Wine, wildlife and winding roads – our luxury South Africa honeymoon
Full of impossibly romantic boutique hotels, spectacular views and culinary masterpieces, South Africa is a fantastic, yet underrated luxury honeymoon destination. In 2016, we visited this beautiful part of the world as newly-weds and fell in love with all it had to offer. Here is what we got up to across our 10-day road trip across South Africa’s Garden Route...
Why South Africa?
When it came to planning our wedding, we were fairly clueless as to where to start regarding the event itself, but there was one thing we knew from the moment we got engaged: we wanted a trip-of-a-lifetime honeymoon that we would treasure for years to come. Whilst other brides get excited by what shoes they’ll be wearing or what flowers will adorn the table centrepieces, I was just as excited (if not more) about the first adventure we would take as a married couple. We knew we wanted something a bit more unique than the usual all-inclusive beach resort, and after some great advice from the brilliant team at Turquoise Holidays, decided on South Africa as our destination.
Well-known for its prolific safari scene and world-famous wines, South Africa has long been considered a wildlife lover and foodie’s paradise. However, with its rich culture, melting-pot history, pristine beaches and spectacular scenery, this southern gem is so much more than a whistle-stop taste of the continent and is fast becoming one of the world’s most exciting honeymoon destinations. Blending the romantic luxury of popular beach hotspots such as the Caribbean, the character and cuisine of the French Riviera and adventurous nature of New Zealand, South Africa is perfect for couples who seek a more active pace for their honeymoon without sacrificing any of the comfort.
Greeted by some of the most friendly and welcoming people in the world, it’s clear from the outset that the South Africans know how to treat their guests. From taxi drivers and waiters, to hotel staff and tour guides, no request is too much and there is always someone on hand to help or advise. It’s this personal service and attention to detail (along with, of course, the impeccable food and drink!) that makes it such a fantastic place for that special holiday. It’s also worth noting that (at the time of writing) the exchange rate between the Rand and Pound is very good, meaning that you can stay in some luxurious hotels and enjoy some high-end meals on a relatively affordable budget. Always handy when you’ve just spent all of your hard-earned savings on a wedding!
With so many beautiful spots in South Africa, it may seem daunting to try to take it all in on one trip, but it is possible to sample much of the wonderful sights and tastes it has to offer in a fortnight visit. The most popular way of seeing the Western Cape and stunning craggy coastlines of the country is the Garden Route, aptly named for its green, mountainous landscapes. No trip to this part of the world would be complete without the Big Five though, which can either be incorporated as part of the Garden Route, or by flying north, as we did, to one of the country’s famous safari parks (which you can read about in a future post!) In the meantime, here's how we explored South Africa's coastal road.
Cape Town & Surrounding Area
As the provincial capital of the Western Cape and legislative capital of South Africa, the coastal city of Cape Town is nestled in the foothills of the iconic Table Mountain, giving it an inclusive and contained feel.
The chic and modern V&A Waterfront is popular with tourists, offering a vast selection of restaurants and upmarket shops. Though arguably a little soulless in comparison to the bustling streets of the city centre, it is definitely worth a visit, if only for the fabulous indoor food market at the Wharf which runs daily with a mesmerising array of culinary concoctions to sample. The Waterfront is also where trips to the infamous Robben Island depart from at regular intervals throughout the day.
Meaning ‘Seal Island’ in Dutch due to its large population of furry friends, this 5km-round island has gone through a variety of guises over the years but is most famous for housing the prison where Nelson Mandela was held for almost 20 years. Weather-beaten coastlines frame this UNESCO World Heritage Site, which can be explored on frequent guided bus tours taking in colonies of African penguins, the island’s church (strangely popular for weddings!) and of course, the prison itself, known now as the Robben Island Museum. Showing how far the country has come since the apartheid years, fascinating tours around the museum are conducted by former prisoners, offering unique, first-hand knowledge of this dark part of history, making it an incredibly humbling experience that really hits home.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that the Waterfront area is the only – or best – spot for tourism, entertainment and a lavish meal though. The views may be great at the Waterfront, but to capture the real buzz of this urban paradise, you can’t beat the Kloof Street area, found directly below the majestic Table Mountain. Boasting unique and quirky bars and candlelit dinner settings such as Kloof Street House and Societi Bistro, there are some wonderful spots for a special night out, all within walking distance of one another. We stayed in this area at the beautiful Cape Cadogan Boutique Hotel - a Georgian style townhouse bursting with character, style and attentive staff.
The surrounding area of Cape Town is just as impressive as the city itself, with dramatic sea cliffs and land ends. Just an hour’s drive south of the metropolis, along the craggy coast, past seaside towns and white sand beaches, is Cape Point, the southeast corner of the Cape Peninsula in Table Mountain National Park. Jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, this mountainous landform is a spectacular sight and perfect place to stop for a short walk. Driving back up the coast, another must-see stop-off point is Boulders Beach, a bay sheltered by granite boulders, which is home to a growing colony of friendly and inquisitive African penguins. For the small conservation fee, you can walk along a designated boardwalk taking in the dunes and local vegetation, right up to the main beach where the penguins tend to gather. Do keep your eyes peeled along the boardwalk though - many of the penguins can also be found nestled in the flora and fauna!
The piece de resistance of Cape Town, however, has to be it’s most iconic landmark - Table Mountain. Standing tall at over 1,000 metres above sea level, this magnificent stature offers breathtaking 360 degree views of the city, bay and surrounding area. The flat-topped surface of the mountain is accessible by a mesmerising revolving cable car (which is an exciting experience in itself!). This is weather dependent though, so it’s recommended to check whether the cable car is running on the day of your visit. Queues also tend to be lengthy, so booking your ticket in advance and allowing enough time is advisable. On a clear day, though, you can easily spend a good hour and a half walking around the mountain top, in awe of the inspiring rocky vistas – a truly unforgettable experience.
From Cape Town, it is a straightforward and easy drive towards South Africa’s legendary wine region, just east of the city. Most guidebooks direct visitors to the University town of Stellenbosch, the second oldest European settlement in South Africa after Cape Town and a great base for days out at the countless surrounding vineyards. Another option is to stay right in the heart of the action by residing in one of the luxurious Farm Hotels, offering a unique, hands-on experience.
For a more intimate and peaceful experience, though, head to the smaller settlement of Franschhoek, where we stayed for 3 nights at wonderful 5-star hotel, The Last Word. Translated as ‘French Corner’ in Afrikaan, this one-road valley town lives up to its name, offering a microcosm of European sophistication set against the backdrop of the region’s dramatic green and mountainous landscape. Home to an array of award-winning restaurants including Foliage and La Petite Ferme (we had the lamb here which I’m still raving about years later!) as well as wonderful artisan cafes and quirky art and craft shops, Franschhoek is a treat for both the eyes and taste buds. Bookings are recommended though!
The main attraction for this area, however, is obviously the wine. Taking in the spectacular scenery alongside the delicious produce, the hop-on, hop-off Wine Tram is a great way of sampling some of the finest wines in South Africa (if not the world) at a relaxed and laid-back pace. For couples craving a more personal experience though, there are also private tours available where you can indulge in a chauffeur-driven day of tastings at some of the region’s highly acclaimed wineries. Combined with a morning of horse riding amongst the rolling vineyards, this is a wonderful way of enjoying the breathtaking landscapes whilst bringing the history of the region to life.
A 5-6 hour drive from the winelands along the beautifully scenic Garden Route takes you to the immaculate beaches Plettenberg Bay and the lush jungle terrain of Tsitsikamma National Park.
At the heart of the Garden Route is the peaceful, upmarket holiday town of Knysna. Whilst the area is fairly touristy and centred around luxurious holiday and retirement apartments, the striking Kynsna Heads (two dramatic sea cliffs) offers impressive vistas and a chance to explore the area’s unique flora and fauna at the Featherbed Nature Reserve. The real selling point for honeymooners though, is Knysna’s extensive idyllic and tranquil lagoon, perfect for romantic sunset cruises accompanied by chilled glass of champagne! We had a wonderful evening sipping bubbles, sampling oysters and taking in the mesmerising orange glow with Knysna Charters.
Travelling further along the coast, the road leads to Plettenberg Bay, home to a vast stretch of white sand beach. This is where we stayed at the unique Hog Hollow Country Lodge. Here, at this popular seaside holiday town, there are opportunities to view dolphins frolicking in the waves and a huge Cape fur seal colony on the Robberg Peninsula. The real wow-factor lies further east, though, when you arrive at Tsitsikamma National Park, a 50-mile coastal reserve famed for its indigenous forests, striking coastlines and intense 5-day Otter Trail hike. Sides of paths are scattered with South Africa’s unique dassie rats, bathing in the sun, as the walking trail takes visitors to the impressive Storms River Mouth, with a wide, dramatic swing bridge joining the gorge which you can kayak through or enjoy a gentle stroll.