WORDS SAM L. MARCELO
If you fall asleep on the daybed in the living room of Raffi’s Way, you will be woken up in the small hours of morning by the rosy fingers of dawn caressing your cheek and by a sliver of sun shining on your face through floor-to-ceiling windows. The painterly sky, shifting from dark purple to bronze to bright blue, plays out in a gigantic panorama and through a James Turrell-like oculus that cuts into a domed ceiling. A butterfly wafting through the air and a cicada singing its tymbal song, rogue insects that may have wandered in through an open door, make friendly companions. Outside, above the lush trees that foreground Taal Lake, are trilling birds and gyring solitary raptors. Time dilates.
Raffi’s Way is near the rotunda just off the Tagaytay main road, an area that has been swallowed by the commercial sprawl. Carved into the mountain, the villa is protected from the din as it turns its back on the city. Built in 1983, the whitewashed Pueblo Revival-style house offers an unobstructed view of the Taal Caldera. After entering a wood-clad gate, a visitor descends through a small doorway that leads down into a cave-like stairwell that bends and opens up into a living room with an expansive and dramatic view of the lake. Raffi’s Way is all slopes and arches, with unexpected sinuous shapes materializing in front of you depending on where you stand. An abundance of warm light entering through the huge windows and skylight plays off natural materials, such as stone, glass, and wood. “There are no harsh right angles and everything is curved beautifully and softly like a beautiful woman or wine bottle,” said Nino Zulueta, who belongs to the family that built Raffi’s Way.
It was Mr. Zulueta’s father, the late Rafael Zulueta, who envisioned a weekend getaway for his family and his four sons. The elder Zulueta, a businessman who traveled and lived all over the world—Spain, England, America—, collaborated with a young Budji Layug on the interiors. They decided on an organic design that flowed from the mountain and out onto the landscape, with the contours of the land shaping the pool and the garden. According to Mr. Zulueta, the main house sits on a 2,200-square-meter lot planted with Baguio pine trees originating from his grandfather’s farm up north. “[It] has stood the test of time. You get the sense that it was designed to work with nature not against it. You feel part of the landscape and not sheltered from it,” said Mr. Zulueta. Recent improvements include the sanding and restoring of 30-year-old narra planks, the renovation of the bathrooms, and the installation of white marble countertops in the kitchen.
The members of the Zulueta family opened Raffi’s Way to the public as they felt there was a shortage of beautiful villas for rent in Tagaytay. One last mystery remains: who is Raffi? The Raffi (pronounced “raff-eye,” the “i” is long) in Raffi’s Way is Rafael Zulueta Da Costa, Mr. Zulueta’s grandfather. A poet, he was given the Commonwealth Literary Award for Poetry in 1940 for Like the Molave and Other Poems.
“Perhaps,” said Mr. Zulueta, “we are a family of artists and dreamers.”
Raffi’s Way has four bedrooms (one master suite, one family suite, and two deluxe rooms), each with its own toilet and bath. A pool and viewing deck offer unparalleled views of Taal. Rates are Php30,000/night on weekdays and Php35,000/night on weekends, for a maximum of 15 persons. For more information, visit raffisway.com.