The town of TAAL, 130km south of Manila and a further 10km south of the lake, is one of the best preserved colonial enclaves in the Philippines and one of the few places you can get a real sense of its Spanish past. Founded in 1572 by Augustinians, it was moved to this location (and away from the deadly Taal volcano) in 1755 and today boasts a superb collection of endearingly weathered Spanish colonial architecture and bahay na bató-style homes, as well as one of the finest basilicas in Luzon.

Taal’s compact centre is easy to explore on foot, but if it’s too hot you can easily hire a tricycle to whisk you around (P100–120 depending on how many sights and hours you take). On the northern side of the plaza lies the elegantly weathered bulk of the Basilica of St Martin de Tours, said to be the biggest church in Southeast Asia, its facade visibly cracked, peeling and studded with clumps of weeds. The present church, built in 1856, has a magnificent interior and is often jam-packed for masses throughout the day. Taal is a major pilgrimage site thanks to an aged pinewood image of the Virgin Mary known as Our Lady of Caysasay (only 20cm high). The statue is said to have been fished out of the Pansipit River in 1603; it was lost then found again in a freshwater spring. The Chapel of Caysasay, located on the banks of the river on the edge of town, is a beautiful coral-hewn chapel where the image is transferred from its shrine in the basilica every Thursday and returned on Saturday afternoon. The ruined Twin Wishing Wells of Santa Lucia, a short walk from the chapel, are still reputed to have miraculous healing powers. Locals will point you in the right direction.

Several of the town’s Spanish-era buildings are open to the public. The Leon Apacible Historic Landmark  along M.N. Agoncillo Street is the ancestral home of Leon Apacible (1861–1901), lawyer and Filipino revolutionary. It has the best-preserved interior in town, and although remodelled several times, the wide, highly buffed narra floorboards, as well as the wide sweeping staircase (with its curved balustrade) are still original. The sliding doors and oriel windows betray American Art Deco influence while the transom filigree, featuring swirling chrysanthemums is Chinese style.

 

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