For Boots and An Alcantara, opening Casa San Pablo—their cozy bed & breakfast in San Pablo, Laguna—was the perfect way to share their love for Boots’ hometown.
“The whole purpose of the bed & breakfast is really to let people know about San Pablo,” says An. “We’d always look for ways to tell the story of our hometown. That was our objective from the very beginning.”
But as with all worthwhile pursuits, making the transition to provincial life proved tough. Before Casa San Pablo, An was a full-time magazine editor and publishing executive; Boots ran a company that imported office furniture. They both worked in Manila, and both were used to the city’s fast pace.
“It was disconcerting for me to make the big change,” says An. She quit her publishing job to help run Casa San Pablo for a while, but eventually went back to her job in Manila. After three years, though, she decided to become an innkeeper for good. The change was easier for Boots, whose family has owned the seven-hectare Casa San Pablo lot for three generations now. “The probinsyano in Boots never really left. He’s a very driven, fast-paced person; but he still also constantly looks for that slower pace that San Pablo has,” says An.
Boots comes from a family who loves to entertain people. “For two generations, their place had been somewhere where people from town always stopped by to chat,” says An, who spends half her time in Manila with Boots and their son, and half her time in San Pablo. “My in-laws really did—and still do—love having people over.”
It was a no-brainer, then, for Boots and An—members of the third generation of Alcantaras—to develop the family land into a sprawling bed & breakfast. They weren’t new to the concept of innkeeping, either. Whenever they would travel abroad, they would always opt to stay at B&Bs instead of hotels. “We loved the concept of an innkeeper—usually the owner of the house—opening up his family’s home for people to stay in,” says An. “So we said, ‘Why don’t we do the same at home?’”
And so they did. Casa San Pablo began with four rooms. “Every time we had some cash saved, we’d add another room,” says An. “It was a very controlled, measured development.” Today, Casa San Pablo has 18 rooms plus two swimming pools, a community art space, and a cafe. Apart from being a relaxing vacation spot for families, it is now also known as a romantic wedding venue, a quiet escape for special occasions such as Valentine’s day, and an ideal location for corporate team-building activities.
True to its roots
Through it all, An and Boots have never forgotten what it was that made them want to put up Casa San Pablo in the first place: the charming city of San Pablo, Laguna, itself, also known as the “City of Seven Lakes.”
“San Pablo is really laidback,” says An. “The people are very hospitable—I love that they like coming together just to chat. And always, they come with food. Laguna food is underserved, I believe.” Certainly, beyond the ubiquitous buko pie in Laguna, there are more dishes in the province that need more recognition—for example, there’s kulawo, an eggplant salad served with smoked coconut vinaigrette; and pinaite, freshwater shrimp paste in coconut cream eaten with bread like a spread. Casa San Pablo also prides itself in serving other traditional Filipino food such as guinataang halo-halo and a breakfast spread of longganisa.
“Laguna has a lot to offer,” says An. “Kulang lang kami sa yabang.”
In an effort to help bring on San Pablo’s swagger, An became active in the town’s tourism council. She heads it today as its president. “You can’t develop a place by yourself,” she says. “Our efforts made the Laguna local government realize that our city has a lot of potential.” The council has, for one, made long strides in promoting arts in the city.
Closer to home, An creates her clay storytellers—miniature clay figures that depict daily life in San Pablo. “I wanted my storytellers to point to probinsya life, particularly San Pablo life, as a wonderful function of living,” says An. Close friend and Quezon-based potter Ugu Bigyan, as well as potters John and Tessie Pettyjohn, helped An create and play with her small clay people until she found her style. Her storytellers are sold in Casa San Pablo and in pop-up shops in Manila.
This year, Casa San Pablo celebrates its 20th year, and An and Boots have a string of activities to commemorate it. The biggest one is that they are developing a community artist space right in Casa San Pablo. “For the past 20 years, we’ve been looking for a concrete way to contribute to our community,” says An. “And this is it.”
An and Boots plan to invite artists from all over the Philippines to come and put up their works in Casa San Pablo’s artist space so that San Pablo locals can experience different kinds of art.
At the core of An and Boots’ community artist space is the opening of an art appreciation program for public school teachers in San Pablo. “What I like about this program is that our teachers have students who will benefit from it,” says An. “There’s a real need for it. Right now, there’s such a shortage of art teachers that math teachers and PE teachers are the ones teaching art and music.”
Giving back while running a bed & breakfast is no small feat. But An and Boots are grateful for it. As An says, “I can set my own pace in San Pablo, which I can’t do in [Manila]. There’s something about being able to create intimate moments that are beautiful simply because the pace is slower and the demands are simpler.”
Casa San Pablo is at Gomez Compound, Colago Ave., San Pablo, Laguna. Tel.: (02) 211 2132. Photos from Casa San Pablo’s Facebook page.
All photos courtesy of Casa San Pablo.
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