Weekend Escape: Letting off steam in Caledon
Slipping off the highway near Caledon, Nick Yell discovers the healing power of warm, natural springs
So you're not a gambler and you're not all that enthusiastic about getting steamed up in a mineral-water spa, but does that mean you shouldn't slip off the N2 near Caledon and spend some time at the Caledon Casino, Hotel and Spa resort?
Commercial development of the hot springs adjacent to the modern-day town of Caledon started long before the town itself. It was in 1710 that Ferdinand Appel secured a grant to the land that contained these natural springs - seven in total, of which only one spouted cold water - on condition that he built a house to accommodate invalids and other visitors.
At the turn of the 19th century, a medical doctor from Germany, John Frederick Hassner, arrived in the Cape and was employed by the VOC (Dutch East India Company) as a district surgeon for the region's hospitals and other medical facilities. When he visited the hot springs in 1804, he wasn't impressed by the neglect he saw and took an active part in getting the establishment's curative facilities in line with the more structured balneotherapy treatments found in European spas. While Hassner greatly improved the accommodation and treatments available, it was only at the turn of the 20th century that the large-scale Anthony de Witt-designed Victorian sanatorium was built.
The complex included a three-storey hotel (reminiscent of an oversized Swiss chalet); a swimming pool-sized hot mineral-water spa (still in use today); a gymnasium; separate reading, writing and billiards rooms; a grand concert hall; two dining rooms as well as tennis, croquet, bowls and golfing facilities. With the renewed public and medical interest in spa treatment in the early 1900s, the Caledon Sanatorium - apparently the main centre of Overberg social life for over 45 years - flourished until it burnt down in 1946.
But, it's the early Khoi people, who inhabited the region long before Europeans, who are credited with the discovery of these hot springs. And it was them I thought about as my girlfriend and I floated on our backs in the iron-rich (chalybeate) waters of the hotel's "secret" hot-water spring well after midnight. Great wreaths of steam reached towards the star-studded sky and I ruminated over what reverence these aboriginal people must have had for the health-giving properties of these naturally steaming waters.
It was a fitting way to finish what had been a remarkable day. While I waited for my partner to join me after work, I took myself off to the spa for a 30-minute back, neck and shoulder massage. The calm atmosphere of this excellent treatment centre is apparent the minute you step inside.
The massage left me in a totally relaxed state for the rest of the afternoon as I explored what else was on offer at this family resort. Should I have felt like it, I could have ridden horses, taken a long walk or gone for a mountain-bike ride around the 229ha property, quad-biked or fished for tilapia in one of the dams. And, had it been a few weeks later, I would have been able to swing through the surrounding treetops on a zipline with SA Forest Adventures, which now has a new adventure site at the hotel. But I was content to glide through the gardens, calm and replete in my post-massage, Zen-like state.
By no means gamblers, my partner and I hit the roulette table after dinner at the local Black Sheep Restaurant. Beginner's luck was with me as I deftly placed our chips on the outer fringes to begin with, venturing closer to the individual numbers as my meagre winnings mounted and my smile widened. Thankfully, it was the draw of nightcaps at the Satellite Bar that spurred us to quit the tables while still ahead. Of course, the lure of a midnight dip in the "secret" hot-water spring we now bathed in had played its part, too.
And unlike the changing fortunes of gambling, the only risk posed by a late-night swim is that you may never want to get out.
If you go ...
Where it is : The Caledon, Casino, Hotel & Spa is just off the N2 outside Caledon.
What it has : The hotel has 95 rooms, from superior and deluxe to luxury suites, all with good views of the gardens and the expansive Overberg. Hotel guests have free access to the original Victorian bathhouse and other selected spa facilities. The resort is family oriented with two children's play/entertainment centres and offers walking and mountain-biking trails, horse riding, quad biking, tree-top zipline tours (see http://saforestadventures.co.za) and catch-and-release tilapia fishing.
Why go there: To try your luck in the casino, relax at the spa or visit one of the many beautiful towns of the Cape Country Meander (www.capecountrymeander.co.za), of which Caledon, Greyton, Genadendal and Bot River are all within a 30km radius.
The food: Depending on the time of the week, there are up to three restaurants to choose from. The Blue Crane serves buffet-style breakfasts and dinners; The Black Sheep Diner is my pick of the lot; and Da Vinci serves pastas, pizzas, toasted sandwiches, salads and kiddies' meals.
Rates : Current specials are R900 per room per night during the week and R999 over the weekend. Both offers include accommodation for two adults and two children under 18 sharing; full buffet breakfast for two adults (children's breakfast excluded) and access to the mineral baths. Terms and conditions apply.
Contact : Call 028 214 5100 or visit www.thecaledon.co.za.