Dashing through the rain and up stone steps, the vast wooden doors of the Grand Café and Rooms open before us and we are greeted by the warmth from a lively blaze. Our welcome at this boutique hotel includes the snippet that South Africa’s sun-kissed Garden Route is suffering its longest drought in years. ‘Drought?’ we repeat, dripping puddles on the polished concrete floor.
If clean white lines and a Zen-like minimalism were where we find our happy place, we might have considered turning tail and braving the storm. As it is antiques and gilt mirrors are thankfully more our thing, and where trophy heads and old black-and-white photos jostle for space under the soft glow of numerous candelabra, we can’t get in fast enough. Adding a tinge of vampish charm are vases of blood-red roses throughout. Much is the legacy of the artistic eye of former owner, architect and designer Gail Bahr and the abundance of colours and art tumbles together like the contents of a modish interiors magazine.
With cocktail hour approaching, we hurry to our boudoir to ditch our bags. Its high ceiling, cool grey paint, double-headed open shower and sheltered balcony elicit a nod of approval from a very particular Mr Smith. Meanwhile, the Grand’s signature wrought-iron beds tower so high above the floor that they demand a carefully placed velvet footstool. I point out to Mr Smith that it makes me feel Lilliputian. His particular chuckle suggests it might be my relative stature and not my wit that amuses him. With a glint in his eye he throws himself on the bed and says ‘I’ll bet you a drink I remember the name of the land Gulliver visited where the inhabitants were giants before you…’
Stumped, I propose we adjourn for a stiff G&T on the terrace and warm ourselves in front of another roaring fire. Not your usual activity in a seaside retreat in Africa, and once outside it is instantly apparent that the Grand was built for hot summer days spent lounging round the pool and gazing out over the Indian Ocean. Thankfully the overstuffed couches are just the comfort on a stormy night too, and so it is our evening is planned. Supper, then bed.
A cosy bistro is the Grand Café’s beating heart. Here, Mr Smith’s tempura prawns with wasabi prove delicious and are promptly shared. Following a warming Durban curry, we share a meringue of epic proportions laden with berries and cream. Congratulating ourselves on our sexy rendezvous, we retire for the night.
Mr Smith likes to be open to the elements while he sleeps, so doors and shutters are thrown back, allowing the patter of rain and distant roar of waves to lull us to sleep. I wake at dawn and, while the world around me sleeps, I open a weary eye expecting to retreat back under the duvet. Instead I sit up and stare. The view from our room had been obscured by clouds when we arrived, but now it is unfolding in all its glory. The Outeniqua Mountains that line the immense bay are silhouetted against the palest of yellow skies. The mist-shrouded sea is a silvery blue, blanketed with a gentle mist. The lagoon’s a string of moving gold and silver against the white sand. I’m mesmerised. I wake Mr Smith to celebrate the view with me. His response? ‘Hmmm, yes beautiful. Excellent, the sun is shining. I’m hungry.’
Fortified by the the Grand’s trademark Parisian-style continental breakfast, we hit Main Street. Finding ourselves at the start conveniently avoids any ‘Which direction to head in?’ arguments. (Standing proud at the head of this high street, the almost Moorish profile of this quirky, curvy, crazy building is both arresting and intriguing.) Plettenberg Bay – ‘Plett to the locals’ – has plenty of cute shops, respectable restaurants and reputable galleries, but really its allure is the beaches. Stretching out from the town on either side – miles of dazzling white sand for you to use to lie on, meander along, picnic over, saddle up and gallop across, parachute onto or dive off.
Central Beach is our starting point and Mr Smith whips out his mask and fins while I flop to soak up the sun. We take a long stroll along Robberg, which has been awarded the eco-label of a Blue Flag beach. It is not hard to see why as we sift the soft sand between our toes, dip in and out of the ocean, run from the waves, before realising that although we’ve walked several kilometres, the sand still stretches out in front of us.
Walking back through the town later that evening in search of sustenance, we stumble across a Friday night foodmarket at Market On Main. The buzz of conversation, strings of fairy lights, jazzy tones of live music and the sight of gigantic bowls of fresh local mussels bring our search to an end. Moules frites with homemade mayonnaise is served to us by a Frenchman from Toulouse; they’re the best we’ve ever eaten.
Fingers licked, we wander back to the hotel and clamber into our towering bed. Even Mr Smith, no slip of a thing, is dwarfed by that eccentrically proportioned bed. ‘Brobdinignag,’ he declares. Just as I'm wondering whether the sun and then shellfish overload is having a strange effect on him, he smiles. ‘That was the second land Gulliver visited, the one where he felt dwarfed. Now run along and get me that gin and tonic. And make it a large.’