Sagada made for a refreshing weekend escape. The hills of rice terraces and mountain views were a welcome change of scenery from the smoky, gray skyline of Manila. After the 12-hour night bus to Banaue, followed by a short minivan journey to Bontoc, we decided to take a jeepney for the last leg of the journey to enjoy the scenery from a local’s point of view. We rode on the top of the flamboyantly decorated vehicle, weaving through the winding mountain road and holding on to the roof racks for dear life.
The tiny mountain province village is strewn with an array of homely guest houses, quaint cafés offering delicious local cuisine, souvenir shops full of native handcrafts, and friendly, welcoming locals who were more than willing to give directions and offer advice about the area. Tourists are attracted to the range of relaxing as well as adventurous activities, such as exploring ancient caves, trekking through rice terraces, catching a glimpse of the famous hanging coffins, hiking through beautiful landscapes to clear streams, and bathing under tumbling waterfalls.
One of Sagada’s hidden gems is Gaia Cafe & Crafts, a vegetarian/vegan restaurant and craft shop nestled on the side of a winding mountain road that’s only a 15-minute walk from town. The rickety wooden structure, decorated with colorful stained-glass windows, has an exotic tree-house quality. Creaky wooden steps lead to a zip line, with inspiring words such as “change,” “adapt,” and “travel” posted on each step. The alfresco dining area is decorated with mosaic tiling, hand-carved wooden furniture, and an array of bohemian accessories. Beaded curtains, richly colored cushions, hanging pot plants, and a rope swing add to the rustic atmosphere, and the stunning views of the rolling green hills and rice terraces make a perfect backdrop for your relaxing meal.
Dishes range from simple vegan snacks such as camote fries and delicious vegetable soups to creamy pasta dishes and flavorful local cuisines. I ordered the Gaia burger, which consists of a whole wheat bread bun, homemade burger patty, tomatoes, cucumber, and hummus, served with camote fries, vegan mayonnaise, and ketchup. Other dishes not to be missed include the tomato and red pepper pasta, the vegetarian adobe, and Toast X, which is a sweet vegan version of French toast. The refreshing drinks on offer include tea, coffee, shakes, and fresh-fruit and vegetable juices. All items on the menu are vegan or can be made vegan.
The food is sourced locally, and all the ingredients are raw or organic. Since everything is made from scratch, there’s nothing canned or processed and no MSG or artificial flavors. The owners of Gaia Cafe have Mother Earth in mind with their zero-waste policy: All products are reusable or recyclable. You can order take-away if you have your own containers since they do not offer plastic containers or even straws! Any leftover scraps are fed to local animals or go into the onsite compost.
Nourish your body with the delicious cuisine and then your mind with the collection of books available at the library and gift shop located inside the restaurant. Gawani Domogo, the owner of Gaia, attributes the library to her late father, Padi Joseph G Domogo, who had a passion for reading and knowledge that he passed on to his children. Guests are invited to spend the day at Gaia, browsing the collection, but Gawani jokes that her father’s ghost will haunt those who take any home with them. The collection includes travel writing, children’s books (such as works by Dr. Seuss), old National Geographic magazines, and classic literature. The shop sells handicrafts made locally, such as bags, jewelry, and crockery, which make perfect souvenirs or gifts to take home to loved ones.
A trip to Sagada just isn’t complete without experiencing the irresistible charm of Gaia Cafe. Make time to spend a relaxing afternoon nourishing your mind, body, and soul in this eco-friendly haven:
Gaia Cafe & Crafts
Posted by Claire Miller