Alternative hidden experiences in the Capes, South Africa

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by Carlos Melia

When you come to South Africa, and visit Cape Town, I am sure what first comes to your mind is game viewing, a safari at Kruger Park or driving along the coast of the Garden Route . But Cape Town has much more to offer than that, great alternative complement to your regular travel plans.ӬӬ

On my last visit to South Africa, a few month ago, after a great time exploring Johannesburg,  Cape Town and Kruger Park, I decided to head back to the Cape area and explore new options. This was my third time there, and I was not going to be satisfied just by visiting Table Mountain, Robben Island or the Cape of Good Hope. I needed more… and that is what I experienced.”¨”¨

I asked to myself, Carlos what do you enjoy the most ? and the answer was… well in one hand, I love food and wine surrounded by mountains and peaceful environment. On the other hand, I enjoy the outdoors, the water and the adrenaline. Based on this I oriented my research, and this is what I found.

The Cape Winelands
South Africa’s most renown and fine wine region. South African wines, have been known for years now, as some of the best and most splendid in the world. But not many know that the wine country is of equal or more admiration as the wine themselves.

Constantia where the entire wine industry started. Stellebbosach, known to be the finest wine route South Africa has to offer. But I was determined, thanks to the advice of local friends, to visit Franschhoeck, world renown for their award wining eateries, style, location and charming town.ӬӬ

Located only an hour and a thirty minutes away from beautiful Cape Town, lies Franschhoeck Valley, in the stunning Cape winelands, nestled between towering mountains.  Franschhoeck, means French Corner in Dutch, a picturesque village whose laid back cafe culture has a distinctively French feel.

So I drove there, and being honest as I like to be, for the first forty minutes of our drive I was, … where on earth am I going.. , since the drive is all highways and slams on the side of the road. But don’t despair, the best was yet to come.

In the immediate surrounds of the village, there are more than 40 wine estates, several of which have achieved world renown and many of which offer classical concerts, art exhibitions and jazz evenings alongside cellar tours, tutored wine tastings and award-winning dining experiences.

I stayed in Franschhoeck for two nights and three days, which was just perfect to enjoy the town, explore some wineries, enjoy lovely lunch in the open and fancy dinners at night. ҬӬ

Stayed and Slept at: I spent one night right in town and I tried two of the best options: ҬӬ

Four Quarters at Auberge du Quartier Francais
The lovely Auberge du Quartier Francais by Relais & Chateaux. Exclusive boutique hotel situated in the heart of the Franschhoek Valley, minutes away from Stellenbosach. The perfect hotel to experience South Africa’s most renown and fine wine region. Tucked away in secluded gardens, with beautiful views, it is a fairytale-like heaven of tranquility. With the endorsement of Relais & Chateaux, this auberge is the ultimate spoiling spot. Divided in two areas, which are Le Quatier Francais and the Four Quarters, where is stayed. The Four Quarters are all-suite concept, overlooking a central pool. Each Four Quarter Suite is 110 square meters. Four sumptuous and generously sized suites, two upstairs and two downstairs, set around a private courtyard incorporating a pool. The Four Quarters Suites combine the utmost in luxury with sophistication, charm and impeccable service. + Read More

(video) My Suite at Four Quarters at Auberge du Quartier Francais  
(Flickr Album) Auberge du Quartier Francais

La Residence 
La Residence exudes opulence and splendor on a boldly extravagant scale. There are enchanting mountain views in every direction, uninterrupted peace and tranquility and sublimely beautiful interiors. The eleven suites have been individually and lavishly furnished with charming antiques, fine Persian rugs, exquisite fabrics and a wonderfully eclectic mix of objets d’art.  Surrounded by vineyards and plum orchards, with a stunning mountain backdrop, La Residence enjoys breathtaking views of the unspoilt rural surrounds and an atmosphere of complete tranquility.

Dined and Wined at: Franschhoeck is famous for having some of the most award winning restaurants in South Africa. So I venture into a few outstanding gourmet experiences myself:

Reuben’s Restaurant “¨
(lunch) Simple letting the food and service do the talking. Like the cuisine, their restaurant exhibits a homely yet sophisticated atmosphere where our guests can enjoy their meals in an unhurried setting. Apart from the eclectic, regularly updated menu that lists a good number of Reuben’s favourites, specials of the day are scribbled on three large chalk boards against the wall. “¨”¨

The Tasting Room
(diner) By Master Chef Margot Jansen, this restaurant is best described by the word Surprise. The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français is South Africa’s most lauded fine-dining restaurant. It is the stage to award-winning Relais & Châteaux Grande Chef, Margot Janse, and her unique African Inspired Surprise Tasting Menu. experience a true journey of taste. With a menu that continues to evolve and astonish The Tasting Room, and its African Inspired cuisine, creates a dining experience unlike any other. One where surprise and nostalgia take centre stage. PS. Allow 3 1/2 hours for this menu. Located at Auberge du Quartier Francais.

Roca Restaurant
(lunch) ҬSimply the best views of Franschhoeck Valley paired with fantastic wines and Mediterranean menu. Eat indoors or outdoors. Located on the Dieu Donne Wine Estate.

La Residence Restaurant
(diner)”¨This was an fabulous experience for all senses. Cocktail overlooking the mountains, and diner in an intimate ambiance of chandeliers, fire places and candle lights. Dining at La Residence restaurant is always a leisurely experience. Begin with an apéritif in the loggia to experience sunset over the dam or sit beside the fire for cocktails and canapés by candlelight. La Residence restaurant’s dining area is reminiscent of a manor hall, resplendent with dazzling chandeliers, black and white flooring and vast fireplaces, while outside, the Persian Alley offers a delightful setting for alfresco summer meals. Here a bubbling rill flows between lush green lawn and luxuriant floral borders. The chef presents a seasonal menu that is alive with flavor, made from the best local ingredients and produce freshly picked from La Residence’s own kitchen garden. Located at La Residence Hotel.

But that was not all I had in mind. I was still looking to enjoy some outdoors, the water and most important the adrenaline. And the right fit for all this was lying close to where I was, in the district of Hermanus.

Hermanus, the southern coast of the Western Cape province. It is famous as a place from which to enjoy the beach, watch the Southern Right Whales and my favorite adrenaline moment, Cage Diving with the Great White Sharks. And this was my next alternative experience in away from Cape Town.

Located 115 kilometers away from Cape Town, along Walker Bay. I took Hermanus as my based for my Great White Sharks close encounter and stayed for one night. The town is very quite, offering some spectacular panoramic walks along the coast and cliffs, from which you can see the Southern Right Whales jumping, mating and showing off their tales.

The area is known for its unspoiled natural beauty, and small bays of white sandy beaches border vast areas of indigenous Cape Floral Kingdom. The cliff sides are littered with a network of small caves that are of significant archaeological and historical value. It is extremely rich in biodiversity.

Gansbaai, is where my next experience would take place, approximately 40 minutes away from Hermanus. East of Hermanus and at the beginning of the Cape’s Garden Route, Gansbaai has become world famous because of its resident population of Great White Sharks.

Stayed and Dined at the charming Birkenhead House sister property of La Residence. Hermanus luxury seaside accommodation without a doubt, mixing classic beach house style and quirky opulence in a relaxed and easygoing atmosphere. Perched on its exhilarating cliff-top position overlooking the whale watching paradise of Walker Bay. Dinning here is as magical as you can imagine, lavish meals served in your choice of setting: overlooking the ocean; next to our dual level pool; in our glass fronted dining area; or simply enjoy dining in the privacy of your suite. The food is a subtle mixture of modern African Cuisine, Cape seafood, and traditional French techniques with strong Asian and Italian influences. “¨”¨

But the real experience was still awaiting and the adrenaline was building up, in a way that was a bit daunting at first. The following morning early rise and pick up around 7AM, to drive all the way to Gansbaai. After a short introduction and safety briefing, we embarked into our boat on our way to search for the Great White Sharks.

So yes, today after over 20 years of dreaming about it and many Jaws movies in between, enough to scare the hell out of me, I did my own private Great White Shark Diving experience… yes of course in a cage.”¨”¨

Next to Dyer Island, which is a bird sanctuary 7km offshore, is a notorious stretch of water known as Shark Alley, probably the most filmed section of South Africa’s ocean. This is a favored hunting ground for Great Whites, and is home to a large colony of Cape Fur Seals, the mainstay of their diet.

We sailed off to our adventure. I must say that I LOVED it, but trust me, the scariest part was not the sharks itself, but the temperature of the water and the seasickness. For the first hour and a half, I was just playing up and down the boat saying I am fine….. but the worst came later, when I was not fine anymore. I think I lost over 10 kilos, nauseous by the movement of the ship. After eating and drinking my way through Africa for over a month, I went right back to my original weight of when I was 20 years old. But fully worth going through all this, in order to spend 30 amazing minutes in the cage joining one of the most beautiful creatures of the seas. Not to mention that around us, where two gigantic Southern Right Whales breaching over and over, and thousands of curious Seal swimming around. The tour lasted till 1PM.

Bait, Fish Oil and Seal Decoy in the water, groups of 10 sharks getting close to the boat, time to jump in the water and get into the Cage. Your heartbeats accelerate and you are set for a fantastic ride. Join their own environment and see then right on their habitat, over and over. I saw their jaws opening, felt one of their tales against my skin, when one of them got next to the cage holding the bait in his jaws. Just beyond real.

(Post) Great White Shark Cage Diving Experience in Hermanus  
(video) Great White Shark Cage Diving Experience
(video) Seals at Dyer Island in Hermanus
(video) Great White Shark Cage Diving Experience II
(video) Great White Shark Cage Diving Experience III

My mission was completed, and I was ready to head back to my last three days in Cape Town doing what regular tourist do… stayed at the lovely Mount Nelson Hotel by Orient-Express, driving along Chapman’s Peak Drive and overlooking the sunset enjoy fantastic dinners, shopping around De Waterfront, having fun at the Waterkant District and visiting the Old Biscuit Mill Market… after all, who doesn’t love to be a regular tourist, every so often right… Till next adventure in full luxury. Carlos Melia

(*) Special Thanks to South African Airways and Rhino Africa and Orient-Express Hotels for their support on my long visit to Africa.
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Carlos Melia is a Travel Expert, Blogger, Niche Marketing Consultant, Jetsetter, and Bon Vivant, who travels around the world discovering what’s new and cool in Luxury Travel and Hospitality. His reviews on hotels, restaurants, destinations, and attractions, based on his own experiences as an OUT Gay Traveler can be found at www.carlosmeliablog.com

About The Author

Carlos Melia Travel Agent Luxury Travel Curator & Blogger Wedding Planner Public Relations & Marketing CarlosMeliaBlog.com http://www.carlosmeliablog.com CM by Carlos Melia http://www.carlosmelia.com Haute Experiences http://www.hauteexperiences.com MLGTPP http://www.MLGTPP.wordpress.com Twiitter http://www.twitter.com/carlosmelia YouTube http://www.youtube.com/user/meliacarlos Pinterest http://pinterest.com/carlosmeliablog/ Shameless BIO Carlos Melia (38) Bespoke and Luxury Gay Travel Expert, Blogger and Tourism/Hospitality Niche Marketing Consultant. For the past 20 years, I have been an independent travel agent with my own company CM by Carlos Melia - www.carlosmelia.com - and have travelled and lived extensively all over the world. I have international travel experience, both as a traveler and professional, specializing into Luxury and Bespoke Gay Travel worldwide. Experiential travel perfected is my mojo. My firm commitment to you, and main reason of my following is - Been There Done That. All travel services and products to be offered and featured, have previously been experienced, tested and approved personally by me. At CarlosMeliaBlog - www.carlosmeliablog.com - I speak Gay, but I am also fluent in Straight. Everyone is welcome, everyone. There you will find reviews, tips and information on hotels, restaurants, tours, destinations, among other travel related services and products. Former Mr Gay International 2008, and member of the Board of Directors at Mr Gay World, I work along the main LGBT organizations worldwide, in pro of our rights and to assure everyone, that indeed It will be Better. I have partnered along the leading lifestyle, travel and hospitality PR firms, media groups and corporations, implementing creative and effective targeted outreach to the LGBT community. Narrowing the existing gap in between mainstream travel/hospitality services and the LGBT community worldwide. Been called, awarded and recognized, by peers, press, and customers, as a gay travel guru, jetsetter, influencer, broadcaster and globe trotter, with known as the little Marco Polo. Bachelor degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management, tree times around the world, going for the forth, more destinations, air miles and room nights that I can keep track of and recently have added gay wedding planner to my curriculum. Regardless of your sexual orientation or preference, travel should always be a memorable, unique and unforgettable experience, and not just a destination. For this, I work closely with clients and suppliers to assure that this happens. Hope you enjoy the ride, and look forward hearing your feedback and comments. Sincerely, Carlos Melia (*) Proud and active member of two of the most relevant and influential organizations within the Travel and Hospitality Industry, which are IGLTA – International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, TZELL Travel Group and Signature Travel Network.

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