Plettenberg Bay is a popular beach town along the Garden Route.
And while the beauty of this special coastal stretch in South Africa is undeniable, retaining the charm of the area is a fine balancing act - especially as more people tap into a quaint, relaxed lifestyle pace.
Some ten years ago, Plett (as it has fondly become known) only had about 10k residents, now it's closer to 60k residents - and during the peak holiday season the local community explodes dramatically - as the area becomes all the rage for the festive season.
But you'd never really say so, heading down the bougainvillea-lined cul-de-sac where you'll find The Plettenberg, perched just above the golden beaches of the little town (and less than a five-minute walk down to the Indian Ocean from the main hotel). Coming face to face with the beachgoer bustle would be a choice you make as you venture out for the day into the centre of town, or for one of the many day-trip activities in and around the Garden Route.
Chatting to MJ Birch, The Plettenberg's General Manager, he says ensuring an exclusive experience is something that the staff of the Liz McGrath Collection, five-star establishment are all too aware of.
MJ tells me he moved to the area about three years ago, bringing with him more than 20 years of experience in hospitality. And in listening to him talk about how together with his wife and four-year-old son, they were initially drawn here because of the area's unspoilt appeal - it's clear he brings a caring, family-centric approach too. As a newly elected member of the Plett Tourism board, he says hospitality and tourism is entirely focused on sustainability right now.
"We don't ever want to be that massive tourist destination but we do need to keep promoting the area and growing business in a relative sense to what we can accommodate. Don't expect to see 400 to 500-roomed hotels in this area- it's all about being exclusive."
From the welcome in the Blue Room to being pampered and spoiled by personalised service in any one of their 35 plush rooms, this can best be described as the ultimate beach escape - and the magnificent views of the surrounding Blue Flag beaches are unmatched - with rooms graded accordingly.
While their two family-styled beach villas are in a class of their own. They're spacious, offering the privacy of a home away from home, complete with dining area and a fully equipped kitchen - but you might not need it as there is a personalised butler, chef and nanny service available at the push of a button.
Having access to your own private pool is sublime - and its heated - which means you and your family can take a sunset dip in the pool as you enjoy the beautiful views of the Indian Ocean down below. Isn't it funny how as kids we can spend hours in the pool but as we get older, it gets clipped to the odd dip - even when you have a pool at home. But it's not a beach villa, heated pool, with a veranda equipped with dramatic Indian Ocean views and a braai to make the most of it. Somehow, it becomes prerequisite to just relax and take the plunge with lots of squeals, splashes and good memories to be made.
The main hotel also has two pools (one heated) so splashing around is more than a given during your stay. But there will be no judging if you opt to just sprawl on one of the many loungers at your disposal - the atmosphere at The Plettenberg simply demands it of you in its most comfortable, barefoot-luxury setup.
And as MJ jokes, the biggest emergency should be not having enough snacks or drinks on hand - with attentive staff ready to create your order. And no request is too tall, he tells me. Good to hear if you have kids who happen to be picky eaters.
The in-house Sandbar is delightful for some cocktails or pre-dinner apéritifs and decadent milkshakes or hot chocolate are just a phone call away.
Enjoying breakfast on the terrace of the in-house restaurant The SeaFood definitely kicks you into holiday mode - if the pool doesn't that is. The food, whether opting for some lunch or fine-dining dinner - is fresh, flavourful and of the five-star standard you'd come to expect. And of course the name of the restaurant shouldn't fool you - as the menu extends beyond seafood and accommodates picky eaters yet again.
But the ultimate to take you even further down the path of a relaxed, luxury beach stay would be an early morning stroll to greet the sunrise. This simple touch of nature, to be kin with the world in the ebb and flow of the swells and the twittering flocks of birds, brings home the simple yet fragile, privilege of this one life.
Day-Tripping the Garden Route from Plett:
An hour's drive from Plettenberg Bay towards Nature's Valley in the Tsitsikamma National Park is where you'll find the Storms River Mouth Trail.
It starts off as an easy boardwalk to the suspension bridges.
A day-visitor conservation fee is charged (from R62 per local adult, per day or R31 per child, per day | standard conservation fee for international visitors from R248 per adult per day or R124 per child, per day) but it is worth it to do the hour-long hike covering just on 2kms.
You’ll also get to see the Storms River Mouth Cave - a Khoisan Heritage Site. Thereafter head up to the steep lookout point. Or opt to kayak to the mouth if you are feeling more adventurous.
The Tsitsikamma is also famed for its Yellowwood trees and a pit stop to check-out the oldest of them all at the Big Tree lookout point is well worth it. This is also a birders paradise, with SA's unique Cape flora making up a crucial part of this delicate eco-system.
READ: CemAir set to resume flights with 7 of its planes after receiving renewed operating certificates
Road-tripping the Garden Route is a popular option for tourists. Make the full seven-hour car-trip journey - or opt for a flight (about 1hr15m) to Plettenberg Bay - Cemair recently announcing it would be resuming its operations to Plett after a nine-month absence (Tickets are priced at about R4 200 return).
*Disclaimer: Traveller24 Editor Selene Brophy was hosted for her stay at The Plettenberg.
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