Luxury's wilder side
South Africa is synonymous with superb game reserves and lodges. And South Africans share a similar welcoming and quietly efficient trait for providing lodge-style accommodation as do those equally rugby-loving New Zealanders, a country renowned for its own luxury lodges.
South Africa's accommodation extends well beyond the bush-based variety; urban hotels and country lodges come in as many hues as the rainbow nation itself. Here are five that hit the spot.
Ellerman House, Cape Town
Perhaps Africa's most glamorous city, Cape Town has no shortage of outstanding, and outstandingly situated, accommodation. But none surpasses Ellerman House, a former shipping magnate's mansion converted to 11 oversize, lavishly appointed rooms and renowned for a gracious, exemplary service courtesy of a multiracial South African staff.
Ellerman House's suites, art-filled lounges and dining rooms overlook beautiful, beachside Bantry Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, with the notorious Robben Island a haunting presence in the misty distance. The hotel also boasts a gorgeous tiered cliff-side garden showcasing South Africa's unique flora, including vibrant protea specimens. Looming over the hotel's Kloof Street side entrance is the peak known as Lion's Head, an arresting rock that at almost 700 metres high seems to have snapped off from Table Mountain.
Ellerman House, 180 Kloof Street, Bantry Bay, Cape Town, has rooms from 7900 rand ($1113).
La Residence, Franschhoek
The Cape Winelands, little more than an hour's drive from Cape Town, is regarded as the country's food and wine capital; home to most of the nation's leading wineries and restaurants and a range of superior lodges, including this 11-suite manor in Franschhoek Valley. The ochre-toned La Residence is set in an expansive wine estate of its own with a breathtaking mountain, vineyard and orchard backdrop. It competes with the nearby and equally luxe Grande Provence Heritage Wine Estate (a sister property of New Zealand's Huka Lodge) for the laurels of best accommodation in the winelands region.
My "Chambre Bleu Suite" at La Residence has olive grove and hillside views and is so large a complimentary GPS wouldn't have gone astray. The four-poster timber bed so high I need the accompanying footstool in order to climb into it (and I'm reasonably tall). The fantasy-like bathroom, with a centrepiece separate tub and mandatory his-and-her handbasins, is itself the size of a large hotel room.
In keeping with its Gallic-influenced location (Franschhoek was settled by the Huguenots in 1688), the baroque interior of La Residence's main building has chequerboard black-and-white tiled flooring and elaborate Indian chandeliers suspended from towering timber-beamed ceilings. Really, La Residence is too ostentatious for its own good, but somehow it succeeds.
La Residence, Elandskloof Road, Franschhoek, Cape Winelands, has rooms from 10,350 rand.
Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal
When it comes to game reserves, all roads, at least in the minds of many visitors, tend to lead to Kruger National Park. However, the country's "big five" animals can be observed in other parts of the bush, including the north-east province of KwaZulu-Natal. The 23,000-hectare Phinda Private Game Reserve, operated by the andBeyond group, is a four-hour drive north of Durban, towards the border with Mozambique. The reserve has seven stylish lodges. From the deckchairs of Forest Lodge, set in a rare sand forest, guests can watch a parade of wildlife, including elephants, zebras, monkeys and springbok, drifting by. Safari drives take place twice daily and the reserve is well known for its conservation of black rhino and cheetahs.
andBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve, Maputaland, KwaZulu-Natal, has rooms from 3795 rand a person. See andBeyondafrica.com.
Oyster Box, Durban
This 86-room hotel is a much-loved landmark and social magnet; its seaside location at Umhlanga Rocks, about 15 minutes north of Durban's city centre, is as exceptional as it is eccentric. On the adjacent beachfront stands an imposing red-and-white lighthouse (the colours used in the hotel's own palette) where, for much of the day, the shoreline is dotted with dozens of South African fishermen. If you stay at Oyster Box, choose a sea-facing room, as my garden-facing-room was small, cluttered and a little tired looking. Having said that, guests tend to relax on the hotel's terrace or by the pool overlooking the lighthouse and beach.
2 Lighthouse Road, Umhlanga Rocks, Durban, has rooms from 4350 rand.
54 on Bath, Johannesburg
The city still labours under the burden of high crime rates, but its hard edge is softened by a stay at a chic and secure hotel. The recently opened 54 on Bath is housed in the former Grace Hotel, with contemporary design that wouldn't be out of place in a boutique New York or London establishment.
The hotel's 73 rooms are decorated in restrained charcoal tones, with feather-top beds and edgy modern local artwork. Benny Masekwameng, a renowned South African chef, oversees the kitchen at the hotel's sun-filled Level Four restaurant.
54 Bath Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg, has rooms from 3450 rand.
For more information: southafrica.net
Anthony Dennis travelled courtesy of South African Tourism.
Sydney Morning Herald