Earlier this month, my cousin C. and I went on a road trip to Argao, which is about a two-hour southerly drive from Cebu City, to finally visit the Riverstone Castle Resort (she’s been wanting to go there since she heard about it from a friend). It’s an honest-to-goodness replica of a medieval castle styled after the Belgian ones (here’s the famous Het Steen in Antwerp for comparison). There are even crocodiles in the moat (no kidding). If not for the foliage, which is obviously tropical, I’m sure we could fool a casual observer into thinking that we actually went to Europe hehe.
The long trip was worth it for the novelty alone. According to a newspaper clipping proudly framed in the cellar, ten thousand (!) stones from the nearby Argao River (hence the name, Riverstone) were used to construct the castle. We felt that the number must be closer to a million, though — there were just so many stones, it was almost dizzying.
The story behind its construction is equally interesting — according to the same article, the castle was designed by a Belgian who was married to a native Argawanon. Alas, he never did get to bask in the fruits of his labor, as it turned out that he had overstayed his visa. His own wife reported him to the authorities after she got tired of his womanizing ways, causing him to be deported after construction was finished (lesson of the story: don’t cheat on your wife).
The investors who funded the venture are the Galeos brothers; one of them just happens to be the mayor of Argao. My aunt’s reaction when I told her the story: “Ay, obvious nga gi-kurakot!” While I don’t want to make assumptions about the source of their wealth (who knows, they may really be wealthy in their own right), we couldn’t help but wonder…
One interesting thing about the castle is its incongruity with its surroundings — it’s right smack in the middle of rural Cebu, with small bahay kubos less than a fourth of its size for neighbors. As a friend commented, “Mura siya’g Ampatuan mansion sa Maguindanao.” (Not that we’re comparing the Galeos brothers with the murderous Ampatuans, lest we be sued for libel. It did make us question, though, if they would have been able to pillage so many stones from the Argao River if one of them didn’t conveniently happen to rule the place.)
How to get there
From Cebu City, head to the southwest on the Natalio B Bacalso South National Highway until you reach Argao. It can’t be missed; there are big welcome signs and billboards along the highway featuring the Riverstone Castle Resort.