Out of South Africa
For a change, I thought I might regale you with a whirlwind account of my recent trip to South Africa while it’s (relatively) fresh in my mind… I’ve been back for over a week and a half and it already seems a distant memory. Sigh…
A wedding invitation prompted this trip. I’d never been to South Africa and jumped at the chance. I’d like to thank the fabulous couple, Ryan and Hanri, who orchestrated an itinerary extraordinaire.
I flew with the ever-amiable Qatar Airways from Dublin to Capetown via Doha and immediately ensconced myself in the dreamy Camps Bay villa which became home-vurry-sweet-home for the next five days. I’d highly recommend staying in Camps Bay, one of Cape Town’s trendiest suburbs and close the city centre – a mere few minutes in an uber. The villa offered sweeping views of the iconic Table Mountain and the Atlantic ocean and was a stone’s throw from an abundance of beachfront restaurants and bars, each one better than the last. Throughout the trip, I was relentlessly blown away by the superb and reasonably-priced food and wine in every eatery I encountered. A few sunset-soaked steak dinners to the beat of indigenous drums served as the perfect welcome to the country.
During the day, we ambled around the city’s V & A waterfront, sampled exquisite seafood and local wines, gave the Cape (ferris) Wheel a whirl and savoured a bubbly-fuelled sundown cruise of the harbour. We were disappointed to learn of Table Mountain’s closure for annual maintenance while we happened to be in town, but we hiked up the Lion’s Head instead. I felt it was a better option anyway as it affords views of every which way: the imposing Table Mountain itself, the city bowl, the Twelve Apostles and the familiarly choppy Atlantic: #JustifyEverythingMichelle!
We visited the District Six Museum, the former vibrant city-centre residential area from which over 60,000 inhabitants were forcibly evicted by the apartheid regime in the ’70s, then relocated to bleak outlying townships. An excellent and enlightening, but sobering, tour ensued.
It would surely have been remiss of us not to capitalise on the Cape Winelands! As well as ample daily imbibing of our own volition, we visited no fewer than six dreamy wineries on our travels, each offering its own distinctive atmosphere:
- Fairview, where we threw some cheese tasting into the very palatable mix. The many adorable goats milling about on the lawns were a welcome bonus
- Rupert & Rothschild, surely the most sophisticated interiors of any winery
- Leopard’s Leap, a more relaxed setting in which to taste more amazing wine
- Vergelegen, a protected provincial heritage site replete with manor house and rolling gardens
- Ernie Els, the winery of South African golfer Ernie, where you can step onto that tee-box and play away if that’s your jam. We also ate in his restaurant (The Big Easy, Stellenbosch) whose food was on a par with his golf and wine
- Waterford Estate, a chocolate lover’s heaven… See the snap of the pairings below!
We were fortunate that peak calving season coincided with our trip and actually had our first peek at the whales serendipitously through the bay windows of a restaurant in cosy Kalk Bay.
We whiled away another day whale-watching in Hermanus, under the tutelage of his good self below:
We had some chillax time in the beautiful university town of Stellenbosch where we perused the Botanical Gardens, museums and galleries and ate and drank our way around the place: #NothingNewThereThen. I think the Hussar Grill may have pipped every other restaurant to the post in providing the best steak (not to mention champ and deep-fried camembert) of my trip:
The home of the bride with the mostess, Port Elizabeth was unfortunately a flying visit after an internal flight from Capetown.
We ate at the spectacularly-located Blue Waters Café (i.e. directly on the coastline) where I plumped for its signature burger (beef with bacon, camembert and caramelised onions FYI)… Possibly the best burger of my trip… I keep telling you, the food was sublime everywhere!
We followed this by topping up our vitamin sea stores with a stroll on the beach.
After a hearty and hefty seafood-started and pizza-laden lunch in Barney’s, we swapped Port Elizabeth for an incredible couple of days at Schotia Safaris Private Game Reserve which borders the Addo Elephant Park. It was my first safari and while I knew I’d enjoy it, I didn’t realise quite how much. It felt like we’d been relocated to the set of the Lion King at times – clearly my reference point for the African wilds! We saw all sorts: lions, zebras, elephants, hippos, rhinos, crocs, giraffes, monkeys, buffalo … as well as the less familiar species of bird and antelope… We were often speechless observers at what was unfolding before us, the most memorable scene being the three lions dragging a zebra’s corpse around by the scruff of its neck then devouring the poor creature. So surreal to be in a Landie watching their breath, such was our proximity to the giant cats.
We stayed in cosy thatched lodges with fleecy blankets and real fires which were welcome given the chill. It was their winter after all! The food was homely and hearty campfire-inspired stuff with the traditional South African baked dessert Malva pudding with ice-cream and custard after dinner, all washed down with shots of Kahlua and whipped cream and more South African wine: #Winning!
And quick as a flash, it was time to decamp to Plett for the wedding and remainder of our trip, passing troops of monkeys at the roadside as we drove! Christened the Fort Lauderdale of South Africa, Plett is where the locals let loose on its rolling, pristine beaches, many reminiscent of those dotted along Ireland’s own Wild Atlantic Way. The 5 star The Grand (hotel) is the extravaganza you’d expect from a perfunctory google. We lunched there one afternoon to confirm this for ourselves… 5 star food and wine were indeed the order of the day.
But it was our resort (not to mention the wedding venue!), Emily Moon River Lodge, that captured my heart. At once ethereal and rustic, it is located a few kilometres from the epicentre of Plettenberg Bay, tucked away along the meandering Bitou river. The accommodation comprises secluded, cosy, individually-decorated lodges, each with its own deck. Punctuated with indoor and outdoor real fires and the friendliest of staff, I’ve never felt so at home at such an exotic resort. The food was – you’ve guessed it – aMAZing: #ChocolateFondantToDieFor! and Simon’s bar (& pizza restaurant) and Emily’s restaurant offered an enticing alternative to leaving the resort in the evenings, though we did venture out to Knysna one evening for a glorious sunset cruise and dinner as part of the pre-wedding celebrations. Photos and words do not do Emily Moon justice so you’ll just have to toddle off and book a trip!
And with that I’d like to once again extend my huge congrats to Mr. and Mrs. Overend… Overend out South Africa (for now)!