When searching for a place to stay on a visit to Cagayan de Oro, visitors usually google for hotels or inns nearest  to where they want to be in the city.

More discerning travelers would scan the customer reviews for the places they shortlisted, and choose  what suits their budget and itinerary best.

However, rarer still is the traveler who looks further and deeper into what a place is all about. And when they find one that really interests them, the hotel or inn becomes a destination worthy of the experience in itself.

1001 Nights Boutique Inn

Opened only last August, 2022, the 1001 Nights Boutique Inn is a unique bed and breakfast that will instantly catch your attention not only for its unique architecture and interior design, but initially for its location and affordability.

A bed and breakfast, often abbreviated as B&B, is a business that accommodates overnight guests and offers a breakfast menu. They traditionally take the form of a large family home with a limited number of rooms, with the hosts living in the house.

The inn is a mere minute’s walk to nearby malls and the nightlife districts along Corrales Avenue. It’s also a brisk walk to the Luna Arts & Crafts Store, Capitol University’s Museum of 3 Cultures, and a short ride to the Xavier Ateneo Museo de Oro and Cagayan de Oro City Museum.

As a no-frills inn, its 25 rooms are very affordable for singles, couples and families with a shared lounge, and free private parking.

But the spartan accommodations notwithstanding, its unique layout of two buildings opposite each other linked by aerial bridges across a small courtyard make for a cool, comforting ambiance.

Due to the elongated and relatively narrow proportions of the lot on which it rest, the owners were inspired to pattern it after the famous Marrakech Riad (a traditional Moroccan house named from the Arab word ryad meaning ‘garden’) which are townhouses built around an inner courtyard or garden.

The inn’s Marrakech Riad concept is a delight to the eyes, reminiscent of what’s famously known as the Islamic architecture, that in itself is part of a wider cultural and artistic complex, often referred to as Moorish art, found in Morocco, al-Andalus (Muslim Spain and Portugal), and parts of Algeria and Tunisia.

The foyer.

A heady admixture of influences from Berber culture in North Africa, pre-Islamic Spain (RomanByzantine, and Visigothic), and contemporary artistic currents in the Islamic Middle East, has fused a unique style over centuries with distinctive features such as the Moorish archriad gardens, and elaborate geometric and arabesque motifs in wood, stucco, and zellij tilework that is evident all over the inn’s entirety.

Zellij tilework like only a true artist with the eye can execute.

1001 Night’s  inner courtyard acts as a sanctuary and respite from the outside world. The gorgeous zellij tile work, plants, and water features grace its space, giving you an pervading ambience of peace and quiet. The abundance of natural light allows the whole inn to be illumined with light during the day. This design was adopted by riads for two reasons.

Shades of a riad in the afternoon sun.

The first originates from the Islamic value of privacy. The courtyard allows family and friends to meet, spend time together, and enjoy the delights of being outside all while having complete privacy.

Second, the courtyard-centered house allows cool air to enter the house and keep the heat to a minimum during hot tropical summers even at the hottest time of day.

The open courtyard lets the sunshine and the cool air in.

Thus, like the riads in the Old Medina of Marrakech, 1001 Nights is just a few minutes’ walk from the hustle and bustle of downtown Cagayan de Oro. But it’s so unobtrusive you may not realize you’re right in front of it.

1001 Nights Boutique Inn facade

The secret beauty is part of the charm. In the midst of all the activity, riads offer you a step into a world away. Many tourists have appreciated this peaceful contrast after spending time exploring the busy streets. The garden works to create a green refuge in the midst of the city.

The garden oasis in the middle of the city.

Like a typical riad, 1001 Nights is owned and run by owner-managers. Due to the intimate set-up and small number of rooms, service is highly personalized. Guests who have stayed in a riad often rave about the attention that they receive from staff with individual needs easily met. Being treated like one of the family can be one of the most memorable elements of your visit to Cagayan de Oro.

While its architecture draws from the Marrakech Riad concept, the inn’s interior design is inspired by the Bohemian décor style characterized by vibrant colors that are full of life woven into interesting patterns, textures, and décor that tell a story through natural fibers.

This aesthetic is a more casual, relaxed style, inspired by those who live a more unconventional lifestyle with no rules like artists, actors and travelers. Bohemian style embraces the “more is more” mindset, thus rugs are a staple of bohemian décor, as are eclectic art pieces from the world over, layered with pillows, throws and poufs.

With textile art from Jim Thompson, masks from Venezia, Indonesia, antique jars from Thailand, and a Moroccan water fountain, the place’s vibe tells you this is no ordinary place to just eat and sleep.

Like a  typical riad, the inn provides traditional hotel accommodation but what sets it apart is your unique experience staying with the Moroccan culture and Bohemian lifestyle which inspired it. Check out their in-house video for a glimpse of its location and amenities.

Sunhead’s Child

Actually, 1001 Nights Boutique Inn is the offspring of the Sunhead, a similar one established in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, by Kagay-anon Carlos “Litoy” Cecilio and his partner Roelf- Jan.

Litoy Cecilo and Roelf-Jan in Rome, 2014.

Started as a five-room B&B in 1994, the partners parlayed it into one of the most popular in Amsterdam which included 23 fully furnished apartments that their well-heeled owners entrusted to the couple to manage.

“We could only afford to advertise in the Gay Times of London, accepting bookings by phone or email,” Cecilio recalls.  

Gay Times, also known as Gay Times Magazine and GT, is a UK-based LGBTQ+ media brand originally a magazine for gay and bisexual men, but now includes content for the LGBTQ+ community across a number of outlets, and social-media platforms.
(Cover of the December 2021 issue, featuring Bimini Bon-Boulash)

“We predated Airbnb by 13 years,” Cecilio affirms. “Since our five rooms were always fully booked, we gave prospective guests an alternative with the 23 apartments, which were cheaper and bigger with kitchen and other home amenities, but lacked the full service of our Sunhead rooms.”

Rick Steves in 2013 (CarlosManzanoPhotos)

Their B&B got a tremendous shot in the arm when it was highly recommended by Rick Steves, the popular American travel writer, author, activist and TV show host.

“His show is very popular with middle-aged Americans and Canadians who are mostly retired and not picky with prices,” Cecilio said. “As a result of his positive review of Sunhead, we gained a sizable clientele from this demographic.”

Apparently, the B&Bs popularity stemmed not merely from the wide choice of accommodations Sunhead could offer, but even more from  the fabulous breakfast menu with smoked salmon and Jamon Serrano personally prepared by Cecilio, and how he would advise them over breakfast on how best to visit museums and other cultural destinations this age group was more inclined with.

“We often booked museum tours for them (which are very difficult to secure, often requiring lead times of three months or more) and they trusted me to make their bookings using their credit cards, so when they arrived, the tickers were ready and they just had to hop into the taxis I also booked for them with my suki Iranian drivers.”

Kagay-anon Roots

Still, Sunhead is only a chapter of the inn’s back story.

Equally fascinating is Cecilio’s journey to his roots in Europe, then back to his native Cagayan de Oro. Born and raised a Kagay-anon, Cecilio is a scion of the famous Fortich clan of Bukidnon.

Eduardo Fortich-Cecilio (left) with his older half-brother Cesar Fortich-Malferrari, Sr. during the 1950s.
(Photo courtesy of Larry Lorenzo Sheng Cecilio)

“My grandfather was a proper Castellano Cecilio from Segovia, Spain,” he shared. “Originally a Croatian surname, it was corrupted over the years as he moved to Cuba, and thence to the United States, becoming a US Citizen by joining the US Army. Deployed to the Philippines during the Spanish-American War, he was a non-combatant who played with the Army Band.”

The youngest of ten siblings, Litoy finished his elementary and high school education with Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan (Xavier Ateneo), but eventually graduated with a degree in interior decoration from the Philippine School of Interior Design-Ahlen Institute (PSID-AI) when it was still in Makati.

“I spent my first two and a half years in the University of the Philippines (UP) studying Fine Arts (Painting) but I was never happy because I always wanted to become an interior designer, but only girls were allowed to enroll in interior designing by the UP College of Home Economics,” he recalls.

Founded in 1967 by Engr. Agustin Cancio, the PSID produced excellent interior designers for 50 years and became the PSID-Ahlen Institute (AI) in 2013, exclusively offering a BSID program. The school’s graduates are now well-regarded in their design firms, and they dominate the professional organization, the Philippine Institute of Interior Designers.

Cecilio attributes his interior designing chops mainly to Edith L. Oliveros one of the founders of PSID who designed its curriculum, promoted Filipino Design in each of her project assignments and was recognized as Outstanding Professional of the Year for Interior Design (1994) by the Professional Regulatory Commission.

He also credits his foundation to Nardy Aquino, a pioneer alumni of the PISD, who eventually became one of its pioneer teachers. Aquino is a well-known Interior Design practitioner whose high-end clients have consistently sought his design expertise, ranging from residential to commercial building interiors.

Hello Amsterdam

Cecilio worked with Oliveros for a while but was itching to go to Europe, and ended up in Amsterdam in 1980.

In 1987, he started a restaurant which he eventually sold to his nephew Eric Malferrari because he couldn’t stand the daily grind any longer, later establishing Sunhead in 1994.

Meanwhile, he undertook a mentorship under the famous Dutch artist Anneke Kuipers, as a break from the hectic work at Sunhead, and spent seven years under her tutelage.

Hello CDO

In 2015, Cecilio and his partner Roelf-Jan decided tosell Sunbeam after a change in Dutch laws regulating B&Bs operations made it unprofitable to continue. After selling it to a Dutch millionaire for a handsome profit, they moved back to Cagayan de Oro and started anew with 1001 Nights Boutique Inn.

They still have to travel to the Netherlands every now and then to maintain their dual citizenship, but Cecilio says he now wants to focus more on his art, and recently exhibited his pen and ink drawings  at Luna Artisanal Boutique and Café at the SM City CDO Uptown’s North Wing.

Check in at this beautiful front desk.

Meanwhile, 1001 Nights Boutique Inn has earned a remarkable 9.3 rating in Booking.com, making it the top ranked B&B in Cagayan de Oro City after only five months in operation. Apparently, the Sunhead’s reputation has been carried over from the Netherlands to the Philippines, mostly thanks to its quite savvy owners.

The latest addition to the inn’s virtual art gallery is this intricately carved wooden lattice moucharabieh screen.

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1 Comment

  1. AMAZING WORK 👏 ✨️🎉👏👏👏💖🍾🥂🎊

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