The Garden Lodge within the Grootbos reserve is an ideal getaway for families.
Grootbos Garden Lodge: Our full report
The thatched Garden Lodge at Grootbos overlooks the Atlantic coast, just a short drive east of Hermanus. It’s set within the beautiful Grootbos Private Natural Reserve, which covers about 2,500ha (2.5km2) of natural coastal fynbos. It promises high-quality family-friendly accommodation, service and food, plus lots of activities focused on its natural environment.
The large thatched main area at Garden Lodge has a contemporary African theme and feel, using earthy colours for the furnishings, with prints and woven baskets adorning the walls. This open-plan area houses the reception, a bar, several small lounge areas and a dining room with a central fireplace – which is quite a feature.
There’s always someone at the informal reception here. However, we’d single out Michael Lutzeyer, one of the owners, for his low-key but very consistent focus and presence; he’s very often around. Michael seems always busy, but never too busy to help one of the lodge team, or spend a little time with guests – checking how they are, and advising them on the area. His energy and focus on the lodge, its natural environment and its projects are impressive and quite infectious: you won’t find a more involved, enthusiastic owner on the continent!
Outside is a large veranda with stunning views of the South Atlantic’s Walker Bay. Lunch is usually served here, and on a recent stay this was often accompanied by a variety of sunbirds flitting around in the bushes. To one side of this veranda is a large swimming pool around which is split-level decking where several sitting areas have a variety of comfy chairs and sun loungers.
Set amongst the fynbos and Milkwood trees at Garden Lodge are 11 spacious, stone and wood suites. These are all beautifully decorated in a modern African theme with natural colours and fabrics; all have very similar facilities.
- Four ‘Classic Suites’ all have an air-conditioned bedroom with a big comfortable bed made up with high-quality linens. They also have a separate, large kitchen-lounge area where you’ll find comfy sofas and armchairs; satellite TV and DVD player; a stocked minibar/fridge; and a wood-burning stove for the colder months. The small kitchen worktop in the suites houses a kettle, with tea and coffee (including a cafetière), some cutlery and glassware, a jar of biscuits and a bowl of fresh fruit (replenished daily!).
For a family staying at Grootbos, the couch in this area is converted every evening by the room attendants into a double bed, suitable for two children. (The lodge describes this as ‘only really suitable for children under 10’.)
The open, stone-tiled bathroom has a large, quite open shower, double washbasins, and under-floor heating. There’s also a separate toilet and washbasin, in its own room. The high ceilings of the kitchen-lounge and bathroom made a real difference to the feel of these suites, giving a lovely sense of space.
Double doors from the lounge, and a single door from the bedroom, lead out onto a secluded private veranda built around the existing trees. Here there are loungers, a small table and a shady umbrella – an area that one Expert Africa family used quite a lot.
In addition to the ‘Classic Suites’ at Grootbos Garden Lodge, there are also:
- Five ‘Luxury Suites’ are very similar to the Classic Suites, but they are slightly larger (75–80m² instead of 55–60m²), and they have a bath as well as a shower in the bathroom.
- Two two-bedroom ‘Luxury Suites’, each of which is two inter-connected Luxury Suites – so with two bedrooms and two bathrooms.
All of the suites that we saw at the Garden Lodge on our last visit were smart and maintained to a very high standard, with good attention to detail. It’s a very smart place to stay – and very relaxed with children.
The activities at Grootbos are an important part of being at the Garden Lodge for most visitors – and there’s a wide choice. Many are included in the costs of your stay; a few will cost extra.
Activities that are normally included in your stay at Grootbos and done on the reserve include:
- Horse-riding: the reserve has 20 well-trained horses, and three ponies for children, in its own stable. Join scheduled rides on the reserve.
- Guided nature walks: trails through the reserve are led by knowledgeable rangers; take a closer look at the reserve’s flora, birdlife and other wildlife. It’s worth letting the team know if you have a particular interest, like birdwatching, as they will try to focus more on the relevant aspects of the reserve.
- 4WD ‘flower safaris’: drives through the reserve led by the rangers at Grootbos are very popular, but focus much more on the plants and birds than the larger wildlife, which is seen very infrequently.
- Children’s activities: See below for much more detail on Garden Lodge’s extensive programme of activities for children.
Grootbos stands on the hillside just above Walker Bay, and several of the included activities start with a ten-minute drive down into the Walker Bay Nature Reserve. These include:
- Beach picnics: for swimming, tanning or just being on the beach, staff from the Garden Lodge will transport you to and from excellent nearby beaches with a lovely picnic and will make sure all necessary beach accessories are provided to make your day as enjoyable as possible.
- Land-based whale watching: explore the Walker Bay Nature Reserve and De Kelders Cliff and watch the whales in season, from July to December. Experienced guides will take you to sites with the best views to see the whale parents with their new-born calves.
- Guided cave tours: A visit to Walker Bay Reserve can include Klipgat Cave, a massive natural cave which has been excavated by archaeologists and seems to have been first occupied by human beings about 70,000 years ago – in the Middle Stone Age. The guide will tell you about this ancient world and its early culture.
There’s also one included trip that goes elsewhere outside the reserve:
- Social responsibility tour: get an overview of the projects supported by the Grootbos Foundation, and perhaps meet some of the people involved, at places like the Gansbaai Communal Sports Centre and the Food Production and Life Skills College.
There are in addition various activities which are not normally included at the Garden Lodge. These cost extra, but Grootbos is a good base for them:
- Boat-based whale watching: exclusive and ecologically sensitive boat trips can bring you close to the Cape’s giants; these whales can be up to 18m long and weigh up to 80t.
- Shark cage diving: to get close to an adult great white shark under water, most people want to be in a strong metal cage! No diving experience is required for these trips, but some courage may be.
- Guided beach-riding: for experienced horse-riders, Grootbos Reserve offers a three-hour ride to Walker Bay Nature Reserve. This spectacular ride through the fynbos and the dunes, brings you onto the beach where you can enjoy gallops along the water’s edge.
Our viewGrootbos Garden Lodge is a fairly contemporary and quite luxurious lodge, in a lovely spot overlooking the ocean. It does achieve high standards thanks to the passion of the owners and a very professional team. Nature is the real draw here though, especially guided activities around the reserve, and beside the ocean at Walker Bay. We’d recommend this lodge generally – but it’s especially good for families with children.
Ideal length of stay: 3–4 days is ideal for a relaxing stay with time to sample most of the activities on offer here.
Directions: From Cape Town, take the N2 past the airport to Somerset West. Either follow the N2 over Sir Lowry's Pass, turning on to the R43 after the Houhoek Pass, or take the R44 along the coast and turn onto the R43 to Hermanus. Drive through Hermanus and continue on the R43. The turn off for Grootbos is 13km past Stanford on the left-hand side. From the Garden Route: The N2 brings you west past Swellendam and Riviersonderend. About 10km past Riviersonderend, turn on to the R326 to Stanford. At Stanford turn left on to the R43. Grootbos is 13km from Stanford on the left-hand side.
Accessible by: Self-drive
Owner: Privately owned Michael and Tertius Lutzeyer
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: When we last visited the Garden Lodge, we did not eat here, but on a previous visit the chef, Duane Lewis, and his team made the dining experience outstanding: many of the ingredients used, especially herbs and salads, were homegrown and organic – and it was all executed very well.
The buffet at breakfast was extensive, consisting of mixed fresh and dried fruits; cereals including a variety of separate muesli ingredients, Weetabix, and several types of more normal flakes; various seeds, raisins and sultanas; two different kinds of yoghurt; plus very fresh Danish pastries, muffins and croissants. In addition, there were smoked salmon, salamis and hams, plus cheeses and crackers.
Lunch is selected from a set menu with a handful of different choices for each course. Whilst we were there, the starters included broccoli and blue cheese soup served warm; a delightfully aromatic ‘panzanella’ (an Italian salad made of bread and tomatoes); or marinated chicken with avocado salad.
The main-course options were an excellent sticky beef and goat’s cheese wrap with herb salad; a creamy calamari masala penne pasta; or a roast vegetable and camembert tian. To complete the menu we had the choice between fresh fruits, or white and dark chocolate mousse served with strips of melon and mango. Several local South African wines were offered, costing about R55–80 per glass.
The dinner menu features a standard ‘house’ range augmented by daily specials – and there’s a standing comment that a free-range chicken breast can replace the fish or meat in any dish, or be added to any vegetarian dish. Similarly, fresh line fish can usually be substituted into any fish or prawn dishes. In short, the menu is very flexible around diners’ wishes.
The starters on the standard menu included Grootbos Caesar salad (cos lettuce, home smoked belly bacon and poached free-range eggs) and chef’s choice of fresh vegetables. There were several mains, though I remember best the really excellent beef filet with sautéed potatoes, homemade fries or garden vegetables with mushroom or green pepper sauce. Desserts on the standard menu included chocolate fondant with ice cream and/or a selection of cheeses and homemade compote with crispy crackers.
The menu of the day included starters of falafel and spiced aubergine caviar, with pickled red cabbage and tzatziki (which was excellent!); a duo of Langkloof rainbow trout – smoked trout and beetroot-cured trout, with pea mint salsa. These were fairly small, but delicious.
The second course was a homemade soup: beetroot and apple or a chicken consommé. For the main course there was a braised pork belly witb a trio of Granny Smith apple; fresh line fish with citrus mash and a mussel and squid provençal; but we had the Thai red curry with butter deep-fried pumpkin served with steamed jasmine rice – which was quite a surprise when it came, but also very good.
As a fourth and final course we tasted the fantastic chocolate torte with chocolate and ‘Frangelico’ (a hazelnut liqueur) ice cream, although we preferred the crème brûlée with vanilla shortbread and the Castello Danish Camembert sandwich.
In summary, the food in its variety and taste is outstanding and delicious.
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Not included
Further dining info: No
Family holidays: The Garden Lodge makes a great stop for a family holiday in South Africa. The lodge’s rooms work well with children, their catering is flexible, with a good children’s menu, and some activities are designed for children. There’s also a designated playroom and a babysitting service.See more ideas for Family holidays in South Africa
Beach holidays: Although not obvious for beach holidays in South Africa, the Garden Lodge overlooks a lovely, quiet, wild beach at Walker Bay. Activities can include beach picnics, riding on the beach, and even guided walks to an archaeological site in a massive local cave.See more ideas for Beach holidays in South Africa
Birdwatching: The vast diversity of the fynbos vegetation at Grootbos attracts a real range of birds, making this is a good stop as part of a trip focusing on birdwatching in South Africa. Expect plenty of colourful sunbirds, Cape sugarbirds, black harriers, kites and kestrels and many others.See more ideas for Birdwatching in South Africa
Riding holidays: If you’d like to do some horse-riding in South Africa, then Grootbos has a stable of 20 horses, including some ponies for children. It caters to a range of equestrian abilities – from short rides for novices, to three-hour rides on the beach.See more ideas for Riding holidays in South Africa
Wildlife safaris: Though not the most obvious place for a wildlife safari in South Africa, in season (July to Dec) Grootbos is a superb base for observing southern right whales from the shore as well as from boats. You may also spot dolphins, great white sharks, Cape fur seals and African penguins.See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in South Africa
Walking: For gentle walking in South Africa, Grootbos has some stunning flora to explore on foot, and offers guided walks to explore the reserve and coastal areas. Walk at Grootbos to learn about the fynbos ecosystem and explore the ancient Milkwood Forest.See more ideas for Walking in South Africa
Attitude towards children: Grootbos has an excellent attitude to children.
Property’s age restrictions: Children of all ages are welcome at Garden Lodge.
Special activities & services: Garden Lodge has developed a number of activities with children in mind. Some aim merely to entertain them, others strive to inform them about their natural surroundings, and specifically about the reserve. These include:
- The chicken run: children can wander down to the chicken coop with a guide to collect eggs for breakfast – with or without their parents.
- There’s a thriving walk-in enclosure of fancy rabbits which can be visited; children love to stroke them!
- The stables organise horse-rides that are suitable for novices and they have a good range of hard hats and safety equipment that is suitable for children.
- Beside the stables is an outdoor children’s play area, with a few swings and basic jungle-gym equipment.
Equipment: Garden Lodge has cots, highchairs and even baby-baths available.
Generally recommended for children: Grootbos Garden Lodge is definitely recommended for children. It has plenty of activities that focus on children, and in our experience the staff were very child-friendly indeed.
Power supply: Mains Electricity
Power supply notes: They have three round-pin South African sockets; adaptors are available at reception.
Communications: There is a direct-dial telephone in each suite as well as a computer jack. The whole lodge has complimentary WiFi and there is good cellphone reception in the area.
TV & radio: There are TVs with DVD players in each room as well as in the main lodge area.
Water supply: Mains
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: No
Medical care: There are doctors in Gansbaai (5km away) and a hospital in Hermanus (20km away).
Dangerous animals: Low Risk
Security measures: There is 24-hour security on the Grootbos entrance gates and night patrols around the lodges.
Fire safety: Each suite has a fire extinguisher and others are located in the main building.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: There is an extra charge for laundry. Approximate cost is R20 (just over £1) for a pair of trousers or a shirt and R5 (about 30 pence) for underwear and socks per item.
Money: The Garden Lodge can change money on weekdays only.
Accepted payment on location: Grootbos accepts Visa, MasterCard and Amex cards as well as cash in South African rand.