Friday, September 4, 2015

July 25 - Aug 1: Cape Town & Wine Country

We always recommend building a buffer to decompress from the wilderness before returning home.  In Southern Africa one can choose between the fabulous beaches of Mozambique where fresh seafood and azure waters await or the foodie capital of Africa - Cape Town and the winelands where the landscape is stunning and the food and wine even better (and such a bargain now that the dollar is so strong). 

Our family flew to Cape Town via Johannesburg and were met and transferred to the quaint More Quarters apartments which are set on a small cobblestone side street in the eclectic Gardens Neighborhood of Cape Town just off Aloof Street.  We were welcomed with hot tea and cakes as we sat by the warm fireplace in the reception as we had traveled south into the heart of winter and the outdid temps were a bit chilly at night in the low 50’s.  We were shown to our large well furnished apartments which featured full kitchens, a separate living area, a large bathroom with tiled shower, heated floors and a huge white bathtub, and a large bedroom leading onto a small garden patio.  The location was just perfect as there are numerous foodie shops, cut boutiques, top restaurants, and more along Kloof Street just out the door.  We were treated to a superb breakfast in the upstairs dining room the next morning with excellent view onto the table mountain massif which looms just behind the hotel. 

We spent the next 3 days exploring the craft markets, museums, castle, neighboring coastal communities like Bantry Bay, the bustling wharf area and more.  One highlight was when we rented a car and drove along the coast (think Big Sur) to Chapman’s Peak drive which is a spectacular road cut into the cliffs along the Atlantic coastline with funding surf below and huge mountains called the Twelve Apostles above.  

At the end of the drive we fortuitously stumbled into a small shopping village and snagged the last table at a bustling restaurant full of locals.  It turns out we found one of the top chefs in South Africa (Franck Dangereux’s FoodBarn) and it just so happened that they had a winter special for lunch with 50% off the entire menu…Can you say lucky?  This was one of the best meals we have ever had (and that is saying something) as we dined on fresh baked bread, baby squid, seaweed & edamame beans, homemade nori linguini, fontina truffle cream, sea bass with babaganoush and harissa oil,  roast lamb and more…simply superb.  With a delicious chenin blanc viognier and desert the meal was $20 per person for our family of 4.  Ridiculous!  Travel can reward you in so many special ways…what a treat.

Other favorite meals were in local shops like Manna Epicure where we had a delicious steak complemented by a pinotage (local grape between a pinot noir and a syrah) and fresh muscles in garlic and white wine sauce.  It is hard to get a bad meal in Cape Town and the prices are so reasonable.  The best bottle on the wine list at the fanciest restaurant is no more than $40 but you can get fabulous bottles for half that price. 

We loved the Potluck Club which is in an old Biscuit Mill that has been reconverted into a shopping village - the restaurant is on the 7th floor of the brick building and you have 360 degree views of Cape Town and Table Mountain from this top floor perch.  The kitchen is open format and it was great fun to watch the chefs layer the dishes with such care and effort.  The dishes here were tapas style - small bites that exploded with flavor like the wild fish tacos…yum!  We ordered one of everything on the menu and did not regret a thing.

Our last 2 days were spent exploring the wine country an hour north from Cape Town while lodging in both Stellenbosch and Franschoek.  Our first stop was Jordan winery in honor of our son, Jordan where we feasted on fresh lemon grass infused mussles , risotto with beef cubes and of course a trip to their private cheese room for desert complimented by their superb desert wine. 

The views across the valley vineyards to the steep mountains which rise up to several thousand feet above the valley floor remind me of a mix of Napa and South Island New Zealand.  The scenery is jaw dropping gorgeous and as we made our way to our hotel in the quaint Devon Valley we saw the full moon ride early along the ridge over the vines…the next day we enjoyed bargaining in the craft market in the historic University town of Stellenbosch and then drove up and over the pass into Franschoek where we had a superb meal at La Petite Ferme.  This is a must stop in wine country and it does not disappoint.  After lunch we checked in to our hotel which is a new property on the ride between the two towns called Clouds Estate. 

The weather was perfect so we jumped into the chilly infinity pool and enjoyed the late afternoon sun.  Later we enjoyed our last G&T’s by the pool and toasted the end of our journey as the sun set over the vineyards and we awaited the “Blue Moon” to rise.  The staff were so kind to make us a roaring fire out by the pool and when the moon popped up over the mountain all the granite in the rock faces came to live…an excellent way to celebrate our last night in Africa.  I should mention that the next morning we popped over to the adjacent property which is a 5 star Relais Chateaux estate called Delaire Graf.
The property was amazing from the individual lodges for guests to the spa, the wine tasting room and the two restaurants which are considered among the best in Afrca.  Perhaps the most spectacular part of the property is the superb art collection which includes stunning outdoor oversized sculptures to exquisite oil paintings and more…  If you had an unlimited budget this would be the place to stay for sure…

July 25 - Farewell to Zimbabwe - Hello Cape Town & Wine Country

Today we bade farewell to the wonderful staff at Zambezi Sands.  The entire crew spoiled us and made us feel like family from the professional guides Rob (walking expert), Clint (canoe expert), to the warm hearted staff headed by the lodge managers John & Nadia,  to the chefs who pampered us with delicious meals like fresh fish from the river, Zimbabwe beef filets, and pork tenderloins. 

We owe a very special thanks and debt of gratitude to Mark Butcher (Butch) who owns Imvelo Lodges and is our partner in Zimbabwe.  Butch was kind enough to personally guide our group through the Hwange and Zambezi portions and was absolutely fabulous with the kids - his energy and enthusiasm was boundless and we were so very privileged to travel with one of the pioneers of sustainable tourism in Zimbabwe.  
Butch’s efforts to build schools, support local communities, provide water holes and vet services for the animals, are phenomenal and we are proud to work with him and support his efforts in Zimbabwe.  In just the last 3 years Imvelo has sourced and provided over 5 million dollars in aid to the local community.  Good on you, Butch!  We will be back for more adventures!  If you would like to learn more about the good work that Imvelo is doing or would like to contribute please check out these links below.  The best thing you can do is actually come on a safari in Zimbabwe with us so you get to meet the community and personally experience the warm hospitality we enjoyed while supporting all these great projects.  
To help the local schools... 
To help with dentists and infrastructure (US tax deductible)

Imvelo safaris Community & Conservation link
To learn more about community and conservation efforts that Imvelo is contributing towards...

July 24 - Victoria Falls by helicopter, markets, and lunch at the historic Vic Falls Hotel

This morning we left early so that we could get to the falls to meet our helicopter for a spectacular flight of angels above the falls.  It was so cool to ride in a helicopter over the falls and the views were superb.  From above one can see how the river has cut a deep gorge over several hundred feet down through the rock.  The river plunges over the falls in a mile wide spectacle dropping over 300 feet to the great pool below before snaking its way down through narrow canyon twisting and turning back on itself as it flows towards the Indian Ocean. 

We could see the historic rail bridge spanning the falls, the famous whitewater rapids far below, and the lush foliage of Victoria Falls National Park was abuts the river on the Zimbabwe side.  The helicopter ride lasted about 20 minutes and it was worth every penny!  Later we went into a craft market to do some shopping and then took a guided walking tour along the edge of the cliff top in the park where we were able to see the falls up close and personal.  In fact, at times we were soaked by the spray which actually comes down like a hard rain in certain spots.  

We were happy we had raincoats that had been provided with our tour.  It was fun to walk out to the edge and peer down as the water cascaded powerfully past.  You could feel the vibration and power of the river and hear the thunderous roar echoing through the canyon.  It felt like Hawaii in the park because it was warm and humid with lots of ferns and greenery.  At the end of our walking tour we had a great view of the famous Vic Falls bridge which spans the gorge between Zimbabwe and Zambia.  Our timing was perfect as we were able to see a bungee jumper launch off the bridge and drop 110 meters down then pinball around over the gorge.  Good fun.  

One of the highlights of the day was a grand lunch at the historic and colonial Victoria Falls hotel which just oozes with history.  The hotel was the place to stay in Vic Falls for those who took the historic rail journey from South Africa in the early 1900’s.  Imagine a perfect whitewashed Victorian era building with columns and a grand entrance flanked by porters in crisp red uniforms leading inside to a wood paneled reception and then into a spacious lounge with comfortable couches, fireplace, bar, library and grand dining room.  But the real highlight is the wide veranda which overlooks a well kept garden and has wonderful views into the gorge.  We ordered some nice cold Victoria Falls lagers and enjoyed a delicious pepper steak meal.  The beef in Zimbabwe is some of the finest in the world so this was a real treat. Of course we had to sample the yummy deserts which included home made sorbets with various local fruits.  This is a classic stop and a great way to toast your arrival in Victoria Falls.  The town itself is quite small and surprisingly there is not a lot of historic buildings.  Just lots of craft markets and boutiques selling shona soapstone sculptures, wood carvings, textiles and jewelry.  The rest of the shops are dedicated to the various adventure sports on offer from bungee to rope swing, elephant rides to whitewater rafting, helicopter and microlite flights, sunset cruises and more…While we enjoyed our visit to the falls it was great to get back to the secluded bush and our lovely lodge along the river for sundowners on the deck.