September/October  2004 



The signature African Cape Massage uses circular massage motions inspired by the spherical moves of healing tribal dances, along with moisturizing shea butter from the nut of the African Shea Tree and snowbush oil, an anti-stress agent distilled from a local plant.

by Joan Scobey

dopting the concept that the best cuisine is made from local ingredients, the Spa at Cape Grace in Cape Town, looked to its southern African heritage for a menu of treatments. Opened in November 2003 in the stylish, eight-year-old hotel, the spa turned to the healing techniques and traditional remedies of the region's native San and Khoi tribes, who used massage, indigenous plants, and the spices introduced by the Indian Ocean traders en route from Asia to Europe.

The signature African Cape Massage, for instance, uses circular massage motions inspired by the spherical moves of healing tribal dances, along with moisturizing shea butter from the nut of the African Shea Tree, and snowbush oil, an anti-stress agent distilled from a local plant. The 90-minute treatment is $120, which includes a circular scalp massage before and a "rain shower" after.

Another culturally based treatment is called The African Way (2 hours and 15 minutes, $155), starting with an exfoliating dry body scrub in the Khoi San manner of rubbing sand over their bodies, followed by a massage with a relaxing oil or an energizing balm. Then comes a body mask of special mud, another Khoi San tradition, and while it is firming, a scalp massage. After a shower, the final step, leaving the skin smooth and silky, is a full-body application of powdered cream, the way the Khoi San used powdered roots to cool themselves in the desert heat.

Among a menu of traditional deep cleansing, hydrating, oxygenating, and refining facials (each 90 minutes and $90 - $130), the African Face and Body Treatment (90 minutes, $155) draws on tribal roots. It starts with a full body poppy seed ex foliation, followed by aloe vera to soothe, smooth and moisturize the skin. While an algae mask soothes the face, neck and shoulders are gently massaged with colorful warmed beads, a tradition of the Xhosa people, to relieve tension.

After this treatment, one American guest said, "Never have I had a facial that good. A glance in the mirror afterwards revealed a rejuvenated face that looked as though it had not only been scrubbed well but ironed, too."

A wide range of more traditional massages supplement African cultural treatments, all of them including both pre- and post- therapies. The Aromatherapy Massage (75 minutes, $90) starts with an anti-stress poppy seed foot scrub, goes on to a full-body massage with aromatherapy oils, and ends with a steam or sauna. The Sports Massage (75 minutes, $90), a deep-tissue workout for tight muscles, ends in a hot musk soak. A classic Swedish Massage (75 minutes, $90) starts with a scalp rubdown and poppy seed foot scrub and ends with a rain shower. A peppermint-infused water soak and poppy seed foot scrub precede the Reflexology treatment (one hour, $65).

One of the most interesting treatments is the Intermittent Compression Therapy (90 minutes, $120) that is particularly effective against jet lag, a boon for Americans enduring at least 17-hour flights. First a Cape Malay blend of honey and sandal, a spice with circulation benefits, is applied to legs and feet to reduce swelling and water retention, then special air-compression hip boots are zipped on, which pulsate electrically, massaging the legs and promoting circulation. The bonus is a simultaneous traditional face, neck and shoulder massage.

Even the decor of the spa, on the top floor of the hotel, hints at its San Khoi roots. Circular motifs decorate pillows, the aroma of exotic scents is in the air, and the entrance mosaic of reds, yellows, and browns evokes a palette of spices. Arrangements of indigenous flowers and single blooms in low dishes decorate the rooms.

The five private treatment rooms, all with windows open to Cape Town's temperate climate, have panoramic views of the city, the marina, and Table Mountain. Each carries the name and color of an exotic spice or plant: Paprika, Saffron, Vanilla, Angelica, and Calendula. The hot spa area with sauna and showers opens to a plant-decked terrace facing Table Mountain.

The spa is owned and managed by the hotel, and is available exclusively to Cape Grace guests. The well-appointed award-winning boutique hotel occupies its own quay at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. It has 121 rooms and suites, with doubles starting at $555, including breakfast.

For reservations, contact The Leading Hotels of the World at 800-223-6800 or




© 2004 Worldwide Spa Review Magazine