A couple months ago I received an email from Grootbos Private Nature Reserve inviting me to spend a weekend there to check out just how one of South Africa’s preeminent ecolodges goes about its business. I gave it a cursory glance, flagged the email without much thought and carried on with my day. Fast forward a couple months and I decided to take them up on their kind offer after our Safari Guru Jeff enthused to me just how special a place it is. A few friendly emails later and I was fully booked and ready to experience Grootbos for myself…
Grootbos is a privately owned nature reserve of some 2500 hectares located just under two hours outside of Cape Town. Home to an incredible 765 completely indigenous plant species, it is one of South Africa’s most awarded Private Nature Reserves, with honours in categories such as Best Ecological Safari, Best Community Safari and Most Innovative Retreat to name but a few. It also has the distinction of recently being named amongst the world’s Top 10 land-based destinations to watch whales. With such an abundance of natural beauty, it’s fitting that every aspect of Grootbos has been carefully designed to enhance the magnificent surroundings.
My friend and I arrived on a cold and windy Friday afternoon, eager to get out the city and soak up the tranquil atmosphere of the Cape Floral Kingdom. Our first encounter with Grootbos was at the security gate where the friendly staff asked for our name to confirm whether we were booked in at the Forest or Garden Lodge (we stayed at the former), and then wished us a pleasant stay. We got the impression straight away that smiling faces were to be the norm over the next few days. After finishing our delicious welcome drink and planning our weekend’s activity schedule, we were eager to check out our room.
Walking from the main building of Forest Lodge – which houses reception, a curio shop, the dining hall, bar and reading deck – to the individual villas, one gets a real sense of the isolation of the place. For as far as the eyes can see, there is nothing but fynbos (the indigenous vegetation of the region) and ocean. The air is clean, fresh and accented by the early scents of Spring blossoming. The sense of peace and tranquility is tangible, and one begins to relax and unwind even before reaching your front door.
The villas at Forest Lodge are unmistakably modern, yet surprisingly unobtrusive – instead letting the natural beauty of their surrounds be the focus of attention. Interior finishes are of a very high quality, and the rooms are tastefully furnished and welcoming. The real highlight though is not the luxurious bed, the well stocked fireplace or the massive bathtub – what sets the rooms at Grootbos apart are the views. They are incredible! We spent a good part of the evening just watching the amazing sunset from our deck, as the brilliant purple and pink hues bounced off the ocean and blanketed the seemingly endless horizon of fynbos. It was pretty special indeed.
After marvelling at the sunset for a good while, we set about starting a fire in the lounge’s fireplace and readied ourselves for dinner. The dining area at Forest Lodge is at the end of the building, which means you walk past a good few friendly staff members on the way – all of whom go out of their way to greet you and wish you a pleasant stay or an enjoyable meal. We exchanged greetings with all of them and made our way to a window-facing table, eager to satisfy our rumbling stomachs. While we had heard that the food at Grootbos was good, we were not prepared for just how good…
Though I’ve been fortunate to eat at some respected five star restaurants around the world, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a meal as much as I enjoyed that first dinner. Freshly baked rolls and farm fresh butter were followed by an amuse bouche of crispy roasted duck, a delicious potato and leek soup, a refreshing lime, lemon and mint sorbet palate cleanser, beef fillet cooked to perfection, and a decadent dessert of a chocolate brownie with apricot ice cream – both homemade of course. All the food served at Grootbos is organic and either grown on site or ethically sourced from local organic/free range suppliers. And all of it is incredible! With stomachs supremely satisfied, we lazily walked back to our villa and settled in for a good nights sleep.
We awoke on Saturday morning to the sound of the wind gusting outside at a rate of knots, while completely sheltered in the warm, soft embrace of our luxurious beds. After some coffee and a hot shower, we braved the inclement weather and made our way to the dining area with much excitement. Breakfast at Grootbos is just as special an occasion as dinner! A ‘cold buffet’ of cereals and grains, freshly baked muffins, croissants and breads, cold meats, cheeses and fresh organic fruit lay tantalisingly laid out upon our arrival. The hot breakfast is a la carte and features the traditional English, Grootbos Eggs Benedict and various other options. We both opted for the Eggs Benedict and it was honestly one of the best I’ve ever had.
Unfortunately the rain meant that certain outdoor activities were cancelled, so we headed back to our room to enjoy the fireplace and a good book. With the rain continuing to fall outside, we could not have been happier than we were next to the fireplace, sipping on tea. Even in winter, Grootbos is the ideal destination to go to relax. Although we were doing something we could’ve done at home, the atmosphere and ambience at Grootbos is so conducive to relaxation that an hour spent reading there is the rejuvenating equivalent of three spent elsewhere. Before we knew it it was time for another Grootbos meal – probably the only thing that could’ve pried us from our warm couch. I’ll let the menu in the picture below do all the talking for me this time.
While staying indoors reading all weekend is a perfectly good option, Grootbos prides itself on its extensive list of available activities – most of which are included. The inclement weather put a (literal) damper on a few of them, but we were fortunate enough to partake in two of them – horseback riding and a Social Responsibility Tour. First up was a relaxed horseback ride through the fynbos, around the two lodges, and back again. The horses at Grootbos are all extremely well looked after and very used to people, so they’re perfectly suited to an absolute novice like myself. The ride was incredibly enjoyable and offered a unique perspective on the natural beauty that surrounds the lodge.
Our next activity was the Social Responsibility Tour, which really represents the essence of Grootbos. With a horticultural college/nursery and organic farm on the reserve’s premises, Grootbos is passionate about giving back to the community. Both the nursery and the farm take in 10 local community members each year and educate them on topics including organic farming, soil science, horticulture and sustainability. They also receive driving lessons and share in the profits of the produce that they sell back to Grootbos itself. At the end of the year they leave with a certificate in horticulture, a driver’s license, and vastly improved reading and writing skills. Newly qualified and skilled, they are either quickly employed by local farmers or they start working their way up the ranks at Grootbos. It is sustainable ecotourism at its finest, and was truly refreshing to see.
All said, we could not find a single fault with our entire Grootbos experience. The staff were extremely friendly, the accommodation superb, the food exceptional, the surrounds pristine and the goodwill palpable. I cannot wait to go back!
For more pictures of our time at Grootbos, check out our Google + gallery here.