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Rachel Hamada travels to the faraway Philippines for a stay at The Farm, an award-winning centre for holistic healing, wellness and lifestyle enhancement.

Down on the Farm

Rachel Hamada travels to the faraway Philippines for a stay at The Farm, an award-winning centre for holistic healing, wellness and lifestyle enhancement. 

The moment I arrive at The Farm at San Benito I know that it is going to be both luxurious and, in its way, strict. I’m handed a chilled glass of coconut water with fresh mint to refresh me after my journey and a small dog chases round my feet. ‘She’s our sniffer dog, she’s making sure you are not bringing in any junk food,’ jokes the manager half charmingly but with a hint of feigned menace. 

I’m taken to my accommodation – one of the new Narra Pool Villas, which is one of the most amazing places I have stayed in my life, even as a travel journalist. The villa is tasteful, soothing and huge; the setting is verdant and inspiring; and best of all, there is a heartbreakingly lovely plunge pool with Jacuzzi to call my own. I’m certainly not complaining. 

The same afternoon I’m booked in for “nutritional microscopy” with Dr Ferdinand in the medical part of the estate (there are a set of medical clinics on one side and on the opposite side the healing sanctuary where spa treatments take place). In this session, a drop of blood is taken from me and analysed under the microscope. It’s all fun – the doctor is enthusiastic and tells me he can tell I take care of myself (at which point my eyebrows rise slightly, as I don’t always). 

I watch what he describes as a white blood cell eating up a dead red blood cell. It’s like a blobby Pacman in slow motion. Later I have a Hara Puri stomach massage to get my digestive system moving and the next day a liver compress to aid detoxification – using a paste of yarrow and gourd. This last treatment is administered in my room in the evening and I sleep soundly afterwards.

The Farm is very much a holistic health offering, which I welcome as a person who doesn’t believe that Western medicine has all the right answers (or indeed all the right questions). However, a healthy scepticism is also part of my make-up and I remained somewhat detached throughout the medical proceedings. For example, I was told that a coffee enema would be a good idea (and that if the nutritional microscopy had shown up parasites in my blood, a garlic enema would have been suggested instead). Sluicing out my insides is not my idea of fun, and I don’t like the idea of messing with our natural internal ecosystem. The doctor did stress that patients are given probiotics after the treatment to restore balance in the gut. I opted out – but if you are a fan of more alternative medical treatments you can find many of them here.

For me, where The Farm excels seriously is in the setting, the food offering, the activity programme and the spa treatments. 

Set below a mountain range in a verdant green estate dotted with lakes and meditation pavilions, the retreat boasts a myriad of quiet corners, pools, waterfalls and benches where you can rest, think and decompress from the anxieties of modern life. Just being in such a beautiful setting opens up mental depths, the ability to contemplate clearly and to meditate well. 

The food is excellent – and raw. Almost all the menu is produced from raw food, and the chefs are skilled and inventive. A typical breakfast, for example, is a tropical fruit platter; raw seed granola with popped millet, fruit and chia seeds; and Besan Chilla, a chickpea ‘omelette’ with cilantro and tamarind chutney. I’m on the Wellness programme and lunch and dinner is five courses a day. 

Having been warned ominously by previous visitors about how hungry I would be after a few days, I was amazed how satisfying and filling I found the food – to the extent that I had to skip lunch entirely on my last day as I had no space for it. The food was fresh, super nutritious, and inspiring – the level of flavour and variety achieved with vegan raw food shows just what is possible. The only caveat is that a lot of raw food in a short time when the body is not used to it can prove… explosive! 

The activity programme was also great. A schedule is placed on your bed the day before so that you can plan which actitivies to join in with the next day – from hard cardio work in the jungle gym to yin yoga in the stunning yoga pavilion with a view or a gentle session of mandala flower arranging at the healing sanctuary. 

Yoga at the Farm,, Philippines

I did the yin yoga (in which you relax into positions that are held steady for a long period) with teacher Dona Esteban, and despite my special needs (a stiff and difficult ankle after a drastic break last year) she was patient and adapted the class for me where necessary, as well as offering advice on how to use yoga to help with the recovery process. At the end of the session – aimed at detoxifying us via the liver and gall bladder channels – a group of mating peacocks put on a dramatic show of colour for us, just as we came out of savasana. 

Finally I went for my signature treatment, the Skin Kayud treatment for detoxification. The healing sanctuary where spa treatments take place is an absolute joy – with an infinity pool surrounded by misty mountains, frangipani trees and stone peacocks. Mandala flower arrangements abound, flooding the space with vibrant colour. I’m taken to my treatment room, past a plant-filled pond with jumping frogs. 

‘All is well. Clear your mind,’ I’m told. I have to take off all my clothes and two therapists use coconut oil to massage my skin (they go up and down my body in vertical symmetry) and then scrape me with mother of pearl shells. It sounds painful, but it is quite an enjoyable sensation and it feels like it is having an effect – even revealing blockages and lumps in places I was unaware of. 

I’m covered in a thick paste of turmeric or “yellow ginger”, mixed with the ubiquitous coconut. I’m then wrapped up and hot compresses are placed on me for ten minutes while the therapist scrapes my face and neck. She focuses spontaneously on the base of my neck for a minute. I don’t know if she senses a probem but this is indeed my weak point and she hones in on it and makes some adjustments with her fingers – afterwards it feels much better. 

I shower off the paste in the delightful adjoining room, before being ushered to an outside marble bath full of coconut milk mixed with hot water. I lie here for half an hour. I feel pretty overheated in the end, but the setting is incredible – the bath is in the middle of a fish pond, with coconut palms overhead and white lotus flowers in the water. They bring me lemon water and detox tea to keep me hydrated. Then I’m allowed to jump into a cold shower before getting dressed. Lastly, I have a hot compress placed on my stomach area, then shoulders, then lower back. All in all, the treatment takes about two hours. The first part in particular is super relaxing and my skin feels about ten years younger. 

A last note: ask yourself if you like coconut. You will be slathered in cold pressed virgin coconut oil, you will be fed coconut and you will drink coconut, from dawn until dusk. It’s all from the farm itself, natural, tasty and healthy. Coco nutters will be in heaven. 

The Farm at San Benito
119 Barangay Tipakan
4217 Lipa City, Batangas
Philippines.Tel: +632 884.8074
The Farm at San Benito remains the Philippines’ sole holistic health destination, offering natural and comprehensive health programmes to treat cancer, diabetes, hypertension and obesity.Contact The Farm for latest offers and prices. All-inclusive wellness rates cost from US$299 per night; all-inclusive detox cleanse and specialised healing retreats from US$499 per night.For travel to the Philippines try sites like Skyscanner for lowest fares. China Southern Airlines via Guangzhou is the cheapest route from the UK, but other options include stopping over in Bangkok, Singapore, Dubai and other places. Expect to pay between £550 and £700 return in economy.

If you’re booking well in advance, consider flying to Bangkok or Hong Kong then onto Manila with economy airline Cebu Pacific, the Filipino carrier is reliable and has some super cheap rates for advance bookings.

The Farm offers transfers from the airport or downtown Manila for PHP9000 return (about £140). The journey takes an hour and a half.

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