South Africa's legendary Garden Route stretches for 200km along the Western Cape's coastal strip between Mossel Bay and the evocatively named Storms River Mouth.

South Africa's legendary Garden Route stretches for 200km along the Western Cape's coastal strip between Mossel Bay and the evocatively named Storms River Mouth. This lush, forested swathe is hemmed in by the craggy Outeniqua mountain range on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other, and is peppered with picturesque towns, sandy beaches and rocky coves - perfect road-trip territory.

However, to appreciate the natural grandeur you need to take your foot off the accelerator. Veering off the route just west of Plettenberg Bay you'll find a treetop retreat down a dirt track overlooking the vast sweep of Tsitsikamma forest, an area of indigenous hardwoods that tumbles down to the tangled clifftops.

Tsala Treetop Lodge is a vision of wood, rock and glass; the main lodge has a soaring roof, exposed beams, chunky pillars and rough stonework. At night it is ablaze with flickering candlelight. A candelabra-laden dining area juts out on a wooden platform away from the main lodge, allowing diners to eat high above the forest canopy.

LOCATION

Tsala Treetop Lodge, Plettenberg Bay 6600, South Africa (00 27 44 532 7818; www.tsalatreetops.com). The lodge is 10km west of Plettenberg Bay off the N2.

Time to international airport: Cape Town is six hours away by car. Port Elizabeth is two and a half hours' drive.

COMFORTABLE?

There are 10 secluded tree-house suites, along winding wooden walkways that meander through the treetops. At the entrance to each is a huge wooden gate and a pile of kindling, adding to the impression that you are about to hole up in your own private hideaway. Inside is a slatted wooden courtyard, and an infinity plunge pool, the water seemingly tumbling over onto the forest canopy. Another giant wooden door creaks open to reveal the suite - all polished wooden floors, high-beamed ceiling and comfy armchairs. Glass doors open onto a small balcony overlooking the treetops. An exposed stone chimney stack wrapped around a wood-burning stove separates the living room from the bedroom up a few steps. Underfloor heating keeps it toasty. From the bed, a nest of soft feather pillows and downy comforters, floor-to-ceiling windows framed by pale green silk curtains offer more views. (There are even full-length windows in the toilet). In the bathroom a freestanding stone tub with ornate copper taps is ringed with candles. A double sink with raised stone bowls and outdoor and inside showers completes the picture. High in your treetop eerie, the silence is all enveloping - only broken by birdsong and the wind whispering in the trees.

Freebies: shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and bath salts. A bottle of fine South African red wine.

Keeping in touch: TV in the bedroom and direct-dial phones.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Doubles from R3440 (£286) ncluding breakfast in low season or R4580 (£407) in high season.

I'm not paying that: in a lodge in the heart of Plettenberg Bay the Albergo for Backpackers (00 27 44 533 4434) has double rooms from R200 (£18).

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