Expressing the Most Romantic Place on Earth Through Food

Ok, we might be blowing our own horns a bit, with that title.

But when we look around the dramatic landscape of the Magic Hills Private Game Reserve, with its surging mountains and valleys, it must surely be one of the most romantic places on earth, an idyllic weekend getaway less than 3 hours from Port Elizabeth. 

Red sand and rugged rocky outcrops are home to diverse semi-arid vegetation and wandering herds of wildlife. The dry, hot air can give way to afternoon thunderstorms in a heartbeat if the season is right, and the desert winds that come and go are as moody and stirring as a lover in spring.

As wild and raw as this land is, it offers visitors an opportunity to share a deeper connection to their own original wild-ness, an authentic kinship with the earth, alongside their special someone. Our magnificent Karoo really is one of the most romantic destinations in South Africa.

It becomes almost-effortless for us to draw inspiration from our surrounds in order to deliver a holistic, romantic experience, from the luxury karoo accommodation to the private game drives and sublime spa treatments… and of course, the mouthwatering cuisine prepared by our talented chef, John Carelse.

Heaven on a Plate, Served in Paradise in the Sky

In the words of Alan D. Wolfelt, “Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate.

The love can certainly be tasted when gentle-spirited Chef John serves a meal, either on the highest mountaintop in the reserve at the luxurious Sky Villa, or at Ilanga Manor House, a Cape-Dutch delight surrounded by lush gardens.

We asked John what couples might expect at the Magic Hills Private Collection this February, and his eyes twinkled as he described a variety of romantic dinner ideas, starting with exotic champagne-poached oysters on saffron risotto or phyllo baked camembert cheese with homemade tomato chilli jam.

John suggests some of the guest favourites, rare-cooked and herb-crusted rack of lamb with pomme dauphinoise and tender vegetables, or pan-served Norwegian salmon with butternut puree and pomegranate jus – both decadent main meal options for a romantic dinner for two. Such indulgent dinners are often accompanied by a fresh, light salad, flavours enhanced by the native spekboom plant and herbs that are harvested directly from the mountainside.

Of course, we all know that it’s the dessert that truly determines whether justice has been done, and John pulls out all the stops on special occasions! Inspired by the richness of the reserve’s surrounding beauty, he serves a decadent chocolate mousse piped into a towering chocolate cone that’s surrounded by sugar-coated raspberries, or a vanilla pannacotta with ginger biscuit praline and Cape gooseberries and strawberry compote.

It’s as much heaven on a plate, as Sky Villa is a paradise in the sky.

For those who opt to wine and dine from home, Chef John’s advice is concise and kind: “Cooking is your own fantasy. Cook what pleasures your taste buds. If you’re not confident in the kitchen, just keep it simple, and let a few good flavours do the work for you.

About Chef John Carelse

John possesses a lifelong long affair with cooking, which started the day he learned to fry an egg as a child. He grew up in a small Cape Flats suburb called Steenberg, where he’d help his mother cook.

He pursued his passion with pure grit and determination: “I worked my way up the ranks with some hardcore, pots- and pans-throwing chefs, the kinds who curse like sailors… I worked to get where I am today. I started at Magic Hills in February 2020. It really is the ultimate romantic getaway where couples can truly feel on top of the world – a real hidden gem in the Eastern Cape.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the hospitality industry, John remains our the head chef on call at Magic Hills Private Collection, and eagerly awaits each and every guest’s visit to his dining room.

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Passing By? Stop at Magic Hills for a day exploring the reserve, driving 4×4 trails, and indulging in a panoramic picnic!
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