LOOK a lion in the eye and taste the world’s best wine in this unforgettable country, says Writer Molly Reynolds.
With lush wineries, vast mountain ranges and Lion King levels of wildlife, it’s impossible not to fall in love with SA.
For your first visit (because you will be back), start in Cape Town and follow the Garden Route – a 300km road trip along the south-east coast.
You’ll be spoilt by glorious weather, rich culture and divine – but affordable – food and wine.
1: Sky highs
In Cape Town, take a cable car 1,000m up Table Mountain – one of the so-called new seven wonders of nature – to soak up the panoramic views and watch the sunset, £10 (Tablemountain.net). Spot little dassies (native rock badgers) while sinking a beer, £1.90, in the Aerial Cableway cafe. Feeling energetic?
You can hike the route in just over two hours. For a real once-in-a-lifetime experience, a 40-minute helicopter ride will wow you with stunning aerial views, from £870 for three people (Nachelicopterscapetown).
2: Street style
Don’t miss Cape Town’s hipster neighbourhood Woodstock. Once a troubled area, this gentrified suburb has become a lively hub of street art and murals with inspiring messages about race and unity.
You can’t move for trendy breweries and dreamy brunch spots, but the highlight has to be the market at the Old Biscuit Mill, held every Saturday from 9am until 2pm. Lose yourself bargain-hunting beautiful clothes, furniture, jewellery and scoffing street food (Neighbourgoodsmarket.co.za).
3: Wow-factor waterfronts
Just over the Cross Swing Bridge in the harbour you’ll find the V&A Waterfront, packed with street dancers, bongo drums and happy vibes. For a relaxed lunch, settle in at The Harbour House to enjoy sustainably caught fish washed down with crisp sauvignon blanc for just £7.50 a bottle (Harbourhouse.co.za).
From here you can hop on the boat to Robben Island to see where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in a maximum-security prison. The eerie cell where he stayed is a sobering reminder of his relentless fight for justice, and is guaranteed to send shivers down your spine. Entry costs £19 (Robben-island.org.za).
4: Wonderful winelands
No trip to South Africa would be complete without some of the most stunning vino on the planet. At the beautiful Stellenbosch vineyard, an hour’s drive from Cape Town, spend a day sampling an array of home-grown wines, including the pinotage – a heavenly grape native to the country that is thankfully stocked in Sainsbury’s back home.
You can also visit the quaint town of Stellenbosch, one of the oldest European settlements on the continent. Its traditional Dutch-style architecture will transport you back in time. Tastings start from £2.60 for five wines (Stellenboschvineyards.co.za).
5 Ocean antics
Plettenberg Bay is a seaside town on the eastern part of the Garden Route, where sandy beaches meet the Indian Ocean. It’s a hot spot for surfing and to-die-for seafood.
Head to the Lookout Deck restaurant right on the beach for grilled Cajun calamari, £7, and seared tuna loin, £8.60, so fresh you’ll think they’ve leaped on to the plate (Lookout.co.za).
Two hours away in Gans Bay, book on to the Gansbaii Marine Big 5 safari tour to spy sharks – including the endangered great white – and the more crowd-friendly whales, penguins, seals and dolphins up really close.
You’ll also learn how we can help save these precious animals from extinction. Tours cost £68 per person (Whalewatchsa.com).
6: Snoozing in the trees
Catch some Zzzs among the leaves at the incredible Tsala Treetop Lodge in Plettenberg Bay. Tsala means friends in Afrikaans, and that sums up the feel here.
It has 16 huge suites – which are more like villas – that sit high up in the peaceful forest. With copper roll-top baths, balconies overlooking the tree canopy and your own plunge pool, you’ll feel at one with nature while lapping up all the luxury.
Just watch out for the baboons swinging past! Double rooms cost from £244 per night (Tsala.hunterhotels.com).
7: Sensation safari
The Kariega Game Reserve is a safari experience like no other. In the Ukhozi Lodge, rooms have king-size beds and an infinity pool overlooking 24,000 acres of wildlife.
You’ll jump in a 4×4 with a guide to lead you on an early morning drive to see elephants, giraffes, hippos and lions. Back at the reserve, you’ll feast on freshly cooked brekkie and chill poolside before another game drive that afternoon.
Then enjoy a traditional braai (AKA an incredible BBQ) under the stars, before heading out into the dark for a final chance to spot wildlife.
The whole experience costs from £272 per person (Kariega.co.za).
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