I hadn’t been on a press trip in years. Decades, even. Independent travel for stories, sure, but not the old school kind where you meet in a hotel for drinks and then get driven somewhere on a bus. In the old days (how did the nineties become the old days?) glamorous travel was part of the deal, and made up for the terrible wages we journalists got paid. There was so much money in print media it was nothing to fly to Joburg for lunch. You’d be back by 6pm to go to the next thing. I was sent on a luxury cruise to Australia when I was too young and green to know that my cabin, the size of a modest hotel suite, was huge by maritime standards. Once I stayed at a game lodge on the Zambezi where the bedroom had only three walls. From your bed, you looked out over the coffee-coloured river and fell asleep to the sound of hippos splashing in the shallows. The Victorian bath was outside on the deck, and when you went for breakfast under a giant Frangipani tree somebody walked behind you and raked away your footsteps.
‘When last were you at Bosjes?’ my friend, Keith, asks me as we cruise along the N1, and he’s surprised when I say never, but it’s not surprising. Over the past few years (thanks, in part, to Covid) I’ve discovered that it’s not actually necessary to ever leave my bedroom. Plus, I’ve always had a mental block about traveling beyond hospital bend. Nothing good ever comes of traveling beyond hospital bend (unless it’s to go to cafe Ohana or visit my friend, Philippa). This is especially true lately, with Hitler aka Putin blowing up gas lines all over the show and Europe entering a massive energy crisis. Late at night, just before I turn off the light, I scare the daylights out of myself by asking Google what the chances really are of a third world war. The answers I get are not reassuring. Who woulda thunk South Africa would end up the safer place to be?
Earlier in the week I tried to find out exactly where Bosjes was, but all I could find was the Breedekloof Valley. I didn’t know there was such a thing, but I could see that it wasn’t far from Worcester (which I only just discovered, thanks to David Kramer, is pronounced ‘Worcester’ and not ‘Vorcester’) and I definitely know Worcester because my friend, Leslie, comes from there and there’s a road in that town called de la Bat which makes my other friend and I laugh because it reminds us of a trip we took together to Greece, the details of which can never be divulged.
By the time we’ve arrived and done a tour of Bosjes’s extraordinary primary school (built by the Bosjes Trust for the children of the farm-workers and which is so modern and sustainable and lovely it makes the modern, lovely schools of Scandinavia look sad), we are veritably perishing of thirst and words. Our intuitive host clocks this and makes a quick itinerary change so that instead of a garden walk we are settled on comfy couches beside a pool David Hockney couldn’t have done better and plied with cold Bosjes rosé and tasty butternut wraps. Since I went freelance I rarely hang out with journalists and it’s a joy being with kin again; folk who understand why the word ‘nestle’ should be banned from every travel piece, ever. Also, journalists drink a lot of wine and anyone who does this is my friend.
Before dinner we are taken on a game drive up into the Waaihoek and Slanghoek Mountain ranges. The jeep climbs up and up a steep, bumpy road. A pair of giraffe startle at the sound of our vehicle. The sun is low on the horizon and the protea and fynbos have that otherworldly golden glow, like the world is steeped in syrup. Someone spots an albino springbok. It’s springtime, so babies abound. I wonder what animals roamed here before the people came. Probably elephants. Definitely lions. Higher and higher we climb, past pin-cushions and strange rock formations and dams that need replenishing but our rainy season has come and gone. It’s looking to be a dry summer and our guide explains that they’ll have to source water from the Breede river. In this new world we inhabit, water is a scarce resource.
The guide informs us that a new species of plant was recently discovered right here on these slopes. Of course it was. This is Africa, the wild frontier. There is so much space in our back garden it almost blows your mind. So much sky, so much air, so much room to move. When I lived in Europe I used to feel sometimes like I couldn’t breathe. The sky was too low and the air had lost its sparkle. It’s dark and cold on the drive home and I’m happy I brought the puffer jacket I bought a hundred years ago for a ski trip where I got in such a rage I threw my skis down the slope and sulked for the duration (never let your husband teach you how to ski, it’s very bad for a marriage). Northern Europe is frigid but you never feel cold because you’re always dressed for the weather. In Africa you think it’s going to be hot all the time so you frequently freeze half to death.
Bosje’s beautiful new rooms (the hotel has recently undergone a major renovation) look out into the darkness of the African night, plains and emptiness that curve upwards and become mountains, wild and untouched as they have ever been. They’re stylish, spacious and very inviting; you want to kick off your shoes and hang out; light an atmosfire, pour yourself a large glass of red and look out into that nothingness and wonder, what creatures lurk? What spirits of the veld and mountains roam these desolate stretches? I’m tempted to run a bubble bath in the huge and gorgeous bathroom (these rooms have a separate bathroom and loo which is always a nice touch), but I think of the water thing and also, I know the chef is eagerly waiting to feed us so I join my new friends in the dining room.
There’s something about being in the country that makes me incapable of ordering anything other than lamb, and I even though we are not quite in the Karoo, we are close enough that the lamb chops on the dinner menu are likely to be excellent. They are. The fat is crisp and perfectly rendered, and they’re served simply – just as they should be – with perfect roast potatoes, green beans and warm calamata olives. The creme brulée dessert is topped with a yummy apple compote and some very nice crunchy things I forget to ask about. Back in my room, just as I am settling in to relax and admire its gorgeousness, the lights go out. Ah. Load-shedding, of course, even out here in the sticks. And then within about 5 seconds light is restored. It’s funny how generators have become such a thing. I know all of South Africa is furious, but if it’s any consolation, my friend Leslie (the one from Worcester with a ‘w’) just Whatsapped me a few days ago to say that load-shedding is a possibility for Sweden, too. She would know, she lives there. The world has gone quite mad.
In true South African style (we do hospitality exceptionally well) everything at Bosjes is lovely: the pool is gently heated when I take a morning dip; the masseur has thoughtfully lit a fire beside the table because the morning air is chilly; the breakfast mushrooms have been fried in heaps of real butter. The garden walk towards Bosje’s famous chapel (even if you don’t know, the place, you’ll know the chapel) is a beautifully designed mosaic of succulents, Renosterveld, indigenous water plants and fiery coral trees. In the middle of nowhere, all this elegance; all this beauty. Such vision and creativity went into constructing this space. Down here we are good at making something out of nothing. It’s a spirit borne of surviving the harsh, wild bush. Eat or be eaten. Never rest on your laurels. The grand old homestead which dates back to 1790 is a reminder of the ‘can do’ spirit we South Africans are renowned for: let’s make a farm here in the middle of nowhere! Let’s transform this arrid land into a Garden of Eden! And then, let’s build a floating chapel so lovely and unlikely it will make people gasp when they see it.
In travel writing ‘oasis’ (like ‘nestle’) is an inexcusable cliché, but Bosjes really is that. You step into another world and forget, for a while, that the whole planet has gone ‘bossies*.’ Not here at the foot of the mountains in the land of perpetual sunshine where, when you turn off your bedside light, the silences stretch to forever.
- I love my job
- I’m happy to be in South Africa while the world is imploding
- Bosjes is the most perfect place imaginable for an intimate wedding/renewal of vows/big birthday celebration/romantic weekend away
- for the setting, quality and service it’s very affordable
- It has a well-stocked library, a couple of beautiful shops on the property selling bespoke items (you NEED their dressing-gown) and plenty of excellent Bosjes wine (I recommend drinking it beside the pool)
- there’s a café in the grounds that serves delicious coffees, pastries, bubbly and lunch-y things so you’re sorted for meals
- the spa is heavenly
- the garden is a magical place; spend as much time in it as you can
- even if you don’t get married there, the chapel will restore your faith in humankind and make you happy to be alive