Three hours from Cape Town and spread over 34 000 hectares of wild coastal terrain, the De Hoop Nature Reserve is quite unlike any other place in South Africa. Here, juxtaposed against this rugged landscape, with herds of bontebok quietly grazing and birds flitting from tree to shrub, you’ll find an assortment of immaculately curated accommodation with the Fig Tree restaurant at their heart.

Ranging from the smaller rondawels, perfectly placed overlooking the vlei, to the larger family units, the De Hoop Nature Reserve offers accommodation for everyone.  One of the exquisite options available is Melkkamer Manor – the sandstone house is in relative isolation on the other side of the vlei from the main reserve area and can only be reached either via a short ferry ride or a 45 minute drive. Sleeping 8 people in four bedrooms, Melkkamer Manor has been lovingly decorated in a classic style – wooden floors, French doors, deep stoeps, fireplaces and warm furnishings give the space a luxurious and homely feel that’s in beautiful contrast to its windswept and wild surroundings.

Many of the cottages dotted around the Reserve offer self-catering facilities, but those who stick to cooking their own meals are missing out on the fabulous food and beverage experiences that the Reserve offers. Breakfasts, lunches and dinners are all catered for in the Fig Tree restaurant, which is headed up by Marcia Tyobeka. Chef Marcia discovered her passion for cooking in high school and went on to study at Vector College in Johannesburg before taking a job with Madikwe Collection. “One of the directors at Madikwe Game Reserve, Mr Stephens, recognised my hard work and offered me a great opportunity to work at De Hoop,” says Marcia. “There was a need for me to work with the local community staff and for more skills to be taught to the De Hoop staff.”

Marcia, together with Judy Dyason, well-known chef and co-founder of the Prue Leith Chefs Academy, headed up the culinary skills training at De Hoop. Staff are sourced from neighbouring Breadasdorp and Elim and, if they have the aptitude for cooking, are groomed and trained for the kitchen. “My philosophy of training is based on the passion of individual that needs to be trained,” says Chef Marcia. “I believe hard work breeds success. We are working very hard at De Hoop kitchen to maintain high standards.”

One such chef is Philip Lottering, who heads up the Melkkamer Manor catering. “While I was studying electrical engineering, I worked as a sculler at the Fig Tree restaurant during my holidays,” says Chef Philip. It was here that he realised that he had a passion for cooking, and Marcia as well as another De Hoop chef Cheslyn took him under their wings to train him. The chef has a confident touch with food, perfectly cooking fish and beef fillet for the plated three course service at Melkkamer Manor and conjures up beautiful fresh salads, wraps and cheese platters for picnic lunches in and around the Reserve.

Actually, a picnic lunch doesn’t really do it any justice. What is incredibly striking about the food and beverage team is how they happily go out of their way to draw guests into the Reserve, enhancing the natural surrounds with delicious food and wine. What better way to explore the isolated edge of a vlei than from the vantage point of a beautifully-set table, with fresh hoof-prints in the earth underneath and birds going about their business just a couple of metres away? The table is laden with freshly-made salads, a quiche, and sticky chocolate brownies; the cooler box filled with ciders and wines from the Overberg region where De Hoop is based. It’s the perfect meal to accompany the setting – honest, rustic food, presented simply, without bells and whistles to distract from the incredible location, but delicious enough to give that view a serious run for its money.

From the accommodation nestled perfectly in the naturally wild surrounds, to the food that is served and the local wine that is poured generously by the talented staff, De Hoop is pure hospitality, served up without airs and graces, just a genuine desire to please each and every guest.