Be lavish with relaxation of Bushman's Kloof

Cape Times

ESCAPE to a sybaritic getaway in the rocky foothills of the Cederberg.

Apart from playing a major role in preserving our natural heritage, Bushman Kloof Wilderness

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FRESH: Chef Floris Smith with the mornings harvest from the vast  vegetable gardenICE CREAMS AND YOGURTS: Rooibos - Chai and Brazillian Coffee and  Lime berry and green apple.

Reserve is dedicated to fine food. In the skilled hands of head chef and assistant lodge manager Floris

Smith, the retreat has been rated on the Condé Nast Traveller UK Gold List in the category "Best Hotels for Food in Africa, Middle East and the Indian Ocean" for the last three years. (2010-2012).

Besides the luxury, tangible tranquillity and creative cuisine, I relished the lack of regimentation. Game drives are neither predawn nor in darkness to accommodate guests seeking a bone-crunching kill.

One of the largest privately-owned herds of endangered Cape mountain zebra, plus springbok, antelope and eland are in no danger of becoming prey - or the kitchen team's hit list.

Your day is your own. Options include a game-drive through pristine fynbos - our stop for sundowners showed fresh leopard spoor - and a guided tour of awesome San rock paintings.

If it's relaxation you're after, book at the soothing spa, or simply sleep off the effects of the last meal.

For all activities are punctuated by food. Early sustenance (fresh croissants are a must) prevents pangs before lavish, noon-ending brunch (try poached egg with asparagus fresh from the garden).

Come afternoon, high tea is a tempting prelude to a gourmet dinner, bursting with regional flavour.

We sampled the spring menu overlooking the river and pool, with rocks silhouetted against a darkening sky. In summer, drums echo down the kloof as a drumming troupe welcomes guests to a candlelit platform high in the gorge, to braai in velvety, star-ceilinged peace.

As an aperitif, sip Rooibos Royale, a refreshing take on a Kir Royale, then move to Bouchard Finlayson wine.

Bushmans Kloof proprietors, the Tollman family, also own the wine farm, and their award-winning wines are available at cellar prices.

I delighted in Floris's garden fresh dishes and innovative ingredient mix.

While my mind rejected the combination of wasabi and white chocolate crème brûlée with pink salmon, rolled in fried sushi rice, and plated with soya reduction and ginger gel, my tastebuds sang hymns.

I had no such misgivings about the marriage of slow-roasted pork belly with roasted pear, freshly picked fennel, watercress and radish salad with rooibos oriental dressing; or the rooibos and vanilla smoked quail breast and confit leg, paired with baba ganouch and pistachio crumble.

Rooibos is Floris' favourite ingredient for its versatility, and he counts himself lucky to be based in the plant's natural home.

That versatility is enhanced by his ability to think out of the box: even deboning oxtail is part of his repertoire. He also finds promise in recipes he's read, or dishes seen on a menu. Like our dessert: the syrupy comfort of rich brandy pudding, peppermint-crisp tartlet and melktert macaroon was lifted by salty caramel-sauced ice-cream.

This sauce transforms rice pudding at Azure, at the Tollman-owned Twelve Apostles, where it appears on Bea Tollman's menu.

It's even better with vanilla-pod and ice-cream

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