Take me to the mountains! The mountains where forests and flowers, blankets of mist and waterfalls culminate to create something we can only describe as mystical, dream-like, and deeply restorative. South Africans flock to the mountains to bird-watch (see what we did there), to hike or bike the trails, to clamber over sun-bleached rocks and marvel at ancient artwork left behind in the caves. There are so many reasons to want to escape the big cities and run for the hills where noise pollution falls away, neighbours are nonexistent, and days start with the sunrise and not an alarm clock.
South Africa is self-drive country, and many adventurous tourists take to the roads to see more of the unique and diverse landscape. Here, we’ve listed three (from many) different mountainous regions across the country and picked our favourite mountain cottages and cabins for restoration and relaxation.
This little town is located in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, about an hour and a half’s drive inland from the coast and at about 1300 metres above sea level. It has some of the country’s last remaining Afromontane forest, it is a hiker’s and biker’s paradise, and you’ll certainly find yourself among artists and craft brews, and even fairies if you let your imagination run wild. Bird watchers will delight in the presence of the rare Cape parrot, and wonderful sightings of the bright green, crested Knysna turaco among many others. It can snow in winter, turning the magnificent gardens white and the waterfalls to ice. This is a retreat for fresh air, adventure, imagination, and creativity.
The Edge Mountain Retreat is located high up on the Hogsback mountain ridge, at eye level with the top of the cliffs and overlooking a gorge. Aptly named, The Edge, offers a variety of self-catering accommodations in the form of garden cottages and thatched Rondavel-shaped chalets with immense views. Some even have outdoor bath tubs and showers that bring a whole new element to the act of bathing! The gardens are a fantastic mixture of wild, untamed, wilderness, and beautifully nurtured rose beds.
The cottages are furnished with simple, comfortable items that provide everything you need and nothing you don’t. They are warm and inviting in the winter with feather down duvets and fire places, and all have either gorgeous garden surroundings or breath-taking views off the mountain. Choose to spend all day on “the edge” and explore the incredible Labyrinth, which at 91 metres in circumference, is one of the largest in the world. Or, amble down to Hogsback village to eat, drink, and be merry!
The grand and magnificent mountain range that is the Drakensberg extends for over 1000km along the edge of the Great Escarpment of South Africa and Lesotho. It acts as a natural boundary along Lesotho’s eastern edge and divides the small country from the South African provinces of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal, eventually extending into Mpumalanga and Limpopo where it forms the famous Three Rondavels and God’s Window on the popular Panorama Route. Its famous features include the Tugela Falls (the second highest in the world with a drop of 947m), The Amphitheatre, Giant’s Castle, Cathedral Valley, and Drakensberg Cliffs. There are high altitude grasslands, jagged, tree-less peaks, and an enormous variety of fauna and flora to get excited about all the way along the range.
Berghouse & Cottages is located right in view of the Amphitheatre and the mountain scenery is more than one could ask for. Located just about midway between Johannesburg and Durban (± three hours’ drive from each), it is just off the western border of Lesotho in KwaZulu Natal and perfectly positioned for easy access by road. The layout of the cottages at Berghouse resonates with the natural landscape and the atmosphere celebrates the mountains and all their majesty. The use of stone, thatch, and timber in each of the individual accommodations matches the surroundings and brings the mountain right.
The modestly decorated cottages are all unique, and some sleep only two, while others sleep up to 12, so they suit just about any group size. Crackling log fires warm the rooms and private patios offer guests the perfect place to eat breakfast or enjoy a sundowner with phenomenal views. Guests can self-cater or opt to be catered for (think home-baked bread, quiches, and the likes!) Make use of 4×4 trails, wallow in the infinity rock pool, cruise through the grasslands on a mountain bike or head out on a hiking trail or fly fishing excursion. Do as much or as little as you please! This is a little piece of paradise.
Moving further south to the botanical kingdom that is the Cape, we find ourselves in the fynbos biome of the Overberg region. Proteas, sugarbirds, mountain mist, and a sea breeze bring this special part of the country to life and give it its unique identity. The Overberg – meaning “over the mountain” – begins about an hour from Cape Town beyond the Hottentots Holland mountain and extends both inland and along the coast to include Hermanus, Caledon, and Swellendam – much of the country’s wheat growing hub. Rolling, fynbos-strewn hills, bubbling streams, rocky coastlines, and yellow canola fields define this beautiful part of the country, and beckons nature-loving adventurous souls.
Kolkol Mountain Lodge is located in the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve near the Overberg town of Botrivier. Just like the other mountain cabin destinations on this list, Kolkol is self-catering, and offers guests a private little sanctuary to enjoy at own pace. There is something supremely special about this one – and that might just be the wood-fired hot tub on the balcony, which adds levels of romance and indulgence to this log-cabin style retreat. There are nine stone and timber cottages, each with interesting architectural quirks and plenty of comforting details, like luxurious cotton bed linen, embracing couches, modern decor.
When you’re not steaming away in the non-electric jacuzzi and watching the sunbirds feast on the flower bursts around the cabin, you could book an in-room massage with the masseuse on call, or head out into the mountains for a walk among the wildlife and birds. If you can tear yourself away from the true serenity of this place, you could go wine tasting in the Botrivier valley, or whale watching in Hermanus only 35km away. There is plenty on offer, but Kolkol itself is a place of sheer relaxation.
Need more inspiration for South African secret getaways?