George is a pretty provincial town of baroque Cape Dutch gables, English churches and golf courses. It lies at the heart of one of Africa’s most spectacular drives – the 300km (186mi)-long Garden Route, which begins east of Cape Town. Misty rainforests run to craggy cliffs and bays of golden sand. Whales breach offshore. Eagles soar overhead and elephants graze the grasslands in a string of national parks. Tranquil George, with its ample choice of comfortable hotels, makes the perfect base for exploration.
Protea Hotel by Marriot George King George
Courtesy of Protea Hotel by Marriott George King George / Expedia
With a faux Dutch façade, log fires and a bar and games room decorated to look like a faded London gentleman’s club, the Protea goes all out to look European and distinguished. But what’s really special is the setting on the wilder edges of town – step out onto your bedroom patio and you know you’re in Africa – iridescent turacos and bulbuls twitter and flitter across lawned gardens though the adjacent bush. The ancient, serrated ridges of the Outeniqua Mountains rise brown and purple in the distance.
George isn’t just about easy access to the wild. The town is home to a string of South Africa’s top-rated golf courses, many of them designed by famous players. Ernie Els was behind the Oubaai’s Championship 18-holer, which is why the best Club Rooms overlook the greens rather than the Daphne Du Maurier-dramatic rocky coast. Rooms are spick and span – modern, too – with warm tones offset by tribal shield art, botanical scatter cushions and wall-to-ceiling glass in the windows and bathrooms.
This elegant Victorian mansion – fully renovated for the 21st century with a suite of modern annexes – sits in hundreds of acres of rolling gardens and forest. With three Gary Player-designed championship golf courses – be sure to reserve before you arrive to ensure a slot – indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts, and endless activities for adults and kids, it’s about as luxurious as George gets. But our tip is upgrade to the luxury rooms or suites – they’re only £30 more than the standard classics but are larger and brighter.
With just six rooms in a suburban garden bungalow, set on a sleepy street, the family-run Outeniqua is more B&B than inn. Despite the grand mountain-themed names, rooms are as modest as the low prices would suggest – decorated in clinical white and laminate, with boxy ensuite shower rooms and furniture limited to a bed, a simple fitted workbench and a tiny slipper chair squeezed into the corner. You’ll be snug here – but right at home, too.
Retirement homes with hissing hosepipes, golf courses and shopping malls… George feels more suburban than safari. But even though it sits across the road from a tyre store and computer warehouse, the French Lodge does its best to evoke the wild. Round poolside villas with palm-thatch roofs look like African village huts, slowly swirling ceiling fans hang from rattan roofs in the bedrooms and lion skin rugs lie strewn across tiled floors, while beds are draped with zebra-print counterpanes and wispy mosquito nets.
Ornate Cape Dutch gables, a pool set in a pretty flower-filled garden; modern rooms with reed roofs; wood floors of soft creams and browns, lent splashes of colour from jasmine-blossom scatter cushions and paintings of African landscapes… there’s plenty to like about the Oakhurst. The restaurant is cosy, although the menu is limited for veggies – fortunately there are plenty more options on the doorstep. We say upgrade from a classic to a deluxe room – for another £4 you get more space, brighter windows and a poolside location.
With mock-Tudor gables, arts & crafts cottage windows and topiary, the Whispering Oaks looks like a British Home Counties detached house replanted in Africa and whitewashed for the fierce sun. Rooms come in clean, bright whites with bathrooms decked out in lush woods and cut stone. Intricately-woven African raffia art hangs on the walls. But the real standout is breakfast – a huge spread of pancakes, eggs, toast and marmalade lovingly cooked and presented by chef-and-owner Nelleke.
The Caledon feels like a pioneer home swallowed by a town. The grand Cape Dutch family house and B&B sits right in the centre of colonial George, surrounded by perfectly manicured lawns tinkling with fountains and dotted with sculpture. But with longhorn cattle skulls sitting over raw-stone fireplaces, it’s easy to imagine when the views from the shady covered patios, out over the rugged Outeniqua Mountains, were uninterrupted by nothing but wildlife-stalked savannah.