* This article first appeared here in Southern Vines Magazine
As much as we’d love to be exploring excitingly exotic destinations, for now, those green passports are confined to the safe. As South Africans we’ve been given an invitation to rediscover our beloved country, so I’ve shortlisted eight of my top luxe stays that are eager to show that local is luxuriously lekker.
Cape Town & Surrounds
As the Mother City begins to welcome international visitors again, her arms are always wide open to South Africans. Embrace the outdoors with an alfresco meal or wine tasting at Steenberg Estate, a walk to Cape Point’s secluded Dias Beach or breathe in the fynbos-scented air on Table Mountain.
While a dazzle of glitzy hotels hug Cape Town’s shoreline, my top choice is a relative newcomer – but one of the most impressive hotels I’ve visited in the country. In the historic heart of the city, I invite you to encounter a discreet elegance unlike anything else: Labotessa. Set on the city’s scenic Church Square, is a 17th century heritage building transformed into a high-end boutique hotel with seven suites.
With a highly-experienced hospitality record, owner and manager Johan du Plessis has clearly seen enough to know what works; every box is ticked – with a few you never knew even existed. The ground floor features a charming café and terrace, a Diptyque Fragrance Boutique, and then a mezzanine floor with a reception area. The experience is akin to being welcomed into a finest of homes rather. Each of the six glamourous Signature Suites have direct and controlled elevator access, and with glorious city views the Presidential Suite is the property’s crowning glory spanning an impressive 310sqm.
Labotessa is a reminder that small is by no means insignificant, and as travel resumes smaller boutique offerings will be first preference for many. This extraordinary property’s refurbishment has come with mindful respect to the buildings 1700s heritage and is the closest I’ve ever felt to a European hotel in South Africa. labotessa.com
Stellenbosch’s Quoin Rock wines and famed eatery Gåte are already of such high distinction that it’s almost imaginable that, for discerning guests in need of a hideaway, the property has another surprise. A private drive takes you to the uppermost slopes of Simonsberg, to Quoin Rock’s Manor House, which safely clinches the spot as my most desired Winelands escape.
Everything about the Manor House, from décor, service, garden to location – all confer an air of sophistication, feeling as if you’ve truly left earth for heaven. The Manor House departs from the avant-garde styling of the winery below and embraces the Cape Dutch heritage with timeless and classical elegance. The austere grandeur of the property does not come at an expense to its provenance. Both the architecture and extensively manicured gardens continuously point to the exterior; a fitting tribute to Simonsberg Mountain which rises so proudly behind.
At its heart Quoin Rock hospitality speaks to the essential desire to be understood. With a carefully hand-picked team your needs are often met before having them voiced. When you’re not dining at Gåte, your private chef will make sure your every culinary need is surpassed. The Manor house is available for exclusive use up to 14 guests. quoinrock.co.za/manor-house
Durban and Surrounds
For sun-seekers Durban presents a very convincing case; only three years ago South Africa’s sunshine city was voted 83rd best quality of living for any city globally. Yes, Capetonians, trumping the Mother City Town by 11 spots…
Enjoy the recent promenade upgrade and amble from the Durban Harbour mouth to Blue Lagoon. Shaka Marine World, the Ice Arena and the Moses Mabhida Stadium’s Skycar or 220m Big Swing offer active family fun. Lookout for the lesser-known Inanda Heritage Route: a collection of historical hot-spots including Gandhi’s home and the Ohlange Institute where Mandela voted in the first democratic elections.
THE OYSTER BOX HOTEL
If you’ve visited this iconic uMhlanga’s establishment you’ll understand why it has just been awarded the number one resort hotel in Africa by Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards. An ode to seaside-luxury in one of the finest locations to lap up the sunshine and enjoy year-round bathing. This grand dame of an establishment had her humble beginnings in 1954 followed by the legendary Tollman family purchase in the late 2000s, she received a facelift and a rather impressive wardrobe change.
The iconic red and white striped pool-scene sits just above the trendy uMhlanga promenade and is flanked by the similarly toned lighthouse. Make sure to also indulge in a visit to the Spa where the Hamman is every bit impressive as it is relaxing. I’d recommend you follow this with a green tea, slowly sipped from the comfort of your ocean-facing veranda.
You’d best come hungry to The Oyster Box as a selection of exquisite dining spaces on offer, each presenting persuasive menu options from Sushi, to Pizza and Seafood to Curries. Unmissable is the hotel’s well-loved High Tea experience, served on High Tea stands tableside. The lavishly tropical Palm Court is the setting for this daily sweet spectacle, which includes live piano music. oysterboxhotel.com
At six o’clock the bell rings, and G&Ts are served on the veranda of the gracious Manor House. A little later guests are escorted to their tables where the chef talks you through the evening’s enticing meal which is not only seasonal but varies daily depending on what is available. After several courses of fine dining, its soon apparent why Hartford House offers possibly the pièce de resistance of KZN’s dining scene.
Accommodation is offered in rooms in the Manor House, Heritage verandah rooms, free standing garden suites or in luxury lake side suites. In an area often touted as the last British outpost, you can expect to find the humble charm, gentle hills and polite hospitality so intrinsic to the area’s English namesake.
Hartford House is proudly set on Summerhill Equestrian Farm, one of the country’s most prominent thoroughbred stud farms – only a stone’s throw from Mooi River. When you’re not strolling the magnificent gardens of the green-hilled property, a myriad of small craft shops and other curiosities await you on the Midlands Meander. Hartford has used the enforced break for a refurbishment and will soon be home to some exciting new additions. It may just be time to head for the hills. hartford.co.za
The bustling business capital of South Africa, for all her challenges, is unmistakably energising and irrevocably edgy. For dining be sure to check out Aurum in Sandton’s new Leonardo skyscraper, Chef Daivd Higg’s Marble and Pata Pata for a local Maboneng eatery. Honest Travel Experiences is a tour company offering off the beaten track cultural experiences, and also consider the Neighbourhood Goods Market and Victoria Yards for weekend entertainment.
FOUR SEASONS HOTEL THE WESTCLIFF
As the golf cart slowly winds up the cobblestoned streets it’s hard to imagine that you’re not in a secluded Italian village, but rather in the heart of Johannesburg. Hotelier legends Four Seasons are the proud custodians of the hotel – their only property in South Africa. Johannesburg’s historic ‘Parks’ suburbs form a green residential corridor between the city and Sandton, and this iconic establishment straddles one of their ridges giving expansive views of the third biggest man-made forest in the world.
The hotel offers a safe-haven and luxury space to recharge in-between business or exploring the city. Flames Restaurant is the hotel’s popular dining space and has hosted many a celebration in the city’s history. Elegant seating options are available inside, and on the outside terrace where every evening flocks of Sacred Iris crest the ridge above and then glide down into the parks below – be sure to have cocktail and camera ready. Several private dining spaces, perfect for those special events, are also available with the unmistakable city views that only Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff can offer. fourseasons.com/johannesburg
THABA ECO HOTEL
If business or pleasure takes you to Joburg but you’re looking for a little refuge outside the city, the Thaba Eco Hotel is a short 20-minute drive and offers luxury accommodation in their spacious grounds. Opt for the deluxe Bushveld suites which are set in clusters along one of the property’s ridges. These eco-friendly blocks are designed to leave as little impact on the environment as possible, with no expense to design. The chic apartments feature floor-to-ceiling glass windows on two sides giving 180 degree views of the surroundings. In summer, prepare to watch the passing thunderstorms from the safety of your veranda.
The hotel offers in-house Eco-Drives drives through their acres of bush, where you get up close with the fauna and flora, along with a given a green education by the game ranger. The space is also a bonus for mountain bike enthusiasts and fellow trail runners who have kilometres of wilderness to explore. Kraal restaurant offers delicious dining and at sunset the E|Bar is the place to be seen. thabahotel.co.za
The Wild Coast must surely be the Eastern Cape’s pride, with pristine untouched beaches, and dunes and cliffs that rise from inland and then tumble dramatically into the ocean. In the cosy Chintsa, enjoy a game drive at Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve, a beer tasting at Emerald Vale Brewery or a beach outride with Wild Coast Horse Riding Adventures.
While the tropical forests of the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast conceal many a secret hideaway, there’s one luxury staycation that deserves mention. Barely 30-minutes from East London’s airport and you’ll discover Chintsa on the accessible end of the Wild Coast stretch. Prana Lodge is a five-star establishment and the minute you drive through gates you know you’re in for something special.
The eight luxury and incredibly spacious suites each boast a private garden and plunge pool, and are connected to the lodge through a series of enchanting walkways which wind gently through the dune forest. When the ocean beckons, it’s a short walk to the 17-acre private beach estate. Prepare for an understated elegance that is surprisingly at home in the middle of the forest. Both the dining and spa experiences are in keeping with the refined ethos of the lodge. No wonder guests travel from so far to experience it. pranalodge.co.za
One of South Africa’s most prized assets is our wildlife heritage. With no shortage of slick lodges to choose from in Kruger’s wildlife mecca, make sure that you pick from the best as you take in the wildlife haven.
If its large expanses of exclusive wilderness that you’re after, Ngala Private Game Reserve has exclusive traversing rights on 14 700 hectares of wilderness land. That’s a suitably large piece of land to explore by either safari vehicle or on foot, of course without having to share your piece of wilderness with anyone else. Kids are welcome and will revel in ANDBEYOND’s WILDchild programme, and for the conservation-curious there’s even the possibility of participating in a Rhino notching experience (the darting then tagging of a Rhino via chopper for research and security purposes).
Remember that one of the beauties of a luxury safari is that not only are all meals included; your activities are also planned out without requiring any effort from you. It’s simply a case of sit back and enjoy the ride. Ngala offers an elegant Safari Lodge or for a more remote but no-less-chic the Tented Camp option. One of the Ngala’s newest additions is the three-storied treehouse – already becoming a sought-after luxury sleep-out experience. My sense is that the social-distancing and open-air elements of a safari experience are going to be in high demand as travel reopens. andbeyond.com
The Garden Route’s is South Africa’s much-loved green corridor and two of its favourite towns offer chic stays in historic properties.
THE TURBINE HOTEL
The Turbine is a masterful embrace of both heritage and innovation. On Knysna’s Thesen Island a decommissioned power station is now home to a quirky and classy five-star boutique hotel. 26 individually appointed suites await to welcome you into their luxe sanctuaries; perfect for winding down in-between exploring the town and surrounding area. As a result of the eclectic industrial elements popping up, The Turbine possesses a distinctive funk that is aesthetically pleasing without detracting from the luxury stay.
Of course, not only is the building a showstopper but equally the views out over the waterways. My suggestion is to request a room on a higher story, and trust me, you won’t want to leave your veranda. Through the Turbine Water Club, sunset cruises, boat rides or kayak are on offer. From an electric past to an eclectic present, The Turbine is an exceptionally unique stay that should be a firm feature on any Garden Route stay. turbinehotel.co.za
THE OLD RECTORY
Neighbouring Plett has long been another hideout for South Africa’s fit and fabulous. A mere 1-minute walk from one of Plett’s favourite beaches, The Old Rectory is discreetly nestled in a leafy historic property. The original property has been masterfully refurbished, with modern touches complementing the 1777 stone structure. In the manicured gardens, spacious suites wait for guests to retreat to. Prepare to feel like royalty – when you’re up for some beach time just give the word and the staff gladly set up loungers and umbrellas for you to enjoy.
The Old Rectory‘s sister property, Kay and Monty Vineyards just happens to be a wine estate 30-minutes away. Sipping their MCC on the tasting room veranda and gazing out over the dam towards the distant mountains, it’s hard to imagine a more fitting elixir for post-pandemic relaxation. Don’t forget to support the farm and take home a case or two of Champu, their delectable MCC. rareearth.co.za