Grootbos: rugged but refined
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Do whatever it takes - sell your firstborn if you have to - but at some point in your life you have to spend at least one night at Grootbos private nature reserve.
The 2 800-ha property between Stanford and Gansbaai - about half an hour from Hermanus - contains more than 750 species of indigenous fynbos and two accommodation lodges, including a private hotel.
That is a very simplified description, however.
There is a host of activities on the reserve to keep you occupied, with eager, knowledgeable and friendly guides to facilitate them. And when you’re not being kept busy that way, lazing on a lounger on the veranda of your suite with a glass of wine and just soaking up the sun and the view is a perfectly acceptable way to pass the time.
In fact, it is obligatory.
Grootbos has its own airstrip to and from which the well-heeled can be ferried. The light aircraft can also be hired for aerial trips over the property and, especially during whale season, Walker Bay.
Apparently this is one of the best ways to see the whales because from above you get the full impact of their size beneath the surface of the water.
When I arrived I was met by Jo de Villiers, who had a clipboard and was filled with intentions as to how I should spend my time.
From her offers I chose to first go with her on a 4x4 drive around the reserve. This was mere hours after my fynbos experience with Frank Woodvine at Bouchard Finlayson, but despite the subject matter being the same, De Villiers’s descriptions and the sharing of her personal stories were so poetic and touching that it brought a whole new element to the experience.
And she is one heck of a 4x4 driver on those sandy roads.
The size of the reserve doesn’t mean much to me in hectares, but suffice to say, when you are at the highest point, just about all you see in every direction is part of it. It’s quite something.
De Villiers had also offered to take me down to the clamber around the caves on the beach, but that sounded above and beyond my fitness level.
So I instead opted for a late afternoon stroll through the magical milkwood forest.
Those gnarled trees with their mossy beards, some of them hundreds of years old, are straight out of a fairy tale.
So far, the tone had been set for what was to be an incredible stay which I am not ashamed to say made me feel small, grateful, tranquil, and more than a little emotional on account of the overwhelming beauty.
My suite was magnificent. It had three showers - a guest one in the lounge, the huge one in the bathroom in which I could have thrown a party if I was so inclined, and an outside one on the wooden deck.
Immediately over the edge of the deck’s railing were miles of fynbos and a view stretching down to the ocean. See glass of wine and sun lounger reference above.
Big glass sliding doors opened out from the lounge as well as from the bedroom, in which there was a princess bed draped with mosquito netting.
There was a dressing room where the porters had placed my luggage and put the fistful of fynbos gathered earlier in a vase of water for me.
Back in the lounge, there was a fireplace with more wood than even I could burn in one night (I tried), a well-stocked mini bar with - and this is my constant wish for any hotel - proper milk in the fridge, and even a lemon for gin and tonic.
I could ramble on for days about the fluffy floor-length robes and the pretty candle holders for bubble bath time, the streak of the Milky Way, the rhythm of the lighthouses at Cape Point, and the deep, peaceful silence.
There was an amazing dinner in the restaurant, which can be a la carte or the set menu, which changes each night. The wine list is extensive and leans heavily towards those of the region.
After going back there for breakfast the next morning, I went horse riding through the reserve on a palomino named Nico - or Nicholas when he’s being naughty, which is not very often.
Nico is a film star horse and has been in many movies and photo shoots, and is in high demand for weddings. Handsome bloke, he is.
Grootbos is family friendly and will happily put together tailor-made packages for you, whether you are looking for a romantic getaway or have the offspring in tow.
It was with a touch of sadness that I packed my bags to leave, but it was a memorable stay.
Grootbos is not just about five-star accommodation and service, and eco adventures - your visit contributes directly to the conservation efforts of the Grootbos Foundation, as well as the development of sustainable nature-based livelihoods among local communities.
*For details, see www.grootbos.com/en/home, call 028 384 8008, or e-mail [email protected]