and cutting edge design, truly Manila's most chic hotel/resort (original lobby above). No wonder it became Imelda Marcos' favorite hotel. Apparently, the former first lady preferred their Imperial Suite over the Manila Hotel's MacArthur Suite. Unfortunately though, by 1996, in a ham-fisted effort to standardize their hotel image, The Westin Hotel management ripped out all the hardwood from the lobby, chopped down all the indoor Dapdap trees, removed the lobby fountains, capiz chandeliers, dumped the Arturo Luz sculptures in an empty lot, and replaced it all with a jarringly inappropriate faux Italian piazza, complete with fiberglass streetlamps and a cheezy central fountain. The Philippine Plaza had denied it's modernist lineage, tried to go classical, and lost it's edge.

And there The Philippine Plaza stood - right by the Manila Bay in all it's drab neo-Italianate blandness until 2005, when the Sofitel group took over operations. And now, thanks to a multi-million peso refurbishment and a touch of French flair, The Sofitel Philippine Plaza has dropped its' schizophrenic design scheme and returned to it's rightful place as the city's most stylish hotel (refurbished lobby restaurant Spiral, above).

And why do I like this place so much? Well, first of all. Their rooms are huge. Their corner suite, where I stayed for a weekend last month (note: on my own bill - so this is NOT a biased article) is bigger than most apartments in Manila at 100 square meters. And with a view like this outside your window (below), the room seems even bigger.

Secondly, the Sofitel believes in the necessity of minding the details. Things like having all items in the gift shop arranged by color, having a library full of art and fashion books/magazines in the lobby, and having different iPod music selections for your massage (Lounge, Nat King Cole, Nature, among others) show you that this is a hotel that tries to think out of the box .

But most of all, I really like the Sofitel because they respected the architectural heritage of the building. Done by my favorite Filipino architect, Leandro V. Locsin, the building is one among many historically relevant sites within Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex. It is the perfect jumping point for checking out other Locsin masterpieces like the Philippine International Convention Center (above), The Cultural Center of the Philippines (below), and Folk Arts Theatre.

And being the art freak that I am, The Philippine Plaza is also perfect for any culture vultures out there looking to make a kill. One is only walking distance from the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, The GSIS Museum, the Coconut Palace, and a few minutes drive to Intramuros, the National Museum, Quiapo, or art galleries like Galeria Duemila or Albert Avellana Arts in Pasay City. The Philippine Plaza is so embedded in Manila's art and cultural identity, it's like staying in a Spanish Parador, except that it isn't the Alhambra outside your window, but a compound of brutalist structures dedicated to a disco era Sun God named Ferdinand Marcos.

And due to the historic nature of the building, the Sofitel's refurbishment had to be both sensitive and sensible. So in keeping with the casual Philippine chic theme, the rooms are devoid of any neo Italianate/Renaissance/Baroque detailing and are quasi-minimalist. The furniture is lined in coconut shell inlay, the beds are flanked by capiz lamps (above), and their legendary swimming pool is lined in real Piedra China (raw granite) (below).

And since I truly believe in this hotel, I am pleased to say that I have collaborated with them to create a luxury package worthy of the area and it's history. So if you are so inclined, come experience Manila my way.

Experience Manila's history in ultimate style with The Cool Carlos Cultural Weekend Package, A So Suite Luxury Promotion. For just half a million pesos (Php500,000), you and five of your friends can stay at the Philippine Plaza's Imperial Suite with it's three bedrooms, atrium, music room (above), and library-den (below). Of course, all three bedrooms come complete with balconies and spectacular views of the Manila Bay.

Aside from the accomodations, you and your friends shall also enjoy the following fabulousness:
Chauffeured BMW service from check-in to check-out.
An exclusive Imelda Tour or Intramuros Tour with yours truly*
Private helicopter ride to historic Corregidor Island, Taal Volcano or Mount Pinatubo.

Gourmet Picnic on the tours.

Sunset Cruise Champagne cocktails out on Manila Bay with a butler and DJ.

Aromatheraphy and Revitalizer massage at Le Spa.

Breakfast on the Spiral Deck.
Late check-out at 4pm.

*Depending on Availability

But of course, if you have a slightly smaller budget or don't know five people that you can call a friend, you can call the Sofitel and ask Ms. Christine Ibarreta-Urbanozo to tailor make A Cool Carlos Cultural Weekend Package just for you. May I recommend a corner suite with confirmed reservations for a Saturday afternoon Imelda tour capped by sunset cocktails? Make sure to catch their nightly traditional dance troupe perform poolside before getting even more tanked over at their 7 Pecados nightclub. And if you are still up to it the next day, catch a Sunday Intramuros Tour or have a Filipino Hilot Massage at the 24-hour Le Spa to complete this magnificent Manila moment.

Take my word for it. It's the only way to experience the city of Man.

So Cool. So Chic. So Sofitel.

So Call Christine now at:
(+63)2/5515555 - (+63)2/5515610
or email:
Sofitel Manila
CCP Complex Roxas Boulevard Pasay City 1300

Thank you equinox1, revcruz, and jagfromspain for the pictures.

Oh. And this offer only lasts until the end of December 2008. Au Revoir et Mabuhay, folks!