06 February, 2014

Citrusdal Victorian spa

by Diana Studer
- gardening for biodiversity

We had lived in Porterville for three years, but only in December 2009 did we discover, to our unexpected surprise, this Victorian gem. We were out to lunch celebrating a wedding anniversary.

At Citrusdal Victorian spa in December 2009

From Elephant’s Eye head north towards Clanwilliam. Thru the wheat fields, which have been harvested and are dry stubble, scattered with small square and huge round bales of straw. Cross the Olifantsriverberge over the Piekenierskloof pass, with a spectacular view back over the wide valley separating Porterville and Piketberg, to our neighbouring town Citrusdal. Instead of wheat fields, here you will be surrounded by orange groves. Farm stalls sell pockets of oranges, and   naartjies (Christmas stocking mandarins, easy peelers). Then follow the Olifants River back towards where you came from. Past the orange orchards, with fynbos patches between and beyond the farmlands, up the slopes. To The Baths. We were hoping for lunch, and friends had stayed there recently, so...

Dormer windows at Citrusdal spa  

Turn off, through ‘a stitch in time’ and find yourself in a Victorian spa. There are the original buildings, the main house and a Victorian hotel, some small cottages. And a modern wing, double storey to meld with the original buildings. Happy campers too. Built in 2003 to celebrate the centenary of the McGregor family owners, the restaurant has a deck over the river in the shade of many green trees and a lush, almost subtropical, garden. These modern buildings are not mock Victorian kitsch, but they are in peaceful sympathy and gracious harmony with the true Victorians.

And we did enjoy our lunch (vegetarian, and with a choice, so far from anywhere!)

To the pool at Citrusdal, sourced from natural hot springs

The spa itself has two large swimming pools. The first one, too hot to put your hand in. No swimmers on this sunny December day, but imagine a cold winter day, with snow on the mountains! Then the second pool with perhaps twenty people, this one was just pleasantly lukewarm, blood heat. There are also rooms where you can fill a huge bath and wallow in private, thinking Victorian thoughts.

Thinking Victorian at Citrusdal

It was our good fortune that the first and only time we were there, the jacarandas and bougainvilleas were smothered in an unbroken wave of flowers.

Originally published December 2009 when Frances of Faire Garden wrote - My grandfather died in the flu of 1918 as well, in Oklahoma. What widespread devastation that flu caused. The hot springs must be therapeutic, for they come from the earth. There is a similar looking building in the Ozark mountains of Arkansas that we used to visit when I was younger. The same architecture and time of being built, without the romantic background history, but the same warm springs from the mountains. We are more alike than we realize, even with the great distance between us!

Jacaranda and Bougainvillea at Citrusdal spa in December 2009

Extract from 'Taking the Waters' by Hazel Hall 

The San, or Bushmen were indigenous to the area, and they used this hot spring as a pivotal life source for many years. Evidence of this can be found in the rock art found near The Baths. Because their physical and spiritual worlds were so intertwined, the San would have harnessed supernatural power from the hot water for healing purposes. In 1739 the place was first mentioned in VOC (Dutch East India Company) documents. Many respected Cape families patronized The Baths including botanists Carl Thunberg (the father of South African Botany) and Francis Masson (the English gardener from Kew). The Olifants River Syndicate had big plans to build a railway tunnel through the mountains from Porterville into the valley, but the Anglo Boer War intervened. James McGregor was a remarkable man, but when he rode down over the mountains, a short, stocky Scot in a crumpled hat and veldskoene   with his goods piled on a wagon, no one would have believed it. He married the beautiful Lenie van Wyk, whose family had farmed in the district for generations. They made him promise, with his marriage vows, that he would never take her to his foreign land over the sea. It was his two younger sons, William and James, who took over The Baths from their father. But in 1918 tragedy struck with the highly infectious Spanish flu epidemic. They both died within six days of each other and thus The Baths ended up in the hands of their seven sisters, and have stayed in the McGregor family to this day. James McGregor and his descendants have brought The Baths into the twenty-first century without disturbing the timeless peace and beauty of the Cederberg.

Pictures by Diana and Jurg Studer
of Elephant's Eye
(in Porterville, near Cape Town in South Africa)

(If you mouse over brown text,
it turns shriek pink. Those are my links.
To read or leave comments, 
either click the word Comments below, 
or click this post's title)


  1. A stunningly beautiful area.
    Jane x

  2. The Victorians are very under valued sometimes. Fashion comes and goes, and at the moment, in the uk noone seems to love the architecture, furniture or art. I love it all, I'm afraid ! Citrusdal Spa buildings seem to sit beautifully in their landscape, and to be in harmony with it. Looks a fantastic place to stay.

  3. I want to be there right now. Warm springs, Bougainvillea, Jacaranda, warmth, sunshine...

  4. I enjoyed reading the history of The Baths. It is amazing that they have remained in the same family for all these years. the Mcgregors have done a wonderful job of maintaining the Victorian spirit. The Jacaranda and Bougainvillea are breathtaking. What a great place to take away the tension!

    1. A place both of its own time, and of of our time.

  5. What a beautiful place! It sounds like you had a wonderful time.
    I'm glad you liked the little video from Sweden about tulips.
    xoxo Ingrid

  6. I'd love to be in those warm waters right now with nothing to do but relax. It's good to hear the family has taken care of it.

  7. What a gorgeous place! Looks so warm, beautiful, and inviting. Seems perfect for resting and relaxing. And amazing that the descendants are still running it! Seven sisters and two brothers - wow!

  8. You going to miss your rural surrounds and places like this once you are in CT

  9. I enjoyed the history you've shared of this gorgeous place... but most of all, I enjoyed thoughts of relaxing in the warmth of those soothing waters. Thank you for sharing this gem with us!

  10. Diane, the Bougainvillea and Jacaranda make me crave for the summer right now. Amazing photos, such a beautiful light and color...

  11. Fabulous story of this beautiful spa...it is indeed a gem to be preserved.


Photographs and Copyright

Photographs are from Diana Studer or Jurg Studer.
My Canon PowerShot A490

If I use your images or information, it will be clearly acknowledged with either a link to the website, or details of the book. If you use my images or words, I expect you to acknowledge them in turn.

Midnight in Darkest Africa

Midnight in Darkest Africa
For real time, click on the map.