A meander along the eastern edge of South Africa’s celebrated Garden Route uncovers three destinations for the most discerning traveller.
Immerse yourself in a trio of unique experiences in or near Plettenberg Bay and Port Elizabeth: take time out to enjoy the respite of Tsala Treetop Lodge, soak up nature’s stillness at Inzolo Exclusive Game Lodge, or experience the old-world charm of the grande dame that is The Old Rectory hotel.
In the treetops
Tsala Treetop Lodge is a retreat where your mind becomes quiet and your senses alive. While you are able to withdraw from your hectic daily life into the five-star luxury of your cocoon elevated in the trees, there is nothing monastic about rejuvenating at Tsala.
The lodge is 10km from Plettenberg Bay, but you can be forgiven for imagining that you are much further from the madding crowd. The treetop villas, perched in an enchanted forest, are connected by a web of elevated walkways spun between massive indigenous tree trunks. The sense of spaciousness is achieved by double-volume glass-and-wood structures, and a 360-degree view from the outdoor shower, bath, bedroom and living area. Even the loo has a view over the forest.
Tsala is a magical place encircled by lush forests – the perfect place to do … well, nothing. You can listen to the trees creaking rhythmically in the breeze; hear the birds, some above and some below you, tweet their mates; watch curious vervet monkeys peer with soulful eyes through the branches; or drift away to the sound of water trickling over the edge of your private infinity pool.
If it’s a bit chilly, the indoor fire, crackling as the moisture in the wood boils and bursts free, exudes a gentle explosion of warmth. There are piles of sweet- smelling logs to keep it going all day if you want to. You can curl up with a good book, nibbling on home- made cookies or enjoy a complimentary drink from the mini-bar.
If, however, adventure is what blows your hair back, you have myriad choices close by. For those wanting to explore the Garden Route, options include swimming with seals, organised by Offshore Adventures in Plettenberg Bay; visiting Birds of Eden, the world-class free-flight bird sanctuary; bungee jumping from the Bloukrans Bridge; hiking around Robberg Nature Reserve; and abseiling, skydiving, mountain biking or sliding through a canopy tour. You know you can return to your treehouse bubble to rejuvenate and indulge yourself after.
Meals at Tsala are exquisitely presented. Guests are able to enjoy the cuisine at Tsala’s glass-walled dining room (including choosing a bottle of wine from the cellar). The Lodge breakfasts are sumptuous. The chefs take great pride in their continental breakfast – home-made muffins, fresh croissants, cheeses, cold meats and fresh fruit, washed down by freshly percolated coffee. For those with a hearty appetite, there is a selection of egg dishes, including gourmet omelettes, as well as sweet treats finished off with a glass of bubbly or Tsala’s specialty coffee.
You can also walk a short distance on the boardwalk to Zinzi restaurant. It’s not surprising zinzi means ‘abundance’ in Swahili. The restaurant, in a fairy-lit garden, offers a diverse menu in a relaxed environment with wholesome food, warm service and a home-from- home ambience that ensures a relaxed yet vibrant dining experience. The passionate Zinzi chefs have created distinctive dishes with international flavours, using only the freshest ingredients. Wandering back to your villa along the boardwalk, replete and mellowed, you can enjoy a peek into the busy nocturnal life of the forest.
Then it’s back into your cocoon of luxury – indulged, laid-back and closer to heaven than you ever could have dreamed.
Find out more: tsala.com
Place a grand old lady in the hands of the best contemporary interior decorators and architects, and you will end up with a hotel that is the perfect fusion of historic grace and modern living. The Old Rectory is a beautifully restored National Heritage building situated in a quiet cul-de-sac in one of the most iconic destinations along the Garden Route – Plettenberg Bay.
Dating back to 1777, it is the oldest building in this popular coastal town. Originally the barracks for the Dutch East India Company, it was later bought by the first Anglican bishop in Cape Town, Bishop Robert Gray. Four years ago Rare Earth, a small luxury hospitality company bought the fairly rundown property. The Old Rectory now has pride of place in Rare Earth’s portfolio, which includes luxury game lodges The Outpost and Pel’s Post, as well as the Country House at the award-winning Kay and Monty Vineyards.
‘For every one of the eight properties in the bush, beach or countryside,’ says Lauren Richie of Rare Earth, ‘we have incorporated design and construction that have had the least impact on the environment. The renovation of The Old Rectory is unique in that it is a national monument and had to comply with certain regulations.’
The architectural and interior design teams saw this as an exciting challenge. Dael Fairbairn of Erasmus Fairbairn Architects and Merylle Legh and Helen Wood of Align Design came on board to refurbish the main house and add on the rooms. ‘For the new structures,’ says Dael, ‘the idea was to design contemporary buildings that would be sympathetic to the historical landmark but not detract from it.’
The combined vision was spot on. The pool and deck are built around a centuries-old milkwood and one of Marieke Prinsloo-Rowe’s Swimmer Girl sculptures is at the edge of the pool. They’ve chosen their artwork carefully and it really adds something to that outdoor space. The 18 luxury suites built in the lush garden are unique in their design. They incorporate the flora-fauna-inspired theme of the spectacular Garden Route vegetation and have a rich texture and colour.
For those who quite understandably want to enjoy The Old Rectory as a destination, it’s a two-minute walk from your room to Central Beach and an easy stroll into the town of Plettenberg Bay. If you don’t want to leave the sanctuary of this grande dame for dinner, enjoy a drink at the bar with its deep Chesterfield copper piping and centuries-old fireplace, before dining at The Old Rectory’s exclusive restaurant.
No hotel villa or guesthouse, however, can excel only through décor, location, amenities or fine dining. The staff is pivotal. At the Old Rectory, every guest’s whim is taken care of by a team providing service that is anticipatory, not reactionary. They are friendly, hardworking and clearly passionate about this hotel’s growth and reputation.
The Old Rectory is a Greenwich meridian between the unhurried living of yesteryear and everything a luxurious contemporary boutique hotel can offer. It’s a tough goodbye…
Find out more: rareearth.co.za
Serenity In The Bush
When you arrive at Inzolo Exclusive Game Lodge you can’t but be mindful of the advice of well-known spiritualist Paul Brunton: ‘Let us accept the invitation, ever-open, from the Stillness, taste its exquisite sweetness, and heed its silent instruction.’ There is a kind of hush over Inzolo that makes you be still and at one with the African bush.
An African safari is high on most people’s bucket list but it’s often associated with travelling long distances. The good news is that 80km from Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, a new five-star lodge has been launched. Inzolo is close enough for convenience yet offers an authentic African experience.
Three years ago, businessmen Paul Lynch and David Hurr fell in love with the position of the original dwelling, which needed a makeover. Inzolo is set on 10 000ha, with access to a game reserve. Unlike reserves further north, the area boasts five biomes – forest, grasses, renosterveld and two types of fynbos. It is enough to attract a smorgasbord of wildlife and, of course, the Big Five.
Lynch and Hurr had the vision to create a small exclusive lodge, where guests could ‘truly capture the feel of a day in the African bush’. It was an ambitious project but they had the foresight to bring in Artichoke, an interior design company known the world over for its exquisite designs of lodge interiors. The result is breath- taking – an East African influence mixed with modern design to create a bespoke African elegance that retains the warmth and comfort of home. ‘That is what we are trying to create,’ says Lynch. ‘We have four chalets so it is a small and personalised experience for guests.’
The chalets are perched on the edge of a cliff, rather like a beautifully appointed eagle’s eyrie, from where you have a view of the valley and the waterhole below. Sheer cliffs with inaccessible caves whisper of the padded paws of a leopard safely surveying the undulating hills and valleys for potential prey. Perhaps they, too, are just languidly enjoying the view…
Usually the elephants come down the steep slope to slurp up the 20 litres of water they drink at a time, or to cover themselves with mud to cool their skins. Sometimes they simply play. A large tuskless female pauses, delicately picking off new leaves with her trunk. She was born without tusks in an astonishing last throw of the evolutionary dice to survive human cruelty.
A nyala grazes peacefully next to the deck, stopping intermittently to look up, doe-eyed, leg raised and relaxed while the brightly coloured birds flit, without fear, from bush to bush. Their twittering are your wake-up call, while your lullaby as you fall asleep is the sound of the bush. There are more than 200 species of birds, including the bittern and marsh owl – enough to turn twitchers into a pretzel of happiness. A cosmopolitan collection of birds, including storks from Germany, swallows from Europe and the Amur falcon from Russia, also chooses this as their summer destination.
Whether you decide to go into the bush for a couple of hours or prefer a quick Ferrari safari, you are not going to be disappointed. We saw a herd of elephant gathered protectively around calves ranging from newly born to teenagers; the protected rhino with their ‘fitbits’ attached to their legs so that the Rhino Squad can keep a watchful eye over them; a lion and lioness deadbeat in the grass on the fifth day of ritual mating every 15 minutes; a large male giraffe silhouetted against the setting sun; and little warthogs trotting through the bush, the tufts of their erect tails waving like tiny flags showing the way through the often body-high grasses.
Inzolo enchants your senses and it is no different with your palate. Chef extraordinaire Sebastian Sibiya loves nothing more than taking rosemary and sage straight from the herb garden or preparing the fresh leafy spinach and kale from the vegetable patch. Guests are encouraged to wander through his veggie garden but should keep a sharp lookout for the watermelon- stealing elephant. Chef Sebastian also has a reputation for consommés, beautifully plated foods, home-made jams and magnificent high teas. It takes willpower not to eat everything in sight. For those who prefer photographing animals to eating them, vegetarians and vegans are easily catered for.
But Inzolo is not only pampered luxury. Lynch and Hurr, together with the team on the ground, are passionate about and committed to the conservation and sustainability of the land as well as supporting the local community.
Hunting is verboten, of course, and the lodge has successfully launched two special conservation initiatives – the interactive buffalo-breeding project and the protected enclave in which the Cape mountain zebra can breed.
If conservation is truly a harmony between man and bush, then Inzolo is an African symphony.
Find out more: inzololodge.co.za