“All you need to do is add a few turrets and you’ll have a castle.” It’s a good tale, apocryphal perhaps, but so goes the story of the Noetzie castles. When Herbert Stephen Henderson began using rough-hewn local stone to build his holiday bolthole just above the high water mark at Noetzie beach, a neighbour from a well-known local family stopped by with a wise crack. It was a quip taken to heart, and the rest is history.
Today the castles of Noetzie hold a special allure along the Garden Route, with locals and curious travellers seeking out this little-known sandy cove as much for its magical beach as the quirky castles that stand above it.
While the castles have passed through a series of families over the years, today the four at the heart of the cove — with a fifth in the pipeline for refurbishment — form part of the global Buccara portfolio, offered to sun-seeking travellers searching for a private coastal escape.
And across the four, the castles cater for everyone from honeymooners to families, décor mavens to those seeking a little rustic coastal charm.
Pezula Castle is the oldest on the beach, dating to the 1930s, and remains the flagship of the collection. Decorated in a grand, if somewhat traditional, style, the upholstered furniture and deep-buttoned couches imbue it with a rather baronial air that will be charming to some, and overbearing to others. It’s other claim to fame? Nelson Mandela stayed here in the ‘90s, and his armchair remains a feature of the lounge, with the ground-floor suite named in his honour. Upstairs, two additional — and wonderfully spacious — suites enjoy a large deck with glorious sea views.
Next door, the six-bedroomed Craighross Castle offers a more contemporary option, decorated in a subtly African coastal chic motif. With six bedrooms it’s suited to large groups, but make sure you get there first to claim the top-floor master suite, a remarkable space with an enormous bathroom and private balcony beneath the parapets.
At the other end of the scale, set slightly apart with beach views from a wraparound terrace and the top-floor suite, Honeymoon Castle is a perfect bolthole for postnuptial escapes.
The oldest, and perhaps the most charming, is Lindsay Castle. Built in the 1960s just around a headland from the cove, it’s easily reached with a short walk from the main beach. Extended over the years, one wing and extension at a time, it’s a craggy warren of a place all low-beamed ceilings and dining rooms in stone turrets. It’s quirky, cobwebbed and packed with character, but perhaps a little too idiosyncratic for some. But in winter, when a wide hearth and indoor charm are key to enjoying the storms pounding the shoreline, Lindsay is an unpolished gem with six oddball suites up in the turrets and perched on the rooftops.
The Noetzie castles are all booked as self-catering accommodation, but a private chef — as well as an array of other services and excursions — can be arranged on request. Chances are you’ll be happy having the space to yourself though, and the kitchens all come well-equipped for everything from sundowner cocktails to whipping up festive feasts. Craighross, with its modern open-plan set-up, is best for groups looking to entertain together, and has the best rooftop braai set-up, while the more formal affair of Pezula Castle will suit keen chefs who like to be left alone.
If there’s a downside to a stay here it’s that the seas off Noetzie beach can be rough, treacherous at times, and an abundance of caution is needed. If you’re not a strong swimmer, or you have children, it’s best to stay knee-deep and save your dips for the tannin-stained waters of the sinuous Noetzie River that meets the sea at the eastern corner of the beach.
And on that note; with summer’s warm days on the horizon it’s worth choosing your castle carefully. Pezula Castle has a wonderful pool, set in a fynbos garden with trimmed lawns for sunbathing, while the cliffside Honeymoon Castle has a small plunge pool to one side of the terrace. But the other castles don’t have their own pools, so you’ll have to be content with finding a spot for a little (safe) wild swimming.
But then again, that immersion in the untamed coastline of the Garden Route is part of Noetzie’s charm. It may be just a 20-minute drive from Knysna, but it’s a world away from the cookie-cutter boxes of Thesen Island or the manicured fairways of Pezula estate. Here there’s a little daub of raw, unfiltered nature waiting beyond the sliding doors. And while you may not be as lucky as Henderson to call this your home, for a few nights at least it can be your castle.