Drinks, food

Winelands Wellness


Text Leigh Robertson When the good people at Stellenbosch American Express® Wine Routes invited me to compile a wish list for a ‘dream’ winelands experience, I was feeling rather SAD. Not deeply unhappy and tearful, but possibly on the brink. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a particularly bad case of the winter blues, brought about less by cold weather than a lack of bright, sparkly daylight, which can inversely affect the circadian system and, ultimately, mood. In addition to the blanket of gloom that lightly drapes itself over your wakeful hours, symptoms can include low energy levels, a lack of motivation and a desire to eat – or drink – away your sorrows. The tail end of winter in my household saw a distinct rise in the number of empty wine bottles left out for the recyclers. Faced with a weekend of intensive eating and drinking as you’re wont to do on an excursion to Stellenbosch with its many excellent restaurants and wineries, I felt more panic than anything else. Did you know that the Stellenbosch region comprises five sub routes, and that there are more than 200 wine and grape producers within its boundaries? Besides, it was sideways-raining, and surely more fun to drink a bottle of red next to the fire at home. Then I remembered there’s much, much more to do in the pretty, historical town and its beautiful surrounds than eat and drink wine and stare out at the rain from your bed with a glass in your hand. Lots of people take advantage of the scenery and elevation and space in the Stellenbosch winelands to do wholesome things like mountain-bike, hike, trail-run or horse-ride. Other people travel hundreds of kilometres to partake in hours of deep-tissue massages and soak in tubs of red-wine extract to absorb the powerful antioxidants, and similar forms of ‘vino-therapy’. I snapped out of my bad funk and declared the rest of the season official detox time. Dividing a weekend between two quite different, but equally excellent, spa destinations is enough to get anyone back on the straight and narrow. At Delaire Graff Lodges and Spa, located in one of the most scenic settings ever, the therapy begins before you’ve even had a chance to slip on a fluffy white gown and slippers. Suddenly a ‘welcome’ glass of sparkling wine seems perfectly virtuous when taking in the pristine views of mountains, fynbos and vineyards, and breathing in the fresh, clean air. I’ve had the occasion to enjoy several lunches and wine tastings at Delaire Graff before, but graduating to the upper reaches of the estate, to the seclusion and serenity of the lodges’ art-filled reception area and adjacent spa, is luxury of the highest order. There are tall arrangements of blooms everywhere, and everything smells wonderful and terribly exclusive. Except that the treat of a spa experience here is no less accessible for locals than most other city spas, and you don’t have to be a hotel guest from somewhere faraway and exotic to enjoy being attended to as such. Treatments are best preceded with a session in the steam room or sauna, following which you can languish in the heated Jacuzzi outside or take a dip in the infinity pool with its ridiculously pretty views. There are lovely packages that include lunch at either the smart Delaire Graff Restaurant or the more intimate Indochine, which serves delicious, healthy Asian-inspired fare. Or you can tailor-make a programme to fill your day with pampering, choosing from an array of top products that includes the award-winning Aromatherapy Associates range. After a long, languorous massage that involved my very attentive, polite and – always a joy – non-talkative therapist applying silicone suction cups to my back (drawing out those evil black toxins) between working the knots in my shoulders, I was on my way to feeling healed. I vowed never to drink again, to spend my wine money on massages, to return to this wonderful place again and again. At The Hydro at Stellenbosch, I continued my resolve, drinking at least a litre of their famous cinnamon, ginger and honey ‘detox tea’ while taking in the sight of grown men and women wandering about (or napping on couches) in gowns and slippers, faces gleaming post morning mountain trek or facial, or both. It’s a little bit Betty Ford, but that’s part of the attraction of this acclaimed ‘natural health destination’. People of all ages, and from different walks of life (stressed businessmen, strung-out housewives, toxic teens) book in for a weekend or a week, with itineraries and menus especially designed to restore them to full wellness and vitality. You might be put on a juice fast for the duration of your stay, but you’ll definitely also feel lighter after a few days of salad lunches and soup dinners – meals are meat-free, and low on seasoning, fat, gluten and other diet baddies. And there’s no wine list, of course, but you won’t mind a jot. Meals are, in fact, a highlight, and you’ll feast on delicious, fulsome fare that’s big on flavour – no platters of bland rabbit food here, but rather tasty dishes featuring spiced legumes, roasted veg, couscous and salads on the heartier side. And you never go hungry – between meals, guests can enjoy fresh juices on demand. It looks and feels as if you’re high up in the Alps, and the air is quite as brisk and pure. The building itself is straight out of the Seventies, but gradually renovation work and spruced-up interiors are bringing The Hydro into stylish contemporary territory. Surrounded by the prettiest manicured gardens and orchards in blossom, and feeling far-removed from city life, it’s the ultimate retreat for all the senses. There’s a daily list of activities to distract you from any detox headaches that might arise, including walks, yoga, tai chi and a rather fun Aquasize class in the marvellous heated indoor pool. You can attend talks extolling the virtues of colonic irrigation, or be subjected to one. But it’s a lot more pleasurable than punishing, as my own special programme revealed. Following a consultation with the resident dietician and all-round health guru, Hanroette, it was straight into hydrotherapy (if you’ve never experienced a sitz bath, it can be an initial shock to the system), an indulgent body scrub and cocoon wrap (left to simmer in a medley of detoxing oils whilst wrapped in plastic) and then an intensive Swedish full-body massage by the very firm-handed Mario. The staff at The Hydro are nothing if not professional, guiding you expertly to a state of vibrant good health. I could have stayed a week! There was simply no more feeling in any way sad after that. But on the matter of my continuing abstinence, well, that’s another matter entirely. More Stellenbosch spas: Majeka Spa at boutique hotel Majeka House. Enjoy a relaxing spa experience at this beautiful hotel, with complimentary use of its wonderful indoor heated pool as well as the sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi. Lanzerac Spa at the scenic Lanzerac Wine Estate is set among the vineyards and offers treatments using Theravine, a grape-based product range, among others. Camelot Spa at Spier Wine Estate is located at the Village Hotel, set apart from the rest of the estate. Be sure to round off a day of pampering with a healthy lunch at Eight, which serves farm-fresh fare using organic produce.