Grootbos Private Nature Reserve
When I first visited the Cape as a young girl, two things stuck out for me – firstly the gabled Cape Dutch architecture, which was unfamiliar to me coming from Durbs, and secondly the scrubby countryside, so different from the rolling hills of KZN. I fell instantly love with the tough looking flora of the Cape and its hardy spirit is something that has always stayed with me.
The vastness of Grootbos Private Nature Reserve relates not only to its size, but also to its beauty. The reserve covers over 2800 hectares of land perched atop a sloping mountainside, overlooking a view of the Atlantic Ocean’s Walker Bay that is unforgettable. Here, where hectares of land is carefully conserved, it is as though the plants sense that they have been given the opportunity to really shine.
The landscape, which can seem so enduring, shows both a vulnerability and splendour simultaneously. Restios sway in the breeze, Ericas dangle heavy with blooms and Proteas flourish under the African sun.
Grootbos is divided into two lodges – Garden Lodge and Forrest Lodge, which are both tucked into the greenery. Garden Lodge has consistently won South Africa’s top travel award for Best Family Holiday and it’s easy to see why. It has a fully equipped games room, pool area and, most importantly, an au pair service to mind your children for the duration of your stay. You can rest assured that your kids will not spend their entire holiday watching TV, as the reserve has a farm area which is home to pigs, ponies, bunnies and horses. Kids are entertained outdoors, down at the beach or even in the kitchen in mini chefs whites, learning a culinary trick or two.
Forrest Lodge is the last word in luxury – a paradise for honeymooners, couples and well-seasoned travellers alike. The entrance will simply take your breath away, with its spectacular view over the bay. On arrival guests are assigned a host/hostess for the duration of their stay. Your host will guide and plan activities to ensure you get the most out of your stay. Our hostess Jo Anne was bubbly, full of knowledge and ran through all the activities on offer such as guided tours and horseback trails.
From there we made our way to our beautifully decorated lodge to change before dinner. Our four-poster, netted bed looked out over the very same Walker Bay view, as did the bathroom and sitting room.
The smart design allows guests to enjoy the view over the estate from wherever you are in the suite. We arrived in a blustering wind, so the pre-warmed under floor heating and powerful shower were welcome.
Chef Benjamin Conradie and his team prepared our five-course set menu. The food was meticulously plated and made use of ingredients produced on the reserve. The Caesar salad enjoyed by my partner as a starter was quite otherworldly – I don’t know how else to explain it. Possibly in part due to the specially cured bacon, which added a rich smokiness. Whatever it was, it was incredible – it would have been quite easy to follow on with another four plates of just that.
The rest of the courses followed – venison for me, with my partner enjoying fillet steak, both perfectly tender and juicy. We enjoyed delicate amuse bouche palate cleansers and finished off with a decadent chocolate molten cake for me, and a homemade fynbos-honey ice cream for my partner. A wonderful meal, complemented by local wines.
My partner’s way of judging any hotel is based on its breakfast. A meal which can quite easily be thrown together, however if shown some finesse can win the seal of approval. Fresh fruits, crispy pastries, granola, yoghurts, cheeses and more – and this all before the cooked option.
After breakfast we were met by our dedicated guide Jo, who invited us to hop into her Land Rover, Bulbous, for a drive through the estate. Grootbos is the vision of owner Michael Lutzeyer, a South-African born businessman who gave up life in the city to develop the reserve – slowly but surely buying the plots around the original site and expanding the borders of the reserve. Michael is passionate about conservation and the diversity of our local eco-systems. Our tour across the site revealed just how deep that passion runs.
Our first stop was the Grootbos nursery. Here 10 applicants, selected from nearby towns, go through an intensive training program covering life skills like learning to drive, as well as a recognised landscaping qualification. Graduates are usually snapped up by local businesses in the area, or go on to work on the estate.
There is also a self-sustaining garden project which cultivates the vegetables and herbs used in the restaurant, as well as a coop of chickens for freshly laid free-range eggs and pigs which feed on the kitchen waste. Each aspect of these projects has been designed to empower and upskill locals and to enable them to make a better life for themselves.
As we bump along on our Landy tour, Jo points out the private villa (which has hosted the likes of Brangelina and Charlize) and explains the various types of fynbos and flora with a fervent passion. Over 750 species grow within the borders of the reserve and conserving this precious eco-system is imperative.
To fully capture the qualities of Grootbos one would need to pen a novel. What really shone through in every inch of this experience is the tremendous amount of thought which has gone into it. The planning that has gone into the reserve is staggering, and the attention to detail is second to none. It’s the small things that make the difference, and at Grootbos there were many: the fleece ‘blanket dress’ as I termed it, which we were given just before our Landy drive to keep warm. Being greeted by name in the parking lot before we had even left our car. Our hostess popping by during dinner to confirm the following morning’s activities. The Milkwood sapling gift in our suite, which can been planted onsite or taken home. The map and pass to a gorgeous beach alcove for premium whale watching. The personal time our guide gave to just us and the smiling friendly faces of each staff member we encountered, for whom nothing was too much trouble. Each of these small acts is the result of the thought put into how to make Grootbos the perfect getaway, and the thoughts are translated into actions that resonate.
From the moment we arrived we felt as though we had been let in on a secret – the magic of Grootbos, the beauty of the Cape and the sense of having experienced something unique. It genuinely made us fall in love with the area all over again.