The 4×4 Botanical Tour. And the honey served at breakfast. “Walking through the Fynbos is one of the most magical experiences you will ever have in your life,” says Jo de Villiers, one of the reserve’s expert guides. And she’s right. The area boasts the richest temperate flora in the world … more than 900 plants species has been recorded on the 3500 hectares of wilderness. You’ll learn all sorts of fascinating information … like how a sunbird’s beak fits perfectly into a flower, and why the honey their bees produce is completely unique – and so special it’s only served at their own restaurant. So add on the Hive to Home excursion … suit up, visit the active beehives, and learn the important role bees play in our environment and how delicate their ecosystem is. We did a brilliant hike … fynbos for days, and exceptional bird watching, with more than 100 different bird species to look out for. There are more gentle walks, as well as horseback riding through the fynbos or on the beach, and fatbike tours over vast sand dunes and along the stunning Walker Bay coastline. Those with sea legs can experience marine safaris, whale watching in season, and … oh … shark cage diving – which we didn’t, and quite possibly never will – experience! We fall for the more hedonistic treats … so a cruise down the Klein River on the Lady Stanford exclusive luxury boat appealed, as did a spa beauty treatment in the Milkwood forest, which promises to leave you calmer, stronger and more centred.
The view from the window at the foot of the bed in our Forest Lodge suite. Waking up to 180 degrees views of the fynbos and the ocean is quite magical. The most romantic of the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve accommodation options, you stroll along walkways through the ancient Milkwood forest to the Forest Lodge suites, where fireplaces are warm and the luxury is uncompromising. Like the other lodge, there’s a restaurant, lounge, barista bar and boma, along with a beauty spa and library, and, when the weather plays nice, a swimming pool … in this instance an infinity pool with ocean views. All jolly swoonworthy. For those travelling with children, The Garden Lodge, with the same unbeatable views, is more family friendly … so alongside the tranquil wellness area, restaurant and elegant wine cellar, the lodge has a heated swimming pool, a forest-themed playroom and exciting kids programmes. And if you’re after total seclusion and exclusivity there are two private villas – the Fynbos Villa and the Sunbird Villa … with your own swimming pool, office, cinema room, wine cellar and fully equipped gym, along with a private chef, butler and nature guide to see to your every need. There’s even a small private landing strip for those planning on arriving in a heli or small plane.
The Florilegium (n: a collection of illustrations featuring plants from a specific garden or region) collection of artwork at The Hannerie Wenhold Botanical Art Centre. For lovers of botanicals and art, this is a massive highlight. It’s a collection of 124 original botanical illustrations by a collaboration of more than 40 highly acclaimed and celebrated mostly local but some international artists, showing off the rare, endangered and charismatic plants found on the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve and surrounding regions.
The simple, but perfect, crispy calamari side dish. Really? A reason to visit? Absolutely. When they make a simple side dish this well, imagine what they do with the rest of the menu. You can posh it up, and order the Pernod pan-fried calamari with roasted romano tomatoes and spinach linguini. Or the cured rainbow trout poke bowl. Or indulge in the tasting menu, which is five courses of pure pleasure, paired with equally pleasurable wines. Under the guidance of brilliant Executive Head Chef Benjamin Conradie, every plate dished up is a work of art. There are plentiful vegetarian and vegan options, the organic veggies and herbs are grown on their own farm, all ingredients are responsibly sourced, and there’s an impressive wine collection to back up the food menu … bar a few bottles of imported sparkling wines and champagnes from France, they generally support local and stock a sensational collection of Cape wines.
The fact that Grootbos is so much more than just another luxury lodge in a glorious surroundings. While the team know how to turn on the luxury and provide an exceptional holiday experience, they are, they justifiably boast, about much more than luxury travel. The entire Grootbos experience has been built around a new movement they call Progressive Tourism. It’s all about changing the world’s approach to tourism, and showing how ‘every action we take has a positive impact’. So what, exactly, is progressive tourism? It’s a term coined to explain a new way of living that is at the heart of Grootbos … it’s about every action they take benefitting someone else or having a positive impact on the environment. So those fresh tomatoes you eat at lunch, the recycled candles in your bedroom, the earrings you buy at the gift shop – they’re all from Grootbos’ initiative to create sustainable livelihoods for the people who call this unique area home.
The Grootbos Foundation, which was established twenty years ago, is a non-profit company, which focuses on the upliftment of the surrounding communities. They tell how they constantly research, innovate and pioneer new ways of doing things … and it’s more than just talk. More than 4500 community members benefit each year from the foundation, through ecotourism, enterprise development, sports development and education.
They also have the objective of conserving, rehabilitating and protecting the natural environment of the Western Cape region, particularly the magnificent flora and fauna on Grootbos Private Nature Reserve and the Walker Bay region, where there are 946 plant species, 195 bird species, 41 mammals and 22 amphibians – some of which are under threat of extinction.
Staying here, and seeing how well it works, is a celebration of ecotourism at its best … and you don’t need to take our word for it … they have numerous awards to prove they are world leaders in sustainable tourism.
Details: Rates are from R5950 a person a night during the Secret Season special, which is offered to South African residents only. Otherwise from R13 650 a night, which includes meals and many of the excursions. For more infoand details, visit grootbos.com