If you're looking to check off one of South Africa's great beach and bush hidden gems, then the Eastern Cape is where you should point your digital compass to.
This escape includes passing through small towns that have some of the most breathtaking views and neat little restaurants and shops.
I recently went on a five-day trip through the Garden Route and ending off in the Eastern Cape, and was surprised at what was sitting just six hours from my doorstep in Cape Town.
A bit of beach
The Old Rectory - Plett's newest boutique hotel
Wasting no time, the real excitement of this trip began the minute we arrived at The Old Rectory Hotel.
Being toted for its beauty but mostly for the immaculate restoration of this 1977 heritage building, the Old Rectory has evolved into a latest luxury sought out by discerning travellers to Plettenberg Bay.
It is quite remarkable to understand this building was first used as a barracks for the Dutch East India Company and then later becoming the lodgings for the Anglican Church before falling into neglect.
The refurbishment began four years ago, when it was bought by the Rare Earth group. As a small luxury hospitality company that focuses on personal service, the hotel has been re-imagined, while tastefully paying homage to the old.
You'll find sections of the original stone walls exposed beneath glass panels and the establishment's original fireplace.
The hotel only has 18 luxurious suites surrounded by the main building, which itself is the original Old Rectory, one of the oldest buildings along the coast, and certainly the oldest building in Plettenberg Bay.
Art and interior design
In true art spirit, the hotel is a mixture of colours and imagination with a breath of fresh air in the modern, yet timeless interior design.
Curated by Michele Bestbier, the collection of local works on display at the hotel can be traced back to artists such as Plett locals Helen Mudge and Rundle, alongside Knysna artist, Guy Thesen, Cape Town ceramicist, Theo Kleynhans and Johannesburg-based photographer, Charles Johnstone.
According to the hotel, the art collection not only pays homage to many local artists but also complements the beautiful décor and essence of the hotel.
Other nods to the building's heritage include the VOC emblem on the back of the dining room chairs, the wall of historic photographs and the centuries-old milkwood that's been lovingly retained in the garden, with the pool and deck built around it.
The rooms have an easy-beach feel, albeit with beautiful art on the walls and luxury amenities.
The main block has a decidedly sumptuous feel about it.
There's the bar with its deep Chesterfield, copper piping and copper front, the centuries-old fireplace with linen-covered armchairs and the dining room with ancient walls and yellowwood floors.
The Old Rectory’s idyllic location - just a stone's throw away from the beach and in a quiet cul-de-sac - offers the perfect combination of peaceful seclusion or community connection.
Here, you can choose to participate in the town’s most beloved activities, such as taking a stroll on the beach or along the main road. If you do, pop into Kay and Monty’s awarding winning vineyard - showcasing the region's up and coming wine route.
For those who are a bit more adventurous, you can head off to one of the local animal sanctuaries – Plett is home to one of the biggest bird aviaries in the southern hemisphere Birds of Eden. Or opt for a cruise up the Keurbooms river.
Luxury spa treatment
What is an escape without a little pampering?
The Old Rectory’s in-house spa is a Sanctuary Spa offering decadent Moyo treatments, QMS facials and a starlit hammam. Needless to say, the Swiss massage was one of the best massages I have ever had!
A bit of bush
While Eastern Cape may have a long way to go before it can be compared to some of the country’s developed provinces, it is no secret that it has become an unexpected tourism power player when it comes to five-star game reserves and lodges.
Inzolo Private Game Lodge
Affirming the above statement is the recently opened Inzolo Private Game Lodge. Just 80km from Port Elizabeth and 30km from Grahamstown, this impressive lodge is ready to share its attractions with the world.
Exclusive bush experience
Nestled in the heart of the Eastern Cape bush, the boutique valley-facing lodge offers a unique and exceptional experience for all.
The lodge brings to life a distinct sense of luxury as well as allowing visitors to truly surround themselves in serenity while overlooking expansive rolling hills as the Big Five roam in unspoilt in nature.
The beautiful, appointed five-star lodge consists of four modern and spacious chalets – each accommodating a minimum of two adults, but fully equipped for a group of eight.
This makes it ideal for a celebratory stay for a family or group of friends, however, one can also just book individually or as a couple – think honeymoon escape for those in search of solitude and luxury or for those who just want to escape city life.
From healthy breakfasts to melt in your mouth main courses and delectable desserts, the incredibly talented Chef Sebastian ensures that your taste buds are treated to the finest dining with fresh seasonal ingredients mostly sourced from the lodge’s organic farm paired with award-winning local wines.
Sebastian’s creations will leave you wanting more – the samp with springbok shank is by far an absolute favourite of mine.
Top interior design
While you may find yourself doing a double take, trying to take in the unforgettable panoramic views of the valley, the design around the lodge and chalets will also leave you speechless.
Top interior designer Caline Williams-Wynn, of Artichoke in Cape Town, was tasked with completely refurbishing the lodge and chalets – with impeccable results.
The entire place is elegantly designed, combining modern accents with a touch of east African influence and has been equipped and furnished to the highest standards, further creating a warm and inviting ambience.
According to the owners, David Hurr and Paul Lynch, the vision behind the property is to offer guests an exclusive bush sanctuary – a space away from the hustle and bustle – inviting them to find solace and rest in nature, whether it be by looking out to the horizon as the sun sets over the spectacular terrain or to admire the surrounding wildlife and game.
Game driver and sundowners
To take in the beauty of the lodge in small doses, I would suggest that you start the day off with an intimate game drive, visiting the Buffalo, Cape Mountain Zebra as well as the rest of the Big Five and an array of other animals. There is also an abundance of spectacular birdlife to see.
At the end of a perfect day, you can to enjoy a sun-filled afternoon next to the sparkling plunge pool while reading a new book, finish off the day with a sundowner on the lodge’s 180-degree viewing deck. You may even be treated to an appearance of a herd of elephants as they make their way slowly through the valley to their local watering hole.
Plastic-free and conservation
And as if Inzolo couldn’t sound more like a dream, the lodge prohibits any use of plastic and hunting of animals on the farm.
Inzolo has successfully launched two special conservation initiatives – the interactive Buffalo breeding project and the protection of the endangered Cape Mountain Zebra. Guests are invited to help dart the buffalo to allow the conservation team to test for TB and other related diseases. If you're up for that sort of thing.
Inzolo has also setup a protected enclave in which the Cape Mountain zebra can live and breed.
I recommend tackling the six hours’ drive early in the morning so you are able to soak up as much of the trip as possible as each town offers something unique and is worth exploring before settling at your intended stay.
*Disclaimer: Unathi Nkanjeni was hosted on behalf of Traveller24 by Nicky Arthur PR, including transport and accommodation.
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