Tatler magazine has declared Karkloof Spa, a spa and lodge in animal-packed grounds in the KwaZulu-Natal area, its most exciting discovery of 2009.

It could well have a point. The setting, among green hills, trickling waters and wandering wildlife, works its magic before you even set foot near a massage table.

Giraffes peer through the windows and watch while you have a facial, warthogs share the wooden walkways with you and might well turn up on your dinner plate later.

Design, decor and details are impeccably tasteful and have informal, modern, neutral-toned luxury nailed. The 16 boutique villas are gloriously spacious – I could have hosted a ball in mine.

We loved it all, and would recommend it to couples aged 30-plus, empty-nesters and anyone in need of some serious relaxation.

Room rates: Until November, opening special prices lead in at £306 per person per night twin-share including meals and drinks, use of sauna, steam room and hydrotherapy pools, one nature drive/walk per day, mountain bikes and a one-hour massage.

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