Cape Town - As I wound my way up toward the stylish buildings set discreetly against the hillside, I thought “Now this is five star”.
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, perched high above the fishing village of Gansbaai on the Western Cape coast, is something special, something different.
You won’t find the Big Five and Tarzan-type jeep jockeys here. What you will experience is a rare opportunity to enjoy 750 species of indigenous plants in this eco reserve covering 1 768 hectares of the Cape Floral Kingdom.
I arrived drained and exhausted after an eventful road trip. Smiles, a welcome drink and scented facecloth refreshed me before discussing activity options in the beautifully designed lodge with guide Jo de Villiers before heading out to the deck for a light lunch and stunning views.
Then I wound my way up through the forest paths to my freestanding suite with many amenities and luxuries. I can only imagine what the über-exclusive Villa, where Brad Pitt spent time recharging, must be like.
The name Grootbos, Afrikaans for Big Forest, comes from the Milkwood forests with their gnarled branches and mossy beards. Among these ancient forests Grootbos has artfully laid out their accommodation, with sweeping views across fynbos plains towards the sparkling ocean and distant headlands.
These vistas dominate everything, whether viewed through the sliding doors in the lounge or bedroom with its huge canopied bed, from the vast bathroom or the lodge itself.
The accommodation is superb, but plays second fiddle to nature. This is part of what makes Grootbos special. The rest is how it is run. Meticulous attention to every detail, anticipation of every need and an unusual willingness to accommodate them was special. That evening we were to have a boma dinner in the forest.
The dinner was a superb affair in a glade sheltered from the chill wind sweeping up from the coast.
I was still somewhat knackered the next morning, however. Jo and repeat German guests Susan and Christoph Vornholdt changed that. I had supped with the Vornholdts in the boma where they jested about their “shareholder” status, referring not to their six previous visits but to their support of the non-profit Grootbos Foundation which runs environmental and social development programmes.
My time with Jo was memorable. To describe her as salt of the Earth doesn’t begin to describe her passion and commitment.
With Jo I explored the beaches of Walker Bay Reserve and the Klipgat Cave. I have spent half my life on beaches but now view them with more insight. I also learnt how to make a fresh kelp potjie pot, and marvelled at the caves, the site of an important archaeological dig containing artifacts indicating man’s presence over 70 000 years ago.
We also traversed the rolling hills, mountains and valleys of Grootbos on a 4x4 fynbos safari, the air filled with the scent of seasonal flowers.
Jo isn’t the only Grootbos staffer with passion. Head Chef Benjamin Conradie and his staff take their food seriously. Breakfast included a sautéed potato cake with smoked salmon trout, cream cheese, rocket and other greens and a poppadum. Lunches were light, since dinners were five-course affairs.
Service was excellent and sommelier Ebben Bezuidenhout was spot-on with his recommendations. The Grootbos Cabernet Sauvignon was a goodie, and I enjoyed the Boschrivier Shiraz so much that I took a drive to Boschrivier, spending time en route to explore the charms of scenic Stanford village.
I didn’t tarry as there was a more to do. I popped in to neighbouring Raka Wine Farm and visited whale watching capital Hermanus – though preferred whale watching across the Walker Bay whale sanctuary, typically with a glass of bubbly while admiring the sunset with my new-found friends.
I was disappointed to find I was over the limit – the weight limit for horse riding. Instead I took a forest and fynbos guided trail. The milkwoods create a cool, enchanting atmosphere, defying gravity with their long, dense branches spreading horizontally. Above the forest I was intrigued by a million white snail shells, giant mole hills and Shoelace bushes with fibres strong enough to tow a car once plaited.
I also popped over to the more traditional thatched Garden Suites about 1km away on the next hill, aimed at families and groups.
Popular activities not included in the rates are boat-based tours and whale watching, shark cage diving, scenic flights, wine tours and quad-biking tours.
The infinity pool was a wonderful place to relax in between activities in the summer heat – they even provide hats and sunnies. To complete the relaxation process, the Bloom Beauty Salon and Forest Spa are nestled in the forest.
Apart from the first night it was incredibly still and in the evenings the silence had a remarkable, effect on me and my fellow guests. I can see why the Vornholdt’s were visiting for the seventh time.
www.boschrivierwines.co.za - Sunday Tribune