Phantom Forest

Knysna, Garden Route & Eastern Cape, South Africa Book from Book from £192 per night

Hidden in private woodland above Knysna’s lagoons, 14 eco-chic treehouses with 2 fine restaurants and freshwater pools
Bungy-jumping, sailing, surfing, canoeing, kloofing… anyone touring the Garden Route would think that terra firma had gone out of fashion. If so, then Phantom Forest is the place to be seen (or not seen, given its camouflage). Connected by wooden, raised walkways, gorgeous glass-fronted tree houses perch on stilts in the forest canopy. Watch vervet monkeys and an array of feathered wildlife from the comfort of your deck, armchair, bed or - if you’re not disconcerted by their stares - your bathtub.

Bathtub? Up a tree? Oh yes, all thanks to the ingenious design and décor of Kit Stewart, who still runs the reserve today. Explore further and you’ll find an outdoor ‘Bubble Barrel’, treatment rooms and a great restaurant. Next to the Eyrie lounge and bar is a pretty freshwater pool and deck with stunning views over the lagoons of Knysna. Walk up to Chutzpah, at the top of the reserve, and you’ll find another swimming pool and several Moroccan-styled sitting areas with stunning views, too. Tarzan never had it so good!

Highs

  • Being deeply immersed in the forest is a wonderful experience – vervet monkeys and an abundance of birds are all in attendance
  • Stunning views of the Knysa Lagoons - the communal spaces are all geared towards this expansive landscape
  • The luxurious treehouse cabins allow you to unwind and watch the local wildlife, even when having a bath!
  • The feeling of isolation - cars are left at the roadside entrance and guests are driven up in a shuttle bus
  • Private, beautiful and natural, this is the perfect place for a little romance - proposals are not uncommon...

Lows

  • The only dinner option is a formal 5-course affair at the Boma restaurant - and local eateries are quite a drive away
  • Hot water is not abundant - the cabins’ geysers are quite small so at times you may need to wait for hot water
  • There can be mozzies - but repellent is provided
  • Not for the tech dependent - no in-room a/c or internet

Best time to go

The South African summer (November to March) is prime time, but nature-lovers might have more to spot in October-November, or perhaps in autumn (February-April).

Our top tips

  • Bring binoculars, long-sleeved clothing (in natural colours) and swimwear for the pool or the 'Bubble Barrel'. Leave high heels behind, comfy shoes are best for navigating the forest and boardwalks
  • We suggest a 2- or 3-night stay, as part of a Garden Route tour. Outdoors enthusiasts and twitchers might be happy staying longer, but for most the novelty will wear off, and you might miss civilisation

Great for...

Eco
Spa
  • Luxury Lodge
  • 14
  • Restaurant and bar
  • Over 12s welcome
  • Closed: 26 May 2017 - 6 Jul 2017
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Concierge Service
  • Bicycles Available
  • Canoes available
Room:

Rooms

The treehouse cabins are built on raised platforms and scattered throughout the forest-reserve. They each have bedroom, sitting area and a bathroom, all of which have tinted windows looking straight into the trees, plus a private terrace. The Classic Tree Suites have a natural African-chic look - hand-woven coir carpets, cane partitions, animal-skin rugs, wood-beamed ceilings - while the Upper Tree Camps have the added luxury of an alfresco sunken Jacuzzi bathtub. The Moroccan Suites have huge four-posters and vivid Moorish fabrics.

The gorgeous bathrooms come with a heated towel rail, fluffy towels, a double shower and best of all, a huge bathtub next to fabulous picture windows which look out to the forest; you can often spot monkeys while you soak. No surprise that Phantom Forest has some of the cleanest guests around!

We spend the rest of our relaxation time out on our private deck, where there’s wooden seating, a birding book and an in-house checklist for ticking off the 100+ local species. It’s a great spot to unwind and I fell to thinking, à la Gary Larson, how the birds might enjoy a similar checklist for humans: pale-faced Londoner, orange-breasted Teutonic sunbird, the lesser-spotted honeymooner…

Features include:

  • Coffee tea making
  • Fan
  • Internet access
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Phone
  • Terrace

Eating

Wander along a raised walkway to the Eyrie lounge and bar, where you can enjoy light meals throughout the day, and sip pre-dinner cocktails. When the chefs are ready for you, you’ll be escorted to the thatched Boma restaurant.

We enjoyed a thick, tangy soup of carrot, coriander and orange; a tender ostrich fillet (tastes like gamey beef) with grilled vegetables and a surprisingly uncloying peanut sauce; and fruit sorbets to finish off. We washed it down with a plummy Good Hope 97 Cabernet Sauvignon, and then chatted to other guests around the fire. A lovely evening, and well worth the cost, though vegetarians may find their options less impressive.

The Moroccan-inspired Chutzpah restaurant opens for groups of 12 or more. It offers North African specialities; mezzes (pine nut and sultana dolmades, cinnamon and almonds filos), light fish courses, palate-cleansing frozen fruit, and meaty tagines with fragrant spices, pomegranates and apricots.

Knysna’s waterfront restaurants are also charming. Try the Knysna Oyster Company’s decadently slurpy oysters (both wild and farmed), or The East Head Café’s fish and chips (a firm favourite) while enjoying stunning views of the lagoon mouth. If you’re heading out on an activity straight from the reserve, a picnic can be provided.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Breakfast
  • Coffee tea making
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Restaurant
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Follow the forest trails leading from the reserve on foot or by bike (there are 2 to borrow). You can also get a lift to the top of Phantom Pass and the cycle back down
  • Borrow canoes and glide down the slow-moving Knysna river, upstream from the lagoons
  • Visit Knysna Heads, and take a boat trip to the narrow outlet between the lagoons and the Indian Ocean
  • Drive the spectacular Prince Alfred’s Pass, across the Outeniqua Mountains and into the expansive Klein Karoo
  • Swim or surf at the local sandy beaches: Noetzie, Brenton-on-Sea, Wilderness…
  • Hike the rocky coast towards Plettenberg Bay, the gentler Goukamma Nature Reserve coast, or the riverine kingfisher trail, near Wilderness
  • Play the Sparrebosch Golf Estate’s 18-hole course, at nearby Eastern Head, or the Pezula and Simola courses
  • Shop in Knysna for wooden artefacts, fabrics, clothes, sandals, jewellery and other trinkets
  • Take the steam train through wooded valleys to George (3 hours each way)
  • Deep-sea fishing trips, sailing, paragliding, scenic flights, horse riding, canyoning and bungy-jumping can all be arranged
  • Or, you could just laze by the pool and enjoy a pampering treatment in the treatment rooms

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Cycling
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Horse-riding
  • Kayaking
  • Mountain biking
  • Sailing
  • Scuba diving
  • Well being

Kids

Children over 12 are welcome, but they are charged full adult rates. They will love the surrounds, the garden and the pool. Cabins sleep up to 2 people (twin beds possible) - there are no family rooms or extra beds.

Best for:

Teens (over 12)

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

Based on 3 independent reviews from i-escape guests

10/10
Rooms
10/10
Food
10/10
Service
9/10
Value
10/10
Overall

If there's a better hotel anywhere in the world, I'd like to see it. Phantom Forest would be an amazing hotel even without the trees. Incredibly beautiful suites; friendly, helpful staff; delicious food; I'd give this five stars even in the central business district. But it's in a forest. It's hard to put into words quite how much better a hotel gets when it's in a forest. The walk from reception to your room, otherwise boring, is now a walk through the forest. The jacuzzi bath on your private balcony is now a jacuzzi bath in the forest. Breakfast outside on the deck is now breakfast in the forest. There is, quite simply, nothing better. <br> <br>The staff deserve further mention for going above and beyond the call of duty. One member of staff, Lanie, fielded countless calls, drove half an hour from the hotel, carried a full size guitar all that way and found my girlfriend and me on a cliff walk out at East Head, all so that I could propose. It's not often that you can say that a hotel's staff go out of their way to be ridiculously helpful on the most important day of your life - but I can say that of Phantom Forest. <br> <br>If you're in South Africa, I can't stress enough how imperative it is that you visit this hotel. It is quite simply the best place in the world. <br> <br>And my girlfriend is now my fiancée.

10/10, , May 2015

Beautiful tree houses in a secluded section of Knysna bay. Our room was spacious with stunning vistas from the main bedroom, terrace and bathroom. The food was outstanding and the staff were incredibly helpful throughout our stay. It is advisable to hire a car if you plan to explore the Knysna Town / the Quays / The Heads as the hotel is a little remote.

9/10, , February 2015

Beautiful place, stunning location and very friendly staff. The spa treatments are of very good quality, reserve in time!

10/10, , November 2014

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Rates for Phantom Forest