My best friend wanted to celebrate a momentous birthday in a far-off land, while my husband and I, both avid travelers, craved an adventure. So when we looked at the world map hanging in our guest bedroom radiating with red pushpins from our past travels, South Africa twinkled back at us. From wine to wild animals, the things we experienced on our trip melded the rustic with the modern in a way only this enchanting region can. After we survived the harrowing nearly 24-hour travel, every corner of this land — from the cerulean sea to the sublime mountains — seemed like a picturesque reverie we couldn’t believe we were actually in, and captured our hearts forever.
Cape Town: Friendly locals and award-winning cuisine made the capital an excellent first stop
Splendor in the Gardens
The Andros, a colonial home built in 1908, has been transformed into a five-star boutique hotel on 1.5 acres of lush gardens. With several room options, make sure to stay in the Garden Suites like we did. The cabana homes encircle the pool and gardens, and also feature complimentary in-suite bars complete with top-shelf liquor, wine and plenty of snacks. andros.co.za.
For Nature Lovers
The country’s Cape Floral Region, a UNESCO World Heritage site, includes Table Mountain, Cape of Good Hope and the Boulder’s Beach penguins. The area contains about 9,000 plant species, of those nearly 70% don’t exist anywhere else. For advanced hikers, start at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and take the Skeleton Gorge route up 3,500 feet to the top of Table Mountain. I am not a hiker, but was forced to climb this trail with the group of athletes I was with. It was rough, but I can also say I climbed a mountain, so that’s pretty cool. Note: There are less strenuous paths available. Once you reach the summit, take the 360-degree rotating cable car down and celebrate with a chilled glass of rosé like I did. sanbi.org/gardens/ kirstenbosch; tablemountain.net.
Plan ahead to snag a table at The Test Kitchen, named one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. In case you can’t, its sister restaurant the speakeasy-inspired The Shortmarket Club, is a strong runner-up. Just make sure to look for the sign-less lonely stairwell to lead you up to dinner. Shark Tank’s “Mr. Wonderful” (aka Kevin O’Leary) was our table neighbor as we enjoyed our five course Foxcroft dinner. La Colombe, which has also appeared on the 50 Best list, also offers an unforgettable coursed dining experience. thetestkitchen.co.za; theshortmarketclub.co.za; foxcroft.co.za; lacolombe.co.za.
Franschhoek: A 45-minute drive from the capital lies this vineyard valley. Its name is derived from one of the country’s official languages, Afrikaans, and means “French corner.”
For the Love of Lav
Driving through the Grand Provence Estate gates, a sea of mauve stretched out in front of us, as the soothing scent of lavender welcomed us in. The eclectic 47-acre property includes two accommodation cottages, winery, restaurant, art gallery and cheetah outreach center. We stayed in the Owner’s Cottage and spent afternoons in the gardens sipping on the award-winning chenin blanc. grandeprovence.co.za.
Red Or White?
From cabs and sauvignon blancs to white wines also found in the region like the fruity chenin blanc and the spicy pinotage — this region has it all. Our favorite wineries were quaint Chamonix, MyWyn with the best view in town and Le Lude, the expert in sparkling wines called Cap Classique. chamonix.co.za; mywynfranschhoek. co.za; lelude.co.za.
Two of Cape Town’s famous restaurants have outposts here. Take a leisurely lunch among the vines at Chefs Warehouse at Maison. For dinner, head to La Petite Colombe for one of the best meals we’ve had. Expect the same superb food and presentation as its older sister but with a certain je ne sais quoi that made this one our favorite of the two. maisonestate.co.za/restaurant; lapetitecolombe.com.
Stellenbosch: The second oldest town in South Africa is a wine lovers paradise.
We visited this region at the end of our trip and just wanted to relax. So we chose to stay seaside in Gordon’s Bay, about 40 minutes from Stellenbosch. The views from Chocolate Box, our charming hotel, took our breath away.
Wine & Dine Recommendations
Our favorite Stellenbosch wineries included Ken Forrester, the father of chenin blanc. DeMorgenzon poured our favorite rosé of the trip, and Hidden Valley offered us a sensational wine and chocolate pairing. Fun fact: Total Wine can ship you DeMorgenzon wines once you’ve returned. kenforresterwines.com; demorgenzon.com; hiddenvalleywines.co.za.
For an unforgettable lunch and the best pizza, visit Idiom. For dinner, indulge in the masterfully crafted dinner at Camphors at Vergelegen, an estate with a 300-year-old history of wine making and delectable cuisine. idiom.co.za; vergelegen.co.za/camphors.
It can get overwhelming when it comes to choosing a safari. Where? Malaria free? Are the Big 5 (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino) vital? Luxury or live off the land? How long? We decided on a five-star, all-inclusive, Big 5, malaria-free experience.
Kariega, pronounced KA-REE-HA and owned by the Rushmere family, is a private game reserve on 25 acres of pristine land with five lodges, each with its own unique personality.
We took a two-hour flight from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth and then were driven another two hours to the game reserve. Upon arriving to our tented lodge, we were greeted with eucalyptus-scented towels and introduced to our guide, Hope, who would be with us for the next five days.
Safaris are not for sleeping in. Every morning Hope’s cheery British voice woke us at 5 a.m., enough time to unbolt our eyes and dress before the 6 a.m. drive. The second, daily four-hour drive in the afternoon happened before happy hour and dinner. We saw elephant herds, zebra harems, hippo pods and stunning lionesses hunting mere feet away from us. In between drives, we read on our private deck as giraffes wandered nearby and indulged in massages where bird songs and the wind’s melody lulled us to sleep. kariega.co.za.
There’s always a somber air at the end of any vacation, but after you’ve visited Africa, the majestic land where we all originated, you come back changed. The Africa blues set it quickly for us igniting a desire to return posthaste to that breathtaking wonderland.
Pro Tips: Use master planners Travel Artistry Africa to create a flawless itinerary. I love to organize trips, but this country has so many options, and I wanted to ensure we had a local in our corner. It was one of the best investments we could have made; the trip would not have been the same. For car transfers, hire transportation gurus Samara Africa. From city hopping to winery visits, having a trusted driver is worth it