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South Africa Dream Trips

The country’s hoteliers have been opening amazing new places to stay, with superlative restaurants and impressive wine cellars.

South Africa’s hoteliers have been launching new properties with cheetah-fast speed: An impressive number of fabulous new game-reserve lodges, wine-country retreats and seaside resorts have opened within the past two years, many with extraordinary restaurants and cellars. The trend is toward secluded and supertiny—all of the new spots featured here have 10 suites or less. The Molori Safari Lodge & Spa, deep in the Madikwe Game Reserve, has a 10-guest limit, and the Rodwell House, a wine-country resort in the village of St. James, is inside a walled one-acre garden. Even classic properties that have long defined luxurious South African travel have news; for instance, the Steenberg Hotel, whose building dates back to the 1600s, just added three suites, and the Zimbali Lodge has become part of the international Fairmont chain of luxury hotels.

New Game-Reserve Lodges

Molori Safari Lodge & Spa

Getting to Molori (pictured, above) requires a 50-minute flight from Johannesburg to Madikwe Game Reserve’s private airstrip. Once guests arrive, seclusion is guaranteed: There’s a 10-guest limit, and each of the five freestanding suites has its own deck with rattan daybeds and infinity pools with views of the Dwarsberg Mountains. Nearly everything, from game drives to spotting the Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard) to the choices at dinner, is customized. “Instead of preset menus, we speak to each guest in the morning to tell them what’s fresh and see what they feel like,” says chef Willie Malherbe. On request, Malherbe also teaches guests how to cook traditional South African dishes like potjiekos, a slow-simmered oxtail stew.

Shamwari Townhouse

This all-white Art Deco–style boutique hotel, which opened in August on the Eastern Cape, looks as if it was lifted straight off of Miami’s South Beach. But instead of a party scene, the vibe is old-boys’ club. A dedicated whiskey bar is stocked with more than 60 different labels, including a release of the superelusive Last Drop, made from a blend of 70 malt whiskies, some from distilleries that no longer exist. In a nod to that most pampered of old boys, England’s Prince Charles, the property’s private movie theater is modeled after the prince’s cinema at Clarence House in London, with lavish Edwardian-style sofas. The hotel’s major draw is the nearby 60,000-acre Shamwari Game Reserve, known for its secluded wilderness, and most recently famous for being the spot where Tiger Woods proposed to then-girlfriend Elin Nordegren. It’s also respected for its serious conservation efforts. The last of the area’s big game had been hunted to extinction by the early 1900s, but 16 years ago, businessman Adrian Gardiner, who founded the Reserve and Townhouse, helped restock the area with elephants, giraffes and (in the two big cat sanctuaries) lions rescued from zoos and circuses around the world. Recent transplants include two leopards from Prince Albert II’s Jardin Animalier in Monaco, which arrived in January.

Resorts on the Water

Oceana Beach & Wildlife Reserve

Courtesy of Oceana Beach & Wildlife Resort

Oceana Beach & Wildlife Reserve

The waves along South Africa’s Eastern Cape are among the world’s most prized surf breaks (immortalized in the classic ’60s surf film Endless Summer). So it’s a treat for guests at Oceana to get their own four-mile stretch of beach, not just for surfing but also for snorkeling and whale-watching. The sprawling property, the only private beach game reserve in the country, has 10 elevated thatched-roof suites and a resident biologist who leads treks by open-air safari for guests hoping to see giraffes and zebras. Chef Mark Ross Hendry, who cooked at the Relais & Châteaux Plettenberg Hotel in the Western Cape, prepares a traditional South African barbecue—a braai—on the beach. In the dining room, he uses French techniques to cook game like springbok and wildebeest. A nice touch: the various sets of Wedgwood china. “Guests never eat on the same set twice,” says J. Clay Bebee, head of operations.

Dock House

Courtesy of Dock House

Dock House

Cape Town has a hip new place to stay on the bustling Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, which is right next to the historic Time Ball Tower. Local interior designer François du Plessis has reimagined an 1880 residence, sister property to the much larger Victoria & Alfred Hotel, as a six-room boutique in taupe, gray and white. Some original architectural details remain: cornices, pressed-tin ceilings, polished wood. Many of the guest rooms have views of the harbor or landscaped grounds. The sole suite on the property opens out onto an enclosed private garden. Dock House’s simple, ingredient-driven breakfast and lunch menus—sweet corn fritters with roasted tomatoes and grilled bacon; smoked beef with a warm baby-potato and bean salad—were created by veteran South African chef Pete Goffe-Wood, who opened Salt, one of Cape Town’s top restaurants. There’s no restaurant at the hotel, so guests eat in the chandelier-filled morning room, on their private balcony or at tables by the pool.

Wine-Country Hotel

Rodwell House

This two-year-old seaside hotel in St. James, near Stellenbosch wine country, appeals to wine geeks and daredevils. For the geeks: Owner Robin von Holdt has built a 15,000-bottle cellar, and in doing so, he’s forged deep wine connections. Guests get to enjoy the perks, like tastings led by local winemakers such as Adam Mason of the venerable Klein Constantia Estate. For the daredevils: Rodwell’s staff arranges shark dives and even flights in fighter jets. For daredevil wine geeks: Private helicopter tours stop at wine destinations like Cederberg Mountain Vineyard, located 3,444 feet above sea level. It’s an hour’s ride back to Rodwell—a grand nine-suite villa. A massive stone terrace is a lovely setting for outdoor dining on fastidiously sourced, simply prepared seafood, like red stump nose fish caught a mile away and grilled the same day, seasoned with fresh dill from Rodwell’s herb garden.


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Published October 2008
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