By Lyn Dobrin
Cape Town, South Africa
A small plane took us to the airport, stopping at another lodge to pick up additional passengers. Our last view of wildlife was right there on the runway, a zebra indifferent to our approach.
We circled the field and when we returned to land, it had moved off into the bush. We changed to a commercial jet in Nelspruirt. This took us to the southern end of the country.
Where exactly have we landed? The Riviera? - the grace of a city not quite tropical, comfortable with itself, the nonchalance of people who eat outdoors, the streets closed to traffic, buildings whitewashed and pink. Or Rio? - a mountain in the city's heart.
Here was the cool blue ocean, expressways leading one way to wine country, the other to a point that goes no further and beyond which lies Antarctica. The nearness of that frigid continent was underscored by the fact that penguins inhabit a nearby beach.
This is Cape Town, one of the world's beautiful cities. Long known for its diversity and tolerance, Cape Town is a perfect place to end a South African journey.
The stately Mount Nelson Hotel, once known for its more-than-English correctness, has now taken on some of the city's relaxed ambience. Sitting at the base of Table Top Mountain and a short distance from a lovely stroll down historic Government Avenue, nothing beats the outdoor breakfast by the garden-well, perhaps the traditional English afternoon tea. And for those wanting nothing more than an opportunity to unwind, there is the pool set beautifully on a lawn filled with shade trees.
Exploring Cape Town
For a another experience of Cape Town hospitality we moved to the modern and deservedly highly rated Table Bay Hotel at the foot of the recently renovated harbor waterfront filled with stores, a shopping mall, dozens of restaurants to fit every budget and taste, boats, ships and cranes. Again we marveled - Boston, South Street Seaport, Baltimore Harbor? Not with the street musicians, older men with hats, playing classic South African jazz that makes it impossible not to smile and realize that you are somewhere special.
Set against the eastern slopes of Table Top Mountain is Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, perhaps the most breathtaking garden-setting in the world. Growing a vast array of indigenous South African plants, it is one of the many highlights of a South African trip. Another is the ride up the West Cape. Here are the vineyards that have recently made their mark in the world market.
The wine industry dates back to the 17th century and at the Spier center in the heart of the Stellenbosch Winelands we enjoyed an informative wine tasting while pulsing, infectious live music wafted through the shutter window from the performance outside. At Spier's Jonkershuis Restaurant, a 150 year old Dutch-style manor house, we ate a sumptuous buffet of traditional Cape dishes.
Not to be missed is the Cape of Good Hope, the spot where two oceans clash. This place is pure magic. To one side is the Atlantic where the beaches are powder soft but the waters too cold for swimming; to the other side is the tropical Indian Ocean. And straight ahead is the endless expanse of roiling water, a placed filled with of legends of countless sailors making their way around, many to end at the bottom of the sea. The wind is intense and exhilarating.
Magellan was one of the explorers who did make his way around and to our serendipitous delight was a replica of his wooden bark moored right in front of Table Bay in town, where four sailors had been replicating his journey for nearly five years. They invited us to travel with them but life back in New York called us home.
South African Airways
The Westcliff Hotel, Johannesburg
The Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg
Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, Kruger
Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Cape Town
Lyn Dobrin is a freelance food, travel and gardening writer, specializing in luxury travel.