From Port Elizabeth to Cape Town, Lucy Cleland checks into four gems along South Africa’s Garden Route.
Where to Stay along South Africa’s Garden Route
Addo Elephant Park, Port Elizabeth
Long Hope Villa is a 1930s original homestead, in traditional colonial style, bang slap in the bush, outside of whose fence you’re at your own risk (unless you fancy your chances against a lion), but from its shady verandah, G&T in hand, you can watch any type of indigenous game – zebras, warthogs, kudus… the only backdrop sound being the symphony of grasshoppers and maybe, if you listen hard enough, the mild chomping of the resident tortoise. With three bedrooms, it’s perfect for a family or group of friends (River Bend is one of a handful of African lodges that welcome children of any age and has just won Best Luxury Lodge in Africa for the second year running), the main lodge is a few hundred metres down the road and accommodates 16 guests. Addo Elephant Park is a national park, meaning every creature within its 40,000 acres is native, and unlike private game reserves, which can be known to truck in ample supplies of the Big Five for gawping tourists, you won’t find an animal out of place here. So that means no giraffe, no hippo, no springbok, but does mean elephant, white-tailed mongoose, buffalo, lion and, if you’re very lucky, a sighting of the rare black rhino. Take a game drive in a big open-topped 4×4 with Darlington and have a nature lesson like no other. Find out why zebras have stripes; the critical role of the dung beetle and why the Addo female elephants are the only type not to have tusks; you’ll follow fresh lion prints and stop on the mountain top for sundowners and a view stretching as far as the eye can see. All of this without almost any other vehicle around. River Bend is the only lodge in the park to have access to its own private 14,000 acres. Back home, tuck into a home-cooked meal from Sam, while Moses liberally fills your wine glass. This is a taste of old-fashioned Africa at its very best, albeit with some of the best wifi in the country.
BOOK IT: From 19,469 ZAR (around £1,155) per night (sleeps up to six) fully inclusive, with two daily game drives. longhopevilla.co.za
De Hoop Nature Reserve, Swellendam
You’re literally at the edge of the earth when you reach Morukuru Ocean House having negotiated a long gravel road (ideally in a 4×4), to an off-grid, four-bedroom, private eco hideaway in De Hoop Nature Reserve on the southern tip of the Cape. Three thousand miles across the Indian Ocean straight ahead and you’ll hit Antartica. Constructed just four years ago, the interiors, by Dutch designer Janine Feikes-Butter, are exquisite; a build of minimal footprint but maximum impact from its driftwood sculptures with opaque glass jar ends suspended from them and a wall of South African sculptor Lionel Smit’s African faces to its huge open fires, detached baths and endless cosy seating areas to soak in that awe-inspiring view, which is all yours. You may not realise it but you will when you head out for a walk with Calvin who, along with his wife Cheré and a crack team, tend to your every need, that you’re in a very unique environment indeed. The Cape Floral Kingdom is just one of the world’s 18 biodiversity hot spots, taking up only 0.04 percent of the world’s land area, yet containing an incredible three percent of its plant species, making it one of the richest areas for plants in the world. It’s not just the land that’s protected around here, the sea is too, so during the season from around June to November, whale watching will become your sport, with no interference from tourist or fishing boats. Days here will be spent being as active or lazy as you like, but you should be encouraged to go rock pooling with Calvin, sandsurfing on the dunes followed by a sundowner and a homemade samosa, and then top it all off with a soak in the southernmost hot tub in Africa before dinner of rack of lamb, potatoes dauphinoise and seasonal veg, eaten outside in front of a crackling fire. A short drive away, and opening this July, you’ll find Morukuru Beach Lodge, a five-room lodge along the same ethos as the house, so now more visitors will get to sample this other-worldly environment. Lucky them.
BOOK IT: Exclusive use at Morukuru Ocean House from approx. 34,000 SAR (around £6,472) per night for six guests, fully inclusive. morukuru.com
Pin drop silence punctuated by glorious birdsong (in particular the unmistakable squawk of the Hadeda Ibis) and a landscape unrivalled in beauty (vineyards, mountains, fruit trees, all in lush, lush green), welcome to South Africa’s wine region, and more specifically La Clé des Montagnes, and its four impeccably stylish Franschhoek villas, where you can settle down in peace and privacy amid a working wine estate. It’s no wonder Annie Lennox books in faithfully every year, it’s a pinch- yourself-that-you’re-not-dreaming kind of place with Instagram-worthy interiors: think ikat-covered sofas, wicker chairs with squashy cushions, a rich palette of burnt sienna, ochre and mustard yellow with punchy coloured accents and rich textures, inside-outside living, coffee tables piled high with hardback books, agapanthus- filled borders, gardens and a swimming pool. Charming staff are there to provide as much or as little as you like – they whip up some mean French toast and bacon for breakfast, along with Greek yoghurt, fresh fruit salad and warm croissants and can cater for a dinner party or pick up a takeaway pizza from the local Italian, the choice is yours. Food and, of course, wine, are at the heart of any visit here and you’ll be spoilt for choice (if, that is, you can bear to tear yourself away from your villa). Just five minutes’ walk away and you’re in the heart of the chichi little town with more than its fair share of South Africa’s 100 best restaurants. Our pick? La Petit Ferme (brilliant for children), and slightly further afield, Babel, at glorious working farm Babylonstoren – but you must book in advance. You really cannot fail here.
BOOK IT: Timbuktu allows travellers to add La Clé Villas to any of its itineraries, from £330pp per night. timbuktutravel.com
A vast green lung in the middle of the city, the ‘Nelly’ is a marshmallow pink oasis set in nine acres of beautiful gardens dotted with sculptures and local wildfowl, and crawling with white roses and floribunda hibiscus trees; there are two swimming pools (one adults only), tennis courts and magnificent views of Table Mountain from some of its 196 rooms. It feels more like a country club than a city hotel thanks to its English afternoon tea on the terrace that rivals that of the Ritz (better weather guaranteed and you should try their Tea Sommelier experience; who knew there was so much to know about the humble cuppa?) and its overwhelming sense of space. For something stronger, take a pink gin cocktail – this year, the hotel celebrates 100 years since it was daubed pink in celebration of the end of the Second World War – and soak in all that history that seeps through pretty much every nook and cranny. Wander into the Churchill Writing Room, where the former PM spent time during the Boer War as a war correspondent and then inspect the portrait of Nelson Mandela by resident artist Cyril Coetzee, who can paint your portrait too should you wish. For nearly 120 years, this gentle grande dame has attracted everyone from local movers and shakers to the world’s A-listers, drawn to its innate sense of gracious ease, an iconic background to over a century of history.
BOOK IT: Doubles from £350 B&B. belmond.com