Take your pick of some of the cosiest winter warmer destinations in the country. Enjoy spectacular views from soaring heights, seasonal colours and crackling fires.
Western Cape: Abalone House, Paternoster
The Cape West Coast is at its most spectacular in winter when glorious calm days are interspersed with dramatic storms. Moody dark skies perfectly set off the traditional white-washed buildings of Paternoster, so this is the perfect time to head north. The seaside village’s first five-star boutique guest house, Abalone House, oozes seaside charm and has all the amenities to allow you to actually enjoy Mother Nature’s wrath. After a day walking along the picturesque beach or flower gazing in the Cape Colombine Reserve, you can hole up in front of a roaring log fire in the Africa Bar as you warm your cockles with a fine malt whisky. Heart-warming dishes or a six-course tasting menu are on offer at the chic Saffron Restaurant and there’s underfloor heating under the thick carpets in the bedrooms.
A truly decadent winter escape. – Fiona McIntosh, Abalone House 022 752 2044, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.abalonehouse.co.za
Western Cape: Porcupine Pie Guest Lodge, Wilderness
Soaking up scenery while luxuriating in a king-size bath is one of the most blissful treats going, especially when the view is of the Giant Kingfisher Trail along the Touw River with the Outeniqua Mountains as a backdrop. No wonder this custom-built getaway has won the best honeymoon destination award two years running. Three secluded chalets have decks with views to die for, cosy heaters, electric blankets and the murmer of the Indian Ocean and river below as background music. Breakfast and dinner dreamt up by host John McIldowie are served in a lapa with a glowing fire and an intimate bar with paintings by Judy McIldowie. Outside three different varieties of sunbird flit around a deck with an infinity pool overlooking the valley. Walking trails, bird watching, riding and sociable dining in Wilderness add to the lure of the place. – Marianne Heron, Porcupine Pie www.porcupinepie.co.za, email@example.com 083 447 6901
Western Cape: Melkkamer Vlei Cottage, De Hoop Reserve
Visiting CapeNature’s De Hoop Reserve in the Overberg is always
a treat. Miles of empty golden beaches, incredible rock pools, pristine fynbos, magnificent game viewing and birding plus some of the best land-based whale watching in the country have long ensured the reserve’s popularity. In recent years the De Hoop Collection has seriously upgraded the accommodation so it makes for a very comfortable escape from Cape Town. The best spot to see out winter is the lovely old Melkkamer Vlei Cottage, in a pristine wetland location across the vlei from the main Opstal area. The lovely four-bedroomed cottage has all the necessary ingredients for romance – fireplaces in the bedrooms, paraffin lamps and a big outdoor fire and braai area in which you can sit out and enjoy the starry skies. Add some fine red wine and you have the perfect winter warmer.– Shaen Adey, Melkkamer Vlei Cottages 021 422 4522, www.dehoopcollection.co.za
Western Cape: Sandpiper Cottages, Boggomsbaai
A holiday by the coast always beats the winter chill. And when you arrive at the Sandpiper Cottages at Boggomsbaai on the Garden Route you can be sure that the fire and candles will be lit and a warming decanter of sherry and a bottle of red wine ready and waiting to warm your heart. Owners Fred and Hanlie Orban have created a home away from home in these traditional, thatched fisherman’s cottages and they’ll spoil you from the word go. This is a stunningly beautiful stretch of coastline so you can enjoy bracing beach walks where you’ll often see endangered black oystercatchers, whales and dolphins. Then warm up in the heated pool or the spa at the leisure centre, or curl up with a book in front of the fire. The cottages are beautifully furnished with Oregon and yellowwood and all have big open fireplaces so you can cook in the traditional style or order dinner in. Escapism at its best. – Shaen Adey, Sandpiper Cottages 044 699 1204, www.sandpiper.co.za
Gauteng: De Hoek Country Hotel, Magaliesberg
If you’re heading out of town for a weekend of high teas and croquet, you might as well do it in style. De Hoek is a five-star getaway that’s been enticing weary Gautengers into the country for two decades.
We begin our weekend with a session of archery, and like landed gentry, received instruction from the resolutely diplomatic Jan Kleynhans. Other leisurely pursuits include hot air ballooning (booked in advance), a dip in the pool ora relaxed hike up the nearby mountain. But ultimately this is a destination for relaxing, so be sure to book a spa treatment during your stay.
That evening, Swiss-born co-owner and chef Michael Holenstein generously invites us into the kitchen. Dinner is unhurried and beautifully presented in the classically styled dining room. Breakfast the next morning is savoured in relays and followed by a wonderful massage. After that we lurch towards lunch, take a nap, return for high tea, and begin to think about sundowners.
With its attentive staff, country-manor elegance and peaceful surroundings, this is a venue that you will want to come back to. – Tess Paterson, De Hoek 014 577 9600, www.dehoek.com
Limpopo: Hamasha Bush Camp, Soutpansberg
Embraced by a natural amphitheatre of high cliffs and mountains, Hamasha Bush camp has a magnificent view through the gorge. Perfect for small groups of nature lovers, Hamasha sleeps eight people in two units and is the ideal base to discover the magic of Leshiba on foot along a network of twelve trails. Clamber down the gorge for a refreshing swim in rock pools filled by summer rain. Do an adventure outride on mountain ponies or go on a game drive with a knowledgeable guide. The central braai area is wonderful for night fires and storytelling or guests can curl up next to the fireplace in the lounge for a lazy evening indoors. Where else can you walk up to rhino, marvel at rock-art sites on ‘stone pages’ and head back to a totally private venue with starlit showers in summer and cozy wood fires in winter?
– Lisa Martus Hamasha Bush Camp, Leshiba Wilderness 011 483 1841, 082 881 1237
KwaZulu-Natal: Umkhumbi Lodge, Maputaland
Winters are mild in northern KwaZulu-Natal, but a roaring fire is heart-warming nonetheless. Umkhumbi Lodge, just outside Hluhluwe, is a welcoming place where evenings are spent watching the sunset, swapping stories around the fire and enjoying the sights and sounds of the bush. It’s the perfect escape for the family with air-conditioned bush lodges consisting of two rooms with inter-leading doors so you enjoy your privacy while the kids sleep close by. What makes this place so special is the hospitality, and it’s also a bit unusual as everyone is mad about birds and butterflies (perfectly normal), but also snakes and reptiles. I kid you not, sheltered in owner Anton Roberts’ garage is a host of snakes, frogs and other reptiles, many of which he’s rescued from roadsides or neighbouring farms and is rehabilitating before releasing them in out-of-the-way areas. If you ask nicely he’ll organise a viewing. Watching him handle venomous snakes is quite something – as exciting as any Big Five safari. If you’re after a more traditional safari the lodge is close to the Hluhluwe-iMfololzi Big Five reserves and only a short drive from the coast. – Fiona McIntosh Umkhumbi Lodge 076 164 1134, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.umkhumbilodge.co.za
Western Cape: Elandskloof Farm Cottages, 20kms from Greyton
If you want to feel ‘away from it all’ without having to drive for hours on end, try Elandskloof situated a mere hour and a half’s leisurely drive east of Cape Town. The dramatic scenery of the Riviersonderend mountain range and the serenity of the secluded valley in which Elandskloof’s farm cottages are situated, make this farm a true gem at which to spend a comfy winter weekend in the countryside. In these beautiful surroundings the days fly past, walking or biking through farmland, orchards and patches of forest. Here, you can also easily do nothing and soak up the splendid views from your stoep. There are a great variety of fully equipped cottages, most of which have a fireplace and a generous stock of firewood. At Elandskloof, guests are welcome to bring their pets to some of the cottages, but do need to supervise them for the sake of the livestock, ducks and chickens residing on the farm. – Petra Vandecasteele Elandskloof Farm Cottages 021 465 8202 , www.elandsklooffarmcottages.co.za
Northern Cape: Naries Namakwa Retreat, Near Springbok
Naries Namakwa Retreat is situated on the edge of the Spektakelberg between Springbok and Kleinzee in the Northern Cape. In addition to its breathtaking surroundings and its excellent location from which to explore Namaqualand, Naries has two two-bedroomed self-catering cottages with fireplace and braai.
There is also a stylish restaurant offering a fine dining experience, but available only to guests.The best time to visit Naries is from the end of July to September when barren Namaqualand transforms into a magnificent floral explosion. – Petra Vandecasteele Naries Namakwa Retreat 027 712 2462, www.naries.co.za
Gauteng: Mount Grace Country House & Spa, Magaliesberg
There’s nothing better than coming in from an active day in the outdoors to find a crackling wood fire. So it’s no wonder that the Mount Grace Country Hotel & Spa is so popular with birders, hikers, mountain bikers and nature lovers who revel in the hotel’s extensive indigenous gardens and unspoilt bushveld. At the foot of the Magaliesberg, an hour’s drive from Jo’burg and Pretoria, the tranquil setting of this country hotel offers the perfect escape, particularly in winter when the roaring fire in the cosy bar and the top-notch restaurants provide a welcome respite from the Highveld chill.
There are little luxuries that warm the heart, like Nespresso machines in the bedrooms, and a Rainy Day Picnic menu of hearty soup, pasta, pancakes and hot chocolate that is delivered to your room when you simply don’t feel like dressing up, or facing the elements, for dinner.
But the major attraction of this popular retreat is its award-winning hydrotherapy spa. A day of pampering and a rejuvenating massage is sure to chase away the winter blues. – Fiona McIntosh Mount Grace Country House & Spa, 014 577 5600, email@example.com, www.mountgrace.co.za
Western Cape: Phantom River View, Knysna
I love trees and spending time in the forest, so my stay at Phantom River View near Knysna, was just what I needed. There are several self-catering log cabins on this estate in the forest, and all are situated far enough away from each other to ensure privacy. Being lazy by nature, I delighted in my early morning cup of coffee on the deck watching the sun rise over the forest and reading a book until the sun finally set again. The nice thing about the log cabins at Phantom River View is that, even on wet winter days, you can continue to enjoy a genuine ‘forest feel’ from the cosy lounge with a roaring fire in the grate. Weather permitting, I sometimes even left the doors wide open while I gazed out over the trees… from my couch near the fire. If you are a keen explorer, the estate is only a stone’s throw away from the lagoon below, and is situated only 11km from Knysna on Phantom Pass, giving you easy access to the many exciting attractions in and around Knysna. – Petra Vandecasteele Phantom River View, 083 268 9113