11 Reasons to Visit South Africa – Today!

South Africa is a travel destination on the rise. Travel critics have been heaping praise and awards on the country in recent years, and South Africa is increasingly playing host to international visitors from just about every nation on earth. Its dynamic and vibrant cities offer modern infrastructure and the country is known for its incredible natural beauty. If you haven’t been to South Africa yet, here are 11 compelling reasons why you should book your trip – today!

1. Spectacular Landscapes

From the jaw-dropping views at Cape Point, to the incredible vistas over the Valley of a Thousand Hills…South Africa has some of the very best landscapes in the world. There is the glamorous beachfront strip of Durban’s famed Golden mile and the hidden treasures of the St Lucia wetlands. Be it a sunset over Table Mountain, or the rugged splendor of the Karoo – there is breathtaking beauty all over South Africa.

Incredible Landscape of South Africa

Incredible Landscape of South Africa (Source willgoto.com)

Green landscape howick falls KZN South africa

The green canopy of the Howick Falls region in KZN

2.  Beach, Desert, Safari or Mountains? No need to settle!

There are very few places on earth where you can enjoy a swim in the refreshing ocean waves one day and go sand-boarding over pristine dunes the next. It’s worth noting that several South African beaches have been awarded the prestigious Blue Flag accreditation which means they meet the most stringent criteria in terms of cleanliness, safety and water quality, amongst others. Whether you prefer the tranquility of the wilderness, the pulsing beat of a cosmopolitan city, or hiking in the mountains – South Africa can make the holiday of your dreams a reality.

Lion's head Cape Town South Africa

Fancy a hike up the ominously named Lion’s Head in Cape Town?

pristine beach south africa

One of the pristine beaches of South Africa

sand dune surfing south africa

Perfect slopes for sand dune surfing (Source: willgoto.com)

3. Culture and Important Sites

About 50 kms northwest of Johannesburg lies the Sterkfontein caves and the Cradle of Humankind. It was here that human evolution fossils – some of the oldest ever found – have been discovered (including the affectionately nicknamed Mrs. Ples) furthering the belief that Africa is the birthplace of humanity. The Cradle of Humankind is one of the eight UNESCO World Heritage sites in South Africa.

Cradle of HumanKind Maropeng

Cradle of Humankind in Maropeng (Source: explorertimeslive.co.za)

An extremely diverse country, South Africans express their culture through music, dance and art – all of which are thriving enterprises in South Africa. A competitive film industry, one of the oldest in the world, continues to grow at an exponential rate. But perhaps one of the most enduring images of South African culture is that of the Zulu people, and a visit to a Zulu village is a highly recommended experience.

Zulu Tribe South Africa

Traditional Zulu dancers

4. History

From the colonial era to the Anglo-Boer war, the discovery of diamonds to the arrival of Indians by the boatload; South Africa’s history is rich, although tumultuous. The most well known part of the country’s modern history remains the rise and subsequent fall of Apartheid. While all South Africans today enjoy the freedoms of a democratic constitution, it is our history that has shaped the people we are today. The Anglo-Boer war battlefields near Ladysmith are worth a visit; while the Apartheid museum in Johannesburg provides a poignant reminder and a fundamental understanding of this dark era in South African history. A trip to Cape Town will not be complete without a ferry ride to Robben Island, another UNESCO World Heritage Site that was once used for the imprisonment and isolation of political prisoners – including Nelson Mandela. A sobering tour depicting the arduous conditions of the prison and the tiny, damp cell where Mandela spent 18 years of his life often leaves visitors in tears.

apartheid south africa

Testaments to Apartheid segregation (Source: capetowndailyphoto.com)

Robben Island Table Mountain South Africa Caoe Town

Robben Island as seen from the top of Table Mountain

5. Wildlife and Biodiversity

There is nothing quite like the African bush, and the world over, people will agree: there is no place that provides better game viewing than South Africa.

Safari Zebra South Africa

Grazing zebra

Of course the Big 5 (lion, cheetah, buffalo, elephant and rhino) is the drawing card for most, but safaris in South Africa can also provide incredible sightings of giraffe, zebra, antelope and thousands of bird species. Although, you don’t necessarily need to be on safari to cash in on the wildlife action – we were once enjoying dinner at a restaurant in St Lucia when a herd of hippos decided to check out the vegetarian offerings in the shrubs across the town’s busiest street!

nyala antelope safari south africa

Nyala antelope spotted on safari

Several coasts along the garden route present amazing whale watching opportunities and several spots in South Africa are considered prime diving and snorkelling sites, rich in coral and marine life.

Turtles South Africa

Twins?

If you’re more flora than fauna, don’t let the vast deserts fool you, South Africa is home to about 10% of the earth’s flowering species and is only country in the world with an entire plant kingdom contained within its borders – the Cape Floral Kingdom.

Flowers south africa cape floral kingdom

Blooming fantastic!

6. Sports Fanatics

There is still a lingering glow from the impressively successful Soccer World Cup in 2010 which unified South Africa in the most unexpected ways, and proved the naysayers wrong; and so many South Africans still carry golden memories of the historic moment when then newly-elected president Nelson Mandela, in his Springbok jersey, presented the trophy to our rugby captain in what can only be described as a fairytale ending to the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Sports fans will agree: there is definitely no shortage of top notch sporting sports events taking place in South Africa.

Rugby world cup 1995 South Africa

One of the most cherised memories in South African history (Source: rugbyworldcup.com)

The Comrades Marathon and Dusi Canoe marathon are other shining examples of world class events taking place annually on the South African stage. From cycling to surfing, cricket to golf – our country is increasingly showcasing its ability to plan and host successful international sporting events, and inspirational South African athletes in almost every facet of sport are flying the flag high for the Rainbow Nation. And while it may not be the world’s favorite instrument, I think we’re somewhat secretly proud of the vuvuzela!

Vuvuzela south africa

Proudly South African (Source: Heraldsun.com)

7. Affordable

The South African Rand is relatively weak against major currencies such as the Pound, Euro and Dollar, which makes it a very affordable destination. International visitors are often pleasantly surprised at the relatively low cost of hotels, food and transport. While those looking to splurge on the ultimate luxurious vacation will not be disappointed by the 5-star accommodations and cuisine available all over the country, there are plenty of affordable safari or city breaks that can match any budget.

Increasingly, South Africa is becoming a shopper’s paradise. With large malls dotting the country, and international chain stores and designer boutiques setting up shop; locals and tourists alike are finding everything their hearts desire in terms of fashion, accessories and jewelry. Ever-popular flea markets and craft stalls are still found in the cities and along the beachfronts, offering quirky home décor and ideal souvenirs.

Gateway Shoppertainment Centre in Durban

Gateway Shoppertainment Centre in Durban (Source: Flickr – South African Tourism)

Hand-woven wire bowls South Africa

Hand-woven wire bowls(Source: Umkhumbilodge.co.za)

8. Weather

South Africa enjoys a subtropical location, which in weather terms translates to hot, humid summers coupled with afternoon thunderstorms; and cooler, dryer winters that are typically sunny. It is this almost year-round sunshine that is increasingly attracting savvy travelers to South African soil. In my opinion there is honestly no bad time (weather wise) to visit SA, but planning your visit around specific activities and interests is highly recommended. For example, game viewing is normally best during the dry winter months, as the hot summers typically mean animals are seeking respite from the heat in the dense, lush vegetation. However, avid bird watchers will find the summer months the best time to view the migrant bird species. The mild months of autumn or spring can be ideal for mountain hikers, while whale-watching enthusiasts may be rewarded between July to November.

Sunny day Durban Golden Mile south africa

The beginning of a typical sunny day along Durban’s Golden Mile Source: clubviaje.com)

9. Culinary Delights

South Africa may not be the first destination that springs to mind when you think of Michelin starred restaurants, but the culinary scene in South Africa is sophisticated and thriving. As always, the emphasis is on the supply of the freshest possible ingredients of the highest quality, and there is no shortage of that in SA. From incredible seafood to succulent Karoo beef, foodies will find their full amongst restaurants catering for every craving.

Cuisine South Africa

Traditional Prawn Curry with a modern twist

The street food trend may be taking off all over Europe, but South Africa (and Durban in particular) is home to the Bunny Chow – what can only be described as the ultimate street food. (If you haven’t tried it, find our more here). From locally brewed beers, to world class coffees, and not to mention one of the most acclaimed, award-winning wine routes in the world; the South African food scene is evolving, one braai at a time.

cuisine seafood south africa

Freshest seafood, as much as your heart desires

10. Unique and Oh! So Interesting

South Africa is unique in so many ways. For starters, it has special mention in the Guinness World Book of records as the country with the most official languages – eleven! This just represents of diversity of our beautiful land and why the term “Rainbow Nation” is so apt.  Did you also know that Cape Town is the only city in the world to have its coasts in two different oceans? Or that the city which has the most trees in the world is Johannesburg? – Yes you read that correctly! While it may seem unbelievable to many, South Africa even has its own penguin colony at Boulders beach.

cape point south africa

Where 2 oceans collide: Cape Point

penguins boulders beach cape town town africa

The undeniably cute penguins at Boulders Beach

11. People

Courage, hope and perseverance are just some of the adjectives that come to mind when I think about the people of South Africa. Yes, high crime rates are noted, and the ugly shadow of Apartheid may linger; but South Africans as a whole, are a nation of courageous people filled with an insuppressible hope. Almost every traveler I have encountered on my trips far and wide, who has visited South Africa, has had only positive things to say about the people they met there. Stories of good Samaritans and friendly, smiling faces everywhere they went are the norm. For a country whose people have had to endure so much, I am still astounded by the eternal optimism that surrounds me every time I return. It makes me so very proud to call myself a part of the Rainbow Nation.

Friendly People South Africa

The friendliest faces (Source: Powerofpeace.com)

You might also like: 21 Reasons why I LOVE South Africa

Capture the Colour Competition

With only a few days left to enter, I’ve been nominated by Tiffany Wüest of ‘World Meets Girl’ for the Capture the Colour Competition.

To be honest I had never even heard of this competition before, but after checking it out I decided to enter, for the following reasons:
Firstly, there are some serious prizes to be won from iPads to a cool £3000 travel fund. But more than that, the competition itself sounds pretty awesome, and I can’t wait to see the entries in each category.

Here’s how it works:

Capture the Colour Competition

So I went in search of images representing Red, Green, Blue, Yellow and White from the hundreds of travel photos I’ve accumulated over the years.

But I decided to take my own little spin on the competition by paying homage to my home country: South Africa. Extremely apt, seeing as South Africa is known as the Rainbow Nation…every colour welcome!

So here goes:

Red is… A fiery sky showing off at sunset, Durban

Red Capture The Colour

Sunset, Durban

Caught completely unaware by the setting sun, I managed to snap this photo just as the last of the light was disappearing under the horizon.

Blue is… A lone stingray in Ushaka Marine World, Durban

Blue Capture the Colour

Lone Stingray, Ushaka, Durban

This picture always makes me feel as if he was looking right at me, if only for a second.

Green is… the grass on which lay the baby zebra, Kruger National Park

Green Capture The Colour

Mother and baby zebra, Kruger National Park

I had never seen a baby zebra before; some of his stripes were still brown! Too tired to stand anymore, he playfully fell at the feet of his mother, and rolled over for attention.

Yellow is the fancy headdress of the African Crane Bird, Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park

Yellow Capture the Colour

African Crane Bird, Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park

Like a golden crown – the African Crane bird is regally clad. National bird of Uganda, but sometimes spotted by lucky safari-goers in South Africa.

White is… powder-soft sand at Clifton Beach, Cape Town

White Capture The Colour

Clifton Beach, Cape Town

There isn’t a shortage of natural beauty in Cape Town. From Table Mountain, to Cape Point – the city is alive with picturesque landscapes at seemingly every turn. This photo was taken on my honeymoon in the Mother City.

Feel free to let me know what you think of my entries!

And in turn, I nominate the following 5 bloggers:

1. Sarah Shumate: @Wanderblogger

2.Jenna Longoria: @Nomad_Notions

3. Shannon Reilly: @wanderReilly

4. Mike Hopkins: @TTMyEyes

5. Houssam Eddine: @tourismhoteltip

21 Reasons why I LOVE South Africa

My homeland is as diverse as it is beautiful. Reasons abound as to why South Africa is increasingly becoming a destination of choice for international travelers. Below are some of the things that ensure my heart will always remain, Proudly South African:

1. The people’s spirit of Ubuntu (human kindness)

2. The cable car ride up Table Mountain

Cable Car Table Mountain

3. Braais

(Photosource: braai.com)

(Photosource: braai.com)

4. River Cruises amongst crocodiles and hippos at The St. Lucia Estuary

Saint Lucia South Africa

5. Big 5 Viewing at any of South Africa’s amazing national parks

Safari South AfricaSafari South Africa6. Bo Kaap’s colorful façade

Bo Kaap

Photo Source (friendlyrentals.com)

7. Durban’s skyline since the new stadium was built

Stadium Durban South Africa8. Haggling with street vendors for unique hand-made crafts
9. The sense of feeling incredibly small when faced with the view from Cape Point

Good Hope Point10. Amarula Cream sundowners

Photo Source: Amarula.com

Photo Source: Amarula.com

11. Driving along the Garden Route
12. Wine tastings in Franschhoek

Wine tasting Cape Town

Photo Source (Winelands.co.za)

13. The slang! A mixture of several language influences – it’s in a class of its own!
14. Sunsets at Signal Hill

Sunset South Africa15. Sunrise over the Indian Ocean

Sunrise South Africa

16. The weather – hot summers and generally mild winters
17. Bunny Chows, Koeksisters and Potjiekos
18. Sweeping views from the top of Table Mountain

Table Mountain cape Town19. Swimming/surfing/waterskiing at Umhloti beach

Kite Surfing South AfricaDurban South Africa

20. Cozy chalets in the Drakensburg region
21. A glass of Pinotage with dinner

“I believe that South Africa is the most beautiful place on earth. Admittedly, I am biased but when you combine the natural beauty of sunny South Africa with the friendliness and cultural diversity of our people, and the fact that the region is a haven for Africa’s most splendid wildlife, then I think that we have been blessed with a truly wonderful land.” – Nelson Mandela.

I love south africa

Photo Source: facebook.com/southafricaonline

R&R at Riverside

Spa Review: Riverside Day Spa – Durban, South Africa

The best spas in the world all have something in common: They succeed in effortlessly making time stand still.

I was looking for such an experience when I stepped through the softly-swishing glass doors of the Riverside Spa in Durban. Nestled on a hill overlooking the Umgeni River, the spa is coupled to the well-known Riverside Hotel, belonging to the notable Three Cities Hotel Group.

My senses were immediately invoked by the calming sounds of soft music, and the clean open spaces of the reception area.

Having dreamed of visiting the islands of French Polynesia ever since…well…ever since I could dream; I had made sure to book the spa’s “Polynesian Experience” from their spa journeys menu.

After a brief check-in at the reception, I was escorted to the spa’s common room. I absolutely loved the décor of this space – rich royal blues and stately greys in plush velvets. The room was adorned with white orchids in large silver pots, which drew to attention the white of the wall decorations against the pale blue paint.

Riverside Day SpaRiverside Day Spa  Riverside Day Spa

Large windows let in an abundance of light and paid due justice to the sweeping views over the city’s famed greenery, the commanding Umgeni river, and the majestic image of the new stadium that has forever changed Durban’s skyline.

After quickly trading my ‘street’ clothes for the velour (yes, it was winter!) bathrobe in the small but beautifully appointed change room (decorated with calla lilies); I was ushered to the lower floor to enjoy the spa facilities.

  Riverside Day Spa

I leapt almost immediately from the shower into the ‘heated’ pool, expecting to indulge in the warm water –but alas; it was simply not heated enough. In fact, it was actually cold! Very disappointing. I thawed out in the sauna, before enjoying a quick session in the steam room (for the sake of a complete review, of course!)

Riverside Day Spa

Riverside Day Spa

I found the spa’s facilities basic, but adequate. It’s worthwhile noting that the scheduling of reservations is attempted in such a manner to ensure that guests may enjoy private time in the facilities area. As the space is quite small, this was highly appreciated.

Upon returning to the serene common room, I finally met my therapist. I took an instant liking to her bubbly personality as we proceeded to the treatment room. It was much larger than expected, with not one, but two beds, and a grand jet spa bath in the corner.

Riverside Day Spa

Riverside Day Spa

As I got comfortable, she talked me through the list of treatments in my Polynesian Experience package, and the exceptional Thalgo products she’d be employing.

The first stop on the incredible journey was the island of Taha’a. Producing 80% of French Polynesia’s vanilla, the island is aptly known as ‘Vanilla Island’. My day spa experience began with a luxurious marine salt and vanilla full-body scrub. The room filled with these delicious aromas as my skin was buffed and exfoliated to perfection. Completely attuned to my silent preferences, she lingered over the foot scrub, adding a marvelous, impromptu foot massage to the mix.

I was eager for the next stop on my journey – a visit to the tiny island of Manihi. The coral atoll, famous for its pearl farms, inspired the soothing aromatherapy spa bath with essential oils and luxurious bath pearls. My lovely therapist set up the bath exactly as I liked – piping hot. She lit a scented candle, and with a scattering of rose petals, she was gone.

Riverside Day Spa

Riverside Day Spa

As I lay soaking in the fragrant hot water, I was able to enjoy the panoramic vistas over the city.

Riverside Day Spa

View from the bath

Time lost all meaning and the rushed pace of everyday life ground to a complete halt.

Riverside Day Spa

I emerged, rejuvenated from the bath, and enjoyed a wonderfully-presented cup of green tea before being carried off to the next idyllic destination on my Polynesian journey; the incredible island of Bora Bora.

Famed for its beauty the world over, the island is surrounded by stunning turquoise waters and powdery soft, white sand. Accordingly, the massage that followed was a slow, powerful massage using warm sand pouches and Monoi oil to deeply relax and loosen the muscles.

I had never encountered a massage that employed sand pouches before, and I quite enjoyed the experience. My therapist hit all the right spots, saving the best for last: a brief, but deeply gratifying scalp massage. I dozed off at various times during the hour long full-body massage – such was its excellence.

The fourth, and sadly final, stop on my journey was the island of Raiatea. Regarded by the Polynesian people as a sacred marae of their ancestors, my concluding treatment entailed a radiant rub in sacred oil. Sweet-scented, with a glowing shine, the rich oil left my skin pampered and deeply nourished. The word ‘Raiatea’ loosely translates to ‘Bright Sky’… apt to describe the mega shine of my skin as I left the secluded confines of my treatment room.

I dined in the common room, and lunch consisted of a crumbed hake fillet served with veggies. It went down exceptionally well with a glass of chilled champagne.

Riverside Day SpaRiverside Day Spa

What I loved:

  • The décor – extremely serene and luxurious, it invoked a sense of calm, and made me feel relaxed and pampered… exactly as a spa should!
  • Orchids and Calla lilies (my absolute favorite flower) adorned each room, and added to the glamorous feel of the spa.
  • The massage: heavenly!

What I didn’t love: 

  • Apart from the cold ‘heated’ pool, I really have no complaints.

I will most certainly be heading back to Riverside spa for a day of pampering when I’m back in Durban!

Riverside Day Spa

This post was featured in iAfrica Travel on 19 July 2013

Disclaimer: No part of this spa experience was paid for by Riverside Day Spa. The views expressed in this review are from my own personal experience, and have not been prejudiced in any form.

Romancing the Pearl

Afternoon Tea at the Oyster Box Hotel, Durban – South Africa

Mere steps away from Umhlanga’s most prominent landmark, its lighthouse; and amidst a backdrop of colonial opulence, one can find the iconic Oyster Box hotel. Standing as proud as the day it opened its doors in 1947, it remains a distinguished jewel in Durban’s crown, trailblazing the way by winning scores of prestigious awards and accolades from the likes of Condé Nast Traveller and World Luxury Spa.

Oyster Box Hotel Afternoon teaSpeaking of crowns, it’s well known that the hotel was chosen by Monaco’s royals; Prince Albert II and his Princess Charlene, for a Royal reception party in 2011.

Since its R400 million makeover in 2009, the Oyster Box hotel has sought to create a handsome marriage of old and new by maintaining original antique furnishings and coupling these with modern touches and the latest technology.

Afternoon Tea Oyster Box Hotel

The presidential suite, encompassing two floors, with private patio pool, its own butler and personalized embroidered gowns, will set you back in excess of R50 000 per night. Certainly fit for a king!

And so it happens, one fine Friday as the winter sun shines cheerfully over Durban, my sister Ronelle and I don our finest stockings and mother’s precious pearls, and head off for Afternoon Tea in the lap of colonial luxury.

Being my first visit to the majestic hotel, I opt for a quick self-guided tour. Passing the stark white Grill Room, I head for the bar. Again, the combination of antique woods and tapestries mesh fluently with modern glass finishes. Inviting couches welcome us, and I love the glass floors providing a view of the dining areas beneath us.

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box Hotel

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box Hotel

Glass floors

Finally, we make our way to the terrace which offers sweeping panoramic views of the famous lighthouse and the seemingly endless Indian Ocean.

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box Hotel

Afternoon Tea is enjoyed in the hotel’s Palm Court, illuminated by extravagant chandeliers purchased from London’s famed Savoy Hotel. Surrounded on four corners by lush palm trees (which obviously lends to the name), guests are serenaded by the soft sounds of the live piano as the tea commences.

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box Hotel

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelWe are shown to our table, and our immaculately dressed waiter immediately materializes, enthusiastically welcoming us. The table is laid with crisp linens and a charming English-garden tea set. A personalized, handwritten welcome card is a tiny detail with big impact.

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelWe order our respective cuppas (Earl Grey for me, and coffee (!) for my sister).

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box Hotel

The scent of posh is in the air. I am fighting the urge to call everyone ‘daahhling’

The self-service table gracing the center of the Palm court is heavy laden with mouthwatering treats.

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelI head over to the savories section where I sample the cucumber and cream cheese finger sandwiches. Mini pastries are topped with smoked salmon and dill, whilst the vegetarian options include cheese tarts and mini mushroom pies. An adequate cheese platter with fig and apricot conserve is surrounded by an assortment of crackers, fruit and nuts.

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelWe chat leisurely, relaxed – there isn’t a care in the world. Our attentive waiter is ever present, but not intrusive, offering to refill our drinks or replace used cutlery. We strike up animated conversation with guests at the next table. An actual Englishman (and woman) enjoying the age-old English tradition of afternoon tea!

Then it’s on to the sweet treats! Unsure of which mouthwatering delicacy to try first, I settle for red velvet squares with lemon butter icing. One word: delicious!

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelThere are individual crème brûlées and chocolate mousses in decorative glasses. There are cannelés topped with chunks of nougat. There is an assortment of cupcakes, each piled high with frosting. Carrot cake, chocolate ganache, lemon meringue and brownies with pistachio topping…even the most ferocious appetite is satisfied.

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box Hotel

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelAfternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelThe table’s eye-catching centerpiece is a giant, multifaceted candy jar!

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelMy absolute favorite: the scone selection. With a hint of gooseberry jam and lashings of clotted cream, I can’t ask for more!

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelIt’s at this point that I find I have to switch my tea selection to a sweeter vanilla blend, as my Earl Grey becomes washed out by the sugar overload. Our waiter is back with a new, piping hot teapot in no time.

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelJust then the piano player strikes up the chords of “Happy Birthday to You”. The waiters bring out a special cake complete with sparklers and we all join in singing the popular chorus to the unknown patron.

We end our tea with heartfelt goodbyes to our new English friends, and many thanks to our superb waiter.

Would I consider going back to partake in the elegant tradition of afternoon tea once more?

Why of course, daahhling!

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box Hotel

This post was featured in iAfrica Travel on 19 July 2013

A Clockwork Orange

My Top 7 Most Memorable Sunsets (So far)

There is something to be said about sunset. It’s magical.

The science geeks at the meteorological institutes will have us believe that a sunset is nothing more than the ‘scattering’ of light in relation to the wavelength and the size of the light particles themselves. They’re probably right.
All I know is: on a tropical beach, cocktail in hand, the sunset’s going to look pretty amazing no matter how much (or little) the light scatters.

Below is a list of the best sundowners (literally, not the other kind) I’ve experienced so far.

7. Amsterdam

Famed Notorious for many hedonistic pleasures, Holland’s Sin City is not the first place that springs to mind when you think of a magical sunset. Nevertheless, one lazy summer day, Mr. Wolf and I were able to capture this glorious fall of daylight from our hotel window overlooking the city.

Amsterdam sunset

6. Barcelona

This photo of a sunset taken in Barcelona happened by pure chance. After climbing the seemingly endless steps to the top of the Palau Nacional, which houses the Museu d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC), we eagerly awaited the fall of dusk to witness Carles Buigas’ Magic Fountain of Montjuïc. As the crowd swelled around us, the striking colors of the horizon provided the beautiful backdrop for this photograph.

barcelona sunset

5. Cape Town

South Africa’s Mother City knows how to put on her best face for travel photographers. From Clifton’s flawless beaches, to Cape Point’s picturesque overhangs. From the V&A Waterfront’s busy hub to Long Street’s bare-brick vibe. From penguin colonies to vineyards, there’s a photo opportunity at every corner. But; when the sun is low in the sky, threatening to retreat behind Table Mountain’s majestic silhouette, there is an extra special magic in the air.

This photo taken by Sam Rookes captures the very essence of that magic.

4. Mexico

Living it up in the lap of luxury on the Cancun hotel strip, our leisure-filled days were spent eating delicious gourmet meals, and swimming in heated outdoor pools. Every evening around dusk, we retreated to our private balcony, to watch the sun descend into the Nichupte lagoon. Cocktail in hand – it was pure bliss.

cancun sunet

3. Venice

It had been a loooong day. We had taken a morning tour of the glassmaking factories in nearby Murano Island, and then spent some time browsing the fares at the Rialto Market. Following a leisurely lunch at an authentic Italian trattoria, we spent much of the afternoon in, and around the magnificent piazza San Marco capturing the prerequisite 101 photographs. So, tired and weary, we were making our way back to the hotel by water taxi when twilight snuck up on us. We managed to snap this shot from our boat on the Grand Canal just before the last of the sun’s rays disappeared behind a row of buildings.

venice sunset

2. Durban

This photograph is one of my most special memories. Taken on one of my first visits back to South Africa after moving to Paris, I relished the long days of glorious sunshine. We went to the beach as often as possible, ate good food, and drank even better wine. I caught up with dear friends and spent a traditional family Christmas with those closest to my heart. And then one evening, when I looked up, the sky was showing off, in all her fiery glory.

Durban sunset

1. Santorini

Santorini is famed for its sunsets. In fact, the setting of the sun sparks a celebration on the idyllic island of Santorini unlike anywhere else in the world. From the postcard-perfect town of Oia (pronounced ‘ee-ha’), the view of the sunset over the caldera draws scores of crowds (tourists and locals alike). It was an incredible experience: at dusk you could feel a tangible excitement in the air. The best spots at bars and restaurants overlooking the ocean had been booked (probably hours in advance!). People descended in throngs upon Oia and gathered at the edge of every precipice, sitting on walls and even trespassing onto hotel’s balconies. When the shopkeepers closed their boutiques, we knew it was going to happen soon – that was our que. Fighting for a spot to raise the camera, as the greatest show of the day commenced: SUNSET

And tomorrow, do it all again….

santorini sunset

santorini sunset

Cuba on my Mind

Restaurant Review: Havana Grill – Durban, South Africa

Large upholstered chairs in monochrome leather combine effortlessly with the wood touches, accentuating details. In the far corner of the bar, the barman is whipping up a Cuba Libre (Cuba’s revolutionary drink). Towards the left, antique black and white photo images line the walls conjuring Cuban images of a bygone era.

Bar havana Grill

Bar

Havana Grill Durban

Back in time

A large olive-green leather couch invites me to fold my legs and curl up with a classic from the high ceiling shelves stacked with dusty old books. Add the yellow tinge of the sunlight streaming in through the large windows, and the Che Guevara imprints on the waiters’ uniform, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve just taken a step back in time to Old Havana.

Havana Grill Durban

Classics

Havana Grill Durban

Details

Havana Grill, a world-class grill room, is situated in the bustling Suncoast Entertainment World in a prime beachfront location on Durban’s famed Golden Mile.

While their menu boasts “something for everyone”, I’ve heard that this gem of a restaurant is a meat lover’s paradise. I take Mr. Wolf’s carnivorous ‘oooh-ing’ and ‘aaah-ing’ as confirmation. And true to his canine pseudonym, our resident steak connoisseur enjoys only one of 2 cooking styles: Bleu or Saignant (bloody).

On the far wall we find the famed Havana Meat Board detailing the day’s choice cuts and aging details.

Havana Grill Meat Board

Havana Meat Board

Having not taken a bite of red meat in over 15 years, I stick with what I love: seafood. And Havana Grill does not disappoint! An excerpt from the menu: “The SEAFOOD selection includes some of the finest king prawns, langoustines and crayfish; and extravagant platters to feed your soul.” Well, by the end of the meal I consider my soul stuffed, the statement is spot on!

seafood platter havana grill durban

A soul well-fed

When we arrive we are shown to a table covered in crisp white linen, with stunning vistas over the Indian Ocean. Without having to look at the drinks menu we knowledgeably order a round of mojitos. Handing the menus back to the waiter, some fine print catches my eye. “Magical Mojito” screams the title. In a second my order is changed – I want some of that magic!

Views Havanah Grill Durban

Stunning Views through large windows

My drink arrives with much fanfare. Crushed ice, lime and candy floss (yes, you read right!) are piled high into one glass, while a little pichet accompanies it, containing my magical mojito mixture. At the table, the waiter expertly pours the mix into the waiting glass and the patrons around watch as the candy floss magically dissolves into a sugary goo, lacing my rum with a sweet, sweet buzz.

Magical Mojito Havana Grill Durban

Magic in a glass

Giddy from my sugar rush, we dive into our starters: a deconstructed prawn samoosa. The samoosa, like you’ve never seen it before; decadent prawn chutney, rich in spices and flavor, are heaped onto alternating layers of phyllo pastry and drizzled with balsamic glaze. The prawns are fresh and succulent, and each delicious mouthful is a joy to the palate. Another firm favorite is the pear and gorgonzola salad. With a heavenly combination of candied pecans and cider dressing, this salad creates the perfect mélange of sweet and sour for your eager tastebuds. I find the salads are large enough to share.

food havana grill durban

Deconstructed, but delicious

The progressive menu at Havana Grill isn’t exactly Cuban, but rather fusion world cuisine. Nit-picky reviewers sometimes point this out in their Tripadvisor reviews, but are ignorant to the fact that Cuban cuisine in itself, is a blend of Spanish, African, Caribbean and even Chinese influences.

For the main course, I simply must order the extravagant seafood platter. The herculean dish arrives with a medley of crayfish, calamari, prawns, langoustines, line fish and mussels; each prepared in their individual manner with a selection of different flavorings and served with shoestring fries and rice.

Seafood platter havana grill durban

To die for!

The calamari for example, is simply tossed in olive oil and grilled in Cajun spices. It makes a welcome deviation from the typical dipped and deep-fried variety served in most restaurants. The mussels are a revelation! Smothered in blue cheese sauce, dusted with breadcrumbs and grilled…I am willing to exchange some of my ample prawns for more of them, in some kind of weird restaurant barter deal. That is, until I actually taste the prawns. Infused with garlic butter and grilled on what must be an open flame to establish that smoky goodness; I call it quits on the bartering deal.
The line fish component of the platter changes daily, so be sure to ask your waiter.

A couple of glasses of chardonnay from the Walker Bay wine route helps to soak up the rich, buttery tastes.

Speaking of wine, Havana Grill boasts a large selection of South African wines which can be expertly paired with any dish on the menu. If you prefer international brands, guests are welcome to browse the selection in the walk-in cellar, an experience in itself.

Wine Cellar Havana Grill Durban

Walk-in cellar
Photo source: http://www.havanagrill.co.za

I pass on dessert, unable to take another bite, while my dining companions tuck into crème brulèe and strawberry panacotta. From experimenting with various desserts during my previous visits to Havana Grill, I can safely swear by the hot chocolate fondant. Worth the extra wait, it’s masterfully prepared with the prerequisite oozing liquid center.

What I loved:
  • Extensive wine list with domestic and international choices
  • Great views
  • It didn’t cost an arm and a leg!
What I didn’t love:
  • I can’t think of a single thing!

We end the fantastic meal with smiles and small talk with our friendly waiter, who is proffering authentic Cuban cigars in the smoking lounge. Maybe on our next visit?

Havana Grill Durban

Havana Grill has delivered once again, and I can’t wait to go back!

Disclaimer: No part of this restaurant experience was paid for by Havanah Grill or its associates.. The views expressed in this review are from my own personal experience, and have not been prejudiced in any form.

The Great Trek

Every year I make the annual pilgrimage to my home town in South Africa. Durban is a sleepy coastal city, famed for its great beaches (The Golden Mile), its lush tropical foliage, and is known as the home of the Zulu tribe.

It’s a true melting pot of color and creed, which is represented in the vast array of savors one can find. From fresh, just-caught seafood delights (think succulent sardines drizzled in olive oil and coarse sea salt) to choice cuts of dry aged steak, even the most refined palate will be spoiled for choice.

Then there’s the unmissable bunny chow. A genius combination of spicy curry and carb overload, it consists of a hollowed out potion of bread filled with a delicious curry of choice. The middle part of the bread is never discarded, but instead forms a convenient device for mopping up any gravy that dare escape its doughy ‘container’. Typically eaten with the hands, and from the top down, it’s a feast that should not be overlooked.

Bunny Chow Durban

Bunny Chow (Photo source: http://www.cooksister.com)

Of course my trip home will encompass many, many braais. A shortened form of the Afrikaans word for barbeque – “braaivleis”, it literally means ‘grilled meat’. In South Africa, the braai is more than a typical BBQ, but rather a social event where friends and family come together. A carnivorous bunch, expect a variety of meat (steak, sausages, boerewors, chicken, ribs etc.), cooked on a braaistand and eaten leisurely outside. Typically enjoyed with servings of salad, mashed potatoes, baked beans and corn on the cob, the braai can turn into a whole-day affair.

Braai Durban

Braai (Photo source: http://www.roadsandkingdoms.com)

Don’t even get me started on samoosas, koeksisters, breyani, biltong, snoek, chicken tikka… The endless assortment will certainly be a foodie’s heaven.

**During my time in SA, I plan to visit and some of the top local eateries. You’ll find these reviews right here in the coming weeks.**

The coast of Durban is lined with hotels to suit any taste and budget. From the posh and glamorous Beverly Hills Hotel overlooking the Indian Ocean in Umhlanga Rocks, to an array of bed and breakfast options, one will be spoilt for choice. My personal favorite is the Suncoast Hotel (where Mr Wolf and I tied the knot).

There is even the possibility to rent self-catering holiday apartments on the beach. Prices vary drastically by area and size of the apartment, but in my experience the best area to book a self-catering vacation is Umdloti beach.

Various activities from safaris to water sports are on offer, and many of these cater to families with children as well.

Surfing Durban

Catch a Wave (Photo source: http://www.durbanaccomodation.net)

With year-round sunshine, Durban is a leisure destination of choice for both South Africans and foreigners alike.

The time has finally arrived for my annual Great Trek, and I am SO looking forward to spending some quality time with the places and faces I love. I’ll be updating with my experiences regularly, so stay tuned!
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