This story was first published on 10 September 2015 and was updated on the 13 December 2018 by Leigh Hermon.
Celebrate a special occasion at a dream destination. Here’s some of our best luxury breaks.
1. Delaire Graff Lodges, Helshoogte Pass
The luxurious Delaire Graff Estate between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek really is the last word in tasteful luxury, just the place to spend some time with your significant other when you have made a killing of some kind. Each lodge has a sunny lounge area where you can unwind and take in the view of the spectacular mountains. Naturally there is a private pool that’s heated so you don’t have to feel too refreshed. Meals can be brought in should you so desire from their superb Indochine Restaurant. Not much can beat standing in the water quaffing some serious bubbly or one of their excellent award-winning wines and nibbling canapés made just for you. If you feel the need to leave the room (why?), indulge in a wine tasting, eat at their other restaurant, buy some jewellery, or take a gander at the Tretchikoff painting, The Chinese Girl, which owner David Graff purchased for close on one million pounds and brought home to South Africa. Very thoughtful.
+27 (0) 21 885 8160; [email protected]
Words Greg Landman
2. Birkenhead House, Hermanus
Overlooking the whale-watching haven of Walker Bay, Birkenhead House is the place to be if you’re celebrating a special occasion. A superb breakfast, lunch and dinner are served on the beautiful veranda overlooking the Atlantic, where you can almost imagine yourself on the bow of a luxury liner, that’s how close you are to the sea. For sun seekers, there’s a wind-protected courtyard by the pool, where you can while away some lazy hours on your holiday. If seclusion is what you’re after, afternoon tea and sundowners can be enjoyed on your private balcony. The beautiful suites offer views of either Walker Bay or the Kleinrivier mountain range and you might find yours has zebra-print upholstery or shell-framed mirrors – it’s all about quirky opulence.
+27 (0) 28 314 8000; [email protected]
Words Elke Losskarn
3. Hartford House, Mooi River
Hartford House is situated on the world-class Summerfield stud farm in the beautiful Mooi River area. And it’s not just the five-star luxury of Hartford that makes a stay here so special – it has an award-winning, fine-dining restaurant, the garden is filled with fragrant old English roses and surrounded by stunning views, and the charm of the locals will win you over. Take a tour of the stud farm, walk on the extensive game conservancy, enjoy fishing and horse riding. The hotel’s Wellness Centre offers a range of therapies, body treatments, holistic massages and facials, while the swimming pool and park-like gardens provide a place for quiet time and reflection. There are helicopter-landing facilities, alternatively airport transfers from King Shaka International and Oribi (Pietermaritzburg) airports are available
+27 (0) 33 263 2713; [email protected]
Words Olivia Schaffer
Meet Hartford House’s head chef Chris Papayannes.
4. Oceana Beach & Wildlife Reserve, near Port Alfred
You know how you usually have to choose between a beach and a bush holiday? Well, I finally found a place in a malaria-free area where I can have both. Oceana is perched on an old dune overlooking the sea and from the dining room you can observe nyala coming to refresh themselves at the waterhole in front of the main building. What started as a private hideaway for a Texan multimillionaire has grown over the years into a small gem shared with paying guests, among them European royalty. Game drives are laid-back affairs mid-morning or in the evening, so guests can lie in late and take it easy, wallow in their spa baths or sip something hot on their private decks. Alternatively they can enjoy the view with a good book and a pair of binoculars to see if they can catch a glimpse of the Knysna Turacos that feed noisily in the canopy. Leaving the other guests lounging around the sheltered swimming pool after a late breakfast, I caught a ride down to the deserted shoreline. It’s not a swimming beach, but is great for long romantic walks and the tanning deck is a peaceful spot on the edge of the dune forest. If you’re a South African resident, ask for Oceana’s special discounted rate.
+27 (0) 43 555 0305; [email protected]
Words Marion Whitehead
5. Karkloof Safari Spa, Midlands
‘Unlimited’ is the word that applies to everything here, from gourmet food to hand-on-foot service, from spa treatments to game drives. All of this happens above a Midlands vista and in the most beautiful lodge setting. I visited between stages of a three-day trail run and took full advantage of the rejuvenation facilities and services, such as the flotation pool and full-body massage, which had me feeling rather guilty about abandoning my competitors to their tents and hard mattresses at the race campsite across the valley. Fortunately I had forgotten all about my cohorts by the time dinner arrived. Wildebeest kebabs started things off and the grilled duck breast, pommes Dauphine and parsnip purée for mains were out of this world. I had already combined my arrival with a game drive that afternoon, where my personal guide and I spotted the plentiful buffalo, nyala, warthog, white rhino and a variety of birds. This made exhaustion my only regret. I wanted days more to indulge but knew I would a return to the race the freshest runner of all.
033 569 1321, [email protected]
Words Ian Macleod
Looking for more relaxing retreats? Take a look at our 6 Best Spas & Retreats in South Africa.
6. Belair Country House, Paarl
If impeccable taste and very personal service were the only things, Belair Country House in Paarl would win hands-down. But added to these is that all-important position, position, positon of this superb home away from home for those who want to drop out, just for a while, and allow themselves to be looked after hand and foot. Situated on the slopes of the Suid-Agter-Paarl Road, with Paarl Rock as a backdrop and the valley ringed by distant mountains shimmering that elusive Van Gogh purple, the estate will enchant you. An avenue of apple trees leads to the honeymoon suite, one of two set apart from the main house, and lucky are the bridal couples who have stayed there. Beautifully furnished with open fireplaces in the lounge downstairs and in the romantic bedroom upstairs with its four-poster, king-size bed, the suite has its own private deck overlooking the magnificent rose garden and an outside four-poster day bed – just the place to lose yourself in delicious reverie. A sumptuous English breakfast with smoked trout, creamy scrambled eggs, and home-made preserves is served in the main guest house conservatory by Belair’s châtelaine, Janet Plumbly.
+27 (0) 81 797 7679; [email protected]
Words Greg Landman
7. Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, Victoria Falls
Having won the accolade of Best Safari Lodge in Zimbabwe for almost two decades, this is a must-visit for many reasons. Only 4km from Vic Falls and near to the airport and Zambian border, it’s an ideal central point from which to explore this corner of Africa. The lodge has prime position perched on the edge of a high plateau that’s the boundary with the Zambezi National Park. Set deep into the bush, it’s almost camouflaged by its surroundings. The duplex-style suites with bedrooms and bathrooms upstairs and living areas downstairs all have balconies so you can take in the spectacular bushveld views and intense sunsets. The best place at the lodge for game spotting, while quaffing Zambezi Lagers, is the Buffalo Bar with its wooden deck overlooking the waterhole, where we saw kudu, impala, elephant and a congregation of Maribu Storks. Also overlooking the waterhole is the award-winning MaKuwa-Kuwa restaurant. The menu includes international dishes and South African wines, as well as local hits such as the Pumba Fillet. Flame of Africa, the travel-service operator that arranged our stay, also organised a heart-stopping helicopter flip over the magnificent Falls the following day. A perfect end to an unforgettable trip.
+263 83 284 3211
Words Linda Piegl
8. Rovos Rail, Pretoria
Rohan Vos’s love for vintage trains and their restoration grew to become the iconic Rovos Rail, a fleet of magnificent Edwardian trains and shining steam engines that ease along tracks in Southern Africa, as well as East Africa and beyond. Rovos is considered ‘the most luxurious train in the world’ and it’s also called The Pride of Africa. Guests come from around the world and Rovos is a definite bucket-list item for lovers of genteel travel. Rovos has its own Victorian station in Pretoria, Capital Park, and from here trains head to Cape Town, Durban, Namibia, Dar Es Salaam and more. There is also the 28-day rail odyssey from the Cape to Cairo – in resplendent old-world luxury. The magnificent suites each have a Victorian bathroom, wood panelling and bed dressed in fine linen and brocade cover. Dining is also nostalgic in the dedicated dining car with panelling and starched white table linen. Meals are superb, complemented by fine wines. In between there are high teas and excursions en route, board games in the sunny lounge mid-train, or drinks and great views to be enjoyed in the observation car at the rear.
+27 (0) 12 315 8242; [email protected]
Words Keri Harvey
Opt for a more off-the-beaten-track holiday with our 5 Unusual Weekend Breakaways for Offbeat Travellers.
9. Kariega Game Reserve, near Kenton-on-Sea
Impala butted horns just metres from the game-viewing vehicle, the peculiar hoots of wildebeest echoed across the valley and a graceful eland basked in the early morning sun as a giraffe bull started getting amorous with his mate. We were at Kariega, one of the older, established Big Five private game reserves in the malaria-free Grahamstown district, and a game drive here is a real tonic for the soul. The friendly rangers here know how to reveal the secrets of the bush in an entertaining way. Birders will find the river cruise a treat as kingfisher sightings are common and Fish Eagles nest high above the water. Accommodation ranges from spacious chalets at Main Lodge to the ultra-luxurious River Lodge and five-star luxury tented suites at Settlers Drift, but my favourite remains the Ukhozi Lodge log chalets where you can watch the birds from your private plunge pool. It’s not exactly a secret, but big discounts on rates for South African residents in the winter months are not widely advertised, so be sure to ask if you qualify. It’s a luxurious experience for less.
+27 (0) 41 581 2606, [email protected]
Words Marion Whitehead
10. Schoone Oordt Country House, Swellendam
It’s a gem of a guest house in the charming, historic town of Swellendam. This beautifully restored Victorian building is set in gorgeous landscaped gardens with fountains. The rooms, furnished with antique pieces, have their own patios and look onto the rose garden, while luxurious touches include goose-down duvets, percale cotton linen and heated towel rails. On summer afternoons you can enjoy a complimentary tea with home-baked savoury and sweet goodies, while dinner is served in the Conservatory Restaurant. Schoone Oordt sources the freshest and,where possible, organic local ingredients and the menu changes daily. Guests rave about the breakfasts and I have to agree with a common sentiment expressed in the guest book that the only downside to a stay here, is having to leave.
+27 (0) 28 514 1248; [email protected]
Words Elke Losskarn
11. Zulu Waters Game Reserve, Drakensberg
I had struggled through this game reserve earlier in the day. By then I had completed several hundred kilometres of the joBerg2c mountain-bike race, and was showing the results. It took every scrap of discipline and pride to resist pulling over at Shaka Lodge on the reserve, with about 30km left in the day. Shuttled back from the finish line, I set about making up for lost time. The lodge’s central lounge is Hemingway-esque, with broad leather loungers and brimming bookshelves. Prodigious windows keep the place light and open up a view that might offer Cape buffalo, a caracal or one of the towering eland the reserve has introduced. Three suites lead off from the living area, each as handsome as the other with 90° views. A trip up the stairs to the rooftop Jacuzzi was worth the hobble. I’m not sure whether the warm, bubbly water, or the vino delivered by the personal chef, did more good for my aching pins. Dining on fillet by candlelight followed by the finest chocolate brownie with cream a sore cyclist has ever experienced was just what the doctor ordered. Other accommodation options on the reserve are the two-bedroom Nandi House (self-catering) and the tucked-away Lake Cottage for a romantic escape.
+27 (0) 36 352 0100; [email protected]
Words Ian Macleod
If these are a little bit out of your budget, then take a look at these purse pleasers in the bush.