MANILA, Philippines – Feeling tired, uninspired, and stuck happens to the best of us. We’ve all been burnt out by work, drained by relationships, frazzled by Metro Manila’s chaos, or disappointed in our physical health. And while something may feel off, we also usually don’t have the energy to figure our issues out ourselves.
Enjoying a “wellness staycation” at a “medical wellness resort spa” isn’t an experience many Filipinos have heard of (except, maybe, on The White Lotus), let alone tried. It may sound intimidating and exclusive – and it is realistically way above budget for the regular Filipino – but the Philippines’ pioneering eco-luxury holistic wellness resort believes that investing in your health and wellness pays off in the long run.
The internationally-awarded The Farm at San Benito has been around for more than two decades. It is the country’s first wellness resort to advocate for a holistic approach to health – that in order to heal, the mind, body, and soul must be interconnected. They thus offer alternative healing methods to complement Western medicine in treating lifestyle diseases and chronic illnesses, believing in the power of nature, nutrition, movement, and lifestyle changes in improving one’s well-being.
Located in Lipa City, Batangas, The Farm is a 90-minute drive from Metro Manila. The eco-sustainable destination promotes “regenerative local tourism,” where guests can take a much-needed breath of fresh air – literally and figuratively.
Taking the first step
I was asked to visit The Farm last March, and my first thought was: “But I’m not sick – I don’t think anything’s wrong with me!” My bad! I realized that nothing needed to be wrong for my visit to be right, especially since prevention and proactivity are at the heart of The Farm’s programs. Checking in with my physical health wouldn’t hurt, and I also felt like my mental health could use some TLC, too. Detoxification sounded like a good idea as well! I have a chronic but stable kidney condition, so finding new ways to maintain good health is very important to me.
Prior to booking my stay, The Farm sent me a health questionnaire where I could indicate my health concerns, goals, medical history, and background. This part is very crucial, as this is what The Farm’s medical professionals will refer to when curating your customized Health Optimization program. They can recommend the best treatments for your specific needs, or you can also choose from any of The Farm’s programs: Immune Intelligence, Intro to Detox, Menopause Retreat, Weight Management/Diabetes, Sleep Recovery, Mental Health, Post-Natal-Care, Holistic Cancer Care, Senior Wellness, Athlete, Fertility, Post Viral Syndrome Recovery, Holistic Detox Cleanse, and more.
For my stay, The Farm combined treatments from their latest female-centric, hormones-targeted Menopause Retreat and Intro to Detox. The program would be nothing too intense and still flexible – like a beginner’s guide to holistic wellness. The Farm also sent a schedule of my planned activities beforehand, which I was free to tweak with my assigned guest ambassador once I arrived.
Just stepping onto The Farm’s lush, secluded, 52-hectare property instantly felt like therapy. The beautifully landscaped space sprawls with verdant foliage, showcasing nature’s finest (roaming peacocks and adorable ducks included), its pebbled pathways making for leisurely walks. The Farm overlooks a majestic view of the Malarayat mountains, and the air is even colder and crisper than Tagaytay’s. Note: don’t forget to bring a jacket!
The Farm’s ambiance and design is heavily influenced by traditional Filipino culture, from the modern-traditional hut designs and villa styles, to the names and A+ hospitality. I was warmly welcomed at the reception area by my guest ambassador, Nikka, who came with a refreshing welcome drink and a briefer on what to expect during my 2-night, 3-day stay. We exchanged Viber numbers for faster communication, so Nikka could text me my appointment reminders and answer any query or request I had at any time, which I appreciated.
The Farm’s Sales and Marketing Director Jennifer Sanvictores told Rappler that most of their clientele – many of whom come from abroad – travel to Batangas City specifically for Filipino-brand warmth paired with world-class service. Despite having more advanced medical resorts in the UK and Europe, she said that foreigners find the service abroad too harsh and cold. They prefer The Farm, attesting to the healing power of the Filipino heart and our sense of community.
A healing environment
The well-maintained property made for a mindful walking adventure, but a golf cart pick-up was also available anytime (I hardly availed of this though, since I enjoyed my morning and night walks so much). The Farm’s facilities are divided per purpose – there’s the Medical Sanctuary, Healing Sanctuary Spa, Amphitheater, Beauty Salon, Pure Energy Gym, Pools, Meditation Pavilions, and The Secret Garden, a maze-like walking trail teeming with greenery, hidden pools, meditation lounges, rock formations, and more secrets to discover (find the huge mango tree)!
The Farm’s villas and suites are top-tier, hence the steep prices. But if you catch off-peak season rates and special discounts, they’re worth it, especially with the inclusions. The non-pool villas (Sulu Terrace, Banaba Deluxe, Palmera Suite, Palmera Glass Villa, Garden Villa, Anahaw Family Villa) range from P10,000+ to P17,000+, while the pool villas (Narra, Mahogany, Master Villa) can go for P29,000 up to P45,000+. The rate includes a consultation with an integrative doctor, a one-on-one fitness assessment, cellular health screening, and access to the gym, pools, a guided walk tour, a vegan breakfast buffet, and daily fitness and well-being activities.
If you’ve got the budget to spare, the IG-worthy Mahogany Pool Villa is a beautiful choice. Spacious, private, and comfortable for two to three guests, it’s got the best view to wake up to – my own glistening infinity pool, surrounded by trees and sun beds. Aside from the laziness-inducing king-size bed, the villa also housed a stunning comfort room with a rain shower, two sinks, and bathtub with a view. If not for my line-up of treatments and activities, I would’ve just stayed in the villa the whole day!
The Farm offers several mindful activities, like different kinds of yoga, morning walks, guided tours, functional fitness, clay modeling, living food prep class, mandala flower arrangement, HIIT, and sound healing. I decided to start my second morning at the outdoor and breezy amphitheater for Relaxing Yin Yoga by Teacher Candace – easily one of the most relaxing yoga sessions I’ve had. The air was cool, the place was silent, and the view overlooking the garden and lake just added more zen into my gentle stretches.
I also tried my first Sound Healing session at the amphitheater on my first night. We were all told to lay down on yoga mats with a pillow and blanket, and instructed to be as comfortable and still as possible while breathing mindfully. We were treated to an entrancing sound bath by Teacher Joy, who roamed the space while working her sound healing magic using Tibetan singing bowls, tuning forks, and other meditative sound tools. Sound healing, which is an ancient practice of energetic healing through sound waves and vibrations, really set me into a meditative trance, so much so that I actually enjoyed a quick, refreshing nap during the session. I would definitely attend another one if given the chance!
Food is medicine
There are three main restaurants in The Farm: vegan restaurant Alive!, vegetarian Indian restaurant Prana, and seafood restaurant Pesca. They each use mostly locally-sourced ingredients, produce, and herbs, sustainably grown and harvested on the premises. Almost everything is made from scratch, is organic, and has no preservatives. This is why each dish is a “labor of love,” Sanvictores said.
This is also why The Farm’s prices are steep, so allocate a big budget for dining. Be prepared to shell out at least P1,500-P2,000 for a meal for two, but also know that you’ll feel full, satisfied, and guilt-free. The serving sizes are good, and the farm-to-table meals are hearty, fresh, and phytonutrient-rich. Just don’t expect food absolutely bursting with flavors here, since health is still their priority (no MSG here, sorry). However, there’s something for everyone here, as the menus are very varied, and eating healthy doesn’t feel restrictive.
My must-try favorites in Alive!, the country’s first 100% vegan restaurant, would be the Sweet & Spicy Cauliflower Skewers – crisp, saucy, and flavorful – and the crispy Fried Soft Tofu served with soya sauce and spring onions. The Truffle Oil Pasta with Mushroom, Mushroom Risotto, and Puttanesca Pasta were comforting carb-y dishes. Don’t miss out on the Pecan Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream – soft, moist, and sweet, I couldn’t believe it was vegan.
Alive! is where the breakfast buffets are held. Don’t expect an extravagant, heavy spread of breakfast faves – everything is vegan and simple. I was content with the cereals, bread and jams, unli-coffee, fresh fruits, and the salad bar. A light breakfast was all I needed.
For more complex flavors, Prana’s curries and dishes deliver. My favorites would be the Gobi Manchurian (sweet and spicy deep-fried cauliflower) and the Paneer Makhani, a creamy curry with cottage cheese, tomato, and cashew gravy served with butter naan. The Farmer’s Colada (coconut milk blended with pineapple) was a creamy mocktail smoothie I still find myself craving for from time to time.
Pesca’s seafood offerings were all tempting, but I went with the Pan-Seared Salmon, and have no regrets. The juicy, moist, and hefty salmon slab is cooked in a teriyaki glaze, served with a refreshing mango salsa on top and black rice – a filling lunch that went well with the refreshing Herbacious Citrus drink of infused pandan, mint, tarragon, and calamansi.
Treatment is in session
The Farm’s healing philosophy is based on four pillars: Diagnose, Cleanse, Nourish, and Repair. First, doctors will determine which areas of your health are doing good and what may need some working on. The Cellular Health screening (P2,500) by Dr. Michelle is an eye-opening 60-minute consultation to check on the current quality of your red blood cells using a special microscope and a tiny drop of pin-pricked blood.
It was cool to see my cells in action onscreen, and even more amazing to discover what their movements and cellular structure meant! The doctor’s reading can determine your gut health, immune status, cholesterol/sugar imbalance, and if your kidneys or liver are in distress. For me, everything was okay, but my cells were moving quite slower than normal, which indicated some “digestive distress.” Probiotics were encouraged.
The Nutritional Consultation (P2,000) by Dr. Jeanne is a 30-minute assessment of your weight, body fat, visceral fat muscle mass, bone mass, metabolic age, Body Mass Index (BMI), and habits. Once I received my overall nutritional condition, Dr. Jeanne gave me doable advice on how to sustainably achieve my health and fitness goals at home, like to get more sunlight and eat more healthy fats.
My Fitness Assessment with Coach Princess was a fun one-on-one session to determine my fitness status, flexibility, fitness goals, and any physical abnormalities (apparently, the right side of my body is taller than the other). Based on my body composition and strength, Coach taught me personalized fitness activities and stretches I could easily do at home to loosen up tense muscles, keep flexible, prevent future aches, and get the energy flowing.
The Aromatherapy and Flower Essence Oxygen Bar (P1,500) is a revitalizing 15-minute break where you inhale purified oxygen infused with therapeutic-grade essences through a nasal cannula, doing so while seated in a cozy recliner in a private room with a view. “Oxygen has been known to help thin the blood, increase circulation, and speed up metabolism, thus burning more calories just by breathing. It promotes healing, increases performance, endurance, and energy levels,” The Farm said. Aromatherapy (depending on the scent) also helps to enrich blood, energize, and relax.
One of my favorite treatments was the sleep-inducing Empress Facial (P6,500), which was a restful, 45-minute acupressure massage of my face, ear, scalp, neck, shoulder, chest, and upper arms. It’s meant to loosen blockages, improve blood circulation, and stimulate collagen formation, while sucking out dirt using a calming vacuum and closing the pores with the most revitalizing ice roller. I honestly didn’t want it to end!
The Hilot Lakambini Massage in The Farm’s private spa villa was just like your traditional and typical hilot, targeted to “help ease hypertension, relax muscle tension, strengthen the nervous system, and repair damaged cells,” said The Farm. The Lakambini Massage Oil used and the hot salabat (ginger) tea served post-massage was the cherry on top of the calming experience. The “Noble Woman” package, which also includes a body scrub and herbal bath, is designed to treat stress-related conditions, maintain the moisture and oil balance of the skin, and keep the skin looking hydrated and young.
On my last morning, I had an Acupuncture (P6,000-P8,000) session with Dr. Darwin. Acupuncture is the traditional, WHO-acknowledged Chinese healing method of inserting thin needles into targeted muscle points to stimulate organ healing or address pain. Through an extensive conversation with Dr. Darwin and an intense kneading of tense muscles (my upper chest and shoulders, especially), he determined which key areas needed a little wake-me-up and addressed those. It wasn’t painful, and the application was very gentle. While laying still with the needles in place, I even got to take a quick nap!
The Acqua Hydrotherapy Sanctuary offers Water Wellness Therapy (P10,900) for 90 minutes. You know how a warm bath instantly calms us down? Using the steamy Onsen Bath, the Hot Water Treatment helps treat pain, loosen stiff joints, remove toxic waste, promote relaxation, and improve focus. A quick dip into the cold pool then causes blood vessels to constrict, keeping the blood away from any painful area to relieve inflammation. The extreme contrasting temperatures were uncomfortable at first, but it did provide a sense of relief and calm shortly after.
The sanctuary also has different pressure pools and jacuzzis with jets that target certain points, blind shower therapy, a thermal bed with head and foot massage, thermal foot sauna, acupressure pool, hydraulic massage bed, and other water therapy gizmos that will make those 90 minutes go by fast!
Putting a price tag on health
“Why pay for all of that?” Many may incredulously ask after seeing the rates of The Farm’s services. Yes, The Farm may monetarily be reserved for the “bougie,” but it never feels exclusive nor pretentious when you’re there – it’s homey, cozy, and beautiful. They believe that you shouldn’t put a price tag on holistic health, because as the cliches go: “Health is wealth” and “Prevention is better than a cure.”
The Farm does not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to healing. Health is very personal, and what works for others may not always work for you. My experience at The Farm reiterated this, imparting a sense of self-empowerment that I was in charge of my own healing and health. There was no stigma over my health concerns; non-judgmental freedom was given to discover what was best and most sustainable for me to achieve and do once back to my normal routine at home.
It’s also important to not see The Farm as a band-aid solution. Yes, I was armed with new knowledge and about my current health status (while feeling really zen and invigorated), but it didn’t stop there. It was a transformative, self-healing journey that still required me to do the work, building better habits at a time based on which activities, treatments, and advice resonated with me the most during my stay.
If you’re feeling stuck mentally, run-down physically, and in dire need to get away, relax, and recharge, consider a self-care staycation at The Farm, either by yourself or with a loved one. As long as you have the budget to spare, a splurge on your physical and mental health is never money wasted. As long as it’s for the improvement of your well-being, I believe that’s already money well-spent. – Rappler.com
The Farm at San Benito is located at 119 Barangay Tipakan, Lipa City, Batangas. To inquire or book a stay, you can check out their website.
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