Health & Grooming | Chronicles of a Spa Junkie

Spa Junkie at… One & Only Cape Town

Can this South African hotel spa deliver a truly special experience?

Spa Junkie at… One & Only Cape Town

Image: Jay Yeo

November 22 2011
Spa Junkie

Part: 1 | 2

The Sun King, as he is referred to in South Africa, appears to have done it again: Sol Kerzner, the diminutive hotelier, has been a towering force in the hotel-resort-casino industry for decades. He may sit uncomfortably in his celebrity skin, but he has earned his Midas-touch title. His One & Only resorts, alongside peer resort groups Aman and Six Senses, have in my opinion truly defined the term “barefoot luxury”. They were some of the first to pioneer generous spaces in far-away places, sumptuously furnished with spectacular views and the sort of one-touch, wish-come-true service that we now all expect as standard. They also introduced a very credible spa, sport and healing addition to the resorts, which has certainly helped to establish the destination spa travel category.

And now I’m arriving at his One & Only Cape Town spa; judging by the string of awards that it has won, I’m heading into spa nirvana.

The wow factor at this hotel, on the pretty waterfront in Cape Town, starts right at the entrance (jaw-dropping entrances being a One & Only signature): a three-storey-high glass atrium lounge, showcasing Africa’s most photographed model mountain – today, without her usual cloud cover, she lays unabashedly naked before me in all her table-top glory. It’s a postcard setting.

The spa is on its own little island in the lagoon that the hotel faces, which is reached by a charming footbridge and ensconced by roughly planted vegetation and which also houses some of the more private hotel rooms. Ample water features and a yoga pavilion add to the picture.

“Once you try one of these Bastien Gonzalez pedicures, you will never go back to your old mani and pedi habits. And the hot shell massage is divine, really stunning,” chirps the young spa receptionist as she leads me into a small (and, if I’m totally honest, pokier then expected) changing area and steam room. I can’t get my feet wet before the pedicure in any case, so I’m not that bothered about the pokiness issue.

“Bastien Gonzalez believes in putting the ‘cure’ back into pedicure,” says the therapist as I lie back to a 70-degree angle on a six-foot-long, heated, remote-controlled chair. She pries open a serious looking bit of sterilised kit, which seems far more suited to a dentist’s office than a spa. She has been specially trained by one of the Gonzalez mini-me’s, who themselves have been personally trained by the self-proclaimed “king of pedicures”; they hot-trot the globe extolling the virtues of his signature medi-pedi for fabulous paws and claws.

“A few things you should know; there is no hot water soak,” – aah, but I like that bit! – “we work on dry skin so we can actually see the problems. Once the foot is wet, we cannot differentiate the healthy live skin from the dead and calloused.” I consent, as this is supposed to be a medical pedicure and is touted among the beauty cognoscenti as more podiatry than pampering.

To start, she shapes my nails with a superfine file, which prevents ripping of the nails and damaging the surrounding skin. Next, she uses a tiny dentist’s drill made of tungsten to gently remove any dead skin from the surface of my nails as well as all around the edges.

“Now we’re going to clean-buff the nails with a paste which is made of crushed pearl powder; this does for the nails what keratin does for the hair. And then, just like grandma used to do, I am going to take the chammy” – she means a chamois leather – “and shine you up,” she proclaims as, from my reclined position, I look down my nose at what seems an entire foot-operation-theatre below.

My last buffing encounter must have been when I was 12 – punishment for juvenile behaviour. My father had me black-polish all four tyres of the car with a toothbrush and buff the charcoal bonnet with soft wax and a knackered piece of chamois. It was so bright after an entire Saturday spent slaving, I could spot the early stages of rosacea forming on my skin in the reflection.

Today is no different: my bare, unadulterated toenails are so shiny, I’m sure I will see my reflection in my yoga forward-bend a little later.

“See? You don’t need polish. The polish prevents your nails from breathing and can cause fungus and staining – and just look how pretty your feet look!” She is thrilled with the results.

Her enthusiasm – which, I want to say, I really appreciate (got to love someone who takes pride in their job) – did mean that she did not stop talking for the duration of the 90-minute treatment, which was a little annoying. On the other hand, I’ve learned that pushing cuticles back is damaging (it can create a space for bacteria to flourish); that having your nails square is damaging (the perfect shape is actually square with rounded edges); and that buffing every day increases the blood flow and makes your nails naturally pink. As for pedi blades and foot files? Bastien calls them “total junk” and maintains that they deserve no place on the pharmacy shelves. And scalpels are a very big no-no; they just cause the skin to grow back thicker and stronger.

The epic pedi-session ends with a massage. I feel almost a stone lighter. Clean and pretty little tootsies! Footloose, I saunter down for my massage.

“The hot shell massage uses shells sourced in the Philippines,” says the masseuse of my treatment (the full title of which is Essence of Earth & Ocean Experience). “They are strengthened with porcelain, and have a little hole in them, through which I place a sachet containing a powder which, when activated, heats up the shell,” she explains.

She uses two shells on my back, neck and shoulders. It’s very similar to the hot stone concept, which uses very hot stones to loosen and relax the muscles. In my opinion, it’s nothing to write home about – essentially, a very average rub down by an average therapist, made unique with a novelty piece of kit. If I’m entirely honest, I think I got more benefit from the 15-minute massage I had at the Six Senses Etihad lounge on the way out to Cape Town.


Best spa in Africa? I’m not entirely convinced. It’s certainly a lovely addition to the Capetonians’ spa landscape, and would definitely be a great place to spend a few hours when the temperamental Cape Town winds howl, or the freezing cold Atlantic tides make lounging on the beach prohibitive.

But the One & Only collaboration with Bastien Gonzalez constitutes a great offering. It seems he is one of the very few to have applied any innovation in this space. It’s strange; all other categories of beauty, especially facials, have become so advanced, yet the care of our hands and feet seems to be stuck in the pumice-stone age.

For the more sporty types, the spa has a very well equipped gym, and offers one-on-one yoga; and its location means that some of the world’s best and most scenic running routes are just outside your front door. In the event, I didn’t want to ruin my perfectly newly-sculpted feet in a flash, so I opted for some retail therapy: the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, adjacent to the hotel and spa, has 450 stores set on several kilometres of prime sea-facing property, which will offset any extra calorie intake. If that’s not enough calorie elimination for you, rest assured it’s guaranteed to burn a nifty hole through your credit card.

Spa Junkie pays for all her own travel, treatments and accommodation.