Health & Grooming | Chronicles of a Spa Junkie

Spa Junkie at… Delaire Graff Estate

Our covert reporter heads to a sumptuous spa in South Africa

Spa Junkie at… Delaire Graff Estate

Image: Jay Yeo

February 14 2012
Spa Junkie

Part: 1 | 2

Like everyone, I spent the second half of 2011 listening with bewildered awe as the usual deliciously gossipy dinner-party subjects – phone hacking, plastic surgery, holidays – were replaced with seriously Om-kill (that’s “buzz kill” in Spa Junkie-speak) topics such as austerity measures, the ever-present threat of single currency annihilation and global financial carnage. All of a sudden, obscure European financial ministers became household names and cab drivers expounded fluently on the IMF. It’s all very wrinkle-inducing; quite frankly, there’s no Zen to be found in talking about the yen – or the renminbi, or the euro.

But in keeping with the times, I have decided to suck the marrow out of the beauty bone. On a business trip to Cape Town, I’m going to maximise the ROI on this rather long-haul journey for such a short stay by sneaking off after my meetings for a couple of days of Spa Junking.

I have the great fortune of landing one of the country’s prize gems and top private tour guides – Tessa Easingwood, who has been traversing the Cape-to-Cairo route for almost 20 years now, planning bespoke trips for visitors to Africa. More recently, Easingwood has been organising spa trips and “surgery safaris”.

The Delaire Graff Estate was described by her as heaven – and she’s right, although it’s also a place to make one feel very grounded on this great earth. Situated on the highest crest of the Helshoogte Mountain Pass, which links the Cape’s two major wine districts, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, Delaire is about a 50-minute drive from Cape Town, so it isn’t long before I am checking into my room, packing away my battle-ready London attitude and slipping into something a little more comfortable.

Leafing through the in-room brochure as I wait for a pot of room-service rooibos, I quickly bring myself up to speed on the history of the hotel and locale. The estate was bought in 1982 by John Platter, a well-known wine writer and producer, and was at the time known as Avontuur. Admiring the magnificent view, he decided to rename the farm Delaire, meaning “from the sky”. In November 2003, Lawrence Graff acquired the estate and began a six-year redevelopment programme, transforming it into the gorgeous place where I find myself today.

Words are inadequate to describe the view, which stretches, seemingly endlessly, over vineyards and olive groves. I take a stroll among the vines before turning to the task at hand: rejuvenating my flight-depleted skin.

The spa boasts four treatment rooms, a hairdressing salon, a 22m outdoor pool and a Jacuzzi with a view. (I know, again with the view, but trust me – it’s hard to go a paragraph without mentioning it.)

I am greeted warmly by the staff – but since I have yet to clock another person in the spa, all focus is on me. The range of treatments on offer seems to cater for all ages and stages, but there are no fireworks of science – it’s basically a fairly typical spa in a glorious setting. “We have a maternity package for pre- and post-baby bodies, a menu designed for men, a list of treatments specifically for teenagers – and, of course, for middle-aged women worried about ageing.” Hmm. I’ve yet to meet a 14-year-old who would trade running wild in the bush for a deep cleanse – and, uh, did she just call me middle-aged?

I scan the menu together with the therapist. “If I were you,” she muses, “given your non-stop travel schedule, I would probably want to while the afternoon away with the Jet Lag Detox – either the Revive version or the Relax one.” Figuring that I need no further reviving, I opt for the relaxing option. The treatment is specifically designed to help you recover from a flight, but truthfully I think it would cover a number of scenarios, including the “morning after too many bottles of the Rupert & Rothschild Rouge Baron Edmund 1999” one.

The therapist starts the process with the “awakening” of my airways via the inhalation of eucalyptus – the smell of which always has an uncanny way of making me feel like I’m in a post-game locker room. I relax while my dead skin cells are body-brushed before we start the massage, which is expressly designed to realign my crumpled, Premium Economy-only (new client rules, and no upgrade, sigh) body. Spinal pressure is applied to aid digestion and “elimination”, as it’s always oh-so-politely referred to.

“Essential oils have been used for thousands of years. Smell is the most powerful of all the senses; it can transform your mood in minutes,” the therapist explains as she kneads into my shoulder blades.

To get me in the promised relaxed state, sandalwood and camomile are worked into the mix, and it isn’t long before I am near to dropping off on the table. Her technique is good and her pressure is perfect. I ask why Delaire doesn’t stock any local products; surely there must be so many great South African brands? It would seem not: “Management wanted to have the very best and felt that there was not a sufficiently luxurious local brand,” she explains.

Wow. They’ve missed a major trick, I think, between the trend to go local and the richness of the regional fauna and flora – not to mention the resveratrol-rich grape and wine debris all around us, which would make for a brilliant scrub and polish.

Afterward, I slink back to my lodge, passing striking South African art and sculptures along the way (Graff’s collection of work by South African artists is famous worldwide). An early supper at the hotel’s restaurant, Indochine, with a crisp local white finishes a near-perfect day. Did I mention I am on the longest wine route in the world?

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