Today we share a guest blog from Helen Grange, which originally appeared on IOL in June this year. Yadah Castle, a new Hammam Spa concept just East of Pretoria, has just secured first place in the Unique Spa category in the Les Nouvelles Esthetique Spa Awards, 2016.
I once had a Turkish spa experience, and it wasn’t too comfortable. For a start, it’s wet. You are laid out on a stone platform and washed down with showers, then you are immersed in a series of hot and cold pools to get your circulation going. I admit, though, that I did a complete turnabout when I visited Yadah Castle’s new Hammam Spa, east of Pretoria. Not because I wanted to get wet, but because it took very little effort to suspend my disbelief, to imagine myself immersed in a piece of ancient Constantinople during the reign of the Ottoman Empire. It’s a place where you can spend the whole day in a state of hedonist escapism.
To explain, the Hammam Spa is the latest addition to a sprawling complex of Turkish-style buildings within turreted “castle” walls, housing Turkish restaurants, lounges, terraces and gardens, all of which conspire to set you somewhere in Istanbul. Four years in the making, the Hammam Spa literally takes you on a multi-tiered journey – from the “wet” rooms where you are cleansed and rinsed, to the treatment rooms, to a choice of five sensory lounges (one overlooking an indoor pool surrounded by mosaic-tiled walls) to a small garden where you can relax in an outdoor Jacuzzi. Or you can retreat to the castle’s rooftop terrace for sundowners. Many of the features in the spa – the taps, lanterns, furniture and artworks – were imported from Turkey by the owners, Vanessa Hacisuleyman and her Turkish husband Gokhan, who have worked tirelessly to bring their shared vision to life.
Their adjoining A’la Turka restaurant across the courtyard is equally impressive, featuring private, cushion-scattered lounges, each of them uniquely decorated, where you can host a private event, big or small. The exotic decor and art collections – Persian carpets, antique sword and knife collections, jewellery from the Middle East, brass urns and intricately crafted candelabra – along with the exquisite lighting and subtle Turkish music piped throughout, make the Yadah Castle experience truly exceptional. “We both come from the hospitality industry,” says Vanessa. “We met while working on five-star cruise liners, and I was a spa director for Royal Caribbean Cruises. Our love of travel and food led us to create our own distinct identity in this little venture, and the addition of the Hammam Spa is a dream of mine from ever since I can remember.”
The spa is fashioned after the hammams (Turkish baths) of the Ottoman Empire, infamously frequented by sultans. The traditional Turkish bath started with a period of relaxation in a room heated by a continuous flow of hot, dry air. Bathers then moved to an even hotter room before they were scrubbed and washed in cold water, using an instrument called a kese, which removes dead skin cells. They then received a massage before retiring to a cool room to relax.
You aren’t consigned to this routine, of course. Hacisuleyman has conceptualised seven different spa “journeys”, touching on experiences from all seven continents, or you can customise your own spa experience. Remembering that women usually need their hair restored to clean and dry after a spa treatment, Vanessa has added a hair salon. “You can even have your make-up done before you go back to work,” she says. A standard Hammam Spa journey includes a full body scrub, full body massage and light lunch, starting at R1950. The products used are Babor and Harnn from Thailand, and these can also be bought at a well-stocked retail shop in the spa. Personally, I would forget about work and make a day of Yadah Castle.
The food on offer at A’la Turka restaurant is a smorgasbord of Middle Eastern fare – hot and cold meze, shish kebab, falafel, dolmades, kafte, kleftiko and other mainly Turkish, Lebanese and Greek delights. You can lounge around smoking a hubbly bubbly with different flavoured tobaccos, and there is an extensive wine list to choose from. Belly dancers can also be hired for entertainment. And there is a quaint little Persian tea garden, where you would find me.
Yadah Castle and its spa is an ideal treat for women-only or men-only groups, and has become a popular destination for weddings and corporate groups.
The Hacisuleymans are now planning a hotel to turn it into a full tourist experience. “Lots of people who’ve spent the day here have expressed a desire to be accommodated overnight, so there is a demand out there,” says Vanessa. “The idea of Yadah Castle has always been to take you on a journey, without having to leave town, where you can immerse yourself in an exotic culture far away from the stresses of your own daily life.”
It works for me, and I’m even prepared to get wet if need be.