Umhlanga, South Africa

Photo: Teremok
Photo: Teremok

Do you prefer Cascais over Lisbon? Sant Sebastià more than Barcelona? Bundeena, Pacific Palms, or Killcare instead of Sydney? Or Camps Bay better than Cape Town? These coastal spots have gorgeous beaches, open-air seafood restaurants, and waterfront promenades. They have quiet hotels, a laid-back vibe, and friendly people. And they’re all within a short train or car ride from the big city.

So add Umhlanga to your list of beachside escapes. The resort town is just north of Durban, South Africa’s third-largest city. The British first settled the area with sugar cane plantations at the end of the 19th century. Lighthouses—first the Bluff Lighthouse, then the Umhlanga Rocks Lighthouse—were built along the rocky coastline. Fourteen species of sharks swam in the Indian Ocean just offshore. The lighthouse and the sharks remain; gardens and a nature reserve have replaced the plantations. A promenade and long beaches line the water. While small hotels offer a reprieve from the hectic city.

You choose Teremok Marine as your oasis. The “little hideaway” was built as a vacation home, with views of the ocean and Durban in the distance, for a Russian traveler in the 1950s. About 10 years ago, it was turned into a lodge where no detail was overlooked. Eight unique suites have individual mood CDs, confections, and scents. Havana Café music fills the Palm Suite. The Douglas Suite smells like jade. While champagne truffles end the day on a sweet note in the Milkwood Suite.

Photo: Ricci Mariagrazia (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Ricci Mariagrazia (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

You select the Durban Suite. The modern room has a view of the Bluff—the former whaling station—and playful dolphins. A deep soaking tub, light-reflecting mirrors, and candles fill the open bathroom. A travel adapter and a weather report sit on the desk. While the scent, which you can’t quite put your finger on, turns out to be rooibos, a South African legume plant.

Check out the rest of the lodge after settling into your suite. Follow the twisting, split-level staircase downstairs to the communal area. The open space somehow blends an African, zen, and chic vibe. Cappuccino, biscotti, an honesty bar, and binoculars are always available. The dining room, which looks like a treehouse, serves farm eggs, homemade muesli, and freshly squeezed juice in the morning. Still-warm muffins were set out as a snack. Loungers, hammocks, and giant milkwood trees surround the pool outside. While the Aqua and Orchid Rooms at the spa are tempting you to book a coconut oil full-body massage.

Soon you’ll walk down to the promenade, since it’s only five minutes away. You’ll follow the three-kilometer path by oceanfront hotels, Tekwini Beach, beautiful gardens, and the white-and-red lighthouse. You’ll see vervet monkeys, small bucks, and butterflies in the Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve. You’ll learn about the sharks that live just offshore at the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board. You’ll eat baked fish with a coconut-tomato sauce or crab in a béchamel sauce at a table with a water view at Ile Maurice. And, eventually, you’ll head south to Durban. If you can tear yourself away from your beachside oasis, that is.

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