DECEMBER 2014 – Grootbos may have begun life as a humble weekend getaway for the Lutzeyer family, but has since evolved into a world-class conservancy and one of the finest eco-escapes in the Western Cape, combining luxurious accommodation, exquisite cuisine and memorable experiences in the great outdoors.
It is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful corners of the Western Cape. Here, where the sandy beaches and steep cliffs of Walker Bay embrace the Atlantic near the southern tip of Africa. Where whales leap from the seas and sharks patrol the icy depths. Where fynbos-covered hills roll down to meet the ocean, and valleys hide ancient milkwood forests.
The fynbos-clad hills and dramatic sea views are without doubt the defining feature of Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, and yet the array of luxury accommodation and guided activities on offer at this 2 500-hectare conservancy combine to make it one of South Africa’s most remarkable eco-tourism destinations. For as much as the reserve allows guests the unique opportunity to experience this corner of the Cape Floral Kingdom, the accommodation deftly blends the great outdoors with discreet eco-sensitive luxury.
The jewel in the crown is the Villa. A triumph of design, luxury and service, its secluded location makes it one of the most exclusive private getaways in the Cape.
Six elegant suites accommodate up to 12 guests, with all-inclusive rates boasting a private chef, guide and butler service. While the service is discreet, the accommodation is sure to be memorable. Airy living areas spill onto sheltered decks and courtyards that boast panoramic views of the surrounding hills. Works by some of South Africa’s most notable artists – the likes of Skotnes, Pierneef and Kentridge – adorn the walls, perfectly matching the striking architecture and modern décor that imbues every corner of this remarkable escape.
While the Villa is ideal for larger groups, families and couples are similarly spoilt for choice with two unique lodges.
Garden Lodge is in many ways the more traditional of the two, and yet retains a lively African feel through bright colours and vibrant décor. Set in and around fynbos gardens and wide manicured lawns, this gorgeous eco-sensitive lodge crafted from stone, thatch and timber blends seamlessly into the surrounding hillsides and is especially well suited to families travelling with children.
The lodge offers both one- and two-bedroom suites, and a recent refurbishment has made the already stylish accommodation even more impressive with the addition of a new family suite, revamped exterior deck areas and luxurious new soft furnishings.
While Garden Lodge is classically elegant, Forest Lodge pitches modernity against the gnarled milkwood forest in a perfect dance of nature and design. The aesthetic here reflects the ever-changing moods of the distant ocean and so hues of grey, blue and green offer a cool, calming palette interspersed with eye-catching African furniture and objets d’art.
Forest Lodge is also the destination of choice for gourmet travellers, with its array of food-focused experiences. The Champagne Bar is the perfect place for an apéritif and to toast the sunset as it dips beneath the Atlantic. Afterwards wander over to Red Indigo, the lodge’s flagship restaurant, where more superb views of Walker Bay will do their best to distract you from the culinary magic on your plate.
There’s a firm focus on farm-to-fork dining here, with much of the fresh vegetables and herbs used in the kitchen sourced from the estate’s ‘Growing The Future’ initiative. This innovative social upliftment project has trained local women in producing organic eggs, honey, pork, vegetables and fruit, all of which are sold back to the Grootbos kitchens.
With the ocean just a few kilometres away there’s no shortage of seafood on the menu either, and the emphasis on fresh and local remains.
“If there’s no fresh fish at the harbour, there’s no fish on the menu,” says Executive Chef Benjamin Conradie, who buys his seafood straight off the boats at nearby Gansbaai and Hermanus harbours.
That attention to detail carries through to the wealth of unique culinary experiences on offer beyond the walls of Red Indigo. A candlelit staircase descends beneath the restaurant into the romantic wine cellar, where bespoke dinners for up to 12 guests are served in a private space amid the estate’s remarkable wine collection.
When the weather’s fine, candles light the way along the forest pathways to where the Boma hides in a forest of milkwoods. White linen and flickering lanterns add a dose of fairytale magic to the scene, while the Grootbos chefs whip together a magical feast that could be a fine-dining extravaganza or an authentic South African braai with a gourmet twist.
While many guests visit Grootbos to indulge, relax and soak up the luxurious serenity of their suite, there’s certainly no shortage of activities on offer in and around the reserve.
Spring is perhaps the best time to visit, with an abundance of flowers bursting into life across the fynbos-covered hills. The reserve is home to more than 750 species of fynbos, with expert guides leading daily 4×4 excursions into the surrounding hills to reveal the secrets of this corner of the Cape Floral Kingdom.
If you’d rather stretch your legs, a number of marked trails weave through the fynbos, allowing guests to explore at their own pace. Alternatively, a guided walk offers the opportunity for the Grootbos naturalists to help you unpack the myriad attractions of the reserve.
The remarkable diversity of the endemic fynbos means there’s something to marvel at year-round, and with more than 120 bird species on the reserve – including a number of endemics – Grootbos is a paradise for twitchers.
In winter the reserve is just a short drive from some of the most spectacular whale watching on earth, as southern right whales migrate north from Antarctica to breed, calve and nurse their young in the warm waters of Walker Bay. The craggy cliffs of nearby De Kelders offer a front-row seat to the action, while boat-based whale-watching tours from local harbours can easily be arranged. These waters are also home to healthy populations of great white shark, with cage-diving operations offering once-in-a-lifetime experiences for adventurous travellers.
Quad-bike tours are also available throughout the year, offering a thrilling new perspective on the surrounding forests and mountains, but if you’d prefer to relax there are numerous Blue Flag beaches a short drive away. The lodge kitchen will be only too happy to pack you a picnic basket!
The reserve also makes an ideal springboard for exploring the surrounding area. Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa, is an hour’s drive away while the acclaimed wineries in and around the Moravian mission village of Elim, itself worth a visit, produce top-notch Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.
The choices of how to spend your days here are, not unlike the fynbos that covers the hills, wonderfully diverse. Whether you choose to luxuriate in your suite, dive with sharks or discover the Cape Floral Kingdom, Grootbos never fails to excite.