Cosy getaway at St Francis Bay
THINK St Francis Bay and you think of pale blue canals fringed by white, thatched-roofed holiday homes. But there is another aspect to this charming seaside village which is a scant hour's drive from PE – an Indian Ocean whose azure colour conjures up images of Mauritius or Zanzibar, even on the windiest of days.
And that's what it was when we visited, with the wind whipping the sea into a frenzy, so we opted out of a beach walk, preferring instead to explore our venue for the weekend and to savour the cosines of our suite.
Our base was The Sands at St Francis, a five-star lodge perched at the top of a small hill offering commanding views of the ocean and nearby Cape St Francis.
Each of the suites are differently furnished: ours had a day bed in the lounge area which was perfect for snuggling into while waiting for the wind to subside, while another had two comfy armchairs facing seawards.
There's also a honeymoon suite which offers an extra outdoor shower and jacuzzi on its timber deck, where you can enjoy a glass of champagne or a sundowner.
Each suite has its own deck, with sun loungers and a table where room-service meals can be enjoyed. All of the rooms overlook the infinity pool, which again has breathtaking views over the Indian Ocean. There's another wind-sheltered pool, plus jacuzzi, to the rear of the complex.
But back to the rooms: at the end of a long, hard day sightseeing or just soaking up the sun, what better than to be able to lounge in your own spa bath, opening up the venetian blinds to once again drink in the oceanic view? If that's not your scene, there's a large shower and, on a more personal note, toilet and bidet.
The hotel also offers communal areas including a comfortable lounge, dining room with again those spectacular views, library nook and a steam room with shower which can be locked for those looking for privacy.
There are also lots of little touches which highlight the attention to detail at The Sands: golf clubs are provided on one side of the library nook and fishing nets, buckets and spades on the other.
Dining at The Sands is a very laid-back affair: breakfast is served from 8am to a civilised 10.30am and dinner from 7pm to an equally civilised 9.30pm.
Items on the breakfast/brunch menu are diverse and include Frittata Florentine, an open omelette garnished with feta cheese, olives, peppers and sprinkled with herbs and parmesan; and a breakfast stack of round toast, flat grilled herb tomato, smoked bacon and mushrooms, topped with a fried egg. For those with a heartier appetite there's the big breakfast with tomato, wors, bacon, pork sausage, baked beans and eggs either scrambled, fried or poached, while for the adventurous there's slow-cooked porridge served with Drambuie on request. The dinner menu is relatively small and, to me, a little over-priced. While on the first night of our stay we had the choice of two starters, four mains and two desserts, on the second night we were disappointingly only offered a choice of two mains – chicken curry with rice or bobotie with rice, which didn't really live up to the expected gourmet dining.
There were a few other negatives: no directory of services or area guide in the room, and no ashtrays provided, even outside, for smokers.
Back to the positives: when it comes to drinks The Sands is refreshing in that there's an honesty bar in your room, and the bar fridge is one of the best at keeping drinks really cold. Being a small and intimate lodge, guests can also help themselves to drinks from the bar in the restaurant, again on an honesty basis.
With its perfect view of the Ocean, spacious suites, leisure areas that are perfect for sundowners and great location, The Sands is fortunate enough to be situated in what is possibly one of the most beautiful places in the Eastern Cape.