Top Three South African Game Reserve Lodges for Wine Fans
Hiking from Bushmans Kloof
Singita Ebony Lodge, Sabi Sands, Mpumalanga
Singita owns a 5,000ha/12,355 acre concession in the Sabi Sands game reserve adjoining the Kruger National Park. With traverse rights to another 10,000ha/24,710 acres, its game drives can encompass a quarter of the Sabi Sands, one of the richest sources of wildlife on the African continent. Legendary leopard sightings are commonplace, as are close encounters with the rest of the ‘Big Five’ game animals. More on the wildlife later but first the wines of Singita, which means ‘Place of Miracles’ in Shangaan.
Spoiled for choice
It is, perhaps, miraculous that Ebony Lodge, with a stunning location by the Sand River, manages to house as many as 8,000 bottles of wine in its refrigerated bush cellar. Experienced sommelier, Ngoni Mtizwa, oversees it and runs daily tastings for guests. Enjoy these with meals or choose from Singita’s multiple labels from 85 producers. All South African wines are included in the cost of a stay, with only Champagne, the sole foreign interloper, being charged as an extra. Given the high quality of the local sparkling wines, it is easy to stick to these. Other styles that come recommended are Eben Sadie’s red Columella blend from 2012 and Kanonkop Estate’s Paul Sauer 2003, an excellent year for what is arguably South Africa’s finest Cabernet Sauvignon.
A deep cellar
Even older vintages are stored in Singita’s maturation facility in Stellenbosch where a staggering 100,000 bottles of fine wine are kept at a constant 12°C/54°F. Singita maintains such a substantial wine holding because it has other lodges in southern and eastern Africa to supply. It also sends cases of wine to clients who want more of a label/vintage they drank in camp. For example, it has every vintage of Vin de Constance, South Africa’s best known sweet wine, going back to 1992
The good life
Ebony Lodge, with its swimming pool, gym, spa centre, art gallery and impressive animal sculpture shop, lacks for nothing. The dozen large, thatched suites enhance the feeling of uber luxury bush living. From your own plunge pool and expansive deck, you can survey the river beneath you, watching animals and birdlife with a glass in hand. It really is hard to beat. So too is the game viewing on the early morning and late afternoon drives.
You are assigned your own guide and tracker, who will take you by vehicle (or on foot). On one early drive, we picked up the spoor of a female leopard and found her up a wild olive tree. We stayed with her for the next two hours, having her completely to ourselves, as she climbed two further trees and offered some special photo opportunities.
Later, we witnessed the rare sight of a buffalo giving birth, protected from predators by a 300-strong herd. We encountered four black rhinos lying together happily in a muddy depression. Poaching of these magnificent beasts is still an acute concern in South Africa, but thanks to Singita’s well-resourced anti-poaching team, not one rhino has been poached in their concession in the last seven years.
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, Western Cape
Nowhere in the western Cape has more spectacular views than Grootbos. Set in 3,500ha/ 8,649 acres of hilly fynbos, its two five-star lodges – named Forest and Garden – overlook Walker Bay and its miles of beaches and sand dunes. Beyond it, you can see all the way to the Cape Peninsula. To the west lies the picturesque Kleinrivierberg mountain range. Part of the Cape floral kingdom, one of only six in the world, Grootbos is extraordinarily rich in plants, with over 9,000 species, including three that are exclusive to it. That has resulted in more than 2,500 inspect species. Cone bushes are the tallest plants, while the three that must be present to constitute fynbos – proteas, ericas and restios – all proliferate. Take a plant safari through the reserve or traverse it on one of the dozen horses stabled by Grootbos for guests to ride with an experienced equine guide.
Whale watching (in the second half of the year), trail hiking and spa therapy are all possible at Grootbos, which prides itself on its fine cuisine and its 15,000 bottle cellar. Like Singita, these are all South African apart from a few Champagnes, but what makes it such a unique collection is that a third of the wines are Cape Winemaker Guild labels. The Grootbos owner, Michael Lutzeyer, has long been buying up Guild labels – amongst the most exclusive that South Africa has to offer – at their annual auction. These wines are made in small quantities rarely make it to retail. Mature vintages are a Grootbos speciality, Bruce Jack’s glorious CWG Barbera 2013 from his Drift Farm in Elim is one such example.
Local winemakers – whether based in Elim, Cape Agulhas, Stanford, Hemel-en-Aarde or Bot River – are strongly represented on the wine list, which features labels from as many as 127 western Cape producers. As such, it may well be without equal in South Africa. The two lodges are half a kilometre apart, with Forest (and its 16 suites) being adults only, while the recently rebuilt Garden (11 suites) also caters for families and houses the main cellar. Guests can visit it or just admire it through its resplendent glass frontage. The spacious suites, all with picturesque views out towards Walker Bay, are beautifully designed and luxuriously furnished. None of the other suites can be seen from the large verandas, giving the impression that guests have this special floral kingdom to themselves.
Vegan or omnivore
Grootbos’ delectable cuisine is prepared by celebrated chef Ben Conradie. All produce is sourced from the local community, with a fresh array of seafood bought from the fishing port of Gansbaai 10km away. But vegans have a plentiful choice, too: up to eight different options on the lunch menu. A special ‘botanical dinner’ and ‘boma’ dinner under the stars are also available.
Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat, Western Cape
A three-hour drive north of Cape Town takes you to Bushmans Kloof, a private inland wilderness reserve of 7,500ha/18,533 acres. Next to it is the 50,000ha/123,553 acre Cederberg Wilderness area, so you really are in the middle of nowhere, with the nearest town of Clanwilliam being over 50km/30 miles away. This beautiful mountainous region bordering the semi-desert Karoo is home to over 1,000 Bushman rock paintings, of which 140 are found on Bushmans Kloof (kloof translates as ‘deep ravine’). The bulk of these are at least 1,500 years old, with a few possibly dating back as far as 10,000 years.
Many of these well-preserved paintings of antelope, sheep, cattle and dancing humans, are on rocky faces under overhangs quite close to the lodge, making them easy to visit. A fascinating collection of old photographs, artefacts and hunting pieces of bushmen is kept in the heritage centre of the homestead, where the owners, the Tollman family, have assembled a notable collection of wildlife art. They also own the Bouchard Finlayson winery in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, which produces some of South Africa’s best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Chris Albrecht, the winemaker, visits periodically to conduct vertical tastings with guests.
Global wine list
As many as ten different Bouchard Finlayson labels are cellared at the lodge, with vintages dating back to 2009. More than 30 other top South African producers also feature on the extensive wine list, including David Nieuwoudt’s outstanding Cederberg range. Interestingly, Nieuwoudt’s grandparents once owned Bushmans Kloof. Where Bushmans Kloof differs from both Singita and Grootbos is that its cellar includes wines from all over the world – France, Italy, Spain, Germany, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina. Three vintages of Château Margaux from 1983, 1986 and 1989 are available, as is Château Lafite 1986.
Although Bushmans Kloof does not have big game such as elephant, lion and buffalo, it is home to 36 species of mammals such as gemsbok, eland and the endangered Cape mountain zebra. While two thirds of the reserve is traversable by vehicle, much of it is ideal for hiking and mountain biking. Hiking trails of various lengths are clearly marked, offering wonderful views. Fly-fishing and canoeing are also available, along with spa treatments. At night, thanks to the complete lack of light pollution, the African constellation of stars is nothing less than memorable.
Between mid-August and mid-September, another spectacular sight is the blanket of multi-coloured wildflowers over the reserve. “We get people from across the globe and from Cape Town coming to see the wildflowers here,” Rory du Plessis, the reserve’s general manager, says. “Up to half the valley is carpeted with several species of Namaqualand daisies - pinks, oranges, yellows and purples. It is unbelievably beautiful here then.” Indeed, it is beautiful whatever time of the year you go to Bushmans Kloof, a small, tucked-away gem of a five-star retreat.
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