The warmth and wellness of Cape Town spa culture

Healing heat helps many, so wellness trips and spa vacations in warm climates are on the upswing.

Take a comforting and rejuvenating spa holiday in Cape Town, South Africa, as I did with two friends recently, and you’ll feel as if you take off a year in age for every day you spend relaxing and recharging. While such a trip is not cheap, the value added to your life makes it well worth the expense.

Spa Benefits

You get a triple treat in a healing trip to South Africa’s retreats. Enjoying nature at its finest is calming, having luxurious treatments and personal care builds your inner strength and leaves you refreshed. Finally, learning new healthy eating and living habits while in a lush and warm retreat can extend and balance your energy when you get back home.

My long-time friend wanted to shed a couple pounds and throw off some piled up work stress. His wife also sought some lifestyle habits to keep her straining life as a lawyer in check.  I needed to ‘defrag’ my brain and just calm down.

We were a spa trip waiting to happen. The only question was where.

Since we were all arriving coming from different points on the planet, we decided on Cape Town, South Africa, an ideal place to enjoy great food, wine, sights and a few inspiring excursions to boot. I suggested starting a trip in more “crowded” surroundings and paring down. I’d done the Table Mountain climb before, but my friends wanted to start with a test, so that was our initial goal…not too hard, nor too easy.

Ready to Relax

We stayed at a delightful old hotel, and were impressed by the quaint yet updated century-old style. Arriving in time for High Tea we were thrilled by sweet treats of mini-cakes and petit fours with even sweeter service melding with the live piano music. If you stay away from the more crowded city centre, your quiet and peaceful relaxation will begin immediately.

Later that evening we visited The Planet Restaurant, which was amazing, with South African sea fare in abundance. This followed our first amazing Librisa Spa experience, which featured a Revitalising Seaweed Wrap and Deep Tissue Massages, all gratefully received.

Our conversation over dinner quickly morphed into sighs as we appreciated the food and remembered the joys of pressure points hit, but we resisted the urge to order a second bottle of wine as a morning yoga class had been booked to get us going, and our instructor promised to emphasize muscle groups that would serve us for the day of hiking ahead.

Heavenly Hike

We decided to use the “Hike Table Mountain” guide service for our half-day climb; our hotel transfers were included. I’d missed Platteklip Gorge on my earlier trip, so we made this a point of our journey. Since we are all mid-level hikers and not professional climbers, this was a good choice with a stable trail and stunning rock formations, especially at higher elevations.

Views abound at every turn, and even the shots of the cable car and station, the end-point were amazing. This walk is popular, so we often greeted fellow hikers, all cheerily, some stopping for snack breaks, others breathless from “scrambling” from rugged rock-to-rock, almost ape-like and full of adrenaline. Next time, we’ll ascend Skeleton Gorge, as several couples said the climb was nicely hued and scented with fynbos plants, which cover much of the park.

Spa-tial Evening

We felt we needed some special spa treatments after our mildly rigorous day, so we followed our plan to “rejuve” at One&Only Cape Town, another top-tier, not to miss luxury resort. My friend Bud and I separately zoned out to the 90-minute De-Stress for Men. It included a scalp massage that made me realize for the first time that I had a scalp up there, as well as a totally relaxing hot stone, face and complete back massage. I had to be dragged to the showers.

It was worth the wait for Bud’s wife Jen to come floating out from her Restore Signature Experience, just to see her glowing so radiantly. She could barely talk she was so relaxed, but we heard about the calming yet bracing exfoliation she underwent with salts and special oils, before a total rub that included aromatic herbal poultices. Often used in Thai massage, these heighten circulation and enervate nerve pathways as the body is lulled with gentle therapeutic kneading.

To celebrate, we dined robustly on bistro fare at Reuben’s. Our memorable Norwegian Salmon Gravadlax with horseradish and honey mousse, and Mussels A’ La Marine´re kissed with velvety wine and garlic veloute´ – followed by a to-die-for Lemon Bruleé and Chocolate Fondant. Of course, we had to ‘wash down’ with the appropriately recommended Tierhoek Chenin Blanc.

Sleep off, Work out

Let’s just say that we all slept very well before meeting for group coffee and tea on our patios the next morning, surrounded by greenery and a roundabout pond. Then we hit the Fitness Centre for a workout that dispelled memories of dinner.

The personal trainers do not mess around in South Africa. They follow greetings with talk about your fitness goals, whether you’re a regular or not. Assessments can be tailored for a trimming stay or a program to follow at home. Core, assisted, water-resistance, boxing, yoga and pilates are only a few of the many systems and techniques taught and used in centres around the city.

As with all facilities, prices vary widely for training, bootcamps and classes. But, don’t put off what can turn your health, well-being and possibly stress-filled life into one where you radiate and enjoy every minute to a greater degree.


Cape Town and Beyond

There are many stupendous spa resorts and day spa facilities in and around the Cape Town area, but if you want to venture further, there are plenty of indulgent options elsewhere in Africa too. Here are some top tips for fun and relaxation in Cape Town and beyond.

  • Be sure to visit the stunning Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, a 528-hectare regional garden that displays in utter beauty almost all of the indigenous South African plants that make this zone a floral wonder. Streams arched by and ponds surrounded by carefully laid pathways show off protea beds, varieties of flynbos, cycads and other plants.
  • Take in a tour of Cape Town’s many art galleries, including the Goodman Gallery, Stevenson Gallery and What if the World Gallery. New continental talents at the latter added to the rich displays of greater African sculptures, paintings, ceramics and photographic works by many well-known African artists, such as Nicholas Hlobo, Cameron Platter, Julia Clark and Conrad Botes.
  • July to November visits offer Southern Right Whale watching at Hermanus, only 30 minutes from Cape Town. If you love wines and lush growing regions, you must take a tour of the Cape Town area’s wine tastings and wine lands tours. The wines and views will leave great tastes in your mouth and memories.
  • Try some quick stops at several local facilities for a “spa-gasbord” of treatments, such as the following: Cape Grace Spa has an absolutely ravishing Lip Blooming Treatment that invigorates and fills out the lips. I’d say, “Just you ladies go,” but we guys tried it, too. OK, it felt a bit silly, but it made my gin and tonics by the sea taste better. Even the salty air tasted better! Handy, as the place is just on the waterfront.
  • For that wine trip to savor as you spa, try Delaire Graff Estate, over the Stellenbosch Valley in the Cape Winelands.
  • Beachside heaven awaits you at Azura Benguerra in Bazaruto, Mozambique, while spa, golf and ocean fun galore are yours at Le Prince Maurice, on Mauritius’ East Coast.
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Jim Grubman
Jim Grubman has lived more lives than the average cat, though he's hoping his two Flame-Point Himalayans beat him. He has written and edited many things, including cookbooks (he's a qualified chef), and he has even saved lives as a dialysis technician among a long list of medical and other jobs. For fun, he travels, writes about it, and sails as close to the Southern Seas as a sane man dare try.