South Africa isn’t noted for its castle architecture. Not that you’d notice, given that there are six famous ‘castles’ at Noetzie beach just outside Knysna on the Garden Route. Calling them castles is pushing it a bit, but they do have crenellations, battlements and thick, quarried stone walls, which, since this is the 21st century, are punctured by large view-encompassing windows saying ‘hallo lifestyle’ and not by the arrow slits you might expect from something medieval. Their silhouettes are impressive in that ancestral way, hinting at ancient provenance and decisive historic battles nobody can recall. Pezula Private Castle, in particular, is a place to remember, and it’s no wonder Nelson Mandela made it his home in 2008 for ten days of contemplation. Even better, it’s available for rent. And there’s nothing quite like it in South Africa.
In 1930 a Scottish immigrant called Herbert Henderson thought that the undeveloped Knysna coast reminded him of the Hebrides on the northwest shores of his homeland and, along with five other families from Zimbabwe (where he lived at the time), bought property there and built holiday homes just where the dark Noetzie River flows into the sea (‘Noetzie’ is a Khoikhoi word meaning black water). The story goes that the Scot really only built a garden shed to amuse his wife and, on a whim, added parapets and a turret or two when challenged to do so. Other stone ‘castles’ subsequently rose from the landscape, as whimsical as any folly in an 18th-century English park. Pezula Private Castle is one of them, today a magnificent, stone-built beach house, with five spacious luxury suites, also a heated pool and fully equipped gym. Worldwide, there can’t be many castles to rent.
What an idyllic setting. Noetzie beach is in a well-hidden, tiny cove on a magnificent stretch of coast, and from the castle terrace, and its rim-flow pool, there are unimpeded views out over a stretch of sand that until 1876 was inaccessible other than from the sea. It’s a place to swim, fish, and scramble about on the rocks. Or you could simply sit on a rug on the sand and enjoy the solitude. Best of all, Noetzie beach never gets busy. Steps lead from the terrace down to the beach and there’s a thatched lookout gazebo that adds to the romance of this Afro-gothic private seaside villa, which, out of 400 competitors worldwide was awarded ‘Best Property in the World’ by CNBC.
Inside, the owner chose a restrained palette to emphasise the russet-coloured stonework and the natural drama of sea, sky and sand. To be honest, with a folly on this scale, you either go over the top completely or you pare it all down. Pezula Private Castle is underdressed in creams and white with the odd highlight of turquoise and gold. It’s impossibly romantic, and comfortable, and works incredibly well as a bolthole for five couples or as beach house for a family with well behaved kids. You can eat outside on the terrace and the dining room has a 10-seater table equipped with a full battery of fine china, crystal and linen. Each suite has a private terrace with lazing-about loungers should you need to get away and snooze in gorgeous isolation. Take the entire property and enjoy the services of the executive butler, the private chef and their staff. This is a chance to harness your inner noble, enjoy the luxury, and live like a baron for a few days.
What we love!
- The property is bordered by thickly wooded Sinclair Nature Reserve, protected by the Noetzie Conservancy on one side and, on the other, by the Pezula Golf Estate. The conservancy is pristine landscape so don’t forget to bring your walking boots if you want to explore it and see its indigenous flora and fauna.
- Pezula Golf Estate has a championship golf course. This truly is golf with a view. Ask about temporary membership.
- Knysna is 17km away, and it’s a serious place to go for restaurants and shopping. Ile de Païn is great for brunch or just a cup of good coffee.
- If you’re there in June/July, the Knysna Oyster Festival offers local oysters, sport and entertainment.
What you need to know…
- If you want to hole up at the castle for the duration of your stay, there’s free wifi, a selection of books, magazines and movies.
- Noetzie is fairly isolated, so there’s no popping in and out of Knysna unless you don’t mind the 22km round trip. The access road has a gravel surface.
- As at every spot along the South African coast, never swim alone in the sea unless the lifeguards are on duty. Kids can swim safely in the river mouth.
Reviewed by Paul Duncan