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Country House Hotels in South Africa

KurlandBR> When Peter Behr escaped the rat race in Johannesburg by returning to his family estate outside Plettenberg Bay, his wife, Dianne, a self-professed city girl, found the pace a bit slow. She livened things up by opening the homestead's eight suites to guests. Now, on an average day, a busy traveler puffs a cigar while pecking at a laptop on the veranda, a few polo players (attracted by the new 36-stall polo complex) mill about the lounge, and parents cool off under the trees while their children await their turns on a fat pony called Noodle.

The décor is relaxed, with Dianne's singular sense of style reminding guests that they're in a family's house rather than a formal hotel. Inherited antiques, Persian carpets, invitingly plump sofas, piles of books, and contemporary South African art combine to create a gentle country environment that you'll wish were your own.

Five of the bedrooms have four-poster beds and fireplaces, and all open onto a private patio with views of lush meadows and the Tsitsikamma mountain range. The rooms are spacious (six have loft bedrooms for children) and private (four have their own plunge pools). In the courtyard next to the fountain, contemporary Afrikaans breakfast and lunch dishes are served on a table blooming with bowls of fresh flowers plucked from Dianne's newly expanded rose garden. A children's pool keeps youthful exuberance away from resting adults, who can use the main pool, tennis court, gym, and spa at their leisure. The family-friendly atmosphere and welcoming attitude induce many guests to plan a return even before their stay is through.
Plettenberg Bay; 27-44/534-8082, fax 27-44/534-8699; doubles from $435, including meals.

Klippe Rivier Homestead
At Klippe Rivier, 2 1/2 hours east of Cape Town, drinks are served at 7:30 p.m. and visitors are instructed not to be late. They rarely are. After aperitifs are presented, chef and manager Joanne Dew emerges from the kitchen to tantalize guests with her daily menu. Choosing a dish is difficult, but Joanne's chilled cucumber soup, succulent beef fillet marinated in wine and balsamic vinegar, and poached pears are perfect on a warm November night. Klippe Rivier is a 170-year-old Cape Dutch estate on the outskirts of Swellendam, a country town surrounded by youngberry and citrus orchards, vineyards, and golden wheat fields. It's worth detouring off the freeway, past locals selling baseball-sized peaches at the side of the road, to spend the night.

"We are a country house, not a hotel," says Joanne. "There are no fridges or TV's in the six suites. Our guests appreciate the silence, and spend the evening on the stoop enjoying a nightcap and watching the moon."

By sunlight, guests amble around the lawn, visiting with the three resident eagle owls in the leafy old oak trees, or unwind on the veranda, with its view of the Overberg mountains. Each of the three downstairs rooms is decorated with Cape Dutch antiques and has its own walled-in herb garden. Throughout the thatched-roof house, the scent of basil perfumes the air.
Off R60, Swellendam; 27-28/514-3341, fax 27-28/514-3337; doubles from $172, including breakfast.

La CABRIére Country House
What makes a divorce lawyer and an optometrist leave their perfect life in Manhattan and set up a country-house hotel in the South African Winelands?For Gary Lazarus and Monte Levin it was finding a spot where vines shade the breakfast table and the mountains turn pink at sunset. "I had told Monte that this was by far the most beautiful country in the world," says Gary, "but that I would never live here again." However, when he returned to South Africa for a family gathering after an absence of 25 years, something clicked. To the amazement of their friends, Gary and Monte moved to Franschhoek, the food and wine capital of South Africa.

Distanced from the road to town by formal, indigenous gardens, the landmark 1870 Cape Victorian at La Cabrière backs onto a storybook farm and vineyard. "We presume that what we like, our guests will like," says Monte. Most guests love the wooden canopied bed in the African suite, as well as the fragrant lavender and rosebushes that surround the pool.

Breakfast- an informal and jovial affair- is cooked by Gary and served by Monte. In less than two years Gary and Monte already feel they are home, perhaps because they share theirs so willingly.
34 Cabrière Street, Franschhoek; 27-21/876-4780, fax 27-21/876-3852; doubles from $107, including breakfast.

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