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Garden Route Hotels

$400 or more
Editor's Pick
Hotel Photo
Birkenhead House
Corner of 11th Street and Seventh Avenue
Voelklip Beach
Hermanus
South Africa
Tel: 27 15 793 0150
reservations@theroyalportfolio.com
www.birkenheadhouse.com

Set on a dramatic rocky bluff, this opulent boutique has views over Walker Bay—where southern right whales migrate between May and December and calve during the month of August. The property makes the most of the vantage point, with terraces and an infinity pool (one of three) overlooking the water, and huge windows in all 11 suites. The guest units are decorated with eclectic antiques from France, Russia, and China, and have especially wonderful baths—request Studio 5 for a Zen spa-like sunken tub, or Studio 3 for a claw-foot beauty in the center of the bedroom. The slew of nature-based activities range from the sedate (beach lounging, cheese-and-wine-tasting tours) to the exertive (kayaking, bird-watching hikes on the cliffs) to the heart-racing (cage diving among sharks). Refuel at the end of the day in the guests-only restaurant, which serves fresh-caught seafood, stellar sushi, and homemade focaccia.

$400 or more
Editor's Pick
Castle on the Cliff
Plettenberg Bay
South Africa
Tel: 27 11 807 1800
www.castleonthecliff.com

Built in the 1960s using stones carried by hand from the base of this astounding cliff, the original castle was for years the holiday retreat of the present owners. With the help of a visionary architect and a team of stonemasons, it was recently rebuilt and embellished before opening as a fully staffed villa. Nothing can prepare you for its jaw-dropping location overlooking the Indian Ocean, and once in residence you'll never want to stay in a traditional hotel again. There are four spacious bedrooms, all with vertiginous, in-your-face ocean views and luxurious bathrooms. A fifth, smaller bedroom, halfway up the stone staircase that leads to the Tower Suite, is perfect for children. No detail has been overlooked: Lights can be dimmed to match your mood, fireplaces await only a match, and there is a choice of terraces so that you can eat outdoors regardless of the prevailing winds.

$200-$299
Editor's Pick
Hotel Photo
Emily Moon
Rietvlei Road
Plettenberg Bay
South Africa 6600
Tel: 27 44 533 2982
www.emilymoon.co.za

Many guests ask Mark Valentine if they can buy the objets d'art in the eight suites of this tastefully offbeat hotel, decorated in a funky amalgam of African sculptures, antlers, old photographs, and paintings. As of 2010, when Valentine opens an on-site gallery and shop, the answer will be yes. For now, the clean palette of the rooms—white-on-white textiles, sand-colored walls—keeps the bric-a-brac from feeling overdone. Huge leather sofas crowd the suites a bit, but they face onto a generous porch overlooking the winding Bitou River, about five miles from Plettenberg Bay. Guests can take complimentary kayaks out on the river to spot water birds and flocks of geese. Those who want to delve further into the region can book trips with the whale- and dolphin-watching company Ocean Blue, which Valentine co-owns. At night, locals mix with guests at the popular Emily's restaurant, and all are greeted by Oscar the dachshund, the hotel's friendly mascot.

$400 or more
Editor's Pick
Hotel Photo
Gorah Elephant Camp
Addo Heights Road
Addo Elephant National Park
South Africa
Tel: 800 735 2478 (toll-free)
Tel: 27 44 532 7818
res@hunterhotels.com
www.hunterhotels.com/gorahelephantcamp

The Addo Elephant National Park—home to black rhinos, lions, Cape buffalo, antelope, and the world's densest elephant population—is also home to this luxury tented camp, part of a private game reserve. The 11 thatch-roofed, permanent tents are creamy, cavernous, and cool (though not air-conditioned), with open-plan bathrooms, polished wood floors, and colonial four-poster beds. An impeccably restored 1850s farmhouse with deep wraparound verandas has views over lawns and a sun-drenched watering hole where animals gather to drink. There's also a rock pool for swimming, and a boma—an outdoor firepit and eating area for dining under the stars.

$199 or less
Editor's Pick
Hotel Photo
The Grand Café and Rooms
27 Main Road
Plettenberg Bay
South Africa
Tel: 27 44 533 3301
www.thegrand.co.za

The name of this central Plett spot may call to mind some sprawling, past-prime behemoth of a hotel. Instead, you'll find a quirky eight-room B&B attached to a boho bistro. The bookshelf-lined reception desk is in the restaurant, which overlooks the sea and what used to be Lookout Beach (until it was ruined by floods in 2007). The decor nods to 1920s café culture with ornate mirrors and chandeliers. Polished concrete floors and high four-poster beds modernize the look. Each room leads to an intimate courtyard, some with plunge pools or water features. The friendly staff often double as tour guides, directing you toward the best after-hours bars and local boutiques.

$200-$299
Editor's Pick
Hog Hollow Country House
Askop Road
The Crags
Plettenberg Bay
South Africa 6600
Tel: 27 44 534 8879
www.hog-hollow.com

What started out as a backpacker's retreat with a single room has morphed into 16 suites set on the edge of an indigenous forest, just outside Plettenberg Bay. The suites—split between several houses—have decks with hammocks overlooking the lush greenery as well as fireplaces to keep out the chill on winter nights. Hog Hollow lacks TV, AC, and the razzmatazz of Pezula and the Plettenberg. But what it does have is a distinctly African feel, with excellent artwork and artifacts, as well as a staff composed entirely of locals trained on-site. You're likely to make friends with the other guests during the four-course dinners, which are served at a communal table and might include phyllo pastry filled with artichokes, roasted tomatoes, and asparagus, or roasted duck stuffed with dried fruit.

$400 or more
Editor's Pick
Hotel Photo
Kurland Hotel
Highway N2
The Crags
Plettenberg Bay
South Africa 6602
Tel: 27 44 534 8082
info@kurland.co.za
www.kurland.co.za

Ten of Kurland's 12 suites have the words "Paddock" or "Rose Garden" in their name, which tells you a lot about the hotel's twin obsessions: flowers and horses. Hyacinth candles and roses freshly plucked from the stately gardens scent the baronial rooms in the 120-year-old main house, which is furnished with large settees and oil paintings. The palatial Relais & Châteaux property, set on more than 1,700 acres, has become one of the prime venues for international polo events, with four fields and a gorgeous white pavilion. Guests can ride 12 of the horses boarded on-site, but the other 100 are reserved for polo players. A wide porch where tea and cake can be taken overlooks the main lawn and pool, one of many water features that dot the property. The hotel sells itself as a family destination with en-suite playrooms and special activities (cooking lessons, pony rides), but those traveling sans little ones will be happy to know that younger children dine in a separate room.

$400 or more
Editor's Pick
Hotel Photo
Marine Hermanus
Marine Drive
Hermanus
South Africa
Tel: 27 28 313 1000
marine@hermanus.co.za
www.marine-hermanus.co.za

Part of "The Collection," a group of five-star hotels in the Cape Province from proprietor Liz McGrath (which includes The Cellars-Hohenhort and The Plettenberg), the Marine has a spectacular location above Walker Bay—which makes for some great land-based whale-watching between May and December. The upscale property also has a small but opulent heated saltwater pool, surrounded by a white-arched courtyard, three restaurants, and 43 rooms and suites. These are comfortable, and most have ocean views, but the decor is a bit matronly (blame the heavy use of patterned curtains and matching pillows).

$400 or more
Editor's Pick
Melton Manor
Kwande Private Game Reserve
South Africa
Tel: 888 882 3742 (toll-free)
Tel: 27 11 809 4300
usa@andBeyond.com
www.andbeyondafrica.com/luxury_safari/south_africa/garden_route/and_beyond_kwandwe_private_game_reserve/accommodation/and_beyond_kwandwe_melton_manor

Melton Manor, a villa with accommodations for eight, is the latest addition to Kwandwe, a privately owned game reserve spanning 62,000 acres in the malaria-free Eastern Cape. Like the other three lodges on the reserve, the CC Africa–managed Melton Manor has stellar service from a staff who seem to have a telepathic ability to delight guests. Because you have Melton Manor all to yourself, you can plan everything down to the smallest detail, from setting departure times for the twice-daily game drives to placing a standing order for waffles at breakfast. Architecturally, the property is a contemporary take on a traditional frontier farmhouse, with high ceilings and deep verandas overlooking a central courtyard and an infinity-edge pool. Decor is witty and nostalgic—imagine antique claw-foot furniture painted dark pink and Granny's crocheted blankets reworked in funky colors. An open kitchen gives you license to interact (or even assist) the chef as he prepares a constant round of delicious meals, snacks, and afternoon teas. There is a misconception that game viewing here doesn't have the wow factor of other reserves farther north, but lion prides, black and white rhino, buffalo, cheetahs, and many other wild animals are prolific. The reserve is also a sanctuary for numerous bird species, not least the endangered blue crane after which the reserve is named.

$400 or more
Editor's Pick
Hotel Photo
Pezula Resort Hotel & Spa
The Heads
Knysna
South Africa
Tel: 27 44 302 3303
www.pezularesorthotel.com

Pezula's 78 rooms are scattered in groups of four across a headland that overlooks the Knysna lagoon to one side and the Indian Ocean on the other. Bordering the property are 2,500 acres, with a golf course, an estate for million-dollar homes, and a "field of dreams" specially constructed to attract 2010 World Cup soccer teams. The excellent Zachary's Restaurant serves what might be called pan-African cuisine, and the nine-room spa, which also offers Pezula's own rooibos tea–based Maruwa products, is a must, even if only for the post-treatment room with hot water beds. The only downside is that the property isn't on the beach. Anyone wanting to laze on the sand will have to take a shuttle to get down to Noetzie Beach, which is dotted with old castles built at the turn of the century for use as vacation homes. The hotel recently renovated two such castles and turned them into ultraluxurious suites (the larger one's first guest was Nelson Mandela).

$300-$399
Editor's Pick
Hotel Photo
Phantom Forest Eco Reserve
Phantom Pass Road
Knysna
South Africa 6570
Tel: 27 44 386 0046
phantomforest@mweb.co.za
www.phantomforest.com

"Eco" and "Reserve" fail to fully capture the richness of the experience at Phantom Forest, a hilltop resort that peeks through the trees to the Knysna River below. The 14 rooms are split between cozy wood-and-glass chalets and newer Moroccan-themed tree suites reached by winding wooden walkways, from which you can also access trails for a hike into the game-filled property. The hotel was constructed with renewable materials like bamboo and thatch in order to reduce its environmental impact. But Phantom doesn't skimp on comfort, with the best African cottons, plump beds, and sumptuous meals often made with organic ingredients. All rooms have massive glass-front baths with sunken tubs overlooking the forest. The vibe is romantic, with intimate treatments at the Body Boma spa, a private hot tub for two in between the trees, a Moroccan restaurant amusingly called Chutzpah and lit by candelight and lanterns, and a nightly fire perfect for post-dinner cuddling.

$400 or more
Editor's Pick
Hotel Photo
The Plettenberg
Church Street
Plettenberg Bay
South Africa 6600
Tel: 27 44 533 2030
plettenberg@relaischateaux.com
www.plettenberg.com

Imagine a California hotel—beiges and pale blues, clean lines, massive windows onto the sea—crossed with an English manor house, and you've got the Plettenberg. Owner Liz McGrath, whose collection of hotels in the region also includes the Marine Hermanus, has put a Laura Ashley stamp on the 37 rooms, which are split between the main building and the Blue Wing. McGrath attempts to make guests feel at home by scattering public sitting areas throughout the property—perfect spots to gather for sherry before dinner at the intimate Sand restaurant. Treatments at the Carchele Spa are a bargain at $140 for day-long packages.

$400 or more
Editor's Pick
Plettenberg Park
Robberg
Plettenberg Bay
South Africa
Tel: 27 44 533 9067
www.plettenbergpark.co.za

This private home was extended five years ago into a ten-room boutique hotel perched dramatically on the edge of a cliff. From the rocks in front of the hotel, stairs lead down to a small beach and a sheltered rock pool, and glass-walled showers in the corner rooms feel suspended in midair. The hotel, located at the end of a gravel road on the edge of Robberg Nature Reserve, is ideal for anyone seeking seclusion. But the place lacks forethought—for example, the main lounge area is cut off from the rest of the hotel. Still, it's easy to forgive, when you look out at the dramatic views of the ocean in front and the savanna behind you. A word of warning: In lieu of a formal restaurant, there is an on-site chef who takes orders and arranges for you to eat by the pool, in your room, or in the main lounge. While the food is good, it's worth heading into town at least one night to explore Plett's other eateries.

$300-$399
Editor's Pick
Hotel Photo
Tsala Treetop Lodge
Plettenberg Bay
South Africa
Tel: 27 44 501 1111
www.hunterhotels.com/tsalatreetoplodge/

Tsala's stone-and-wood suites are built on stilts at the end of a gorge some five miles from Plettenberg Bay. Floor-to-ceiling windows overlook a canopy of trees that is filled with birdsong in the mornings, and each suite sprawls from bedroom to sitting room to deck. Private fireplaces, plenty of in-room nibbles (such as fruit kebabs and local cheeses), a plunge pool on the doorstep, and complimentary Tsala wine made by the Villiera estate are only the beginning of the indulgence. A large wine cellar that includes excellent labels like Morgenhof, Cape Point, and Hamilton Russell balance out a sometimes uneven set menu. The hotel is part of the Hunter group, so you can combine your stay with time at the Gorah game lodge or the colonial Hunter's Country House.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.