South Africa: Cape Town and Beyond

Elephants South Africa Safari - 04linz/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images
Photo by Elephants South Africa Safari - 04linz/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel is located in a vibrant area of Cape Town.

Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel is located in a vibrant area of Cape Town.

 

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A vacation to South Africa can be an A-lister’s dream, with all the trimmings of a classy holiday, including delicious cuisine and sophisticated local wines to complement both elegant and charming hotel

But nothing you do here will leave you light in the pockets.

The U.S. dollar goes a long way in this country and guests should not be surprised to find bottles of fabulous wine for less than $10 at the hotels or a good local beer for as little as $1.50.

The Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel was our choice for Cape Town; it’s located in a vibrant area of the city, with many bars and restaurants in walking distance. Luxury Travel Advisor stayed in room No. 124, a Superior One-bedroom Suite. The top features of this room are the king-sized bed and a large flat-screen LG TV in the bedroom. The bathroom has a rain shower that packs a punch, an elegant bathtub and tons of closet space. Divided into four separate compartments, the closet nearly extends from one bedroom wall to the other. Note: The cozy bathroom not only has a great rain shower, but also Charlotte Rhys bath amenities and huge puffy towels.

Tip: Although our room, which had garden views, impressed us, luxury travel advisors should ask for a Superior Room that offers views of Table Mountain. Each room has a mini-lounge area and writing desk. Interconnecting rooms are available on request, and lavishly equipped en suite.

Laundry service here is also very efficient. We had delivered a healthy amount of clothes to be washed at around 8 p.m. one evening and received them back by noon the next day. Nice Touch: Guests’ clothes are returned folded and wrapped in paper with a red rose on top.

Travel advisors seeking attention for special clients should reach out to Janice Gombert ([email protected]), director of sales at Belmond.

Granny Mouse Country House & Spa’s Garden Family rooms have balconies with views of the garden.Pictured: Granny Mouse Country House & Spa’s Garden Family rooms have balconies with views of the garden.

There are 600 wine estates in Cape Town; we recommend La Couronne Wine Estate, where the best wine is the Unwooded Chardonnay 2012. This vintage is bursting with zesty, vibrant citrus fruits with a firm, fresh finish. But no matter what wine your A-listers decide to take home with them, there is value in every bottle. A box of any six wines will cost clients no more than $35.

While many people suggest that a safari is a must on any trip to South Africa, we will instead contend that a trip to Robben Island is even more mandatory for anyone visiting the area for the first time.

Robben Island, about four miles west of the coast of Bloubergstrand in Table Bay, is where former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars before the end of apartheid.

Former prisoners actually take you into Mandela’s former cell. It was a small room no bigger than your average bathroom, with a tiny window barely letting in any light, and what looked like a glorified potato sack on the floor served as a bed.

Our excellent guide was Llewellyn Damon, co-owner of Quena Tour Enterprises, who shared everything from the history of the prison to some lighter ghost tales that former inmates and staffers of Robben Island have passed down over the years. Reach out to Damon at [email protected]

For all activities in Cape Town, we highly recommend ground operator Shaheed Ebrahim ([email protected]) Escape to the Cape. Nice Touch: He uses a small, air-conditioned van that has free Wi-Fi and phone chargers for all devices. 

Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel gives guests a variety of dining options at its Planet Restaurant & Bar and Oasis Bistro.Pictured: Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel gives guests a variety of dining options at its Planet Restaurant & Bar and Oasis Bistro.

But there is so much more for your clients to experience besides Cape Town. Music lovers need to visit the Drakensberg Boys Choir School near the small town of Winterton, in the heart of the Drakensberg mountain range in KwaZulu-Natal. The choir is internationally renowned and has played for the likes of Nelson Mandela, and even performed at the Vatican for Pope John Paul II. Visitors can see the Drakensberg Boys Choir in the Ken Mackenzie auditorium on the school’s campus. Concerts are held at 3:30 p.m. on most Wednesdays. Travel advisors should e-mail [email protected] to confirm bookings for clients.

For those craving a soft adventure and a morning glass of bubbly, ATV and helicopter rides along Cathedral Peak provide some absolutely beautiful landscape views that reminded us a bit of New Zealan.

We recommend Westline Aviations for helicopter excursions, champagne included. Pair the trip with an ATV ride along the mountains, supplied by Drakensberg & Quad Tracks Adventures.

For those staying in the Midlands Meander, a collection of arranged routes in the heart of KwaZulu-Natal countryside, we suggest the very charming s Granny Mouse Country House & Spa in Balgowan. Its name is almost as sweet and homey as its guest houses.

We stayed in guest house No. 32, a deluxe room with a king-sized bed and a flat-screen TV; but we say the best features were a balcony with a view of the Lions River, a small, easy-to-operate fireplace, and a fully stocked minibar, an amenity that we found was hard to come by at most South African hotels. The shower was small but the water pressure was tremendous. Nice Touch: Each bathroom has a heated towel rack that makes your towels warm and toasty.

Granny Mouse Country House & Spa’s  Deluxe suite comes with all modern facilities and allows views  of the Lions River.Pictured: Granny Mouse Country House & Spa’s  Deluxe suite comes with all modern facilities and allows views  of the Lions River.

Besides the quietness and smoky campfire aroma of the surroundings, the other items that will please clients here are the food and wine. Tell VIPs to ask about the hotel’s five-course wine-pairing feast in the main dining room, which used to be a stable and even has an old stable door latched-up just below the ceiling. Hint: Tell guests to request the sweet soy braised pork belly; it was the best dish. And the Pecan Steam Sauvignon Blanc that accompanies it was by far the best sip of wine we had during our trip to the country. Note: Meat dishes can be substituted with vegetarian options and wine can be substituted with non-alcoholic beverages.

Travel advisors should contact Sean Granger ([email protected]), general manager, to make any special requests for clients.

For guests heading to the Drakensberg and the Midlands Meander, we highly recommend Bee Africa Travel and Tours. Travel advisors should contact Briony Smith ([email protected]), owner, to make special arrangements for VIPs.

Tipping in South Africa is widely practiced. In restaurants and bars, 10 to 15 percent is the accepted tipping standard. The going rate for porters at airports is between $1-$2 per piece of luggage. Hotel porters usually expect a tip of $1-$2 as well. Some of the other service providers you may want to tip are taxi drivers, tour guides, trackers, drivers, and game rangers.

We recommend flying Business or First Class on South African Airways, where beds are completely flat and wide enough for passengers to curl up in a little ball. The control panel for the bed is located between you and the person next to you, and provides enough of a barrier so, unlike most flights, it doesn’t feel like you are sleeping with a stranger. You are completely separate and there is ample room to walk past the person in the aisle seat without disturbing him or her, depending on how tall that person is of course. And there are full pillows and full blankets.

The airline’s food and beverage service rivaled some of the best restaurants we’ve eaten at in New York City. The quality of the food was excellent, but it was the attentive service that set this meal apart from most we’ve had on flights.

Advisor Insight:

“The perfect mix of Cape Town, the wine region and a safari make up the quintessential luxurious getaway to South Africa,” says Harlan deBell of The Travel Siblings at Tzell Travel, which he owns with his sister, Kara. “One&Only Cape Town has stunning views of Table Mountain in a resort setting situated in the V&A Waterfront area with two fabulous restaurants, Reuben’s and Nobu. For an extraordinary food-and-wine experience, grab lunch at Chef Bruce’s new restaurant in Simon’s Town, called The Flagship. It is an intimate experience as Chef Bruce prepares a new menu every day, using locally sourced ingredients.”

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