WHEN an opportunity arose for my husband and I to spend two nights in a luxury, upmarket five-bedroom house along the famous canals, we jumped at the chance.
Our home for January 19 and 20 was built by well-known developer in the area, Colin Beckley.
Beckley has two houses along the canals and hires them out to visitors who religiously flock to the resort each year.
He has also been approached by some owners to help in the process of assessing and rebuilding the houses that burnt to the ground in the inferno in November last year – and again on Christmas day. About 80 houses were gutted in the two fires.
Although both his houses would qualify to feature on Top Billing, 39 Canal Road (where we stayed) is the cream of the crop. St Francis is situated just 100km west of Port Elizabeth, so it is even close enough for a day trip.
I would suggest you make a pit stop in Jeffreys Bay for lunch. Die Walskipper Restaurant on Claptons Beach is a well-known favourite.
If you are a seafood lover like me, you will be in seventh heaven.
It is one of the few restaurants that still serve perlemoen (abalone). Although a little pricey, I was curious to see what the fuss was all about. I must say I was slightly disappointed, and thought the abalone a tad rubbery.
But my husband, an oyster fanatic, said the oysters he was served were the freshest he had tasted in a very long time.
The two of us shared the shellfish pan for two which had oysters, abalone, crayfish, scallops, prawns, calamari, a giant crab and langoustines, served on a bed of rice. The platter cost R600 and we were stuffed. In fact, we ended up taking most of it home.
The crab was gigantic and made the platter worthwhile. The crayfish, calamari and scallops were also extremely tasty and fresh. And the prawns – usually my favourite – were fried (I would have preferred them grilled).
The restaurant is a stone's throw away from the beach and food is served on tin plates, adding to the rustic, relaxed feel.
So, with full tummies, we made our way to our luxurious abode for the next two days. Beckley met us at the property to give us a tour of the house before leaving us to enjoy the rest of our afternoon.
The modern self-catering home is in a prime location with its own pool, tennis court and gym.
There are five en-suite bedrooms and there is enough space to sleep up to 10 people.
The main bedroom, where we slept, overlooks the hypnotic canals.
The open-plan lounge and dining area is decorated with a large, white leather lounge suite and a fireplace. The mix of old and new gives a luxurious, eclectic feel.
The sliding folding doors lead onto the wooden deck and undercover patio with a pool, where we enjoyed endless hours relaxing on the pool loungers.
The private gym is fully equipped with state-of- the-art equipment and the health-conscious can work-out while overlooking the canals.
No keys are required as access to the house is controlled by a keypad.
During off-peak season the house goes for R2450 per night for 10 people. Mid-season is R2950 per night, and peak season is R6250 per night.
On the Saturday evening we enjoyed a boat ride along the canals.
The setting is extremely romantic and serene and can be jazzed up with a picnic basket and sparkling wine.
Visitors can be spotted at all times of the day taking a joy ride along the canals, all the way to the popular Kromme River.
The best weather to visit is over the warm Christmas season and during Easter with mild winters. At night it cools down rapidly with a slight breeze.
Other popular activities for visitors include fishing, spear-fishing, snorkelling and diving.
For the more adventurous there are guided scenic hiking trails in and around the area, bird watching where you could spot more species than in the entire US, sailing, windsurfing, canoeing, rubber-ducking, kite surfing, and skiing – although this is frowned upon on the canals.
If you are planning to stay for more than just a weekend, Bruce's Beauties offers world- class surfing lessons.
With the correct permit you can also dive for mussels and oysters in and around the bay.
There is plenty to do but it is up to the holidaymaker to decide how and where they want to enjoy their free time.
On Sunday, when the buzz died down, we took a 10-minute drive to Cape St Francis.
The small resort is slightly busier than St Francis on a Sunday.
We visited The Stix Pub, where a multitude of locals had gathered to catch up on gossip.
Here, the topic of conversation was "the scary fires" they all claimed to have taken part in fighting, and the celebrations when the holidaymakers leave.They apparently throw a party to mark claiming back their town.
Visit www.stfrancisbay accommodation.comfor bookings.