1. One might think that they are reserving a room at a golf club when booking into Graceland Resort and Country Club in Tayabas, Quezon Province. Such people would be extremely disappointed. Graceland does have a golf area, but it consists of a few putting greens paved with more rocks than dirt, and virtually no grass. You’d be better off at the nearest putt-putt course. Wise folk do not come to Graceland to play golf: they come here to do everything else, and there’s plenty to do.


    Let’s begin with what you can expect from the accommodations, just to get the only bad points about Graceland out of the way quickly (and for some, these points may be enough to keep them away; but believe me that the good outweighs the bad).


    Unless you stay in the clubhouse (and you have to be a member to stay there), you will be interned in one of the most uncomfortable rooms of your experience. They call these apartments, but you may think of them as cells before your stay ends. First off, the beds have no mattresses (at least they didn’t when we stayed there in July, 2013). You will have to sleep on the most uncomfortable box spring you’ve ever encountered and spend half of every night constantly readjusting so the springs won’t poke you in the back. Take my advice and bring about 4 inches worth of foam along to place over the bed and maybe you will get some sleep. In addition, the rooms have instant-flow water heaters. This is a technology I usually favor, except that these units are electric and therefore warm up slowly, and the flow is barely more than a trickle. Expect to spend a lot of time in the shower; and baths are not an option here, for the rooms have no tubs. In most places in the Philippines, tap water is tepid enough for bathing; but here in Tayabas the water comes from fast running mountain springs and is quite cold. The good points about the rooms are that the air conditioners and refrigerators work well (and the snack/beverages inside are reasonably priced; the beer is cheaper than in the on-site restaurant), and the upstairs rooms have terrific views.


    This was the view from our balcony

    Always request an upstairs apartment if you want a good view. Each apartment has either a balcony or small patio (for the ground floor units) and the buildings are located close to everything of interest.


    Members get to stay in one of the fancy clubhouses on top of the hill, where the beds are comfortable and the showers have water pressure. You won’t have these while staying in Graceland, but the clubhouse has plenty to offer for non-member guests, such as a large, beautifully landscaped swimming pool with Jacuzzi, a game room to keep the kids occupied when it’s raining (and it does that a lot) and an indoor shooting range.


    The restaurant located beside the lagoon serves some of the best Pilipino fare I have had. Try the bihon pansit; you won’t be disappointed! Every meal we had was from good to excellent, and breakfasts are included in the price of your room. The outdoor dining areas all afford wonderful views of the grounds and especially the lagoon. On Saturday nights, guests are serenaded by a folk singer/guitarist; combined with the natural ambience of the place, the great food and the excellent outdoor lighting, this makes for very romantic nights.


    The grounds at Graceland are a work of art. During construction, they tried their best to work around the natural terrain and vegetation; the additional landscaping is elegant, artful and blends beautifully with the natural countryside.


    While rounding the lagoon, you will find an outdoor recreation area with activities for the whole family, including rope bridges, a rock wall for climbing and zip lines.


    For those who want to avoid paying extra for the rooms (about $30 per night, making them a bargain despite the drawbacks), there is a tent camping area that has a large bonfire pit and plenty of soft green grass upon which to lay. Those who camp get to enjoy all of the same amenities as those renting rooms.


    Outdoor activities are all the rage at Graceland. In addition to team sport courts (basketball/volleyball), you can go horseback riding, paddle around the lagoon (there’s even a jet ski you can rent, as long as going around and around in fast, tight circles doesn’t make you dizzy), rent a bike or jog along the nicely groomed trails or just relax by the pool and soak up some sun while sipping mai tais, which is my personal favorite activity… or lack thereof.


    An island on one side of the lagoon is used primarily for wedding receptions and other formal gatherings. There, you can sit at one of many sheltered picnic tables while your personal cook grills up dinner on the large barbecue pits. There is also a small kitchen area for food preparation. (Did I mention that you have to provide the chef?)


    Across the road from the restaurant is a deer park, which seems pretty out of place and less than exciting, except that it is backdropped by a spectacular view of Mount Banahaw, which dominates the scenery. Behind the restaurant is a well equipped playground for smaller children, located right where parents can keep an eye on their kids from the comfort of their rented room.


    Somewhat hidden behind the small main office is a picnic area. You descend a winding, agreeably landscaped stairway to visit a grassy level area with ponds to one side and a raging creek to the other. The only problem is that the ponds are muddy, murky and look like the winter home for the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the river is gray with pollution and thoroughly littered by the slum located on the bank opposite Graceland. Stay away from the creek and picnic grounds and you can ignore the poor families living a stone’s throw away more easily.


    The social hall beside the clubhouse is used mostly for special events such as parties and conventions. It serves the same basic service as the island on the lagoon, only in an indoor setting.


     Getting around anyplace in the Philippines is easy because mass transit is everywhere. One of the more fun and efficient ways to get around are the tricycles. The tricycle owners in Quezon Province obviously take great pride in their rides, for they are all chrome and polished plastic, far prettier than those you see in Manila. These trikes do not go fast but usually get around more quickly because they can cut through and around heavy traffic—and you get a breeze as long as it’s moving, which beats the hell out of those stifling Jeepneys.


    And while in the province—unless you are one of those abstinence-types—be sure to pick up a bottle or two of lambanog. This coconut vodka comes in a variety of flavors and colors, as well as strengths.  Most are the standard 80 proof (40% alcohol), but you can find stronger distillations right up to 200 proof if you ask around. Another specialty of the area is chicharon, which is made differently than elsewhere in the Philippines, because they leave some fat attached to the deep fried pig skins. The result is a far more fattening snack than mere pork rinds that is absolutely addictive. Be sure you never buy more than one bag at a time.

    Couples and families can keep themselves occupied for a week or two in Graceland without ever leaving the property, but you will want to go out to explore the Quezon region, which, among other things, features Villa Escudero (where you’ll find the Waterfall Restaurant), Kainan Sa Palaisdaan (famously known as the “floating restaurant”) and Kamay Ni Hesus, where the entire Bible is displayed physically on a single hillside and is a sight to behold for believers and non-believers alike.

    Waterfall Restaurant


    Kainan Sa Palaisdaan


       Kamay Ni Hesus

    As you might have guessed, the owner of Graceland is a tremendous Elvis Presley fan, hence the name of the place, though the only signs of The King that we saw were a few photos in the restaurant/bar beside the lagoon. And be prepared for surprises. A wedding took place on the island while we were there, and as we had our dinner during their reception we were treated to a free fireworks display over the lagoon, followed by our own personal folk singer (it was a Saturday night). So you never know what to expect, other than a good time and plenty of excellent food.

    One last thing: this is a great place to be for early risers, such as myself. This is just one of the spectacular sunrises to which we awoke.

    Graceland Estates and Country Club                                                                                     Tayabas City, Quezon Province                                                                                             Philippines


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