GOING TO STAY AT ONE OF THE BEST HOTELS IN THE WORLD CAN BE A DAUNTING PROSPECT.
You worry that you might somehow drastically lower the tone of the place, maybe just by being there. This trepidation isn’t helped by the fact that stuck-up staff at some of the globe’s most opulent hotels take a wicked and not so subtle pleasure in making you feel like a beggar at a royal banquet. Bushmans Kloof, which routinely features at the top end of international lists of the best of the best, is not like that. The staff are obsessed with making you feel to the splendid manor born and hence fully deserving of the sumptuous comforts heaped upon you, no matter how cheap and battered the luggage you may have arrived with.
You don’t have to pretend you’re a VIP – they are happy to do it for you. Situated on the banks of the tinkling Boontjies River in the craggy foothills of the Cederberg, north east of Clanwilliam, this wilderness reserve and wellness retreat is unblushingly in the pampering business, and the pampering starts before you get there. When I’d booked they sent a polite questionnaire, wanting to know what kind of pillows I’d like. Having dealt with that essential detail, I could then tick against a long list of potential delights, including such esoteric activities as archery and croquet as well as more usual pastimes: game viewing, birding, hiking, canoeing and, my personal favourite, blobbing by the pool. They have four of those, one of them heated, and each one superbly fitted into the landscape.
The landscape is of course what makes this such an ideal place to go and feel good, not only about yourself but about the world in general, not least because all its problems and cell phone towers are far away and out of sight. The wind and the winter rain have been sculpting the sandstone rocks of the Cederberg for millions of years and the results can be awesome, in weird and wonderful detail and in overall grandeur. On the night I was there, tucking into a delicious dish of beef medallions, a new moon was hanging in the jet black unpolluted sky next to an impossibly bright Venus. Little wonder that the Cederberg was poet Louis Leipold’s favourite place and he sensibly chose to be buried on the nearby Pakhuis Pass, the stars within easy reach. The landscape obviously had a similarly inspirational effect on the Bushman for whom the reserve is named. There are over 130 rock art sites on the 7 500 hectare reserve and many more nearby, and a stay includes the opportunity to visit as many as you like and time affords, in the company of a knowledgeable guide. Bushman’s Kloof takes it custodial duties very seriously, so much so that it has been awarded South African National Heritage status. And for those keen on thoroughly immersing themselves in this fascinating, ancient and vanishing culture, a unique collection of Bushman artefacts, together with the published output of learned research is housed in the reserve’s Heritage Centre.
But back to pampering: the Lodge at Bushmans Kloof has sixteen rooms and suites, each one individually named and superbly decorated. I stayed in Cedar Falls II, one of the deluxe rooms, a few paces from a swimming pool on the bank of the Boontjie’s River. Once ensconced it can be difficult to prise yourself out, given the level of restful comfort. My incentive was to join an afternoon game viewing drive, with the promise of snacks and sundowners on the banks of one of the reserve’s seven dams.