Travel Southern Africa: Beyond the Safari

by cindy

From Five Star Luxury Resorts to Vineyards, Southern Africa has some of the most breathtaking country and ocean views you will ever see

Steenberg Farm 

A quick call to Uber and a short thirty-minute drive from Cape Town’s International Airport and you too could be sipping a pink glass of bubbles at an award-winning winery at Steenberg Farm.

Wine enthusiasts will recognize the Constantian region as being a premier location for growing grapes that make substantial wines of distinction in South Africa. Steenberg Farm and Hotel is situated in the amphitheater of Constantia in the Table Mountain range.

Historically significant, the property was the very first farm granted by Simon van der Stel to a very feisty and legendary five-time widow Catharina Ras in 1682.

The exteriors of the Heritage Suites maintain the 17th-century architecture and design, but the interiors are a blend of modern sleek spaces and warm African vibes created with earthy-toned fabrics and original paintings and objets d’art from local artists. World-class hospitality is a trademark of this property. Upon check-in, we were asked what temperature we would like our private pool and would we like the fire lit after dinner? No need to ask for an after-dinner drink, port and cognac were already decanted and waiting by the roaring fire.

Amenities like the gourmet kitchen with granite countertops, cappuccino machine, Nespresso coffee maker and? Heated floors throughout meant that when stepping out of the oversized bathtub it continued the warm feeling in the spa-like bathroom.

We hated to leave the Khoi Khoi Suite, but we were lured out by the promise of world-class cuisine and of course the wines. One night we ate a lovely selection of Tapas at Bistro 16 and the other night we dined at Catharina’s where the wine list was long and the choices of fresh fish and tasty desserts were too. Night two was spent by the giant stone fireplace at the sophisticated restaurant Catharina’s. A fun and eclectic menu await diners. I tried the yellowtail with cashew, chili, and coriander crust served with a bubble and squeak. Admittedly, I was dying to order anything called bubble and squeak just for the amusing name. In reality, it was a hot and tasty potato cake with veggies.

We left wishing we had one more day to hang out, play around on their championship golf course and try the very zen feeling spa. I could not feel too badly for myself, because I ordered a little of Steenberg to be shipped home to the U.S. to greet me upon arrival. More than a couple of wines tickled my fancy during our wine tasting session.

Eager to see as much of South Africa as possible, we rented a comfortable automatic car from the fleet at Hertz in Cape Town and made the easy two-hour drive to the Private Nature Reserve Grootbos, designated as one of National Geographics’ Unique Lodges of the World. A good deal of the drive was along the pristine seashore leading to Walker Bay which is world-renowned for whale watching and Great White Shark Diving.

The resort is pure magic, a virtual utopia where five-star accommodations and cuisine coexist with nature in an eco-paradise. We knew this place was something special as we strolled through the canopy of ancient Milkwood trees to get to our freestanding two-room suite. A fire was roaring in the living room stone fireplace, ripened fresh fruit was waiting in our kitchen area and the canopy beds were turned down for the evening awaiting our return from dinner in the main lodge. The breathtaking views would have to wait for the morning as the sun had just set and the evening birds were quieting down too, settling in for the night.

It was early morning; I couldn’t wait to throw open the sashes, step out onto the expansive porch and catch the first light coming over the mountain tops revealing the panoramic views of the botanical paradise below. A sea of swaying flowers in the shore breeze against a field of greens glistened in the morning dew. The bright blue ocean with white-capped waves and white sand beach below the mountains was an incredible contrast.

We met our guide for a two-part tour after an amazing breakfast in the main lodge which is a modern light and bright mostly glass building accented with natural elements like wood, shells, rocks, and plants indigenous to the area and used for the decor. It began with a short walking tour where she introduced the animal, plant, and bird species of the reserve, and then we hopped into an open-top Land Rover for a 4×4 flower safari

which took us on back trails throughout the mountain range to cover some of the 10+ square miles of the floral kingdom. I thought I was imagining the faint bell ringing until she told us that the petite flower, when shaken, mimics the chimes of a bell. Thousands of South Africa’s national flower, the King Protea were in winter bloom colors – red, pink, and white.

We soaked up the information about the Grootbos Foundation, an award-winning non-profit organization committed to responsible tourism and transforming communities through the “creation of sustainable livelihoods and active citizenship.” It was transformative to tour the Siyakhula Organic Farm where women attend the Food Production and Life Skills College. It is here on the reserve that we witnessed the fruits of their labors – organic fruits and vegetables being grown, free-range chickens, and the beehives set in the beauty of the fynbos.

It came as no surprise given our tour of the Siyakhula Farm, that the cuisine at Grootbos was the best we tasted in our three weeks in Africa. The sheer freshness of the locally sourced fish and with the chefs using the vegetation grown on the property, we could literally taste the wholesomeness in every bite. Every meal was a true gourmet farm-to-table experience. The honey ice cream with honeycomb cookie was simply out of this world.

My travel companion, my niece Claire was much more adventurous than I and wanted to swim with the sharks, luckily the spots were already taken so we went for a serene walk in the woods via horseback. Grootbos is nestled inside the best area to see the “Marine Big 5” – whales, sharks, dolphins, seals, and penguins. The list of resort activities was brimming with exciting outdoor adventures for people of all ages.

The views from each of the suites at Mantis Collection’s hotel Last Word Long Beach are dotted with surfers, paddle boarders, people walking their dogs, and breathtaking peaks of Chapman’s Peak, Hout Bay, and Table Mountain. Our suite had an expansive ocean-front view, as do each of the six rooms in this boutique hotel.

Although we were there for a short stay, an extended stay is quite possible given the generously sized suites with ample closets and storage space for beach toys and gadgets. Lovely amenities included a straw bag with beach towels and sun hats as well as providing converter plugs enough to cover all our devices.  At night I was lulled to sleep with the sound of the surf pounding the shore and come morning I relished being wrapped up in the fluffy robe, sipping a piping hot cup of java on the over-sized deck.

There was a definite chill in the air since our visit was during the southern hemisphere’s winter, but the sun shone brightly and the all-inclusive premium spirits and roasted coffee kept us warm and cozy throughout our stay.

Breakfast was buffet style, but with an additional menu for elaborate hot meal choices and every seat in the lounge was prime beachfront dining. Since breakfast is the only meal served, it was good to force me out and about to explore the attractions nearby like Boulders Penguin Colony, a beach that is home to the endangered birds where the colony of adults and babies can be observed in their natural habitat. The Cape of Good Hope nature reserve is situated at the meeting point between the cold Atlantic Ocean and the contrasting warm Indian Ocean.

The Last Word was the best word on local dining. Our lovely concierge arranged a driver and reservations for a seafood dinner at the 2015 Award for Excellence Harbour House restaurant in the nearby Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. An added bonus, while we were out, our laundry was washed, dried, folded, and waiting for us in a tidy bundle on the bed.

It was easy to see why the Last Word Long Beach has been regularly named as the country’s leading beach hotel at the World Travel Awards. The quiet and peaceful location, the attention to detail, and the personalized service made our stay very enjoyable.

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