By Erica Ruland
Account Manager, Email Marketing
Who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to take a trip to South Africa, especially when you can do it Virtuoso style?
I visited this gorgeous luxury destination for a family wedding in the Eastern Cape province along South Africa’s southern coast. My mother, her two sisters and I drove the Garden Route, famed for its diverse plant life, with lagoons and lakes along the coastline. It proved to be the perfect way to see the area’s can’t-miss sights.
Come along and discover the 8 unforgettable highlights of our South Africa trip.
Our first two nights were spent in style at the Taj Cape Town, a Virtuoso property. These luxe accommodations were just what we needed to help us recover from our long flight from Seattle.
A Table Mountain view room is a must. Waking up and pulling back the curtains to unveil the early morning light reflecting pink off Table Mountain was a sight I won’t soon forget. The breakfast buffet is outstanding, offering everything from made-to-order omelets to sushi. It provided a great start for busy days of sightseeing in this world-class city.
The Taj Cape Town is centrally located, just across the street from two main attractions: the 350-year-old Company Gardens, a public park and botanical garden; and the pedestrian tree-lined Government Avenue, home to South Africa’s Houses of Parliament.
We had a great dining experience at Taj’s Bombay Brasserie Restaurant, where we enjoyed several courses of traditional Indian cuisine with fun, modern flair. The food and experience were fantastic.
Since Cape Town is full of rich history, we decided to take it all in with a guided tour by Abercrombie & Kent. Our guide picked us up at the hotel for a day of sightseeing. Highlights included:
- the ferry ride to and tour of the sobering Robben Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. The island offers an epic view of Cape Town and Table Mountain.
- the cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain
- a driving tour of the Lion’s Head mountain (which lies between Table Mountain and the Atlantic)
- the historic and multicultural Bo-Kaap neighborhood, known for its brightly painted homes and cobblestone streets
Cape Point Nature Reserve
We departed Cape Town and headed south around the tip of the Cape Peninsula, braving the winding roads. We took it slow to enjoy the views, pulling off here and there to snap photos of baboons, ostriches and warthogs.
We took a short hike to the Cape Point Lighthouse, with its bird’s-eye-view of the convergence of the turquoise Indian Ocean and deep blue Atlantic. You can also take a short funicular ride from the parking lot to the lookout. The views were postcard perfect.
Our next stop was Hermanus in Walker Bay. A top whale-watching destination, you can see southern right whales from shore. The best time to view whales is during their annual migration through this region from July to December. Another popular draw to this area is shark tank diving (if you dare) to see great whites up close and personal.
We enjoyed an all-inclusive stay at the Virtuoso beachfront property Birkenhead House. We were greeted with champagne cocktails, followed by tasty canapés. After relaxing in our eclectically decorated rooms, then taking a stroll along the shore, we were treated to an intimate dinner including delicious (and free-flowing!) regional wines.
Oudtshoorn and Cango Caves
From Hermanus we traveled east along the Garden Route, then strayed north over scenic rolling mountain passes to the town of Oudtshoorn.
Home of the world’s largest ostrich population, Oudtshoorn prospered when the bird’s feathers became a fashionable accessory for wealthy Europeans in the mid-1800s. Visit an ostrich farm to learn more about these animals, and pick up souvenirs such as feathers and leather goods including belts and wallets.
Just outside of Oudtshoorn are the Cango Caves, an extensive system of tunnels and chambers filled with stalactites and stalagmites. The caves have been known to humans since the Early Stone Age and are considered South Africa’s oldest tourist attraction. Guided tours are offered daily.
East Cape Game Reserves
The advantages of going on a game drive in this part of South Africa: you can see the sought-after Big 5 and the region is malaria free.
With so many reserves to choose from and price points all over the board, it can be hard to decide which to visit. We decided on a game reserve about two hours northeast of Port Elizabeth near Grahamstown and were not disappointed.
When we arrived, staff greeted us at the entrance, gave a short orientation of the park, and then drove us by jeep to the lodge-like accommodations. Each day we set out on an early-morning drive at dawn and an afternoon drive through sunset and into the evening. With our knowledgeable guide and a bit of luck, we were able to see a rhino, zebra, giraffe, monkeys, elephants, a variety of antelope and even two lionesses and their cubs!
During each afternoon drive, we stopped at a vantage point to enjoy a sundowner (sunset cocktail) and take in the views. Watching the light change on the landscape as the sun went down is just about as captivating as spotting the wildlife.
We headed back to the beautiful coastline through the scenic Plettenberg Bay area and onto Knysna. The waterfront area in Knysna is lined with restaurants, pubs, boutiques and souvenir shops. It’s a popular destination for tourists and South Africans alike.
We enjoyed a sunset cruise around the Knysna Lagoon and close to the mouth of the river flowing into the Indian Ocean. A guide pointed out the highlights in the diverse landscape and explained the area’s history. The lagoon is also home to an oyster hatchery, and local restaurants serve these varieties.
Our final South Africa destination was Stellenbosch, a college town in the heart of the region’s wine country. The city center’s quaint streets are lined with historic Cape Dutch buildings as well as dining options for all tastes.
We chose accommodations in town and enjoyed being central. But the idea of staying at one of the surrounding wine estates was enticing. And with more than 150 wineries, the main event was definitely the wine tasting. We took a hop-on/hop-off tour (the Vine Hopper), which was perfect. Some of my favorite stops on the tour:
- Van Ryn’s Distillery & Brandy Cellar, where, in addition to the tasting, we toured the complex and saw an interesting traditional barrel-making demonstration
- Alto Wine Estate, with delicious red wine and beautiful views from the tasting room
- Bilton Wines, where we enjoyed mouth-watering wine and chocolate pairings
Visiting South Africa
With so much more to explore, I can’t wait to travel here again to discover even more of this beautiful country. If you’re interested in experiencing it as well, find a South Africa specialist to help you plan your travels at virtuoso.com.