Cool water trickles over my right hand, sending an invigorating shiver through my body. My eyes are closed, palm pressed flat against the mossy granite wall of a dribbling waterfall. The crisp morning air smells alive with earthy scents emanating from the damp soil, dewy ferns and towering pines. A shaft of sunlight breaks through the canopy, causing my eyelids to flicker. I peek through one eye, noting how the light is spilling down the surrounding ravine, illuminating the granite towers like a natural cathedral. My forest-bathing guide interrupts my reverie. “What is nature telling us?” she asks rhetorically.
At Future Found Sanctuary, a regenerative retreat tucked away in the foothills of Cape Town’s Table Mountain, experiences such as this one are designed to help you slow down—which is not my forte. I’ve been coming to Cape Town for nearly a decade to attend an annual tourism conference. In the past, I’d tack on some grand adventure: kite surfing in Madagascar, a walking safari in Zimbabwe.
But the pandemic made me realize how much my body and mind were craving rest. As the world slowly re-opened, my pace went from 0 to 100, and by spring 2022 I found myself overwhelmed and stressed. So this year, I booked a three-day, two-night stay here. If I couldn’t relax in vast landscapes of the African bush, I wondered, would this be any different?
The seven-acre property was originally the home of American businessman Jim Brett, a former CEO of J. Crew. Between a string of demanding jobs and life in New York City, Brett longed to spend time in nature and acquired the land in 2014. The rich setting opened his eyes to a pace of living more in tune with Earth’s natural rhythms—rise with the sun, wind down at sunset. To share his experience with others, he built a second villa, plus a spa, and opened the compound to the public at the end of 2021.
Next year, Future Found will introduce themed group retreats. But for now, each stay is bespoke and draws on the wisdom of a team of experts, including a sound therapist, a breath-work guru and the University of Cape Town’s director of sleep science, Dale Rae, Ph.D. Based on an email exchange covering my stress and fatigue, Romy Paull, the resort’s director of wellness, crafted an itinerary rooted in rest, nourishment and mind-body realignment.
Three days is not a lot of time for transformation. Tension melts from my muscles during a restorative yin yoga session, but my mind is still racing. I remain on my mat for a sound-bath ceremony, a concept even stranger than forest bathing and which, to my disappointment, does not involve a tub. The instructor is seated on a sheepskin mat in front of a dozen quartz bowls. The setting feels a bit cult-like, but as she starts to rotate a mallet around the rims of each bowl, melodious tones lull my brain into a deeply restorative state. I feel my nervous system downshift from fight-or-flight to rest-and-digest mode.
My second day, I’m up before sunrise for the forest-bathing session. Paull took a six-month certification course in biomimicry in which she trained to look for lessons in nature that can apply to human advancement. (For skeptics, the real-world results of this practice include Velcro, based on burdock burrs.) She encourages me to do the same by noting that fulvic acids, which create microbiome-rich forest soil, have also been shown to support gut health. I worry she’ll ask me to eat dirt, but luckily my morning is focused on how trees are the lungs of the planet and why we should pay more attention to the quality of our breath.
That afternoon, I attend a conscious-breath-work class. We breathe without thinking every day, but forcefully inhaling and exhaling for 75 minutes straight takes serious effort and leaves me feeling delightfully high. Later I get more acquainted with the soil during a rasul treatment. I enter a steam room and apply a salt scrub, then rinse and slather thick mud over my skin and hair. The mud hardens, and an herbal-infused steam clouds the room. I relax in the scents of eucalyptus and lavender and after 25 minutes, “rain” from the ceiling washes me clean, leaving my skin baby soft.
My final evening, I’m treated to a four-course dinner in the healing garden. As I sip a cocktail made of local botanical gin and sceletium (a native succulent the indigenous San peoples used as a mood enhancer), I’m taught how to weave endemic shrubs into a botanical crown. We dine in silence, other than Paull’s occasional prompts to experience the food through all five senses. For the first half of the meal, I’m acutely self-conscious of the loud crunching sound that follows each bite of asparagus. I have flashbacks to childhood punishment at the dinner table. By the main course, I hear birdsong rather than the sound of my chewing, and it feels indulgent rather than awkward to get lost in the flavors of my food without having to make small talk.
I leave the next afternoon feeling a sense of renewal and calm that I wouldn’t have gotten from a few solo hikes up Table Mountain. The meditative time in nature, the pampering and the organic meals all helped, but the game changer was Paull’s gentle guidance to tune in to my surroundings. All the remedies I needed were right in front of me—I simply had to look and listen. Prices start from about $400 per night