Unique Garden Route boutique resort Tsala Treetop Lodge gives you a bird's eye view of South Africa's indigenous forest canopy from a luxurious stilted hut. Think Tarzan, but with wraparound decking, private infinity pools and flatscreen TVs. Better still, all this back-to-nature wilderness is just 10km from the beaches, bars and boutiques of Plettenberg Bay. Jungle living simply doesn't get more glamorous.
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A bottle of Methode Cap Classique sparkling wine and a locally-sourced gift
11am (flexible by prior arrangement, subject to availability). Check-in, from 2pm.
Double rooms from £688.56 (ZAR13,030), including tax at 15 per cent.
Rates include breakfast.
Treetop Villa prices are adjusted according to occupancy.
At the hotel
Gardens, library of books and DVDs, boules court, sundeck, free WiFi, valet parking. In rooms, open fires, infinity plunge pools, sundecks, flatscreen TVs, DVD/CD player, under-floor heating, exclusive Charlotte Rhys toiletries.
Our favourite rooms
The 10 suites are secluded and cosseting, with private decks looking out over the treetops and infinity plunge pools. Glass walls provide surround-scene forest views and bathrooms have deep, free-standing stone tubs, twin sinks and al fresco showers. In addition, the two-bedroom Villas have kitchenettes, dining rooms, fully stocked minibars, satellite TV, private pools and a decked outdoor dining area.
Every suite and villa has its own private infinity pool cantilevered out from the decking over the treetops, with comfortable sunloungers to sink onto.
Hats and beachwear for summer; cosy shrugs for cooler evenings; walking boots for exploring the forest; binoculars for bird-watching; leopardprint loin cloth for playing Tarzan and Jane.
Massages, reflexology, Shiatsu and beauty treatments are available on request.
Kids aged 10 and over are welcome; children sharing parents’ rooms are charged from SAR490–SAR640, depending on season.
The restaurant uses ingredients from Tsala's kitchen gardens, and the resort works closely with local communities and charities to ensure the future of the reserve's biodiversity. Tsala is also working towards becoming totally carbon neutral.
Pull up an African-baroque leopardprint-upholstered chair at a table by the open fire, or dine by candlelight on the deck outside.
I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Into Here! (Smart casual.)
Tsala serves up modern Euro-African fusion fare, cooked using herbs and vegetables from their own gardens. Other local organic ingredients are sourced from within a 500km radius of the resort.
There’s no bar as such, but you can drink sundowners on the restaurant deck (or your own private deck), and Tsala has a fantastic wine cellar: wine-tastings can be arranged on request and the restaurant occasionally holds gourmet wine evenings in winter.
A light menu of simple in-room dishes is available 24 hours a day, but restaurant meals may also be taken in-suite by prior arrangement. Alternatively, book a gourmet picnic basket for two and take it into the forest with you…
Nearby airport options for internal flights are in George (half an hour away) and Port Elizabeth (two and a half hours away). Scheduled flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town to Plettenberg Bay, 15 minutes away, are available several times a week via CemAir (cemair.co.za) and charter flights can also be arranged. The hotel can set up car hire.
The nearest town is Plettenberg Bay, quarter of an hour away by car. There’s valet parking at the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
If lounging amid the foliage by your pool listening to the multitude of birds singing isn’t exciting enough, Tsala can arrange all manner of activities near and far. Choose anything from gentle forest picnics to quad-biking, horse riding, catamaran cruises, golf, canopy tours, elephant safaris and dolphin- or whale-watching expeditions. The beaches of Plett are also only a dozen kilometres away if you can’t do a holiday without a dose of sun, sea and sand. Robberg Beach is an attractive stretch. Feel the need for a little pampering after a day at the beach? There’s a variety of holistic in-suite treatments to pick from – we like the hot-stone massages, aromatherapy and reflexology therapies.
Situated between Tsala Treetop Lodge and its sister property, Hunter's Country House, Zinzi offers a combination of African, Asian and European cuisines, served beneath the leafy canopy. The restaurants and bars of Plett (as Plettenberg Bay is known round these parts) are only a 15-minute drive away. Try the atmospheric restaurant at Emily Moon River Lodge overlooking the wetlands.
‘Tarzan Roast’ offers Mrs Smith from the passenger seat. ‘You hang a leg of lamb from a branch in a tree,’ she explains ‘over a wheelbarrow full of burning citrus logs’. We are driving South Africa’s Garden Route; a short hop today from Knysna to the Harkerville Forest and my navigator is leafing through Jason Bonello’s ‘Cooked in Africa’. This dish is fairly representative of his ‘bush’ style (think Jamie Oliver meets Bear Grylls) and we agree that any recipe calling for galvanised wire (one metre) and rope (three metres) has to be tried in these Smiths’ kitchen on our return. Or, weather permitting, the Smith garden. Meanwhile, we are looking for the Tsala Treetop Lodge signpost, and wondering what we will make of a boutique hotel on stilts.
The Lord of the Jungle reference seems apt as we are guided from reception along a forest boardwalk that rises and falls before finally climbing towards a slatted gate to our suite. Treehouse doesn’t begin to describe what we discover on the other side. The panoramic view across the canopy of the indigenous forest to the valley beyond is undoubtedly the star of the show; but stone, timber and earth tones make up a strong supporting cast with copper, horn and shell providing the cameos.
Wandering from private courtyard to living room to bedroom alters the frame, but the glorious picture remains throughout an ever-changing materials palette of sawn timber weatherboards, planed and polished to become honey-grained floorboards, rough-hewn natural stone walls smoothed and shaped into a freestanding bath and wrought iron which gives way to gleaming beaten-copper. Even the water of the plunge pool morphs into a blazing fire in a pottery hearth.
Watching day ease into night from the cantilevered balcony, darkness enfolds the forest below until the only branches visible are those occasionally darting from the shadows into the light thrown into the abyss by our fire. We’ve settled in, run long hot baths and donned the regulation white towelling robes and slippers before beginning work on a thoughtfully provided aperitif. About this time we’d usually be giving in to the temptation to check emails and download something atmospheric from iTunes, but the lack of wireless or docks is in keeping with our comfortable rural seclusion. Hopeless romantics or eccentric recluses needn’t leave their suite, as meals from the three restaurants in the grounds can be delivered to the deck, but since I’m more of a hopeless eccentric, we decide to dine out.
The weekend’s gastronomic running order has been decided in earlier negotiations. Now we are venturing into the night; me brandishing torch, she cradling heels in deference to the slatted walkway. Stockinged feet aside, the walk isn’t arduous, but adds to a sense of occasion and heightens anticipation as we wind our way further along virgin boardwalk, zigzagging up a path towards the shining beacon we are fairly sure is Zinzi.
A local foodie has told us that this kitchen knows how to put together great ingredients, the menu promising African and Asian influences in a contemporary setting. Explosive little deep-fried capers dotting the Carpaccio starter certainly bore-out the recommendation, and the smoky soy source we dunk grilled squid in nodded east as promised. Mrs Smith’s crème brûlé arrives unmolested (phew), the chocolate fondant is very nearly as good as my own dear brother’s (gasp) and we even make it back through the darkness after some excellent Pinotage without falling off the decking (hooray).
Which unfortunately is a trick the cutlery is unable to imitate next morning at Mrs Smith’s birthday breakfast, as butterfingers meet butter knife, resulting in a silent freefall lasting for the count of one thousand, two thousand… Kamikaze monkeys further remind us of our elevated position, practicing extreme sports into branches of trees far below, while we discover ‘Calahari Eggs’ – the best variation on Eggs Benedict ever.
Smith anniversary breakfasts have long revolved around this dish (despite an annual accompaniment of early morning Hollandaise Sauce rage). In the past we’ve crowned our eggs with everything from Jamón Ibérico to smoked eel. But I can confidently say that smoked springbok beats everything. Having savoured one of South Africa’s official emblems, we scoot off to visit some of its national treasures at Knysna Elephant Park, which is so close – and brilliant – that even the hopeless romantics and eccentric recluses should drag themselves out of their suite for a couple of hours. Buy plenty of fruit when you arrive, and go early. Then you a) have the elephants to yourselves and b) can spend the rest of the day doing more or less nothing. If the weather were better we’d head to the beach for a splash around, but showering en plain air prior to our last supper at Tsala is as close as we'll get.
If Zinzi majored in carefully assembled ingredients in a contemporary atmosphere, then Sage at Hunters is a lesson in taking dishes apart in an old school colonial setting. Mozambique Prawn Curry arrives as feuding prawn, rice, vegetable and sauce factions. The former in bangers and mash is a sausage-shaped duck confît beside puréed root vegetables. Banana split is delivered as deep-fried custard accompanying caramelised banana. We half expect to see the flaming wheelbarrow make an appearance as deconstructed oven. The food is delicious, and thankfully wines from the 3,000-bottle cellar all arrive in one piece.
Lying in bed that night, neither of us is looking forward to leaving, although we know one last helping of Calahari Eggs will help dull the pain. And in any case, we suspect we’ll be back sometime. Even if we have to swing from tree to tree to get here.
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