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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in South Africa.

Constantia Wine Region – Western Cape, South Africa

Quench Your Thirst and Satiate Your Hunger in Style

Twenty minutes but light-years away from downtown Cape Town, Constantia offers and idyllic taste of wine country that obviates the need to venture east to the more extensive wine lands near Paarl.

Day trippers will regret not having reserved a stay at Cellars-Hohenort, a historical country hotel nestled against the forested eastern slopes of Table Mountain and housed in the 18th-century cellars of the former Cape governor’s wine estate and triple-gabled manor house. Guests find a stylish rural retreat here, surrounded by orchards, vineyards, and beautifully land­scaped gardens of roses, petunias, and caladiums. Although the ambience is under­stated and relaxed, everything is first class, and a dinner at The Cellars, the hotel’s noted restaurant, may well be one of your most memorable in South Africa. Drawing on French and English inspiration, the young chef utilizes the Cape’s bounty of fresh seafood, game, and produce.

Another excellent destination for epi­cures in Constantia is Buitenverwachting. The tongue-twisting name of this well-known wine-producing estate and its eponymous restaurant is Old Dutch for “beyond expecta­tions” – but who thought to have such high expectations for antelope, ostrich, and springbok?

Excellent Italian or French cui­sine may be had elsewhere in the country, but if you want to be wonderfully reminded that you are in South Africa – where the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean meet, where the karoo lamb is redolent of the herbs and grasses on which it feeds, and where the African rock lobster is justly famous – then come to Buitenverwachting.

Window-side seats look out over acres of vineyards, tow­ering oak trees, and the crags of the Constantiaberg mountains. If you arrive ear­lier in the day for a wine tasting, buy one of the restaurant’s picnic hampers and have a glorious lunch on the estate’s gorgeous lawns.

Rovos Rail and the Blue Train – South Africa

The Golden Age of Train Travel, Past and Present

Relive the glory days of steam travel in the lap of Edwardian luxury as you huff and puff with Rovos Rail through the heart of the bush and some of the continent’s most magnificent scenery. A menu of train itineraries can be mixed and matched according to the time and budget of rail and romance enthusiasts.

Take the twenty-five-hour Cape Town to Knysna round-trip route through the fabled Hottentot Holland Mountains and along the lake district and dramatic coastline. Or plan ahead for the once-a-year no-holds-barred fourteen-day Cape Town to Dar es Salaam journey, which passes through Zimbabwe and Zambia with excursions to and stopovers in places such as Victoria Falls along the way. Some of the vintage steam trains used by Rovos Rail date back to the late 1800s. All prewar carriages are spacious, richly paneled cars, and a posh 1924 dining car is perhaps the handsomest of all.

Exceptionally large suites are outfitted with queen-size beds and deluxe amenities. Dressing for dinner seems appro­priate, when entrees like Cape rock lobster are paired with South Africa’s best wine selection. It’s red-carpet treatment all the way on the aptly named “Pride of Africa.”

The Blue Train first took to the rails in 1946, and as elegant, stylish, and comfortable as the original trains were, passengers will cer­tainly appreciate the new generation of railcars, introduced in the late 1990s. The fresh and sophisticated contemporary decor is accented by an African aesthetic – the most visible dif­ference in this updated breed of luxury travel, whose runs from Cape Town to Pretoria (one night on board) and from Pretoria to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (two nights), are the most pop­ular among a number of choices.

The Palace of the Lost City – Sun City, Northwest Province, South Africa

Opulent, Gargantuan, and Extravagant Beyond Imagination

In the middle of dry bushveld and surrounded by the ersatz glitz and Las Vegas glamour of the entertainment and resort complex called Sun City stands the regal Palace of the Lost City, on a scale that is almost inconceivable.

Not everyone agrees on what is the world’s finest hotel, but no one disagrees that this $190-million African fantasy extravaganza dazzles and astounds. A gambling casino, four hotels, two award-winning 18-hole golf courses, and a 136,000-acre game reserve were not enough to satisfy the young entrepreneur who created Sun City in 1979. He concocted a myth of a lost civ­ilization that would be anchored by the magni­ficent Palace Hotel, a pleasure dome supposedly built upon its ruins. The hotel’s attention to detail in architecture, service, and furnishings is mind-boggling. There are more than 300 rooms (for an extraordinary experience, book the King Suite); graceful reminders of African heritage and ethnic motifs greet visitors at every turn.

Fifty-five groomed acres of man-made jun­gle and rain forest are studded with convincing remnants of the legendary Lost City civilization. It’s one part Walt Disney, one part Xanadu, and jone part Cecil B. DeMille.

The Cape Winelands – Paarl, Western Cape, South Africa

An Oenophile’s Odyssey

A wine safari combines two of South Africa’s greatest treasures: the spec­tacular Cape wine region and its excellent regional cuisine, a mix of the culinary skills of the Dutch, French, British, Portuguese, Germans, and Malays. Within easy reach of Cape Town, the major estates and the small, sophisticated, fabled towns of Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Franschhoek have roots deep in the Dutch and French Huguenot chapter of the country’s history, dating back to the mid-1600s.

The gracious Cape Dutch homesteads are set against a bold backdrop of granite-peaked mountains, forests, and rolling vineyards. They are often centuries-old family-run concerns, whose private cellars can be visited and sampled by special arrangement.

A visit to Groot Constantia, the oldest wine estate in the country – originally owned by Simon Van Der Stel, the first gov­ernor of the Dutch Colony here – offers the chance to experience some of the world’s finest wines as well as a rich historical and architectural tradition. Stay in Paarl at Grande Roche, one of South Africa’s uncon­tested jewels.

The cluster of historical gabled buildings (whose nucleus is the Dutch manor house dating to 1707) and house-proud hotel-of-the-year staff create a delightful atmosphere in this enviably scenic location. The hotel’s sophisticated restaurant, Bosman’s, draws Cape Town’s epicures, who think nothing of helicoptering in to enjoy one of the country’s best dining experiences.

Sabi Sand Game Reserve – Mpumalanga, South Africa

The Beauty and the Beasts

Some of the country’s best game-viewing and splendor-in-the-bush accom­modations can be found in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. Sharing a fenceless border with the enormous Kruger National Park, this collectively owned and managed private reserve welcomes the coming and going of wildlife but not the human traffic that comes with it; as one of few guests you can enjoy the same game density as at Kruger, but with sumptuous amenities, and very likely never share the terrain with more than one or two other jeeps in the course of an exhilarating game drive.

The animals are not tame, but they have become habituated to the sight of vehicles and will let them approach within a short distance. Rangers and trackers at the Sabi Sand Reserve are educated, charming, and entertaining, with a wealth of experience and a pas­sion for the bush. Among the many private parks that make up the 163,000-acre reserve are the exalted trio of Londolozi, MalaMala, and Singita. Of Londolozi’s three camps, the top of the line is the Tree Camp, directly on the banks of the Sabi River, a glo­rious contrast of raw bush and unashamed luxury shared by just eight privileged guests.

MalaMala’s most favored and romantic camp­site is Kirkman’s Kamp, built around a 1920s homestead. Singita features two luxurious lodges (Ebony and Boulders), both with spas and suites with private pools, and is generally considered the standout.

The Drakensberg Mountains – Mpumalanga, South Africa

A Journey to Middle Earth, and Flying Through God’s Window

Few places in the world match the Mpumalanga for physical beauty; it is believed to be the inspiration behind the phantasmagorical setting for The Lord of the Rings, written by South African-born J.R.R. Tolkien.

South Africa’s highest mountains, with pano­ramic passes, valleys, rivers, waterfalls, and forests, characterize the landscape of what was formerly known as the Eastern Transvaal. The entire area offers opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, bird-watching, golfing, and fishing. Visit the magnificent Blyde River Canyon, a gigantic gorge 15 miles long carved out of the face of the Transvaal escarpment, where deep cylindrical holes have been formed by river erosion, or God’s Window, the canyon’s unsurpassed lookout point.

And if touring the spectacular Eastern Transvaal by car or on foot affords remarkable scenery, imagine taking it all in from an eagle’s perspective. Smooth jet-powered helicopters swoop over the dramatic rock formations of the Blyde River Canyon and through lush valleys bursting with vegetation and color. Hover over river rapids and cascad­ing waterfalls and land on a remote mountaintop on an otherwise unreachable grassy clearing. Lunch with a view takes on a new meaning, if the adrenaline rush hasn’t obliterated your appetite. The Veuve Clicquot is popped, and eagles soar above you – and below. Divide your time in the mountains between the area’s two outstanding lodges, the Cybele Forest Lodge and the Blue Mountain Lodge.

Each provides a mag­nificent setting, breathtaking scenery, renowned dining, a stable of horses, fishing gear, and five-star service. In addition, there is a historic gold-rush town and a restored Ndebele tribal village to visit, and the world-famous Kruger National Park is an easy day trip away.

Phinda Resource Reserve – KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

A Surf-and-Turf Safari

This relatively new private reserve in northern Zululand is a winner not only for the seven different African ecosystems that meet within its 35,000 acres, but for its novel approach to safaris. Days are full, with a medley of boat and canoe trips for close-up looks at the bird life, crocs, and hippos of ancient waterways, or tracking the elusive black rhino by foot.

Then there is big-game fishing, diving the world’s southernmost reefs off the deserted coast of Maputaland, game drives delivering elephants, leopards, and rhinos, or visiting the highest vegetated sand dunes in the world.

While there’s no doubt that such rare bio­diversity is central to your safari experience, your attention will be riveted by the accom­modations as well. The Mountain Lodge is set atop a hill with endless views of the Lebombo Mountains and Maputaland coastal range.

Or you can opt for the contemporary Forest Lodge, a masterpiece of glass-walled units built around twisted trees and set on stilts within a rare sand forest. The Zen-like design is deliberately spare and vaguely Oriental, allowing the great outdoors in. You can relax in bed while birds sing and butterflies flutter outside your window.

Table Mountain – Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

End-of-the-World Views and Lodging to Match

More than 3,500 feet above the fair city of Cape Town, the view from Table Mountain captures the mountains, city, and ocean, as well as virtually unspoiled wilderness, all in one breathtaking panorama. A cable car ride takes just five minutes to reach the flat “tabletop” summit that gave the landmark mountain its name, and which is visible to sailors 40 miles out at sea.

Most of the Cape Peninsula’s 2,200 species of flora can be found on the mountain, which is ablaze with blooms, including more than 100 species of iris, between September and March. Capetonians are understandably fond of coming up with picnic hampers and a bottle of wine from one of the celebrated vineyards nearby. Sunset here is the quintessence of romance. Fortunately, Table Mountain’s cable car system runs frequently, so you don’t have to face the only alternative: a two- to three-hour hike to the top. Some of the less strenuous routes begin in the magnificent Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, on the eastern slope. There’s such a rich display of South Africa’s indigenous plants there that you may forget about making it to the top at all.

With Table Mountain as its backdrop, and on the exciting Victoria & Albert Waterfront, the tony Cape Grace Hotel is one of the conti­nent’s top-ranked accommodations for its near perfect service, beautiful guest rooms, and stun­ning views, either of the harbor or the mountain – or both.

 

Ellerman House and Mount Nelson Hotel – Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

Round-the-Clock Splendor

Sitting high on a hill in Bantry Bay and enjoying views of what must be one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world, the Ellerman House is South Africa’s finest boutique hotel. Enormous picture windows in each of the seven sumptuously furnished guest rooms keep the views center stage while letting in streams of sunshine.

The hotel was built in 1912 as the private home of a British shipping magnate; a maximum of fourteen fortunate guests are pampered in exquisite settings and with topnotch dining. The feeling is something akin to that of a French Riviera hideaway, although here the artwork is by a virtual who’s who of prominent South African painters. Patios and impeccably groomed terraces lead down to a pool whose color matches the dazzling sea.

Cape Town is a ten-minute cab ride away, so head for high tea in style at the city’s Mount Nelson Hotel. Ever since it opened its doors in 1899, this pink stucco grande dame has been welcoming Cape Town’s most illustrious, colorful, and preeminent clientele. Mount Nelson is the hub around which the city’s social life traditionally revolves, and if you have only one high tea in the country, have it here. Tea is served indoors or on the gracious garden veranda. It’s a bacchanalia of pastries, cakes, and dainty nibbles in surreal quantities.

The English ambience remains delightfully intact and, despite its central urban location, you are luxuriously surrounded by 6 acres of gardens, full of lush rose beds and hibiscus the size of trees.