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Stephanie Bates

To drive along the 200 kilometre Garden Route filled with native temperate forests and thick scented bush and enveloped by the Tsitsikamma and Outeniqua mountains has always been at the top of my ‘travel musts’. I jumped at the chance to spend two weeks travelling along this picturesque and renowned route whilst stopping off at some of the most exclusive hotels in South Africa. Here are my top highlights from this unforgettable trip.

Nestled in the unspoilt South African wilderness lies Kwandwe Private Game Reserve - a lodge I was eager to visit due to the 22,000 hectares of scenic rolling grasslands and abundance of wildlife. After we were shown to our authentic-African style suite, we dropped our bags and went to meet with our ranger, Ryan and tracker, Vuyani then excitedly set off on a game drive. Ryan and Vuyani were both extremely enthusiastic and had a wealth of knowledge about the game - Vuyani had an excellent eye for spotting animals - even managing to notice the most camouflaged creatures. The sun began to set as our drive came to an end; we sat and watched two three month old lion cubs play with their mother - it was incredibly moving to see the strong bond between all three of them and will remain one of my most cherished memories.

Kwandwe Private Game Reserve
Hippos in lake

Shamwari Game Reserve is known as the largest private game reserve in the Eastern Cape. The park offered premier viewing of the Big Five as they meandered freely through the captivating landscapes. I hopped onto our safari jeep and we started driving through the endless plains until we approached a herd of around fifty elephants. Our driver brought our car to a halt in the midst of the colossal grey mammals and were mesmerised as we watched them graze and play. This was the first time I had been up-close with an elephant and I was left breathtaken. As we drove further into the reserve we could hear splashing from nearby, we pulled over and the ranger, Jan, and I climbed down to the river bank to find a pod of hippos in the water with a young calf. It was a remarkable experience to venture on foot and gain a true perspective of these extraordinary species.

After a few days of exploring an array of fascinating wildlife, we headed to the secluded Tsala Tree Tops to relax and unwind. Encircled by luscious forests, Tsala blurs the lines between a romantic getaway and an African adventure. We were escorted to our private elevated villa which offered astounding panoramas of dazzling green foliage. We popped open a bottle of champagne and retired to our private deck to watch the sun set behind the woodland. To experience sweeping views of pink, orange and yellow hues drop through the trees from your own villa was truly magnificent.

Tsala tree top balcony
garden route

We took the Garden Route to drive to each hotel - this is an exquisitely scenic stretch of the south-eastern coast of South Africa. We twisted and turned into some of the most beautiful lagoons and tranquil lakes then navigated the challenge to journey through the mountains of the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma ranges then found ourselves above the clouds. I recommend driving this route rather than the motorway - it may take a little longer but you will be enthralled by the astounding views.

Settled at the foot of the majestic Paarl Rock sits Grande Roche - an exclusive boutique hotel which boasts exquisite gardens and award-winning cuisine at its elegant Bosman's Restaurant - voted one of the top ten restaurants in South Africa and one of the top 100 restaurants in the world. On arrival we were greeted by Anja, the General Manager, who made me feel very welcome - she even accompanied us to dinner that evening! Understandably, we opted to eat at Bosman's and I was not left disappointed. I indulged in a delicious sea food based tasting menu paired with complementing wines whilst overlooking widespread vistas across the Paarl valley. After my meal, I was presented with a copy of the taster menu as well as a list of the wine paired with the different dishes so I could remember exactly what I had eaten. I thought this was a particularly special gesture and was the perfect end to a delightful fine dining experience.

Bosmans restaurant