City of Manila

Viva Manila!: Exploring Malate and Ermita with Carlos Celdran (Part 1)

On the occasion of the 444th anniversary of the founding of the City of Manila this June 24, renowned tour guide, activist, and heritage advocate Carlos Celdran launched a free walking tour for all Sundays of the month dubbed “Viva Manila.”

This special walking tour aims to get visitors reacquainted with the old city itself and appreciate its charm that is being overlooked these days, in particular with the districts of Malate and Ermita which used to be the haven of the rich and a bustling part of the city, especially before the war. The Urban Roamer was fortunate to join in one of those tours as we walked our way through the city and discover some sights along the way that we never got to know well before.


The meeting place, as well as the starting point of the tour is a budget accommodation in Malate called the Malate Pensionne. While there are many budget accommodations to be found in this part of the city, Malate Pensionne is a different place altogether, and it’s not just because of the Starbucks branch located in its premises.

The place used to be an apartment that was built shortly after the war (around 1947) which was converted into a hotel in 1970s. Nevertheless, its interiors maintained the charm and atmosphere of the postwar period during which it was built. A stay here is like being back in time, taking a refuge of sorts from the modern landscape of today’s Malate which makes it unrecognizable from the Malate of the old that Malate Pensionne has managed to preserve.

The rates are budget friendly as well; you can spend a night there for as low as P950. (at this time of writing) So if you would like to experience Old Manila on a budget, Malate Pensionne is an option to consider. Do check their website at


A short jeepney ride away, we proceeded to Ermita for our next stop, the famed Philippine handicrafts and souvenirs store Tesoro’s along A. Mabini Street. Since opening in 1945, it steadily rose to become a renowned retailer as it is known today. Inside, one can find a variety of Filipino goods being sold, including a wide selection of barong and saya that Tesoro’s is known for. Tesoro’s today has presence in different parts of the country but their main store in Ermita is still well-frequented. You can check out their catalog online at

Next door is the Casa Tesoro Building, (not sure if the Tesoros own or used to own this building) which stands out as this elegant edifice in the midst of the modern cityscape scene in the district. It should come as no surprise, considering that this buiding was actually built in 1901, making it one of the oldest buildings in Ermita. It has been utilized over the years with various business coming and going who made shop there.

Today, the building now serves as the home of 1335 Mabini, an art space and gallery which serves as a venue for exhibits, talks, and other events dedicated to contemporary Philippine art. It helps that the building’s old city charm helps provide a unique atmosphere that is conducive to one’s appreciation of art as its architecture blends well with the art on display. Check out their site for more information at

There is also a bar located in the building which sports an aviation motif that also manages to blend well with the architecture. One should check it out for the atmosphere.


A few steps away from Tesoro’s crossing Padre Faura is the Lotus Garden Hotel. It is a fairly young hotel and belonging to the middle tier level of hotels as far as rates are concerned. What is of particular interest is the hotel’s fairly new wing, the Marilo Wing.

The building where the Marilo Wing is located used to be an apartment building called the Marilo Apartment that was originally built shortly after the war. Eventually Lotus Garden Hotel acquired the property and made the necessary works in integrating the old apartment building to make it become part of the hotel.

As in the case of the aforementioned Malate Pensionne, the Marilo Wing of Lotus Garden Hotel retains the postwar charm of Old Manila with the preservation of various elements like the wood and some of the furnishings. At the same time, this old-time feel manages to blend well with the modern architecture and design in some parts of the building. It’s something that’s rare to find these days.

You can view more of the hotel at their website at, so do check it out as well.


To be continued

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