Ever feel like you want to grab your partner and flee the real world, but then life gets in the way, money is tight or you just don’t know where to go? We scoured South Africa to put together this list of 10 secluded and affordable destinations so you can indulge your inner Casanova without emptying your pockets. Whether it’s for a special occasion such as a honeymoon or anniversary or to escape for a weekend of quality time with your significant other, these carefully chosen spots will make for a perfect holiday.
In the least touristy part of the Wild Coast and two hours from the nearest sizeable town, this hauntingly beautiful stretch of subtropical coastline invites you to take a step back to a time when most of Africa’s land was untouched.
Today, the Pondo people own the reserve, and are deeply proud of it, but what makes Mkhambathi extra special are the waterfalls of the three main rivers, which cut their way through deep gorges, creating pools that are perfect for a dip with that extra special person. The most spectacular is Mkhambathi Falls, which cascade into the ocean.
There are seven basic rondavels at Gwe-Gwe beach where a sheltered bay protects a long beach from the crashing waves. Outside of school holidays, you’ll probably have the whole place to yourself. You’ll never get cold in the balmy climate, and skinnydipping at any time of day or night in the warm water means you’ll never have to shower.
Everything at this tranquil spot on the outskirts of Knysna is picturesque, especially the two doe-eyed donkeys named Hansel and Gretel, who love an apple before a pat and a photograph.
Geared for romance, you’ll love that each of the five little corrugated-iron cabins has a private braai, an outdoor shower and oh-so-comfortable hammock, which is perfect for a snuggle if you can get your balance right.
Cosy up in front of a fire with a DVD or a book from the collection in the lounge or take a candlelit soak in the bath.
Even if you’re not newlyweds, spoil yourself a little and take advantage of the honeymoon package which includes extras such as Champagne, chocolates, bubble bath and petals on the bed.
Don’t forget there’s lots to see and do in the area. Pack a picnic and venture out of your love nest for a hike – there’s one just outside Forest-Edge, which leads to a secluded rock pool. Ask owner Ronel Pieterse to organise a permit.
Self-catering cottages cost from R610 a night for two people. The most popular honeymoon package is R3 800 a couple for four nights midweek and it includes all the extras, plus discount vouchers at local restaurants, massage therapists, canoe and bike hire and much more. Cell 082-456-1338, email email@example.com, www.forestedge.co.za.
Combine a romantic break with a weekend away with friends at this lodge, which is a great option for a couples’ getaway. Rope in some good mates and book out either the double- or single-storey cabin, or have one of the cosy wooden structures in the forest all to yourself.
Cabins have a rustic yet modern feel, and the indoor fireplaces create a snug ambience in the surrounding lounge, dining room and kitchen. Summer evenings can be spent out on the deck that overlooks the lake, with a glass of red wine and steaks on the Weber.
Magoebaskloof has a variety of outdoor adventures such as fishing, mountain biking and canyoning for those with a wild side, or take the night off and indulge in a scrumptious meal at Picasso’s restaurant in Haenertsburg.
As Stanford is carefully tucked away, it may be a bit of a hassle getting there, but even this doesn’t deter guests from coming back time and again as it’s well worth the effort.
The Swartberg mountains near Ladismith are renowned for their beautiful scenery, with trickling streams, hulking rock formations and flora such as proteas and mountain cabbage trees.Hidden in the heart of the range is Seweweekspoort, where you’ll find three quaint self-catering cottages for you and your sweetheart to sneak away to.
Aristata is distinctly peaceful and simple; it’s as if a piece of farmland was dropped at the doorstep of the compact cottages especially for guests to sit and admire.
If you’re looking for relaxation, you can swim in the nearby river (clothing optional) and stargaze at night, but if you’re an active couple, there’s also hiking, mountain biking and climbing.
The cottages sleep two to four people each and the area has no electricity or cellphone reception, leaving you free to enjoy the natural environment uninterrupted.
Nearby sites worth visiting include the serene Gamkapoort Dam, Bosluiskloof Pass and the Amalienstein church, a famously photographed structure dating back almost 160 years. If you’re looking for an impenetrable and intimate hideaway, you really can’t do better than this spot.
Two-sleeper self-catering units cost R350 a night (R520 with bedding and towels) and the four-sleeper cottage is R580 a night (R920 with bedding and towels). Tel 028-551-2355, email firstname.lastname@example.org, www.7weeks.co.za.
Nothing screams romance as much as a candlelit love shack in the middle of the bush – which is exactly what you’ll get here. Along with its intimate dinners (delivered to your door by tractor) and beautiful sunsets, Dream Lodge seems to have the secret recipe to romantic bliss.
You have the option of staying in either the Agama or Gecko cottage, two remote and charming cabins surrounded by nothing but open veld. Tea lights, lanterns and candles in the evenings – necessary as there’s no electricity – add to the atmosphere of the place and make for wonderfully romantic evenings.
The cottage on the hill, Agama, has an incredible view, a built-in fireplace and a tub in a scenic spot. Gecko Cottage has the same basic layout and facilities, but is surrounded by acacia bush for privacy and has a couch outside for snuggling in front of the fire. Focused on creating a perfect mix of romance and isolation, Dream Lodge is the very definition of a love nest.
With its wall-high windows and sliding doors that lead onto a deck looking out over the sea, this retreat allows you to imagine that you’re living on the edge of the ocean.
With quick access to the Trafalgar Marine Reserve beach and sweeping views, this aptly named hideout is ideal for you and your sweetheart to spend an afternoon resting by the poolside.
Rooms one and two are perfectly suited for a couple’s getaway. One has access to the magnificent deck equipped with a pool and loungers, while the other has a private courtyard. Both have beachfront views, are modern and spacious and strike a balance between luxury and comfort.
While Yengele’s aim is to ensure guests do as little as possible, there are activities to keep you busy when the mood strikes. Nearby facilities offer golf, fly-fishing, whale-watching, diving, hiking and the opportunity to explore the reserve.
Self-catering units cost R960 a day, and full continental breakfast is available at an extra R170 a person. B&B rates available on request. Cell 071-422-0773, email email@example.com, www.yengeleparadise.co.za.
If you’re an adventurous sort of duo and don’t mind roughing it – you’ll have to forego electricity in favour of candlelight – this farm’s River Treehouse is a magical spot high up in a yellowwood tree. Near the coastline, about 14 kilometres from Port Alfred, the treehouse is simple and completely invisible from roads and vantage points, ensuring ultimate peace and privacy.
Just as secluded is the Fisherman’s Beach Cabin, right on the beachfront with a view of the ocean ahead, the forest at its back and deserted beaches as far as the eye can see. There’s something for the less adventurous too: stay in a cottage on the farm itself, where you can wake up to horses grazing on your doorstep.
Fill your days with swimming in a natural pool, canoeing, sand-boarding and lounging in hammocks or ask proprietor Jann Webb to tailor your visit to your tastes and requirements. Try the guided horse trail over three days – you’re left in privacy in the evenings to spend quality time with your darling.
The self-catering farm cottage sleeps four and costs R600 a night. Ask about the romantic break package – R1 600 a person includes two nights’ accommodation at either the River Treehouse or Fishermans Beach cottage and includes all activities and meals. Self-catering options are also available. A two-day horse safari is R1 400 a person, including catering, and you can add as many extra days as you want for R700 a person a day. Cell 082-645-6345, email firstname.lastname@example.org, www.threesistershorsetrails.co.za.
You soon get the feeling that you belong on this piece of peaceful earth, enveloped by countless indigenous camel thorn trees. The veld opens up on both sides of the road, stretching to the horizon, and sable, giraffe, eland, zebra, buffalo, gemsbok and blue wildebeest graze just metres from your car (you can even get out of your vehicle to get a better look at the game).
The accommodation (six self-catering chalets) is private and hidden. Connect with your sweetheart as quietness surrounds you on the deck of your chalet, looking out onto the veld or take in an exquisite sunset from the swimming pool in the middle of the veld.
Costs R640 a chalet a night (sleeps two to four people). Units are fitted with a fridge, air-con, freezer, shower and microwave. Tel 053-839-4455, email email@example.com, www.diamondroute.co.za.
Not everyone will think of camping as romantic, but the desert scenery of one of South Africa’s last genuine wildernesses is bound to capture your imagination. The stark landscape seems intimidating at first, but the Orange River flows like a vein of coolness through the heat and dust. After dark, the stars turn in a dreamy circle above your fireplace, and when the moon is full, you’ll feel that little bit closer to heaven.
Getting to this wild place in the northwestern corner of South Africa is a real adventure; the Richtersveld is far from anywhere, but it’s so worth it. Once you’re inside the national park, you say goodbye to the modern world. There are no fences or gates here, no roads or signs, and definitely no cellphone reception.
All you need is your love, 4×4, food, firewood and cozzies, but even these are optional, as most of the year you’ll be all alone and can practically walk around naked. Just remember your hat and suncream; the heat can be vicious.
There are several places to camp along the river, including Potjiespram, De Hoop and Richtersburg, while Kokerboomkloof is in the mountains, surrounded by giant granite boulders. The chalets at Tatasberg are comfortable and well equipped, but still adhere to wilderness principles. Remember to take drinking water, or purification tablets for river water. Camping gear and a 4×4 vehicle are required.
If your idea of romance has a fairytale ending, the Castle in Clarens, crafted after the story of Rapunzel, is a fantasy come true. Even the rooms are titled to fit the vision: choose to sleep in either the Prince’s or Rapunzel’s Room, watch the evening settle in from the Sunset Corner or have a braai with a view from the Chamber of Angels.
Keep the castle to yourself or share it with another couple and choose to self cater or have meals provided. There is definitely a little magic to this dream world and, who knows, maybe you’ll craft your own storybook romance during your stay.
There’s loads to do in the area, including horse riding and abseiling, or satiate your cultural thirst at the town’s galleries. Golden Gate National Park is only a few minutes down the road.
Costs from R400 a person a night, depending on the number of people. Breakfast is an additional R80, lunch R100 and dinner R120 a person. Cell 083-268-0497, email firstname.lastname@example.org, www.castleinclarens.co.za.
Contributors: Liezl Geldenhuys, Scott Ramsay, Roseanna McBain, Jana Grobbelaar
Photography: Scott Ramsay, Forest Edge, Stanford Lake Lodge , Johann de Swardt , Marion Whitehead, Lisa Johnson, Jann Webb, Malitza de Kock, Castle in Clarens
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Tags: affordable holidays, affordable romantic break, Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, Aristata, budget travel, Castle in Clarens, Dream Lodge, Dronfield Nature Reserve, Forest-Edge Nature Lovers’ Retreat, Free State, Garden Route, Gwe-Gwe Beach, Haenertsburg, Kimberley, Knysna, Limpopo, Magaliesburg, Mkhambathi Nature Reserve, Port Alfred, romantic breaks, Seweweekspoort, Stanford Lake Lodge, Tharfield Farm and Guest Cottage, Trafalgar, Wild Coast, Yengele Paradise Boutique Beach Lodge