The Farm at San Benito has an enormous mango tree that’s hundreds of years old. Its thick, gnarled branches (dripping in fruit – remarkably) stretch toward a neighbouring pea-green lake and distant emerald mountains, creating a dense canopy. From sunrise to sunset, the tree is home to a cacophony of crickets. Come nightfall, it’s where fireflies congregate and the property’s pet peacocks go to roost.
The tree’s magnetism drew me in, too. Early on in my stay at this award-winning retreat, I felt the urge to whip off my Birkenstocks, stand barefoot next to it and place my palms on the trunk. This was uncharacteristic behavior, but I deferred judgment, because if there’s one thing I learned rather quickly at The Farm, it’s that I should always listen to my body, and do what
This sanctuary in The Philippines jungle has been one of the leading “wellness” destinations since it opened in 2003. Its varied holistic programmes have been sought out by the likes of diabetics, stroke victims, recovering cancer patients and hardcore weight-watchers for years – many of whom have claimed remarkable results. It’s also a place where devotees escape to in search of good food, to immerse themselves in nature and find respite from their busy lives.
The purpose of my visit was to detox, harnessing the healing power of The Farm’s renowned raw vegan cuisine and juice fasts. Eliminating toxins, cleansing and essentially “letting go” goes beyond the food you eat however, and it’s a more involved process – as you’ll find out below. Essentially, it’s evident after a stay here that our health is first influenced by our spiritual selves, then our emotions and lastly our physical selves.
THE HOLISTIC SANCTUARY
The Farm has a team of five resident doctors who are more aligned with schools of alternative medicine than Western medicine – but skeptics, you can rest assured that they’re all conventionally trained, too. Operating from the breezy Holistic Sanctuary, they’re readily available, keep a close eye on patients and genuinely want to help.
You could keep your schedule packed by booking as many of the every-conceivable remedies that are available, ranging from electro-acupuncture to neuro-linguistic programming, intravenous therapies to colonics. An initial consultation on arrival is imperative, to ensure that tailored treatments can be suggested to target an individual’s specific needs.
I found the live blood analysis with Dr Michelle Carbonel to be hugely informative. A TV screen linked to a microscope showcased my red blood cells clustering together, like a group of gossiping teenage girls. She explained that they should actually be separated and that what I was seeing indicated digestive stress. There are simple steps to fix this – many of which boil down to choice.
An effective detox means you’ll experience a ‘healing’ crisis as your body works hard at expelling toxins. On day three, I woke up exhausted, was in an atrocious mood and kept myself hidden away at my Narra Pool Villa. “Don’t resist it,” were the words of advice from Dr Marian. I didn’t. And I felt more awake, alert and lighter the day after: feelings which have stayed with me ever since.
If the idea of consuming only juices and raw, all-vegan cuisine sounds limiting – I assure you it’s not. As the editor of a food magazine, who lives to eat, loves seafood, cheese and biltong and has always had a sweet tooth – I initially expected my stay at The Farm to be a challenge. But chef Francis Tugnao and his team at onsite restaurant Alive! – in conjunction with the doctors and nutritionists – have created a complex and varied menu where just about everything tastes good. I’d say the only dish I didn’t like all week, was fermented mustard leaves, but that’s a personal preference and it was quickly swapped out for a tart carrot-radish mix, which I’ve since incorporated into my diet.
Besides showcasing raw fruits and vegetables, fermenting, along with dehydrating and sprouting are actually the main preparation methods or “cooking techniques” employed by the chefs to create The Farm’s multi-award-winning “Living Food”. Dehydration prevents the growth of micro-organisms that spoil food, so vegetables can have a longer shelf life without the addition of chemicals or preservatives. Fermented fare is a great source of good bacteria which promotes gut health. Sprouting (basically soaking) soya beans, nuts and grains activates and multiplies nutrients in these ingredients and promotes the growth of vital digestive enzymes.
A lot of the organic, GMO-free produce used for the daily detox juices, soups, teas, salads and main dishes is all grown at The Farm. There’s a herb garden brimming with different kinds of basil, tarragon, dill, peppermint, and a local edible fern which is packed with antioxidants. The North Farm has spring onions, chillies, aubergines, broccoli, cauliflower, okra, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes and carrots. The land near the helipad (for those who prefer to chopper in to the retreat) has an even bigger bounty. Anything extra is sourced from eight surrounding local farmers.
Of all the ingredients, however, it’s the coconut which is definitely king. “We use it for everything – it’s a healing tree for us,” said Chef Francis. Indeed – they cold press their own coconut oil that’s used by the culinary and spa teams; the fruits’ water, milk and cream has myriad much-touted benefits and the meat is used as an interesting substitute – be it as noodles in a spicy pad Thai or a replacement for scrambled egg.
Local coconut nectar, made from the sap of the palms, is used to sweeten dishes. It’s citrusy, and mildly sweet. “It has a low glycemic index,” said Francis, “and I recommend it for diabetics like myself.” It’s for this reason the chef got into healthy cuisine.
For a taste of what the detox menu includes, I’ll mention my favourite meals from the week. I thought the cauliflower rice with stir-fried mushrooms for breakfast was something I could easily make back home. The saffron and celery broth with mushroom was comforting. There’s a caramelised onion and walnut bread topped with bell peppers, “cheese”, olives, mushrooms and tomatoes that was moreish. A frilly salad topped with orange segments, carrots, figs, pickled onions, candied almonds and a delicious dressing satisfied my sugar cravings instantly. And the star of the show was hands-down a crusty cashew tofu sandwich served with spiced vegetables and wild rice.
The vegetable juices play an important role in the detox process and all are delivered to guests within 15 minutes of their being made. During the course of each day, smiling waiters sought me out wherever I was – whether I was taking a dip under a waterfall, staring up at the cornflour blue sky while floating in my villa’s plunge pool, finishing a meditation class or meandering around the jungly property – to hand over rainbow-coloured drinks in bottles, along with turmeric or pure lemon juice shots.
At the end of my stay, I was allowed to cheat on my detox while on a behind-the-scenes tour of the kitchen – in the name of research, of course. Anyone ordering off Alive!’s à la carte menu, knows that a world with delicious fruit shakes; great coffee; macadamia stuffed ravioli parcels dripping in cashew and pili nut cheese sauce; decadent pecan pie (flourless and unbaked) and much, much more awaits. Eating like this, you’ll still lose weight. I lost 3.2kg in five days – even by going off-piste with the above sneaky treats.
THE HEALING SANCTUARY
What stood out for me about The Farm’s spa offerings is how the treatments have been so carefully designed to complement its medical procedures. The Healing Sanctuary’s team discusses every client with the resident doctors and tailors each guest’s experience to address their relevant medical and emotional concerns.
My roster of daily appointments at the frangipani-flanked spa included body scrubs, wraps and massages – all using natural, edible ingredients and focused on helping my body to detox and sort out pestering pains in my right leg and lower back – the result of a lingering foot injury.
Highlights included a purification treatment, which involved being scrubbed with a delicious concoction of The Farm’s Virgin Coconut Oil, mineral-loaded salt and lemongrass, followed by a warming body wrap designed to draw toxins from the depths of my skin; a centuries-old Filipino hampol massage, where a heated herbal compress was used to aid with alleviating water retention, a pounding sugar-withdrawal headache and poor circulation; and a Hilot Pandanggo. Mateo is the person to request for this dry massage, which took place outdoors, next to the pool and saw me being stretched and bent like a pretzel.
All the therapists were exceptionally thorough, but more importantly, generous and willing to share a love for what they do. Treatments began with a reassuring message: “This is your time, clear your mind, all is well,“ being whispered in my ear. And a genuine “God bless you” wish at the end.
“What you don’t realise the therapists are also saying throughout each session is: “We’re here to look after you,“ and “We love you,” said Healing Sanctuary manager Lem Senillo toward the end of my stay. Inspired and taught by his natural healer grandmother, he looks about 20 years younger than he really is, has an infectious joie de vivre and has been with The Farm since the beginning. Lem believes that healing is all about connecting to the roots of who we really are – human beings who can manifest love.
“People tend to lose their sense of compassion and love for others and themselves,” he said. “Here, we help our guests to rekindle these feelings and remember how important they are. A good start is to simply hug yourself when you wake up in the mornings and embrace others, too. If you don’t have anyone around – you can always hug a tree.”
For more information, please visit thefarmatsanbenito.com