A South African Road Trip, Part III: The Plettenberg


In this third part of her South Africa travelogue, Alwynne Gwilt continues along the Garden Route. Having left the Cape Peninsula, she comes across a beachside property with reminders of home… 

“I’m not going to lie, I could definitely get used to this,” I state confidently, as another pina colada – a drink firmly saved for holiday time only – is delivered to my lounge chair.

I’m outstretched in the gloriously vibrant afternoon sunshine, book in hand, looking out to the Indian Ocean, hearing its waves crash intently against the nearby rocky outcrop when this moment occurs. And while it’s rare for me to lounge by a pool on holiday, this is exactly what the energy of The Plettenberg Bay Hotel – a five star property located in ritzy, glitzy town of the same name along South Africa’s Garden Route – has commanded I do.

There is a phrase which is used by the team while I’m there to describe how one should feel while taking time away from the hectic nature of everyday life – ‘barefoot luxury’, meaning one can walk from the beach with sandy bare feet straight through the lobby and feel totally at home.

I’ve arrived at The Plettenberg with just that in mind – having finally reached the Garden Route after a fifth trip to South Africa, I intend to take in all of its glorious surrounds in full.

A part of the Liz McGrath Collection, the boutique hotel features 29 rooms across two buildings, two pools and a couple of dining options. There are comfortable lounges and direct beach access, making it perfect for holing away for a while.


Our room has a spectacular 180 degree view from floor-to-ceiling windows of the Indian Ocean, and quite spookily for my husband, H, a direct lookout towards what was his favourite bodyboarding spot as a teenager growing up in South Africa. He nearly can’t believe it but the team assures us they possess no sixth sense to know that this was the case.

I comment upon seeing the room that it feels as if we’ve escaped to a corner of Cornwall. The wildness of the ocean, the rocky headlands and golden beaches we see from our viewpoint feels familiar, while the decor of the space – light cream and gray with beachy paintings – create a classical seaside vibe. No room is decorated exactly the same, so it feels as though you’ve wandered into someone’s home where they’ve personally curated each space in a unique way.

The original owner, Liz McGrath, was a stalwart in the hotelier business. One of the few women to own three luxury hotels in her own right, she began her career after the sudden death of her record industry husband. Deciding to set up a business of her own, The Plettenberg was her first hotel, purchased in 1988, with The Marine is nearby Hermanus and The Cellars-Hohenort in Constantia (Cape Town) to follow. Well known to staff, industry compatriots and media affectionately as Mrs M, she was renowned for her generosity of spirit and genuine love and pride of her hotels and teams. When she passed away in 2015, tributes poured in from the across the global hotelier world with fond memories of her nature and dedication to the industry.

Below our expansive windows I note the pool, and immediately beckon to H that we should wander down to the deck and enjoy some much needed poolside time. With little to do but relax, it seems the most appropriate option.

The next morning, we wake early and drive to nearby Robberg Nature Reserve, a World Heritage Site where one can take in a proper, 9km hike around the point. It’s fairly strenuous with some sheer drops, and thousands of bobbing seals, but it’s the perfect dawn activity for anyone keen on being in nature before the heat of the day takes over any dreams of comfortable outdoor pursuits.

Heading back to the hotel, we arrive just in time for our much needed breakfast to be delivered to our room. Guests can dine in the main restaurant or on the terrace, but with the beautiful vistas and soft winds filtering in through from the balcony, we opt for the more private breakfast experience. The Continental spread of yoghurts, pastries, fruit and coffee is just what we need before a morning wandering around the town, taking in the sites and sounds of Plettenberg Bay. A busy tourist area, it makes for a great stomping ground for families with lots of activities and safe beaches, and we see many overseas groups who are finally filtering back after the Pandemic.

That evening – after more pool time – we wander from the hotel directly to the beach, to enjoy a bottle of sparkling wine we’ve kept chilling in the fridge for the perfect sundowners. It feels like such a luxury to have the wind in our hair and sand filing through our toes, as we sip on a Methode Cap Classique from Saltare winery near Stellenbosch and watch as the sun slowly dips down below the waves.

The hotel’s restaurant focuses on seafood, so we enjoy a late dinner of platters of fresh locally sourced fish. The portions are generous and as we slowly waddle back to our room to collapse into fresh sheets and dream away to the sound of the ocean outside our windows, we feel a sense of peace that comes only from time truly spent relaxing.

It’s clear, as we depart the next morning, that The Plettenberg is meant to provide its guests with that best part of luxury: everything is beautiful, curated and all requests are met at a moment’s notice, but one can still feel completely relaxed and at home. It’s a hard balance for hotels to achieve, but there’s no doubt that Mrs. M’s legacy is both remembered and respected amongst the teams that have come after her. The barefoot luxury of the hotel reminds me I should find more opportunities in the day to day to walk shoeless and happy on the sand.

For more information about The Plettenberg Hotel, including details of villas and suites, and their range of experiences, please visit www.theplettenberghotels.com.

Alwynne’s South African road trip concludes next weekend, when she finds beauty tucked between mountains and indigenous gardens in the Stellenbosch…