Amy Cooper immerses herself in a farm stay with a difference deep in the Philippine jungle.
A peacock pauses beside a glass-green lagoon. He sees us, rustles his tail and contemplates performing the full unfurl. Instead, he snoozes, framed by an Eden of jade mountains, rainforest and lofty palms.
Amid the hypnotic, tropical beauty of The Farm at San Benito even the showiest shed their plumage. The landscape soothes away all desire to do anything more than bask in its sultry embrace.
A 90-minute drive north of the Philippine capital, Manila, in the Batangas hinterland, The Farm is an award-winning wellness sanctuary on a 49-hectare coconut plantation with an A-list-heavy global following. Woody Harrelson is among devotees who come to eat raw organic food, detox mind and body and immerse themselves in nature. Nature, that is, coaxed into a flawless, indulgent version of itself that elevates The Farm to "barefoot luxe". It's the only five-star health retreat in the Philippines.
"There's nothing here that can hurt you," says general manager Michael di Lonardo. Everyone at The Farm is beatific: the serene staff, the contented poultry and goats, the guests wandering the winding stone paths through idyllic gardens and grottos. Even the fat cricket on my villa wall looks happy and the 250-year-old mango tree, renowned for its healing energies, radiates arboreal bliss.
Your private piece of this paradise might be a thatched, treehouse-style Sulu Terrace; various types of villas with open-air showers and baths or private pools; or perhaps the majestic Lakan, a vast and fabulous dwelling set in walled gardens with heated pool, maid's quarters and a terrace large enough to host your own ball.
In the second-tier Narra Pool Villa, an infinity pool spills over into jungle, the timber deck reaches out towards the palms and mountain range, floor-to-ceiling windows blend the palatial bathroom with the lush outdoors, and daybeds and lounges encourage horizontal reflection.
Each villa comes with a constant supply of virgin coconut oil, made on site. The jug is labelled "Oil of Life". Here, the coconut is king. You'll find the fruit of The Farm's trees (which cover 80 per cent of the grounds) in the furniture, decorations, spa products and treatments, holistic medicine, and the menu at The Farm's Alive! restaurant. The retreat is, quite literally, built on the coconut.
In the on-site "factory", the engine room of all this healing, staffer Richard shows us how the harvesting is done entirely by hand: the meticulous selection, straining and double-pressing of coconut meat, the bottling, and the various processes that create decadent body scrubs and creamy soaps.
Alive!, a short stroll away, is a delicious celebration of the coconut's versatility. The menu features myriad ways with coconut meat, milk, oil and water: dishes include young coconut noodles with green curry sauce; spicy sesame crusted tofu on greens in coconut ginger broth; Thai squash and coconut soup. My favourite is the hearty breakfast option, corn scramble, made with sweetcorn, nuts and coconut – a satisfying scrambled egg substitute. There are biscuits and gooey desserts that taste as wicked as French patisserie yet contain only superfoods. The mainly raw, vegan menu is astonishingly complex and diverse. And it tastes amazing.
Food is key to di Lonardo, an ex-chef to the stars at LA's Hotel Bel Air. He has immersed himself in the holistic health scene and describes himself as a "total hippy", who, with minimal encouragement, will regale you with his passionate views on toxins, happiness and alternative medicine.
When I meet di Lonardo in Alive! he's chiding a regular guest for his company's stance on pollution.
"I like to torture my guests," admits di Lonardo gleefully. Do they mind? "They love it! We hug at the end and they always come back. Or we debate over a glass of wine."
And here's the surprise newsflash for The Farm's uninitiated: wine is fine. In the menu, along with the organic juices, smoothies and wheatgrass shots, you'll find a list of high-end European drops that might have once graced di Lonardo's Hollywood restaurants. There's a boutique beer menu, too.
Di Lonardo explains that when it began 14 years ago, The Farm was an austere operation with strict adherence to fasting and cleansing. Under his tenure and guided by owners who took over seven years ago, the retreat has flourished into a multi-layered selection of experiences running the gamut of hardcore medical to languorous indulgence.
At The Farm's medical clinic a team of senior conventional doctors supervise programs for those with specific ailments. The clinic is sought out by cancer patients and many claim positive results.
Other guests, tired and frazzled, follow detox and fasting regimens designed to energise and rebalance. The rest come purely to luxuriate, savouring a Cote du Marmandais red or a Ballast Point craft beer after a hard day on the massage table.
I find medicine enough in the spa's traditional Filipino Hilot massage, a 90-minute delight of kneading and stretching designed to soothe the nervous system.
Still, it's The Farm's simpler pleasures that remain with you: a lone dip under a waterfall in a hidden grotto; aimless strolls among the birdlife; cool, fresh coconut water from the shell; fragrant fistfuls of The Farm's coconut oil, salt and lemongrass body scrub under an outdoor shower. Those endless, emerald views, such balm for the eyes.
As di Lonardo says, nothing will hurt you at The Farm. But there is plenty here to help you heal.
Philippine Airlines flies daily from Sydney to Manila and three times a week from Melbourne to Manila. See www.philippineairlines.com. The Farm at San Benito is a 90-minute drive from Manila.
Accommodation at The Farm starts at $220 a night for a Sulu Terrace with two single beds; the largest villa, The Lakan, is $2000 a night based on four people. The Farm has various programs combining accommodation and treatments over four and six nights. See www.thefarmatsanbenito.com
The writer was a guest of Philippine Airlines.