Since leaving South Africa many moons ago, I have returned at least 20 times, if not more. It is one of the most beautiful countries inhabited by wonderful people, living in the most spectacular destinations.
Getting to South Africa from the United States, Canada, or Mexico, whether to Johannesburg or Cape Town, is a long flight from the West Coast (24 hours actual flying) and from Atlanta (17+ hours).The most highly recommended air carriers are Qatar Airways from LAX, Delta, or Emirates Air which is also marvelous, but flying time and routing are not as favorable.
I highly recommend the service on Qatar’s Business Class/First Class, as it is beyond amazing. The seats, with their oversized personal TVs and sleeping pods, are so enjoyable. On-call food service is over the top – at any time, you can order any item from the menu.
To really enjoy your visit, always take the time to learn a few words of the local language such as Afrikaans and Fanagalo. Fanagalo is a pidgin (simplified language) based primarily on Zulu, with English and a small Afrikaans input.
The rate of exchange for the South African Rand at the time of writing is 12 Rands to every $1.00.
Upon arriving in Johannesburg, without any fear of contradiction, your first stop should be the exceptional AtholPlace Hotel and Villa located at 90 Pretoria Avenue, Atholl, Johannesburg +27 11 615 4303.
AtholPlace is part of the Morukuru Family and the Relais & Chateaux Group. The restaurant has been awarded Tripadvisor’s certificate of excellence in 2017 as “The best restaurant in Johannesburg”. Located in the tranquil and exclusive suburb of Atholl and minutes away from the bustling Sandton City Mall, Nelson Mandela Square and CBD (Central Business District), the contemporary-classic AtholPlace Hotel and Villa enjoys the ideal position for guests to enjoy easy access to all that the lively city of Johannesburg has to offer.
Starting with beautifully furnished en-suite rooms and even having bathrooms with underfloor heating — here your every whim will be satisfied in the most elegant manner imaginable. The hotel features 9 spacious and beautifully appointed suites, each including bottled water and soft drinks, satellite TV, non-smoking rooms, and complimentary wireless Internet. The hotel offers wonderful recreational facilities such as a heated outdoor pool and a lush garden with a massive sculpture created of mud, stones, grass and rocks, created by Angus Taylor.
The intimate AtholPlace Restaurant is the ideal place to enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner indoors or on the patio. The three course dining menu changes regularly and the food is outstanding, as is their wine cellar. The Prawn Laksa, Scallops, Beef Fillet and Springbok Carpaccio dishes are excellent, as is the presentation of the food. The average cost for two people is R900 ($75.00) for dinner.
For the ultimate in privacy and exclusivity, the 4-bedroom AtholPlace Villa with private garden and a private heated pool is an ideal retreat for families or groups of friends travelling together. Situated adjacent to AtholPlace Hotel, the Villa comes with its own staff, including the services of a private chef and butler, who will prepare all meals and drinks (included in the daily rate). Superb facilities and an excellent location make AtholPlace Hotel and Villa the perfect base from which to enjoy Johannesburg.
Rates begin at R6700.00 ($558.00) per suite with a dinner supplement of R500 ($42.00) per person. The Villa itself, (3 bedrooms + 1 children’s bedroom en-suite start at R29,000 ($2416.00) per night. A scrumptious breakfast is included. The French toast with caramelized banana, bacon and brie with thyme infused honey is superb.
This is Africa, so everybody wants to see wild animals and wants to go on a safari, especially to see the “Big Five” (lion, leopard, rhinoceros of both black and white species, elephant and Cape buffalo). One of the very best Game reserves I have visited is the 5-Star Mohondoro Safari Lodge & Villa. “Mhondoro” means “Spirit of the Lion”.
The Mhondoro Safari Lodge & Villa is a luxurious, five-star private Safari Lodge and Villa situated within the malaria-free Welgevonden Game Reserve, in the Waterberg District of the Limpopo Province of South Africa. In an under three-hour drive, or a one hour flight from Johannesburg, and roughly two hours from Pretoria (Tshwane) you can escape into this ideal safari destination to experience the magic of the Big 5 at home in the Africa bush. In addition to the Big 5, Mhondoro also is home to cheetah, giraffe, crocodile, hippo, brown hyena, honey badger and a whole lot more.
Mhondoro Safari Lodge has five suites: two Deluxe Suites (for two guests), one Honeymoon Suite (for two guests), one Executive Suite (for four guests) and one Family Suite (for four guests), with all facilities of the Main Lodge within a short walking distance. Being greeted on arrival by 3 rhinos just of the main road entrance, was simply awesome.
What I can definitely tell you is that the cuisine is categorically and absolutely the best I have ever indulged ANYWHERE in the world. A trip to the Mhondoro just to eat and savor their wine list (try the versatile Haute Cabriere Chardonnay Pinot Noir), is well worth the visit! Plus, the accommodations are superb. Foodies worldwide, this is a Bucket-List addition. Both Alden Boerefijn, the Head Chef, and Kristine Moodie, the Executive Chef, are top notch. Their signature dishes are gastronomic experiences such as Rolled Tuna with pear confit, grape puree and pickled cabbage as a starter, while the Pork Belly with pork croquettes, apple puree, apple crisps and jus crackling makes for a scrumptious main, followed by the indulgent Coffee Mousse, white chocolate nuts and chocolate crisps as dessert. The Lodge Managers, Fritz and Ronel Breytenbach, take care of your every whim. In fact, all the staff are superbly confident and friendly.
What sets Mhondoro so far above the rest of the private game reserves is the unique opportunity to have an eye-to-eye encounter with wildlife from an underground waterhole hide. The hide is connected to the Main Lodge through a 65 metre reinforced concrete tunnel. This makes Mhondoro Safari Lodge & Villa the first and only luxury lodge in South Africa to offer close up, intimate encounters with wildlife, while within a safe structure.
Seize the moment without having to wait for a ranger or a scheduled game drive – just walk down the tunnel when you see animals approaching the waterhole. Standing in the hide will be as if you are amongst the wildlife, yet in a completely safe environment and without disturbing them. It is a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity!
Amongst many other animal species such as baboons and warthogs, elephants are regular visitors to the waterhole and you have the rare opportunity to observe these fascinating giants of the bush at close range and at your leisure.
Almost every day, elephants come to drink out of one of the pools and these are the perfect vantage points to marvel at the breathtaking wilderness scenery with unimpeded sunrises and sunsets over the Waterberg Mountains and valleys.
Rates start at R5200 ($433.00) depending on time of year.
One of the more interesting ways to travel to Cape Town, other than by air or automobile, is to travel by train. If you have the time, I highly recommend this form of transportation over the latter modes.
The Blue Train
This is one of South Africa’s best known icons since 1920. A step back in time to the ultimate in luxury and forced relaxation.
Kings and presidents have indulged on this magnificent, moving five-star “hotel-on-wheels”. From love-struck honeymooners, to adulated celebrities, even ordinary folk who romanticize about a life of spectacular luxury, a life that has seemed tantalizingly out of reach.
After being pressed into military service during World War II and then reincarnated in 1946, the trains’ distinctive royal blue and cream shades gave rise to “those blue trains” intimations. It was in these shades that a legend was born, that The Blue Train would soon ride the rails to legend.
A carriage-by-carriage refurbishment in the 70s and modernization from steam to electricity and diesel in the 90s, defined this train as an unmatched experience of luxurious modern travel, and yet invoked the romance and history of its glittered past. Guests have the option of a Luxury or a De Luxe suite. One of the two Blue Trains has an extra lounge that can double up as a 22-seater conference venue. They can also turn this lounge into an observation car.
What makes a trip on the Blue Train so special is the romance of the journey, the stunning views, and the feeling of being part of the landscape. It stands for excellence in South Africa.
And as the name implies, the exterior of the train is blue, leaning towards a distinctive sapphire blue in color.
De Luxe Suite by Day
De Luxe Suite by Night
Your De Luxe Suite will forever alter your definition of what style and class entail. From your elegant and relaxing lounge during the day, it transforms into a subtly-lit bedroom of indulgence during the night, bedecked with goose-down and 100 per cent percale-cotton bedding, from your individually-controlled air-conditioning system, under-floor heating, opulent marble and gold-fitted bathroom, its scented bath salts and plush monogrammed towels, to the electronic entertainment options on offer.
And then, of course, all this accompanied by the ever-changing vistas of the countryside…
The De Luxe coaches each have four suites that measure 13 by 6 feet approximately. One of these contains a double bed and a ¾ size bath tub with handheld shower, while the others have twin beds with showers.
The Blue Train offers two convivial spaces in which to build friendships over a beverage of choice. The Club Car, ideally situated behind the train’s engines, offers the feel of a burnished, wood-paneled gentleman’s club where you are free to enjoy a Cuban cigar which is served after dinner to round off a perfect evening.
Wind down and relax with cognac or any drink of your choice. Whether you’re after a game of backgammon, chess or cards, the lure of the big screen, or a tome from the library’s selection, a fascinating chat with the barman or simply a solitary reverie of the star-lit skies, then the Club Car is your ideal setting.
Image by Great Rail Journeys
The beautifully designed Lounge Car, conveniently situated in the middle of the train, is an ideal venue to enjoy the charming view of the countryside, with its windows perfectly framing the ever-changing panoramas and interrupted only by rare works from some of Southern Africa’s finest artists – or an occasional gentle reminder from the barman that your glass needs topping up.
Breeze into the Lounge Car for afternoon High Tea… a traditional English ritual of taste and aroma that is enhanced by the classic, elegant opulence of this carriage, or wander in after your five-course dinner banquet for another glass of award-winning wine, or a taste of fine Port to round off your perfect evening.
And indeed, there’s a menu for every taste. Whether you require Kosher or Halaal meals, or gluten-free vegan options, simply make your needs known at the time of reserving your passage. You’ll also need to reserve your ideal dinner sitting. The very elegant Dining Car comfortably accommodates 42 guests in a single sitting and, in the event of having more guests on the train, meals are served in two sittings to ensure all the guests experience utter luxury and decadence.
A great menu selection such as classic Karoo lamb, Knysna oysters, snoek, crayfish and impala (vegetarian, Kosher and Halaal available on request) are delicious. Jackets are required for men for dinner. Ladies are expected to “dress up” as well. Quality silver and uniformed servers imbues the luxury feel of an upscale restaurant.
Maximum 2 guests per suite. Rates are per person, inclusive of all meals, high tea, drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and off-the train excursions excluding French champagne, caviar and external telephone calls.
Prices range, depending on the season, from R18, 710 ($1559.00) to R28,695 ($2391.00) one-way.
Tintswalo Atlantic – the Hidden Gem of Cape Town
There are many beautiful beach hotels throughout the world. The 5-star luxury Tintswalo Atlantic Lodge has to be one of the top ten boutique hotels anywhere! What an amazing and very special romantic hideaway. And it is only twenty minutes from downtown Cape Town.
The hotel boasts an exclusive and unique shoreline location within the protected Table Mountain National Park, one of South Africa’s eight World Heritage Sites, situated just outside of Hout Bay, on the scenic Chapman’s Peak drive. The pebbled beach directly in front of the lodge is secluded and sheltered from winds. There is excellent access to the natural beauty found along the mountainside’s winding hiking trails. This gorgeous, dramatic and romantic destination needs to be on your Bucket List! When we sent some photos to a friend, she replied “you didn’t say you were travelling to heaven”. And every vista is truly “heavenly”.
Superlatives cannot do the hotel justice. From its location, the structure, the access, the rooms, the service, the food and the staff, attention to details are the hallmarks of Tintswalo Atlantic. Every member of the staff is so amazingly kind, attentive, professional and genuinely pleasant.
Your first thrill is the arrival, from the entrance – the drive down to the lodge (at the base of Chapman’s Peak), from there makes you realize you are going somewhere extraordinary. You are greeted with champagne and smiling faces. The warm hospitality didn’t stop until we left 2 1/2 days later.
All 10 Island Suites, as well as the Presidential Suite, face the Atlantic Ocean with breath-taking panoramic views of the Sentinel, shown in the photo, and Hout Bay. All the suites are uniquely themed after different islands and feature chandeliers, warm décor, and wooden floors. All come with sitting areas, satellite TV, fireplaces and balconies. Airy bathrooms offer free-standing tubs with water views.
The regal Presidential suite, sitting above the other suites, is stunning, opulent and luxurious. The two master suites, each with the largest and most lavish bathrooms I have ever enjoyed, together with heated floors and fireplaces in each room are tantalizing. The enormous bath overlooking the waters of Hout Bay was, without a doubt, my wife’s favorite feature. And to top it off, there is another room, the sitting area, also with a fireplace, making being spoiled a wonderful experience.
Having all your meals at the lodge is simply amazing with the sea lapping against the rocks, making a wonderful backdrop. The menu choices available for breakfast, lunch and dinner are terrific. The chefs produce exquisite and orgasmic cuisine. You really do not want, or need, to leave the lodge. Cuban cigars are available, as is Sherry, to enjoy on your balcony.
Don’t forget to ask for your personal wishing rock at reception before leaving. You do really want to wish to come back regularly when you toss the rock over your left shoulder into the ocean.
Melissa and Ryno, the GMs are superb hosts who make Tintswalo even more fabulous.
Rates will vary depending on the season. Expect to pay somewhere between $400 and $700 per couple, per night, for one of the suites. The Presidential Suite is going to come in at about $2,000.00 per couple per night. Breakfast, house drinks, coffee and teas are included. Guests who join you for dinner will be in the $50-$60 per person range without wine.
If you are not able to stay overnight, at least try and make a reservation for breakfast, lunch, or early dinner – you will not be disappointed! Sunrise and sunset like you’ve never, ever seen before…
Gondwana Private Game Reserve
Still craving another authentic, breathtaking African experience? Then, you are in luck! Just under four hours away from Cape Town, along the famous Garden Route, lies the Gondwana Game Reserve.
Gondwana is accessibly situated 25 minutes outside the charming coastal town of Mossel Bay and a scenic four-hour drive from Cape Town. George Airport is only a 45-minute drive from the game reserve (transfers can be arranged) with daily flights from Johannesburg International Airport (JNB, O. R. Tambo) and Cape Town International Airport (CPT).
As a Garden Route Game Reserve, Gondwana shares the region’s idyllic climate, second most moderate in the world next to Hawaii according to the Guinness Book of World Records, with average temperatures between 13°C / 55°F in June, and 19°C / 66°F in January. The game reserve’s warm climate offers exceptional year-round Game Viewing while you enjoy a Luxury African Safari Experience.
This is a very different game experience from that of Mhondoro, only because here the vegetation is referred to as Fynbos, while Mhondoro is called bushveld.
Gondwana is a 26,000 acre malaria free, luxurious Private Game Park offering free-roaming Big 5 safari animals (lion, buffalo, elephant, rhino, and leopard). Indigenous Fynbos vegetation cloaks the undulating valleys, adding vivid color and interest to a Big 5 game viewing and wilderness experience.
Many species of wildlife, including eland, giraffe, elephant, hippo, cheetah and zebra can be seen on the majestic landscape with awe-inspiring views of the Langeberg and Outeniqua Mountains in every direction.
At Gondwana you will receive attentive service, wholesome and delicious African Cuisine, inspiring interiors, expert Game Rangers, and an array of activities including sunrise and sunset game drives with sundowners with snacks and drinks, Mountain Biking, Hikes, Africology spa treatments, and the popular Junior Ranger program. Felix, our driver and guide, knows the bush intimately. Chris, the GM, was always there when needed and expertly guided every aspect of making our African experience truly unforgettable.
Gondwana’s Fynbos Villas and Bush Villas offer the luxury amenities of a Safari Lodge with all the comforts of home, ideal for families and groups of friends. Each stylish villa offers spacious, open plan interiors with three or four en-suite bedrooms. Each villa is situated for complete privacy and awe-inspiring views from their expansive outdoor decks.
Various packages can be booked with the villa accommodation from Full Board (3 gourmet meals at the nearby Kwena Lodge and 2 daily game drives) to Half Board (breakfast and dinner), to the B&B and Daily Game Drive package. The B&B package allows for family barbeques in your villa and time to explore the surrounding Garden Route.
Nearby Lehele Lodge and Kwena Lodge serve gourmet meals and screen sporting events in the Lehele Lodge bar. Both Safari Lodges boast large infinity pools, lounge and bar areas, elegant dining rooms, as well as a library with computers and WiFi. Each lodge has expansive outdoor dining areas overlooking Gondwana’s beautiful landscape.
Luxury Accommodation is offered in Kwena Lodge, a modern and luxurious twist on the traditional Khoi-San dwelling. 14 open-plan suites are nestled into the breathtaking natural surroundings with 180-degree views, sky lights for star gazing, fireplaces and deep baths in which to relax upon returning from an evening game drive. Family or group accommodation for Safari Holidays is provided in 12 spacious and luxurious bush villas (3- and 4-bedroom configurations), which are privately situated, each with spectacular, uninterrupted views from their expansive wooden decks.
If you are a golfer, you are in for a treat. Just outside of Gondwana lie phenomenal championship and world-class golf courses such as Pinnacle Point, Pezula, Oubaai (Ernie Els’s design) and Fancourt (Gary Player). If you think Pebble Beach is beautiful and a 10 star rating, Pinnacle Point is a 15 star rating! The views are incredible with whales and porpoises following along from hole to hole along the coastline.
There is great swimming and surfing beaches that offer a variety of activities. The less than an hour away attractive coastal towns of Mossel Bay (think Louis Oosthuizen), Knysna and Plettenberg Bay each offer unique cultural and natural highlights and a range of things to do.
You can take an active role in Wildlife Conservation and enroll in the new Tented Eco Camp Program when you visit Gondwana Game Reserve. Throughout this 3 or 5-night program you will engage in activities vital to ensuring the welfare of the wildlife and vegetation in the Park. You can try your hand at being a Game Ranger and experience the ultimate bush getaway deep in the heart of the reserve at the charming new Tented Eco Camp.
Rates begin at R5600 ($466.00) (Kwena), R7100 ($591.00) (Bush Villa), R8962 ($750) (Fynbos Villa) to R54,600 ($4,550.00) (Ulubisi House) per night. Rates are subject change according to time of year.
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve – A Very, Very Special Place
Photo by www.xoprivate.com
Grootbos is a luxury eco-reserve tucked between mountains, forest and sea that is less than two hours’ drive from Cape Town and an hour’s drive from where the warm Indian Ocean and the icy Atlantic meet – close to the southernmost tip of a continent filled to the brim with natural beauty, the warmest people and the most exceptional experiences. Grootbos is on the R42 between Stanford and Gansbaai, Western Cape.
This was one of the best surprises I experienced in South Africa! This place is awesome, amazing and not to be missed!
Grootbos, without a doubt, is a melting pot of biodiversity, natural wonder and culture. 2500 hectares of pristine wilderness with 100 endangered plant species among the 800 species on the property. The 3 Milkwood Forests are over 1000 years old and are home to 6 mammals of conservation concern. Wow!
And then there’s the accommodations. Each of the 11 suites and the garden Lodge are worthy of being featured in Architectural Digest. Three nights are suggested, but you immediately feel like you never want to leave. This is a stay to remember forever.
So beautiful, so interesting, such incredibly luxurious accommodations, amazing people and above and beyond service. Nash, our guide, is an encyclopedia of all things flora and fauna.
Aside from the contemporary and elegant design of the freestanding suites, the quality of the finishes stood out. You simply do not find this type of style, space and quality at most upscale resort properties. Sea facing views, rain showers, underfloor heating, gowns and slippers and fireplace – what more do you need? However, should you need anything whatsoever, GM Shawn will take care of it expeditiously. He is the consummate professional in every way.
Then there is the food at the Forest lodge, which is a culinary experience – so delicious and beautifully presented. Head Chef Ben Conradie is extremely talented as evidenced by his sourcing of all his ingredients and know exactly where every morsel comes from in the 6-course dinner. The breakfast buffet and English breakfast menu is excellent and any specific taste and requirements present no problem to the kitchen.
Similarly, the 3-course lunch with a view of the ocean is enjoyable and relaxing.
Then you are presented with more choices that are so appealing it would take pages to detail. There is the marine safari, whale watching, horse riding, bird watching and quad biking, to name just a few. The Botanical 4×4 Tour is a must. You will learn all about the unique fynbos species, especially the Gansbaai heather which is only found at Grootbos, see the stunning vistas, discover and experience fields of vibrant color and the Cape Floral Kingdom species and explore the Milkwood Forests. During the trip, their specialized guides will tell you facts about this rare flora in ways that will amaze and fascinate you.
Nature, marine & coastal drives and walks, including the Walker Bay Nature Reserve, De Kelders cliff walk, Klipgat Cave, combined with seasonal land-based whale watching (whale watching especially during June – December) are included.
Just outside of Grootbos lies the world famous shark diving town of Gansbaai. Shark cage diving and spotting packages, as well as Whale watching packages, are amongst the 10 available through Grootbos.
Grootbos also has a small cottage close to the water in Gansbaai from where you can watch the whales and take in incredible views of the Atlantic Ocean
Rates start at R10,400 ($866.00) per night for 2 adults sharing and are full-board. Time of year affects rates.
On the way back to Cape Town, make sure you visit the Stony Point Penguin Colony at Betty’s Bay and the Franschoek and Stellenbosch wine routes.
You will not only love and enjoy South Africa, but your dollars will take you a long way.
The people, the beauty, the food and weather in South Africa will make a lifetime of memories!