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The Wonder of Cape Town and the Winelands

Atlanticview Bain's Kloof Pass beer burgers Cafe Caprice Camps Bay Cape Town Carne Steakhouse Doolhof Winery Franschhoek Franschhoek Wine Tram French Connection Bistro Grand Dedale Great Whites Holden Manz Hudson's La Bourgogne La Bri La Motte Lanzerac Wine Estate Mondiall Mont Rochelle Moreson Vineyard Mynt Cafe pasta Reubens Rickety Bridge Robertson Robertson Small Hotel seafood shark diving South Africa Stellenbosch Table Mountain The Codfather The Last Word The Watershed Travel Van Loveren Vineyards vineyards Wellington wine Wine Country wine-lands Zen Zero

After wrapping up our safari in Botswana I didn’t think there was any chance that our trip could get any better. If you had told me I had to pack up then and there and leave for home early I would have been content (well, actually I’d be quite peeved if I were asked to leave early, but the safari was simply that amazing). The coming days were to be spent exploring Cape Town, diving with Great White Sharks and driving for several days through the western cape wine country. With each new location the experience simply got better and better.

Landing in Cape Town after connecting in Johannesburg from Maun we grabbed a taxi to take us to our hotel in Camps Bay. It was definitely a good thing that we didn’t decide to rent a car at that point. Not only was it nighttime with pretty aggressive drivers on the road, there also ended up being a whole slew of construction and road closures which we never would have navigated successfully. Our driver got us to our hotel and it was just about 10pm. All we wanted was food, a hot shower and sleep. Two room service ostrich burgers (which were heavenly), a complimentary bottle of wine and some bathing led to us sleeping like babies.

We stayed at the Atlanticview Hotel in the Camps Bay neighborhood of Cape Town. The neighborhood is beautiful and apparently the safest in the city. I would definitely suggest the hotel to anyone headed to Cape Town. The staff practically bent over backwards for us with every request we made, going above and beyond. Breakfast was delivered to our room each morning. We ate the fresh fruit, pastries and yogurts with french pressed coffee and fresh squeezed juices while we watched the fog slowly roll in over the ocean and wisp around Lion’s Head and Table Mountain, all of which we had the perfect view of from our suite’s patio.

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We decided to give ourself a break the first day and just relax a little, not rush out to see all of the sites. We walked down to the main beach in Camps Bay. Gorgeous and in the 70s, it made for a good day to check out the shoreline. The water was freezing. Immediately I was already fearing the waters that we would be entering in two days time to go shark cage diving with the Great Whites. I’m glad that we were there in the off season- we had fantastic weather, but I can only imagine the mob scene along this little stretch of sand with only one street in and out. We were told by the hotel staff that a 3 minute drive can take 45 minutes in the summer with the traffic. Why guests wouldn’t choose to simply make the 15 minute walk, in a safe neighborhood mind you, stumps me.

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After checking out the beach and grabbing some lunch across the way at Cafe Caprice we headed to check out the V&A Waterfront area. We weren’t ready for such a tourist trap unfortunately. There is a warehouse however that features local artisans and their handmade or small batch items for sale. If you’re planning to do some shopping for any souvenirs that would be my suggestion for where to go. It’s called The Watershed. Many pieces are one of a kind or at least things that you won’t find at every gift shop around the country. Mondiall was also a great spot for lunch and some afternoon beers in the heart of the waterfront should you choose to eat there.

After the waterfront we headed back to the hotel for a siesta. This was something we took a liking to after we formed the habit on safari. We rested up and then had some pre-dinner wine, complimentary from the hotel, before heading to dinner at The Codfather, an amazing seafood restaurant down the hill from our hotel towards the beach. Once you’re seated you are welcomed by your waiter who then accompanies you to the counter where he points out the day’s catches and specials. You place the order then and there pointing to what you’d like, how much fish or how many prawns etc., and how you’d like it cooked. We decided for an appetizer to head over to the in-house sushi bar and select a few items that were made for you on the spot. I never thought that some of the best sushi I would ever eat would be in Cape Town. After our sushi appetizers, our seafood dinner arrived on a giant platter to share family-style with numerous sauces to try with everything. It was absolutely delicious. (photo source: counter, tray)

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The next day our plan was to visit the top of Table Mountain. Of course, given our luck, the tram was closed for annual maintenance until the following day (which was when we planned to dive with the sharks) so we had to come up with another plan. One of the hotel employees suggested we do the hike. Seeing as the mountain is called Table Mountain, you can imagine that it as very steep on the sides with a flat top…not much of a surprise there. We questioned the hotel employee asking if it was difficult and were assured it was a leisurely hike. The hotel’s chauffeur kindly dropped us off at the head of a trail and we were on our way.

You would have thought I had never worked out a day in my life. Chris and I consider ourselves pretty athletic people. Chris being a competitive triathlete and myself a pretty avid runner we didn’t think we would have any problems. We had hiked the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. We had done the Bee Hive and a good deal of hiking in Acadia National Park. We figured we had it covered. The only person that this could seem like a leisurely hike to would be a Nepalese sherpa. We were told it would take around 4 hours up and back. We did it in 3, so granted we were pushing ourselves, but that did not change the steepness of the climb nor the numerous areas where you were scrambling on all fours. If you want to do the hike up then I would suggest taking the tram back down if you have the option (note: annual tram service occurs each August so check the website for details if that’s when  you plan to visit).

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Once we exited the trail we exchanged an underwhelming high-five and agreed that we definitely deserved a beer. Back at Camps Bay we headed to Cafe Mynt for lunch. Chris ordered his 3rd burger in less than 48 hours. He was right though- they are the best burgers we’ve ever had (sorry America). Another siesta, some wine sundowners and we were off for an early dinner by the beach. This time we decided to carb up after our workout and got pasta dishes at Zen Zero. Wonderful location to watch the sunset and the staff is happy to let you take your time. We weren’t rushed from one course to another and were allowed to just sit and enjoy the view with our wine.

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The next morning we were being picked up at 4 am by our shark dive tour operator. Around 2:30 in the morning we woke up to wind howling so loudly that we thought the roof was going to blow off of our room. There was no sleeping through it. We later learned that these wind gusts are known as ” the Cape Doctor”. The day prior the shark tours had been cancelled due to the weather we were told and thought the same might happen to us. Our driver picked us up at 3:45am and let us know there was a good chance we’d receive a call halfway to the launch, nearly 3 hours away, that our trip was also canceled. No such luck to my chagrin. We arrived, light breakfast was served and safety precautions were gone over. My favorite safety note of the morning: “If the boat capsizes blow the whistle that’s attached to your life vest.” Right, because (A) I wasn’t given life vests to wear (I’m sure they were stored somewhere on the boat) and (B) if the boat capsizes and I’m in water that has been chummed to get Great White sharks to surround the boat I don’t think a whistle is going to do me much good.

The wind was kicking up some serious swells. Chris estimated them to be about 25 feet or so. As we made our way out of the mini inlet the boat charged over 8 and 10 foot waves. Leaving the harbor nearly did me in and we weren’t even to the sharks yet. Once the captain cut the engine the boat was long side to the oncoming swells. I still have no idea why that was the crew’s strategy. As they dropped the shark cage in the water the swells continuously bashed it against the side of the boat, submerging the cage completely underwater. As I was putting on my wetsuit I gave Chris one last look and was let off the hook. He knew that I was dreading every possible second of this “adventure” and we both knew that these were not ideal conditions. I passed on the chance to enter the cage as Chris finished suiting up and was the first one in. After about 10 Great White viewings Chris was brought up from the cage. I think the word he would use to best describe the experience is “chaotic”. From the deck I could see the Great Whites approaching and attacking the bait. Chris and the others in the cage would see the shark whiz by the cage in front of them for a split second, and that was in the midst of trying to break for air without being assaulted by the swells.

It certainly was an experience, especially when we were headed back to shore after all of the dives and one after another the passengers (basically everyone but me) got seasick. Lined up along the bow each customer took turns coping with both their motion sickness and probably the sickness caused by swallowing water that had been chummed for an hour. I felt bad that I had backed out but Chris made me feel better by assuring me that I would have hated the experience and he seemed slightly relieved I had decided to pass. Win for me!

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Dinner that night was a surprise in that we ended up sharing it downtown with two guests also staying at Atlanticview who were visiting from Nigeria. Having sunset drinks with one another, conversation about American politics and the upcoming Presidential Candidate debates grew to quite an exchange which we decided to continue over supper. We went to Carne Steakhouse which was fantastic. The meat options were presented to the table, some options being wild game such as springbok and gazelle. The meal was superb.

The next morning we picked up our rental car to leave Cape Town proper behind and head out for wine country. Our first stop was going to be Wellington at the base of the Bain’s Kloof Pass, but first we needed to get Chris acclimated to driving on the left side of the road and in what to us is the passenger seat. It was an interesting few hours in the car that first day to say the least. He did a great job, we arrived safely at Grand Dedale which is on the Doolhof Winery property, and had such a wonderful evening there. The room reminded me of a suite at a French chateau. The furnishings, fabrics, 20 foot ceilings, marble bath with a giant standalone tub, a private glassed terrace off of the bedroom, all created an idyllic space. There was only one other couple staying at the Vineyard and we only saw them for a moment during our stay. It was as if we had this amazing Dutch Colonial/French Chateau all to ourselves- save for the two house cats and the wonderful gentleman who served us our amazing dinner that night.

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Our next stop was Robertson. Getting to Robertson ended up being more of an adventure than I had hoped for and a drive I will not soon forget. We decided to take the scenic route which was over Bain’s Kloof Pass (which we later learned is better known for the car accidents than for the views). If you’ve ever driven the Amalfi Coast, multiply the twists and turns by three and the speed of oncoming traffic by four, take away the guardrails and you’ll have an idea of what we were dealing with. We arrived safely at the Robertson Small Hotel, nerves a bit worse for wear, but ready to do some exploring.

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Once we checked in we headed out for lunch at Van Loveren Vineyards which was excellent and later had dinner at the Reubens within the hotel. We were lucky enough just before dinner to meet a woman who happens to be the head of tourism for the village of Franschoek which was where we were headed the next day. She gave us the scoop on the best restaurants and vineyards to visit, a very nice perk to having made her acquaintance. The Robertson Small Hotel was wonderful- so comfortable and even a bit posh which was unexpected. Just as at the Grand Dedale, the gardens and pools looked to be the perfect spots to relax in the summer. Even though it was a what we would consider mild winter conditions, temps in the 60s and low 70s, it was still a bit too cool to lay out.

The morning we were leaving Robertson was a cloudy and blustery one. The drive to Franschhoek is one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever taken but I did think there were times that our little fiat-like car was going to be blown clear off the road by the gusts of wind. As we approached the final pass to Franschhoek we felt like we were somewhere in the hills of Scotland. It was so incredibly green yet rocky and craggy. The fog was rolling through the mountains and the grasses were blowing in the wind in unison. It was otherworldly at times. We came to an outlook and pulled over. Far below us was a valley and in it a village that had been established by the Huguenots in 1688. Franschhoek, or “Little French Corner” in english,  is dreamlike. (photo source)

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We stayed downtown at The Last Word and couldn’t have been happier. We had a beautiful suite with its own private pool (which must be a very nice luxury when the weather is warmer).

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We visited many vineyards in our 2 full days there: Moreson Vineyard (with Bread & Wine restaurant), La Motte, Mont Rochelle, Holden Manz, La Bourgogne, La Bri and Rickety Bridge. One of the best ways to get to a whole bunch of these vineyards is by taking the Franschhoek Wine Tram. We took the blue line and had a great time. You can order cheese plates and various other small plates at most of the vineyards while you do your tastings. You can even order picnic lunches in advance to eat anywhere on the grounds of the Vineyards. Each stop on the tour was as good as the last, there wasn’t one that we didn’t enjoy. I would say our two favorites were La Motte and Mont Rochelle for both their wines, ambience and vineyard settings. The best meal we had while in Franschhoek was at French Connection Bistro. Franschhoek can certainly cater to the foodies, and there were many options for fine dining, but the French Connection Bistro was exactly what we were looking for. We weren’t in the mood for the chef tasting tables or haggling for reservations that seemed commonplace at many of the other highly ranked restaurants. The food was excellent and service couldn’t have been better. (photo sources: tram, horses)

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Leaving Franschhoek behind, talking at length about how we dreamed to buy our own vineyard there one day, we set off for Stellenbosch which would be the final stop on our incredible African journey. Shocking enough to us, we had actually had our fair share of wine and were looking forward to finding a pub in this college town to grab a beer at. We were going to be staying at Lanzerac Wine Estate and knew that dinner would be a very nice affair (with plenty of wine) so we found ourselves at Hudson’s downtown. Another ostrich burger for me and some extra spicy burger concoction for Chris and we were headed to the hotel for some R&R.

What an incredible place to stay for our final night in Africa. The Estate did not disappoint. The room, the grounds, service and food were all above our expectations. We only wished we had a little more time there to enjoy all of the offerings and amenities.

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We still have not stopped talking about one day buying a vineyard in Franschhoek or how wonderful it would be to live in South Africa for a while, given our wonderful experience there. I have gushed at length about the trip to anyone who will listen and effusively suggested people make the trek to Botswana, Cape Town and the wine country. We wouldn’t have changed a thing. This trip certainly is one that I don’t quite know how to surpass when it comes to the amount of adventure, culture, trying of new things, beautiful sights, wonderful people met, exquisite accommodations and sheer happiness that we felt while there. Cape Town now holds a very special place in my heart and is a place to which I know we will definitely journey again.

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