Mary Gostelow enjoys a wellness stay with The Farm at San Benito



When a luxury hotel partners with a health retreat both parties benefit – as do consumers. In the Philippines, for some years now, The Peninsula Manila has had an extremely happy relationship with The Farm at San Benito, two hours away up in lush and verdant hilltop farmland (a German set up the retreat, which is now owned by hotelier and entrepreneur Binod Chaudhary from Nepal and Naresh Khattar from Delhi). It is run by Rouel Guanzon, a Filipino-Canadian who was diverted to hospitality from his original career wish to fly. He was heading marketing at The Peninsula Manila before coming here, which he says was a natural transition. Chefs from the two establishments train together, and guests staying at the Manila hotel not surprisingly love to head to ‘the countryside’ for health and wellness.

My driver opened the window as we climbed the last hill before reaching The Farm. “Fresh air,” he said with a smile. I was in Villa 30, in a row of detached pool villas called Narra, after one of the local woods. I had a six-metre pool, deep enough for proper swimming, with so much jungle undergrowth I had total privacy. The villa, with a big overhanging roof over the terrace, had excellent air-conditioning, lighting and connectivity, and the bed was amazingly comfortable – I slept like a log. Perhaps because of the air and the hour-long hike I had taken round the estate and down past the local village. There are masses of activities planned every day.

I also had a somewhat soporific 2.5-hour massage journey, plus an hour-long facial that turned out to be an assessment of breathing and various other functions by a doctor specialising in aromatherapy. Yes, you come here to be assessed and pampered – many come to lose weight (there is alcohol, but the food is strictly vegan, no meat, fish, cheese or eggs and ‘butter’ is a coconut oil paste). I was actually really impressed by the food, especially by the main meals. At lunch I had a wheatgrass antioxidant shot, 21 calories; a grilled vegetable salad, 112 calories; a grilled tofu steak with steak sauce on the side, 216 calories. At dinner my calorie intake was undoubtedly raised by a glass of 2013 Delicato Family Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel.

In the morning, after a workout in the Jungle Gym I shampooed with a coconut oil toiletry, and went for breakfast. While pouring good local coffee from a plunger I checked some of the recipes in Cleanse! and Raw!, two really gorgeous paperbacks that this luxury health resort has produced. I was brought bowls of both unflavoured and mango yoghurt, both made from coconut milk, and four wholemeal bread rolls (they promise me eggs for my next visit as I really did not feel like a vegan corn scramble at that hour). Local coffee, by the way, was excellent. Most, including those flying in special from Australia, Hong Kong or the USA, stay at least a week or more here, and 60 per cent of all business is repeats. Sadly, I only had 24 hours but yes, I did feel cleansed. I certainly felt even healthier and all set for journey back down into the city.

Mary Gostelow travels over 300 days a year, doing one-night stands in top hotels around the world. Read her daily travelogue,


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