So what’s the Garden Route like? Very, very Knysna indeed
The town isn’t all lentils and hemp, but nor is it linen and chardonnay. It is whatever you want it to be
Knysna has, to me, always meant one of two things: slender, well-preserved retirees wearing tasteful cotton-knit tunics, or hippie stoners loving their tie-dye and Jesus sandals. I know there must be a midway point between these two extremes, but I hadn’t encountered any during our long-ago family holidays to the Garden Route.
So, what changed? A weekend at the Turbine Boutique and Spa, on Thesen Island, where I learnt that there is a lot more to this beautiful town than fynbos and forests (although those are rather special, too).
It started with a cycle from Thesen Island to the Heads (arranged by the Turbine Water Club), an experience that was nothing short of exhilarating. With the sun on my shoulders, a cool rush of sea-scented air in my face and rays glinting off the lagoon as we whirred past, it felt as though every sense had come to life. This sensation intensified once we reached the Heads, and the steely hues of the lagoon’s waterscape gave way to the sputter of foam and navy water against red rocks.
The lagoon and I had another moment during a sunset cruise, when I was once more beguiled by its silvered calmness. I dearly would have loved to see one of the little seahorses that make their home in the waters of Thesen Island. I’m told the best time to catch a glimpse of this special species is in the morning but, alas, that was not to be: we were heading out early the next day for a four-hour walk through the famed Knsyna Forest.
This was a highlight of my stay in the Garden Route. I know there’s an awful lot of research backing the benefits of walking among trees but you don’t need to read any of it: You simply need to stand still under a variegated canopy and take a deep loamy breath to feel the effects of last week’s deadlines slide away from you.
Walking does work up an appetite – and that’s why it was fortunate to have a home base on Thesen Island. The Turbine’s Gastro Pub serves fantastic fish and chips, as well as tasty platters and other casual favourites like ribs and burgers, while the Island Café’s continental-inspired fare appeals to a variety of palates (try the Island Café’s themed global cuisine nights on Thursday evenings). But, if it’s a cup of comfort you’re after, try the hot chocolate deluxe from Ile de Pain, one of Thesen Island’s most famous establishments.
After a good refuel, I was delighted to have my aching hamstrings taken care of at the Turbine’s spa, and then it was downtime in my gorgeous room. While many five-star hotels are inaccessible and snobbish, the Turbine appears to have been designed by someone with a fantastic sense of humour. How else would you explain the knobs and levers dotted throughout the room – a witty reference to the hotel’s past as a power station. It is further recalled through its interiors – most impressively, an installation featuring the giant pipes and engines that once kept the power flowing. It’s all lightened and brightened by furniture and fittings in primary-bold splashes, along with stunning pieces by local artists.
What did my experiences teach me? Knysna isn’t all lentils and hemp, but nor is it linen and chardonnay. It’s whatever you want it to be, from a chance to put your Fitbit to the test with loads of sweat-inducing outdoor activities, to a place for reflection and meditation, to a gorge-yourself-silly buffet of scrumptious food and drink. What’s not to love?
• Turbine Boutique Hotel and Spa: 044-302-5746. Standard rooms from R1,735 (low season).