Destination: South Africa
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve
Read about Grootbos, a five-star eco lodge set on thousands of acres of private land in the Western Cape.
Pezula Resort Hotel
Don’t be put off by Pezula’s somewhat hokey marketing lingo—the private estate and resort located along South Africa’s scenic Garden Route is a true find for travelers looking for a quiet place to unwind post-safari or Cape Town visit. Best of all, it’s a hideaway that manages to combine style and a soul, and that is also a part of a successful environmental rehabilitation project.
Located on 2,400 acres that front the Indian Ocean, Pezula encompasses a 78-suite hotel, complete with a lovely spa and championship golf course, two seaside private villas (so-called “castles”) and plots for 225 private homes (45 of which have already been built). When the owner, Zimbabwe-born Keith Stewart, bought the property in 2000, he set out to restore the stunning forest landscapes to their original glory. Some one million alien trees were removed, including eucalyptus plants, which had usurped much of the area’s water, altering and effectively destroying the natural habitat for hundreds of animals and other plant life. Today, the indigenous South African forest—an expanse of green—is healthy and marvelous to behold, the wetlands have returned and with them, more than 130 species of birds.
The stunning setting—Pezula borders the Sinclair Wildlife Reserve, making it look even more expansive—is also helped by a low-density building plan. The hotel, which opened in 2005, occupies the top of a hillside, with sweeping views of the resort town of Knysna and the harbor below. Suites are housed in four freestanding buildings (two on the top floor, two below) and interiors are elegant, with open living- and bedrooom spaces, fireplaces and spacious bathrooms. The design scheme seems to emulate the sleek, uncluttered chic of an Aman: the flat-screen television is hidden behind black wood sliding panels, the walk-in closets have latticed sliding doors and the showers are enormous. Families or groups of friends traveling together can also book one of the tastefully decorated castle villas, which are located a short drive from the main hotel and face an expansive, beautiful beach. (For the record, the Indian Ocean in this part of the world is about as cold as the Long Island or Cape Cod Atlantic.)
Pezula consciously doesn’t call itself a golf resort destination, but travelers who play the game will be most happy at the 18-hole Championship Course that stretches along the lofty cliff tops with broad views of the Knysna Lagoon and the Indian Ocean. Facilities and amenities are top-notch, including golf carts with GPS systems and computerized scoring. And if you get bored of playing Pezula, there are plenty of other options in the area; there are more courses along the Garden Route than in all the rest of South Africa.
Not that there is not enough to see and do for non-golfers. The award-winning spa has nine treatment rooms, an indoor and outdoor pool and a state-of-the-art gym (again, guest pampering figures prominently; the spa’s relaxation rooms has heated water beds instead of the run-of-the-mill chaises). Considering where you are, however, the great outdoors beckon: on property, guests can hike, horseback-ride, canoe, go bird-watching and, of course, lounge on the stunning, semi-private beach; the resort can also organize half-day trips to do everything from deep-sea diving and catamaran cruises to visiting Monkeyland (a hit with children) or zip-lining in Tsitsikamma National Park.
Pezula also landed a coup by luring chef Geoffrey Murray to head Zachary restaurant, a must for anyone staying in the area. A memorable meal on a recent visit included an amuse of a flavorful Knysna oyster with a sprinkling of rose granita, an appetizer of rabbit confit risotto topped with paper-thin shavings of local goat’s milk cheese, and an entrée of grilled eland (a local game meat) served with dates, shallots and spiced butternut puree. It was the perfect tasting menu: dishes small enough so you could finish the whole meal and bold in flavors to leave a lasting impression. “In Cape Town, you’re just a number,” explained chef Murray when asked about the difference of big-city versus country cooking. “Here, I know every single purveyor and farmer and everything we serve is local, fresh and homegrown.”
The closest airport to Pezula is George (about 60 km away), which has daily flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Who Should Go:
Golfers and travelers exploring along the Garden Route who crave a pampering enclave in a pristine natural setting that offers both dense forest and an expansive beach. Families will love the privacy of the seaside castle villas, which come with their own staff and a chef who customizes meals. For those who don’t want to do a lot other than relax, read and spend quality time, it’s hard to picture a more ideal setting in this part of South Africa (suffice to say, one of the first guests at the main castle was Nelson Mandela).
Who Should Not Go:
Visitors craving nightlife and a hip scene. Knysna is a quiet seaside resort and there’s not a whole lot to do after-hours.
Rooms to Get:
Suites on the lower floors are slightly more spacious than those on top. The villa structures that house the suites are scattered along meandering paths; if you want to be close to the main hotel building that houses the multi-level spa and the restaurant, be sure to request this when you book; ditto for golf fans who want to be in walking distance to the Club House.
If you’re visiting with a group, reserve a braai (traditional bush barbeque) in the Boma, an open structure with a massive fireplace and thatched roof where the staff sets up a buffet dinner that’s lit entirely by candles.
Read about other South Africa discoveries
Read Indagare’s Cape Town
Read about what books to get before traveling to South Africa in the Library section
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