Saturday, May 31, 2014

A really fun wine dinner at Makati Shangri-la's Sage, with South Africa's Bellingham Estate wines

Tonight was a really enjoyable dinner, in Manila, living a never-ending Travelife.

I was invited to a six-course dinner with wine pairings for a major South African winery called Bellingham Estate.

The dinner was held at Sage, the new restaurant of Makati Shangri-la, and the guest of honor was JC Bekker, winemaker of Bellingham Estate.

Bellingham Estate is part of a big wine conglomerate in Western Cape that includes Boschendal, the second oldest winery in the Cape.

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South Africa is very close to my heart, so it doesn't take much to get me to attend an event related to it.

In fact, I just got off the plane from Johannesburg -- or from Durban, more accurately -- last Wednesday night, and then here I was again, drinking South African wines and hearing that familiar  South African accent.


For tonight's dinner, I asked a friend to accompany me.

As luck would have it, he immediately saw a couple he knew well the moment we walked into Sage. I knew them too, but not enough to suggest sitting together for dinner.

Anyway, we ended up getting a table for four for the wine-tasting dinner, and the result was a most relaxing and fun dinner, just shooting the breeze and enjoying Bellingham Estate wines, of course.


JC Bekker and the Bellingham Estate team had flown in from Hong Kong, after attending Vinexpo 2014. For this dinner, they literally packed the best of their wines into their suitcases.

These wines were part of Bellingham Estate's top-end "Bernard Series."

Daniel Blais, head sommelier of Makati Shangri-la, personally chose the six-course menu to go with wines, and everything was perfectly paired.


Of Bellingham Estate wines, and particularly of Bellingham Estate's Rousanne 2013 under the "Bernard Series," Daniel told us tonight: "This is probably the best Rousanne I have ever tasted outside of France."

He also waxed rhapsodic over Bellingham Estate's Chenin Blanc Old Vines 2013, also under the "Bernard Series."


Then, when I met JC Bekker, I told him: "I passed Paarl on my way to Cape Town on the Blue Train a few months ago. And I just got back from South Africa a few days ago."

Bellingham Estates has a winery operation in Paarl, in the Western Cape.

JC asked me: "So where are you off to next?"

I'm off to Morocco on holiday in a few days. Yes, it really is a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.


All in all, tonight was a really nice evening.

And to top it off, I met a celebrity sitting at the next table, on our way out. Trust this friend who accompanied me to know everyone in town.

So he introduced me to Ramon Bautista, a UP professor and popular comedian. I was told that he'd also written a bestselling book with the very catchy title of "Bakit hindi ka crush ng crush mo."

Oh my goodness. That title certainly made me laugh.

And when I finally met him tonight, I asked him point-blank: "So, what's the bottom line to your book? Why do you think people you like don't like you back?"

He shrugged and said something like: "Some people have poor taste, I guess."

And that's how another interesting Saturday ended, in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.

Sage at the Makati Shangri-la
May 31, 2014

King scallop ceviche with cauliflower puree,
Aquitaine caviar and beetroot sponge cake
with Rousanne "Bernard Series" 2013

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Pan-seared sea bass and sauteed leeks
with a coconut and vanilla cream sauce
with Chenin Blanc Old Vines "Bernard Series" 2013

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Herb-crusted lamb chops
with wild mushroom and Pinotage reduction sauce
with Pinotage "Bernard Series" 2013

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Milk-fed roasted veal chop and sweetbread fricassee
with natural veal jus
with Syrah "Bernard Series" 2012

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French cheese platter
with SMV Small Barrel "Bernard Series" 2012

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Chocolate sphere
with SMV Small Barrel "Bernard Series" 2012

The El Corte Ingles gourmet experience at El Corte Ingles Castellana in Madrid

Late last year, some friends and I were in Spain for two weeks, living a Travelife.

One Sunday in Madrid, we went over to do some shopping at the El Corte Ingles in Castellana.

El Corte Ingles is Spain's most famous and prestigious department store, and the Castellana store is its largest branch.

Fortunately, it also happened to be one of the few stores open on a Sunday in Madrid, and to have one of the most complete high-end food shops in Madrid.

What luck.

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But first we dropped by the Joyeria Suarez on the first floor of El Corte Ingles, to see all kinds of modern Spanish jewelry creations.

Joyeria Suarez also had the most beautiful pearls in different shades and colors. The store manager told me that Joyeria Suarez sources its pearls from all over the world.


Then, we happened to meet Leslee Ann Jabola, one of the very nice ladies at international customer service at El Corte Ingless Castellana -- and she just happens to be a Filipina who speaks Spanish like a native.

Again, what luck.


Leslee asked us: "Where are you having dinner?"

It was close to 7 PM after all.

However, we'd not made any plans yet for dinner, actually, as we'd just finished a long and liquid lunch at 430 PM.

A really long and good lunch
at La Fabula in Madrid

So I said: "No plans. We're actually still full from lunch. If ever we have something for dinner, it'll be a very light meal."


Her face lit up when I said this.

"Perfect," she exclaimed. "You have to try our El Corte Ingles gourmet experience."

Well, we were up for anything.

So she led the way to the gourmet floor of El Corte Ingles Castellana, where an entire gastronomic experience awaited.

There were displays of food for purchase, of course. But there were also food stalls from which you could order whatever you wished and eat it right there, on tables in the middle of the floor.


Many of the food stalls were satellites of famous restaurants and delicatessens in Madrid, so the quality of the food on display for sale and eating was very high.

And a light but excellent meal was exactly what we wanted, on another nice and delicious evening in our never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.

PS: Speaking of excellent meals, I'm certainly looking forward to a very good one tonight...

M.I.C.E.CON 2014 opens tomorrow in Clark, June 4 to 7, 2014

M.I.C.E.CON 2014 opens tomorrow in Clark, until June 7, and Travelife Magazine is a proud event partner.

The M.I.C.E. Conference is conducted over a 4-day period. 

Day 1 
Arrival of Delegates 
Welcome Reception 

Day 2
Conference/Breakout Sessions 
M.I.C.E. Marketplace 

Day 3
Conference/Breakout Sessions 
M.I.C.E. Marketplace 
Dinner hosted by the next Host Destination 

Day 4
M.I.C.E. Mart 
M.I.C.E. Marketplace 

M.I.C.E. stands for Meetings, Incentive Travel, Conventions, and Exhibitions / Events. It represents specialized sectors of tourism which require higher standards of tourism services and facilities.

First held in 2010, the Philippine M.I.C.E. Conference (MICECON) is the integration of two major Philippine M.I.C.E. Projects :

1) The Philippine Incentive Marketing Conference (Phil-Incentive) organized by the Philippine Convention and Visitors Corporation / Tourism Promotions Board, and Meetings, Incentive Travel, Events / Exhibitions Philippines, Inc. (MITE Philippines)

2) The Philippine Asian MICE Forum organized by the Philippine Association of Convention / Exhibition Organizers and Suppliers (PACEOS).

Philippine Incentive Marketing Conference 

The Phil-Incentive Conference was an annual educational event for tourism practitioners that showcased extraordinary achievements in incentive marketing.

Its aims were as follows:

1) To professionalize the local incentive travel industry by providing a venue for fresh and innovative approaches to incentive marketing
2) To create awareness and educating corporate and end-users on the value of incentive travel
3) To provide opportunities for incentive travel practitioners to showcase their abilities in creating incentive programs.

Since the PCVC / TPB started the event in 1992, the Phil-Incentive was deemed instrumental in increasing the levels of creativity and professionalism of Host Destinations including:

1) Puerto Azul (1992)
2) Cebu (1993, 2000)
3) Manila (1994, 1998)
4) Davao (1996)
5) Bacolod (1997)
6) Boracay (1999) 
7) Tagaytay / Batangas (2008)

Philippine Asian MICE Forum 

The Philippine Asian MICE Forum gathers Meetings, Conventions and Exhibitions industry experts and professionals for presentations and discussions on trends and directions of the regional and global market; examining country-specific MICE industries and tackling the state of local MICE industries in terms of infrastructure, government incentives and compelling value propositions.


MICECON 2010, Subic (4 – 7 Feb) : “Life is M.I.C.E.” 
MICECON 2011, Cebu (10 -13 Aug) : “I share. You connect. We change” 
MICECON 2013, Davao (6 - 9 Mar) : “iMICE. ignite. innovate. inspire. infuse” 
MICECON 2014, Clark (4-7 Jun) : “M.I.C.E. in 4D Driving Passions “ 


MICECON consolidates and strengthens all sectors involved in the M.I.C.E. industry by providing an ideal platform for a comprehensive educational program and trade opportunity for Philippine M.I.C.E. and tourism practitioners.


MICECON focuses on high level issues on travel and tourism.

They also hold industry specific workshops on Meetings, Conventions, Incentive Travel, Exhibitions, Special Events and M.I.C.E. Marketing


MICECON is held annually, and is ideally recommended to be held in the month of June (subject to the agreement with the hosting city) taking into consideration the schedule of international M.I.C.E. fairs


Pre-Conference Activity 
A special activity prepared by the Host City that best presents their destination; the said activity may focus on being a CSR project that would create an impact in both the lives of the delegates and the invited beneficiaries.

M.I.C.E. Conference (two days) 
The Conference is the educational component of the MICECON which features plenary sessions on major topics affecting the M.I.C.E. and tourism industry; as well as industry specific topics on convention and association management, incentive travel, exhibition and events management, and events marketing.

M.I.C.E Marketplace (for the duration of the conference) 
The M.I.C.E. Marketplace is the exhibit component of MICECON where M.I.C.E. facilities (hotels and resorts, convention centers, souvenir centers, etc.) and suppliers as well as Philippine destinations can showcase their products and services.

M.I.C.E. Mart (one day) 
The M.I.C.E. Mart was a new feature introduced during MICECON 2011 in Cebu. It is a whole day activity featuring one-on-one business sessions between invited foreign and local M.I.C.E. Buyers and local Suppliers of M.I.C.E. products and services.

Dream Trip 
A visual, gastronomical and experiential tour for hosted buyers to selected M.I.C.E. destinations in the Philippines


• Airlines • Association/Corporate Executives
• Convention and Exhibition Venues
• Convention/Exhibition/Event Organizers
• Convention and Visitors Bureaus
• Destination Management Companies, Hotels and Resorts
• Incentive Tour Operators and Suppliers
• Meeting/Event Planners
• M.I.C.E. Students and the Academe
• National, Provincial and Municipal Tourism Offices
• Sea and Land Transport Operators
• Travel Agencies/Tour Operators
• Media


The M.I.C.E. Conference is conducted over a 4-day period.

Day 1 
Arrival of Delegates 
Welcome Reception 

Day 2
Conference/Breakout Sessions 
M.I.C.E. Marketplace 

Day 3
Conference/Breakout Sessions 
M.I.C.E. Marketplace 
Dinner hosted by the next Host Destination 

Day 4
M.I.C.E. Mart 
M.I.C.E. Marketplace 

Day 5
Dream Trip for hosted Speakers/Buyers

Friday, May 30, 2014

A luxury trip to Japan, and all about showing friends the best of Tokyo

On the plane back to Manila from Hong Kong the other day, living a Travelife, I worked on an itinerary for an upcoming trip to Japan for a very well-traveled group of friends.

All of them have been to Japan countless times, but they've never done Japan the Travelife way.

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There are several countries we know better than the backs of our hands,  and France, Turkey, Sri Lanka and Japan are some of them. South Africa is going to be joining this list soon.

As for Japan, not many people know Japan the way Travelife does.


And this very select group of people asked me to plan a Japan trip for them, and I'm coming along as well for a bit of fun.

Of course I've put in lots of wonderful things and activities that money can buy, as this is a group of friends who are willing to spend for the best things in life.


But I've also included lots of experiences that even money cannot buy.

This is our specialty at Travelife Magazine, by the way. When I put a trip together for my friends, I don't want to just plan a trip for a week on the basis of a credit card -- although the credit card certainly helps, of course.

I like to make sure there's great value offered by that Travelife factor -- and lots of times, I go along as well to make sure it really is a seamless trip.


So for this Japan trip, I've included visits to beautiful private homes that will never open up to others, meetings with famous chefs and artists, and afternoons at exclusive art galleries that won't let you in without an introduction from a valued patron.

I've also added evenings at private clubs with some of the world's best under-the-radar chefs and sommeliers -- the kind that are famous to only some people because they're not accessible to the public.

in real-time via your phone or iPad


One of the clubs I'm arranging an evening at is a historical and beautiful club favored by Japan's aristocracy.

I've only brought a couple of people here so far because it's very special.

And yes, this is a very discrete club with a tiny membership and no plans to expand because the club itself owns so much land and is cash-rich.

They have a blackball system for new members (it only takes one blackball to refuse an applicant) and basically, someone has to die and leave the membership roster before a new member can get in.


They have the best chefs and sommeliers, but it's a very hush-hush thing because only about 150 people have access to this club.

So basically, planning this trip is a labor of love.

But it's for people I like and who I've traveled with at some point or another. Besides, I thought it's about time I showed some friends what is truly the best of Tokyo, and a never-ending Travelife...

The private Hermes museum in Paris and the beauty of a wheelbarrow containing gloves for the Duchess of Windsor

Today I was reminiscing about a trip to Paris four years ago with a couple of good friends, for some reason.

As I was looking at the photos, I found a couple of snapshots I took of the Hermes Museum, which I thought I'd share with you.

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The Hermes Museum is not open to the public and it's not quite a museum in the traditional sense since it's just a series of rooms with all kinds of interesting items in it.

But it's an incredibly fascinating collection that allows you a glimpse of a life of privilege and refinement over the centuries.


Visiting this museum is usually only possible if you know someone at Hermes in Paris and make arrangements in advance -- which is what I did, securing entry to this very private display for myself and some friends who had joined my trip from Manila.

It was our second trip together to Paris in four months, and we were doing Paris the Travelife way, after all.


Luckily, we were staying at an apartment just a few blocks from the Hermes flagship store in Paris -- fondly nicknamed The Mothership by Hermes fanatics around the world -- so on the appointed day, we just walked over from our apartment to Hermes.

As it's not really accessible to the public, we didn't even enter the museum from the store.

Instead, we were asked to go to the side entrance which is also used by Hermes executives and staff.

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We were first shown the Hermes workshop for saddles on top of the store.

Yes, Hermes is now a global ultra-luxury brand but on top of its main shop, it still makes saddles in an airy workshop manned by a leather craftsman with over 30 years of experience and a handful of apprentices.

A miniature carriage owned by the Hermes family


The master craftsman was hard at work on a beautiful saddle when we walked in.

I'm not a horse person, but even I could appreciate the beauty of this piece of leather.

We asked the price in euros and it was in the high five-digits. Someone whispered that it was going to a member of a Middle Eastern royal family.

From there, a lady took us up an elevator and then down a small staircase where we waited in front of a closed door.

This was the Hermes museum which many designers and dignitaries visit when in Paris, including Princess Diana, not long before her death.


After a few minutes, another lady came in and opened the door using a tangle of antique-looking keys.


When the door opened, my first impression of the Hermes museum was that of a storehouse of fine things.

There were clothes on dressmaker's mannequinsbags perched on top of shelves, accessories laid out on tables, and all sorts of personal items strewn around casually as if the lady of the house had spent the day in her boudoir.

And now this boudoir was opened just for us, and we happily spent the morning here looking around unescorted for the most part.

"These are the personal possessions of different members of the Hermes family over the generations," said our host, the museum curator.

She continued: "And some items come from the workshops themselves, or they were purchased by the Hermes family and used as inspiration for designs and products of Hermes."

There were items from IndiaEuropeAfrica, and the Middle East -- but I didn't spot anything really significant from Asia (apart from India).

Assorted military uniforms and medals


The most fascinating item in the whole collection was a little white wheelbarrow in the center of the room, that used to belong to the Duchess of Windsor who lived in exile in a lovely villa in the outskirts of Paris.

Apparently, both the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were great patrons of Hermes, and one day the Duke of Windsor had come into the store looking quite distraught.

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"I need to find something for the Duchess' birthday," he had reportedly told the Hermes store manager, who he knew quite well. The manager then suggested, "What about a pair of gloves, sir?"

The duke reportedly responded: "What will she do with a pair of gloves? She's got a whole wheelbarrow of them."

The desk used by the founder of Hermes, complete with all his personal effects
such as inkstands, stationery boxes and seals.

The quick-thinking Hermes sales lady then commissioned a little wheelbarrow as a present for the duchess, complete with little pull-out drawers for her to place her gloves in.

Since the duke had described her as having a wheelbarrow full of gloves, why not make her a wheelbarrow for her gloves? Both the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were reportedly very entertained by this novel gift.

Scroll down to read about the royal wheelbarrow...


How did it come to be part of the Hermes collection? One day, it was put up for auction although I don't think it was identified as belonging to the Duchess of Windsor when it was put up for sale.

This was long after both the Duke and the Duchess of Windsor had already passed away.

An eagle-eyed staff member of Hermes happened to spot it and it was purchased then and there for the private collection of Hermes.

Thankfully, this wheelbarrow has been preserved and its story is now known to more people.

Toys from the family collection

I kick myself that I have no photos to show of this wheelbarrow, as the story has long fascinated me and it made my day to finally see it in front of me.

So I can't imagine why I didn't take a photo of it.

But anyway, here are photos of some of the other interesting things in the Hermes Museum, on just another wonderful day in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.

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