Credit: Erika Yin

Long synonymous with volatile climes and the obscenely large shoe collections of its past heads of state, Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, is fast coming into its own as a vastly underrated cultural cosmopolis. Manila’s chaotic city traverses the extremes of a truly modern metropolis, while enjoying the best attributes of the bustling boroughs of Brooklyn, the gleaming shopping of Shanghai and the culinary vitality of a city at the heart of a Southeast Asian archipelago where indigenous, Malay, Chinese, Spanish and American influences collide with a rich history, dynamic present and unpredictable future.

Below, where to stay, play, wine and dine in one of Asia’s most exciting and unexpected destinations to visit in 2016 and beyond.

In the heart of the Bonifacio Global City, a neighbourhood of Manila Metro named for an iconic revolutionary who lead the movement for independence in the Filipino Revolution against Spanish colonial rule, you’ll find the Shangri-La at the Fort. A towering beacon of luxury, the hotel is the pivotal nexus where five-star accommodation meets an unparalleled domestic residence, an all-encompassing leisure centre and world-class cuisine and retail. Situated within easy reach of the international airport, each of the 576 rooms gives way to incredible views of Metro Manila, BGC and the city’s incredible sunsets.

On arrival, you’re quickly exposed to a taste of the eclecticism that makes Manila such a fascinating city: the works of Bataan-born artist Jinggoy Buensuceso are emblematic of a thriving arts scene; higher up, the Kerry Sports centre spans over 8,000 square metres and two floors dedicated to recreation and relaxation; and it’s only once you reach the summit that you’ll come to appreciate the city’s nature as a living, breathing organism. From the Horizon Homes showrooms, it’s possible to trace the (notoriously congested) arteries of the city as far as the eye can see, illuminated as they are by the tens of millions of Manileños that make the city tick day after day.

A floral arrangement seen in situ at the lobby of Shangri-La at the Fort
Credit: Erika Yin
The hotel lobby at the Shangri-La at the Fort
Credit: Erika Yin
Artist Jinggoy Buensuceso’s De’Rive, an artwork spanning 16m across two levels of the hotel foyer
Credit: Erika Yin
Taguig city at night, as seen from the four-bedroom Horizon Home showroom
Credit: Erika Yin
One of the largest gyms in Southeast Asia, the Kerry Sports facility
Credit: Erika Yin

Having spent a day traversing the city’s labyrinthine streets, you’re assured of a comforting meal and tipple at Raging Bull Chophouse and Bar. Opened this year, Raging Bull Chophouse serves exactly what its name suggests: a smorgasbord of grain and grass-fed dry-aged beef that comes highly-recommended (in addition to an expansive seafood menu) from yours truly. However it’s to the cocktail menu that you’ll want to return. You’d be hard pressed to find a libation more restorative than the Bonifacio Penicillin, which, as its name suggests, marries the region’s history with the medicinal properties of a good, stiff drink: bourbon, calamansi extract (a perennial Filipino citrus; think a hybrid of a mandarin and a cumquat), spiced honey and ginger jam.

Should the prospect of venturing further afoot prove unappetising, you’re able to traverse a world of cuisines at the High Street Café, a cafeteria style eatery where nine ‘theatre kitchens’ offer a selection of pan-Asian cuisines that square off against Mediterranean, rotisserie, seafood, salad bar and dessert options. Variety, after all, is the spice of life. You’d also be hard pressed to pass up the haute Chinese cuisine on offer at Canton Road, where you’re sure to meet your match in their offering of Cantonese and Huaiyang cuisine.

Not immune to the global charms of craft beer culture, Manila has fallen head over heels for microbreweries. It’s not hard to see why when you visit the Filipino-style yakitori restaurant, Tambai, in the Makati district’s culinary epicentre, Poblacion. A thriving cultural hub populated by speakeasies hidden behind unassuming facades, Poblacion has fast developed a reputation as the go-to spot for casual drinking and dining – exemplified most agreeably in the vibe at Tambai (it literally translates to ‘hang out’ in Tagalog, the local dialect). You can’t go wrong with a Joe’s Brew, a local tipple, that pairs perfectly with a Filipino spin on traditional Japanese yakitori.

A bartender at Raging Bull Chophouse and Bar prepares a Bonifacio Penicillin
Credit: Erika Yin
Ice at Raging Bull is stamped with the restaurant’s eponymous seal
Credit: Erika Yin
A theatre kitchen at the High Street Café
Credit: Erika Yin
Local craft beer from Joe’s Brew, pictured at Tambai, a Filipino-style yakitori restaurant at Poblacion, Makati
Credit: Erika Yin
The table setting at Canton Road, a Chinese restaurant located at the Shangri-La at The Fort
Credit: Erika Yin

Manila is home to some of Southeast Asia’s most exciting young and established artists, and it’s in the city’s galleries and museums – think the Metropolitan Museum of Manila and the Cultural Centre of the Philippines – that you’ll find pieces by world-class artists creating work that distils their country’s volatile history into single frame. However, it’s on the streets (and walls) of the city that you’ll get a real indication of the local art scene. Street art is a vibrant and thriving feature of the BGC, with many of the area’s walls and public spaces acting as a canvas for the city’s best and brightest, either in large-scale public sculptures of the kind created by Filipino-American artist, fashion designer and multi-disciplinary creative Dee Jae Pa’este or in the stunning murals preferred by the self-taught Anjo Bolarda.

Once you’ve had your fill of looking at exquisitely painted walls, it’s time to look within them and delve into Manila’s complex history. Venture to Intramuros, an incredible walled city and the oldest district in Manila. A stone citadel traversing 64 hectares, Intramuros traces its origins back to 1571 as the seat of Spanish colonial power within the region. Head there early to beat the crowds (and the temperatures) or, conversely, embrace them wholeheartedly.

At the time that GRAZIA visited the Intramuros, the school day had come to an end and we were surrounded by children – warm, friendly and teaming with energy, not unlike the city that raised them.

Filipino street artist Dee Jae pictured with his work #ILoveBHSArt 
Credit: Erika Yin
Anjo Bolarda’s Pangako, seen in situ on Bonifacio High Street
Credit: Erika Yin

The walled city of Instramurous is one of the oldest districts in Manila
Credit: Erika Yin
GRAZIA travelled to Manila as a guest of the Shangri-La at the Fort

Tile and cover image: Erika Yin