South Africa Style

The civilized safari

Think of Bushmans Kloof, in the Western Cape of South Africa, as the un-safari. This 16-room lodge, three hours from Cape Town, has completely rethought the idea of the wilderness retreat, focusing more on anthropology and botany than on the traditional thrills of big-game spotting. Bushmans Kloof isn't the place for a first trip to South Africa—that's what Kruger National Park is for—but for the old safari hand it offers a glimpse of an entirely different side of the country.

The lodge represents the only human habitation in a nature preserve that contains an astonishing variety of rare plants and ancient rock-art sites. Created between 2,500 and 10,000 years ago by extinct Bushman tribes, the cave drawings—which depict hunts, shamanistic rituals, and millennia of unsolved mysteries—were made of natural pigments mixed with animal blood and fat. The land itself possesses an equally mystical quality: Carpets of wildflowers and clear-water pools sit alongside a dramatic ravine ("kloof " means ravine in Afrikaans). The area, long known as an area for day hikes, never had a lodge before, let alone one pitching itself at the high end. ("It was a brave thing to do," says general manager Fred Stow of the decision to build Bushmans.) But there's no shortage of reasons to spend a long weekend here, beginning with the airy colonial-theme suites, the terrific spa, and an inspired kitchen serving such local dishes as springbok loin with chocolate oil and guinea fowl tagine.

Each morning rangers with backgrounds in botany, archaeology, and zoology lead rock-art excursions and trips into the flora, explaining things like the history of the Elephant Hunt painting and why the leavees of the sand olive taste like almond. The afternoons are devoted to biking, archery, fly-fishing, and canoeing. Not until evening do the Range Rovers head out in search of the bontebok herds and packs of endangered cape mountain zebra. There are animals at Bushmans Kloof, but you don't have to get up at 5 a.m. to see them, as you would at many other lodges. Stow says, "We put an emphasis on relaxation and intellectual stimulation." From $290 to $520 per person, including meals and activities; 27-21/685-2598;