A wild way to relax

After a long day's giraffe-spotting, there's no better way to unwind than with a 'spafari', says Aoife O'Riordain

"Spafari" - what will the travel industry think of next? Across South Africa spas offer everything from treatments using traditional African plants and herbs to Merlot baths in the famous Winelands. However, one of the latest trends is the "spafari". An ever-increasing number of luxurious safari lodges offer superior spa facilities and treatments so that guests can spend the hours between morning and evening games drives relaxing by the pool and being pummelled and massaged deep in the African bush.

"Spafari" - what will the travel industry think of next? Across South Africa spas offer everything from treatments using traditional African plants and herbs to Merlot baths in the famous Winelands. However, one of the latest trends is the "spafari". An ever-increasing number of luxurious safari lodges offer superior spa facilities and treatments so that guests can spend the hours between morning and evening games drives relaxing by the pool and being pummelled and massaged deep in the African bush.

Starting with one of the gateways to the South African bush, however, Cape Town's Cape Grace hotel (00 27 21 410 7100; www.capegrace.com) has a wonderful location on the city's Waterfront. The Spa at Cape Grace, which opened late last year, is situated on the top floor of the hotel and has spectacular views of Table Mountain, Cape Town and the marina below.

The place takes its inspiration from the spice routes - Cape Town was a port of call for ships sailing between Europe and Asia from the 15th century. Treatments at the spa incorporate African herbs and spices. The "African Face and Body", for example, combines a full poppy seed and aloe vera exfoliation with a massage using Xhosa beads. Double rooms start from SAR2,700 (£240) with breakfast, based on two sharing.

Forty-five minutes drive from Cape Town in the Wineland's is one of South Africa's most novel spas. The Winelands Hotel and Wellness Centre (00 27 21 875 8200; www.santewellness.co.za) is located in the Drakestein Valley near Paarl. It claims to be the only property outside France offering treatments utilising the antioxidant and detoxing powers attributed to grapes.

When not sampling the wine of the many vineyards of the surrounding areas of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschoek, guests can enjoy Shiraz Body Wraps or Cabernet Sauvignon wine-casket baths at the purpose-built Sante Spa and Wellness centre in the middle of the hotel's working wine estate. As well as offering a hydrotherapy bath, steam rooms and swimming pool, and Vichy water spa, the centre also offers guests the chance to participate in t'ai chi, yoga and pilates classes. Double rooms start from SAR2,200 (£200) with breakfast. Two-day Vinotherapy packages start at SAR2,145 (£180) per person.

The Cybele Forest Lodge and Spa (00 27 13 764 9500; www.cybele.co.za) is a small hunting lodge set in woodland and meadows near Hazyview, just 65km from the Kruger National Park. Cybele's romantic location and small size (it sleeps 28) is definitely a draw, but so is the spa. This is tucked into the forest and offers a range of holistic and beauty treatments. Double rooms start from SAR1,100 (£100) per person. Or, Far Side Africa (0131-315 2464; www.farsideafrica.com) offers a six-night itinerary including two nights at Cybele and four nights at the Garonga Safari Camp in the Kruger National Park from £1,580 per person, based on two sharing. This includes return flights from London via Johannesburg to Nepspruit, accommodation with most meals, car hire and activities.

The Kruger National Park and surrounding areas offer some of the best opportunities to test the virtues of the spafari. Three-and-a-half hours from Johannesburg, in the heart of the Madikwe Game Reserve, is one of the most impressive: the Etali Safari Lodge (00 27 12 346 0124; www.etalisafari.co.za). Its eight lodges are set on their own patch of the bushveld with far-reaching views.

As well as daily game drives, bush walks and star-gazing, Etali also has a modern "Wellness Centre", offering a range of treatments including reflexology and La Stone Therapy. And if they are still feeling energetic, guests can commune with nature in bush yoga sessions. Double rooms start from SAR2,750 (£252) per person, based on two sharing. Steppes Africa (01285 650 011; www.steppesafrica.co.uk) can arrange itineraries including a stay at Etali from £250 per person, based on two sharing. This includes accommodation, two game drives or walks, food and drinks.

The Big Five prowl the vast wilderness surrounding the Singita Lebombo Lodge (00 27 21 683 3424; www.singita.co.za) set deep in a reserve. The lodge has been owned by the Bailes family since 1925 and is believed to possess one of the highest concentrations of wildlife within the Kruger.

Double rooms start from SAR6,800 (£600) per person, based on two sharing. Roxton Bailey Robinson Worldwide (01488 689 700; www.rbrww.com) offers three nights at Singita Lebombo from £2,199 per person, based on two people sharing. This includes Federalair flights from Johannesburg to Singita, full-board accommodation, all drinks excluding champagne, all game activities and valet, laundry.

It's not uncommon to open your eyes mid-treatment at the bush spa at Tintswalo Safari Lodge (00 27 11 706 7207; www.tintswalo.com) and see a large bull elephant wandering past. This 16-bedroom lodge, surrounded by sycamore fig trees forms part of a private concession buried in the Manyeleti Reserve close to the border of the Kruger National Park. This is the place to go for classic African safari style: lodges and guestrooms with thatched roofs and mosquito-net swathed beds. During the day guests can join safari drives and walks and at night go star-gazing and devour gourmet meals. Double rooms start from SAR4,000 (£354) per person, based on two sharing. Tim Best Travel (020-7591 0300; www.timbesttravel.com) can arrange a five-night at Tintswalo for £2,785 including flights, transfers and select spa treatments.

The Sabi Sabi reserve is the location for Sir Richard Branson's Ulusaba, undoubtedly one of South Africa's most luxurious locations. You can combine game viewing with some serious pampering on a 66,000-hectare private game reserve on the edge of the greater Kruger National Park.

One of Ulusaba's two lodges, Rock Lodge, perches 250m at the summit of a koppie (rocky hill) and has panoramic views of the Drankensberg Mountains. This is also home to the Aroma Boma Virgin Touch Spa. Treatments include the luxurious three-and-a-half-hour "Elephant Package" and "The Bushveld Back" - specially designed for aching post-walking safari muscles.

Guests can also join walking safaris and game drives or simply enjoy the spectacular view of the rolling African bush. Double rooms start from SAR7,000 (£685), including meals and drinks, two game drives per day and a daily walking safari. Call Virgin Limited Edition on 0800 716 919 or go to www.virgin.com/ulusaba.

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