Airs and graces
Fancy a winter break to get away from it all, but don’t have the time to go very far? How about a spot of winter pampering in your own backyard? Or—in my case—in my office’s backyard. There’s something surreal about checking into a hotel just a block or two from the place where you earn your daily crust and as I arrived in the lobby of The Grace in Rosebank I half expected a phone call summoning me back to the salt mine.
The hotel is a pocket-sized English country house hiding away in the middle of Jo’burg: it’s pretty, discreet and ever so genteel. With just 73 rooms it’s also quite small compared with most five-star hotels, but this does allow them to give guests a lot more personal attention. I confess I don’t often stay in swanky hotels so perhaps I’m not jaded enough to judge such things but the many little touches offered by The Grace—as complementary services nogal—impressed me no end.
They’ll press a set of clothes for you when you arrive, unpack your bags and give you a 10-minute neck and shoulder massage to help you settle in. Admittedly we didn’t avail ourselves of these particular services, having come from just a block away (although thanks to the friendly folks at the Gautrain and their fiendish one-way system, you now have to drive five blocks to get there) but I was charmed by the offer.
Guests also get coffee and delicious cakes in the lounge all day and canapés in the evening, free wi-fi in all rooms and transport to anywhere within 10km of the hotel (a blessing given Jozi’s pathetic public transport system, especially if you’re the type whose idea of a break includes shopping in Sandton or Hyde Park).
My sense of the surreal deepened as we went downstairs for The Grace’s annual “Christmas in July” dinner. (The idea is to allow South Africans to enjoy the traditional European Christmas dishes in wintry weather.) The dining room was complete with Christmas tree, winking lights, spangled angel centrepieces and waiters who solemnly wished us a “Merry Christmas”.
As a pesky veggie I can’t comment on the meaty fare, but my omnivorous dining companions pronounced the roast turkey and glazed gammon delicious. My interest in the buffet table—as always—started at the wrong end. I could quite happily start with the puddings and work my way towards the mains and starters, depending on whether I have any space left. Chef Raymond Rundle’s dessert table didn’t disappoint, with luscious mini Christmas puds packed with nuts and cherries (and the odd R1 coin) and a scrumptious orange and cinnamon ice-cream that had us all going back for thirds.
After a sound night sleeping off the excesses of dinner and a brisk shower with a great view of Rosebank, I was ready for the delights of The Spa. The spa at The Grace—run by Mimi Badela—is the antithesis of the last spa I went to, where large numbers of guests were whizzed around in golf carts (in their dressing gowns! In winter!) to an assembly line of bored therapists. The Spa at The Grace has only two treatment rooms and is a calm, cosy sanctuary on a winter morning, where you are made to feel like they’re going to treat only one person that day and they’re delighted it’s you.
Now I’m a bit of a massage queen—the type who knows the difference between effleurage, lomi-lomi and petrissage—so I can be rather critical, but Lindiwe Lukehle really knew her stuff. As she started the deep-tissue massage using oil from the Africology range, I asked what the ingredients were: I remember her getting as far as “marula oil —.” and then I was out for the count. And as far as relaxation goes, you don’t get much better than that.
The Grace’s Winter Weekend Warmer Relax Package starts from R1 962 double per night sharing (R1 862 single) and includes a full English breakfast daily and one 60-minute full-body aromatherapy massage.
This package is available on Friday and Saturday nights only and is valid until August 31.
For other specials and packages visit www.thegrace.co.za or call 011 280 7200
Cinnamon and orange ice-cream
Makes five litres
2 tbsp cinnamon
30 egg yolks
500g castor sugar
1,5 litres milk
2 pods vanilla
1 litre cream
5 litres orange juice reduced to 1litre
Mix egg yolks with sugar until fluffy and white.
Heat milk, cream, vanilla pods and cinnamon together. Do not boil.
Strain vanilla out then slowly pour milk into egg mixture, add orange juice concentrate mixing constantly until it thickens into a custard. Cool down before processing through an ice-cream machine. Freeze.