Knysna’s Oyster Festival in July is the ideal time to get down to the Garden Route, visit old favourites and find out what’s new. Here are 15 dynamic reasons to visit Knysna…
LISA VAN DER KNAAP
Then and now… Once a sleepy fishing village that attracted a handful of holidaymakers, Knysna is now a bustling minimetropolis. Over the years it has seen a number of developments, most notably Thesen Island, a private estate encompassing 19 islands in the Knysna lagoon. Tourism, however, remains the predominant moneyspinner, which is why so many new restaurants and hotels have popped up and there’s so much more to do. The Knysna area consists of Knysna, Sedgefield, Brenton on Sea, Noetzie, Rheenendal, Belvidere and Buffalo Bay – and with places like Plettenberg Bay less than half an hour away, it’s a wonderful resting point on your trip down the Garden Route. Just make sure you dedicate a few days to this beautiful region.
1 The best 10 days of your winter: The Knysna Oyster Festival
The Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival has long been one of the town’s biggest draw cards. This year, over 200 000 oysters will be sold over the 10 days. The festival takes over the whole town and there’s always something to keep you entertained. The Oyster and Wine Mardi Gras combines two of the world’s best indulgences – wine and oysters – into one evening. The Tabasco Oyster Hotspots at restaurants around town offer spicy oysters in classic and innovative forms. Even if they don’t all love oysters, this is ideal for the family, with activities like a forest marathon and cycle challenge and an appearance from the SA Navy’s 40-piece band. There are more than 100 events to keep you busy, so try and stay for longer than just one weekend.
2 Luxe lunch on the go: Mon Petit Pain
Mon Petit Pain opened its doors in November last year and is the little sister of famed Knysna landmark, Île de Pain. Like its predecessor, this bakery offers a cornucopia of bread-based delights, but here the menu is kept (relatively) simple. The whole idea is ‘slow food… fast’, which you can either eat there or take with you if you’re pushed for time. Try the Mr and Mrs Snob Sandwich (bialy with smoked salmon, capers and horseradish cream), the Mozza (roasted vegetable, mushroom and mozarella in a toasted flatbread) or the Il Presidente (chicken, red onion, olive pesto and chilli tomato chutney on ciabatta). Instead of crockery and cutlery there are wooden boards. Use your hands to eat a delectable array of breads and pastries, such as almond croissants, madeleines and ciabattinis.
3 Brag-worthy local art: Knysna Fine Art Gallery
When Trent Read, son of legendary collector Everard Read, moved to Knysna, he raised the bar in the art scene. An expert in contemporary South African art, with a pedigree that includes several years at London’s acclaimed Christies, Trent opened the Knysna Fine Art Gallery in 1997. Most artists showcased here are South Africans, with names like Keith Joubert, Guy Thesen and Paula Louw. It’s just across the road from ever-popular Mon Petit Pain, and is defintely worth a browse after lunch.
4 All aboard: Springtide Charters yacht ride
No trip to Knysna is complete without a yacht ride on the lagoon. The Outeniqua, owned by Springtide Charters, is the only single-hulled yacht that goes past the Knysna Heads and out onto the ocean, where you might spot dolphins, marine birds and even whales. The owner beams with pride as he takes you out on his hand-built masterpiece. The ever-popular sunset ride – served with sushi and a glass of bubbly – is breathtaking. Then there’s the overnight option, where you cruise the lagoon, anchor for a three-course dinner, sleep on the rocking waves and wake up to a revitalising breakfast.
5 Spoil-yourself romantic retreat: Tsala Treetop Lodge
Tsala means “the elevated resting place” and all of the raised suites and villas give you unparalleled views of the surrounding indigenous forest. It’s just 20 minutes outside Knysna and is a magnificent setting to lay low with your loved one. All the luxurious extras are there: each room has its own infinity plunge pool and huge bathroom with both inside and outside showers and a free-standing egg-shaped bath. Try Zinzi’s restaurant, where delicious choices include a 15-spice Moroccan lamb shank and platters (Cape Dutch, Mediterranean and Zinzi’s) which combine tasting portions of some of their most popular dishes.
6 Meet the gentle giants: Knysna Elephant Park
Elephant lovers can spend some one-on-one time with these intelligent creatures. Enjoy an elephant-back ride or an elephant walk, or simply touch and talk to them. The adults are called Harry and Sally; the babies, Shungu, Thato and Mashudu, will let you bottle-feed them their milk. The park is an elephant orphanage where they roam around freely, so besides having a memorable experience, you’ll also be helping elephants in need.
7 Big day out in the country: Bramon Wine Estate
Around 30 minutes from Knysna, Bramon Wine Estate is definitely worth the drive. As they’re only open for lunch, make sure you get there early to secure a table outside, next to the vineyards and looking out at the Tsitsikamma Mountains. Create your own meze platter from choices such as freshly shucked large oysters with wasabi and soy or champagne sorbet toppings; dolmades, local cheeses and homemade pâtés. The family-run wine estate was the first in the area and includes the Vukani Trust, a BEE winemaking venture set up in 2004. Their low-alcohol Methode Cap Classique is the only one in the country made from sauvignon blanc grapes, and they plan to create their own “Cap Classique route” in the greater Bitou region.
8 Chill-out drinks and tapas: Dish
Dish is the newly opened restaurant of The Rex Hotel and although they serve opulent dishes such as caramelised pork belly with honey and teriyaki, their tapas is attracting many a daytime wanderer. Try Thai fishcakes with Japanese aïoli, the prawn platter with tomato and sweet chilli sauce or crumbed porcini mushrooms with garlic and Gruyère sauce. Order an exotic shooter with this or stick to a classic cocktail.
9 A dash of extravagance: The Alexander
Eclectically grand, The Alexander was originally bought as a holiday home and subsequently turned into a guest house, which has resulted in a welcoming, homely feel that includes plenty of lavish touches, thanks to the choice in furnishings and art. There are just six suites, all individually decorated, with names like Oyster and Pilot’s View Penthouse. As it’s situated on the Knysna Heads, the enveloping views are the paramount attraction, so pour yourself a drink from the honesty bar and settle down to the magnificent seascape.
10 Treat your tastebuds: Daniela’s
Spoil yourself with dinner at Daniela’s, the restaurant at Leisure Isle Lodge. The classic monochromatic colour scheme continues into the cosy dining room and the menu changes daily. Although the dishes sound adventurous, the flavour combinations are deliciously complementary. The garlic-fried black tiger prawns with melon, coriander, rocket and mango couscous salad with a sweet chilli sauce are scrumptious, while the Knysna oyster, bacon and preserved lemon ravioli served in a light ginger sauce with a beetroot and mango salsa is utterly fabulous.
11 Get into a healthy habit: Num Num Wholefoods
This unassuming store is jam-packed with preservativefree, biodynamic produce, a broad spectrum of items from local small producers and bigger international brands. Wheatgrass shots are served daily alongside the harvest table of raw foods. In addition to organic buckwheat noodles, lemon curd with granadilla and sparkling elderberry juice, the fresh produce includes Karoo eggs, Fancourt cabbage and figs from Prince Albert. There’s also a convenient frozen-meal section, while favourites from the deli include quiches and Superfoods’ raw chocolate and walnut tart.
12 Blast from the past: Leisure Isle Coffee Shop
There are only a handful of tables under the shady branches of the fig trees at this quaint restaurant. Traditional home cooking is the order of the day, with items like a homemade burger and chips, the ever-popular Sunday roasts and famous carrot cake. Satisfy your hunger for nostalgia with a Coke float, homemade ginger beer and old-fashioned sweets.
13 Heaven on a plate: Gabriella’s
For those with a sweet tooth, Gabriella’s has indulgent treats such as New York-style cheesecake, millionaire’s cookies, lemon mousse tart, custard puffs and brownies. There are savoury items on the menu too, such as a healthy, love-your-heart omelette, Provençal quiche with Brie, tomatoes and olives, and beef stroganoff. The catering side specialises in finger foods, bite-sized sweet treats and special-occasion cakes. There’s also a book exchange, but wipe your fingers before browsing.
14 Sumptuous interiors: De Witte Huijs
Immerse yourself in gorgeous surroundings when you visit De Witte Huijs Lifestyle and Coffee Shop (formerly known as White House Lifestyle and Living). The menu is small and light. Tuck into a creamy egg and salmon croissant, baby marrow, sundried tomato and feta quiche, or simple cappuccino with a cupcake. The old-world feel and beautiful expansive space is bright with diverse homeware, including pewter cutlery and accessories, ceramics and spoil-yourself linen, most of which is locally made.
15 What other reasons do you need?
The Gastronomica food festival, held every September, pays homage to Knysna’s world-class restaurants and hotels. The festival promotes the Slow Food Movement. If you make it all the way round its exhibitors, try other restaurants such as Lush, Firefly and The Bell Tavern at Belvidere Manor, one of the best pubs in Knysna. The local gourmet hub has finally settled in a notso- little town on the Garden Route. Why look anywhere else for your next holiday?