LuxuryLuxury Travel

South Africa lodgings feature beauty and beasts

The arrival tent at the Jock Safari Lodge inside South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Photo Credit: Paul J. Heney
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Many visitors from the U.S. to South Africa are pleasantly surprised at the infrastructure and modernity of the so-called Rainbow Nation. And the country has been stepping up its game on the lodging end of things, with plenty of new and updated luxury accommodations across its diverse geography. On a recent trip, I sampled four world-class options:

A guestroom at the Silo hotel, which occupies the top six floors of a former grain silo in the V&A Waterfront section of Cape Town, South Africa.
A guestroom at the Silo hotel, which occupies the top six floors of a former grain silo in the V&A Waterfront section of Cape Town, South Africa. Photo Credit: Paul J. Heney

The Silo: Cape Town, South Africa, is one of the world's most dynamic cities, and the Mother City has a new shining jewel. The Silo opened in 2017 in the famed V&A Waterfront, occupying the top six floors of a former grain silo. (The bottom floors house the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa.)

Architect Thomas Heatherwick added geometrically intricate windows, which gently bulge outward. The effect in the rooms is to stretch already expansive views, but from the outside at night, the glowing, gemlike windows give the building a postmodern lantern look.

Service is outstanding. Cuisine is also thoughtfully executed, but what you'll be talking about long after staying here is the brilliantly eclectic design of owner Liz Biden. Biden is a stickler for details and takes inspiration from her travels across the world. Here at the Silo, she focused on African art, given the hotel's downstairs neighbor. She knows when to throw in a bright pattern or pop of color, while never overwhelming the stunning city views in every direction.

The hotel's 28 guestrooms range from 440-square-foot Silo Rooms to a 2,000-square-foot penthouse. We loved the two-level Family Suite, which features a dining room and sitting areas downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs, each with an en suite bathroom.

Rates start at about $1,000 for a Silo room.

La Residence: A member of the Royal Portfolio (which also owns the Silo), La Residence is a graceful haven in the heart of the Franschhoek valley, one of the country's renowned wine-growing regions. Set amid plum orchards and vineyards, the complex includes a farmhouse-like central building with luxury and superior suites as well as five Vineyard Suites, each facing the beautiful mountain scenery.

Room rates (starting at about $485) include breakfast and snacks, coffee and teas, minibar, local beverages and house wines, wireless internet and a shuttle into the town of Franschhoek. Children ages 9 and younger are only allowed to stay in the Vineyard Suites.

Again, Biden has done her magic with this property, with a mix of antiques, beautifully patterned chairs, stunning chandeliers, earth tones and pops of color.

A guestroom at La Residence in the Franschhoek valley, one of South Africa’s renowned wine growing regions.
A guestroom at La Residence in the Franschhoek valley, one of South Africa’s renowned wine growing regions.

Tomjachu Bush Retreat: In the eastern half of the country, an hour's drive from Kruger National Park, the Fillery Family has turned its 550-hectare plot into a bush retreat populated with native wildlife, such as zebras, kudus, impalas and giraffes. There are no animals here that are dangerous to humans, such as lions or hippos, which means guests are encouraged to hike around the property on an extensive system of trails. There is a certain magic in coming upon a herd of zebras or kudus during a hike that can't quite be replicated in a safari vehicle.

The retreat's high-end villa can accommodate six to 12 guests and features a commanding view of the whole valley. Simpler accommodations are available at the main Homestead building and several nearby cottages; rates start at about $46 per person. Meals can be purchased to prepare at the cottages' full kitchens, or guests can opt to eat at the Homestead, where the cuisine is locally sourced and brilliantly prepared.

The retreat offers a number of activities, including nature drives, a guided bushwalk, mountain biking and fishing. The popular Bush Dining Experience is a must-do; guests receive a short evening nature drive with one of the retreat's excellent guides, and they end up at an overlook area on a huge granite boulder. Here, a multicourse meal is served under the stars before transport back to guest accommodations.

Jock Safari Lodge: Within Kruger National Park, the Jock Safari Lodge offers high-end accommodations and easy access to South Africa's big five: lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo. You'll also encounter plenty more wildlife on your twice-daily safari drives, including giraffes, zebras, warthogs, wildebeests, impalas, hyenas and kudus. 

The accommodations here harken back to traditional luxury safari camps, with travel trunks, layers of textures and fabrics, leather ottomans and sumptuous poster beds. Twelve thatched rooms each feature a private outdoor area with outdoor shower and soaking tub, plunge pool and a daybed overlooking the parklands. There is also a full bathroom and shower inside.

Jock offers twice-daily safari drives included with the room rate (starting at about ($750) as well as all food and drinks (including most alcohol and the in-room minibar). The guides are well trained and expert at finding whatever wildlife the group wants to see on a given day. 

The high-end safari vehicles can carry as many as 11 people, although ours generally were about half full, giving us more space to move about. And our guide, Lazarus, made sure we stopped for snacks and coffee on each morning drive — as well as a sundowner alcoholic drink on each evening drive.

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