The Farm at San Benito is a medical holistic health retreat set inside a lushly jungled 48 hectare coconut plantation in the Batangas hinterland of The Philippines. People have been coming here since it opened in 2003 to de-stress, detox, lose weight, get fit, sort out their skin, help treat a heart condition and even heal after cancer treatment (very unusually you can bring your children here and even your dog). All programmes are infused with the belief that health is influenced by first our spiritual selves, then our emotional/mental selves, and lastly our physical selves, yet the five doctors who work here are also medically trained.
Everywhere you look there are twists and turns of lush green palms, papaya and coconut trees
For Brits, it’s a hell of a long way away, but happily Air Philippines fly direct from London to Manilla (from where The Farm is a 1.5 hour drive) and the 14-16 hour flight is worth it if you’ve got a decent amount of time to spare and you’d like to try something a little different to the Thai/Bali spa circuit. Being inland, and set high up, The Farm is out of the path of the typhoons that hit The Philippines regularly, and though I thought I’d miss a beach, the whole setting was conducive to ‘going inside’ and properly retreating.
Everywhere you look there are the twists and turns of lush green palms, papaya and coconut trees, and in one particular place, a simply enormous, 200 year old mango tree with thick, extended branches so impressive it would make even the most unlikely tree-hugger go weak at the knees. Stone pathways flanked by bowls filled with mandalas of floating flower petals criss cross the resort, and funny and astonishing peacocks roam lawns beside a central lake overlooking distant tree-clad mountains.
The Farm’s medical director is intelligent, empathetic and engaging
There are oodles of treatments and holistic health programmes on offer. You can join various daily walks and fitness sessions, and – if you’re restless and want to explore the area – excursions to Taal volcano crater lake or Mount Malarayat. I’m given treatment of live blood analysis, art therapy, liver compresses, meditation and an awful lot of acupuncture – at one point, the friendly therapist decides to leave a needle taped securely between my breasts for the duration of the day. It’s The Farm’s medical director, Dr Marian Alonzo (aka Dr Marie), however, who really makes my stay – intelligent, empathetic and engaging, she would come to find me regularly and we had interesting chats during all our consultations.
I also indulge in rather wondrous pampering treatments at The Healing Sanctuary, a simple spa centred around a pool flanked by plants and a bare frangipani tree where I never have a dud therapist. I especially love the Filipino ‘Hilot’ massage (which uses strokes, kneading and stretching to ease tension). Each treatment seems to go on for hours, whatever the length, and unusually therapists all say ‘god bless you’ after. Though I’m an atheist, their words always feel warming, no different from a Thai therapist singing a short Buddhist chant.
I especially love the Filipino ‘Hilot’ massage (which uses strokes, kneading and stretching to ease tension). Each treatment seems to go on for hours…
There are only 33 rooms and villas ranging over nine developed hectares inside the plantation – I stay in Narra Pool Villa (see video below) a spacious, wooden floored and graceful space with lots of natural light, eco friendly soft furnishings and an inspiring scarlet oil painting of a yogic man touching his toes. Outside, I have my own mini pool and an enormous balcony facing a jungle studded with sunlight, where I spend a lot of time on a chocolate brown day bed watching the trees shake and contemplating my navel.
The all-vegan food is impressively varied and highly cleansing – I lose 6 pounds during my stay
Products in the spa and my room are all hand made on site from their own 100 per cent organic virgin coconut oil, and staff don’t appear to know the word ‘no’. The all-vegan food (miso soup, stuffed shiitake mushrooms, raw chocolate cake) is impressively varied and highly cleansing – I lose six pounds during my stay without even trying. What’s not to like?
Rates starting at USD $1,320 (single occupancy) for a 3-night Wellness Experience package (except peak period).
Caroline Sylger Jones is an author and freelance journalist who travels the world checking out spas, retreats and healthy holidays for international newspapers, glossy magazines and websites. She is the founder and director of wellness travel site Queen of Retreats.
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