“Oh My God!” I closed my eyes, savoring the rich buttercream within layers of meringue wafers, allowing it to linger on my tongue until it melted. The occasional crunch of crushed cashews fuelled the lust in my mouth.
The Sans Rival was nothing unfamiliar, really, but the fact that I was indulging my sweet tooth at the famous Sans Rival Cakes and Pastries in Dumaguete City made it taste even better. Besides the Sans Rival, Cathy (my instant travel buddy) and I also sampled their other equally addictive bestsellers: the Date and Walnut Dacquioise, Sylvanas and Salted Caramel Cheesecake.
Established in 1977, Sans Rival Cakes and Pastries was born unexpectedly. Trining Teves-Sagarbarria, the owner, loved to treat her family and friends with her special homemade sylvanas. The delicious treats became popular and generated word of mouth demand, prompting her family to convert their garage into a small pastry shop. Now, it continues to serve slices of happiness on San Jose Street corner Rizal Avenue, facing Rizal Boulevard.
With no expectations, I went to Dumaguete, the capital of Negros Oriental in Central Visayas, only because it was my jump-off point to Siquijor and Apo Island. But just like many foreign tourists I’ve talked to, I fell in love with “the City of Gentle People”. It must be the laidback vibe created by the gargantuan acacia trees thriving in the city. Or the simple and warm locals who’d take afternoon strolls at Rizal Boulevard to enjoy some kikiam and the clean ocean breeze. Or perhaps the quaint bars and restaurants lining up the bustling yet unpolluted streets. Whatever charm this progressive city has is enough for it to be included on the list of the most ideal places to retire around the world by The Overseas Retirement Letter, a publication dedicated to the concerns of retirees.
Dumaguete City is the home of the majestic St. Catherine Alexandria Cathedral, the oldest stone church in Negros. Standing prominently at the gate are four stone pillars with intricate statues of Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John on top. The church’s construction began in 1754 and was completed in 1776. In 1885, it had undergone reconstruction and in 1936, it was extended with the present façade. The parish church of St. Catherine of Alexandria became a cathedral when Dumaguete was established as a diocese in 1955.
A few meters from the church is the oldest surviving structure in Dumaguete, the Belfry Tower, which dates back to 1811. Built to warn the locals of an approaching danger, the tower is a silent reminder of the horrendous Moro piratical attacks on Christian communities during the Spanish colonial period. Now, it houses the grotto of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, where devotees can light candles, offer flowers and say their prayers.
Another important and perhaps the most famous landmark in Dumaguete City is the Silliman University. Dotted with over 300 gigantic acacia trees, the 62-hectare university is one of the biggest in the country. Founded in 1901 by the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, Silliman is the first American University in the Philippines and Asia. It is named after Dr. Horace Brinsmade Silliman, a philanthropist, who gave an initial sum of $10,000 to start the institution.
After exploring the raw and white sand beaches of Siquijor, Cathy and I went back to Dumaguete City in afternoon the following day. Since we only had one more night in the city, we challenged our insatiable stomach to visit as many restaurants as we can. The city is a foodie haven, with a dazzling variety of interesting restaurants lining up the streets.
Starving, we decided to get warmed up at the Kikiam stalls along Rizal Boulevard, named after, of course, Dr. Jose Rizal. It is said that the Philippine National Hero took a brief stroll here before heading to the neighboring island of Dapitan where he was exiled for four years, following the Spanish authorities’ suspicion that he was about to lead a revolution. With beige lampposts and acacia and coconut trees lining up the stretch, Rizal Boulevard contributes immensely to the city’s laidback charm. Many locals and tourists go there at night to enjoy the fresh air, the barbeque and the bright city lights.
“You should go to Kri!” Some friends I surveyed in Facebook came up with a unanimous suggestion. We found Kri Restaurant at 53rd Silliman Avenue, just across the Silliman University Post Office. Cathy and I had their bestseller, the Truffle, Bleu Cheese and Bacon Burger. The warm soft bun, the fresh lettuce and tomato, the savory dressing, the crunchy bacon and the thick and dripping pure-beef patty created a delightful combination of taste and texture. Cathy and I agreed that it was the best burger we had in a long time.
As if the hefty burger wasn’t enough, we hopped to another restaurant my friends were raving about, Hayahay Treehouse. Located on Flores Avenue, Hayahay Treehouse overlooks Piapi Beach and is the perfect place to just chill out, listen to a live band and have some ice-cold beer. According to some locals, the restaurant serves good pizza. We would’ve loved to try some, but we just had burger at Kri’s. Instead, we ordered Dumaguete Express, a bestseller, and Buttered Chicken. The former is a savory mix of fish, squid, shrimp, coconut meat and lechon kawali all cooked in coconut milk. With their delicious inexpensive food, large servings and good ambience, it’s a no-brainer why this restaurant is a heavy favorite among locals and tourists.
Later that night, we joined some locals and fellow travellers who became our friends over an all-you-can-eat buffet at Mifune Japanese Restaurant, located on Sta. Catalina Street. Mifune satisfied our cravings for tempura, sushi and other authentic Japanese dishes for just Php 333.
Without a doubt, Watever! Family KTV was the highlight of our night. Located on Silliman Avenue, this KTV Bar has affordable rates, comfortable rooms and updated song lists. I’m not big on videoke but I had a blast, thanks to a great company and an interesting repertoire.
I should have known that there’s more to Dumaguete than the aforementioned and I wish I had stayed longer. I hear that there is a beautiful sandbar somewhere up north, where you can also watch several species of dolphins and occasionally, whales. And besides Apo Island, there are other stunning dive sites around the province. Now I have good reasons to go back soon.
How to Get There:
There are direct flights from Manila and Cebu to Dumaguete.
If you are coming from Cebu City, you can reach Dumaguete the cheaper way. Just go to the North Integrated Bus Terminal and ride a Ceres bus to Liloan Port. Travel time is approximately 3 hours. From Liloan Port, ride a ferry to Sibulan Port in Dumaguete. Travel time is 30 minutes.
Where To Stay:
Harold’s Mansion at 205 Hibbard Ave, Dumaguete City. The hotel also has a dive shop and the staff can arrange your tours if you plan to visit Apo Island, Oslob and other nearby attractions. You may reach them at 09173024455.
Expenses (from Cebu):
Ceres Bus from Cebu City to Liloan Port Roundtrip Php 350
Ferry from Liloan Port to Sibulan Port Roundtrip Php 130
Hotel (1 night) Php 800
Food/Drinks Php 1500
Pasalubong Php 600
Tricycle and jeepney fare Php 100
Apo Island Day Tour Php 1000
TOTAL Php 4480