Whether you’re on honeymoon or just a vacation with your loved one, South Africa has an amazing range of truly memorable romantic places to stay. Here’s the pick of eight of the best lodges, cottages and backpackers from the coast and mountains to forests and the bush, to suit every budget.
The Outpost, Makuleke Contractual Park, Northern Kruger National Park, Limpopo
With a plethora of romantic five-star bush lodges dotted around South Africa, especially in the area in and around Kruger, it’s hard to decide where to go. The Outpost wins with its location and its truly spectacular rooms. Set in a 24 000-hectare concession shared with only one other lodge in the under-visited far north of Kruger, the Outpost is surrounded by ancient baobabs, dramatic gorges, mopane woodland and fever tree forests. Then there are the rooms – 12 massive stand-alone suites set on high stilts linked by wooden walkways on a rocky ridge. Built in an ultra modern industrial style, they’re sleek, stylish and minimalist, with floor-to-ceiling blinds that roll up to reveal magnificent 180-degree views of the overlooking the baobab and game-dotted Levuvhu River Valley. There’s nothing more romantic than taking a moonlit bath, on the edge of the room and falling asleep with that bush landscape as your view. If you want an extra special experience, book the honeymoon suite – high above the camp, it has even more expansive views of the valley.
Papkuilsfontein Guest Farm, Nieuwoudtville, Northern Cape
If you like to get off the beaten track, Papkuilsfontein, in the arid and sparsely populated Northern Cape province, is a wonderful spot. At this wonderful family-run guest farm, which offers self-catering cottages and a guesthouse you can experience magnificent landscapes – fields of rooibos, waterfalls, and a huge gorge – and the magical peace of tranquil farm life. Spend days hiking the farm, swimming in rock pools or the refreshing dam-style pool, or just simply sitting under a tree with a book. A short drive from the farmhouse and set far apart, Rondekraal and De Hoop are Papkuilsfontein’s most romantic cottages: old farm buildings painstakingly restored with understatedly stylish furnishings and featuring stable doors, Victorian baths, outdoor showers and cosy fireplaces. Cook your own meals in the cottages’ kitchens, or have three-course dinners sent to you from the farm kitchen – they’ll set the meal up in your cottage dining room, with fancy silverware and candles.
Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse, Drakensberg, KwaZulu-Natal
Tucked away in the beautiful Kamberg Valley at the foot of the Drakensberg mountain range, Cleopatra is the ultimate country idyll for food lovers. Each day starts with a three-course breakfast, which you can walk off on hikes up the mountains, and ends with afternoon tea and cake around the fireplace in the cosy lounge followed by a six-course dinner cooked by the eccentric and charming chef-owner Richard Poynton. Individually decorated rooms (from the quirky Cowboy room to the gorgeous Darjeeling room) are homely and comfortable, with fireplaces and mountains of plump pillows – perfect for plopping down after all that eating.
Tintswalo Atlantic, Cape Town, Western Cape
If you want to stay as close to the Atlantic Ocean as you can in Cape Town, you can’t do better than Tintswalo Atlantic, which is perched right on the seashore, meters from the waves, on the famous Chapman’s Peak Drive. Each of the wood-and-glass 12 suites at this boutique five-star lodge is themed and decorated around islands from around the world –from Lamu Island (dark wood and gold) to Sante Marie (coral colors and seashell prints). The highlight here isn’t the décor, however – the panoramic sea view is the real treat. Snuggle up in bed or in the giant bathtub with a bottle of sparking wine and watch the surf crashing below you.
Rocktail Beach Camp, Maputaland, KwaZulu-Natal
For many people looking for a romantic holiday or honeymoon destination in South Africa, a big choice they have to make is whether they choose bush over beach. At Rocktail Beach Camp, they don’t have to make that choice – there’s bird watching in the lush coastal forest in which the camp is set, whale and dolphin watching in the ocean (there’s an offshore marine reserve which offers excellent diving and snorkelling) and from November to March you can watch turtles nesting on the beach, which is a 20-minute walk from camp. All the rooms are lovely – secluded tented chalets tucked away in the trees – but the honeymoon suite boasts the best views – a spectacular panorama of ocean and forest.
KolKol Mountain Lodge, Bot River, Western Cape
Conjure up an idea of a romantic mountain cabin fantasy, and KolKol would probably come very close. Rustic, stylish Canadian-style log cabins with stone fireplaces, private plunge pools and hot tubs look out onto a valley of fynbos surrounded by hills and mountains. There’s hiking, mountain biking, fly fishing and quad biking nearby, but don’t feel bad if all you want to do is stay in the cosy log cabin, read a book next to the fire, or sip on a glass of wine in the hot tub gazing out at the beautiful landscape.
Bulungula Lodge, Bulungula River Mouth, Eastern Cape
On the beautiful and unspoiled Wild Coast, the award-winning Bulungula Lodge is a great option if you’re looking for a rustic beach escape. Set on an ocean-facing ridge dotted with Nguni cows, just a few metres from a beautiful sandy beach, the backpackers is surrounded by nothing other than unspoiled coastline and rolling green hills. Lie on the beach and catch a few waves, or join one of the activities on offer, which range from canoeing and horse riding to beer brewing and visiting the local village. There’s a communal kitchen where you can cook your own food, or have your meals cooked by the lodge’s chef – South African traditional favorites such as Cape Malay bobotie feature on the daily menu. You’ll want to skip the dorm rooms and go for one of the five huts (each painted with an individual theme by an artist) with double beds but the most romantic option is a two-sleeper safari tent set on a wooden platform in the milkwood forest with ocean views. The lodge also has a feel-good aspect to it: Bulungula is Fair Trade certified, eco-friendly (it runs on solar power) and is partly owned by the community of the nearby village.
Phantom Forest Eco-Reserve, Knysna, Western Cape
Just outside the touristy Garden Route town of Knysna is a magical private nature reserve of forest, coastal fynbos and wetlands. The Phantom Forest is home to over 150 bird species, bushbuck, blue duiker, and grysbok, as well as an eco-friendly lodge. Out of the three suite options, choose to stay in the upper tree camp – the equivalent of a stylish treehouse – spacious wood and glass cabins set in the trees, with mosquito net-draped beds and outdoor sunken bathtubs. During the day you can explore the forest, go canoeing, swim in the pool (which has amazing views of the Knysna Lagoo) or indulge in a massage treatment at the spa. At night dine at the romantic lamp-lit Moroccan-styled restaurant, Chutzpah.