5 affordable romantic weekend escapes

February is the month of love since advertisers made it so, but love should be celebrated every month. A weekend away can be the perfect chance to rekindle a flickering love flame or set a new spark ablaze.

Take your beau on a romantic weekend and celebrate friendship and love.

1. Zuleika Country Lodge, Hoedspruit, Limpopo

Dogs run out to greet me as I arrived at the thatch roof lodge set in citrus orchards just outside Hoedspruit in Limpopo. Charlie (dog) is rolling on the Persian carpet while I am inspecting my room - there is an open-plan bathroom with huge couple-size bath, candles, king-size bed (standard in all four the luxury rooms) and balcony overlooking the sprawling gardens below. Mosquito nets, exotic carpets and the family's wedding photos on the wall add character to this family-run lodge. 

In the tree-studded garden, a huge swing (suitable for two), trampoline and a pool provide some other entertainment options.  Zuleika has a honeymoon suite, serves sumptuous dinners (think fillet, citrus butternut with toasted macadamia nuts and lemon meringue cheesecake) and is perfectly situated for day trips to game reserves in the area (including Kruger National Park) and the Panorama Route.

Do: Book at least one supper at the lodge (R175pp).
Don't: Don't forget to close the mosquito net.
Listen: Fish eagles.
See: Orchids growing on the trees of the garden.
Where: 380km from Johannesburg, drive on the N4 via Belfast.
Price: from R630pp for a standard room.
Extra value: Stay between 14 and 16 February and receive a 3-course dinner for free.

2. Umdoni  Guest House, Malkerns, Swaziland

Arriving on a rainy dark night was not good. Roads were shoddy and sign posts even worse. But the contrast of Umdoni was spectacular. Waking up the next morning to lush gardens, a glittering pool, tennis court and breakfast set out on the veranda was fantastical. I felt pretty and posh.

Umdoni's rooms are set out in two cottages (one is wheelchair friendly) and are available as self-catering or B&B. They share lounges with stacks of books and magazines, deep sofas and small well-stocked kitchens. Beds are huge (think aerial acrobatics), bathrooms are spacious and breakfasts extensive.

Set on a pineapple farm, there are lots to do in the area if you have exhausted all the options in the bedroom. Take one of the bicycles and explore. Visit a craft shop, game reserve (Mlilwane or Royal Hlane) or the local market in Manzini. There are some excellent restaurants in the area (try the salmon at Malandelas) and local crafters producing anything from candles, woven grass articles to silks.

Do: Explore Swaziland; even within a radius of just 30km you will be surprised at the beauty.
Don't: Arrive at night.
Listen: The Bushfire music festival at House on Fire near Malkerns.
See: Crafts, hills and pineapple fields.
Where: 15 minutes from the airport, look out for the HUGE chicken on the MR18.
Price: R961,20 per couple per night

3.Antbear Guest House, Drakensberg, Kwa-Zulu Natal

I was trying to unknot my spinal column when Bob Marley came up to greet us. The 5.5km gravel road up to Antbear Guest House in the Drakensberg is, hmm well, adventurous and I was attempting to stretch and contort back into human form.

It was actually Phumlani Nduma, a former investigative journalist who welcomed us at the thatch-roofed guesthouse, with an atmosphere as laid-back as his Bob Marley T-shirt suggested. With rooms dotted around the farm's sprawling lawns overlooking Giant's Castle, the guesthouse is about being at home. Barefoot luxury.

Rooms are furnished with handmade wooden furniture in curious steam-punk style, mosaics adorn shower walls and windows open with intricate gears and levers.

I went to investigate the honeymoon suite in a 'cave'. Completely private, with open plan shower and Jacuzzi, fireplace in front of the bed, the suite has a private deck with a 180° view of Giant's Castle and the Amphitheatre.  

Riding on a slow horse through the shoulder-high sea of pink and white cosmos flowers just before sunset; it was a world away from the humidity and bustle of Durban. At Antbear, I could breathe…

Do: Go horseriding. Even if you are an absolute beginner.
Don't : rush off the next day. Stay two nights if you can.
Listen: The silence.
See: Giant's Castle.
Where:  170km from Durban, along the N3 in the direction of Mooi River.
Price: From R830 pp (including dinner and breakfast)
Extra Value: Antbear offers Valentines a bottle of bubbly and a 10% discount for all bookings in February.

4. Plumbago B&B, Leisure Bay, South KwaZulu-Natal

The damp warmth of a KwaZulu-Natal afternoon was soaking into my bones. With a start I woke up to ice cold grapes and peaches next to me on the veranda just as the rain began. I was sitting on the wrap-around stoep peering out though the trees towards the Indian Ocean just as Libby served an afternoon snack.

Plumbago is a small privately-owned guesthouse on the south coast of KZN set in lush tropical gardens a block or two from the sea. With just three rooms and a flat with separate entrance, the B&B is private and quiet. Romantic touches such as a deep Victorian bath, fresh blooms and king-size beds with mosquito nets will indulge the senses. Details such as homemade biscotti, beach towels and huge mohair blankets with the irrepressible humour and style of owners Libby and Mick make this a stylish and personable getaway.

Do: ask Libby to pack a breakfast picnic and go swim at one of the secluded coves.
Don't: stay for less than two nights.
Listen: to the sea and the rain on the corrugated roof.
See: the sea.
Where: Just over two hours' drive from King Shaka airport.
Price: R510pp (sharing)
Extra Value: Planning a romantic surprise? Let Libby in on the secret and she can help you plan something …

5. FrancolinHof Guesthouse, Hermanus

Surrounded by fynbos, hugged by a mountain. FrancolinHof Guesthouse is nestled on the slopes of Hermanus mountain, bordering the Fernkloof Nature Reserve in the quiet Voëlklip area of Hermanus. Mary, the owner-manager of the 4-star lodge greeted us warmly even after we destroyed a pot with basil during our parking arrangements.

Her humour and creative touch are everywhere - fresh fynbos tucked into an old trophy, a silver tray with sherry and Lindt upon our late return from supper. Rooms are spacious, light and airy with balconies or sliding doors opening up to let in the view and breeze. Francolins wandered over our doorstep while we sat breathing in the champagne air and the view of Hermanus town and ocean. We slept in king-size beds with chequered blankets; we awoke with birds chattering and the faint rush of the waves. Under-floor heating, silken linen, antique artefacts and the velvety slopes of the mountain made FrancolinHof an understated luxurious and romantic getaway.

Do: go swimming at Grotto beach, 5 minutes away.
Don't: drive over the potted herbs.
Listen: to the ocean and the bubbling sounds of the francolins.
See: the Fernkloof Nature Reserve.
Where: About 120km from Cape Town along the N2.
Price: From R525 pp (including breakfast)

Visit these guesthouses on a romantic road trip through South Africa. Check out Elefant tours for a 28-day honeymoon in South Africa or visit www.elefant-tours.com for shorter self-drive options.

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