Sometimes what seems at face value like a fad or too-good-to-be-true marketing ploy turns out to be a novel way to get your muscles pummelled. Even if there’s not a hope in hell of a happy ending, there’s nothing to beat an energising massage to recharge your batteries before a busy weekend. Especially if your idea of bliss is walking out into the world with a body that feels revitalised, retuned, and ready to take on anything. Hg2 Cape Town co-author Keith Bain recently surrendered his will to the Mother City’s latest, most intelligent massage joint, and came out de-stressed and glowing… just in time for a weekend of rollicking madness.
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Avalon 3, 123 Hope Street (parking: Gate 2, Schoonder Rd.), Gardens, City Bowl
Tel: 021 461 5650
The concept is genius. Remove the aura of pretentiousness and irritation of forward-planning out of the contemporary Western spa routine, and instead offer massage as one of life’s little necessities, and you have the start of something brilliant. Cape Town has its tried-and-tested slew of excellent spas, most of them offering the usual suspects in terms of treatments and services; but there’s a new kid on the block that’s dared to dream up something innovative, unconventional, and altogether appealing. And, as with many of life’s novelties, there’s a story…
Feeling the effects of a heavy night out, Murray von Hirshberg woke up at a fancy Cape Town hotel one morning several years ago, his hangover-addled body screaming for a massage. A call to the in-house spa proved useless—they didn’t open till much later and their oversubscribed treatment rooms were booked up. Typical! He phoned virtually every spa in town and was dismayed by the sheer lack of availability. Beaten, but not defeated, Murray—then a banker working in New York—dreamt up a solution. What if you could get a massage at short notice, without tedious pre-booking, without the long-winded build-up of getting naked, waiting for a private room, and then being slavered with oil that would require time and effort to slough off after the fact? What if massage could genuinely become a way of life, rather than a luxury requiring you to book a place weeks in advance?
Murray dreamt up something novel and vital—a no-nonsense inner-city sanctuary offering easy-to-procure, hassle-free, 100 per cent professional relaxation treatments without the tedium of advance reservations or the make-believe of high-price luxury. Everyone deserves a bit of pampering now and again, and Cape Town’s innovative new massage centre, Enmasse (Avalon 3, 123 Hope Street, Gardens; Tel: 021 461 5650), makes that sentiment a reality.
I’ve had my muscles pummelled in some spectacularly luxurious spaces, often with luscious scents and enough flickering candles to hypnotize an elephant (not to mention all those shrill background sounds engineered to lull me to sleep). But this is amongst the more comfortable and peaceful environments I’ve experienced, without the cloying snootiness of certain self-styled pleasure parlours where play-play glamour combines with tepid, lacklustre prodding that threatens to bore you to death at any moment.
Offering only Thai massage, shiatsu and reflexology, Enmasse isn’t about a long, unfathomable menu of clever-sounding wraps and oils and dripping candles. Nor is it about over-the-top individual therapy rooms that often look a whole lot sexier than the reality of the physical attention you end up receiving. Instead, while you get all the bells and whistles in terms of professionally-trained practitioners, folks at Enmasse hold back on the needless fripperies and perceived luxuries, with massage (assisted stretching, deep tissue treatment, and body alignment) being the central focus.
Which is not to say that they don’t provide plenty of alluring extras—one of Cape Town’s finest selections of teas; a personal massage wardrobe that not only feels good against your skin, but is lightly doused in a bespoke therapeutic scent; even their website is a godsend (www.enmasse.co.za; check out their ‘Matrix’ page for a dynamic overview of what’s hot and what’s not in the Mother City psyche right now)—but simply that they understand where their core responsibility lies.
There’s no nudity or oil, either. After changing into Thai-style white cotton pyjamas you head upstairs where a slightly futuristic atmosphere of deep blue walls and smartly cordoned off semi-private massage areas are divvied up using a clever system of screens. It’s superbly simple, and that somehow adds to the relaxation value of the overall experience; and while the funky good looks are strikingly modern, the room you’re in dates back over a century—fifty years ago, this was The Avalon Hotel. The space is masculine and sensual—it’s been planned to a refreshingly functional aesthetic with a contemporary Eastern influence; lots of bold, straight lines and handsome, subdued lighting that hints at the future of soothing design.
It isn’t about listening to mind-numbing hypnotic tunes, either. An intelligent soundtrack of relatively upbeat, listenable tracks is piped in, making the aural experience as pleasant as the massage, and—as Murray reiterates—“steers clear of the clichés of ‘The Mating Call of the Southern Right Whale, Volume 2’ which can be such an offence to any discerning listener”.
On my first visit, my therapist—a gracious Mauritian woman—had a deft, exacting way with her hands and feet, and a seek-and-destroy policy with the many knots that had settled along my spine from too many days hunched over the laptop. It was a personalized experience, refreshing and deeply therapeutic rather than merely a feel-good surface routine. I emerged in a state of heightened awareness; blissful, energized, and ready for action. That hour-long session made me an instant addict, eagerly anticipating my next session.
My second foray was with a male masseuse; nimble-fingered, thorough, and a whizz with stretching and alignment, Hakim—another import, this time from the northern part of Virginia—had a repertoire of special moves surely gifted from the gods. Even when the most sensitive pressure points are located and probed, the momentary pain is worth the lasting relief that follows. Bliss, I tell you.
And once the hour is up, there’s no rush to vacate the treatment area—you’re welcome to lie, to sleep, for as long as you wish. And, once downstairs, there’s a selection of nearly 50 artisanal teas on offer. You can brew up a storm, relaxing in the tea lounge at your leisure, meditating on your next treatment, browsing magazines, or simply sniffing the teas you’ve yet to sample.
What’s even more unconventional is the ridiculously low prices Enmasse is charging. Sign up for membership, and you can pay as little as R225 for an hour-long massage—leaving virtually no excuse not to always feel on top of the world, making massage a regular part of your life, just as it should be.
And here’s some more welcome relief: They’re open seven days a week, from 8am through 10pm. Hallelujah!