Wednesday, December 27, 2017

South Africa: Part I

Kevin, Charlène, and me at the Cape of Good Hope, the south-westernmost point on the African continent.  Deserted, white sandy beaches alternating with rocky cliffs render the Cape of Good Hope a scenic wonder.
by Delia von Neuschatz

“This was probably the best trip we’ve ever taken,”
said my husband, upon our return from safari in South Africa. And it’s true. It was highly memorable for so many reasons.  Our trip to Cape Town, Sabi Sands Game Reserve and Johannesburg consisted of:  a) stunning scenery; b) gorgeous food and wine; c) moving history; and d) numerous sightings of precious wildlife.  So if you’re looking for a vacation that contains e) all of the above, I can’t recommend South Africa highly enough!

The adventure began in Cape Town, on South Africa’s rugged Atlantic coast where we spent four nights.  There is so much to see and do there, that we could easily have spent another week. Our private guide, Paul Barker, from Wilderness Safaris, picked us up at the airport and was our steadfast companion for the next three days.  A native Capetonian, Paul was very knowledgeable about everything that is worth knowing about the area — the history, culture, politics, wildlife, flora and wine.  He knows a lot about wine and we were all eager students.  But more on that later.
Our guide, Paul Barker with me on the left and Charlène von Saher on the right, at the stunning Delaire Graff vineyard in South Africa’s Stellenbosch wine region.
First things first. Cramped and tired after long flights, my husband, Kevin von Neuschatz and I, along with our friend and fellow traveler, Charlène von Saher, booked long massages.  Our hotel, the One & Only resort located on Cape Town’s newly developed waterfront, has a top notch spa.  It also has several restaurants, including Nobu, and a scenic lounge from which we took flight again with the house’s specialty cocktail — a cold gin concoction called Cape Aviation — while we gazed upon postcard views of famed Table Mountain.
The One & Only resort on Cape Town’s newly developed waterfront.  Table Mountain, Cape Town’s centerpiece, rises in the background. Photo: One & Only, Cape Town
The daily tea service at Cape Town’s One & Only resort.
From there, we repaired for a glass of bubbly to the historic Mount Nelson Hotel with some friends and then on to dinner at the award-winning, farm-to-table restaurant, Aubergine.
The blush-hued Mount Nelson Hotel opened its doors in 1899, catering to the first class passengers of an elite British shipping liner.
Jet lag didn’t prevent us from enjoying a glass (or two) of Cap Classique at the Mount Nelson Hotel.  Here I am perusing the menu of bubbly options.  South African sparkling wines made in the traditional French method are referred to as Méthode Cap Classiques or MCC’s.  With only about 2.5 million bottles produced yearly compared to Champagne’s approximate 400 million bottle production, MCC is considered a niche product.
Poolside at the Mount Nelson Hotel.
The champagne was followed by dinner at the award-winning Aubergine restaurant.  With an exchange rate of 13 to 1 (dollars to South African rand), we found prices in South Africa to be, by and large, very affordable.
After getting some shut-eye, we were ready for a bit of sightseeing.  Over the next few days, Paul drove us to one scenic spot after another while filling us in on Cape Town’s history and culture. Highlights include the following:
Before getting started on our tour, we fortified ourselves with coffee at the steampunk-inspired Truth Coffee, voted one of the world’s best coffee shops by the Daily Telegraph.
We then crossed the street to the District Six museum which commemorates a vibrant inner-city residential area that was once inhabited by freed slaves, merchants, artisans, laborers and immigrants. 
In the 1970s, the mixed community of 60,000 residents — made up of Muslims, blacks, Afrikaners, English-speaking whites and Indians — was dispersed and ultimately flattened by bulldozers as a result of the apartheid regime’s policy of forced racial segregation.
District Six in the 1960s.
Our next stop was the neighborhood of Bo Kaap.  This photo doesn’t do the colorful district justice.  Formerly known as the Malay Quarter, Bo Kaap is filled with history and culture.  The former township dates to the 1760s and boasts the first established mosque in South Africa.
Hungry after the morning’s history lessons, we made our way to The Stack for lunch. 
The restaurant is a swanky outpost situated in a 160-year-old Victorian building in a suburb called the Gardens, a creative hub.
Next up was a visit to the just-opened Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) which houses Africa’s largest collection of contemporary African art.  The museum, located in the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, is lodged in a converted grain silo originally built in 1921. Photo: The Royal Portfolio
Occupying six floors above Zeitz MOCAA is the super-stylish Silo Hotel, which was built in the grain elevator portion of the silo complex.  It is a perfect perch for cocktails.  Photo: The Royal Portfolio.
The sun broke out the next day when we wound our way on Chapman’s Peak Drive, one of the most scenic coastal drives in South Africa, offering views of the Atlantic Ocean and dramatic rock formations. 
Hout Bay is behind us.
Our destination was the Cape Point Nature Reserve, located an hour’s drive from downtown Cape Town. Declared a Natural World Heritage Site, the 20,000-acre reserve boasts a wealth of flora and fauna.  It abounds with buck, baboons, Cape mountain zebra and more than 250 species of birds, like this ostrich that was running alongside our car. 
The reserve also is the smallest but richest of the world’s six floral kingdoms.  It is the area’s fertile soil that led to the founding of Cape Town.  The settlement was established by the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century as a supply station for Dutch ships sailing to East Africa, India, and the Far East.  The bountiful land at the foot of Table Mountain yielded ample amounts of citrus, fresh fruit and vegetables to passing ships.
A hike or a funicular ride will get you to the top of Cape Point, aka Cape of Storms, the locus of an infamous 19th century lighthouse.  Due to its high elevation, the lighthouse was often shrouded in fog, rendering it invisible to passing ships.  In 1911, the Portuguese line Lusitania was wrecked just south of Cape Point for this reason.  The accident prompted the building of a new lighthouse at a much lower elevation.  With a range of 63 miles, the light of the new Cape Point lighthouse is the most powerful on the South African Coast.
The brisk sea air and the hiking made us all peckish so without further delay, we went to Simonstown, home to the South African Navy, where we enjoyed a casual but delicious harbor side lunch at Saveur
And last, but certainly not least on our second full day in Cape Town, we went to see the famed African Penguins at Boulders Beach.  Formerly known as jackass penguins because of their distinctive braying, African penguins are the only penguins found on the continent.  Colonies stretch from southern Namibia all the way around the South African coast to Port Elizabeth.  But Boulders Beach offers one of the best viewing points.  I never thought I’d see penguins on a safari trip, but there they were in their beautiful glory.  The cold waters of the Atlantic keep them cool.
The next day, we made our way to Cape Town’s famed winelands.  Our first stop was the Waterford vineyard in Stellenbosch where we enjoyed a wine and chocolate pairing. 
The lavender-scented entrance to the Waterford vineyard.
The drive leading up to Waterford.
Waterford has the distinct offering of a wine and chocolate pairing.  I’ve discovered that it’s never too early in the day to enjoy delicious wine that has been matched to chocolate whether that chocolate is infused with salt, roses or masala chai tea.
Listening intently while our guide, Paul Barker, instructs us on the five S’s of wine tasting:  see, swirl, sniff, sip and savor.
Taking a break from wine tasting, we toured several traditional Cape Dutch buildings in Stellenbosch.  The style dates to the initial settlers of the Cape who were primarily Dutch.  Distinctive features include the grand, ornately rounded gables, reminiscent of features in townhouses of Amsterdam.
A Dutch colonial kitchen.
We resumed our wine tasting at the Delaire Graff estate, magnificently perched on the slopes of the Stellenbosch mountains.  Owned by diamond merchant Laurence Graff, it is all at once a Relais & Châteaux hotel, winery, art gallery and botanic garden.  
None of us had ever seen a more beautiful winery.
Giddy with pleasure from wine tasting on the estate’s restaurant terrace, we bought a case of cabernet sauvignon.  The striking 4,600-foot high Simonsberg peak rises in the background.
The beautiful sight of oak barrels on display at Delaire Graff.
All this wine tasting made us hungry so off to lunch we went, venturing into the Franschhoek wine region, South Africa’s culinary capital.  There, we ate at the very pretty Café BonBon at the heavenly La Petite Dauphine estate.  La Petite Dauphine is a historic working fruit and wine farm set among vineyards, olive groves and fruit orchards. 
The inviting interiors at La Petite Dauphine.
The food, accompanied by a very good chenin blanc, tasted as good as it looked.
The dessert table!
And now, a few pounds heavier and in a state of bliss, it was time for us to see some elephants (and leopards and lions and rhinos, too).

Stay tuned for Part II (this Friday) where we go on safari and end our trip in Johannesburg.