There’s a castle in the clouds where no one is ever hungry and where you drink champagne before breakfast. Best of all, it isn’t just a fairy tale.
Ever since I saw the Noetzie castles outside Knysna 20 years ago, I’ve wondered: Who built them? Who lives there, high above this paradise of a little beach on the Garden Route?
But it was only last year, when the town’s grapevine started humming about the Conrad Pezula hotel estate’s ‘million dollar’ – R100 000 to be precise – experience, that I started thinking about those Noetzie castles again.
Being the dedicated journalist that I am, I decided to investigate. What exactly does this R100 000 per night experience entail?
I book a weekend in luxury and a week prior to checking in, my wife, Ingrid, and I receive a welcome email from one of the Conrad Pezula service managers.
She mentions that the private castle where we’ll be staying was named Best Property in the World in 2008 at CNBC’s International Property Awards in Orlando.
She also says an executive butler, housekeeper and chef are available for our exclusive use; we merely have to let them know what our favourite eats and drinks are. For a moment I consider sending a request for flambéed whale lips on caviar pâté.
I manage to restrain myself and courteously let them know that we enjoy lamb shanks, goat’s cheese, green figs in syrup and biltong. Furthermore, we’re quite partial to tequila and enjoy Pimm’s cocktails far too much.
We book our individual spa treatments, but say no thanks to horse riding, archery, golf, canoeing, pétanque (a game similar to boules) and many other activities that form part of the package.
And as a special request we ask that our butler please be au fait with the latest rules of Scrabble. We’ll probably need his services as an adjudicator.
The Saturday morning we drive up the hill to Pezula, which means ‘up high with the gods’ in Shona, we’re full of good cheer. Since the Hilton group made Pezula part of its flagship five-star Conrad Hotels in November last year, even the gods need to book early to avoid disappointment.
Upon our arrival at the hotel, we’re greeted with a friendly hand massage. Lovet, our executive butler, reports for duty, invisible hands unload our luggage and we are chauffeured to our luxury villa perched above the beach at Noetzie, just outside Knysna on the Garden Route.
During the drive there, Lovet explains how the castles came about. In 1932, a (then) Rhodesian dignitary, Herbert Stephen Henderson, built himself a beach house out of stone on the western part of the beach.
His neighbour, Rex Metelerkamp, jokingly said all it needed was a couple of turrets and it would look just like a castle.
And that’s how Noetzie’s castle-building began. The private castle we’re heading to was renovated between 2006 and 2008 and is now one of the world’s most luxurious places to visit. (In 2008, Madiba was its first guest!)
‘So how long do people usually stay?’
I ask, and Lovet says that most check in for about two days and always feel it’s too short a time. There was, however, a British family who stayed for 16 days. ‘But,’ our butler admits, ‘they did get a small discount.’ (It cost them just under R1 million.)
And then the castle’s doors swing open in front of us.
‘We have arrived,’ Lovet announces. On the terrace, Fransina, the housekeeper and Ferdi, the chef, are already waiting for us.
We’re taken on a tour through the castle – from the comfortable lounges filled with furniture that would look at home in a summer palace, to the enormous suites with even larger four-roomed bathrooms.
Of course, the railings in the dressing rooms are illuminated.
‘This suite is where ex-president Nelson Mandela slept,’ Lovet says.
I simply have to try out the bed immediately. And the moment I land on it, I’m overwhelmed by such a feeling of ubuntu that I immediately invite Ingrid to come and share the bed with me. (And Lovet does blush so sweetly.)
While the chef is preparing our lunch, we go for a dip in the balmy sea and afterwards splash about in our little heated pool with its perfect sea view. We sip from glasses filled with Pimm’s.
And then it’s time for lunch: a delicious green salad and orecchiette, which Ferdi tells us is Italian for ear-shaped pasta, which they made themselves.
The women at the table eat in silence and after about five minutes Christel, the photographer, starts purring like a cat.
I think back to the words of executive chef Geoffrey Murray, who told me earlier that day that they only serve the best that the organic and sustainable farmers in and around Knysna have to offer.
Back at the swimming pool – with fresh, white towels that magically found their way to the loungers – I realise something: for R100 000 we basically have the best aspects of an international five-star hotel exclusively to ourselves.
We don’t have to share our butler, our chef, our snacks or our Pimm’s with anyone else. For a whole day, the very best is our home.
And then it’s back to the hotel for our spa treatments. We’re kitted out in thick towels and gowns as we choose our treatments from the menu. I end up having a Swedish massage and – how can I put it? – it’s only barely on the right side of being all wrong.
After the massage I’m led to a dark room – it feels like something between a tiny movie house and an aquarium.
It’s the waterbed room where Ingrid is already lying on a vibrating bed and giggling with delight. Once I lie down I understand exactly why. It feels as if there’s a little gnome stuck inside the waterbed, kicking and hitting against all the right spots on your body.
Then it’s back to the castle for afternoon tea. On the top balconies, underneath the ramparts, platter upon platter of delicacies are brought up to us – anything from raspberry cheesecake to Earl Grey and chocolate cupcakes.
After a refreshing walk on the beach to aid the digestion, we settle down for a friendly game of Scrabble, with Lovet ensuring nobody’s cheating.
As the Pimm’s cocktails are emptied from their glasses, I start composing this article in my head already: this little castle, this home for me for a night, the last bastion of life in luxury, could double as a grand hotel in a James Bond movie.
You won’t find a better five-star bolthole on the beaches of the Bahamas or against the slopes of the French Riviera.
Dinnertime is upon us, and we nibble on a starter of smoked crocodile served with a glass of Pinot Noir. Michael Bublé sings ‘Santa Claus is coming to town’ through hidden speakers.
It’s Christmas every day in this castle. Our request for shanks is served in the shape of springbok for our main course. And just when we thought we couldn’t manage any more, Ferdi announces the dessert: ‘Amarula and scorched raw honey crème brûlée.’ What can you do?
While Lovet is running our bath, Ingrid and I stagger up the stairs. That night we sleep like trust-fund babies, with the ocean softly whispering through our open bedroom doors…
The next morning I quickly pose on my throne chair with all my acolytes around me. Then a quick breakfast, a last swim and it’s time to depart. I almost salute our staff. We get into the car, and then it’s all over. We’re normal people again.
• If you have R100 000 lying around… Contact Conrad Pezula Hotel at Noetzieon +27 44 302 3333, or visit Conradhotels3.hilton.com
The high life
If living large is your cup of diamonds, here are some of the priciest ways to relax in South Africa.
Most expensive train
Rovos Rail is the costliest train ride in South Africa. A one-way three-day trip from Pretoria to Cape Town in the luxury royal suite starts at R27 200. A three-day trip from Pretoria to Victoria Falls in the Royal suite goes up to R31 200.
A nine-day trip from Pretoria to Swakopmund starts at R45 000 and can cost up to a whopping R91 500 for the Royal suite. The price includes a room, breakfast, lunch, high tea and dinner and alcoholic beverages.
Most expensive boat cruise
If you really want to go big, a 120-night world cruise on the Queen Elizabeth will dent your pocket to the tune of R810 899. While at sea, you’ll get to enjoy three formal gourmet restaurants, the main Royal Court theatre and the Queen’s Room ballroom.
Most expensive tented lodge
Thanda Private Game Reserve in KZN offers romantic tented packages from R18 000 to R21 105 per person sharing.
Most expensive penthouse suite
The Oyster Box Hotel in Umhlanga boasts one of the priciest penthouses in the country. It’s fit for a princess (Charlene of Monaco has stayed there) and will set you back R50 000 per night.
Most expensive spa
Karkloof Spa in KZN is a seven-star spa and resort and the biggest on the continent.
A weekend with unlimited treatments, food and drinks, game drives, a picnic and a complimentary night at the Oyster Box costs R9 000 per person per night. If you just want a spa day, expect to spend R3 000 a day for unlimited treatments.
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