Back to Africa: Birkenhead House, La Residence & Taj Cape Town
While last year’s Travel Week was memorable for a number of reasons, I’ll never quite forget the Africa luncheon. I walked into the event, held at Vdara, already exhausted from meetings and fighting off a violent cold. When I got to the luncheon and found out that the presentation would be on Great White Sharks (my biggest fear, I can’t even look at pictures of them), I seriously considered walking out to rest up before another round of meetings (and to avoid 30 minutes of staring at my plate, trying not to look at pictures of Air Jaws on the screen). Thankfully, I did not – because at the end of the presentation, the presentors randomly drew my business card from a fishbowl of a couple hundred, which landed me a trip back to Southern Africa. I have never won anything in my life, so winning a 10-night (now turned 13) itinerary including Cape Town, Kruger, and Victoria Falls was almost beyond belief. I immediately texted my parents and told them where we’d be going – I knew I couldn’t come back to one of my favorite destinations with anyone other than my family. I’ve got to extend a HUGE thank you to the Virtuoso team & South Africa suppliers who made this trip happen!
There’s something about Southern Africa that, no matter where in the world I go, nowhere else even comes close to the feelings that it inspires within me. If my first trip here was one of freedom and discovery, this trip already feels like one of restoration and inspiration. For months now I’ve had some level of writer’s block with my traveling – it’s been a general aversion to sharing my stories or to write in a way that’s true to myself, so the finished product is totally lackluster. I wish I could’ve done more justice to my experiences in Australia, Asia, and a few other destinations since, but this overall lack of interest in writing really put me in a slump.
Already, I feel that weight lifting from me. I’m sitting on my balcony overlooking the ocean at Birkenhead House (Simon, I can’t thank you enough!) and reflecting on the past two days. Simply being back in South Africa is instantly relaxing, there’s just something about this place that resonates with me. It could also be the laid-back atmosphere of Birkenhead House, a charming 11-room property perfect for kicking off your shoes, curling up with a good book, and listening to Jack Johnson on the radio as you sip a just-bitter-enough cappuccino. Some places are a kind of spiritual retreat, and this is just one of them for me.
We spent the morning at La Residence, another 11-room Royal Portfolio property that encourages guests to just exhale. Breathe out, take in the beauty of the autumn-laced vineyards, feel overshadowed by the surrounding mountains, spend a few minutes talking to one of Elton John’s bodyguard. Because all of that happened today.
Both properties feature a hand-selected collection of art and furniture in the common areas and in the suites, well-appointed by Liz Biden (I want to go shopping with her one day). I genuinely can’t think of another property to compare the rooms to – they’re all individual masterpieces, I was especially drawn to the Huguenot Suite at La Residence (not only for the decor, but also for the French-influenced history in the Winelands & my own Francophile nature). Since I’m horrible at taking room photos, here’s a pic of that suite from La Residence’s website:
The one-street town of Franschhoek, with its boutiques and sidewalk cafés, is as picturesque as any small European town. It’s a wine and food lover’s haven. The seaside beauty of Hermanus, where I am now, has the laid-back appeal of Florida’s 30A with indescribable service. The first thing you notice here is a staff that is attentive to every need, including your love of chocolate, if you happened to mention that before you arrived…which I did.
For our first two nights, we stayed at the Taj Cape Town – a beautiful property with fantastic service and great dining options. I can rank properties based on their breakfast buffets and the Taj is now high on my list – plus, we enjoyed their restaurant, Mint, for dinner (their grilled line fish of the day with butternut squash is ahhhh-mazing).
Yesterday we took a full day tour of Cape Point with our private guide, Keith, as part of our experience through Abercrombie & Kent. From the moment we landed, with a representative greeting us in the Johannesburg airport, A&K has been with us every step of the way. Jet lag is always worse the day after landing, so it was wise to schedule a nearly full-day tour, despite the fact that I fell asleep on the way to/from each point of interest, only waking up when my head hit the window – seriously. But that’s to be expected. On my last trip here, I fell asleep so often on game drives that my friends tied me up with a blanket, straight-jacket style, so I wouldn’t fall out of the safari vehicle.
We enjoyed plenty of sightseeing, from the top of Cape Point to the Cape of Good Hope, where we couldn’t take a decent picture (the following will not be our Christmas card photo):
Plenty of wildlife already, too – like baboons trying to break into cars and the Boulders Penguin Colony.
From our drive along the coast, I even managed to spot the glistening balcony of the Ellerman Villa, home to one of the best – or worst – nights of my entire life, depending on who tells the story. Regardless, it brought back a flood of memories from my first trip here, one that was truly life changing for me as a traveler, and I’m thrilled to create new ones with my family. However, they probably won’t involve clearing out the furniture of the Ellerman Villa and having a somersault contest and dance party.
I mean, they might, but it’s highly doubtful. We’ll just have to wait and see.