Before I go on with the review, I want to stress a few things:
1) I didn't set out to go to Ukuthula when I was booking my trip to South Africa. After all, it was a business trip, and I was supposed to be in Johannesburg for 2 weeks, which I had planned to pretty much spend in Sandton the whole time. However, while there, I heard of the place via a friend who lives in Jo'burg and had been there once before, and decided to give it a try during the week-end between my 2 weeks' stay.
2) Also, this is a spa, with a small lodge facility, not a typical hotel, and most people who go there make it a day trip (given the distance to Jo'burg). I believe the lodge is made of only 3 guest rooms. So, if you decide to go on a spur of the moment (like me), you may not have the same luck (i.e. the rooms may be all booked).
3) While the spa is everything one could expect in terms of service and quality of massage, it is a "bush" spa. That means that your surroundings very much respect the "bushy" environment; (and you'll see what I mean from the pictures). The "decor" and scenery really take advantage of the vegetation and overall "wild" nature of the South African bush, which is a PLUS in my book. But some may expect a spa "a-la-Marriott", or Sheraton, i.e. totally sanitized and impersonal, and if so, you will be disappointed.
Now, what did I like about the place:
First, it's less than 1 hour away from Johannesburg. So, if you want to make it a day trip, it's totally doable (although, for the life of me, I'd hate to have to get in a car and drive -even for 1 hour-, after getting such a wonderful treatment!). I want to perpetuate the feeling by lounging on a chair and letting the sun caress my face, than facing motorists on the N1 (or any highway).
Second, the rooms are decorated with local, "bush-type" of furniture, except a huge bathtub in one of the 3 rooms (the one we got) and which will definitely tempt you in making memories of your own, if you happen to be with a significant other.
Third, the property is attractive and quite big: so if you want to do some walking in the morning, you can put quite a good work-out. My only worry (but that's not the reason I didn't walk when I was there), is that this is the bush; so there's no telling what you may stumble upon, although the property seems quite secure, and I don't think there are wild animals in the immediate surrounding. I personally was not in the mood for exercise after a spa treatment: it just goes against the grain in my book, to do any exercise after such sinful pampering.
Fourth, the spa treatment. I got a massage that made me want to stay on that table and never get up. I actually dozed off a bit during the massage, and when the lady woke me up, I felt like my body was in another state or planet altogether. It's like I was a different person. Of course, that's what a good massage is supposed to do to you. But I have had other massages, where I came out sore and suffered throughout (so never got an opportunity to doze off). Maybe some people like the massages that hurt, I just don't.
Fifth (and in my view this is the best attribute), the small number of rooms. This is relevant only if you decide to stay overnight. The owner, Gaelle, is a hostess like no other, and given that there are only a handful of rooms, the meals are taken by all "guests" together. If you are a recluse and would rather not socialize with the other guests, than this may not be for you, and you're better off just having the spa treatment and be on your merry way. However, as I like to exchange with people from all walks of life, I was glad to have lunch, dinner (and breakfast the next morning) with other guests. Actually, we were still a small group. We were 4, plus the hostess who joined us. It was really cozy, and now I wish I could experience this in all hotels where I go... Alas, unlikely!
Sixth: peace and quietness. We watch the sun setting on the wildnerneess. There's a lot that's been said about sunset on the sea/beach, but watching the sun taking its last rays on this immense and untamed form of nature is something else. I hope I'll be able to upload the pics.
Seven: prices. People pay $$$$ to go in places like this. Yet, the spa plus room & board and the food came to a ridiculous price (won't tell you how much). I intend to go spoil myself again every time I'm in South Africa. As far as bush spas are concerned, it can hardly get better than that.
Now what someone may have a problem with:
1) No Fitness Center: I didn't have a problem with it. As I said, I could have had a serious walk if I wanted to (and maybe in the process get lost on the property). But I was there to rest, not to work out.
2) Remote location: you need a car to get in and if you want to get out. The entrance gate is quite a distance away from the actual facilities (spa and lodge). But let's be honest: if you're going to the bush, you expect to be in a remote location. Otherwise, you might as well stay in the city.
3) No internet: again, if you're a tech junkie and need to stay connected 24/7, you might go into withdrawal, (although my smartphone was on roaming and picked up the signal from the only company whose signal arrives there, but I actually turned it off). But if you are with a particular carrier, and it's not that one, well... you know... I heard the owner saying that she's looking into installing internet, but for me, it was better not to have all the work problems intruding in my retreat. It made it even a better getaway than I initially bargained for.
I am a city girl at heart and on any given day, I enjoy marble bathrooms, room service, bellboys and minibars when I'm in city/business hotels. But for a real bush experience, give me something like Ukuthula and I'll be the happiest gal.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Each room looks over the leeuwkloof valley and has a terrasse.Bathroom with shower and/or bath and toilets. ... more less