A journey to Cape Town

 

I was very fortunate indeed to recently discover the delights of the ‘rainbow’ nation, and experience an incredible trip to South Africa. This amazing country is a land of captivating contrasts – sophisticated ‘buzzing’ cities, a stunning coastline with unspoilt sandy beaches, impressive mountains and some of the very best game-viewing on offer. The people I met were all warm, friendly, immensely proud of their ‘new’ nation and full of optimism for their future. I could write pages upon pages of each experience, but must be brief !

My thrilling journey started with a short hop from Manchester via Heathrow to Johannesburg, flying with British Airways. A seemless connection through Terminal 5, and on to the brand new A380 Airbus. The journey passed quickly, and with just two hours time difference- absolutely no jet lag. As an alternative to London, we find clients often have a preference for flying with Emirates Airlines or Ethihad Airways, particularly if wishing to have a two centre holiday incorporating Dubai.

On arrival, my day included some sightseeing and then afternoon tea at the Saxon Hotel, nestled in the heart of Johannesburg in the tree lined avenues of Sandhurst. This elegant, unforgettable, peaceful retreat would be just the tonic to prepare you for your onward travel.

 

A morning of further sightseeing and discovery then brought me to Pretoria railway station – and the unbelievable luxury that is the Rovos Rail journey down to Cape Town.

This three day, two night journey in the wonderful company of a little less than the maximum 72 guests, was without doubt the highlight of my visit to South Africa. The clientele was very international and of wide ranging ages, all of which added to the atmosphere. The steam and diesel driven locomotives take you in 5 star comfort on the leisurely 1600 km journey to Cape Town, stopping at the ‘Diamond City’ of Kimberley, and then at Matjiesfontein. The attentive staff served mouth watering meals, with incredible service, and you will certainly “arrive as a stranger but leave as a friend”. It is obviously all too easy and so much quicker to fly between Johannesburg and Cape Town, however if time permits, the relaxed pace, the beautiful scenery, and the overall experience make it all worthwhile.

inside train

 

Travelling through incredible countryside, ( I will never forget numerous Ostrich running alongside the track, some even criss-crossing it ), seeing the surface of lakes filled with brightly coloured flamingos, endless green fields as well as desert like scrub, stunning mountains and rivers, the contrast of the darkness of mountain tunnels and seemingly endless blue skies in the bright sunlight. As your journey concludes coming through the vineyards of Paarl, you may be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain. I have been privileged to see many spectacular sights over more than thirty five years in travel, however Table Mountain really is a spine tingling special sight to behold !

 

 

The next three days incorporated stays at three different Cape Town properties, with visits to several others, as well as plenty of time for discovering the excitement of this delightful city. Time was spent notably at the Victoria & Alfred waterfront (V&A), Table Mountain and Camps Bay. The views looking up to Table Mountain, as well as the views looking down from it, were enchanting and will stay with me for the rest of my life.

I also had the opportunity to take the ferry over from the busy V&A waterfront to Robben Island, where President Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison. Advance booking really is essential for the whole tour, which lasts about 4 hours and is certainly worthwhile. With clear blue skies overhead, the journey across the icy cold sea gives one time to reflect on South Africa’s more recent history, and particularly the life of its most famous resident – President Nelson Mandela. Leaving the island, I felt blessed, privileged and even more grateful for the life I have enjoyed.

The three properties I stayed at were all very well located in Cape Town.

My first night was spent at the 5 star One & Only Cape Town, situated in the V&A Waterfront. The 131 rooms and suites all have a balcony view of Signal Hill or Table Mountain. The rooms are all furnished to a very high standard of comfort. There are several bars and restaurants to choose from, along with a fitness centre, an infinity edged pool, and a KidsOnly club for children from 4 to 11 years. There are also other activities arranged for 12 to 17 year olds.

A night was enjoyed at the Belmond owned Mount Nelson hotel . The 5 star Nellie , one of the most famous properties in Africa, is set in an oasis of nine acres of gardens. The hotel has 144 bedrooms and 57 suites. Here, the renowned afternoon tea is a highlight for many. The beautiful gardens contain two heated pools, a spa, gym and all weather floodlit tennis court. The views of the mountain behind the hotel are particularly impressive, particularly if it has it’s light cloudy tablecloth. The hotel operates a free shuttle throughout the day to the Waterfront.

Mt Nelson Table Mountain

 

My final hotel experience in Cape Town was my favourite – the Cape Grace hotel. This 5 star hotel, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, is renowned for its comfort and service. The 120 beautifully furnished rooms and suites have views over the harbour, marina or Table Mountain. There is an outdoor pool and superb health spa. The quality of food is outstanding, and at the Bascule Bar, there is an incredible selection of wines and whiskies on offer.

Feeling somewhat saddened to bring this part of my trip to an end, I departed by car from one of the world’s most fascinating cities and headed out through stunning countryside to the Winelands. Passing through Stellenbosch, my destination was Franschhoek, a ‘village’ that has become the gourmet capital of South Africa.

Restaurants, hotels and wine estates abound – a popular destination for the residents of Cape Town as well as visitors from all over.

 

My final stay was at a truly amazing property called La Residence. The views over the numerous vineyards to the distant hills was simply jaw dropping. Blessed with sunshine, the peace and quiet of the countryside, the scent of roses, jasmine, frangipani and so many other flowers, I made the most of the swimming pool in my two bedroom villa. This outstanding hotel, set in a beautiful 30 acre estate, has eleven suites and five garden villas. There is a superb restaurant serving French cuisine, wine-tastings can be arranged, and there are numerous activities available – or you may choose to just relax in style ! For families, the main hotel accepts children of 12 years and over, however children of all ages are welcome at La Residence’s villas.

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Time was soon up, and it was with a very heavy heart that I bid farewell from this beautiful region and headed back to Cape Town, and the flight back home.

Winter 2015 / 2016 hosts the England Cricket tour to South Africa, and especially after the recent England Ashes success over Australia, we envisage a surge of interest in South Africa as a whole.

Clients often ask about pros and cons, what we know that doesn’t appear in a brochure, how safe a destination is, the best time to visit, the attractions, the food etc. By visiting the destinations we do, coupled with our years of experience and knowledge we have gained, we hope to be able to provide you with the resources to best serve your holiday planning. If I am able to relive any part of my recent South Africa trip by assisting you with your own arrangements, it would be an absolute pleasure.

 

Steve Watson

Please feel free to contact me at: steve@omegahale.com or on 0161 941 4721