by Victor Wishalla
Spa of the Philippines
On a recent Thai Airways flight to Manila, Philippines, the lady sitting next to me had told me about a new destination resort spa cum alternative healing centre. “It’s in the South, near Lipa city,” she said.
Her mentioning that “The Farm at San Benito” had already won several awards, including “Spa of the Philippines” further piqued my curiosity. I decided to check it out. Stressed, on a schedule and concerned about road traffic, I passed on the 2 + hours van ride and instead let the helicopter-shuttle fly me from Manila airport to The Farm’s helipad. Just under half an hour, great views to boot.
Pronto, the gates swing open, welcoming me into a whole new world of wellness – or so I hope. The Farm, I learn while checking in, was actually a coconut plantation until a few years ago, when Eckart Rempe, originally from Germany, and his Philippina wife Perla, decided to transform the land into a wellness getaway retreat for friends and family.
Later, they expanded their vision to include the rest of the world – or at least that portion of it seriously ready to walk the extra mile to optimum wellness.
Eating for Health
The owners base their approach to wellness on the wisdom of Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, who reminds us so wisely to “Let food by thy medicine and let medicine be thy food.”
On a hunch, I had signed up for a five day wellness package. Come dinner, I already knew that I wouldn’t regret my decision. At first, I hesitated a bit touching the dishes in front of me and just took time to admire them. It actually felt a little odd to disturb these edible works of art created from fresh herbs and veggies grown in the gardens I could see through the restaurant window.
Consistent with the owners’ philosophy, meals at the “85/15” restaurant not only are pleasing to the senses. They are also ‘live’, meaning enzymes, nutrients, vitamins and minerals are carefully preserved by heating most edibles no hotter than 40 Celsius.
Don’t be surprised if you happen to find yourself dining in the company of the occasional celebrity at the Farm. They seem to value the fact that they are undisturbed here.
And be prepared, for some of the Farm’s wellness concepts may seem rather radical – not only to spa newcomers. Make no mistake, this Farm is not for everyone. No, I don’t mean because of the celebrities. It’s just that it is a very special place, in many ways. You see, the word wellness is not invoked in vain here. Consider: Raw food only, no-smoking, no alcohol except wine with meals. Mobile phones, radios and perfumes all strongly discouraged…
Those associating a spa vacation with partying and booze are well advised to find their pleasure elsewhere. Well ok, maybe there is the occasional live entertainment. A subdued traditional dance performance, a reading…a small library, movies. A TV set in the lounge. That’s about it.
And, for those thinking of sneaking out for some fun, better think again, for there isn’t much to speak of in the neighbourhood, either. Best to surrender, get with the program and focus on optimum wellness. Or you might wind up like that guest I was told about…Supposedly, that gentleman snuck out of The Farm one night to grab a hamburger in nearby Lipa city. Then again, it may just be an anecdote.
I, for one, find it difficult to imagine why anyone would want to miss even one meal at the “85/15” gourmet live food restaurant. Since you are wondering, the name “85/15” indicates the ratio of uncooked to cooked food served here. Would you have guessed?
Wellness as a way of Life
Oh, did I mention NO TV in guest-rooms ! “It’s a feature, not a bug,” as they say in the computer world. Yes, guests are encouraged to wean themselves off of daily routines and electronic media intake while here. A stay here, after all, is meant to be a retreat from the ‘outside’ world. Once you’re here, you’re here.
It’s that kind of place, all about getting you in shape, mentally, physically, spiritually. No time wasted. Depending on your package, expect an effective yet comfortable schedule of massages, reflexology, medical consultations, salt baths, foot scrubs, Yoga, Tai Chi, Chi Gong and meditation classes, swimming, walking…an eclectic blend of time tested modalities from East and West.
Friendly staff, including nurses and physicians make sure you get the most from your stay. Incidentally, since The Farm is one of the leading alternative healing centres in addition to a spa, it also offers a range of detoxing and other long stay customized healing programs to address a variety of chronic conditions.
Bonus: unlike in some other countries offering fine spas, here one can communicate with staff. Besides their native language, Tagalog, most everyone speaks fluent English.
But for now, how about a moonlit hot bath in your private outdoor designer bath tub after your massage under the stars, next to one of the two pools? You’re in luck and can enjoy just that, if you chose to stay in one of the Garden Villas. Before you hop in, remember to light a citronella candle, just in case, to keep the odd mosquito at bay. Then kick back, relax and enjoy!
During the day, between treatments, I catch up on my reading at the pool or in one of those comfortable lounge chairs at my villa, enjoy the orchid garden, relax in a meditation pagoda…or take pictures of swans and ducks down by the pond.
Walking in Balance
Leisurely I stroll along carefully maintained walkways through this manicured, flowery coconut-palm studded park. As I walk, I become aware of my lungs inhaling crisp clean air, nostrils relishing the scent of freshly cut grass, ears listening to bird song and water flowing from fountains, eyes watching butterflies, lips returning shy smiles from a passing staff member or guest.
Already I reach my destination, the hidden waterfall pond.
Gratefully I relax and stretch out on the softly padded lounge chair.
Life is good.
One day, I decide to check out the all-weather 27 hole championship golf course nearby, Mount Malarayat. The Farm’s friendly shuttle driver takes me there. After all, how can you resist the chance of playing a course that proudly advertises that one of their holes was voted as among “the top 500 best…in the world” by readers of Golf Magazine. The friendly Farm staff makes all the arrangements for me and a pleasant 20 minute ride on the shuttle takes me there.
On my last day at The Farm, a Sunday, I get to enjoy the wellness brunch. Rich offerings of fresh “gourmet live food”, served buffet style next to the South Pool. All my favourite edibles are there, and a few colourful fruits I don’t know yet. Grand finale – you guessed it – coconut ice cream! Enjoying my food, reflecting on the past few days at The Farm, I sit close enough to the gardens for the ever so gentle breeze to bring a barely noticeable blend of herb and flower fragrances to me.
With such a culinary wellness bonanza, the Farm’s motto “Eating for Health” becomes palatable and easy to embrace. Hippocrates would be pleased, no doubt. Alas, after brunch it’s time to check out of wellness country. I swing by The Farms onsite shop to pick up coconut oil and wellness products as gifts for family and loved ones and prepare to return to the ‘outside’ world. How much more at peace and energized I feel then when I arrived.
What a difference five days made…I’m leaving with a smile on my face.
>> Check out The Farm at San Benito on the web.