is seductive; it is wild; it is a photographer’s paradise, a gourmet’s Valhalla, an adventurer’s Utopia.
From the dazzling city of Cape Town
curled around the base of a 3,500-foot-high Table Mountain, to the mountainous Winelands, to five-star, big five animal safaris, South Africa should be on everyone’s bucket list.
I’m just back from three weeks at the southern tip of the African continent, and here are standouts that made my trip extraordinary. Check out the Ellerman House in Cape Town.
Add a Safari to Your Vacation
A rose-colored morning light washed over the grassy savannah on an early morning game drive. As my husband and I bumped along ancient elephant paths our safari ranger asked me: “How many ‘wow’ moments can you have before breakfast?” “More than the ‘Big Five’, ” I replied.
The Big Five
a term coined by game hunters and used by safari operators refers to the most dangerous animals to hunt on foot and often the most difficult animals to see: leopard, lion, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo.
We had more than a lion’s share of great game viewing, including the Big Five, in the private Sengita and Sabi Sabi game reserves.
We watched elephants, ears flapping sinuous trunks snaking, feet shifting as they lazily sucked water into their trunks then noisily sprayed it in to their mouths.
Driving off-road we came upon a languorous leopard lounging in the warm sunshine. In response to the clicks from our cameras, he jumped up on a log, turned his head our way, lifted his tail and peed in our direction, before sauntering into the bush. We watched in wonder as the spirit of the wild asserted its supremacy.
South Africa is a popular safari destination because the game viewing is superb and the leading camps and lodges in South Africa are among the most glamorous in the world with renowned brands such as Singita and Sabi Sabi.
Both Singita and Sabi Sabi are located in unspoiled wilderness adjacent to Kruger National Park. Hunting has not been permitted in the private reserves for decades so many animals are comfortable with the presence of safari vehicles, which allows us, in open-air jeeps to get up close and personal. It is a photographer’s dream to shoot such a variety of wildlife.
In Stellenbosch we stayed at the spectacular estate. The breath-taking location, between majestic mountains and vine-covered hills, is reason enough to linger over wine, a meal or to stay a few nights. We had to choose between the indoor art-filled Wine Lounge with a stunning copper roof and the outdoor terrace. We tasted a flight of wine paired with local cheeses on the terrace, regaling in the sweeping views. Then we walked through the gardens, dotted with fountains and statues and settled into our two-room villa with a huge terrace and private plunge pool.
The renowned Delaire Restaurant was fully booked for dinner with a chic crowd reminiscent of those seen in the Hamptons or Malibu. So we dined before the blazing fire at the casual and creative Indochine. The chefs pick produce, herbs and fruit daily at the estate greenhouse and vegetable gardens. The result is extraordinary.
For flat out South African glam, Delaire Graff delivers. The property creates a secluded feeling by hugging the contour of the hillside and positioning the villas, restaurants and gardens toward the vineyards and craggy mountains.
Nearby, Franschoek looks and feels like a small town in Provence. Open-air cafes, art galleries, antique shops, small restaurants and tempting boutiques line the main street. Many of the wine farms in the area share a French Huguenot heritage and you can enjoy the French influence in food and the local Champagne-inspired bubbly.
For two days we biked through the vineyards, sipped at charming tasting rooms and dined at our boutique hotel, . Located on a 30-acre estate, the luxury property is bursting with vineyards, plum orchards, rose gardens, horse pastures and gardens. Strutting peacocks meandered around the infinity pool and grassy lawns.
Our elegantly appointed suite boasted a four poster bed, opulent chandeliers, antique furniture, dressing rooms, a bathroom the size of my first studio apartment, with a deep soaking bathtub. French doors in both the bedroom and bathroom opened onto a private terrace with views of flowering orchards, vineyards and mountains. The 11 suites in the hotel are elaborately decorated with different design influences, from the exotic Tibetan Suite with oriental antiques and rich orange tones to the blue and yellow Chambre Blue with it’s Provencal antiques, velvets and silks. The nightly dinner menus are full of sumptuous surprises and multiple courses, paired with superb local wines. Ask to dine at the informal Chef’s Table, next to the big French kitchen, to chat with the chefs and see the magicians at work. Most guests don’t realize it’s an option.
Layover in Johannesburg
Rated among the top hotels in the world, the five-star Saxon Hotel is a perfect place to relax and regroup in Johannesburg. The hotel is an oasis of calm and security on ten acres of tranquil gardens in the fashionable Sandhurst neighborhood, north of the bustling downtown area. The attentive staff, lush gardens, swimming pools, elegant piano bar, smoking library, cocktail lounge, dining room and the tasteful décor of contemporary and historic African art are impressive. It has been home to many world leaders and dignitaries.
WHEN TO GO
April to September are considered the best months for sighting big game because it is the dry season and animals congregate around rivers and water holes. We went in October and had stellar viewing and good weather in Cape Town and the Wine Country. Avoid school vacations, especially Christmas and Spring Break. Prices are higher, many accommodations are full and some flights may be difficult to find. Check the South African Tourism website for holiday dates.
HOW TO PLAN
Sabi Sabi Lodges:
The Delaire Graff Estate, Winery, Dining, Villas:
Franschoek Ho http://www.laresidence.co.za/
offers an indispensible guide with maps, suggested itineraries, day trips, activities and ideas.
The Ellerman House Hotel
The Twelve Apostles Hotel
Johannesburg Saxon Ho http://www.saxon.co.za/
Story and photos by Marybeth Bond. Article first appeared in Travelgirl Magazine.