My love affair with the Eastern Cape began when my father first took us as children to his place of provenance. His many tales of grass-carpeted hills dramatically tumbling into the ocean, leapt to life when we first laid eyes on the Wild Coast. Ever since I’ve made an annual pilgrimage to some part of the province. Sadly many travellers bypass it when considering their SA staycations, so on my latest visit, I took the time to profile two choice properties that seemed to have calmly hit the nail on the head of luxury nature escapes.
Within minutes of arriving at Prana Lodge, I experienced the same sensation I’d felt the first time I visited here — that of being completely transported to a magical forest. And if the terms “enchanting” and “fairy-tale” conjure up images of tie-dye touting hippies and rustic cabins, let’s set the record straight.
Prana Lodge is a five-star wellness retreat ensconced in acres of lush vegetation, with an almost Balinese feel of slate roofs and understated elegance. Each day I easily managed my 5,000 steps, though hardly noticing, as I meandered along the walkways through the forest, constantly entertained by birds, monkeys, and the occasional glimpses of the elusive blue duikers.
For those seeking the sanctuary of a more remote location, but without having to travel far (or venturing onto some of the Wild Coast’s ill-reputed dirt roads), Prana Lodge is in the coastal hamlet of Chintsa — barely 45 minutes from East London. The area is considered to be the accessible end of the Wild Coast, and if you are accustomed to luxury, Prana is the only five-star property for the next 600km of coastline.
The suites are dotted throughout the dune forest with enough privacy to shield you from any line of sight. Each unit features a lounge, courtyard and private splash pool — essentially a small villa rather than the traditional hotel room, adding to the lodge’s exclusivity factor.
The crowning glory is the glittering Diamond Suite, which floats on the top of the dunes at canopy level, and from the veranda, you can enjoy all the action in both bush and beach below: two red-billed hornbills visited daily seemingly curious of our presence, twice the mercurial monkeys ventured near hoping for an open door and the chance to steal some fruit, and in the mornings I’d watch a red-breasted shrike delicately build her spring nest while sipping my coffee.
By night the frogs take over from the daytime birdsong with a gentle evening chorus — complemented by the crashing of the waves. This wild soundtrack was calming enough that we slept with windows and curtains open, eventually rising to the first rays of the day beckoning us to enjoy an invigorating sunrise swim (the ocean is a short stroll away along the wooden walkways).
Back at the lodge, the central dining spaces, bar and lounges are all glass, with little separation from the natural forest. The staff also happily arrange meal setups on the various decks — including the dune deck where you can enjoy any of your three daily meals.
Talking of dining, chef Zikhona’s cuisine has earned Prana the title of East London’s “fine dining destination” and with good reason. Having spent 12 years at the famed Shamwari Reserve, she now brings that expertise into Prana’s intimate culinary experience.
“Would we like drinks on the beach deck on our last evening?”
It was a quick yes.
Following the walkways past the outer suites, we ended up on the viewing deck — hovering over the dune at an easy 40m above the beach — the table laden with enticing nibbles and two inviting cocktails. A gentle spoil, and a perfect nod to our few days’ dalliance in luxurious remoteness.
Intle Boutique Hotel
Shifting north, just under an hour’s drive from Gqeberha, Intle Boutique Hotel is surrounded by 800ha of nature and is home to several mammal species. The giraffes usually steal the show — especially with their regular saunters over to the watering hole in front of the glamorous hotel, giving guests an impressive photo opportunity.
Perched on one of the hills, the five-star hotel is sprawling, and with only 10 guestrooms, there is plenty of space for all. I was upgraded to the presidential suite and was more than happy to be whisked away to a separate wing, where the bedroom stepped down to a large balcony with unparalleled and completely private views over the reserve.
With no predators, we could safely explore on foot — whether it be hiking, trail running or cycling. Spring is a particularly dreamy time to visit — in between the thicket, the open ground was painted in an abundance of botanical pleasures. Most people associate fynbos with the areas surrounding Cape Town, but a sliver of the Unesco-recognised flowering kingdom does stretch as far east as here.
On one of the daily nature drives we were to have a picnic lunch, and I presumed we’d be dining in one of these floral belts. Climbing over the ridge I quickly realised I was wrong. Stopping on a cliff edge, stood a wooden deck adorned with a pagoda, floating over kilometres of uninterrupted views. Here a table was laden with lunch, and two benches draped in blankets. I dubbed the spot “proposal deck”, thinking it to be one of the finest spaces in the Eastern Cape for such a romantic encounter.
And talking of romance, the hotel’s spa also ticks every wellness box. Once the pampering was done, we dined at sunset beside the boma fire, and as if on cue to match the dramatic sunset, I heard the far-off roar of a lone lion (thankfully behind the fence of a distant property).