Ile de Pain

This had never happened before we discovered Ile de Pain at Knysna, South Africa. We had breakfast three days in a row at the same place. We loved this bread bakery and cafe that much.

At Ile de Pain, which means Island of Bread in French, the fresh breads baked daily in the wood fired oven take center stage. Every morning the bread kitchen gets busy as dough is prepared, rolled out, and shaped before they go into the wood fired oven. When the breads were ready to be taken out of of the oven, they were let to cool on the racks close enough to the dining area that it was hard not to stare at those delicious smelling breads ranging from baguette to rye and sourdough bread.

Ile de Pain has so much character to it and it made us feel like we were at one of those neighborhood rustic bakeries that are loved by locals. Hanging from the ceiling were multiple tools essential to bakers. With the bright orange tables, it is always a happy spring-like day even on gloomy days.

Our introduction to Markus, the owner of Ile de Pain, was an interesting one. He came over to our table and introduced himself before asking us, "Are you from the States?" and to which I replied, "How did you figure it out?" It turned out that during our hello exchange with him when we first arrived at Ile de Pain, our hellos were done in a very outgoing manner. According to him, the past times when he greeted Asian customers coming from Asia, they were generally more reserved. Interesting observation on his part, indeed.

In conversation we found out that Markus went to the Culinary Institute of America and lived in New York and San Francisco before returning to South Africa. His philosophy of running and managing Ile de Pain is wonderful and I wished I worked at this delicious cafe. Ile de Pain closes for 2 months every year so that he and his wife can take the time to travel while at the same time allowing his employees to travel home and visit their families who live up to 10 hours away (I assume he meant the driving time). In his words, he wishes to instill the value among his employees that work is important but not everything. Halfway through our long conversation, Markus realized that our half-eaten food was getting cold and he asked the kitchen to prepare a fresh half order of what we were eating. It was very nice of him to do that, so thank you Markus!

There is a good selection of hot breakfast items which we managed to try several of them during the 3 days we were there. The soft poached eggs on toast with spinach and house made tomato relish were delicious.

When we just wanted some down home good and simple food, there was the option of just poached eggs with baguette, butter, and jam, as well as the fruit plate with muesli was also an option.

The were several scrambled eggs entrees that came with either lox, bacon, or pesto and were served on a croissant or toast. Bread slices that come with the breakfast items are all baked fresh every morning.

What we also loved about Ile de Pain was the freshly squeezed juices that change in selection everyday. The cucumber juice was a winner for me. On one of the days they had beetroot juice which we did not try. The coffee list has a good variety and we had the organic flat white, latte, Vietnamese-inspired coffee with condensed milk, and mint cacao smoothie.


Not listed on the menu are pastries displayed on the shelves. Clearly, looking at the delicious pastries rather than reading them on the menu is a better way to help make a decision, although it makes the decision process a little harder seeing that I wanted to eat everything I saw. A favorite was the almond croissant that was perfect and flaky at every bite I did not want it to end. The kugelhopf was also very good with the right level of density.

We wouldn't really have wanted breakfast any other way. With freshly baked goods and equally good service at this charming bakery, it makes us want to return to Knysna to have breakfast here.

Ile de Pain has a sister cafe, Mon de Pain, which has a smaller space and does not offer all the items on the Ile de Pain menu.

Ile de Pain
10 The Boatshed
Thesen Island
Knysna 6571


Oysters and seafood in Knysna

As the oyster capital of South Africa, Knysna has a great array of seafood restaurants and we really could not have gone wrong with any of them. At the waterfront, though the seafood restaurants offer equally amazing views, each offered its own unique character and ambiance.

34 South

Our first meal at Knysna became our favorite place among the list and the very unique character of 34 South is a determining factor. 34 South is more than a regular restaurant. It is a food emporium with a restaurant, wine shop, deli, sushi bar, and fish monger. At another section is where baked goods and a small groceries selection were sold. This place is not huge but big enough to fit these different aspects into one place.

Seated on the patio, we each had a dozen of wild oysters. We have come to really like wild oysters on this trip to South Africa. While cultivated oysters are in abundance in the U.S., we have to find wild oysters in American restaurants. The freshly harvested wild coastal oysters tasted so wholesome and fresh with drippings of briny taste from the sea. They were excellent with our glass of wine. Wild oysters can be distinguished by their uneven shells as compared to the smoother shells of cultivated oysters.


Traveling to a country with its cuisine heavily driven by seafood meant that we got to try different types of fish that we otherwise would not have been able to. The rich and creamy snoek soup was made with smoked snoek fish, coconut milk, and a hint of aromatic Malay spices


The deli has a wide array of cold appetizers and the items are priced according to the weight of the amount we would like on the plate, which turned out to be a great concept so we could try a few items without ordering too much. We had Mediterranean mussels were grilled with olive oil, and calamari heads with chilli peri-peri, and domades with rice and nuts rolled in vine leaves.


The Bismark Herring came in a pickled fillet and was very good without any fishiness to it.


The gamefish pate had a hint of spiciness to it with dill and capers and was great with bread. Again, the pate had no hint of fishiness to it which reflects the freshness of the fish.


With so many seafood restaurants in Knysna, 34 South stands out with its unique setup as a food emporium as well as offering the option to try a wide array of seafood items as little or as much as diners would like.


Quay Four

The indoor dining area of Quay Four is themed red and white which almost reminded us of typical American diners although Quay Four is far from being a diner despite its casual vibe. We chose to sit outside on the deck overlooking the very tranquil Knysna lagoon head since that was a No Wake Zone for boats.

One of the best things about travel is being able to try the local brews which was what we did. Mitchell's is brewed in Knysna and Windhoek is brewed in Namibia and named after the capital of that country. Both beers were light and refreshing which turned out perfect for us as we are not big fans of hoppy beers.

Being at the oyster capital of South Africa, another round of wild oysters was a must. Although the oysters at Quay Four were smaller than what we had the day at 34 South, they were still very flavorful and tasted wholesome. From our experience of eating oysters, the taste and flavor of the oyster are what matters and not the size. We have had huge oysters but so tasteless that they felt like they had been soaked in water, while we have had small oysters that were bursting with intensity of flavors.

The fish and chips was an absolute delight from start to finish. It was deep fried until perfectly crispy and inside the batter, the fish remained incredibly moist. The piece of fillet was so huge that the length of the fish filled the entire plate.

One of the things that I really came to love in South Africa was the croutons which always came with a perfectly soft crunch unlike the ones we have in the U.S. that usually comes with a hard crunch. Biting into the South African croutons felt like I was biting into cubes of freshly toasted bread. The mussels and clam chowder at Quay Four was rich, creamy, and full of seafood goodness.


Dry Dock & Co

Besides being situated on the original site of the first dry dock in Knysna, Dry Dock & Co did not appear to us that it stood out among the other seafood restaurants. The food was very good but the decor and characteristics of the place was everything expected of a classic seafood restaurant.  

Dry Dock & Co did not offer wild oysters so we ordered cultivated ones instead which turned out to be the first time we had cultivated oysters in South Africa.

 The venison carpaccio was lovely with the sauteed mushroom, arugula, and shaved cheese.

The star of the meal was the peri-peri chicken which was so intensely flavorful. First deep fried, the chicken pieces were then coated further with the peri-peri sauce made with African chili pepper. Served on a rustic newspaper cone, the fries were also very well seasoned.

Knysna, along the Garden Route

Commonly known as the most scenic drive in South Africa, the Garden Route stretches along the entire southern coast of the Atlantic seaboard. Contrary to what its name implies, the Garden Route is not about gardens. Along the Garden Route are several coastal towns such as Port Elizabeth, Pletternberg Bay, Knysna, etc, and a popular choice among travelers is driving the entire route and spending a couple nights at each coastal town along the way in order to get a flavor of the different towns. Since that option was not feasible for us time wise, we decided to pick a town and plop ourselves there for 3 nights. The ultimate decision to pick Knysna was not a difficult one. Knysna is the oyster capital of South Africa and as oyster lovers, that was a no brainer! Also as one of South Africa's top golfing destinations, Knysna is excellent for many other types of outdoor activities which was an added bonus for us.


We flew in to George airport and the drive along part of Garden Route towards Knysna was nothing short of breathtaking. The views were of the Atlantic seaboard and the waves crashing onto the shores were spectacular. We were in awe throughout the drive as we past the smaller coastal towns of Wilderness and Sedgefield before finally arriving in Knysna.

Knysna is a sleepy little coastal town with a very laid back lifestyle and far from being hectic. After the safari and time in Cape Town, coming to Knysna ultimately was the perfect choice for us to really unwind and relax. We spent most of our time at the waterfront where the boats dock. Each of the many seafood restaurants look out to the views of the serene waterfront and the lagoon head. We treated ourselves to oysters everyday. How could we not? We were at oyster and seafood paradise.

Nestled along the waterfront are also homes which lead directly into the water. These are not just all vacation rental homes. People live in these houses permanently. With such a gorgeous location, we wondered how people living in these homes have the motivation to leave the house and go to work everyday. In the stretch of calm waters, we saw people swim, kayak, and also taking their motor boat out.


There are cute locally owned stores ranging from clothing boutiques to antique stores. Bakeries and cafes, each with its own character, are also scattered around Knysna.


Just a short 15-minute walk from the Knysna waterfront is Thesen Islands. We found ourselves coming back to Thesen Islands everyday as we could not get enough of breakfast at Ile de Pain bakery. At Thesen Islands we saw more residential homes situated near the lagoon and again wondered how those people have the will to leave home and go to work everyday given that home is like vacation everyday in a scenic paradise.


A lot of the commercial properties at Thesen Islands are seafood restaurants, art galleries, boutiques, and spas. We ended up visiting a spa two days in a row; pampering is addictive! As many of the stores are located by the water, we had changing views twice a day at the same location. During low tide in the morning, we saw the shore and sand. Come about 1:30pm when high tide is coming in, the water comes all the way underneath the stores (these buildings in particular are built elevated to allow the water to flow underneath during high tide).


We had gorgeous weather with clear blue skies the entire time we were at Knysna. However, as luck would have it, the day we were scheduled to go hiking started off with grey overcast skies and a drizzle before raining. We were on our way to Goukamma Nature and Marine Reserve when Ricky, our professional hiking guide from Knysna Forest Tours, joked about the weather and low visibility, "It looks like you guys would need to imagine what the scenery would look like during the hike". Fortunately we got a little luckier when we arrived at the nature reserve. The rain had totally stopped although the skies were still grey, but we will take this weather anytime instead of rain.

We parked the car, walked to the river, and took a small boat to cross over to the side. It was all manual handling for the boat, to a certain extent. The small boat was tied to a rope with ends on both sides of the river and continuous tugging and pulling along the rope would bring the boat to the other side of the river. That was the start of our 9km hike.

We walked along the shores of the Atlantic ocean for the first 2-3km and spotted many of the same sea creature, called blue bottle, left to die on the shore. Everyday during high tide, blue bottles are washed ashore and when the water recedes during low tide, the blue bottle creatures are left on the shore before gradually dying from being out of the water. This cycle happens everyday and as mother nature works in its own way, there are plenty of blue bottle creatures in the ocean so there will never be an extinct issue for this beautiful looking sea creature.

Blue bottles have similar characteristics to jellyfish and these sea creatures can sting and cause allergic reactions in people. Blue bottles also have tremendously long tails that stretch far from its body.

If we had been luckier, we could have possibly seen the whale migration in the ocean as it was the season for this migratory process.

We walked through amazingly big rocks which was one of my favorite parts of the hike. The rocks were huge and close to the shore. During high tide, many of these rocks are submerged under water. Nature is incredible.

We left the shore, hiked up a steep slope, and went along the forest trail with various elevation types and along the way saw different types of flora species include sweet pea and sage.

We hiked across and up very steep vegetated sand dunes reaching up to about 70 meters above sea level. We had enormous views of the dune fields and could not see the end of the horizon. The dunes were originally surfaced with sand and over the years as a natural process, vegetation grew on the sand dunes resulting in so much greenery over the once-sandy views.

Ziplining (also known as canopy tours) is also very popular at the famous Tsitsikamma National Park which we wished we had more time for. We are planning on that for our next trip perhaps.

Knysna was perfect for us in so many ways. It slowed us down from our everyday quick lifestyle pace. This sleepy coastal town allowed us to unwind, wake up to fresh seafood, have beer and oysters everyday by the water while enjoying the winds on our faces, and with outdoor activities at our door step.