In South Africa, there are ample hospitality establishments who provide 5-star accommodation combined with matching cuisine, but very few who excel in catering to all 6 experiential senses, namely sight, smell, taste, touch, hear and spirit. Grootbos Private Nature Reserve is most definitely one of the latter. By Des Langkilde.
If nature, in all its diversity and wonder, is sufficient unto itself in terms of eliciting the intellectual and emotional responses associated with spiritual experience, then Grootbos Private Nature Reserve has successfully capitalised on this 6th sense with unobtrusive style.
Nestled in ancient Milkweed forests on the slope of a 2 500 hectare botanical treasure trove between mountain and sea, each of the two lodges and 25 suites is strategically placed to provide guests with privacy and uninterrupted panoramic views over Walker Bay to De Kelders and Gansbaai.
Located between Stanford and Gansbaai, just off the R44 Cape Whale Route in South Africa’s Western Province, and a two-hour drive from Cape Town, I arrived for check-in at Forest Lodge on a typically sunny Monday afternoon.
Leaving my overnight bag in the boot of the car, I approached the reception desk expecting to endure the usual check-in procedure. To my surprise I was welcomed by name and ushered through to the dining room for lunch and a refreshing cocktail comprised of ginger ale with crushed lemon, lime and mint.
Forest Lodge is an architectural masterpiece that blends unobtrusively into the surrounding Milkwood and Fynbos terrain, with its low profile cantilevered roof that allows the windows to extend from floor to ceiling and provides a sense of spaciousness that enhances the panoramic views.
This lodge originally had a thatch roof and I recall the wildfire that razed the lodge and three of its rooms in February 2006, back when I was still the Marketing Director for an insurance broker that had just placed Grootbos’s Fire & Allied Perils insurance undercover that month. Unbelievably, the lodge, the three burnt suites and six new suites were simultaneously reopened just seven months later.
But I digress. I shall try my best to describe the experience that guests can expect, but words fail me, which is quite a statement coming from a travel writer.
Let’s start with the cuisine, which is at the heart of any hospitality establishment and best of all is included in your board. Grootbos boasts two outstanding restaurants (one at Forest Lodge and the other at Garden Lodge), as well as a selection of amazing venues for special occasions.
This is where executive Chef Benjamin Conradie and his extensive team reign supreme, and create contemporary world-class dishes prepared with organic ingredients produced by Grootbos’s ‘Growing the Future’ food production and social upliftment project (see our Responsible Tourism feature ‘How to apply responsible tourism practices‘).
Breakfasts are a casual, buffet style affair with a delectable spread of fresh fruit, yoghurt, grains, cereals, pastries, cheese board and a menu for hot English style breakfasts. Lunch is a three-course menu that can be enjoyed either in the dining room or outdoors on the sundeck overlooking the spectacular views. One should take care however to leave space for the gastronomical five-course dinner, which is reinvented daily and paired with a wine menu selected from local cellars that reflect the essence of the Cape region and its people. Special dietary requirements are catered for as is more simple fare for children.
Garden Lodge, which is constructed from stone, thatch and timber, is ideal for families and provides a range of 11 classic, luxury and two bedroom freestanding suites, each positioned to offer privacy. Below the lodge are horse stables and an outdoor play area with rabbits, ducks and other farm animals to provide children with hours of entertainment and facilitated educational activities.
Forest Lodge, where I stayed in unit 28, has 16 freestanding luxury suites interconnected with cobbled pathways set beneath the forest canopy. Each suite is stylishly furnished to provide a blend of aesthetic beauty with supreme comfort. A cosy lounge with fireplace and ample wood provided, a small but well-stocked kitchen with bar fridge, luxurious canopy beds and spacious bathrooms make this the ultimate getaway for total relaxation.
Large glass doors flood the space with natural light and open out onto a spacious wooden deck perched over the forest canopy, with an outdoor shower. Despite the perfect comfort and elegance, the panoramic views of mountain and sea steal the show and humble the extravagant luxury of the suite.
WiFi is complimentary and connects using the guests’ room number without the need for tedious password authorisation.
The most exclusive offering in the Grootbos portfolio, and quite possibly one of the most exclusive offerings in the whole of South Africa, is the 1000 square meter Villa, which consists of six elegant suites accommodating up to 12 guests and comes complete with its own private guide, chef and butler.
In hospitality, service is the de facto differentiator that separates the wheat from the chaff, and Grootbos definitely takes the cake in this regard.
For example, while dining with Forest Lodge’s general manager Sean Ingles, I happened in conversation to mention my passion for cigars. On arriving back at my suite after dinner, a Montecristo of Havanna, Cuban cigar lay presented on the lounge table complete with an ashtray, clipper, matches and a personalised complimentary card. Now that’s what I call service with attention to detail!
Activities and Excursions
This is where the 6th sense analogy that I used to introduce this feature comes into play. I can well imagine that when the Lutzeyer family purchased the original farm in 1991, they must have felt the spiritual connection that the land imbues through its incredible biodiversity. Respect and appreciation of the environment are too readily dismissed as elitist affectations, whereas they underpin our physical and spiritual wellbeing.
The friendly and knowledgeable guides take pride in sharing their love for nature and the outdoors, and they know Grootbos and its surrounds like the palm of their hand and display an eagerness to share its many secrets with guests.
Their humorous commentary and intriguing tales aim to convey science and history through stories that bring the landscape to life. Coming from different backgrounds, cultures and schooling, each guide adds an individual quality and flair to the Grootbos experience – a personal touch and friendliness beyond mere service.
For example, my guide Jo De Villiers explained that of the 9 250 species of flowering plants to be found in the Cape Floristic Region, 760 species are found within Grootbos, of which six are totally new to science, having been discovered by their own botanist, Sean Privett, and found only in this particular part of the reserve.
While all guided adventures are limited to Grootbos guests, there are a host of adventure and scenic guided tours on offer, including whale watching, shark cage diving, beach and cave tours, horse riding, bird watching, scenic flights and quad biking to name but a few.
In conclusion, I have come to realise that Grootbos Private Nature Reserve has so much to offer discerning guests, that one night in paradise is insufficient to truly appreciate this gem of biodiversity and I shall have to return. A sentiment that I am sure every departing guest has made no matter how long they have stayed.
For more information visit www.grootbos.com