Into (South) Africa

by Elyse Glickman
Photographed by Paul J. Coffin


Working the land: Locals hired to harvest the magical marula fruit to produce Amarula liqueur benefit from a variety of philanthropic programmes engineered by Distell.

Last summer, people were glued to their televisions during the Soccer World Cup in a way that transcended the action on the field. South Africa’s allure is stronger than ever, from the nation’s bustling urban hubs to the eternal appeal of safaris—the original, and perhaps most authentic form of eco-tourism. In order to appreciate South Africa, however, a traveller needs to dedicate equal time to a game lodge stay in the country’s eastern reaches and a well-planned week in Cape Town. Dubbed ‘the Mother City’, thanks in part to its auspicious location at the apex of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, the city should definitely not be overlooked. Distell, parent company of Amarula liqueur and several internationally renowned wines including Durbanville Hills, Nederburg and Fleur du Cap, take the vibe of the “new” South Africa further, contributing significantly to the communities on both coasts that supporting the distilleries and wineries.

Though convening with nature via safari is essential, a visit to the Amarula Lapa (visitor centre) near Phalaborwa during the harvest season brings an added human dimension to the experience. Marula fruit, a sort of flavour hybrid of citrus, passionfruit and plum in its fresh-picked state, has provided nourishment to both elephants and humans throughout the course of South Africa’s history. Locals have also come up with way to transform marula into beer, fruit juice and beauty products. However, the mighty little fruit reached a critical mass worldwide just over 20 years ago when Distell’s experiments to develop a marula spirit, in a matter of speaking, bore fruit when fresh dairy cream was added to the equation.

From that seed emerged the Amarula Trust. During the harvest months of December through March at the Amarula Lapa, one can observe first-hand its conservation and community philanthropy in action. During months when husbands go off to work far from the villages, the distillery provides their wives with seasonal opportunities for supplemental income as well as a medical facility and day-care centre. The trust also offers a scholarship programme for young adults interested in furthering their education and training for field guide careers.

Kapama Lodge is Distell’s Kruger-adjacent safari destination for good reason. Its cottages and public areas are comfortable, elegant and understated, allowing the splendor of the landscape to alway remain in focus. Dinners are served open air in a lapa courtyard with a different chef serving up his or her culinary spin on fresh seasonal vegetables and grilled-to-order meats. The bar not only offers Amarula cocktails but also an opportunity to sample South African brandies such as Richelieu, Klipdrip and Van Ryn’s 12 and 15 year-old liqueurs.

Though camping here is hardly “roughing it”, Kapama puts you back in touch with nature even down to the nyala antelopes and monkeys strolling nonchalantly past your cottage and greeting committees of giraffe and elephants at the front gate. One could explore Kruger National Park on his or her own, but Kapama’s game drives are tailor-made for shorter stays and ecotourism virgins. The experience is packed full of “wow” moments with ample photo ops and plenty of witty commentary from the guides scouting members of the “big five”—lions, elephants, water buffalo, rhinoceros and leopards—and other equally interesting specimens. This is the jungle however, so expect surprises. (Our group stumbled into a family of cheetahs en route to the Amarula Lapa!)

On the other side of the country, Cape Town’s surrounding Winelands draw you in through generations of wine production history dating back to the 1600s, complete with quaint Dutch-flavoured villages and jaw-droppingly gorgeous landscapes. Durbanville Hills’ winery and restaurant is an ideal place to literally drink in the splendour of the Winelands with all five senses. Charming Stellenbosch, where Amarula is bottled and several Distell wineries are based, merits a day trip on its own, especially with its eclectic interior design and restaurants showcasing current food and wine trends.

Central Cape Town, though a diamond in the rough with construction crews doing their thing at press time, is nonetheless brilliant. From casual pubs like &Union to high-end restaurants like Savoy Cabbage, prepare to be inspired by the ways the spices and foods of Africa and India mingle with Portuguese, Dutch and English fare. People with an appetite for fashion, meanwhile, can suss out clothing and home fashion delights along Long and Loop Streets as well as the malls at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. People watching and bargain hunting abound at open–air markets like Greenmarket Square.

Venture away from downtown and the manicured V&A, and you will be richly rewarded. Though Camps Bay and Sea Point are reminiscent of beachy stretches like Bondi, Ipanema and Venice Beach, they are quintessentially South African, thanks to the local residents who frequent them, the Atlantic Ocean and the mountains.

Cape Town’s cultural institutions, including Robben Island, the District Six Museum, the Iziko Slave Lodge, the Jewish Museum and Iziko South African National Gallery, provide food for thought and pack an emotional punch depicting South Africa’s anti-Apartheid struggle and changes that have taken place since Mandela’s release and presidency. Essential nature-focused destinations include Kirstenborsch Botanical Gardens, the Company Gardens and the top of Table Mountain.

 

Lodging

The Protea Fire & Ice gives the boutique hotel trend a South African spin, down to its lobby and cocktail menus. Those planning a longer stay will love the well-appointed, stylish apartment accommodations of the Protea North Wharf.

The Steenberg Hotel & Winery in nearby Constantia is a foodie’s paradise (above) with Catherina’s and its tapas-and-tasting focused sibling Bistro Sixteen82 offering a stroll into South African wine history. Besides posh, individually decorated suites, the resort also offers golf, spa, exotic birds, lush hiking trails and shuttles to and from downtown Cape Town.

Each member of the Kapama Private Game Reserve Lodge family is designed so a guest can customize his or her safari adventure, whether it is a honeymoon, adventure holiday or family outing.

 

Wining, dining and cocktailing

Bascule is a must if whisky makes you frisky. This sophisticated spot blends chic lounge, distillery visit and fab flights of whisky from around the world, of course including South Africa. The food is excellent, too!

Don’t let the V&A Waterfront mall location fool you. Willoughby & Co. with its charming fully loaded wine shop is a treat for the wine enthusiast as well as seafood fan or sushi fanatic. The line of locals to get in speaks volumes, as does the friendly staff.

The Big Easy in Stellenbosch is a feast for all senses, from its impressive list of wines to its Country Living-goes-Cool dining rooms. The fish cakes, salmon and steak are definitely some of the highlights of the restaurant.

Coffee and cocktail enthusiasts in the know will tell you the Power & the Glory is on the forefront of any trend that happens to be drinkable. Eclectic décor lends itself to a daytime hangout and nighttime hotspot.

&Union is a can’t-miss for craft beer fans and is also living proof simple can be sophisticated, in the glass and on the plate.

If it’s a literal taste of the local scene you seek, hit the Bayside Café, Camps Bay’s go-to spot, complete with passing strolling musicians, performers and craft vendors.

 

Shopping

Long Street boutiques Mememe, Mungo & Jemima and Merchants on Long stock Cape Town fashion designers merging western tailoring and South African aesthetic. For more, visit www.southafrica-travel.net/westcape/capetown_longstreet.htm.

Interior design statement pieces can be found at Avoova and Imagenius. South Africa’s Woolworth’s department stores include home departments that stock vibrant, well-priced accents for every room.

The fresh, floral and fruity aromas of Charlotte Rhys, whose lotions, candles and soaps adorn the Kapama lodges and Steenberg Hotel, can be summed up as the best of South Africa in a bottle.

Shoe divas and handbag lovers take note: Erosha African Leather, at the Alfred Mall at the V&A Waterfront, is big on its offerings of ostrich accessories and comfortable Tsonga shoes in mouth-watering colours.

For more information on South Africa, visit www.southafrica.net, and for information on flights into South Africa, visit www.flysaa.com.

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