Clifftop inspiration

Whale-watching, log fires and cosy cocooning in winter, languid summer days beside the infinity pool soaking up stunning views over the Indian Ocean or pottering among the rock pools on the pristine coastline: whatever the season, Plettenberg Park is all about escape and tranquil country house living.

May 2015

The soundtrack of waves crashing on the rocky coastline below makes a soothing backdrop to a good night’s sleep in the king-size sleigh bed at Plettenberg Park, and on a cool, clear winter’s morning the view is well worth waking up for. A faint mist hazes the water but there’s no disguising the graceful rolls and leaps of the majestic southern right whale as it breaches in the protected waters close to the Robberg peninsula. What better vantage point to whale-watch to your heart’s content than the luxurious surroundings of a clifftop suite with a bird’s-eye view of the ocean?

With soft, sensual throws, underfloor heating and a roaring log fire to keep you warm as you gaze at the awe-inspiring sight of whales rollicking in the waves, cocooning inside is definitely high on the agenda in winter. The comfortable chaise longue set beside the fireplace opposite the glass doors to the balcony demands an afternoon curled up with a book, letting eyes stray now and then to the view of gulls soaring, waves breaking and clouds swirling along the unspoilt coastline. A therapeutic massage at the in-house spa, a relaxed stroll along the clifftop trails and a succession of delicious meals are all you need to punctuate a weekend of romance and delightful seclusion.

Plettenberg Park was originally the family home of interior designer Sarah Stevens and has retained its air of a gracious country home, even as the new wing has added five more spacious sea-facing rooms (to make a total of only 10). Sarah’s inimitable style pervades throughout the spaces, taking the clean bleached colours of sea, sand and rock and transmuting them to luxury fabrics, simple understated furniture with soft curves and natural woods for a timeless, uncluttered appeal.

Clusters of comfortable wide armchairs, sofas and ottomans in the lounge invite relaxed conversation over coffee, a collection of Clinton Friedman’s beautiful botanical photography adding a South African flavour to complement the natural treasure of the fynbos reserve outside. Other rooms feature a distinguished art collection of the works of internationally acclaimed South African artist Tamsin Relly, who began her career in neighbouring Knysna.

While it is a perfect retreat to escape the world for a romantic weekend, Plettenberg Park also makes a wonderful base for exploring the Garden Route, especially for those who prefer to return home after an exhilarating day out to the peace and calm of unspoilt natural surroundings. The bustle of lively Plettenberg Bay is only a short drive away on the other side of the Robberg peninsula, where restaurants, bars and a vibrant beach scene await if you are in the mood for a faster tempo.

From here you can embark upon a host of adventure and watersports activities, from a boat trip for close encounters with whales to river rafting in Storms River canyon, the world’s highest bungee jump from nearby Bloukrans Bridge, hikes through the Tsitsikamma Forest and a whole lot more. Take in Birds of Eden where an indigenous forested kloof has been spanned by a huge free-flight aviary dome so that visitors can experience flocks of indigenous birdlife up close, or book a once-in-a-lifetime elephant-back ride at the Knysna Elephant Park, which gives sanctuary to rescued elephants in the beautiful surroundings of the Knysna Forest and Outeniqua mountains.

There’s plenty of wildlife right on your doorstep, too. The boutique hotel is set in 200 hectares of natural fynbos reserve on a three-kilometre stretch of unspoilt cliff-lined coastline that curves round to the Robberg Nature Reserve. Take a gentle stroll or an energetic hike along one of the trails to discover a wealth of birdlife and small mammals, including charming bushbuck, grysbok and mongoose. The three natural wetland areas and large dam filled with bass make an ideal habitat for the Cape clawless otter, herons and kingfishers, with more than 65 different bird species identified here, so there are plenty of delights to entice you away from the enfolding comfort of the hotel, even if it is just to hike up to the lookout deck before returning to a cocktail beside the 25-metre-long infinity pool.

In summer, Plettenberg Park takes on a barefoot luxury feel, its bleached wooden decks the perfect place to relax after a few laps of the pool, perhaps watching a pod of dolphins frolic in the waves below. Lunch is served in the shade of umbrellas with a gentle sea breeze taking the edge off the heat. Then take the cliff path down to the hotel’s very private beach where, at low tide, the natural tidal pool among the rocks is a joy to swim in. There’s a sandy stretch of beach above the rocks to sunbathe on and there are endless rock pools to explore as you rediscover your inner child.

Fresh mussels gathered that day from these pools might appear on the dinner menu, as does a wide range of seafood and local South African produce. Chef Angelina Africa consults with guests about their personal preferences and takes into consideration any dietary requirements before creating the day’s menus. This personalised approach is reflected in all the service at Plettenberg Park where staff go out of their way to make guests feel at home, lighting fires at turn-down on cooler evenings, setting up romantic candlelit dinners on the balcony of their room for honeymooners, and many more thoughtful touches.

It’s this air of exclusivity, away-from-it-all seclusion and home-from-home comfort that has made Plettenberg Park a favourite refuge of the great and the good, with Nelson Mandela visiting for a well-earned rest in his later years. Accessed by a long private road and enclosed by a large expanse of nature reserve, the hotel is not overlooked at all and booking out the whole space creates a fabulously private venue in a spectacular setting for an elite wedding or a special family get-together.

As the sun sets and a rosy glow lights the sky, it’s easy to see why guests never want to leave this idyll and, when they eventually do, feel restored and revitalised for the next stage of their travels by the peace, tranquillity and the ever-changing moods of the grand ocean views.

Kit Heathcock

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