SOUTH AFRICA by Hannah Moore

South Africa – Western Cape

I was lucky to recently travel to South Africa with African Pride to the Cape Town area. The trip started with an overnight flight on South African Airlines, on their new Airbus A330-300 aircraft. Business Class has all of the seats facing forward and aisle seats that converted to flat beds. Economy also had comfortable seats, and I was impressed with the staff, food and entertainment system on board. As South African Airlines do not fly direct to Cape Town, we got a connecting flight via Johannesburg. Three hours is recommended to connect or you can choose to have a meet and greet service, which provides assistance and fast pass through the airport.

Day 1
Our first stop on this trip was Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, which is approximately two hours from Cape Town. On arrival we were taken up to the six-bedroom Villa, and we were lucky enough to call this home for the next two nights. The Villa definitely had the wow factor, with incredible views from all six bedrooms, the lounge, dining and outside space. Grootbos Private Nature Reserve offers a variety of experiences for their guests including, horseback riding, forest walks, Botanical 4×4 tours, whale watching and more. On our first day, we had a 45 minute horse ride around the reserve, and a short forest walk. Grootbos has two villas, the six bedroom and a four bedroom, which are next door to each other but completely private from each other away from both the Forest and Garden lodges. Although you are able to dine at either lodge, a chef is provided in the villas so we enjoyed dinner in the villa on our first night.

Day 2
On our second day we had breakfast in the villa, followed by a coastal Safari with our guide Joanita. We drove along the coast line looking for whales, to the cliffs of De Kelders, and visited Klipgat cave. On the way back we drove through Gaansbai to see where the whale watching and shark cage diving boat trips depart from. Back at Grootbos, we were shown around the Forest Lodge accommodation. Two rooms are one bedded suites, have their own private pools, with the lounge that can be changed into a second bedroom. The Garden Lodge is for younger families and of a more traditional style. Throughout the whole property they have completely focused on the wonderful view with all rooms facing the ocean, and have even put extra windows so you can see it wherever you are.

After our site inspection we had lunch in the forest lodge restaurant, followed by a 4×4 drive around the reserve with Joanita, teaching us about the different flowers and fauna, which they use to enthuse their local gin and the toiletries used in the rooms. On the way back to the villa, we stopped off at their farm to see all of there own grown herbs, vegetables, salads, and also the animals they have.

For dinner we were taken to the forest lodge, but rather than eating in the main restaurant, we ate in the wine cellar, and were joined by Michael the owner of Grootbos. The wine cellar was a beautiful private dining experience, which they try to have all guest do during their stay. They also offer a wine experience, where the guests are taught about the different wines and a tasting, they can then select a bottle from the Cellar, which is full of exclusive bottles of wine.

Day 3
The following day, after breakfast, we said good bye to Grootbos, and made out way to Hermanus, where we had our first hotel visit at The Marine. This hotel is in a fantastic location on the cliff walk, perfect for whale watching and within walking distance to the town centre. The hotel has 20 rooms, which are all inclusive (including minibar) with the higher category rooms having a sea view.

The second hotel we saw was the Ocean Eleven guest house, slightly further down the coast, this is a boutique style accommodation, with only 10 bedrooms, all of which have sea views. This hotel is also on the cliff walk, but further out of Hermanus, with a 10 minute walk to the nearest restaurant.

The third property we saw was Schulphoek House, again a small property with only 15 rooms, and further away from Hermanus, approximately a 20 minute walk, however they do offer a courtesy car. The rooms in this hotel have all recently been refurbished and were to a high standard, rates here were also inclusive of the mini bar.

We carried on our way to Cape Town, and our next stop was Boulders Beach to see the penguins, which I was personally excited to see. The beach was lovely and definitely worth visiting, the lay out of the boardwalk worked well, and with it being winter it was quite quiet. We were advised that it does get very busy during summer months, so an alternative destination to see the penguins is Bettys Bay. On arrival in cape town we checked into our hotel for the night, Cloud 9. This is a small boutique hotel located in the downtown area of cape town, and has a rooftop bar with swimming pool and amazing views over Table Mountain. Breakfast is available at the café next door called Charlies.

We dined this evening at the Chefs Table at The Mount Nelson after a site inspection. The Mount Nelson is 121 years old and has 198 rooms in seven buildings, and is known as the pink hotel. This hotel is more like a resort, with everything you need on site, including a shop, pool, spa and gym. The Chefs Table is an experience Mount Nelson offer to guests and the public, where they get to eat in the kitchen. They offer a set menu which is prepared by different chefs, and when each dish is served the chef will come over to explain the dish, and what inspired them to create it.

Day 4
This Morning, we made our way to the Waterfront in Cape Town, driving past the colourful building in Bo-Kaap street (Malaysian quarter), to the Commodore hotel. The Commodore Hotel, has 234 rooms in total, over 6 floors, and is decorated throughout with a nautical theme. The rooms have international adapters in the rooms, and the minibar can be filled with what the guests request. I thought this hotel was great from families as they had plenty on interconnecting rooms, and would put roll-away beds in any of the rooms if requested. The deluxe and executive rooms all have balconies, some of the standard rooms can and these are on request. The commodore also has secure valet parking at the waterfront close to the hotel, which is complimentary for guests.

We then saw the hotel next door, the Portswood, which is the same chain as the Commodore, but is smaller with only 191 rooms, which consists of luxury, deluxe, and suites that are mixed over all floors. This hotel was much quieter, and is used more for business purposes. If staying at either the Portswood or the Commodore, you are able to use the facilities at either hotel.

After out hotel visits, we spend the afternoon on the “hop on hop off bus” followed by a visit to the beach at Camps Bay. For our second night in Capetown we stayed at the Cape Grace hotel on the Waterfront. This hotel is in a wonderful location and rooms either have views of the waterfront, or table Mountain. They can offer guests a private check in, meals in their boardroom and shower rooms are available to guests if they have late flights. The Cape Grace really think about and care for their guests, and will go above and beyond to make their stay enjoyable. They are really geared up for families, and give children their own amenities, such as bath robe, steps in the bathroom and toilet seats, and they will even put a tipi in the rooms with toys for them. In the spa the guests can use the sauna, steam room and relaxation area for free. They offer complimentary port and sherry in the lounge at 6pm, and complimentary wine tasting. We enjoyed dinner in their main restaurant, which is a la carte dining, however guests can have a lighter menu at the pool area or in the bascule whisky bar. The fourth floor of the Cape Grace is adults only, and has its own private check in, with snacks, and concierge service, so perfect for couples or honeymooners.

Day 5
Today we were up early to make our way to the Cederberg mountains, about an hour outside Capetown. On the way we stopped at the “!khwa ttu Experience”, which teaches people about the indigenous “San” People. “San” people work there from all different areas of Southern Africa. You are taught the basics of the click language, try there special brew of tea, learn about their way of life and the struggles they have faced in the past.  Once we arrived at the Cederberg mountains, we called into the Cederberg ridge hotel, that had new owners in October 2018, and has been refurbished. This is a small hotel, that only allow children over 6 years old, and most rooms have a wonderful view over the valley. The rooms have been decorated to a high standard with modern, but simple, fittings.

We arrived at Bushmans Kloof, and were taken out on a game drive by our guide Byron. We saw some springbok and ostrich’s, before stopping for drinks to watch the sunset. Once we finished our drinks, we carried on to the shepherds hut, where we were having dinner. The hut was lit by only candle light and is the perfect location for a romantic dinner. They use this mostly for special occasions such as anniversary’s or engagements, but any guests are able to reserve a dinner here.  On arrival they offer bubbly and canapes, around the outdoor fire, and then we had a buffet style 3 course dinner. After dinner, we drove back to the lodge, and were lucky to see a herd of zebra on the way. We stopped and Byron pointed out the southern star, the milky way and Jupiter. Byron also pointed out Jupiter’s moons and other star constellations, which could be seen through binoculars.

Day 6
This morning, we left the lodge at 8am, and Byron drove us to see the Bushman’s rock art. At the rock art Byron explained the drawings, and the time frames they were from, and you could see how the drawings had developed over time. We arrived back at the lodge around 10.30am for a full breakfast and a site visit of the reserve. There is also the Koro Lodge, which is independent from the main lodge, and sleeps 10 in total (6 adults and 4 children). They also have their own walking trails, bikes and canoes available.  As this property is located away from the main lodge, guests can choose their own menu and the drinks provided in the lounge and fridge are included in the cost.

In the main lodge, they have a selection of luxury and deluxe rooms, suites and their newest accommodation, the Cederberg House, a two-bedroom villa, which has its own guide included. The facilities include a spa, three swimming pools, two restaurants plus the extraordinary dining experiences at the shepherd’s hut and Embers. They also have a large garden, as they try to grow as many ingredients as possible.

We left Bushman’s Kloof for Franschhoek, and on arrival checked into our hotel for the next two nights, the Last Word, which is a beautiful boutique hotel located centrally in Franschhoek, with large rooms, which I would recommend for couples.  After a quick turnaround, we made our way to the Mont Rochelle Hotel which has 22 rooms. They offer complimentary wine tasting and shuttle bus to the centre of Franschhoek. We enjoyed a lovely dinner at the MIKO restaurant, but they also have the country kitchen, and can also do bar meals.

Day 7
On our last full day, we spent the day in Franschhoek and made use of the Wine Tram to visit a couple of Vineyards.  We visited three in total, including Môreson, Leaopard’s Leap and Rickety Bridge. I preferred leopard’s leap out of the ones we visited as it gave the best value for a wine tasting at only 55 rand for 6 premium wines. We then had some free time to explore Franschhoek centre and the shops.

This evening we were taken to the Leeu estate and the Le Quartier Francais property. The Leeu estate is located on the outskirts of Franschhoek, however they do offer complimentary transfers with in a 10km radius. The style of this hotel is homely, and included some unique art pieces throughout. Some of the rooms are located in cottages, and therefore you can book one room, or the complete cottage. The rates include a garden and art tour, and mountain bikes can be hired at all properties.

The Le quartier Francais, is located centrally in Franschhoek, and is the largest of the Three Leeu properties with 32 rooms and 2 villas. This hotel has two restaurants, La Petite Colombe and Protégé. Leeu also own two offsite restaurants, the Marigold Indian restaurant and Tuk Tuk, a Mexican restaurant, and if guests dine at either they can assign the bill to the rooms. We ate at the Tuk Tuk restaurant, and the food was excellent.

Day 8
Today we started our journey home. When we arrived at Johannesburg airport there were long queues. I would recommend booking the meet and greet service, as you get fast-tracked through security and passport control.


Note – Water shortage in South Africa
 Although the water shortage has been lifted and is now not so much of an issue, Hotels are still very aware of the amount of water they are using. All bath plugs have been removed from hotel rooms. They advise guests that they can have a bath plug on request.
Also, some hotels have introduced their own water system, which runs on ground water, and recycles water where possible.
Another method, that both hotels and restaurants use, is putting aerator on the tap, so that the water comes out much finer and uses much less water in total.