Let me tell you a little bit about heaven. It is filled with fynbos and indigenous forests; castles on secluded beaches; a field of dreams; and omnipresent angels who are happy to indulge your every whim. Heaven: otherwise known as Pezula Resort Hotel and Spa.
Okay, okay, I concede; heaven on earth ? for, short of an epiphany, this may well be as close as you will ever come to the divine whilst on this planet. For a price. The privacy, luxury, unspoilt beauty and exceptional service come with hefty price tag that only those with a comfortable stash in their piggy banks or the advantage of foreign exchange can afford.
But for the weekend I am masquerading as one of the privileged few and I, for one, am not complaining.
Located on Knysna's Eastern Head, Pezula ? which means "high up with the gods" ? overlooks the pristine Southern Cape Coastline, the Knysna Lagoon and, in the distance, the Outeniqua Mountains.
The eco-friendly resort has cleared 400ha of alien vegetation and replaced it with fynbos and indigenous forests. Beyond the carefully planned gardens (filled with indigenous plants, of course) are vast tracts of natural vegetation where soft-skinned animals and baboons roam freely. In amongst all this natural beauty are the meticulously manicured lawns of the Championship Golf Course and the Field of Dreams, a sports arena complete with cricket pitch and world-class tennis courts.
Castles on the beach
A steep road takes you down to Noetzie Beach ? a small secluded beach with golden sand, clear waters and, if you're lucky, a passing pod of dolphins. Set against the rugged green cliffs are three quietly majestic stone castles. Two of these provide luxury Pezula accommodation, while the third is the perfect spot for a bite to eat or glass of wine.
The Main Castle, at R70 000 a night, has stately colonial decor and breathtaking views of the ocean. Guests of the castle, which have included Nelson Mandela, enjoy a team of Pezula personnel, including a resident chef, housekeeper and butler, to meet their every need.
Not quite as impressive ? but gorgeous all the same ? the Honeymoon Castle is slightly smaller, more intimate and about R58 000 cheaper. The castle rates are both fully inclusive of all resort amenities including horse riding, hiking, canoeing, tennis, archery, petanque and use of the golf practice range.
For mere mortals however, the studio suites are more than adequate. Spacious, with Asian-influenced architecture and decor, the suites combine sumptuous colours and fabrics with polished dark wood, sand-coloured stone and soft lighting.
Glass sliding doors stretching across the length of one of the walls and a comfortable balcony provide views of the golf green and ocean, while a massive fireplace ensures that you are cosy even in the middle of winter.
A suite ? at least, in my opinion ? is only as good as its bathroom. Pezula does not disappoint. Marble tiles with under-floor heating, wooden finishes, two vanities, a generous free-standing oval-shaped bath and a large walk-in shower (with a massage showerhead) make this bathroom irresistible.
Me, spoilt? Never!
The Pezula Spa cracked a spot on the Conde Nast Traveler Readers' World's 100 Best Spas list in 2008. It was also rated South Africa's Best Spa for the past three years running. Now, while lists and awards aren't everything, they do provide a good excuse to indulge in some spa therapy.
Treat yourself to a Serene Detox Mud Wrap, a Hot Stone Massage or a Deluxe Facial. Indulge in one of 12 specially tailored spa packages or tackle aging with the range of medi-spa treatments.
And then, once you've been prodded, wrapped and mud-packed, relax in the outdoor Jacuzzi overlooking the estate, plunge into the 12-metre heated pool or sweat it out in the sauna and steam room.
Nectar of the gods
Unless you've spent at least a few hours sampling the fruits of Zachary's, your Pezula experience is incomplete. Yip, this is where the nectar of the gods is made. And New York-born executive chef Geoffrey Murray makes sure that the ingredients he uses are as close to godly as possible by using local organic products and even growing his own organic veggies on the estate.
The restaurant has an air of sophisticated simplicity ? cream furniture, discreet lighting, 360? floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a tastefully-lit moat and what can best be described as flowing, textured ceiling.
The waiters, blending quietly into the background, magic away plates, refill glasses and bring out fresh delicacies, while the restaurant's three sommeliers are ever on hand to help you decipher what can only be called a wine encyclopaedia (it ceases to be a mere wine list when it exceeds fifty pages and includes tasting tips).
The food menu is less extensive, and if there is any criticism, it is that there is only one vegetarian option in both the starter and mains sections. However, compensation for this lack of variety comes in the form of The Chef's Experience, a set menu which changes on a daily basis.
On the night we are there, the set menu starts with sesame oyster fritters with pickled kumquats, sprouts and herb salad. This is followed by dry-aged free-range Namibian beef sirloin with rainbow chard, potato puree, red wine and shallots. And, if you can manage dessert, there is soft warm chocolate fondant pudding with slightly salty caramel ice-cream.
Sold? I thought so. In the words of American essayist Henry David Thoreau: "Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads". Indeed it is.