Far From Normal - Business Media MAGS

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Far From Normal

Keith Bain suggests six places to stay where three essentials - escape, awe, and wonder - are guaranteed.


On the R62, just three hours from Cape Town, Sanbona was the first reserve in the Western Cape to offer Big Five sightings against the Klein Karoo’s scenic backdrop of undulating mountains. So you spot ellies and other animals drinking at water holes before you even reach your accommodations. On your way in, the detour from the tar road trains your eyes on exquisite terrain. The reserve is a trove of wonders – tiny succulents that look like pebbles or buttons or something alien grow amidst incredible rock formations within a geologically fascinating universe that opens up all around you. Animals are a tad more elusive than those in Kruger, but there’s a whole lot of space (54 000 hectares) that’s shared with considerably fewer guests who are, in turn, lodged at a variety of camps. Secluded Dwyka Tented Lodge is, scenically, our favourite. It’s arranged along a dry riverbed at the base of a steep ravine where you’ll spot black eagles, baboons and klipspringers. The canvas-topped stone cottages are very smart, too. Gondwana Lodge, meanwhile, is especially designed for families with children. It’s worth spending a few nights to increase chances of encountering free-roaming big cats: lion have been returned to the area for the first time in two centuries, and the reserve also has cheetahs collared for conservation monitoring which means you can track them on foot, a dizzying experience. Alternatively, you can join one of their Explorer safaris, where you sleep in the bush (in slickly kitted-out off-grid tents) and join rangers for on-foot animal tracking during the day, but mix up your time with drives and sunrise coffee sessions up on a hill with stupendous views in every direction.



For years, Tswalu in the “Green Kalahari” has been hands down the most glamorous place to stay in the Northern Cape. Now, thanks to the recent opening of Jan Hendrik van der Westhuisen’s Restaurant Klein JAN (an offshoot of his Michelin-star establishment), it’s also among the world’s most astonishing dining destinations. What’s more, this is South Africa’s largest private game reserve, covering more than 100 000 hectares of remote and mystical semidesert where big animals (including black-maned lions) can be seen on game drives and there exist possibilities to spot rarities such as brown hyena. Because there’s less thick vegetation to conceal animals, sightings are excellent and might include sable and roan antelope, tsessebe, cheetah, and wild dog. Meerkats are a favourite sighting; on night drives you might run into elusive aardvark or aardwolf; and this is probably the best place in South Africa to see pangolin. For guests at either of the two lodging sites, there are dedicated guides and pampering staff to take care of every whim. The Motse, the main camp found below the Korannaberg mountains, offers just nine individual stone, clay, and thatch “legae” (Tswana for “dwelling”) with private decks overlooking a waterhole – each sensitively constructed with plush interiors that look and feel bespoke. Tarkuni, meanwhile, is an exclusive-use homestead that sleeps ten. And if you’re excited by groundbreaking food, Klein JAN is also a formidable reason to make the trek to this corner of the country; the Michelin-star chef has set his culinary spirit free while placing emphasis on ingredients and traditions from this part of the country, which typically gets ignored when it comes to gourmet expectations. What’s been created, though, is a destination dining experience the whole world will soon be talking about.


Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse

If you’ve ever been the victim of a stuffy meal in an old-fashioned country hotel, then here’s the antidote: Richard Poynton – part Santa Claus, part Hogwarts professor – is an award-winning cookbook author, a delightful raconteur, and compelling host. His dinners at Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse, an enchanted hideaway at the foot of Mount Lebanon, not too far from Giant’s Castle, are more than mere meals. They are performances that, along with wine and story-telling, steadily build into a multi-course adventure featuring beautiful flavours coaxed from fresh, seasonal produce from the garden and from nearby farms. “We don’t want to be accused of being a health farm,” Richard will tell you as you tuck into a decadent dessert of berries in zabaglione, for which there’ll be no sparing of butter or cream. After Richard has fattened you up, you retire to bedrooms exquisitely decorated by his wife, Mouse. Besides vintage bathtubs or cleverly-sourced antiques, all kinds of discarded bits and pieces have been recycled into eye-catching décor to reinvigorate old farm buildings, now restored and given themed, quirky interiors. And, when you wake up still dreaming of the previous night’s indulgence, there are fantastic hikes, horse trails, and plentiful streams and lakes for swimming or fishing. But first, of course, breakfast beckons. If you are looking for a place to hole up as a family (since Cleopatra’s doesn’t accept children under 12), you may want to consider the self-catering farmhouse about 1km away – River Run looks onto the Highmoor section of Giant’s Castle Nature Reserve and, apart from being a gorgeous country getaway in its own right, is close enough should you wish to book for one of Richard’s meals, too.


The Homestead at Hazendal

A sumptuous addition to the fleet of slick retreats in the Winelands, this Cape Dutch villa has a history stretching back to 1790. Situated on the historic Hazendal estate on Stellenbosch’s Bottelary Road, it’s been graciously restored to provide a sense of its original character while being imbued with contemporary touches and modern conveniences. Plus, serious artworks including originals by Tretchikoff and Pierneef, and a valuable collection of historic maps and rare antique furniture. It’s only available to rent in its entirety – so that’s five bedrooms (each with either king- or queen-sized beds, and each with an en suite bathroom and a unique view) that combine for a wonderful retreat whether shared by friends convening for a special occasion or a family in need of a spoiling treat. There’s loads to do while you’re there. Hazendal has in the last couple of years reinvented itself as a varied and exciting place to find delicious food, and uncommon delights such as the Russian high tea and – for youngsters – Wonderdal, an edutainment centre with emphasis on science and nature. Plus, there’s wine tasting, art tours, and butler-style service, exquisite breakfasts, a library nook, bar, garden terrace, and picnics from the Babushka Deli, fun times in the Pivnushka Beer Garden, and, on occasion, jazz evenings. The grounds themselves are gorgeous to explore, and if you’re that way inclined there’s an 18-hole par-3 mashie golf course with a putting park and driving range, too.


Prana Lodge

The Wild Coast has plenty of marvellous spots where you can rough it, stay in huts, camp, even hike your way along the wild edges and sleep under the stars, but being here in the heart of paradise needn’t mean abandoning luxury at all.

Not far from East London, in Chintsa, where there’s an enormous strip of vagabond beach, super-luxurious Prana Lodge has huge, sumptuous villa-style suites built into a jungly 17-acre semi-wild garden behind towering forested sand dunes. When you do venture onto the beach, it’s like arriving in paradise, with zero chance of encountering anything resembling a crowd. In fact, given that Chinsa’s pristine shore stretches for some 21 unblemished kilometres, it’s possible to explore it and find barely another soul. You come here for purest tranquillity and respite from all the noise and nonsense. It’s a genuine battery recharger with a balance of barefoot back-to-nature beachcombing and manmade luxuries including cool lounging areas at the pool, butler-style service, and an excellent spa with a menu of imaginative therapies (including dedicated men’s treatments, and packages for couples and ones that include dinner at Prana’s very fine restaurant). Rooms feature covetable, timeless décor (Persian rugs, a formidable art collection, spoiling bathrooms) with chic contemporary comforts, including luscious linens on plush beds. There are plunge pools in each suite’s private garden, too. A wooden boardwalk leads you to the summit of a steep dune where there’s a deck to chill out, cocktail in hand, watching for dolphins and whales. Or take the plunge into the soft sand down below and amble along that shoreline, encountering sunbathing cows, whale bones, and opportunities to reconnect with yourself.


Kruger Shalati – Train on the Bridge

Way before the pandemic, someone had the crazy-beautiful idea of parking a reconditioned train on the Selati Bridge above the Sabie River in the Skukuza section of Kruger National Park. Not just for show, but to install as an imaginative new boutique hotel (if that’s the right term for such a fantastical project). It finally opened mid-December, after 2020’s ongoing palaver, with 24 handsome “carriage rooms” in which you can literally sleep high above the river, animals doing their thing down below. The bedrooms and their en suite bathrooms have large glass walls so you find yourself steeped in panoramic views of the terrain that stretches out below, and inside spaces have been fine-tuned with local designer touches, such as blankets by Bonolo Chepape. One-of-a-kind concept and location aside, we love the fact that there’s a plunge pool hovering off to one side, so you can take a dip in what feels like mid-air – animal sightings can happen right from your deckchair. While it might not be for you if you suffer from a fear of heights or need to feel the ground beneath your feet, later this year they will be opening seven rooms in the land-based “Bridge House”, where children under 12 (who can’t stay in the train) will also be welcomed. Either way, the hotel is a great base for a full-on safari experience, with ranger-guided game drives available should you wish to sit back and be immersed in the experience.


TSWALU motse deck

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