After a pretty trying year last year, I was convinced that I’d left all the bad vibes back in 2016, but February proved to be a tough month – it left me feeling frazzled, a bit under the weather, and in dire need of some TLC.
Thankfully, my job has some pretty amazing perks, and the invitation to spend the day at The Garden Spa at Babylonstoren, a quick 30 minute drive from Stellenbosch, couldn’t have come at a better time. Turns out things aren’t that bad after all! After a short, scenic drive into the heart of the Drakenstein Valley, I arrived at Babylonstoren and spent a good twenty minutes strolling through the beautiful gardens until I reached The Garden Spa, which is just past the Greenhouse restaurant. (Just a little heads up: it’s best you arrive at least 30 minutes before your spa treatment, especially if you’re prone to getting distracted by beautiful scenery, otherwise you might end up being late for your treatment, like I was!)
After I’d completed my client card and changed into the most luxurious cotton robe and slippers, I was led through the bamboo forest to the pool (which is actually the old farmhouse reservoir) where I spent the next half an hour soaking up the sun and swimming gentle laps, before being whisked off to the pedi lounge for my first treatment of the day. By the time I sat down in my chair in the exquisite pedi lounge, I already felt well-and-truly relaxed, with any thoughts of work or deadlines long dissipated.
I puffed up a pillow and shoved it behind my head, then sat right back and settled into that chair, staring at the trees swaying gently in the wind through the window in the ceiling, as my therapist proceeded to soak, buff, and massage my ridiculously neglected feet. I won’t lie to you: it was pure heaven. Probably the best pedicure I’ve had to date… it was that relaxing.
In fact, when my therapist signalled that the treatment was over, I found myself screaming, inwardly, “please don’t stop! Just 10 more minutes!” Ah, well. All good things must come to an end, right…? Fortunately, my day wasn’t even remotely close to ending, so my pretty, freshly pedicured toes and I found our way to the chill room, where I spent a good few minutes staring at the trees outside (yet again) and practicing my yoga breaths while sipping on some sparkling water.
Next, it was time for lunch, which would ordinarily be a selection of fresh fruits from Babylonstoren’s gardens, or wholesome salads and bowls of lentils or soba noodles from the spa menu, but I was in for a real treat. As it turns out, Babylonstoren was set to unveil their brand new healing garden that same day, so I had the opportunity to indulge in their exquisite tea ceremony, which included four beautiful courses of the most unique food items I’d ever seen.
Babylonstoren’s incredibly knowledgable gardener, Gundula, led us through the healing garden and explained that the layout of the garden resembles the human body, with herbs to heal head, heart, lungs, the digestive system and other organs grouped together. The herbs planted along the outer wall are done so according to the seasons, and you’re provided with a basket and pairs of scissors and allowed to run amok (well, within reason!), selecting off-cuts with which to brew your own special tea. I was drawn to the citrusy scent of lemongrass (which boasts anti-bacterial and anti-depressant properties, as well as being a sedative), and I couldn’t resist adding some elderflower buds to my infusion. It was so much fun whipping up my own herby concoction, and I was pleasantly surprised at just how delicious the tea was! I wasn’t expecting much from a handful of plants and some boiling water, but I’m really tempted to start a mini healing garden of my own here at home. I can just imagine starting my day with a soothing tea infusion ritual while seated in my backyard!
As I mentioned, we were also treated to a four course selection of sweet and savoury confections, which make use of fresh, seasonal produce straight from Babylonstoren’s gardens. Our first course was by far my favourite: an ice-cold tomato water served with fresh basil chiffonade, sweet melon and avocado (see image, above). It may look like a rather tasteless, waterless tomato soup of sorts, but – believe me – it was the most flavoursome tomato ‘soup’ I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. I would never think to pair sweet melon with tomato, but it is the most beautiful pairing, and the zingy basil chiffonade added a lovely freshness to the tomato water. I could easily down a jug of this in one go!
The ice-cold tomato water was followed by a matcha tea sandwich cake with a yoghurt mint spread, fresh berries and summer fruit, with a little drizzle of honey. Since I’m vegan, I didn’t try this course or the cucumber and lightly smoked trout roulade with lavender flavoured cream cheese that followed it, but all the other women in my group absolutely raved about them. I did, however, go a bit nuts when the date balls with toasted coconut arrived! These were also accompanied by the most glorious fresh figs (I think I had about four huge slices of these – so yum!), and chevin truffles enrobed with rooibos tea with a ginger centre – again, I didn’t try these, but I’ll admit that the ginger centre and rooibos coating sounds amazing!
Lastly, we nibbled on some fresh watermelon with a rose geranium and pistachio pesto (so good!), before heading back to The Garden Spa to experience the spa’s healing honey and salt scrub and steam (R650 for 30 minutes) in the Hammam. I spent the next half an hour buffing and polishing every square centimetre of my body with Babylonstoren’s nourishing honey and salt scrub, before applying a full body mask and settling onto the marble slab to allow the ingredients to do their magic while enjoying the steam. A few splashes of icy cold water removed every last trace of the mud mask, while boosting circulation at the same time. (On that note, I am so keen to head on back to The Garden Spa with hubby in tow to try the Hammam Traditional Soap Treatment, which is ideal for couples).
This was followed by a 60 minute Basic Facial from Esse (R790), which was really my first proper foray into trying this local skincare range’s products – and I can totally see why so many people have fallen so hard for Esse! My therapist started by giving me an in-depth skin analysis, before cleansing and exfoliating my skin, and doing a few extractions. Next, she applied the most heavenly face mask, which immediately soothed my stressed-out skin, and she massaged my feet while the mask worked it’s magic. Now I ask you: is there anything more indulgent than having someone massage your feet while you wait to rinse off your face mask? Didn’t think so. She finished off my facial by applying a serum and a hydrating moisturiser.
As if that wasn’t indulgence enough, my day at The Garden Spa ended with the most relaxing back, neck and shoulder massage (R450 for 30 minutes), and my therapist incorporated the use of warm bamboo sticks (grown on the property, of course!) in the massage to deeply relax my tense, overworked neck and shoulder muscles. To say that I floated out of the spa that day is a gross understatement – I don’t think I’ve ever felt this relaxed!
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit a number of spas across South Africa, and I can quite honestly say that The Garden Spa at Babylonstoren falls within my top three spa destinations in SA. The setting is unbelievably dreamy, the treatments and spa menu all offer a fresh spin that’s unique to Babylonstoren, and the therapists are incredibly friendly and so talented at what they do… I can’t wait to go back for more!