Review by Dr Helen Moffett
The famous Stellenbosch Hydro, the Grand Dame of South African spas, has just had a facelift, with new carpets and linens throughout, and a completely revamped spa area, complete with a couples treatment area and room. The guestrooms are decorated in gentle shades of white, camel and tan, with brand-new bathrooms that include separate power showers and corner baths.
If I had to sum up the Hydro experience in one word, it would be “soothing”. The atmosphere is calm, even hushed, the lights are low, cellphones and laptops are banned in all public areas (heaven for workaholics or freelancers like myself, although there is a business centre with free wifi). The emphasis is definitely on de-stressing and health.
The extremely professional staff really do take your health seriously. Each guest meets with a lifestyle consultant who takes a medical history and personalises your programme; Elita, who attended to me, was genuinely warm and caring. The glorious Winelands location notwithstanding, no alcohol is allowed, and the buffet meals are strictly vegetarian, with the emphasis on raw fruits and veggies. Coffee is out of the question, but there's an endless supply of the Hydro’s signature cinnamon and ginger tea, a ruby-amber drink that melts away cravings.
The focus on healthy food doesn’t mean deprivation, however. Breakfast consists of a choice of fresh fruit and stewed fruit, muesli or oat porridge and plain yoghurt. I ate mine nestled on a couch in front of a crackling fire; in summer, folk eat on the terrace, with mountain, orchard and vineyard views stretching on all sides.
Lunch is a spread of imaginative salads, baked potato with local cheese, and two hot and comforting veggie dishes. Fresh herbs, garlic, ginger, lemon juice, virgin olive oil and the Hydro’s homemade dressing mean that flavours are anything but bland. There’s a mid-afternoon snack of soup, and supper the night I was there was spiced butternut soup, more salads and the Hydro’s famous oat and rye seedbread – so delicious I returned a few days later to buy supplies for my freezer! For the real purists, there is the option of a fruit-only diet.
Gentle exercise is on offer, and there is a fully equipped gym. All visitors benefit from free aquacise in a heated indoor pool with incredible views, yoga, and progressive relaxation sessions, as well as daily walks in the breath-takingly lovely surroundings. I skipped the aquacise and yoga classes, but I found progressive relaxation the perfect way to shed city cares. And the evening walk, with sunset clouds floating marshmallow pink over mountain peaks, was a highlight. There are entertaining lectures on health issues every evening, or you can curl up in your room and catch up your thoughts.
The Hydro is of course most famous for its hydrotherapy. There is no doubt that you will emerge from the spa complex a new man or woman – and that your kidneys will work overtime for the next few hours!
A session begins with 15 minutes in a fragrant hot pool, while powerful jets provide a total body massage. This is followed by the unforgettable sitz bath experience: two “thrones” are filled with hot and cold water, and the "patient" sits in warm water with their feet in a bath of cold water for 90 seconds – then swops to the cold-water throne.This has a dramatic effect on the circulation, causing the blood to whiz around, and while it’s not as hair-raising as I expected, the cold spray supplied by the attendant at the end did cause a few shrieks!
Then it's into either the steam-room or the sauna for a relaxing session that opens the pores and flushes out yet more toxins. This part of the spa has been decorated in sea- and sage-green mosaics against white, while a "green window" filters natural light through a wall of plant foliage – which adds to the tranquillity. Next is a tepid shower, and then my favourite, the relaxation room. It’s warm and dark, with soft blue lighting and carpeting so thick it swaddles the ankles. Here you doze on a day-bed until you’re called to your next appointment… bliss.
I'm a massage connoisseur, and the minute Sue Ann began her magical work, I knew I was in expert hands. All treatment tables are heated in winter, so it’s easy to slip into dreamland as every last knot is efficiently ironed out. My Swedish massage, which included foot and scalp rubs, focused on stimulating the lymph and nerve systems to promote further elimination of toxins. After an hour, I was as limp and inclined to purr as a kitten.
The cherry on top of the cake was the luxury facial that followed, with Theravine nourishing products containing grape-seed and herb extracts. Ronel gently rejuvenated my tired, rather dry skin, which plumped out for days afterwards. Several friends commented on my brighter face and softer skin.
I'd always assumed the Hydro was beyond the reach of the average pocket, so was pleased to discover that there are a range of rates, from budget to luxury, which makes the Hydro experience affordable – and exceptionally good value for money. There are also excellent package deals, especially for the remainder of this winter.
The new-look Hydro is recommended for those who want to kick-start a healthier lifestyle, those in need of a restful break to soothe the nerves and body – and anyone who needs to look fabulous in a new outfit or tux at a special occasion.
Finally: did I lose weight? Yes, without feeling a single hunger pang! I've been following the Hydro lifestyle ever since, the weight is staying off, and I'm full of energy.
One warning: watch out for the detox effect (a severe headache in my case) as the poisons from too much stress and junk food flush out of your system. Drink plenty of water, and I’d advise cutting out coffee and alcohol for three days before your visit.
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