Category Archives: South Africa

South Africa – Hermanus, Swellendam and Franschoek

A two hour drive took us to the charming town of Hermanus – especially famous for its whales – and we did see some from the hotel deck. But the real “Wow factor” for me here was the stunning hotel we were in – The Birkenhead House – designed by the same people as the Silo Hotel mentioned in my previous post. This is what I call classy luxuries bliss – and it was complimented by amazing food – all meals included – and while this is not something I would usually do – once you get here you are glad you did as you don’t want to leave the place for even a minute.

Public areas in the Birkenhead Hotel

Contemporary and comfortable design is key at the Birkenhead House

My bedroom and plunge pool at the Birkenhead House

Then after a breakfast that looked like this ……

Luxe brekkie at the Birkenhead House Hotel

it was wonderful to take a 90 minute cliff walk into Hermanus to walk some of it off and enjoy the views along the way……

Cliff walk into Hermanus

Only to return to this ……

Home made scones with a view at the Birkenhead House Hotel

Just as well I only stayed for two nights….

Another two hour drive took us to the town of Swellendam. A very pretty small town and nice to stop at a less touristy place for a night. The scenery en-route was stunning and the local Drodsky Museum was nicely done.

Classic views on the road to Swellendam

Dutch cape houses including our bed and breakfast at Hotel Roosje van der Kopp

Finally, we finished our time in South Africa with a visit to the lovely Franschoek – a much busier place than when Trudy and I last visited decades ago but still absolutely charming.

We loved the Hugenot memorial and museum – really interesting info on how they came to settle in the western Cape and who knew Roger Federer was descended from them and had visited his relatives there?!

The Hugenot Memorial in Franschoek

The Hugenot Museum – with boy in pink hot pants ?!?

As for the food – goodness it was good. The first night we went to Reuben’s which we loved (and the chef is a local) and I enjoyed two kinds of steak tartare.

Eating at Reuben’s

and the the second, to officially recognise Trudy’s birthday year, was the fantastical La Petite Colombe – the pictures are only half as good as the food and the experience. A must visit if you are in the area.

A zen feel to the food at La Petite Colombe

The surprises keep on coming at La Petite Colombe


We also enjoyed our stay at Plumwood Inn – very convenient for the Main Street yet tucked away too.

And of course you can’t visit this area without doing at least one wine tasting day which we enjoyed in Stellenbosch for the whole of our last day – forgetting we had to be up at 5am for our flight to …….?(watch this space)

Scenery around Stellenbosch and the vineyards are looking good

Trudy, Alan and I enjoying a day at some local wineries in Stellenbosch

Have already booked a longer stay in SA for early 2021!

South Africa, Cape Town

Now it is time to explore Cape Town and the Western cape of South Africa. I already know I will return here for longer so this short visit was a nice taster and reminder of a wonderful city – last time I was here was around 1993 – things have certainly movie on since then.

Our apartment was a five minute walk from the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront area – this is the place where everything happens in Cape Town so it is great to be close by. By day it is a fun place to visit to eat, shop, listen to live music and generally watch the world go by. By night it is very prettily lit and buzzing – also very safe and well patrolled by security guards.

Day time at the Victoria and Alfred waterfront with Table Mountain in the background

Night lights at the V and A waterfront.

On the next sunny morning we headed off to the impressive Kirstenbosch Botanical gardens – massively large area to wander about and enjoy flora and sculpture – would definitely recommend.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens surrounded by mountains

I wanted to take a look at the Silo Hotel (formerly an actual silo) which many people had recommended to me. I went for lunch and loved the interior design of the place – I didn’t know at the time that I would be staying in another hotel by the same owners when I reached Hermanus – more of that shortly.

Exterior and interior of public areas at the Silo Hotel

On a much more sober note we toured the District 6 area and the township of Langa. It is always difficult to decide whether it is a good idea to be a tourist in these kinds of places – not because they are scary but because you don’t want people to feel they are being stared at. This tour was better because once we reached the township we got off the bus and a local resident took us around and explained how the townships began and how they were slowly (way too slowly) being modernised into more acceptable public housing and less corrugated iron – but they are still overcrowded and the wait for some for the better style of housing has been more than 20 years.

How people are living in the townships near Capetown

The District 6 Museum was well put together explaining the history of the area where people were segregated into different “varieties” of colour – black, Malay, coloured and of course had most of their rights curtailed as a result and they were housed in different areas so many families were pulled apart if they were interracial at that time. The definitions of each group are awful to read as you consider that humans took the time to classify other humans like this. If it was not clear what group you belonged they did a pencil test – this involved putting a pencil in your hair – if it stayed put you were black if it fell out you were coloured. How strange and distressing we humans are at times.

Traditional African recipes embroidered on cloths

District 6 Museum of life in the townships and the resettlement of the coloured people during apartheid

Zimbabwe (Victoria Falls) to South Africa (Capetown) via Pretoria, South Africa by Rovos Rail luxury trains.

I always love a long (and luxurious of course!) train journey so taking Rovos Rail – first from Victoria Falls to Pretoria and then a day later on to Capetown- is the one to do in Africa for a longer trip.

Rovos Tail was started by a train enthusiast Rohan Vos who originally bought a couple of carriages to beautify and use with his family but now it is available to everyone and includes beds, a bar/lounge an observation car and a dining carriage.

It takes a while to get use to the jerking and brake sounds on a train when you are trying to sleep but the movement seems to do the trick and there’s lots of time for afternoon catch up snoozes. The food – four course dinners but sensibly sized portions – was consistently superb and they offered a great choice of South African wines.

Exterior views of our train with observation car at the back on a brief leg stretching night stop.

Plush interiors and dressing for dinner is required- makes it very orient express like!

Out first stop was the Hwange national park in Zimbabwe when we went out for a 3.5 hour early morning game drive. We were lucky to spot a pair of cheetahs in the distance plus zebra, antelope and a dozy pride of lions who looked liked they had been well fed recently – always good to know when you are a tourist! Certainly seeing the African wildlife again has made me want to do another proper safari when I can.

Zebras, cheetahs and antelope

A lazy pride of lions

After three nights on the train we arrived at Pretoria for an overnight stop at a hotel. This is not the most interesting place on earth but I’m glad I had an afternoon and morning there. On arrival we visited the Union Building where one of the SA parliaments is housed (the other is in Capetown). The building bottom left is an old synagogue now in disuse so no access allowed but it was also used for the infamous treason trials of many political prisoners including Mandela and Sisulu.

Old buildings in and around Church Square in Pretoria

A wonderful sight is the giant sized Mandela sculpture looking over the city. We saw some little 4 year olds come up to see it and they ran up to it shouting “we love you Mandela” completely unprompted – they were genuinely excited. He is so beloved here – and for good reason. We need a few more like him around the world.

The giant Mandela sculpture. I barely reached his calf muscles!

On our second day in Pretoria we headed to the Vortrekker monument high above the city – which is a memorial and museum to the primarily Dutch settlers who trekked to this part of the world and started a new life here. Unfortunately for them, the Zulus and other tribes were already here and wanted to defend their land, so there was a lot of bloodshed on both sides and this is not skimmed over in the museum although it is only really focussed on the Dutch side of the history. I loved the giant stone frieze which was made up of about 50 panels depicting the stories of what happened including the important role the pioneering women played in starting a new life. Well worth a visit.

The exterior and interior of the Vortrekker Monument in Pretoria

Some of the stone reliefs in the museum area below the monument

Back on the train again for a two night journey – first stop was Kimberley – the world famous source of much of the world’s diamonds and where De Beers first started chaired by Cecil Rhodes (who seems to be loved or hated depending on your disposition about imperialist!) who originally made his money in the diamond mines. Some of the mines were still open but the one that we went round is now a museum town replicating the mining heyday and includes the famous Big Hole – it is the largest man made hole in the world. We had a great guide who had worked in the mines and was passionate about diamonds – and after all who can blame him; if they were good enough for Elizabeth Taylor, they are certainly good enough for me!

Kimberley and the BIG HOLE

The final stop on the train was a cute town in the middle of nowhere called Matjesfontein. Originally a “nothing place” the concept of making it a small town where visitors would stop to see how people lived back in the day came from a Scotsman – and he was right – people do come – although it certainly wasn’t crowded at all – other than the 40 or so of us on the train.

Buildings in the town of Matjefontein – and wait, is that Harry Potter serving at the local bank?

An excellent museum (Marie Cawdon Museum) actually on the station platform had all sorts of interesting collectibles from Victorian times – cameras, kitchen equipment and my favourite – the apothecary – it was a huge place (remember we are in the middle of nowhere) – I loved it as much as I loved stretching my legs.

Geeky train signalling levers and signal Comms plus the old apothecary

And so our train journey of rattling sleep, fantastic food, varying scenery, windswept observation carriage moments and lots of delays (trains here give British Rail a run for their money) ended in Capetown 6 days after we left Victoria Falls and traversed a large chunk of Zimbabwe and top to bottom of South Africa.

The end of the line…..

And now on to spending time in Capetown and surrounding areas – apparently there is a lot of wine to be tasted around here – as if I didn’t know:)