Sunday 21 January 2018

10 best South African bolt-holes

Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park
Tsala Treetop Lodge Garden Route
Madikwe Game Reserve
Beaumont House, Cape Town

Lucy Fennings

There's more to the Rainbow Nation than soccer. Boutique guru Lucy Fennings from 'Mr & Mrs Smith' guides rounds up the most inspiring retreats from Kruger to Cape Town

Tsala Treetop Lodge

Garden Route

Huge beds, private infinity pools that hover out among trembling leaves, secluded wraparound decks with gob-smacking valley views ...

If you ever fantasised about 'the ultimate treehouse' as a child, we think you'll find that the sky-scraping suites at this boutique resort blow your simplistic shed-in-a-tree imaginings out the water. There are even such luxuries as a well-stocked wine cellar and free-standing stone bathtubs.

The cosmopolitan coast attractions of Plettenberg Bay are only 10km away, but you'll never be more grateful to be away from it all in this most glamorous of jungle resorts.

Basics: 10 suites, plus six two-bedroom villas.

Costs: From R3,600 (€369) per double room per night in low season, including breakfast.

Singita Lebombo

Kruger National Park

No trip to South Africa would be complete without a safari: summer is the dry season in Kruger, and it's the best time to spot wildlife. After a few days of game drives at the incredible Singita Lebombo, you'd have to be pretty unlucky not to have seen the Big Five: lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino.

Perched on a clifftop overlooking the slow-moving waters of the N'wanetsi, this ultra laid-back bush base offers comfort in the midst of the wilderness. Each suite has a panoramic game-viewing deck with river views, indoor and outdoor showers, and open fireplaces; there's even a full-service spa.

Basics: 15 suites overlooking the N'wanetsi river.

Costs: Rand 10,950 (€1,124) per person per night full-board, including three meals, two game drives per day and transfers to the airstrip.

Singita Sweni

Kruger National Park

Singita Sweni plays low-profile little sister to Lebombo lodge: with only a handful of rooms, this intimate stilted retreat on the banks of the Sweni River was designed with the burrows and warrens of nature's river-dwellers in mind, and offers true seclusion.

However, Sweni doesn't scrimp on the luxuries, with a similar spread of spoiling must-have extras, including rooms with private decks and al fresco showers, and staff who bend over backwards to make your stay as pleasurable as possible. Both lodges are in an area of the park renowned for its prides of lion, so they are particularly appealing if you're a fan of big cats.

Basics: Six riverside rooms.

Costs: R10,950 (€1,124) per person per night full board, including two game drives per day and transfers to the airstrip.

Birkenhead House


A few hours from Cape Town, overlooking the Indian Ocean side of the Cape, this cliff-edge couples' coop is the perfect place to watch the (natural) world go by.

Between June and November, views from the hotel's terrace across two sandy bays include migrating Southern Right whales and dolphins.

Inside, views are equally breathtaking, with beautiful chandeliers framing sunset-streaked sea vistas, and a collection of furnishings from Rococo-style mirrors to carved Indian woodwork. This utterly spoiling retreat will soon have you acting like lord and lady of all you survey. Don't get too used to it though, you'll have to go home eventually.

Basics: 11 suites.

Costs: From R5,230 (€539) per room per night full board, including transfers.

Schoone Oordt Swellendam

Midway between Cape Town and George, historic Swellendam is perfectly placed for a weekend getaway from Cape Town, or as the first of a few dawdling stops along the Garden Route.

Here, among the neat trees and quiet streets of one of South Africa's oldest Dutch settlements, you'll find the outlandishly pretty façade of boutique B&B Schoone Oordt, surrounded by tranquil gardens, burbling fountains and scented roses.

Luxurious suites are set away from the main building in specially built cabins with pale walls, dark furniture, open fires, private patios and Victorian-style claw-foot bathtubs.

Basics: Seven suites.

Costs: From R1,400 (€143) per room per night, including home-cooked breakfast.

Alta Bay

Cape Town

A short stroll from both the night-owl enticements of Kloof Street and early-bird thrills of the Table Mountain nature reserve, this discreetly upscale getaway is the perfect perch from which to peruse all-encompassing views of Cape Town.

Simply furnished yet sumptuous rooms with private balconies or terraces feature extra-big beds, ideal for unfurling cramped limbs after a long flight. The hotel can also arrange in-room massages or beauty treatments. Plus, you're a painless drive from some of the best beaches imaginable.

Basics: Seven rooms, including the secluded Garden Room.

Costs: From R1,500 (€150) per room per night, with breakfast.

Etali Safari Lodge

North West Province

There aren't many places where you can dine under the stars, watch baboons caper across the rooftops and share your Jacuzzi with an elephant, but at Etali Safari Lodge, campfire barbecues are the order of the day, monkeys make daily visits and every suite has a private deck with a whirlpool that often attracts the attention of wandering pachyderms.

Set in the pristine bushveld of the Madikwe Game Reserve on the border of Botswana, and offering one of the world's greatest wildlife adventures, this romantic lodge is guaranteed to furnish you with enough stories to last a lifetime.

Basics: Eight luxury suites.

Costs: From R8,400 (€863) per room per night, including meals, most drinks, game drives and safari walks.

The Peech Hotel


Polished concrete dressed with Nguni skins, graphic wallpapers, ochre-toned batiks and clean modern lines give this petite city-centre pied-à-terre a refreshing twist on the classic African abode. Despite a central location in bustling Johannesburg, the Peech Hotel's mature garden and tree-shaded swimming pool make it a tranquil home-from-home base for safari (or World Cup stadia) sorties.

Something to celebrate? The Champagne bar stocks the widest range of Veuve Clicquot in South Africa and stays open as long as you can stay up.

Basics: 16 rooms, plus two suites. Costs: From R2,050 (€210) per room per night, with breakfast.

Beaumont House

Cape Town

This French-inspired 1930s house in the leafy Cape Town suburb of Upper Claremont is a study in delicate decor, quiet relaxation and sophisticated living.

The soothing shades-of-white colour scheme in bedrooms continues the Francophile theme, with hints of glamour provided by glass chandeliers, high-gloss dressing tables and black and white photography. A grand piano in the salon cries out for a singalong; book-packed shelves urge you to curl up on a pillow-soft sofa with a classic novel; and views of Table Mountain demand you drink them in with a glass of fine wine.

Basics: Five rooms with king-sized beds and en suite bathrooms. A separate two-bedroom villa is also available.

Costs: From R1,900 (€195) per room per night, with breakfast.

The Grand Café & Rooms

Plettenberg Bay

Standing proud at the head of Main Street in Plettenberg, this most bohemian of beach boltholes is the natural downtime home of the Ibiza regular or Soho House devotee. The almost Moorish building is attention-grabbing; inside, the Grand Café is artfully cluttered with giant candelabra, vintage copies of Vogue and wrought-iron chairs.

Everything shouts 'plenty': cakes teeter in pastel piles on delicate stands and flowers spill out of huge vases. Huge windows afford a further feast for the eyes, with fantastic views of the lagoon and ocean beyond, a metaphorical meal that is more than matched by a gastro-farm menu of refined bistro favourites, including moules frites, fillet steak with Béarnaise sauce and summer-berry pavlova.

Basics: Seven, including two suites.

Costs: From R1,900 (€190) per room per night, including Continental breakfast.

To book any of the hotels or lodges featured, call Mr & Mrs Smith on 1800 812 925 or visit

Irish Independent

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