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What makes a spa special

Ever trying to distinguish themselves, spas develop "signature treatments" on which to hang their fluffy robes and spa slippers in the consumer's mind... but at the end of the day, what is it that makes a spa stand out from its peers?
What makes a spa special

For me, the skill and experience of spa staff is the greatest USP, but I can't recall seeing any marketing material that makes a meal of it. If I had a spa (assuming, as we always do, that staff are appropriately qualified), I'd say, CIDESCO qualified or member of International Spa Association etc in my communiqués. Second to knowing that the spa therapist is well qualified is the experience of being at the spa itself. Do I feel relaxed just being there? Against this criterion, I think the Mount Nelson Hotel's Librisa Spa is tops in Cape Town - I love the garden setting and the vast therapy rooms.

I also want to know about the facilities on offer - are there flotation pools (love the one at the Life Day Spa at the Crystal Towers Hotel), waterbeds for relaxation (impossible to get off once you're on them but utterly fabulous like the ones at The Arabella Spa at The Westin Grand) or does the spa offer a particular focus in its therapies like Ayurveda at the beautiful Jiva Spa at The Taj Cape Town or Thai treatments at the Angsana Spa at The Vineyard Hotel?

Out of Africa

The first time I experienced a South African-focused spa therapy was at The Cape Grace Spa some years ago and I remember thinking how clever it was to offer visitors a local experience.

This thought came rushing back, just as the sand or rice in the bamboo rain stick created that shhh sound as it tumbled from one end to the other during Camelot Spas Baobab massage. The soundtrack played in the room during the treatment is also different. Most spas insist on playing mind numbing muzak rather than allowing quiet, but I liked Camelot's Afro selection.

They've incorporated calabashes of different sizes to use in the massage. In the treatment at The Cape Grace, they used the smooth wooden ball of the knop kirrie walking stick.

The calabashes work well because they provide a contrast in temperature and texture but (and this also applies to hot-stone therapies), I prefer the human touch alone by far.

The tapered ends of the smaller calabashes seem to fit into each vertebra but no better than fingers would.

I also liked the fact that the therapist read my pre-treatment consultation form and knew that using steam rooms was contra-indicated for people with hypertension and diabetes. Her compromise was a good one. Instead of beginning the treatment with the self exfoliation in the steam room, I'd end with it in the shower. The mixture of sugar, baobab kernel oil (rich in omega 3.6 and 9 essential fatty acids) with geranium and lavender feels great on the skin and has a pleasing scent. It is a pity that post-massage relaxation time wasn't recommended (as it typically is). I had my treatment at the Camelot Spa in Mandela Rhodes Place, Cape Town.

The 90-minute Baobab African Journey is available for R700 at all Camelot Spas nationwide. Tel: +27 (0) 86 111 4075.

About Brian Berkman: contributing editor, travel

Brian Berkman can be contacted on 083-441-8765 or email moc.namkreBnairB@nairB.

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