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RICO HIZON’S TRAVEL BLACK BOOK

Best beaches, and lechon, in Cebu

The Philippine island is packed with history, culture, good food and beautiful beaches

Who: BBC World News anchor Rico Hizon, 50.

The Filipino citizen and Singapore permanent resident has lived in Singapore with his wife Melannie, 44, an art event producer, for 18 years. They have an 11-year-old son, Migo.

Favourite destination: Cebu, The Philippines

Why: I love Cebu for several reasons.

It's extremely rich in culture and history, has amazing festivals, shopping and beautiful food - it's especially famous for its lechon, or suckling pig, which is fantastic.

It's also a very historical place. Cebu is where the Spanish established their first permanent settlement in the Philippines in 1565, so there are many historical sites.

My must-sees include the Lapu Lapu Shrine, the Magellan's Cross monument and the Basilica Minore del Santo Nino.

Favourite place to stay

There are many special hotels in Cebu City, but I prefer to stay nearby on Mactan Island as it has some of the most beautiful beaches with perfect white sand and palm trees - completely idyllic. Whether a hotel is small or big, the most important thing for me and my family is that it has excellent service. Fortunately, this is easy to find on Mactan Island, where everyone is friendly and helpful.

Favourite restaurant

Lechon, roast suckling pig, is the most famous food in Cebu and it has been admired by some of the top chefs in the world, including Anthony Bourdain, who famously called it "the best pig ever".

There are many amazing restaurants across the island which cook it well.

The most famous are Zubuchon (www.zubuchon.com) in Cebu City, but Rico's Lechon (www.ricoslechon.com) is also fantastic.

There, you can get lechon, rice and some vegetables for about $9 a head, a reasonable price for an amazing meal.

A whole roast suckling pig starts from 3,500 pesos (S$103) and serves about 15 people.

Favourite cultural site

The Basilica Minore del Santo Nino is one of the oldest churches in the Philippines with an amazing array of antiques and artworks, including the gold and jewelled statue of the Santo Nino (Holy Child) which dates back to 1521 and is thought to be the oldest religious relic in the country.

Though the basilica has been rebuilt over the years, it was originally founded in 1565.

During the feast of Santo Nino and the Sinulog Festival held on the third Sunday in January, millions of people gather to see colourful parades and dances in honour of Cebu's patron saint.

It is the city's grandest festival for which Filipinos travel from across the country to pay homage to Santo Nino.

If you are there in January, be sure to head to the streets around the basilica to see the festival. You will be able to get a feel of the Philippines, our way of life and our cultural heritage.

Next to the basilica is Magellan's Cross, a wooden cross planted by Portuguese-Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan upon arriving in Cebu in 1521, which is also a fantastic piece of history.

Favourite place for a relaxing afternoon

Mactan Island, about an hour's drive from Cebu City.

I love spending an afternoon on the beach reading and relaxing. It feels like paradise.

Must-buy souvenir

Cebu is known for its dried mangoes. They are the best in the world - I think it's the soil on the island that makes the mangoes special.

You can buy these from every supermarket, but it's much more fun to head to a sari sari (variety store) which could just be a table set up on the street outside someone's house. To buy a pack in Singapore would cost about $5, but the same pack in Cebu will cost you $2.

Must-try breakfast

The typical Philippine breakfast food is tosilog (grilled pork with garlic rice and fried egg); bangsilog (milk fish, garlic rice and fried egg) or tapsilog (beef, garlic rice and fried egg).

They are delicious and absolute must-haves if you are visiting.

The meals are served in lots of cafes and restaurants throughout the island where they are reasonably priced at $5 to $7 a plate.

Best sunset

The best place to watch the sunset is Bantayan Island, north-west of Cebu Island and about a four-hour drive and a 30-minute to one-hour- long ferry ride from Cebu City.

I visited Bantayan Island while filming a documentary for the BBC and the sunsets there were unreal.

It has beautiful beaches and a fabulous local feel that is a little off the beaten track.

Best hidden find

People may not know this, but Cebu is famous for its furniture makers.

Kenneth Cobonpue (www.kennethcobonpue.com) makes beautiful furniture and counts celebrity couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as its customers.

Ideal length of stay

Five days is the ideal amount of time to see all the historical and cultural sites, but also make sure to get some relaxing beach time.

Talk to locals and the hotel's concierge - it's the best way to find your favourite parts of the city.

Move like a local

To get an authentic experience, travel like the locals do.

You can get around the city by jeepney, which are converted Jeeps painted in bright colours and are full of character. They were originally old American military jeeps and have been expanded to fit 12 to 15 people.

They are a fun way of getting around and are also friendly on the budget - they cost a maximum of $1 a ride a person.

Another way to get around is by tricycle - a motorcycle with a side car for passengers - which you flag down on the side of the road. Again, it's a very local experience.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 12, 2016, with the headline 'Idyllic Cebu'. Print Edition | Subscribe