Gorgeous beaches, stunning scenery and top hotels make for an unbeatable combination, says Annabelle Thorpe, as she explores the delights of South Africa's most beautiful Route...
IT ALL got out of control rather quickly.
I’d barely been in Global Village 15 minutes before my arms were weighed down with a sumptuous shot-silk bedspread in deepest claret, delicately embroidered baby-blue cushion covers, wooden figurines, jewellery and the most beautiful, jade-green lacquered bowl.
I staggered out into the sunlight, past date palms and abundant grasses and headed down a walkway dripping with lushly-coloured throws, wrought iron lamps and imposing wooden figures, to try to have a firm word with myself.
Global Village, a series of wooden buildings and walkways that house a hippyish café, terrace and all the ethnic goods you could ever dream of, lies on the outskirts of Plettenberg Bay, in the heart of South Africa’s Garden Route.
I thought I’d while away some time while my husband Rob spent the morning grappling with the crisp-topped waves that roll in along the pristine coastline, and had dropped in on Global Village before heading to the nearby town of Knysna.
I found it to be the perfect metaphor for the Garden Route itself; an astonishing amount of beautiful things crammed into a relatively small space.
The Route itself is one of the biggest draws in South Africa and although it’s relatively short – less than 150 miles between Mossel Bay and Plettenberg Bay – the hills and lakes teem with an astonishing array of life.
The main road snakes along the coast but turn inland and you are surrounded instantly by the dramatic Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma mountain ranges, and lush tracts of indigenous rainforest.
As with all popular tourist destinations, there are spots to avoid. We sped on through over-developed Mossel Bay and spent our first night in Wilderness, a small town that fronted on to one of the most unspoilt beaches I have ever seen.
We strolled over the perfect sands as the sun began to set, firing up the tree-clad hills behind the town with a glorious terracotta light, while the sea glowed an iridescent blue, rising and falling as the waves rolled in.
There’s an endearingly hippyish feel to some of the villages on the Garden Route, and none more so than Wilderness.
We missed the monthly craft market but spent an idyllic morning walking through the sleepy village centre and around the crystal-clear lakes, before succumbing to an indulgent lunch at the Wilderness Grille, all blackened steaks and seared, succulent prawns.
What makes the Garden Route so unbeatable is that it combines jaw-droppingly beautiful countryside – perfect for all sorts of healthy outdoor pursuits – with top-notch hotels and campsites, of course, but for those – like myself – who prefer to unlace their walking boots and slip into a hot whirlpool with a cold gin and tonic, there are some seriously elegant options.
After a day walking through the Knysna forest, where Ironwood and Yellowwood trees twist and slither together to form a landscape that feels straight out of Lord Of The Rings, the cool, clean lines of our room at Bay Lodge were a welcome sight.
We had driven on from Knysna to stay at Plettenberg Bay – a busy tourist resort that has managed to retain considerable charm – lured by the promise of fantastic waves (for my husband) and fabulous seafood (for me).
Neither of us was disappointed. Within an hour of arriving at Bay Lodge we were sat at the Lookout restaurant, Rob mesmerised by the breakers rolling on to the beach below, while I was somewhat distracted by the platters of prawns, calamari and oysters that kept rolling past.
For a seafood-o-phile like me, “Plett” was heaven – oysters fresh from the farms in the nearby lagoon at Knysna and some of the freshest, zingiest prawns I’d ever tasted.
But the high point of the trip (apart from my shopping splurge) was the next day, walking across a 390ft suspension bridge above a canyon, while the tree canopy below and around us seethed with life.
We spent the day at Monkeyworld, where lemurs, howler monkeys, gibbons and capuchins live freely in the forest – allowing visitors a fascinating insight into their natural routines.
We’d intended to follow up our monkey morning with an afternoon at the nearby Knysna Elephant Park, where you can take a walking tour with elephants, but we were so enchanted by the baby monkeys frisking around and trying to steal our lunch that we ran out of time.
Enchanting is an apt word for the Garden Route. The legacy of apartheid means that landscapes and beaches that would have been dominated by touristic development in other countries have remained relatively unspoilt.
The lakes and lagoons offer peaceful days of exploring, while evenings can be as lively as you like – with a slap-up supper costing half what it would in the UK.
On the morning we left, I spent a happy half hour on the roof terrace at Bay Lodge simply gazing out across the ocean.
You can shop and eat and drink and surf to your heart’s content on the Garden Route but often the best activity of all is simply to sit back, relax and let the wild beauty wash over you.GETTING THERE:
Bed & Breakfast Holidays in South Africa
Amazing selection of 4 star Bed & Breakfast holidays in South Africa from £679 per person in May including flights. Don't miss outwww.destinology.co.ukUrban Beach Straw Tote Bag
£5. This versatile straw tote bag from Urban Beach is perfect for town or the weekend at the beach. Feature an interior lining with ...Ju-Ju-Be BeQuick Changing Bag - Groovy ...
£10. If that spare nappy that you keep in the car gets crumpled up and looks like a wad of paper, then you need one of these. It's ...The Africa House Wine Bottle Holder
£14. Leather Wine Bottle Holder Fairly traded Dimensions 9 x 16 cms Stylish Dark Brown Leather with a waterproof lining Made in Kenya, ...Aresson Image Pack Rounders Set
£16. ARESSONImage Pack Rounders SetImage Bat & Softy Ball. Wooden bat with pommel grip and soft leather ball. Ideal for the garden or ... Bailey Robinson (01488 689700/www.baileyrobinson.com) offers tailor-made holidays along the Garden Route. A nine-night trip, including accommodation at Kensington Place in Cape Town, Grootbos, Bloomestate in Swellendam, Bay Lodge in Plettenberg Bay and Shamwari Longlee Manor, costs from £2,128pp (two sharing).Includes some meals, some activities, return flights from Heathrow, internal flights and car hire. Monkeyland: See www.monkeyland.co.za South Africa tourism: 0870 155 0044/www.southafrica.net