The beaches in La Union, the coves in Zambales, the cold breeze in Baguio, the sea of clouds in Sagada, and the Spanish colonial town in Vigan—these are some of the reasons why we frequent the North. Little did we know that just before these long-hour-drive destinations is a hidden gem filled with interesting spots that we keep on passing by the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX)—Bulacan. And it is just a few minutes away from the Balintawak or Mindanao NLEX entry.
Many would only visit Bulacan to spend a day or two at resorts, purchase jewelry, watch festivals, or buy fireworks. There is, however, more to this place that will make you want to stay longer or make a repeat visit. Officially named the “Land of the Heroes,” this province in Central Luzon features cultural heritage worth your time.
Go back in time in Malolos
Its capital, Malolos, is the best place to start learning about the rich history of Bulacan. At the heart of the town lies the must-see historic Barasoain Church, the site of the first Philippine Congress, which ratified the Malolos Constitution, the constitution of the First Philippine Republic in 1899. The church was believed to be the perfect session hall because of its architectural acoustics, which amplifies clear sound, unlike other churches which produce echoes.
The church is not only the old structure in Malolos that witnessed history and survived nature’s wrath for years. The Spanish and American-era houses in Malolos Historic Town a.k.a the Camestisuhan or Pariancillo District can also take you back in time. The 1877 house of Don Antonio Bautista for instance features a rare exterior design in any colonial-era house — the female caryatids on the second-floor facade.
A few steps away from the neoclassical mansion is another quaint abode of Dr. Luis Santos. The art deco house will give you an idea of what a residence and clinic looked like in 1933. But, what’s notable in the mansion are the works of two National Artists, namely, the fountain sculpted by Guillermo Tolentino, and the mural on the ceiling by Fernando Amorsolo, which he did when he was still a student of his uncle, noted painter Fabian de la Rosa.
There are several National Artists born and raised in Bulacan and their portraits are displayed at the Hiyas ng Bulacan Museum. Apart from knowing the prominent Bulakenyos from the past in the museum, you’ll learn more about the province’s history from its collection of valuable relics, mementos, handicrafts, documents, and articles.
Another site that keeps Bulacan’s important memorabilia, specifically during the Philippine Revolution, is the Casa Real Shrine. One of the city’s oldest standing structures, it preserved the printing press machine during the Malolos Republic. Before it became a museum at present, it served as a printing press during the Spanish era, a municipal library after its restoration in 1852, a hospital in 1923, a high school annex in 1941, and a Japanese Chamber of Commerce headquarters during the Japanese Occupation.
Dine at the contemporary restaurants of Malolos
After a taste of the past, indulge in the present to amp up your Bulacan experience. One of the best ways to do this is by dining at some of its restaurants amid busy roads.
On MacArthur Highway, you can savor Italian-American food at Casie’s. The casual fine dining restaurant offers generous servings from appetizers to desserts. Its must-tries include the truffle pizza, pomodorini (red sauce) pasta, filleto de porco (grilled pork), and mango cream pie desserts. An added attraction in the resto is the plane located at the back where diners can have their selfies.
Learn more history in Bulakan
Another municipality near Malolos that makes you feel at home is Bulakan. The town also preserves another historical site namely the Marcelo H. del Pilar Shrine. The former property of the renowned lawyer, poet, and editor of La Solidaridad houses the hero’s tomb where a 10-feet high monument stands. Behind it is a mausoleum of the Del Pilar family. Also erected at the shrine is a two-story house converted into a museum and library of historical artifacts and documents. Among the documents are the literary works of the hero.
Some of Del Pilar’s written pieces criticizing the Spanish government are printed in pamphlets. There’s an incident where his nephew Gregorio del Pilar, the country’s youngest general, had secretly distributed those pamphlets in a church. Said church, which you can still visit at present, is no other than the Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion Church. It is the first Marian parish not only in Bulacan but in Central Luzon. In 2007, the church was declared as a National Cultural Heritage site by the National Museum of the Philippines. Because of its Baroque and Neo-Romanesque architectural design, plus its long aisle, many brides would love to have their wedding ceremony here.
Apart from bringing with you Bulacan’s history, you can also take home its local products. For food, you can bring home its empanada de kaliskis, assorted kakanin, crispy mushroom flakes, chicharon, and bucheron, among other delicacies. If you are looking for souvenirs, try asking for puni handicrafts like toys, flowers, containers, and fashion accessories that are made from weaved coconut leaves or buli leaves. Puni is a dying art of coconut leaf weaving that Bulakenyos are trying to revive.
Driving via NLEX is the fastest way to access these towns. But don’t get too excited using the expressway — observe the required speed and obey traffic rules on the long stretch of the smooth road. NLEX ensures 24/7 safety not only through its traffic signs, road warnings, and CCTVs, but also the deployment of well-trained patrolmen who monitor the motorists’ speed, handle distressed drivers, and respond quickly to accidents. Good traffic enforcement is another reason to explore the North beginning, again, in Bulacan.
To know more about how to travel, the new normal way, in Bulacan, you may visit their official website here.