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Spa Retreats: The Farm by Alila at San Benito
By: Spa Life Editor Kris Abbey
You could be absolutely anywhere in the world, yet you feel totally disconnected from it … and boy, it’s nice!
My enriching experience at The Farm begins before I arrive. Once my booking is confirmed, I receive an email asking me to complete a comprehensive health questionnaire to provide as much information as I can about my current state of health. I am also asked to advise what I would like to achieve in terms of my health and wellbeing during my stay. After I press the ‘submit’ button, I picture The Farm’s health and medical team getting to work devising my program, while I excitedly count down the sleeps until I board the plane to the Philippines and experience one of the most amazing health retreats on the planet.
The Farm is located an easy two-hour drive south of the capital of Manila, and it is a stark contrast to that chaotic, bustling, over-populated city. The minute you drive up the palm-lined driveway, past the welcome sign and through the big iron gates, the outside world becomes exactly that - outside! I arrive late at night, so I can’t visually absorb much from my surrounds, but I can feel it. It is warm and nurturing and totally calm. Apart from the odd call of the wild, it is peacefully quiet. I am greeted by the Farm’s managers, Tania and Uwe Hofer, with a quiet enthusiasm, then taken to the villa which will be my home for the next three days.
The next morning, I awake after one of the best sleeps I can remember. I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven. In the broad light of day, the beauty of this place comes flooding in. My villa is sizeable, with private courtyard and a garden big enough for a game of backyard cricket! The bathroom is massive and has a shower built for two which is cleverly designed to be inside the bathroom, yet with an open roof, so you feel as though you’re showering in the great outdoors, which I find liberating!
This award-winning retreat is nestled in the foothills of Mount Malarayat and spans 48 hectares of lovingly landscaped Balinese-style gardens. What was once a coconut and coffee plantation is now a majestical combination of lush gardens, duck ponds, waterfalls and rock pools, not to mention the most amazing mango tree that forms the perfect marquee for outdoor dining.
Coconut trees are abundant and harvested regularly. They are hand-pressed for their oil, which is used in both the cooking and the Spa treatments. The coconut juice is the basis for many of the fresh juices and drinks, while the coconut meat is used in all sorts of creative ways, such as making savoury crackers for dipping in hummus! An extensive organic garden provides most of the fresh ingredients for the restaurant. Produce is picked daily to preserve maximum nutrition. I’m beginning to understand why this place is called ‘the Farm’!
I don my runners and feel like I can take on the world (that one that feels so far removed). I wander over to the restaurant, aptly called Alive, for breakfast. The brochures state “Our vegan restaurant Alive will provide you with a surprising twist to your concept of healthy eating when you discover our ‘living’ cuisine.” And let me say now, it’s worth coming to The Farm simply for the food! I kick-start my day with The Farm’s signature Green Super Juice, followed by the most delicious home-made granola served with fruit and freshly-pressed nut milk. It may not sound special, but it makes my tastebuds sing and dance… or even come Alive! It’s probably not protocol to ask for a second helping, but I do anyway.
I head over to the clinic to meet Dr Bardonado. We do a live blood analysis and thankfully I’m informed that my blood is very healthy, with only the odd mutated cell due to radiation (I suspect from my flight, or perhaps copious hours in front of my computer). It’s quite interesting to have this analysis done as you can see how fluid and hydrated your blood is, as well as determine the presence of foreign bodies. Since my blood gets a clean bill of health, we move right on to discussing my program for the next three days.
Everyone who comes to The Farm is given a tailor-made program based on their current health and desired outcomes. Prevention, Recovery and Wellness are the broad treatment packages, although you can take a bit from this and a bit from that to help you get the most from your stay. This is where I should let you know that you come to The Farm for a health and wellness outcome. That outcome will definitely be a positive one, but it will not come without a few sacrifices or without stepping out of your comfort zone.
Dr Bardonado and I go through my program:
Lunch Vegetable salad and soup
1.30pm Electrolyte drink
3pm Cleansing drink
6pm Transition salad
7.30pm Cleansing drink, followed by relaxation massage
OK. Straight away I’m grateful I had a second helping at breakfast because for the rest of the day it seems I’m not going to eat much other than juices, soups and salads (which are still incredible, by the way). I then see something on my schedule I’m unfamiliar with – a colema? Dr Bardonado explains: “A colema consists of ducting coffee by gravity feed through a rubber conduit inserted into the rectal portion of the colon.” The look on my face prompts him to further explain: “The diameter of the tube inserted is less than the head of a pencil.” And why coffee? “Coffee is used because of its astringent properties, when not broken down by digestive enzymes, which is the case when it passes through the stomach. This induces contractions of the colon to help remove hardened wastes that stick to the walls of the colon.” Great! What time is that again?
I have to be honest here, this is not something I would have willingly signed up for, but I don’t have time to come up with an excuse so I go through with it. I discover that Filipinos are very open when discussing bowel movements and colon therapy. My therapist is so matter-of-fact and clinical, I soon feel my nervousness subsiding. The fact that I’ve had three children helps immensely, although I am still told on a number of occasions: “Just relax, Miss Kris” or “No problem, Miss Kris”. I don’t intend explaining the procedure in detail here, but if you’re contemplating having this treatment, I definitely suggest you research it thoroughly to ensure it’s done in a clinic setting by a trained professional, as it is at The Farm. What I will say is, the 30 minutes of awkwardness experienced during the procedure is totally worth the results, as within minutes I feel fantastic. Afterwards I have some ginger tea, probiotics to regenerate bowel flora and a heat pack for my abdomen. I feel lighter, cleaner and everything I eat and drink afterwards makes me feel so much more energised.
7am Green Super Juice
8.30am Cleansing drink
9am Body Salt Bath
10.30am Green Super Juice
midday Green Super Juice and Purification Treatment
2pm Wheatgrass shot and electrolyte drink
2.30pm Sprouting class (learn how to grow wheatgrass and sprouts)
3pm Cooking Class (very cruel as we’re meant to be fasting!)
6pm Green Super Juice
8pm Cleansing drink and Infusion Therapy
This fasting day is not as tough as I imagined. The juices are at regular intervals, so you never really suffer hunger pangs. It doesn’t matter where you are on The Farm, the apron-clad waiters will find you and deliver your freshly squeezed juice directly to you. In fact, this is a big part of the scenery and the charm of The Farm - beautiful, gentle people walking around, very eager to please and always wearing a smile. And they are everywhere - up trees, sweeping paths, weeding gardens - and you’re always greeted with a big, wide smile and a friendly hello.
I must mention two things: the Yoga and the Spa! Yoga is available most mornings at the yoga pavilion. The outlook from the pavilion is stunning and puts you in the right frame of mind from the minute you perch yourself on your yoga mat. You look out across the pond, water fountain and coconut trees to a distant mountain. One morning there was a light sprinkling of rain, making the experience all the more serene and spiritual.
The Spa shares the same outlook, replacing the pond with an inviting, infinity-edged swimming pool. As you walk through the vast front doors of the Spa, you look out over the pool to a wonderful green space beyond. All the treatment rooms are designed to make you feel you have the place to yourself - each have their own little outdoor area so you can shower outdoors if you wish, or just sit privately and bask in the glow of your treatment. It is a very open Spa, making the most of the beautiful landscape and giving you a sense of freedom and space.
All the treatments I have are world class, not surprising given The Farm recently won Spa Retreat of the Year in the 2008 AsiaSpa Awards. If I had to recommend one treatment, I couldn’t - you’ve got to have at least two! You’ve got to have the traditional Filipino Hilot Hampol massage AND the Purification Treatment. Oh, and the Body Salt Bath is pretty special too. You soak in a stone tub filled with salted water to help your body detox. You’re covered by a banana leaf so you don’t feel exposed when the doctor comes in regularly to check your blood pressure. What makes this treatment so special is your beautiful surrounds - you feel like you’re all alone at the top of a mountain as you soak away your stresses. I challenge anyone to find anything more relaxing!
Whatever treatment you choose, each begins with a little prayer or mantra, which I loved. “Relax and close your eyes, Miss Kris. Now it is your time. Forget about the world. All is OK.” Nothing more is said. What more needs to be said?
7am Breakfast (yay! I can eat)
10.30am Hilot Hampol
12.30pm Gourmet lunch (delicious)
2.30pm Colon massage and Colonic
After just two days I feel totally alive! I can’t wait to eat again - not that I’m starving, it’s just that the food is so good. The nutritional philosophy is based on the Hippocrates belief: “Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food.” Having undergone such a thorough cleansing over the past two days, I only want to put food in my mouth that will nurture my body. This is where The Farm comes to the fore. I can honestly say that even a humble banana has never tasted so good. I’m a bit of a chocolate connoisseur and the chocolate (vegan) ganache tart is to die for, although you won’t, because it uses fresh, hand-ground, cocoa beans, with no dairy or eggs, and the nut base makes it rich in both antioxidants and fibre. How good is that?!
My final treatment is a colonic. I have no fear now because I know how good I’m going to feel at the end. OK, so I feel a little bit of anxiety, but this procedure is nowhere near as uncomfortable as the colema, yet interestingly the locals prefer a colema over a colonic (yes, this did come up in conversation). Ginger tea, probiotics and a hot pack conclude the therapy.
It is now time for me to head back into the real world, but I’m in a much better place emotionally, physically and psychologically to deal with it. It’s amazing what a few days of feeding, nurturing and cleansing your body can do. As I head out the gates, I feel blessed for having had such an amazing experience and for the opportunity to reconnect with my dearest friend – me!
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Kris Abbey is the editor of Spa Life Magazine which is sold at all good newsagents. For more information visit www.spalife.com.au.
My Gourmet Lunch Menu
The Farm’s Brie Cheese (non-dairy, yet it tastes like brie) with Figs Coufit and Pears
Corn Chowder with Oyster Mushrooms
Baby Romaine Salad with olives, candied walnuts, pickled red onion and Orange Balsamic dressing
Tomato Burger with zucchini hummus, tabouleh and harissa sauce
Chocolate Granache Tart
And the Chef’s Special
Baked eggplant with sautéed fresh shitake, ginger, peppers and chilli sauce, served with steamed greens and organic rice.Green Super Juice
A refreshing combination of celery, cucumber, apple, lettuce, lime and coconut juice. This is rich in minerals, trace minerals, enzymes and fibre. It has an alkalising effect and is loaded with antioxidants.The Indigenous Hilot
This traditional Filipino-style therapeutic massage is designed to heal the body’s imbalances. It combines the use of virgin coconut oil with medium to deep pressure strokes to relieve deep-rooted stress and restore health and wellbeing. At The Farm, they also use a heated Hampol filled with traditional herbs that gives off a stimulating scent and enhances the healing effects of the massage. The Hampol is pressed all over your body in even strokes, releasing any energy blockages.
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