Cape Town, South Africa has long been lauded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The waterfront, Table Mountain, and the beautiful blue Atlantic Ocean create a stunning setting for a cosmopolitan city. Sir Frances Drake remarked “this cape is the most stately thing and fairest cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth” in 1580.
This port city sits at the bottom of South Africa. On the waterfront, one can watch the hub of activity with gazillions of boats and even dream of which yacht or sailboat is really yours…
Or visit Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for many years….it’s just off the shores of Cape Town.
Adventures such as shark cage diving, whale watching, penguin observing, and wine tasting are a reasonable drive away. (Stay tuned for a blog post about penguins and shark cage diving!).
I was delighted when the South African Tourism Bureau invited me to explore this little gem with them. I saw the itinerary with the invitation and said a resounding Hell Yes! in my head (and perhaps out loud).
Cape Town Day 1
Upon arrival, we were greeted by our private driver (oh man how I love a private driver!! It’s essential to a well-crafted journey!) and our guide, Steve. We had a panoramic tour of the city (code word for riding in the van in comfort) and drove down the picturesque road to the amazing Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden for a picnic and (of course) champagne.
What a lovely setting!!! What a lovely experience!!! I could have stayed there for hours….but alas…we must continue our adventure! Kirstenbosch is lauded as the most beautiful in Africa and one of the greatest botanical gardens in the world. The garden was created in 1913 to cultivate and display the rich, diverse flora of South Africa. It is the first garden in the world to be devoted on a country’s indigenous flora. There are over 7,000 species of plants at Kirstenbosch. I needed all day here to explore!
After lunch, we were driven back to the waterfront where our helicopters awaited at the highly rated Cape Town Helicopters. Cape Town helicopters offer a wide array of helicopters an operate in an eco-friendly manner. Their helicopters are certified to operate in noise sensitive areas meaning that when you fly over these areas, you won’t be spoiling someone else’s experience by the helicopter noise.
This was my first heli ride and I bubbled over with nervous energy. Helicopters were landing and leaving constantly and the sound of the choppers was invigorating! I was ushered back to my childhood watching MASH when we ducked down a little bit as we approached our helicopter with the wind from the blades blowing our hair hither tither.
We buckled in, put on our Bose aviation headsets, and gently started going up up up!!!
I tried not to think about the fact that our little cutie patootie pilot, Ryan, looked all of twelve, but he was an experienced pilot and a fun chopper host. Our copter gang flew over Robben Island, parts of Cape Town, around the World Cup Soccer stadium, and the beautiful white-sand beaches along the Atlantic.
We all snapped photo after photo—just waiting for that money shot!
The pilot increased our elevation to avoid the crazy winds that day (we didn’t really feel them much—kudos to Cutie Patootie) and we headed down to Cape Point where (some say) the Atlantic meets the Indian Ocean. (I discovered that there were several points at the bottom of Africa where people say the Atlantic meets the Indian Ocean and Cape of Good Hope is often mistakenly called the southern tip of Africa). The Cape is situated where the warm Mozambique-Agulhas current from the Indian Ocean meets the cool Benguela current from the Atlantic—making all kinds of crazy waves….kind of like a thunderstorm under water (Becky explanation not official explanation).
After crossing over the Cape of Good Hope, we continued down the coast a bit—spying the home of penguins in the distance and heading back towards Cape Town and Table Mountain. What an exhilarating experience! My first helicopter ride!!!
After our ride, we checked into our respective hotels. I was staying at the beautiful Cape Grace Hotel. I actually did a Happy Dance when I saw my assignment as I have booked this property for my best clients with rave reviews afterwards—and I wanted to see it for myself! Some of my colleagues stayed at the Taj Cape Town and the Belmond Mount Nelson—both amazing properties. I have the skinny on these as well!
Cape Grace Hotel
Cape Grace Hotel has a lovely feel of understated elegance. It’s like visiting a country club in the olden days or perhaps a fine estate of a friend—a wealthy shipping magnate kind of friend from old money…. The hotel is situated on the Victoria & Alfred waterfront between the bustling working harbor and the international yacht marina. My room overlooked the marina and Table Mountain (!!!), which I adored!! I just opened the French doors and voila….oh man!!!
It was the perfect spot to watch the morning activity with a cup of tea. (Did I mention they provide a nespresso machine and a tea pot (!!!), along with a lovely selection of teas and coffee, and cookies?)
There was ample closet space in my room along with a vanity area with a chair (a first for me)…The bathrooms were large with both a large tub (although the tub stoppers were gone because of the severe water shortage in 2017/2018) and a walk in shower.
Cape Grace’s 120 luxurious rooms are decorated in a cozy, yet elegant style. Elements of living in the early days of Cape Town are used in the decor–both displayed as antiques and in more whimsical ways, such as china in the chandelier. The decor evoked the time of schooners in the harbor–of merchants and adventure… The suites were lovely and many had a terrace with a view over the harbor and Table Mountain. No wonder my best clients didn’t want to leave!
The Bascule Whisky, Wine, and Cocktail bar offers one of the largest whisky collections in the southern hemisphere. I was enamored with the labels as I walked through the bar and down the corridor saying—I know this one, tasted that one, oooh what is this one about…..
Around the corner from the bar is the wine cellar (which I did not want to leave) with a locker just for Virtuoso Guests—you can thank me later!
Signal Restaurant serves contemporary cuisine and is the location for the complimentary breakfast amenity my clients receive (you can thank me later!). Pro Tip: Order the Potato Rösti, truffle-scented creamed mushrooms and two soft poached eggs (accompanied by a mimosa of course). You’re welcome!!
The pool area was the perfect spot of an afternoon wine and a nap.
Next on the agenda was wine tasting and tapas at the spectacular Ellerman House. Upon arrival at Ellerman House, we were warmly greeted and escorted outside to the lawn where the General Manager of the hotel, Paul, awaited with champagne (oh how I love my job!!!!). We chatted, learned about the history of the hotel and just soaked in the views of the Atlantic with Champagne in hand.
The Ellerman House offers thirteen rooms and suites, two ultra-modern villas and a lovely spa. The seaside property is a few minutes outside of Cape Town proper in the heart of Bantry Bay. It’s a member of Relais & Chateaux, so you know food is going to be a focus. The views and the privacy are top notch at this resort.
Paul escorted us down to the mini art gallery which boasted some impressive works.
I especially loved the piece outside the gallery reflecting the view of the ocean (and Robben Island) with the hash marks for the number of days Mandella spent imprisoned.
We continued our tour of the property to view a few spectacular villas, the spa, and culminating at the wine cellar (did I mention I loved my job??). Those Villas!!!! Wowzer!! What views!!!!
The cellar at the Ellerman House is unique in that a portion of it is in the shape of a corkscrew—I immediately wanted this for my own home!!!
The sommelier led us through a tasting of the wines he chose for our group. He was quite knowledgeable—I watched him assist several people in our group choose the perfect wine for their personal palate.
I loved the art in the Cellar area…very wine-centric! The tiles on the wall demonstrated the different types of soils from South African vineyards of Stellenbosch.
Cape Town Day Two
After a leisurely breakfast at Cape Grace, we walked down the waterfront to the brand new Zeitz MOCAA Museum. It’s the museum of contemporary art focusing on African artists and the largest contemporary art museum in Africa. The building is just spectacular! It’s a re-imagined grain silo complex on the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.
Now in the past, I’ve struggled with contemporary art…. Some of it just didn’t make sense….or more often didn’t seem to be what I called art.
My stepdaughter gave me an important piece of advice when viewing contemporary art: it’s not just about that one piece you are viewing. Part of the impact is about the placement with other pieces of art, with the intensity of emotion (color shows this) or size. You have to ask yourself “what is the artist trying to say.” I’m a words girl and once I knew to use my brain and not just my eyes and ponder the message, I could see the words. As Thomas Dolby once sung “It’s poetry in motion.” That is contemporary art.
I chose to walk through the Zeitz MOCAA gallery alone instead of with groups of my travel friends. I wanted to stop and ponder and go through at my own pace….sometimes faster and usually somewhat slower. The art installations many times sent a powerful message—of power (many times abused by men and women), of pretense, of dying, of living under the weight of it all…. Even if you are not a museum fan, this is a powerful place.
The images made me think….ask questions of what is going on….like with Lungiswa Gqunta’s work giving commentary on the tools of segregation and oppression – sometimes tools of seemingly beneign use like beer bottles and bed sheets…
I spied the work of Mary Sibande – In the Midst of Chaos, There is Opportunity–powerful stuff!!! There were so many images I wanted to unpack and even put to words on paper…..I took photos to remember and write later….
The museum featured artists who use short films to engage the audience into the meaning they are trying to convey like Wangechi Mutu in The End of Carrying All….
And William Kentridge in More Sweetly Play the Dance – tracing effects of Apartheid and colonialism in South Africa:
One and Only Cape Town
After our morning of art, we walked over to the One and Only resort. I am glad we took the time to walk over there as in my mind, it was in a different location.
Wow! I loved this place (of course, what’s not to love about One & Only!!). It was a resort in the middle of the city. Now if you want a more city hotel experience, this is perhaps not the property for you, however, if you like to come back to your hotel and have a respite from the city life, it’s a fabulous place to do so!
The pool—oh yeah…you gotta see the pool! It’s surrounded by greenery and is where I wanted to spend the rest of my day!!!
The One & Only offers 131 spacious guest rooms and suites.
The One & Only boasts the only restaurant by the legendary chef, Nobuyuki (Nobu) Matsuhisa on the continent of Africa. The Nobu bar features selections of Sake and Sochu-based craft cocktails. Yum! The hotel rises seven stories above the marina and offers sublime views of Table Mountain. The One & Only spa is located on a private island in the middle of the waterway along with forty-one and two-bedroom island suites.
Along the path of our property tour, we spied an ice cream cart and were delighted to discover that they offered rosé flavored popsicles…SCORE!! My Travel Advisor friends and I were so.very.excited.
Our lunch was tapas style at the poolside restaurant and the dishes were outstanding! The wine flowed (did I mention I loved my job!) and we got to know the general manager and sales managers of the hotel much better. To me, a good relationship is cultivated over time, over food, and over wine. One of the reasons I love to visit my hotelier friends is to get to know them better and have them get to know me. When my clients travel to my preferred properties, they aren’t just room 202 in the manager’s eyes, they have a name and they belong to someone. PSA over….
After lunch, a travel advisor friend and I went shopping in the market stalls along the waterfront. We stopped along the waterfront to see the seals at play, which made my heart very, very happy!!
I purchased some wonderful African art (I had this thing for hippos) and we walked back to the Cape Grace hotel for an afternoon respite (mine was poolside with wine).
That evening, I had dinner reservations at a restaurant I’d seen recommended several times in the usual channels. I had even sent clients there. Unfortunately, sometimes restaurant recommendations are misses and this one falls into that category… perhaps they had a staff change….perhaps they got complacent…or perhaps they had an off night…. I’m not going to blast them on my blog…that’s what Yelp is for. 🙂 What you need to know, though, is that I do take the time to explore high-end restaurants to discover for myself where they are located, the level of service, the wine list, and the cuisine. I love dining opportunities where I don’t have a hosted dinner because that’s where the food magic happens….it’s just me and the food…and the wine…
I taxied back to the hotel (yes official taxis are okay in Cape Town) and went back to the glorious Cape Grace for a final night on the Cape Town waterfront.
My stay in Cape Town was way too short, but I can tell you that I will be back—and next time with The Man in tow because he’s going to love it.
Becky Lukovic is a South African specialist residing in Roswell, GA. She loves a room with a view and a bottle of champagne to celebrate, which she may or may not share. Her love for adventure travel began as a young girl carving out adventures of her own deep in the back 40 of her family’s generational farm in the mountains of Arkansas. Follow her adventures near and far on Instagram.