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Gyan Mundra, the thumb-to-index gesture held during the Buddhist meditative pose, is said to bring about an overwhelming sense of well-being and insight. This pose is beautifully captured in the pair of intricately carved 200-year-old Theppanom angel figures on the Thai shutter panels that greeted me as I entered the new Mai Thai Wellness Spa in Cape Town. Skilled hands and fingers are essential for a rejuvenating massage, but spacial design is also a crucial ingredient for a holistic spa experience.

Robert Sherwood — of the eponymous design studio — and partner Alberto Rodriquez have crafted an intimate inner-city sanctuary behind the building’s unassuming Cape heritage façade. The duo has transformed a dilapidated cottage into an elegant space that feels more like a private home or modern tea house than a typical spa. The property’s tiny footprint presented some challenges, but the designers worked their magic through the finishes, clever detailing, and fittings. The reception desk, for example, accentuates the entrance hall, and instead of hogging space, leads the eye to the bamboo courtyard beyond.

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From the moment I entered, I felt submerged in quiet, uncluttered luxury. Walls are panelled, painted in pale green and blue pastels, or wallpapered in subtle weave pattern and woven bamboo. Making the most efficient use of limited space, elegant floor-to-ceiling, folding timber screens divide the two front treatment rooms into four, but are easily retractable for couples’ sessions.

It’s not intended to be a day; instead, for an hour or two it offers an antidote to a quadruple-shot macchiato-filled day in the city. Treatment rooms are well-appointed, but pared down. Consultation with my Banyan Tree-trained therapist Nui happened quietly in the courtyard before my treatment, where I also had the opportunity to select the uplifting neroli and jasmine oil from the fine Harnn collection. Mai Thai is the only spa in the Cape to use the Harnn range of products, which are made with only the finest natural botanicals, inspired by the practice of traditional Asian medicine and naturopathy. Clothed traditional Thai massage is also offered, as well as a range of beauty treatments. The large sheets of the finest white linen, which replace towels covering your body as you stare down at the restored parquet floors, are a welcome touch.

There is a monastic air to the space, helped along by Sunim Borim, a Zen Buddhist monk from South Korea, who gave Mai Thai a spiritual blessing before its opening in December. I took the advice of spa manager Pitar, and completed by experience by sipping on a cup of Tichaa lemon grass and white mulberry tea, while escaping between the pages of the biography of entrepreneur Jim Thompson and his Thai silk trading company.

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