Melissa Hemsley: life on the farm in the Philippines
My mum is from the Philippines and until this trip, I’d only been back once to see her side of the family, almost 30 years ago. When I revealed I was heading to The Farm At San Benito to visit my motherland and kick off 2019 in style, the face of every travel writer and health & beauty expert I know lit up. The Farm is truly a beautiful place, offering experiences with lasting positive impact.
I’m a big fan of not stressing and rushing around to do “relaxing” things, only to get to them and feel frazzled; like when you kill yourself working frantically all day so you can get out of work on time, rush onto a packed tube then run to a yoga class just to try and feel chilled for those 60 minutes. So because I only had about 40 hours to spend at The Farm, I was nervous I wouldn’t have long enough to fully relax into it. But I did, big time.
BREAK THE RULES
On arrival from the capital Manila (90 minutes on a good day and up to three hours with the legendary traffic), you’re in 50-acres of tropical jungle, surrounded by the most majestic trees. Instantly, it reveals itself as a place to let go and get some really good tree hugging in. And if hugging’s not your bag, just sit with your back and bum on the trunk of their much loved mango trees.
The Farm is a holistic and medical resort, and a few weeks before arrival, you submit a medical form. My boyfriend was a touch terrifed the stay would be full of rules and be too hardcore for him, but he loved it when he discovered it feels like the ultimate spa weekend in nature. You can still be on your phone, enjoy some wine and do all the other things you love.
There is so much to get involved in, lots of it free, and I had to stop myself from booking back-to-back activities as they all looked like good fun. We missed out on the opportunity to join one of the early morning hikes which explored the local village, but we enjoyed group meditation, flower arranging (which was addictive) and practised yoga before breakfast. We’ve been back a month and my boyfriend enjoyed the yoga classes so much as soon as he got home, he ordered a yoga mat so he didn’t have to share mine any longer. We’ve been doing it in our living room ever since, sadly now with a view of paperwork and smelly trainers rather than beautiful peacocks strutting around a picturesque lake.
The world-class facilities are a thing of legend, and my massage was the best I can remember. There’s only one restaurant and it’s fully vegan, serving up mostly Asian fusion using tons of fresh herbs, lemongrass and ginger from their gardens. I’m not a huge fan of too much raw food, and I loved all their soups which felt very nourishing.
In the afternoons before they start on supper, the chefs give cooking lessons for free, and you can tell they are very proud of their food. When you want snacks, the smoothie bar offers up exceptionally good fayre. The fresh coconut and mint creation with banana and cacao is a must try.
Everyone working at The Farm was lovely and cheerful. Filipinos have such a friendly and fun attitude and make you feel very at home and thoroughly looked after.
Aside from the peaceful setting, beauty of the jungle, colourful healthy food, magnificent massages and waterfalls, what was most impactful was an hour spent with one of the doctors. Having really struggled with moving through my grief after my father’s death four years ago, this quickly came up in our session, but I felt in safe, kind hands. I had an incredibly moving breakthrough which was in itself priceless and much needed.
The one piece of vital advice I’d offer is don’t lose the map they give you on arrival, as it’s worth its weight in gold in order to track down the many special areas, like a tucked away waterfall we skinny dipped in. You’re probably not allowed to do that, but it was so much fun and anyway, we didn’t have our swimming bits with us.
But then, as we found out, that’s exactly what life down on The Farm is all about.