This story was updated on 21 January 2020.
Surprise your beloved with a getaway to a bush lodge, an isolated cottage in the Karoo or a seaside bolt hole.
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1. Leopard Rock Chalets, Port Shepstone
So much attracted us to this romantic stay, including the friendly owners and staff, the coffee shop and restaurant with a deck from where we enjoyed views over the Oribi Gorge, and the iconic Leopard Rock where visitors have taken photos since the 1940s. Our fully-equipped chalet with a spa bath for two and open-air shower, plus recliners with views over the gorge below, certainly made this stay a memorable one. We particularly enjoyed waking up in the morning and looking out at the rolling clouds and listening to the waters of the Mzimkulwana River rumble beneath us.
Don’t miss out on a visit to the nearby Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve, Lake Eland Game Reserve and Oribi Vulture Viewing Hide. The latter is a must (visits by appointment only) if you are interested in the conservation of these Endangered birds. Whatever the reason for our love affair, we won’t forget our stay and can’t wait to go back and figure out the answer to this riddle.
+27 (0) 74 124 0902; 27 (0) 83 265 5261; [email protected]
Words Riaan Hattingh
2. Thanda Safari Lodge, Mkuze
Until recently, I believed one only went to KwaZulu-Natal for beach holidays.
I was so wrong. We discovered the bushveld of KZN with game reserves dotted all over. Our dice rolled in favour of Thanda Safari Lodge, a romantic Big Five destination between Mkuze and Hluhluwe. From our arrival until we left we were treated like royalty and everyone went out of their way to ensure our stay was unforgettable. Our suite had a fireplace, mini-bar, huge bath, outside shower, and a private deck with a splash pool and a large daybed with views over the reserve, and our own boma. Breakfast and lunch were served at the lodge.
On request, we wined and dined at our suite – a highlight. Game drives delivered many ticks on our checklist, except leopard which eluded us. On our last morning, we enjoyed a walk with two exceptionally knowledgeable field guides, who shared information about geology, insects, animals and vegetation, another highlight.
+27 (0) 32 586 0149
Words Riaan Hattingh
3. Thornybush Game Lodge, Hoedspruit
Candlelit dinners in the bush? Check. Private accommodation with all the extravagances of a luxury stay (outdoor shower, large bath, Egyptian cotton sheets, stunning views)? Check. Gourmet food, fine wine, turndown service, friendly staff and no interruptions? Check. The five-star, malaria-free Thornybush Game Lodge ticks all the boxes when It comes to ultimate romantic getaways.
There are 18 luxury suites, and two family suites to choose from. It’s set in the Thornybush Nature Reserve, where the boundary fence between Thornybush Game Lodge and Timbavati has recently been removed, and an influx of wildlife can now be spotted at almost any time of day, whether from your private balcony or from the open-air dining area that overlooks the river. We were lucky enough to witness a nyala give birth before we were caught between a herd of about 30 easy-going elephants. The star-gazing is out of this world, and you can arrange for a private dinner in the middle of it all, with nothing but your loved one, veldkos, some bubbly, lantern light, and a curious elephant or two passing by.
The sound of lions, hyenas and baboons just outside our suite was the perfect excuse to cuddle even closer. And if you are not yet hitched, the lodge also caters for weddings and honeymoons.
Words Carina Borralho
4. Ashbourne Country Escape, Hazyview
There is something about four-poster beds, draped mosquito nets, candlelight and bushveld sounds that conjures up romantic nights. Ashbourne Country Escape tucked into the mountains outside Hazyview in Mpumalanga has all this and more. We arrived after a hot and dusty drive through Kruger (only half an hour away) to our own romantic honeymoon cottage set in lush gardens, with its own tiny plunge pool and a bottle of ice-cold wine ready in the fridge. We sat on our private patio and watched the sun streak the sky in shades of pink.
A Black-headed Oriole sang as he settled in for the night and, as dusk crept over the mountains, the mournful cry of a bushbaby echoed up the valley. Owners Rob and Dawn Topham are superb hosts who made us feel instantly welcome but gave us our space. We had opted to self-cater for dinner and enjoy the tranquillity of the cottage but could have chosen from a few restaurants a short drive away. We were delighted to have breakfast on their wide, cool Lowveld veranda. Rob is a font of knowledge on the lesser-known places to picnic and explore.
Words Sue Adams
5. Morukuru River House, Madikwe
What could be more romantic than a luxurious interlude in the wild? In a long-weekend break, we rekindled our passion for the bush in the beautifully appointed Morukuru River House, in the Madikwe Game Reserve that borders Botswana, and just over three hours’ drive from both Johannesburg and Pretoria. A staff of nine took care of our every need and private game drives ensured we could spend as long as we liked watching lion cubs play in a river bed. Michelin-quality lunches served by the river were serenaded by bird calls. Dinners were taken under the stars, after the night drives. When we retired to our rooms, we opened our windows to the night and lay beneath a giant mosquito net listening to the hyenas cackling and calling in the distance.
The lazy and pleasure-loving could indulge in the sensuous spa and beauty treatments, while the more energetic enjoyed bush walks and a heated pool. We opted for the lazy option and came away feeling so relaxed we were positively liquid.
A blissful interlude indeed.
+27 (0) 11 615 4303; [email protected]
Words Fran Coburn
6. Thirsty Falls Guest Farm, Magaliesberg
Switch off all your devices, close your eyes and take in the hundreds of frog croaks and cricket stridulations that welcome you to this remote spot. Open your eyes and view the splendour that is the Magaliesberg Biosphere with the overwhelming presence of the Magalies mountains behind you.
That’s what it’s like here at Thirsty Falls Guest Farm, just an hour and a half from Johannesburg. Stay in a fully equipped self-catering studio, or one of the bigger cottages dotted around the farm and far away from each other to offer complete privacy. All rooms lead out to patios with stunning views. Jenny Mosley and her husband are gracious hosts. No children under 14 are allowed, so you are assured a peaceful stay, except for the squeaks of the Black Sunbird.
The romance really sets in at night, when a blanket of stars is the only light on this eco-farm. The natural pool and beautiful garden provide wonderful relaxation, but there are several trails for the more active couples. Watch your step though, there are African fruit beetles everywhere.
+27 (0) 82 464 7376; [email protected]
Words Carina Borralho
7. Le Quartier Francais, Franschhoek
Franschhoek may be old hat to many Cape Town day-trippers, but Le Quartier Francais, to my mind the grand dame of the high street, is looking as beautiful as the first day I stayed there some 15 years ago. Stepping off the busy street on a typical Franschhoek weekend, I felt the invitation to relax into romance immediately beckon. The garden around the pool is alive with summer colours, bees and the scent of jasmine. Beautifully decorated rooms, framed by Victorian gables and surrounding the pool, have large bathrooms with open showers. And large beds.
The exquisite landscaped sculpture garden will hold your attention for only so long, so take a bicycle and ride to Sir Richard Branson’s manor house for a wine tasting. And finish the day with the exquisite Indian flavours and fragrances of the Marigold restaurant which is part of the same group and comes highly recommended by Le Quartier Francais, for meals prepared by the rising culinary star that is Vani Padayachee.
Breakfast was incredible and was served at The Dining Room. There is also The Bar at LQF and the Garden Room for tapas and scenic views.
You won’t ever need your car.
+27 (0) 21 492 2222
Words Angus Begg
8. Embizweni Cottage, Karoo National Park
Find that perfect spot for a romantic break at the Embizweni Cottage in the Karoo National Park. This secluded, unfenced cottage is situated nearly 50 kilometres from the reception and main rest camp on the Nuweveld 4×4 Trail. It is remote and offers the perfect opportunity to enjoy the sheer magnitude of the park without the intrusion of other tourists. This is a fully equipped self-catering cottage and there is a gas-powered stove, but we opted for a braai while watching the Karoo sky change to pastel pinks and blue hues.
There is also a fridge and solar-powered lights, but luckily no chance to watch television or even charge your cellphone, so it’s perfect for switching off completely and reconnecting with your beloved. The unit has a private water hole, so you might even spot some game during your compulsory two-night stay.
You need a 4×4 to access the unit. Basic 4×4 skills will get you there as there are only some steep sections and a dry riverbed to cross if it does not rain.
+27 (0) 23 415 2828/9; +27 (0) 23 414 7080; [email protected]
Words René de Klerk