We chose to blow our budget on a weekend at ‘Escape to the Beach’, on Sand’s Road. This five-star boutique guest house is famous for its chic modern décor, elegant architecture and proximity to the beach. It is an ideal setting for lovers; dance in the dark, dip your sandy toes in the ocean and have a sneaky kiss on the sun loungers.
Stepping through the ground floor entrance, guests are treated to jaw-dropping panoramic views of the ocean. The lounge, bar and kitchen open onto a sun-drenched deck and lap pool. The white sandy beach and soothing surf lie just footsteps from the deck. You can toast your getaway by sipping gin cocktails at sundown and watching the dolphins play in the waves. Take a dip in the jacuzzi and ask hostess Sarie for dinner recommendations.
Escape to the Beach has five lavish suites named after the region’s whale species. We stayed in the beach-facing Humpback Suite. The hanging 'love seat' on the private balcony is the perfect place to snap a selfie. There is even a Cowrie shell chandelier hanging over the toilet! Escape to the Beach is all you can expect from a five-star guest house; expensive cotton sheets, duck down pillows, a flat screen TV, Nespresso machine and minimal environmental impact – no dreadful plastic bottles! Best of all, it comes with a soothing ocean soundtrack, for blissful deep sleep.
Featured: Escape to the Beach
Pack light and live like a local
Heavenly beach holidays require only the minimum baggage, so pack light! The Wilderness locals are famous for their carefree attitude, walking barefoot and in board shorts. A bikini, a sarong and a couple of dresses will suffice for a holiday at Escape to the Beach. The guest house supplies fluffy robes and slippers which quickly become standard attire. Follow the locals for a ‘post-surf’ morning coffee at the Commonage or the Green Shed in the village. Local hooch joint, The Blind Pig, is a great option for a mid-afternoon craft beer and there is a small craft market every Sunday afternoon in the Milkwood Village.
Featured: The Milkwood Village
Enjoy award-winning local cuisine
We chose to get dressed up and dine in luxury at the award-winning Serendipity Restaurant, on Freesia Avenue. This unique fine-dining restaurant is situated on the banks of the Touw River, overlooking the Wilderness National Park. Rudolf Stolze, owner and Maître d’ welcomed us with a selection of local aperitifs and an in-depth explanation of the night’s menu. Drawing inspiration from South African flavours and culinary heritage, executive chef Lizelle Stolze plans a five-course menu championing South African ingredients and flavours. The offerings change seasonally depending on the availability of fresh fish and local game, but invariably include indigenous veldkos, fynbos botanicals and fresh vegetables from the garden. We selected the wine pairing, and a talented young Sommelier chose local wines to complement each course. We loved the descriptions and tasting notes as these were delivered effortlessly at our table. Serendipity is an intimate dining experience, with only five tables of diners per sitting, so bookings are essential.
There are several other reputable dining options in Wilderness village. Ilali Restaurant and Social Bar is perfect for cocktails and tapas. They host local musicians in season. Pomodoros is famous for excellent wood-fired pizza and authentic Italian gelato.
Featured: The Wilderness National Park
Experience nature’s playground
Spend a peaceful morning in the Wilderness Section of the Garden Route National Park. Stroll the Half-Collared Kingfisher Trail. A seven-kilometre round trip winds along a shaded path through indigenous forest. Take an invigorating dip in the icy waterfall and watch out for the local love bird, the Knysna Loerie. Enjoy a secluded picnic in the great outdoors. The Wilderness Picnic Company promise to ‘deliver food to match your mood’. They specialise in planning romantic picnics in the area and offer a delicious range of freshly prepared local and seasonal foods, in eco-friendly packaging. Our choice, however, was a sunset cruise on the Touw River, with Wilderness River Safaris. This company cater for honeymoons, engagements and anniversaries, and offer a private cruise for the lovestruck on their safari-style boat. A gentle cruise on the idyllic waterways is the perfect way to celebrate love. The reed lined wetlands, lush forests and placid lagoon are perfectly enjoyed with a glass of bubbles, at dusk.
Featured: Stock Image
Soothe and spoil your soulmate
The Wellness Emporium at the Views Boutique Hotel offers a couples’ massage package to die for. The ‘Togetherness Ritual’ includes a Moroccan Rasul steam cleanse, followed by their signature serenity massage and a mineral hydro bath. If you are looking for a blissful opportunity to rejuvenate your mind and body and reconnect with your loved one, look no further!
On our final morning, Mark and I rose at dawn for a quick dip in the waves at Wilderness Beach. It brought back memories of our first holidays together as boyfriend and girlfriend. As Ed Sheeran would say, ‘We were just kids when we fell in love’. Decades ago, we camped on this very beach. We were penniless then and spent the evening laughing under the stars with a cheap bottle of plonk. We woke up in a stuffy and sandy tent. Our five-star romantic getaway left me feeling smug. We might be older now, but we are certainly wiser, and finally, we can stay in hotels!!!
Due to the lack of ablutions and the steep profile of the beach, fewer people use this section of the coast. Beware of strong currents and riptides. Lifeguards are not on duty here and swimming is dangerous.
Location: East of Wilderness turn off the N2 onto Protea Lane. Take a right and follow the road to the car park.
Please note that the south-easterly wind can occasionally blow stinging bluebottle jellyfish onto our shores in the summer months. Beware their ferocious sting. Although all our beaches look inviting, currents and riptides at some locations can be very dangerous, please swim at lifeguard monitored beaches!
Serendipity Restaurant has achieved international acclaim by championing traditional and local South African flavors. Blogger Clare van Rensburg visits the iconic Wilderness fine-dining restaurant, on its twentieth anniversary. She discovers a bucket-list meal at an award-winning eatery.
Featured: Serendipity Restaurant Chef Lizelle Stolze
Serendipity’s menu is rooted in chef-patron Lizelle Stolze’s passion for the very best South African produce, which she describes as ‘amazing indigenous bounty’. For two decades, Lizelle and her husband Rudolf, have put Wilderness on the map for sumptuous food and an unparalleled knowledge of local wines and spirits. Their ingredients-driven menu changes every five weeks and depends on what hunter, fisherman and spear-diver Rudolf has managed to wrestle into submission or pull from the ocean. You can expect local game and seafood, indigenous foods and traditional flavors, elevated to fine-dining splendor.
Serendipity’s fun-loving maître d’ Rudolf likes to serve sunset aperitifs on the waterside terrace, overlooking the placid Touw River. This gives him a chance to chat about his favorite South African spirits and brag about his wife’s menu. This fantastic menu is matched only by Rudolf’s local food lore. Serving us a pink gin-style cocktail, Rudolf tells us about the near-calamity that accidently created the ‘Spook van Blomfontein’. At the secluded Strandveld Winery, on South Africa’s southernmost tip, winemaker Conrad Vlok was determined to produce a superlative MCC. Shortly after bottling his prized pinot noir, disaster struck. Explosions shook the Cape Agulhas cellars, as hundreds of bottles shattered from the pressure. Desperate to protect the plonk, Vlok decanted the remaining stock and distilled it with a secret blend of local fynbos botanicals. A unique and rare spirit was born and this Spook van Blomfontein has become a closely guarded local secret. It tastes like an actual flower fountain and smells like Turkish Delight and Rose Geranium. Rudolf serves it ice cold, in a champagne flute, topped up with refreshing Indian tonic.
Featured: Serendipity Restaurant
Serendipity’s setting is intimate and magical. The dining room is situated right on the banks of the lagoon, in the perfect position to appreciate the Southern Cape sunsets. Dragonflies hover over the water, reeds sway in the breeze and the scent of food wafts from the kitchen.
Serendipity is a unique experience for proud South Africans and international food-lovers. The menu is infused with regional botanicals and indigenous flavours. “When we first began Serendipity Restaurant in 2001,” says Rudolf, “we committed ourselves to sticking to fresh sustainably-sourced local foods, and two decades later it is still a winning formula”. Lizelle says that her dedication to South African cuisine stems from recollections of her favourite childhood foods; “I have vivid memories of marog cooked with onions and potatoes, and of preparing hunted spoils that my dad brought home: we once stuffed a warthog heart and I had to do the sewing-up. I remember freshly grilled whole white mielies, topped with a swipe of butter and spicy salt.”
Featured: Serendipity Restaurant
“For years,” Lizelle says, “our traditional foods were forgotten, and focus was placed on exotic imported ingredients”. “We choose to keep the spotlight on South Africa’s unique culinary heritage,” she says of her kitchen. Indeed, this passion is surely the reason that Serendipity features so frequently in hospitality awards. They were named ‘Global Winner’ of the 2020 World Luxury Restaurant Awards, for South African Cuisine and ‘Continent Winner’ for Fine Dining. They remain the top-rated Trip Advisor restaurant in Wilderness and feature in the Ten Best Restaurants in the Western Cape Province.
Our meal began with a surprise ‘amuse bouche’, served in a spherical pottery cloche. We opened it to find silky beetroot hummus, served with a local goat’s cheese and crisp croutons. A basket of homemade bread contained a traditional Vetkoek and was served with flavored butter and a sprinkle of onion flowers. The snoek pate starter featured slivers of wild harvested pepper dew and was plated with a traditional grape jam, pickled onion and a peppery Nasturtium pesto. My husband loved his Retro Waldorf Salad, possibly the first time in his life he ever enjoyed a salad! The rich pigeon breast Bresaola was perfectly complemented by pickled sultanas, crunchy apple, celeriac and toasted pecans.
Featured: Serendipity Restaurant
As an interlude, we enjoyed the broccoli and ice-berg lettuce soup served with a splash of salty local Blaauwkrantz cream cheese. This was followed by a single refreshing spoonful of ice-cold sorbet. We slurped up tangy lemon and native buchu flavors until our palates were suitably cleansed.
Our favorite aspect of the Serendipity experience was the interaction with our waiters and hosts. We loved the fun and detailed explanations of the dishes, as well as Rudolf’s hunting escapades and his personal wine recommendations. Serendipity offer to pair each course with a complimenting wine, carefully sourced from local vineyards. The waiters deliver each pairing with flawless tasting notes.
Featured: Serendipity Restaurant
The showstopping main course was tender springbok fillet, served on a bed of wilted spinach with slow-braised springbok shank, crisp hasselback potatoes and a rich red wine jus. This is quintessential South African comfort food and characterizes Serendipity’s insistence on ethically sourced meat. Other options included a succulent Santer fillet, served with shellfish bouillabaisse and grain pilaf, with roasted vine tomatoes. The vegetarian option was roasted cauliflower with spiced date butter. Dessert was a simple choice between a vanilla crème brulee served with a white and dark chocolate crème and the rooibos stewed fig cake, served with Amarula ice-cream and green fig preserve.
Featured: Serendipity Restaurant
Serendipity Restaurant only seats 30 guests, so it is wise to book well in advance and arrive hungry.
Families with small children and toddlers will enjoy sauntering on the easiest and safest nature trail in George. The Mushroom Meander is in the Garden Route Botanic Gardens, on Caledon Street. The gardens have a total of 18 hectares of green space to explore. Follow the signs for the Mushroom Meander to access a circular trail, winding through shaded Afromontane forest. You will cross several clear mountain streams and pass quiet picnic areas. The entire route is graded as easy and can be completed within about 20 minutes. A R20 fee is charged at the entrance gate for adults. Check out botanicalgarden.org.za for more details.
Conquer a Peak
Some of the best views in George can be accessed from the summit of George and Craddock Peaks. While these are favourite weekend destinations for local hikers and trail runners, these trails are challenging and require a good deal of fitness. Hiking trails to both peaks pass through beautiful fynbos and cross the iconic Power Van Railway line. These trails can be accessed via the Witfontein Route System. A self-issue permit is available from the starting point at the Cape Nature’s offices, northwest of George.
Featured: Mark Dixon Photography
The Outeniqua Nature Reserve has several other less challenging routes suited to mountain biking, hiking and trail running. The trails meander through the Witfontein pine plantation with sections of indigenous forest and fynbos. There are many single-track sections to be found between the contour roads, such as the Tower Loop and Sidewinder Loop. The Witfontein Forestry Station can be contacted on Phone and trail maps are available from Trail Republic at George Trails
As well as sourdough, several other artisan loaves line the shelves of the Food Co bakery. Ciabatta, Plaasbrood, Seed and Challah loaves are baked using 100% stone ground flour and time honoured techniques. “We use traditional slow fermentation,” explains Jean, “to extract the maximum nutrition from the grain”. The former yacht skipper is obsessed by the quality of his ‘real’ bread. “We refuse to compromise on the cost or the quality of our ingredients,” says Jean. Handmade bread focusses on the quality of its ingredients; high-quality whole grain flour sourced from farmers with whom the baker has a personal relationship. The philosophy at Food Co is uncomplicated. ‘Simplicity, health and moderation are our cornerstones’, says baker, Jean Rossouw. He and his wife, chef Lizelle, launched their bakery and restaurant at the corner of Fourth Street and Courtney Road in 2016. Four years later, the Food Co team has expanded and moved the bakery across the road. The café is easy to find; follow the nutty aroma of freshly baked bread!
The Food Co duo are responsible for the birth of a new superpower in George; the Sourdough Loaf! This leavened bread found its origins in Ancient Egypt and is thought to predate many early metals. The sharp aroma, tangy open crumb, chewy texture and crisp crust are hallmarks of this superfood loaf.
The use of additives, preservatives and sugar in commercially baked products has been linked to allergies and intolerances. However, Jean and Lizelle find these problems are absent in their traditional sourdough bread. Customers with wheat and gluten sensitivities report no issues with their preservative free loaf. Jean explains that the wild yeast and lactobacillus cultures in the sourdough starter predigest the wheat during its 22 hour fermentation period. The microscopic communities of probiotic life are an essential component of truly amazing bread. They govern the break down of proteins in the wheat germ, develop flavour, provide natural leaven and improve taste and texture. This makes their sourdough more nutritious and easily digestible than commercial supermarket sliced breads. In addition, the rye added to the sourdough helps to regulate blood sugar and prevent diabetes.
Further transformation happens when Lizelle gets her hands on the loaves. The chef’s background in fine dining is inspiring, having trained in three of the top ten restaurants in South Africa. However, Lizelle’s childhood dream was always to own her own bakery. She now spends her early mornings test driving new creations for their café. Her aim is to complement the bakery’s loaves with a range of healthy and unpretentious dishes. “We spent ten amazing years travelling the world, preparing food for billionaires on yachts,” explains Lizelle. “No matter where we travelled; Tahiti, Ireland, New Zealand, or Italy,” she claims, “the best food had one common theme; absolute simplicity.”
“I want to go right back to the basics with the food we prepare and serve,” Lizelle says. “I want people to come in, just to taste the best bread in town”. And each of the breads are available to taste on the café’s paired down menu. The Plaasbrood is slathered with farm butter and served warm from the oven. The Ciabatta can be sampled with Lizelle’s homemade strawberry jam. The seed loaf is perfect for a peanut butter and honey snack, with a steaming flat white. Several breakfast options are available, including a double smoked bacon and poached egg open sandwich. Cinnamon rolls topped with an orange cream cheese frosting are available from Tuesday to Thursday.
There are no shortcuts in the Food Co kitchen; fresh food is sourced directly from local farmers and makes it to the plate with the minimum interference. Meanwhile, the Rossouws continue to scrutinise the quality of their dough. “For us,” Jean says, “the most difficult thing, is to keep the bread the same. Sourdough cultures are especially sensitive to temperature and humidity. There is not a single batch that is identical to another”. However, one factor that remains constant, is that the bread is healthy. The dough is worked slowly by hand. The flour is given the respect it deserves and the nutrient content of the bread is maintained. “We stand for premium ingredients, the return of the community bakery and truly super bread,” the couple agree.
Food Co is open Tuesday to Friday from 8,30am to 4pm and Saturday 8,30am to 12 noon.
The Outeniqua Family Market is a treasure trove for authentic, locally produced handcrafts. Heaven Soaps is a small Wilderness-based producer making bespoke handmade soaps. Their blissful bars are made with organic olive and coconut oils. They are free from harmful or artificial additives. Heaven Soaps are cold processed with natural botanical ingredients, sourced from the local fynbos, forest and veld. Bring home a bag of Garden Route Bath Salts fragranced with African Rose Geranium or a bar of African Black Soap with banana plantain.
LIFE Community Services is a Christian NGO working with orphaned and vulnerable children in George. LIFE has a fantastic local reputation for reaching out to more than 4000 children every week, through their dynamic education and feeding programmes. This charity helps to tackle youth unemployment and uplift women through a project called ISIPHO. The project (meaning ‘gift’) employs six ladies who sew, knit and crochet. Their beautiful fabric dolls, pretty African Shweshwe dresses and cotton beanies are sold at the Outeniqua Family Market.
A piece of Goldfish Jewellery is the quintessential George souvenir. Jewellery designers, Reinette and Zak Edgar, draw inspiration from the splendour of the Garden Route to craft unique silver and gold jewellery. The couple’s design studio is located on Merriman Street, but they also have a stall at the Outeniqua Family Market on a Saturday. You can’t leave George without a sterling silver ‘Wave’ or ‘Feather’ Stacking Ring or a delicate ‘Map or Africa’ pendent. Their earrings feature local wildlife and sea life, including starfish, chameleons, Knysna Loeries and pansy shells. The Honeybee Charm is a local favourite.
Featured: Wonki Ware
No tourist can visit George without a visit to Di Marshall’s pottery emporium. Wonki Ware Pottery is located at 42 York Street. Di Marshall is a household name in George and her “beautifully imperfect” Wonki Ware Pottery has become world famous. Locals are fanatical about the factory store on York Street, a great source of killer bargains. Mix and match different styles of dinner ware, jugs, mugs, pasta bowls and some of the potter’s genuine experiments. Some of the items at the factory shop never make it to the city lights of Jozi or Cape Town because they are a slightly different shape or colour, so you can pick up an absolute steal. Locals love the lace printed ‘Etosha’ Dishes. These large versatile serving platters are designed with high sides to hold sauces, dressings and fruit.
Wonki Ware is locally handmade, painted and fired. Their George factory employs 70 people. A fascinating insight into their production process is offered at the ‘Pottery Garden Café and Pizzeria’ where you can have a coffee while watching the potters at work. For tourists returning overseas, the small dipping bowls, coffee cups and soap trays travel well when packed. The store also stocks table cloths, serviettes, aprons and art work.
Featured: Bee Botanique
Bee Botanique on Caledon Street is a gold mine for botanical themed local gifts. Interior designer and plant enthusiast, Madél Janse van Rensburg has a wide range of funky potted plants as well as trendy soft furnishings and décor items curated to enhance beautiful living spaces. Pick up a bottle of Babylonstoren Aperitif or a bespoke terrarium. Select from a range ofceramic, fabric or wicker planters and macramé planter holders. Bee Botanique also stocks Fijn Botanical Cosmetics from the Karoo, floral placemats and deliciously scented Madame Luna botanical candles.
Blue Forest Book Shop and Collectables on Market Street is a rare find. It’s a classic family-owned second-hand bookshop in the heart of old George. The Blue Forest is a dusty atmospheric booklovers dream. It has crooked aisles, mismatched shelves and odd tables filled with both popular fiction and antique books. There are cosy spots for reading, including a few ancient armchairs. Browsing is a pleasure; ask the owner for recommendations. They even have a rare book section filled with literary gems; including rare antiquarian and Afrikana, history, art, classics and Afrikaans literature.
Featured: Bummel Shoes
If you fancy a practical souvenir of your stay in George, pop into Bummel Shoes on York Street. This small family-owned studio has been making genuine leather shoes and leather goods since 1990. ‘Bummel’ is a nod to the owner’s Germen heritage and means ‘to stroll’. Bummel shoes are certainly made for mountain wanders, desert rambles and beach hikes. These kicks are handmade in the traditional stitch-down construction. Bummel shoes are ultra-comfortable, and made with a firm focus on quality materials and real artisan craftsmanship. They have become a massive hit with locals, who have their Bummels resoled over and over again. Check out their soft suede Veldskoens, black and white Nguni hide ballerina pumps and strappy sandals. Bummel make rugged men’s hiking boots, elegant formal shoes and fashionable belts. There is a cute range of button up booties for kids too.