Hotel Review: The Peninsula Manila, Makati, Metro Manila in the Philippines
Manila, the capital of the Philippines, doesn’t usually factor in many travellers’ wish-lists of cities to visit. But it should: less of a tourist trap than Bangkok, and without the ubiquitous gap-year backpackers and attendant pick-pockets and street thieves, but far more buzzy, eclectic and chaotically fun than Singapore. It has plenty of culture and entertainment, a great restaurant and nightlife scene and just enough quirky Asian eccentricity to make it well worth a stop on the way to some of the Philippines’ paradise-like islands or even as a city break in itself.
I discovered it on the way to Melbourne as a stop-off courtesy of Philippines Airlines whose brand new Boeing 777 aircraft are plying a multitude of routes between the UK and Australia in an effort to prise passengers away from carriers with hubs in places such as Dubai, Hong Kong and Qatar.
Doing a bit of research before my trip, I’d discovered that, even though it’s been open since the mid-seventies (it had a major overhaul in 2008), locals still regard the five-star Peninsula as the best hotel in the city. So apparently do a long list of distinguished guests that includes Bill Clinton, Maragret Thatcher and Prince Andrew (who, I was later told by one of the managers, insists on having his bacon ironed for breakfast!). This accolade was further confirmed by my taxi driver as we pulled up to the impressive concourse where smiling bell-boys and bell-girls in immaculate white uniforms with matching pillbox hats stood waiting to help me with my luggage. Next to them was parked the hotel’s very own shiny black Jeepney, a luxury Art-Deco version of the 1955 Willys Jeepneys (Jeep-like buses) that serve as cheap public transport to millions of Filipinos. It all makes for a highly Instagrammable scene and even I, jaded traveller that I am, couldn’t resist posing for a selfie!
When I finally made it inside this impressive 469-roomed property, I was forced to stop once again and admire the opulence of the grand entrance hall where two gigantic tapestries — officially the largest of their kind in all of Asia — adorn the walls. On a mezzanine above the bank of reception desks, a string quartet was playing gentle classical music as finely dressed wedding guests paraded down the stairs to toast the happy couple partaking of afternoon tea in The Lobby. After checking-in, I hurried my girlfriend past the Bulgari boutique on the ground floor (avoiding temptation and any critical damage to my credit-card) and headed for my Deluxe room (number 656) which is decorated in comforting neutral tones with a large desk that served well for the work I had to do whilst here.
At 41 metres square, there was plenty of room to spread out and enjoy the large picture window offering dramatic views of Makati, considered the smartest and most upmarket district of Manila. Air-conditoning, heating, mood lighting and the room’s entertainment system (including flat-screen TV) are controlled from a panel by the bedside. The bathroom is particularly spacious and comes supplied with the Peninsula’s own brand of luxury toiletries which are all by Oscar de la Renta.
The Pen’ has five restaurants from which to choose as well as bars and cafe’s, including a poolside bar that serves casual snacks and drinks to the outside swimming and sunbathing area. Old Manila is the hotel’s sig nature restaurant serving premium international cuisine and an extensive wine list but I chose to take my lunch at Spices which is located in a large Balinese-style hut with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the Peninsula’s lush tropical gardens. The food here is pan-Asian, cooked by chefs from India and Thailand. My main course of Asam Goreng (beef short rib with tamarind sauce) was a deliciously tangy delight and I followed it up with the Filipino national dessert of Halo-Halo (a sort of layered trifle with shaved ice, evaporated milk and ice-cream).
After such indulgence, I was tempted to work off the calories in the 24-hour fitness centre which boasts a full complement of training machines, weights and equipment. However, I opted instead for the more sedentary pleasures of the Peninsula Spa where a range of ayurvedic, oriental and western beauty and massage treatments for both men and women are offered, many at very attractive rates compared to luxury spas in equivalent European hotels.
The Peninsula is the only hotel in Manila with its own helipad on the roof. If your pockets are deep enough, the hotel can arrange for you to be transported by helicopter to a range of experiences around the city and beyond that allow you to delve into Pinoy history, lifestyle and culture (of course, you could save yourself quite a bit of money and just take a taxi or Jeepney instead!). Going under the banner of the Peninsula Academy, guests can choose to spend a day learning to cook typical Filipino food with local school-children, making jewellery with an artist at her studio or a number of other classes, tours or activities that tourists would not normally get the chance to experience.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to enjoy any of these so I settled instead for a ‘Ning Sling’ cocktail in the art deco Salon de Ning bar and nightclub on the ground floor as I contemplated my highly enjoyable stay at the Peninsula. As I was leaving, the white-clad bell-girl beamed charmingly as she ushered me into my airport taxi and I vowed to return to this wonderfully welcoming luxury hotel just as soon as I can make it back to Manila.< Address: Corner of Ayala and Makati Avenues, Makati City, Metro Manila, Republic of the Philippines