South Africa – a world in one country

Often deemed ‘a world in one country’, South Africa offers incredible diversity and has a huge amount to entice travellers: wildlife, outdoor adventure, dramatic landscapes and a rich history are all abundant in South Africa.  Throw incredible hotels and amazing food and wine into the mix and South Africa is a real winner.  For those exploring South Africa for the first time, we suggest a tour of the Western Cape exploring the coast down to Hermanus and up to the winelands, perhaps followed by a few days on safari.

The first stop has to be Cape Town and we recommend staying at the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel or the Nellie as it is affectionately known.  Timeless and elegant, the Nellie has long been regarded as one of the city’s finest hotels and offers sophistication, tranquility and a contemporary buzz. The bar here is a top spot for cocktails before eating in the hotel’s superb restaurant or heading out into the city for dinner. Relax by the gorgeous pool, chill in the Librisa spa or play tennis – alternatively head out one on of the hotel’s many outdoor adventures including a sidecar adventure or a township farm tour.

Another one of our favourites is The Silo.  It is fabulous.  A member of The Royal Portfolio family under the stylish eye of Liz Biden, The Silo sits above the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art and overlooks the bustle of the working harbour.  The hotel has been beautifully crafted from an old grain store and creatively and stylishly designed.  Each suite is wonderfully flooded in natural light and affords exceptional views of Cape Town.  Even if you don’t stay at The Silo, go and have a drink on the roof terrace but make a reservation – numbers are limited.

Top spots in Cape Town include the Kirstenbosch Gardens and Robben Island and of course South Africa’s oldest working harbour, the V&A Waterfront.  The area is named after Queen Victoria and her second son Prince Alfred who developed strong links with the colonials during a visit in 1860. The vibrant waterfront thrives with many retail outlets, restaurants, art galleries and live musicians and is a definite spot to visit whilst in the city. A trip up Table Mountain either on foot or by cable car is a must but go when the weather is clear, don’t wait in case the clouds decide to hang around and obliterate the view. For a local’s insight into the Cape, consider spending the day with four times South African surf champion turned guide Nikita Robb.  The first lady to achieve 4 back to back wins, Nikita knows the waters surrounding the cape like the back of her hand and her inland knowledge of this particular part of Africa is astounding.

Along from Muizenberg, the surf capital of the Cape Pensinsula, lies Simon’s Town nestled in False Bay and home to Boulders Beach and the African Penguin.  Sadly, these characterful little birds have dwindled in numbers over the past few years, mostly due to over fishing in their feeding ground just off the coast. Awkward on land, penguins are incredible swimmers darting through the water at astounding speeds.  Take out a paddle board for the chance to see them at their happiest, racing through the water beneath you.   You may even be lucky enough to see a Southern Right whale. The Southern Right whale comes up from Antarctica in spring each year to give birth to their young and retreats after a few months back to their home. The whale watching season along the south coast of South Africa is typically from the beginning of September to the beginning of November.  They are so named because whalers in the past thought they were ‘right to kill’. Thankfully now, since the abolition of whale poaching in the 1800s, Southern Right worldwide populations have increased from a sorry 500 to a healthier 50,000 animals.

What is interesting about this day long tour is seeing the cape in a more organic way. Feel like a local whilst experiencing the best of the coast and escaping the crowds.  Enjoy lunch in a small hidden away café which is unknown to the travelling masses, enjoy drinks on a deserted beach and appreciate the benefits of spending the day with a native enabling you to see the real destination.

The expanse of Table Mountain National Park stretching from Signal Hill in Cape Town to Cape Point includes the Cape of Good Hope.  Stretch your legs and walk the beautiful coast line keeping a lookout for playful baboons and ostriches.  There are even 4 resident zebras in the park but obviously due to the number, they are slightly harder to spot!  Originally named the Cape of Storms by Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, the residents of the cape renamed it the Cape of Good Hope so as not to put people off visiting.   Nikita can set up an alfresco bar on the beach – sip gin and tonics, tasting a few different blends, eat locally produced biltong and freshly baked brownies and play cricket on the beach.  Heading back to Cape Town you will be spoilt for choice with outstanding restaurants where you can enjoy dinner and chat about your day.

Continuing your journey, head over the dramatic Franschhoek Pass the next morning to wine country.  Driving in South Africa is incredibly easy alternatively we can of course arrange a driver for you.

For something a little different stay at Babylonstoren, nestled between Paarl and Stellenbosch, or stop for lunch en route through the winelands. Dating back to 1692, Babylonstoren is an historic Cape Dutch Farm and one of the best preserved in the Cape. 8 acres of gardens are divided into 15 sections comprising fruit, vegetables, berries, indigenous plants, fragrant lawns, ducks, chickens and bees.  Every aspect of Babylonstoren, including the contemporary farm hotel and spa, the farm shop and bakery are influenced by the ever changing rich tapestry of botanical diversity in the garden.  Babylonstoren is a happening place yet so peaceful at the same time.  Excellence in cuisine is apparent here through the food served at Babel, the main restaurant, and the Greenhouse, the more relaxed garden café.  The menu philosophy is one of “pick, clean and serve” with a strong emphasis on honest, fuss free food – excellent accompanied by a delicious Babylonstoren red!  The gardens provide the majority of produce for both restaurants which ensures everything on the menu is unashamedly fresh and delicious.   There is even a tranquil herb garden abundant with life giving plants and descriptions of the various ailments they can treat.  As aptly described by one staff member, “Working alongside [the Babylonstoren gardens] is like having a big, deep pantry of living plants.  It makes one look at fruit and veggies in a fresh way”.

The individual Cape Dutch cottages and farm accommodation are all spacious and relaxing and a perfect retreat from where to enjoy the endless activities on offer at Babylonstoren.

Another prime spot to include in a trip to this part of South Africa is Grootbos Private Nature Reserve.  Sitting proudly above 2500 hectares of fynbos and ancient forest the reserve provides refuge for 800 plant species, 118 species of bird, 29 mammals and 21 amphibians – some of which are under threat of extinction.  Two lodges, Garden Lodge and Forest Lodge provide extremely comfortable accommodation, most with views of the bay and all situated close to each main lodge amongst the landscape of the reserve.  In addition, Grootbos now offers two incredible four bedroom villas each with wine cellar, pool table, gym, pool, outside kitchen and breathtaking uninterrupted views of Walker Bay.

Activities are boundless at Grootbos, the most exciting of which during the season is the chance to view one or some of the marine 5, in particular the Southern Right whale.  Explore local Klipgat cave in the Walker Bay Nature Reserve, where stone age families made their home and benefitted from the riches of the land, which is now obviously completely covered by ocean. Relay your experiences over dinner, for which Grootbos is renowned, in front of the warming log burning stove.

The next part of your journey could include a few days on safari before heading home.  For malaria free game viewing venture to Shamwari Private Game Reserve. Alternatively, hop on a flight to Johannesburg and venture into the bush to experience the wild expanses and incredible wildlife of the Kruger National Park.

To chat to us about travelling to South Africa, please ring 020 8879 7171 or pop into the office in Wimbledon Village.