Healing & Holistic

Southeast Asian wellness destinations go, the Philippines may not be quite as wellestablished as some of the other nations in the region, but the country is nevertheless home to the innovative concept that is The Farm at San Benito.

A vegan health resort located a 90-minute drive from Manila, it is based on a model fusing holistic healing and a focus on cleansing and detoxification with the provision of medical services and an emphasis on good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.

Established by husband and wife Eckard and Perla Rempe in 2002, when a vegan resort with juicing and a raw food diet at the heart of its offering was quite a novelty, The Farm is still going strong and recently underwent a period of expansion, adding 11 new accommodation villas over 18 months.

General manager Michael Di Lonardo, who joined The Farm four and a half years ago, admits that going up against more internationally recognised Asian spa and wellness destinations can be a challenge.

“Being in the Philippines isn’t necessarily the best location, when you’re competing against destinations like Bali and Thailand,” he says. “If people are discussing whether to go to Bali, Thailand or the Philippines, the Philippines will always come last.” 

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However, Di Lonardo, who was previously with Aman Resorts for 10 years and also helped set up the Vigilius Mountain Resort in the Italian Alps, says The Farm has over the years built up enough of a reputation to attract guests from around the world on the strength of its offering, rather than its location.

Core to the philosophy behind the resort is the belief in healing the body through the elimination of toxins and, as a pioneer within this field, The Farm now has quite an expert standing. “Because we’ve been doing this for such a long time, incorporating detoxification, colon hydrotherapy and the boosting of the immune system in a natural way, people now come to The Farm specifically for the programmes we offer,” Di Lonardo says.

The majority of guests currently come form nearby Asian destinations such as Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and Shanghai, with Di Lonardo explaining that city dwellers in particular benefit from the relaxing environment of the resort – located on a lush green 119 acres of land.

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Global targets
“Right now, our biggest market is Hong Kong, partly because it’s only a short flight away, but also because the stressed out businessmen from Hong Kong really love to, and need to, get away,” he says. While regional markets will remain important to the resort, The Farm is now also directly targeting specific international destinations.

Ten new Narra Pool Villas, each covering 200sq m and complete with a private pool, were added in November 2012 and the 372sq m two-bedroom Lakan villa, whose amenities include a garden, a pool and a maid’s quarter, was completed in December last year.

The new accommodation, which brings the room total to 33, is part of a strategy to elevate the resort and make it even better equipped to compete for a global clientele. To pursue this plan, The Farm recently signed up with international PR firm PRCo. “The changes in this last year or so have really
put us in the big league and the idea is now to open up the farm concept to people in London and the Middle East in particular,” Di Lonardo says.

The reason for honing in on London is the launch of a direct Heathrow to Manila flight by Philippine Airlines in November last year, while the Middle East is a market Di Lonardo feels is especially receptive to the services the farm offers. “There is really a great need in the Middle East for the benefits we can provide, such as weight loss and diabetes management,” he comments.

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Knowledge is power
The Farm offers a wide range of medical services, spa treatments and yoga, fitness, meditation and movement classes, in addition to a number of health-focused retreats. There are many different reasons guests come to the resort – including to detox, lose weight or have the liver and gallbladderflush, the internal organ compress, the nutritional microscopy or one of the other integrated medical treatments on the menu. 

However, Di Lonardo explains that the most common reason for a stay at The Farm is to become healthier overall. “Most people come here to kick-start a healthier lifestyle and we do that largely through the information they receive, information you can put into practice when you get home,” he says.

While practice is naturally essential, whether you are at The Farm on a Detox Cleanse, a Wellness Holiday or a Specialised Healing Retreat, theory is also integral to the resort approach, with Di Lonardo believing strongly in arming guests with the knowledge to transform their lives.

“The information we provide people with, such as an understanding of the food they eat and the ingredients it contains, really makes [a stay at The Farm] different,” he says. This includes information about the Gerson Therapy on which the resort is based, a practice centred on the belief in the body’s ability to heal and fortify itself through detoxification and the daily intake of organically grown fruit and vegetables.

Other areas covered are the damaging effects of processed foods, the danger of sugar and the importance of a healthy gut flora, with distribution channels including the farm’s own health TV station. The resort also stays in touch with guests to provide guidance and advice after departure. “We keep in contact after they leave, to answer questions, send them recipes if they want and help them with any other information they might need,” Di Lonardo says.

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Nutrition and nurture
Nutrition is central to The Farm concept and in-house restaurant Raw – accompanied by a cookbook of the same name – serves a combination of raw and cooked vegan dishes, with much of the produce sourced from the farm’s kitchen garden and organic garden. 

“We don’t use any animal products at all; we make our cheese from nuts and produce a great ice cream with coconut oil,” Di Lonardo says on the topic of what can be found on the restaurant menu. “We also don’t use any refined sugar, or refined flour.”

However, Di Lonardo explains that while The Farm seeks to educate guests about good nutrition, dictating long-term dietary choices is not on the agenda. “I’m not trying to [force] anyone to become a vegan or vegetarian, I’m not one myself. But I do want to show people the benefits of a vegan and raw food diet,” he says.

Although the most recent accommodation addition, the Lakan villa, was only completed a few months ago, Di Lonardo is already looking to the future, planning further expansion.

The Farm currently only uses a small segment of the more than 100 acres of land at its disposal, with the rest “a working coconut and coffee plantation”. While it’s too early to reveal a timeline for or give an indication of the size of the project, Di Lonardo says that “the next step will be privately owned villas,” situated on The Farm estate. With such a large area available, he explains that “there could easily be another construction project, without
it disrupting the resort”.

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While once again reluctant to go into detail at this early stage, Di Lonardo also reveals that “there is a very distinct possibility that we will be expanding The Farm concept into other countries, we have had a number of requests to do that”.

For now, however, the Philippines is home to the only outpost of the unusual concept that is The Farm at San Benito and while Di Lonardo admits that being located in the Philippines can sometimes make it more difficult to compete on the international stage, he is also confident it is a vital part of the resort’s success.

“People here have a very caring nature and that’s one of the key, if not the key, element of what we do,” he says. “I’ve worked in India, Thailand, Indonesia, Europe and the States and there is nowhere where the service comes so deeply from within the staff as it does in the Philippines.
www.thefarmatsanbenito.com