Sunlight streams through the shady trees, casting a hazy glow on the garden. Amidst the refreshing greenery and peaceful surroundings, one is drawn to the distinct art pieces scattered about the grounds. A bizarre statue arches its back to stare at the sky, while lanterns resembling cat’s heads stick out from the branches of a large tree.
This is Casa San Miguel, a community-based school in Barrio San Miguel, San Antonio, Zambales, that harnesses arts and culture as a medium for community development. Owned and managed by renowned violinist Alfonso “Coke” Bolipata, Casa San Miguel was first established in 1993 as a means of uplifting the spirits of the region, which was then just recovering from the devastation brought by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo.
Casa San Miguel is primarily a school for gifted artists who are children of fishermen, farmers and those hailing from other humble backgrounds in the small town. The structure of the school itself sits in a 15-hectare ancestral farmland and seaside estate of the Corpus-Bolipata clan. The main building’s structure built back in 1921, is a rustic brick and wooden house shrouded in flowering vines.
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Casa San Miguel several times and each visit has been inspiring. The first time I visited was to watch the Pundaquit Virtuosi Festival (a musical concert held every year). Another time it was to check out the newly opened museum during a media trip to Zambales. But I really got to appreciate the place when I stayed for a couple of nights during an assignment to write about FLOW, a surf, yoga and samba retreat.
Aside from the school, Casa San Miguel also runs a bed and breakfast, a cozy café called Casa Backstage, a community museum, and a 100-seater concert hall. The whole place just breathes inspiration and makes it ideal for artistic retreats and workshops.
Casa San Miguel’s Bed and Breakfast is ideal for those seeking for an artistic and inspiring getaway. It offers six deluxe rooms, or casitas, and one VIP room, as a respite from the usual city comforts.
If you just want to visit and enjoy a good meal, you can still stop by Casa Backstage Cafe, a creative alternative livelihood project of CASA San Miguel for its scholarship program for gifted individuals from the local community.
The cafe serves a range of snacks and meals like oven-baked pizzas, pasta dishes, salads, breads and pastries, snacks, desserts, coffee and wine. They also serve pretty good homemade ice cream and cakes. I highly recommend their molten lava cake. I read on their Facebook Page, that the Casa is set to open Julian’s Dream Cafe (A Taste of Sweet Zambales) this coming November. You’ve probably heard about their line of dessert products, since their polvoron was a hit at a state dinner held in honor of US President Barack Obama’s visit earlier this year.
Casa San Miguel regularly has rotating exhibits in their art gallery. The artist-run initiative also brings in creative alternatives like visual arts, music, theater, dance, film and photography to barangay plazas, orphanages, indigenous communities and hospitals while offering workshops in various artistic endeavors and creative writing to local children.
One of the newer additions is The Museum of Community Heritage, where visitors can see artifacts and the visual representation of events and stories behind the rich local heritage of San Antonio as a town and San Miguel as a barrio.
Everything about Casa San Miguel is inspiring, eclectic and artistic. If you want to find inner peace for the weekend, this is a great place to head to.
NOTE: A version of this article was published in Enrich Magazine Jan 2014 issue as “Facing the Music”