The Manila Hotel, Manila

The Grand Dame of Manila

This icon of Manila is the epitome of old-world glamour and luxury served on a silver platter by gracious and charming staff at every level. Our arrival at The Manila Hotel was in the evening and our car deposited us under the fairy lights cascading from the portico at the front door. I felt like I was thrust into one of those ads with slow motion action underscored by smooth, classy music as I swanned through the shiny front doors held open by a tall smiling man in crisp, white uniform. The reality from my end was that I had come directly from nearly fifteen hours of travel and was oozing the opposite of style. Not at all like the woman who was sashaying past me in a silver fish-tail, full-length gown. The wonderful thing about this grand dame of a hotel is how her people welcomed us as though we were elegantly dressed and staying in the MacArthur Suite (my god, the MacArthur Suite!).

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As we made our way through the opulent lobby towards reception, each staff member’s gaze met ours, smiled with genuine warmth and nodded with hand over heart. Was this a thing unique to the hotel or a Filipino hospitality thing? Turns out it’s a Filipino hospitality thing, expressed in every situation to welcome and show respect.

The lobby truly is the star of this building, with the striking centre piece a unique living sculpture of huge white Phalaenopses lit from above by an ornate golden chandelier. Guests congregate here to listen to the pianist providing atmospheric tunes on the grand piano, indulge in the hotel’s famous high tea, or sip an aperitif or post-dinner nightcap.

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Our accommodation for our three-night stay was on the 9th floor in a Sunrise Suite – 81sqm with views of the golf course at the end of Intramuros. The Sunrise and Sunset Suites are in the Tower Wing of the hotel that was built in the 1970s, while the original hotel opened in 1912; the décor of the ‘new’ reflects the formal, classic and luxurious stylings of the rest of The Manila.

The pool area was the perfect place to relax after our sightseeing mornings, plunging to escape the heat and ordering cocktails and light snacks at the swim up bar. Mid-afternoon was a great time to enjoy this space without many people about, but for those wanting to socialise, there are usually other guests who are keen to chat about their adventures and recommendations. For those wishing to soak up the sun more than us pasty white Aussies, there are sun loungers on balconies for a little extra privacy.

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The breakfast buffet in Café Ilang-Ilang was a finely tuned mass production food service affair, with different stations smashing out the cuisines of influence in The Philippines. The hotel advises that 6-8am is the “least busy” time to visit the buffet, but at 6:30am it was still pretty intense with a line extending towards the foyer. But the queue moved quickly and the stations that interested us were less popular which meant prompt service – I was the only one at the Halal station, and thoroughly enjoyed my vegetable jalfrezi (perfect amount of spice and all vegetables). The station of particular prettiness was all about pastries and sweetness, with a polished silver-boughed tree, laden with golden flowers shooting from the centre of the confectionary.

Due to the length of our stay, we didn’t explore many of the dining options in the hotel. Those left unvisited by us were Delicatessen, Cowrie Grill, Red Jade and Champagne Room (a restaurant, not a hotbed of champagne consumption). On our first full day, the in-room dining suited us nicely after a long afternoon in the pool when there was a lack of motivation to make ourselves presentable to dine out. The meal arrived on a white linen dressed table on wheels where we could dine formally…except we were in our bathrobes. But we couldn’t leave this majestic old hotel without utilising the Lobby Lounge. We spent three hours indulging in a ‘snack fest’ of different menu items and drinks, people-watching from our prime position near the centre orchid feature and listening to the music stylings trilling from the grand piano.

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It’s worth checking out the small Heritage Museum located in a discreet corner of the lobby which provided an intimate, yet detailed, history of the hotel. Opening in 1912, The Manila Hotel is the oldest hotel in The Philippines and has had a long and prestigious list of clientele over those 110 years. One of the longest staying and probably most famous guests was General MacArthur who, with his family, occupied the entire top floor of the original wing of the hotel for six years. The current MacArthur Suite occupies far less of the fifth floor and its 2014 refurb has removed any hint of the dark wood and chocolate hues of its 1970s renovation…except for his study, of course! We were lucky enough to be given a tour of the suite, and it was surreal standing in the home office next to a picture of the general and trying on his cap (he had a small head!).

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The huge appeal of this hotel is its history, which is something that all who work here are proud of and know a lot about. If you want a grand luxury hotel close to the historical centre of Manila, then look no further than The Manila Hotel.

LINKED POSTS: The detailed account of our stay at Two Seasons Coron Island Resort can be found here. The detailed account of our stay in the city of Manila can be found here.

Accommodation: The Manila Hotel

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About bontaks

Nic is the the 'Bon' part of 'Bontaks.' Together we are Nic and John - two travel-addicted teachers who enjoy every opportunity to go places, meet people and experience life.

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