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Family travel in South Africa and beyond

Category: Sleeping

Family friendly sleeping: Spier Hotel

Spier Hotel, Stellenbosch. Tel: +27 (0)21 809 1100. www.spier.co.za Double from R1900 per night. Great for: Babies, little ones, tweens. Sometimes you just need to – as Parks & Recreation’s Tom…

Spier Hotel, Stellenbosch. Tel: +27 (0)21 809 1100. www.spier.co.za
Double from R1900 per night. Great for: Babies, little ones, tweens.

Sometimes you just need to – as Parks & Recreation’s Tom Haverford would say – treat yo’self. Last year, hubby had been working overseas for a couple of weeks and was back in the country for a few days before heading off again for another fortnight. After three days of single parenting (side note: single parents, you absolutely rock), I started researching hotels with kids’ clubs and was rather delighted to find a luxurious and yet affordable hotel with a dedicated kids’ club within an hour’s drive of our home in Cape Town.

We have, of course, been to Spier before  to eat, to taste and to take Kai to see the excellent bird of prey display at Eagle Encounters. But I’d always imagined the hotel was prohibitively expensive. Plus I had no idea how child friendly it was.

Granted it was a bit of a splurge – certainly more than we usually spend on a family weekend, but well worth it for the relaxation factor. Rooms are large and plush with muted, relaxing decor. They’re set in double-storey, flat-roofed villas in a peaceful corner of the estate far from the wine tasting centre and restaurants, and of course come with plenty of amenities, but you’ll doubtless spend little time in the room.

The greatest draw here is that you can ditch the car for a weekend and explore on foot, never leaving the estate unless, of course, you really want to. Our first stop, following a buffet breakfast, was the kids’ club. Kai was instantly in love – and that was before he found out about the bouncy castle and the baking classes. It’s an extremely well-equipped play centre with, of course, dedicated staff to take care of the kids. So we signed him in and went off to explore the farm.

Hotel guests can borrow bikes for no charge, so we spent a morning exploring, stopping to check out lunchtime restaurant options and of course, to use the wine tasting voucher we were given at check-in. When we came back, we had to drag Kai away, but he soon found that the rest of the estate was almost as kid-friendly as the clubhouse. Whether you’re in reception, having pre-drinks at the hotel bar or grabbing lunch at the wine tasting centre, there are miniature tables everywhere, with pictures to colour, cups full of crayons and baskets of toys. And wherever you are, you feel like staff have been briefed to make you and your offspring feel completely welcome, even when dining out (as beer lovers, we opted for Hoghouse on our first night – definitely recommended).

As I was in the business of treating mo’self, I headed off for a two-hour spa treatment while the boys went to visit the hawks and vultures at Eagle Encounters. That evening we grabbed food to go so that we could do the one thing we hadn’t yet found time for – enjoying the calming, comfy room.

We’d visited Spier perhaps a half dozen times before we discovered the hotel, but I suspect they’ll be seeing us again this winter (when prices drop!) In fact, we might just make it an annual family retreat.

We decided to have a phone-free retreat so I failed to take any photos; images for this review were supplied by Spier.

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The Gorge Cottage at Augrabies Falls National Park

When I was a teenager, long before txt spk wz a thng, we used to shorten words in a way that only teenagers seem to be lazy enough to do….

When I was a teenager, long before txt spk wz a thng, we used to shorten words in a way that only teenagers seem to be lazy enough to do. One of my faves (see what I did there?) was ‘gorge’, most often used to describe whichever pin-up we were in love with that week (at a risk of ageing myself, it was usually Corey Haim). When the SAN Parks powers that be named the Gorge Cottage, they could almost have been using my teen years lingo. They weren’t of course – it is named for the geological marvel it overlooks – but it could have been, for if there is one thing you could say about the Gorge Cottage, it’s that it is gorgeous in every way.

My pic of the cottage was blurry through excitement – thanks to SANParks for this version

They didn’t get the name 100% correct though, for I’m not sure I would call it a cottage – more a dream apartment or a super swanky bachelor pad. It’s simply furnished with a double bed, comfy couch, a kitchenette and a few shelves and side tables. Photos taken in the park hang on one wall, though I couldn’t describe them with any conviction. No-one comes here to comment on furniture or admire paintings. One whole wall is made up of windows and the couch and bed face these windows the way they would face the flat screen in your average hotel room. Here of course, there is no TV, and nor is there any need for one. Instead you have the kind of panoramic view of the Oranjekom Gorge that no TV show or photograph could ever faithfully replicate.

For the longest time, this place was simply a lookout point. It still is, with a viewing platform sitting above the cottage, but in late 2016 some smart soul saw fit to add the park’s most impressive place to stay. As dusk approaches and the park’s gates close, the day visitors disappear, throwing back envious glances at whoever is lucky enough to be staying over at the cottage. And my advice to you is to put it on your bucket list, like now. I can’t begin to properly convey the magnificent silence and the deep honour of having this view all to yourself. And it only gets better if like I did, you manage to time your stay with a full moon.

I tend to peddle more in straight-talking than poetry, but sitting outside on a huge boulder sipping cold beer as the moon softly illuminated the 240m-deep gorge gauged out by the Gariep/Orange River – well, it was nothing short of magical. There are no sounds except birdsong and the distant flow of the river and just as I thought the scene could get no more perfect, a dassie scurried by, leaping over a gap in the rocks in that agile manner that their tubby appearance belies.

The laziest photo I’ve ever taken – the view from your bed at the Gorge Cottage

Those beers – or G&Ts or whatever way you choose to celebrate sundown – could come back to haunt you later since the bathroom was built some 30 metres away. Luckily, a plan has been made for those middle-of-the-night calls of nature. It’s undoubtedly the least romantic aspect of the accommodation and not something you’d be keen to use in the early stages of a relationship, but the chemical loo is a bit of a godsend if you wake up after one sundowner too many (or if you’re a mom and midnight peeing is just a part of your routine). It’s been done as well as it could have been, hidden away in a wooden box and emitting no aroma. And it really is the ultimate loo with a view.

This place is firmly filed under “parental retreats”. I really don’t think kids would appreciate the setting and anyway, the cottage sleeps a maximum of two people. I visited alone on a work trip. I thought I’d get plenty of work done but the view is such that I couldn’t take my eyes off it and I didn’t write a word other than to gush about the beauty of it all.

But while it’s undoubtedly a fine place for some ‘you time’, this really is a perfect spot for couples; for reconnecting or recharging batteries. We actually spent one night of our honeymoon at Augrabies many moons ago and I’ll tell you this, if the cottage had been there then, we wouldn’t have spent the night trying in vain to sleep in a tent in the oppressive January heat (side note: the cottage has no air con and will get obscenely hot in summer). But I will be back here soon with Shawn, for the Gorge Cottage has made it firmly onto my “second honeymoon” bucket list (which is now a thing). Now to find a babysitter for Kai…

The Gorge Cottage costs R1600 per night for two people. It’s situated 10km from the main camp and there’s no access to the camp’s shop and restaurant once the gate closes around 7pm. There’s a small kitchen and a braai area but a distinct lack of plug sockets – bring an adaptor for phone-charging. There is cell reception.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary night’s stay at the Gorge Cottage.

An attempt to capture the vista from the Gorge Cottage

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Family-friendly sleeping: AfriCamps at Pat Busch

Pat Busch Mountain Reserve, Robertson. Tel: +27 (0)63 170 4222. www.africamps.com Tent from R990 per night. Great for: Little ones, tweens, teens. I remember years ago, long before we became parents,…

Pat Busch Mountain Reserve, Robertson. Tel: +27 (0)63 170 4222. www.africamps.com
Tent from R990 per night. Great for: Little ones, tweens, teens.

I remember years ago, long before we became parents, we were camping in the Cederberg. At the next site was a family with a young baby – couldn’t have been more than three months old. I remember saying something along the lines of “good lord, that would be my worst nightmare”. Then something called glamping came along and I realised that kids and camping could work for me after all.

Earlier this year we spent a night at AfriCamps in the Pat Busch Mountain Reserve, northeast of Robertson. This is my kind of camping. There are beds and duvets, en-suite bathrooms and a kitchen that has almost as many utensils and appliances as our kitchen at home. What it also has that my home certainly does not, is a magnificent view over the Langeberg. Each of the tents has a deck facing toward the mountain and there’s plenty of space between the tents, so if the kids get a little giddy you don’t have to worry about your neighbours.

AfriCamps would be ideal for a couple retreat, but it’s also perfect for families. For little ones there’s a jungle gym and a large swimming pool, while tweens and teens can take a canoe on the dam or hike the mountain trails.  For adults there is bass fishing, plenty of peace and quiet, a fridge to keep the beers cold and a magnificent deck to braai on. There’s even a babysitting service should you need it, though I can’t imagine many who come here venture out for dinner – why would you when you can cook under the stars?

At breakfast time you can get a little lazy though. Each morning a picnic hamper is delivered to your tent (at an additional fee), filled with breads and jam, bacon and eggs to cook any way you like, muesli and fruit, juice and ground coffee for the French press that comes with your tent (told you the kitchen was well-equipped). It’s optional, but I recommended opting in, at least once.

AfriCamps is a wonderfully peaceful place that offers the rare combination of luxury, tranquility and plenty of stuff to keep kids happy. Perfect for a spring splurge…

Disclosure: We received a complimentary night’s stay at AfriCamps.

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