Bowling along in an airconditioned minivan on a sunny afternoon following 10 hours on a plane was a relief. The clouds seemed bigger and sky bluer than I had seen for a long time. Unfamiliar flowers on the roadside and birds in the trees were intriguing and exciting.
Given the opportunity to experience treatments on offer in some spa hotels in South Africa we were looking forward to a period of relaxed living in five star surroundings. We were not disappointed.
Starting in Johannesburg, with its reputation for violence and unrest seemed a little unwise, but we didn’t see anything untoward, although we found the number to street traders converging on the car at traffic lights somewhat unnerving. Anyway we had to start somewhere and why not experience what is considered the best of the best, the Saxon Hotel in the Sandhurst section of the Santon area.
We faced a high security entry procedure with a high perimeter wall, a 24 hour guard and a sliding door so heavy it rumbled along its tracking into the wall itself. I felt a bomb would have trouble making an impression on it.
The gate opened onto a six acre park with a meadering drive, past groups of grey ibis busily searching for insects in the grass – quite a broadleaved type of rye grass, different from our fine fescue rich mixes, arriving at a magnificent entrance. It was easy to see how the management could promise peace and security for their highly placed guests.
In the huge entrance hall with its stunning central light fitting to match were dozens of examples of African artefacts – wooden carvings, masks, even doors, which featured on walls, tables, and floors in all directions, and through to my bedroom, well suite actually, with its beautiful masks and carvings to gaze at.
I had a balcony with a table and chairs overlooking the park and trees, a pillared bed, beautiful bathroom with a fantastic bath – oh what a wonderful soak to be had after our eleven hour journey! I would have liked to stay in the suite for a couple of days just to enjoy the luxury of it all and try out some of other facilities. It had a table I could work on big enough for a meeting of six people, with internet access, a huge television, round sound hifi system, lots of sofas and, luxury of luxury, a master pad at the door and by the bed to switch all lights and devices off in one fell swoop, or choose any combination you want. You can see images on the website.
Saxon hotel is ideal for travellers of all kinds wanting the opportunity to relax and restore their energy. There is plenty to choose from including swimming pools and lounging areas in the most beautiful surroundings, an excellent spa centre, as well as a fitness centre.
I chose the unique sound therapy in the hotel spa, where tibetan bowls and gongs were all around the room. Whilst I lay on a water bed, bowls were placed on my chakra points, then gently tapped, the sound resonating through my body. I fell into a dream state going to a far away place while other bowls and gongs were softly sounded continuously. I really resented coming back into the here and now at the end of the session!
I’m unsure whether this could be considered an authentic African therapy, but then remembering the recent rapid development of spa centres of all kinds in South Africa it’s only to be expected that many treatments on offer are strongly influenced by others from around world. The 60 minute treatment was R690 (approx £49). You will find more details on the website that includes the spa brochure.
Saxon was originally a private home and it was there Mandela stayed when writing his book A Long Walk To Freedom. The site was later transformed into the luxury conference venue and hotel it is today.
Oprah Winfrey and Bill Clinton have been notable visitors. I can see why Saxon says captains of industry, heads of state and even royalty can be offered a quality of service beyond reproach and with international chefs providing fantastic tasting food, beautifully crafted, there is everything here to enjoy and relax into.
Lunch was beautifully presented and cooked, if rather long in delivery. The dessert was especially good, a soft layered meringue with a cheesecake-like base. When faced with a beautifully laid out table with cutlery and glass to die for, my anticipation of an excellent meal is heightened. We were not disappointed, it was stunning.
It is possible to experience the hotel’s spa as a day visitor. If you happen to be in Jo’burg with a day or so to spare do consider a visit – whatever you decide it will be a memorable occasion.
We flew from London Heathrow to Johannesburg with South African Airways www.flysaa.com 0870 747 1111 Flights LHR to JNB approximately £700 return, including taxes
South African Tourism, www.southafrica.net Information/Brochure Line: 0870 1550044
Saxon Boutique Hotel and Spa 36 Saxon Road Sandhurst Johannesburg www.thesaxon.com Tel: 00 27 11 292 6000 Voted the World’s Leading Boutique Hotel for the last six consecutive years
The Saxon is an all-suite hotel – we each had an Egoli suite R 5,400 per room per night (approx £385) Presidential Suite R11,300 per room per night (approx £810) Platinum Suite R21,000 per room per night (approx £1,500) Rates include breakfast and use of the hydro facilities at the spa.
Editorial and Photography Val Reynolds Brown August 2008
Descending a steep hill we could see and smell the sea! How exciting after a period in the bush and veldt.
What might be called a coombe in Gloucestershire, this massive 700 hectare valley leading down to the sea was a forest of plants, both planted and indigenous, and so extensive that guests at the top used golf buggies to get to the beach, and those on the beach definitely needed the buggies to get their lunch!
It was a sumptous setting for a golf resort where you can buy property overlooking the golf course and with views of the sea. It was a real knock out and the hotel interior was fabulous.
We had arrived for a spa treatment with lunch to followand we were delighted to have the opportunity to experience such wonderful facilities which, when we enquired, are not that expensive. A week with a golfing partner could be achieved within a modest budget, remembering the UK pound is very strong at the moment.
The spa centre offers an extensive treatments list, many of a decent length, that is an hour or more – the ancient Bali ritual, given to princesses for 40 days prior to their wedding day, takes two hours! As our time at Zimbali was limited by our need to get to Durban airport within a few hours our choice of luxury timeconsuming treatments was limited. However we did manage a full body bamboo massage of an hour. Traditionally used by various African groups, including the Tswana it has only recently been added to the Zimbali list. I only wish we had had a few more days to enjoy yet more luxury, traditional treatments.
Our lunch was memorable, we ate at a table overlooking the forest and the sea beyond. Good food, good wine and a merry group is a great recipe for happiness! Pity we had to up sticks and rush off to the airport to catch our plane en route for Jo’burg and home. Ah well, another time perhaps, it was that good.
Val Reynolds Brown, Editor