The Philippine Star | Updated October 13, 2015

MANILA, Philippines - On a recent visit to Iloilo, experts from the Department of Tourism Regional Office Western Visayas, headed by Helen Catalbas, were challenged by our discerning traveling group to share with us a jam-packed weekend itinerary that went beyond the usual affair of festivals.
Inside-out and by heart, they know their hometown. They delivered with soaring colors as we explored so many places that it felt like the time from morning ‘til night was never enough. As my sister Honey Jarque-Loop would say, it is the wonderful variant of tiredness from 30-hour days of pure enjoyment.
Iloilo has a whole lot more to offer, but here are our memorable seven.
1. The view from the throne
The most sensible starting point to map one’s way through the province is peek at its local seat of power. The Iloilo City Hall is a fine example of a building that serves as the perfect avenue for an introduction to its seven districts: Jaro, Molo, La Paz, Mandurriao, Villa Arevalo, Lapuz and the City Proper.
Proudly displayed in galleries are the too-many-to-count awards the metro has received. Metropolitan yet alive with tradition, one gets the idea that Iloilo is a progressive yet preserved urban locale of development and history.
This was made more apparent when our guide, Erlyn Alunan, rattled off the many firsts that had their origin in the province — from Hoskyn’s, the Philippines’ first Department Store, Iloilo Golf and Country Club, the first golf course in the islands, and the Iloilo-Negros Air Express, the country’s first.
After this historical look of iconic beginnings — the list goes on, mind you — we made our way to the penthouse to catch the gorgeous view from that vantage point, where we had a prelude of the days to come.
We spotted the city’s downtown preserved Heritage District, the province’s Escolta, the Calle Real and Plaza Libertad, surrounded by Commonwealth era buildings that survived World War II.
There was also Muelle Loney on the western side of the river that is now used for roll-on-roll-off ferries, but was then instrumental to the region’s prosperous sugar industry from the 1800s to the 1900s.
2. The past cherished
An exhibit of excavated remains and Philippine pre-colonial artifacts at the Museo Iloilo

Iloilo’s archeological and cultural heritage is beautifully exhibited in the government-run Museo Iloilo. Designed by local architect Sergio Penasales, it houses relevant objects from the past, as well as modern art by Ilonggo artists and craftsmen.
It has a permanent exhibit that features items from prehistory, to the era of conquests, such as carbon-dated remains of Stone Age pottery, tribal weaponry and tools, fossils, ornaments, blue and white Chinese ceramics, burial urns, and Christian sculptures, along with a diorama of an Ati Family, to modern-day contemporary works.
Quaint and managed with meticulous awareness of the pricelessness of the objects it gives home to, it is wonderful to note that it is accessible to most, with a mere five-peso entrance fee.
3. Churches, churches, churches
There are so many! Each is unique, but here are the ones we remembered best.
We have the beautiful Jaro Cathedral. It is the location of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Light, Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria, with a glass-encased image believed to be growing taller over time within a limestone grotto.
The Romanesque and Gothic themed Molo Church or the Church of St. Anne is a landmark attraction dubbed the feminist church as it is home to numerous images of female saints.
At the outskirts of town, stands the monolithic fortress of the Sto. Tomas de Villanueva, or the Miag-ao Church, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Church of San Joaquin is most distinctly remembered for its militaristic intricate reliefs in depiction of the Battle of Tetuan.
4. Homes, beautiful homes
Predominantly celebrated and well-maintained, Iloilo’s heritage houses are a must-see for historical buffs, architects and lovers of la buena vida.
The first of which is Nelly Garden, the luxurious residence of philanthropist and statesman Vicente Lopez and his wife Elena Hofileña, who named it after their daughter Nelly. Though no pictures are allowed inside, it is definitely a home oozing with elan and fineries.
Casa Mariquit, on the other hand, is more than 200 years old and built for the former Mariquit Javellana by her father Ramon. She married Fernando Lopez, who was elected vice president of the land, and the house now hosts a wide array of memorabilia of the man of power.
Abandoned for many years to neglect and degradation, the Yusay Consing Mansion, the former residence of the Petra Lacson who married G Yusay, the first judge of Manila, is another heritage edifice in Molo District. It is presently closed for viewing. However, SM Group recently acquired the property and has started to restore the historical site to its old grandeur.
5. On the banks
The Riverside Boardwalk is the city’s newest ground for urban and commercial development, with various shops, restaurants and relaxing esplanades near and by the river. It is one of the most visited attractions that combine the natural beauty of water, sun, sky and stars, with the upbeat universe of modern establishments.
6. Of course, food
Who can forget the food of Iloilo? So diverse and delectable are they that each district is known for its specialty. The City Proper has the chicken inasal, Mandurriao the kansi, Jaro its pastries, Lapuz its coffee, Molo its soup, and of course, La Paz its batchoy.
At the top of my mind, I remember Camina Balay Na Bato for its organic cuisine and nostalgic ambiance, and Rafael Tibong Jardaleza II’s La Cucina Del Sur, brimming with homely comfort food cooked with lots of innovation and originality.
Our choices for take-home goodies include Agnes Tirol’s Lemon Squares from Sweet Treats and Mama’s Kitchen Mango Chewies.
7. The blank space
I suppose you’re wondering about the seventh. I have found it in Iloilo, but it’s mine to keep. It’s up to you now to discover your own treasures on your next visit!
Ask me if I’m going back to Iloilo, the answer is obvious.
A big delicious yes.