South Africa - Place Of Miracles
South Africa is a destination you must have on your bucket list. It's a big country and it offers so much diversity, from historic Cape Town to the world-famous vineyards in Franschhoek and Stellenbosch to some of the best safari experiences in the world and much more. From Scandinavia, it has the advantage of being in the same time zone and the best time to visit is during our chilly winter. Le Prestige Magazine flew to Cape Town and stayed at the renowned Cape Grace Hotel and continued to Franschhoek, where we had a wonderful stay at La Residence Hotel. Later on, we flew to the Kruger National Park, where we tested two different safari lodges owned by the Singita Group.
Cape Town was founded in 1652 as the first European settlement in South Africa and has an impressive colonial history. But ever since Vasco da Gama rounded Cape of Good Hope and opened the sea routes to India, the area has been a trade hub and a magnet for settlers from all over the world. Today it is one of the most multicultural cities in the world and it has been named the best place in the world to visit by both New York Times and Daily Telegraph.
When in Cape Town, be sure to see the marvelous view from Table Mountain and consider a trip to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was prisoned for 18 years prior to his spectacular rise to become President of South Africa. You can go on a helicopter sightseeing tour, but we chose to rent a car at Wiggle Car Hire, to spend a day driving along the beautiful cost all the way to Cape Point. On the way, we passed small luxurious towns like Sea Point, Bantry Bay, Clifton and Camps Bay, where the affluent lives and you’ll find plenty of lovely cafés and restaurants, which specializes in an abundance of seafood. The tour is dotted with fantastic viewpoints and beautiful beaches, but beware - the water is uncomfortably cold most of the year and you should look for flags indicating shark sightings. We stayed at the Cape Grace Hotel, which is situated on its own pier, Quay West, in the V&A Waterfront, which is the shopping, restaurant and nightlife hub of Cape Town. That is the best location in Cape Town and a perfect stepping stone to explore the region. Cape Grace Hotel is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World and feels almost like a boutique hotel since it has only 120 rooms and is renowned for its elegance and discretion. Each room at the Cape Grace is luxuriously appointed with a sitting area, walk-in dressing room and en-suite bathroom with double vanities and a separate bath and shower. The Signal restaurant offers fine dining, but the Bascule Whiskey, Wine and Cocktail Bar is the place that draws most attention locally, because it offers a cozy hideaway, where one can sample a superb collection of 400 of the world’s finest whiskeys and a cellar of selected Cape wines. Loyal customers keep their wines in the spacious wine cellar. We loved the place.
In 1688 the French Huguenot refugees began populating the valley and the area was named Franschhoek, which is Dutch for French Corner. The Huguenots brought with them their experience in agriculture and these farms have later grown into renowned wineries and have placed the surrounding Stellenbosch area firmly on the list of the world’s most famous wine producing regions. We chose to stay at La Residence Hotel in Franschhoek. The hotel is part of The Royal Portfolio Hotel Group, which recently opened The Silo Hotel in Cape Town and is known for the style and design by Liz Biden, the owner. The hotel is surrounded by vineyards and plum orchards and has a breathtaking view of the nearby mountains. The Grand Hall will open a world of exquisite beauty, opulence, and grandeur to you and after a long drive, you just sit down and let the place seduce you. The rooms were some of the biggest we’ve ever stayed in and the decoration was colorful and lavish. We spent hours at the pool and were served complimentary wine produced at local vineyards. We happened to spend Valentine’s Day there and we were excited to see the staff spending the whole afternoon transforming the restaurant to a perfectly romantic venue for that special night, lightning hundreds of candlelight’s to prepare for a set menu of delicious food.
The Kruger National Park
South Africa is a big country and air transport is quite costly. However, there is no real alternative. Getting to The Kruger National Park required two flights from Cape Town, but once you are in South Africa, you definitely must go on a safari. The park is world famous and attracts 2 million visitors a year, but it is vast, 350 km from north to south, so there is plenty of space for both animals and visitors. It is home to thousands of big animals and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a glimpse of The Big Five, which are Elephant, Rhino, Lion, Leopard, and Buffalo. However, don’t expect to see them all on your first visit. We stayed at two lodges owned by the Singita Group, which runs 12 lodges across three countries, and are one of the best operators in South Africa. Some of the lodges are located in the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve, which shares borders with Kruger National Park, but is better preserved. Our first stay was at Singita Ebony Lodge, which was their first to open in 1993 on land purchased in 1925 (this sentence - explained in another way?). It has a beautiful view over the Sand River and has the style and design of a classical safari lodge. There is an attention to detail in everything and the bungalows were lavishly decorated. But though the lodge fulfills every expectation, it is the dedication to sustainable living and conservation that impress the visitor. You will meet guides for whom their job is a life purpose and whose knowledge about the ecosystem and wildlife is a bottomless well. It is impossible to not see their proudness in working for the Singita Group and its work to preserve the area for future generations. Everyone went the extra mile to open this world of wildlife wonder to their guest and we got our share of the action. On one evening tour, when the sun was setting, and darkness came quickly, we found our car right in the middle of a group of lions hunting a herd of buffalos. The sounds and ferocity of the hunt, when the buffalos stampeded only a few meters from our open car, felt so present and we were amazed to see how they defended themselves against the wild lions. This mental picture will never leave my mind. Back at the Ebony Lodge, the staff had sighted a leopard just outside our bungalow, so as a safety measure, we were escorted between us and the reception for the remainder of our stay. The second part of our stay was at Lebombo lodge in Kruger National Park. The contemporary lodge rises dramatically on the steep banks of the N’Wanetsi River and we were in a suite, which was suspended over the river and enabled us to watch the wildlife under us. We saw crocodiles trying to surprise thirsty game and there was a constant traffic of animals. We had a pleasant stay and the service was superb and our new guides were just as professional and warmhearted as the previous ones. Once you have experienced the luxury of the lodges, the excitement of the safari and the calmness of the lazy river and the setting of the sun, this adventure will become a part of you. By participating in this experience, you can’t imagine that you wouldn’t visit South Africa again at one point later in life. I know I will.