A visit to Sonya’s Secret Garden in Alfonso, Cavite – just a few-minute drive to Tagaytay – is enough to energize and refresh one’s body and mind. Whenever I visit this place, a part of me doesn’t want to go back to my real life in the city. This was how Sonya Garcia felt during her first few visits to this place before she called it her home in the late 1990s.
At the owner and founder of Sonya’s Secret Garden, Sonya Garcia’s invitation, six of us members of the press visited her piece of heaven and stayed overnight at the charming cottages. At lunch, she sat and regaled us with her colorful and inspiring life story. “A formidable yet welcoming lady,” I thought with admiration.
“I used to just visit here on weekends with my family and close friends. It used to be just one cottage and a garden where I would plant root crops, plants, and vegetables. I would tend to the plants and wait for harvest time. And of course, there’s also my flower garden,” this lively, full of wit and wisdom 80-year-old founder shares.
“My love for flowers or flower gardens, I got it from my grandmother. In fact, it was my childhood spent with her that made me decide to create something like the slice of heaven I grew up in,” she adds.
From one cottage, Sonya kept adding one step at a time— “whatever felt right,” she said. Now Sonya’s Secret Garden has 25 cottages each named after her favorite blooms in the garden and all reflecting her love for Victorian with a touch of rustic yet charming and chic interior design.
She transformed the restaurant into a full-blown one serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals with many ingredients harvested fresh from the garden. Our favorite was the garden salad with Sonya’s super-secret dressing. She wouldn’t reveal the ingredients, but she gave us a bottle to take home. A spacious events venue as well as the must-visit “proposal garden” was added. The bakery or panaderya came, offering the popular pasalubong and bestseller Spanish bread and cheese hopia among others.
There’s also a spa offering body massages and other body pampering services, as well as an apothecary that carries organic and eco-friendly products like aromatherapy oils, body soaps, and shampoo. The Vietnamese silk robe that staying guests can use may also be purchased here.
The more than three-hectare development houses the above-mentioned plus sprawling vegetable, fruit, and flower gardens in different areas.
All these reflect the kind of lifestyle that Sonya wanted and has made for herself.
“I did not intend this to become a business. I simply wanted a personal sanctuary, an idyllic paradise retreat tucked in the quiet side of Cavite to revel in the joys of creating and tending to a beautiful garden teeming with bright colorful blooms and verdant greens,” she said. “Everything just happened naturally over the course of time and I’m glad it did because now we’re a growing family and community.”
“Ma’am Sonya has helped so many people by providing jobs, and even gifting the deserving and long staying employees with plots of land to build their house on,” says Christina H. Caimoy, Chief Operating Officer, who, along with other loyal staff of Sonya, toured us around the entire development.
The following day, she invited us over to her home, located of course, within the development. It looked like it was cut straight from a country living magazine. She toured us around the mostly open-area three-story house she shares with her two school-age grandchildren as well as her beloved canines. You could see that every piece of decor, furnishing, or artwork reflects Sonya’s taste and style. There was enough space to move around and the whole space felt light and airy. Sonya does not shy away from mixing and matching kitchenware, ornaments, and furniture yet she knows exactly how to maintain the right balance. It was neither too little nor too much. Nothing is heavy on the eye, and each has a place and a breathing space. She calls it “carefully choreographed chaos.”
“Varieties can be beautiful,” she reveals. “Try a different approach. Surprise yourself. If something is too much, calm it down with something neutral like white. Nothing is contrived here.”
She showed us where she plays mahjong with her friends who would come over occasionally.
“Here, I have found my inner peace and happiness. Every day I get to bask in the refreshing scents of nature and the cool climate. I get to harvest fresh and organic food. I get to enjoy this modest country cottage that allows me to breathe in the fresh air, commune with nature and just be in the moment. These are little things we often take for granted. This is what I want to share with each visitor of Sonya’s Garden— the joy of living in the moment.”
More than two decades since she opened her doors to the public, Sonya’s Secret Garden continues to attract city dwellers and inquisitive souls seeking respite. Indeed, from a garden with a “table for two” framed by a dramatic bougainvillea vine, it has now evolved into a thriving, wholly Filipino-owned integrated tourism enterprise.
Sonya’s Garden remains to be one of the most famous bed and breakfast destinations on this side of the country. And it’s easy to see why.
Every visit to Sonya’s Garden is a feast for the senses, allowing you to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. Guests are urged to practice the art of doing nothing—to take things slow, commune with nature, and relish in its bounty. Health and wellness also take center stage at Sonya’s Garden as it encourages guests to enjoy life and practice mindfulness.
Especially during the pandemic, Sonya’s Garden became a therapeutic escape, where guests can breathe in the fresh air and breathe out the troubles that have built up during the strict lockdowns.
Sonya’s Garden also offers numerous ways to relax and unwind— from learning about basic gardening and compost-making to watching the fireflies during mating season, decor making and nature trekking, fishing, and even cooking using the freshest ingredients from Sonya’s Garden of edibles.
By staying true to its promise of being a health and wellness destination, Sonya’s Garden has managed to survive and thrive even in the most challenging crisis in recent times.
The next time you need to regroup and take a respite, go ahead, book that much-needed stay at Sonya’s Garden, and indulge in what this lovely place has to offer.
And oh, did I tell you Sonya has some life advice that may just be what you needed to hear? She said to the group:” Do not look for love. Instead, give yourself the love you seek for.”
For feedback, I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org.