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Blog, Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Grace, Cape Town – STAY

January 23, 2016
Cape Grace, Cape Town

The Cape Grace is one of the premium addresses in Cape Town.  Located right on the V&A Waterfront, with Table Mountain in the background, you could not be more central if you tried.  Yes, the waterfront is touristy.  But it is still lovely to walk around, especially for families.  Seals entertain crowds in the harbour, and there are a few charming little bars you can sit at and watch Cape Town go by.  We also walked all the way down Bree Straat from the Cape Grace, and checked out some of wonderful bars there (read more here).

Cape Grace, Cape Town

Cape Grace is an elegant red-brick building, which I first recognised from the film Blood Diamond.  The service is second to none.  The staff are so friendly and go out of their way to make you feel looked after and happy.   The nautical theme throughout the hotel might not be to everyones taste, but it does feel grand and it is undeniably one of the best hotel options in Cape Town (along with neighbouring One & Only, Ellerman House and 12 Apostles).

Cape Grace, Cape Town

We had a wonderful room with Table Mountain and harbour views.  The windows were huge and opened wide, so you can sit by the window and it feels like your outside.  Many of the rooms also have terraces.  The rooms are very spacious, with palatial beds, the softest sheets and wonderful marble bathrooms.

Cape Grace, Cape Town

Cape Grace, Cape Town

We went for dinner at the wonderful Test Kitchen while staying here, so didn’t get to try their fine dining restaurant Signal (meant to be very good).  But the breakfast here was incredible.  I loved the corn fritters with bacon and avocado.  A lot of locals also come for the excellent Afternoon tea. I was just in a permanent food coma throughout my holiday in South Africa.

Cape Grace, Cape Town

While there is so much to do in and around Cape Town, should you wish to just relax at the hotel you can hang out in the beautiful library, or lounge around the (small) pool.  In the evening their famous whiskey bar fills up and stays open until late, with a really good vibe.  In short, if you can, spend at least a night here on your first visit to Cape Town.  You won’t regret it.

Cape Grace, Cape TownCape Grace, Cape Town

Cape Grace

W Quay Rd,

V & A Waterfront,

Cape Town

Photo credit: Cape Grace

Blog, Cape Town, South Africa

La Colombe, Cape Town – EAT

January 20, 2016
La Colombe, Cape Town

La Colombe.  It just has that wonderful ring to it.  It sounds French.  It sounds like fine dining.  It sounds like you can’t miss this restaurant when you’re in Cape Town.  Which you most definitely can’t.  

La Colombe and the Test Kitchen have been constantly battling for the number one restaurant in South Africa.  So far (according to the critics/awards), the Test Kitchen is winning.  But I was curious to see which one would win for me.  We went to the Test Kitchen for dinner on the Saturday, and then La Colombe for lunch on the Sunday.  Talk about how to stuff as many good restaurants into 72 hours in Cape Town.

La Colombe, Cape Town

I wish we’d had more time at La Colombe, so we could have properly taken advantage of the Lunch Tasting Menu, which not only looks phenomenal, but is also very nicely priced (9 courses for £36).  Sadly we had to return our rental car, and so had a time limit.  Which meant a starter and a main, and all the little tasters in between.  It was so worth it, despite the rush.

Location wise it’s quite special.  It moved to Silvermist fairly recently, and now it is truly a restaurant with a view.  Located quite high up, you have views of the valley and the vineyards.  It’s not a completely open view, but it’s beautiful.  While initially I was disappointed not to be sitting outside (it can get quite windy, they warned), if you sit right by the large windows, you can still enjoy the views no matter what.

La Colombe, Cape Town

It is a wonderful, airy and light restaurant, with a much more ‘fine dining’ feel than the Test Kitchen, but without being stuffy or stiff.  The service was very professional but incredibly friendly; they were clearly proud of where they worked.

And the food?  Out of this world.  From the beautifully presented tuna with mirin in a can (see the photo below before you turn your nose up), to the stunning lamb (which we both had as a main course) – I was blown away.

La Colombe, Cape Town

For starters Rob had the scallops with the pork belly and I had the beef.  They were exquisitely cooked, every mouthful a different flavour.  So much care and expertise was clearly put into every dish.

La Colombe, Cape TownLa Colombe, Cape Town

Verdict?  You can’t really compare La Colombe and the Test Kitchen.  They are both unique, and both a must do when in Cape Town (though getting a booking is easier at La Colombe).  But perhaps La Colombe is best for lunch, so you can enjoy the beautiful views.  And the restaurant seems at its best with the sun pouring in.  This is a restaurant I will return to  – given the chance – time after time (and yes, that means I am 100% returning to Cape Town).

La Colombe

Silvermist Wine Estate,

Constantia Main Rd,

Constantia, Cape Town, 7848

Booking essential

Photo credit: La Colombe & City Turtle

Blog, Cape Town, South Africa

Bree Street’s best cocktail bars, Cape Town

January 17, 2016
Bree Street, Cape Town

Bree Street has transformed over the past decade, and is now, along with Kloof Street, one of Cape Town’s hottest culinary streets.  I found the further down the street you walked (away from the Waterfront), the more restaurants, bars and cafes popped up.  They all looked super appealing, but we settled for a little stretch with a number of cocktail bars all in a row, in different coloured houses.  So cute.  It’s as hipster as Cape Town gets here.

Bree Street, Cape Town

These were my favourite bars on Bree:

DOOR 221

This tiny bar is relatively new on Bree street, and it’s where we spent most of our afternoon, sitting in the warm sun at one of their few tables on the street, watching Cape Town go by.  Their whisky sours are wonderful (and about £2 a pop), and Rob enjoyed their various beers.  Apparently they serve great tacos too.

Door 221, Cape TownDoor 221, Cape Town

GIN BAR MOTHER’S RUIN

If you’re a gin lover this is the place for you.  Serving various types of gin and tonics, with fun interiors and a friendly vibe, this is one of the most populars bars on Bree Street.

Mother's Ruin, Cape Town

ORPHANAGE COCKTAIL EMPORIUM

Annoyingly this was shut when we went (but it was the reason we discovered Door 221 and Mother’s Ruin).  This speakeasy bar apparently mixes some of the best cocktails in town.  The interiors are vintage in style, and they offer sharing platters too if you get hungry.

Orphanage Cocktail Emporium, Cape Town

In terms of restaurants, for coffee I’d recommend the Hard Pressed Cafe, for breakfast Jason Bakery (incredibly pastries) and Clarke’s Bar and Dining Room (I love the look of the interiors here), for lunch Chefs Warehouse (with a wonderful tapas menu), for dinner Bistro Bizerca (blog to follow).  For beer lovers the Brewers & Union, with a lovely outside terrace, is the place to be.

For a comprehensive list of all the incredible dining and drinking venues on Bree Street, Eat Out have written a fantastic article.

Blog, Cape Town, South Africa

The Test Kitchen, Cape Town – EAT

January 17, 2016
Test Kitchen, Cape Town

If there was one restaurant I was particularly excited about going to in South Africa, it was the Test Kitchen.  Almost everyone who had been to South Africa recommended it, even if they hadn’t manage to get a booking here themselves.  It was voted the best restaurant in Africa, let alone South Africa.  A big title.

Getting a booking is thus close to impossible, unless you book about 6 months in advance.  Or, if you get lucky.  We got ridiculously lucky as met the wonderful South African Jo in London during the summer, who knew one of the chefs there and managed to get us a table at 8:30 on a Saturday night. I think she surprised herself.

The Test Kitchen, Cape Town

Did it live up to expectations?  Yes.  Which was my favourite dish?  I can’t choose.  It’s easier for me to just show you photos of the ten-course tasting menu (more with the amuse bouche) than even try and describe it.

Test Kitchen, Cape TownTest Kitchen, Cape TownTest Kitchen, Cape TownTest Kitchen, Cape TownTest Kitchen, Cape TownTest Kitchen, Cape TownTest Kitchen, Cape TownTest Kitchen, Cape TownTest Kitchen, Cape TownTest Kitchen, Cape Town

Top tip?  Book seats at the kitchen bar rather than an actual table.  That way you get to see the chefs preparing the food.  The insight to ‘behind the scenes’ was perhaps the most priceless part of it all.

Test Kitchen, Cape Town

Good news for Johannesburgers – the owner Dale-Roberts is set to launch a pop up restaurant at the Saxon Hotel in Johannesburg at the end of the month.  Get booking now!  And if you can’t get a table at the Test Kitchen then try the equally fabulous Pot Luck Club sister restaurant next door!

The Test Kitchen

Shop 105a

The Old Biscuit Mill

375 Albert Road

Woodstock

Cape Town

 

Blog, Cape Town, South Africa

The Pot Luck Club, Cape Town – EAT + DRINK

January 5, 2016
The Pot Luck Club, Cape Town

I often find the Potluck Club somewhat overshadowed by its more prominent and more famous sister restaurant, the Test Kitchen.  They sit side by side within the the Old Biscuit Mill, a complex filled with charming boutiques, restaurants and bars, in an otherwise fairly dodgy part of Cape Town.  Side by side isn’t perhaps so accurate – while the Test Kitchen is on ground level, part of the unique charm of the Potluck Club is that it is elevated, on the 6th floor of the factory tower.  This means wonderful views of Cape Town, Table Mountain and beyond.

Potluck Club, Cape Town

We came here for a cocktail before dinner at the Test Kitchen, and even if you can’t get a table booking at either of them (the Potluck club is also notoriously difficult), I would recommend coming here for a drink.  Arrive early and getting a seat at the bar shouldn’t be a problem.  For me there were three highlights:

  1. The aforementioned views (the city looks so beautiful at sunset, but also very cool in the dark) and aesthetics of the place itself.  I preferred the interiors and the setting here to the Test Kitchen.  It’s a little more casual here but still is clearly a place to come for a special occasion. It had a great buzz.
  2. The bar staff were phenomenal. So friendly, so skilled and so enthusiastic.  They gave us tasters to help us make our choices, they explained how they been through proper training courses and how much they loved working there.
  3. The cocktails. Until arriving in Cape Town I’d struggled to find a bar in South Africa which served good cocktails, even at some of the five star hotels we stayed. So I stuck to wine.  At the Potluck Club the Martini menu was so good I wanted to try a whole range of them. I struck gold with the rosemary and elderflower vodka martini, and then was recommended the thai curry martini. I was hesitant but loved it – the chilli and the lemongrass were a wonderful addition to the citrus and vodka. And the best bit?  They were no more than £2.50 a cocktail. Too good to be true.

The Pot Luck Club, Cape Town

We could have sat by the bar all evening, sipping martinis and talking about Cape Town, but had to head down to the Test Kitchen for dinner (it’s a tough life).  So this is a place I have to return to, because the food that came by looked wonderful.  And I really need to have one of their rosemary elderflower martinis again.

The Pot Luck Club, Cape Town

The Potluck Club

6, The Silo,

The Old Biscuit Mill,

373-375 Albert Rd,

Woodstock, Cape Town, 7915,

Photo credit: the Potluck Club

Amsterdam, Argentina, Blog, Italy, Lisbon, London, Marrakech, Morocco, Portugal, Puglia, South Africa

Best of 2015: My favourites

December 29, 2015
city turtle

2015 has been a busy year in terms of travel, I’ve done numerous city weekend breaks in Europe (Amsterdam / Lisbon / Barcelona /Krakow), some relaxing, foodie holidays (Puglia / Bordeaux / Cyprus) and some serious ‘wow’ trips (Argentina / South Africa).

Here are my 2015 favourites: 

The Show Stopper: The Test Kitchen, Cape Town.

No wonder it’s been awarded South Africa’s number one restaurant for the 4th year in a row, as well as the best restaurant in Africa.  We were so lucky to have dinner here and try their incredible 10 course Tasting Menu.  We sat at the kitchen bar, which I highly recommend, as it is truly one of the best experiences watching these top chefs put together the most incredible food.

Runner up: La Colombe, the sophisticated and much-loved restaurant in Constantia, the exclusive suburb of Cape Town.  With beautiful views, delicate food and perfect service, I can completely understand why people rave about it (and why it was voted South Africa’s 2nd best restaurant).

Test Kitchen, Cape Town

Most spectacular Hotel: Eolo, Argentina.

I was completely blown away by this fantastic Relais & Chateaux, nestled in the Patagonian hills.  This is a simple, elegant and intimate boutique hotel – which is all about the views, the fantastic service, the beautiful Argentine design and the excellent food.  By far the best place I stayed in Argentina.

Runner up was Rattrays, Mala Mala in Sabi Sands.  The most beautiful colonial lodge, and the best base for wildlife viewing in South Africa. Runner up 2: Babylonstoren, South Africa, the most wonderful Cape Dutch farm and hotel in between Franschoek and Paarl.  I could not fault the design.

Eolo, Argentina

Favourite new discovery: Puglia, Italy.

Italy is, and will always be, my favourite country.  And I know it quite well.  But 2015 was the first time I traveled to ‘the heel’ of Italy, to Puglia, and I was taken aback by how much I adored it.  So different to the rest of the country, I loved its dark red earth, the hundred year old olive groves, turquoise seas, the white-washed hill top towns, the brilliant food and wine, and the incredible value for money.  Read all about my favourite places in Puglia here.

Runner up: Krakow, Poland.  Who knew Poland was quite so beautiful?  I absolutely loved this pretty and well-preserved Medieval city.  Wonderful architecture, great dining options, and super affordable.

Controcorrente, Ostuni

 i

Favourite new London restaurant: Shackfuyu, Soho.

Fans of the Bone Daddies restaurant group will not have missed their Soho pop up, which received such high acclaim (especially its Kinako french toast with green tea soft serve ice cream) that it has now thankfully become a permanent fixture.  My favourite dish was the aubergine with babu aruru, that alone is a reason to return.

Runner up: Taberna do Mercado.  While Nuno Mendes’ new Spittalfields restaurant has divided opinion, I loved this cosy, down to earth Portuguese restaurant, with hearty ‘grandma-style’ dishes.

Bone Daddies Shackfuyu, Soho

Favourite new London bar: The Gin Parlour at Mr Fogg’s Tavern, Soho.

I was already a fan of Mr Fogg’s Residence in Mayfair, and so was delighted when Mr Fogg’s Tavern opened at the end of the year.  While the Tavern itself is often heaving, upstairs you’ll find a much quieter and more sophisticated Victorian Gin Parlour, with delicious (albeit expensive) cocktails.

Runner upCahoots . While it’s a nightmare to get a booking, I thought the interiors and the Underground theme was incredible (and the cocktail prices reasonable).

Mr Fogg's Tavern, Soho

Best value hotel: The Capaldi, Marrakech.

If you’re looking for a sunny but short break away from London, then Marrakech is the perfect option.  Just a 3 hour flight, but where the weather is infinitely better and where there is an astonishing array of five star hotels.  While the likes of the Amanjena, the new Mandarin Oriental and Kasbah Tamadot are luxurious but very expensive options, the Capaldi offers the best of both worlds.  It’s a beautiful hotel, set in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, half an hour drive from Marrakech’s medina, and a complete paradise.  Best of all is that rooms are from £100 per night, so totally affordable.  I loved it.

Runner up: Hotel Ormes de Pez, in the Medoc area of Bordeaux. With only a few rooms, I loved staying at this very comfortable, traditional French Chateau boutique hotel, where you are beautifully looked after by Gilles.

Capaldi, Marrakech

 i

Favourite new London hotel: The Zetter Townhouse, Marylebone.

The Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell is a London favourite, but the new Townhouse in West London is giving it a good run for its money.  With quirky interiors, a very cosy sitting room/bar/lounge and rooms with the comfiest looking beds I’ve seen – this is British design at its best.

Runner up: the very modern Mondrian Hotel at the Sea Containers on the South Bank, where I especially loved the views and the cocktail bar.

Zetter Townhouse, Marylebone

Favourite Amsterdam new-comer: Cafe Panache, Amsterdam.

This laid-back, stylish cafe-restaurant had such a fantastic vibe, I thought I was in New York.  The food is good, but the main reason to come is for the atmosphere, and the bar filled with locals, which stays open until late.

Runner up: The W Hotel, Amsterdam.  While I’m not a massive fan of the W group, I must say I completely adored the new W’s ‘Lounge’ bar on the top floor, where the views of the Dam Palace are out of this world, and where I’d pay good money to have a swim in their pool with a view.

Cafe Panache, Amsterdam

Most original bar: Floreria Atlantico, Buenos Aires.

It doesn’t get more original than when the entrance to a bar is a fully functioning flower shop.  This bar has been repeatedly voted one of the world’s best bars, and I can totally see why.

Floreria Atlantico, Buenos Aires

 i

Favourite healthy option: Pluk, Amsterdam.

Too pretty for words, this newcomer to Amsterdam’s beloved Negen Straatjes (Nine Little Streets) is the perfect girlie health haven.  Pick a juice, a salad and a detox shot and you’re good to go.  I love their Instagram feed too.  If you’re looking for something more substantial for brunch, then their sister property Ree 7 (on the same street), is also worth checking out.

Runner up: Flax & Kale, Barcelona. I was really wowed by this healthy ‘flexitarian’ restaurant, which combined stunning interiors with a delicious, unique menu.

Pluk, Amsterdam

 i

Best bottomless brunch: Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings, Clerkenwell.

2015 was the year I fell in love with Exmouth Market, a new part of London I had shockingly never been to before.  B&H Buildings is around the corner, and it’s colonial, bright interiors makes it the ideal place for brunch (try and get a table in their green house).  Best of all is that they offer bottomless Bellinis (£16) or Bloody Mary’s (£15) for weekend brunch.

Bourne and Hollingsworth Buildings, Clerkenwell

Favourite local: Hally’s and Little H, Parsons Green.

Fulham gets criticised for being slightly on the dull side when it comes to restaurants and bars, but one thing it can get right is brunch.  Hally’s remains one of my favourite Fulham locals, and with the arrival of its smaller and healthier sister property Little H (with a Cali twist), I couldn’t be happier.

Runner up: St Clements, toward Eelbrook Common, is also a great option if Hally’s is fully booked.  Manuka Kitchen also remains a firm favourite.

Hally's Parsons Green

Favourite City Break: Lisbon, Portugal.

It was my second time visiting the Portuguese capital this year, and I liked it even more than the first time I went.  Lisbon combines excellent weather with beautiful architecture, an innovative foodie scene and incredible value for money.   Take an extra day off work and give yourself a day on the beach to add some proper R&R to this city break, and you’ll feel like you’ve been on a proper holiday.  Read all about my Lisbon highlights here.

Runner up: Barcelona.  This Spanish city never fails to disappoint. With wonderful tapas bars, fantastic rooftop bars and the beach (with its brilliant beach bars), I could return again and again.

Lisbon

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Blog, South Africa

Maison Estate, Franschoek

December 28, 2015
Maison Estate, Franschoek

A night or two in the wine lands around Cape Town is a must. I didn’t have time to go to Stellenbosch, but did manage to see a few wineries in and around Franshoek.

As mentioned previously, I fell in love with Babylonstoren, a winery/Cape Dutch farm in the winelands, in between Paarl and Franschoek.  But I’d say my favourite winery in Franschoek was the Maison Estate and Kitchen.

Maison Estate, Franschoek

Driving up to the main building, known as the ‘Kitchen’ (which now also has a Deli), it seemed small and unassuming. Walking in however, I was surprised by the spacious interiors – all light woods, a roaring fire, modern lighting and at the back a huge glass sliding door leading to a large terrace and views of the vineyard, gardens and the mountains.  While Franschoek is known for its beauty, I will still taken aback by the breathtaking view here.

Maison Estate, FranschoekMaison Estate, Franschoek

We had booked lunch elsewhere, but had heard that the food was very good here, so decided to stay for a glass of wine and a starter. Rob went for the beef tartar and I went for the duck salad. But before that arrived we were brought a basket of warm fresh bread and a cabbage tapenade which was excellent.  Our ‘starters’ too did not disappoint.  Nor did the wine.

Maison Estate, FranschoekMaison Estate, Franschoek

For those of you staying in Franschoek, I recommend taking the wine train which will also stop here. A nice way of seeing as many of these beautiful wineries as possible. Or if time is precious, then you can still pop into Maison Estate and visit their newly opened Deli, with amazing jars filled with jams or pickled vegetables, cured meats, cheeses, funny souvenirs and wonderful wines of course for sale. It’s about a 10 minute drive from Franschoek itself, so well worth it.

Maison Estate, Franschoek

Best though is to book a table for lunch – outside on the terrace. You won’t regret it.

Other recommended wineries are La Petite Ferme and Mont Rochelle.

Maison Estate

R45, Franschoek

Cape Town, 7690

Blog, South Africa

Mariana’s, Stanford – An authentic lunch on the Garden Route

December 27, 2015
Mariana's, Stanford

If it wasn’t for Jo, a South African friend of ours, we would never have found – or heard of – this place.  This is not a place splashed all over Conde Nast Traveller or on Instagram, like the South African big hitters The Test Kitchen or La Colombe.  In fairness it’s not comparable to those restaurants, and nor does it want to be.

It’s a bit of a secret, and while I’d like to keep it that way, this place deserves sharing.  Not that it really needs any promotion, it’s always fully booked and has a definite loyal local following.  It’s location on the Garden Route, in the sleepy ‘town’ of Stanford, means that it works brilliantly as a stopover for lunch if you’re driving to Hermanus (15 minutes) or even Cape Town (1.5 hours).

Mariana's, Stanford
In a country which has become famous for its food, Mariana’s more than holds its own.  It was our most authentic, most ‘local’ experience.  Nothing fancy, nothing flashy.  It’s like eating at someone’s house, and in fact that is exactly what it is.  Mariana and husband Peter run – and own – the show. Mariana is a well known chef in her own right, and you’ll find her permanently in the kitchen, while the charming Peter plays the host – he waiters and explains the menu with great care and joy.

Mariana's, Stanford

The best tables are outside on the shaded terrace, with views of the organic garden and the luscious green countryside and surrounding mountains.  The menu is all organic and locally sourced product, all straight from their garden.   We loved the duck with lentils, the salads and the creme brûlée to finish.

Marianas, Garden RouteMariana's, Stanford

When the bill came we simply couldn’t believe it.  One of the best lunches we had, two courses each, with a carafe of wine – and it came to less than £15.

Highly recommend it to anyone driving the stunning Garden Route, and also to those staying in Hermanus (where, apart from The Marine and Birkenhead House, the standard of restaurants is far lower – and more touristy, than the rest of the Garden Route).

Mariana’s (The Owl’s Barn)

11 Du Toit Street

Stanford

Open for lunch Thursday – Sunday

Pre-booking necessary: 028341027

Photo credit: Mariana’s and some are my own

Blog, South Africa

Babylonstoren, Franschoek – STAY

December 14, 2015
Babylonstoren, Franschoek

Franschoek is a very pretty Cape Dutch Town, all white washed cottages, a lovely 19th Century church and plenty of cafes and restaurants populating the high street. But it is beyond the town where Franschoek’s beauty truly lies. In the towering mountains, the roads winding through vineyard after vineyard, the picturesque Cape Dutch farm houses surrounded by beautiful gardens.

Babylonstoren, Franschoek

Babylonstoren is one of the oldest Cape Dutch farm in the area (it’s in between Franschoek and Paarl), and it is out of this world stunning.  It not only boasts a vineyard, but it is an actual (200 hectare) working farm, with the most lovely gardens.   And with the mountains in the backdrop it is breathtaking.

Babylonstoren, FranschoekBabylonstoren, Franschoek

Anyone can come and visit Babylonstoren, for a 10 rand (£0.50) fee at the entrance. I can see the appeal, especially for families. There are donkeys, chickens, a wonderful Glasshouse for a casual picnic style lunch (we had the freshest smoked trout on sourdough), and of course, the gardens to walk through.

Babylonstoren, FranschoekBabylonstoren, FranschoekBabylonstoren, Franschoek

You can also stay on the property, which I highly recommend.  At the moment it offers 21 suites and cottages (some of them with multiple bedrooms), but they are adding a few more.   While from the outside these suites and cottages look like simple white washed farm houses, from the inside they are a sight to behold. It’s like walking into a Scandinavian suite; large open plan bedrooms with four poster beds, large windows, wooden floors, fireplaces, high ceilings and a huge white bathroom (the baths are heavenly). The family units also offer a fully functioning kitchen, ideal for those with younger kids or if you want to be more self-sufficient.

Babylonstoren, FranschoekBabylonstoren, Franschoek

Their fine dining restaurant, Babel, was under construction when I went, but is usually booked months in advance. You can expect plenty of fresh, home grown produce and a seriously high standard of food.

Their pool was one of my favourite parts, in an old water reservoir, with lovely views of the surroundings.  They’ve now also built a ‘beach’, where you can have massages, and they have quite an extensive ‘Garden spa’, as well as a very modern gym.   And for the shopaholics, they have one of the best ‘hotel’ boutiques I’ve come across, with fantastic scented candles, wines, biltong and other souvenirs.  It goes without saying that they also offer daily wine tasting sessions, and are nearly finished with a new space for the wine tastings (it looks stunning).

Babylonstoren, FranschoekBabylonstoren, Franschoek

In short, Babylonstoren is a dream come true for couples or families – an authentic, warm experience, with the more delightful staff, in the most beautiful setting.

Rates from £220 per room in low season.

Other recommended places to stay in the Franschoek area:

*La Residence (if you want to splash out)

*Mont Rochelle (If you’re a fan of the Virgin Limited properties – who isn’t?) – also good to swing by for a picnic lunch

*Or this charming Airbnb property (if you’re on a budget).

Photo credit: Babylonstoren, and some my own.

Blog, South Africa

Plettenberg Bay: An Overview

December 6, 2015

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STAY

Hunter’s Country House – This is just one of the most charming, prettiest places to stay.  The gardens were incredible, and I loved all the cottages scattered around the estate.  It is such a peaceful place.  You’re 10 minutes drive from Plettenberg Bay, so it’s the perfect location.  Their main sitting room with huge fireplace was so cosy, the perfect place for pre-dinner drinks.  We were upgraded to their top suite/cottage with private pool and garden which was heavenly.

HuntersHunter's Country House, Plettenberg BAyHunters Country House, Plettenberg Bay

Hunter’s sister property Tsala Treetop Lodge is meant to be very good too (on the same estate).

tsala treetop lodge, plettenberg bay

For the more affordable options: if you want to be in town then the boutique hotel The Grand is recommended.  Emily Moon is meant to be a good 4-star boutique hotel, it’s out of town but right on the river and is also meant to have a good restaurant.

The Grand Plettenberg Bay

COFFEE

Known as the place with the best coffee in Plett, Double Shot is a tiny establishment in a not very interesting mall. But inside it’s cute, with an array of delicious looking cakes and (apparently) a very special Dutch coffee machine.  I had a macchiato (more citrusy than the roasted Italian I am used to – the owner did warn me) – but wonderful. They’re also super friendly there, so if you’re in a rush you can go in a grab a take away for a beach walk or hike.
Double Shot, Plettenberg Bay

COCKTAILS

Plett offers a number of establishments where you can enjoy cocktails with a view.

The Grand, on Main Street, has a lovely terrace where the views at sunset of the beaches and the sea are lovely.  They have a good cocktail menu here.

The Grand, Plettenberg Bay

Equally, the Plettenberg Hotel (Relais & Chateaux) has a nice terrace with lovely views of their infinity pool and the sea. Seagulls will join you for a drink as you watch the sky and distant mountains turn a soft pink. While they don’t have Espresso Martinis on the menu, I asked and they made me a good one.

Plettenberg Hotel, Plettenberg Bay

EAT – BREAKFAST/BRUNCH

Fournil de Plett is the best bakery in town, and some what of an institution. It has a wonderful shaded courtyard, as well as a small sunny balcony (for those who wish to smoke). The selection of breads and pastries here is incredible. This is the place for a leisurely brunch, with a good number of healthier options too (avocado on rye, poached eggs, yoghurt).  Their home made lemonade is brilliant and refreshing too.

Fournil de Plett, Plettenberg BayFournil de Plett, Plettenberg Bay

Clare’s Cakes & Deli

Those of you with a sweet tooth will love Clare’s Cakes. They recently opened a Deli next door with delicious jams and cheeses.

Clares Cake, Plettenberg Bay

EAT – LUNCH

The Look Out – for a casual, beachside setting.

Wow, the casual but well-run place has one of the best beach views in the area. While it’s a bit rough and ready, the food is surprisingly good. The tuna sirloin, grilled rare, with wasabi and soya sauce was a real highlight. The tempura prawns were as fresh as they come. Portions are massive, prices low.

The Look Out Deck, PLettenberg BayIMG_4033

Other places apparently worth visiting for a beach side lunch is Enrico, about a 10 minute drive towards Port Elizabeth. Again, with fantastic beach views and good food – we didn’t make it as wanted to stay in town.  Likewise, for your wine fix its worth visiting the Bramon Wine Estate, it love countryside views and some great wines to accompany your lunch. Finally, if you want to eat in a trendier, more polished restaurant in town, then the Grand is the place for you.

EAT – DINNER

  • Fat Fish is raved about in Plettenberg. Some say it’s the best restaurant in town. Whatever the case, this is certainly the place to eat the best fish in town. Don’t come here for the views (a mixture of car park/large hotel/sea in the distance).  The interiors are nicely done, simple but stylish – but make sure you book well in advance if you want to sit inside. If you just want to turn up, like we did, then you can sit outside on thee terrace (again, don’t have high expectations) but be prepared that if can get quite chilly at night. You come here for the food. And it really was phenomenal. We ordered sesame calamari with wasabi mayo (so good, light and un-rubbery) and ceviche (kingsklip with cherry tomatoes) to start which were the right way to start dinner. For mains we ordered a (huge) selection of sushi. Highly recommend the tuna sashimi – the freshest I have ever had. Truly melt in the mouth.  accompanied the meal with a lovely glass of Franschoek wine, and left a happy bunny.

Fat Fish, Plettenberg Bay

Other restaurant recommendations:

  • Zinzi.  The fine dining restaurant of Hunter Hotels (Hunter’s Country house and Tsala).  Very popular and quite trendy.
  • Sea food at the Plettenberg Hotel.  It’s a Relais & Chateaux so the standards are high and the fish is fresh.
  • Emily Moon.  The restaurant is meant to be very romantic at this quirky hotel.
Blog, Cape Town, South Africa

South Africa: Best of

December 5, 2015
South Africa

VIEW – From the lovely winery Newton Johnson: of the Hemel en Aarde (meaning heaven and earth) vineyards, mountains and the sea.  Highly recommend it, and it’s only a 15 minute drive from Hermanus.  Shame the weather wasn’t a bit better!

Newton & Johnson, Hemel en AardeNewton & Johnson

SUNSET – From the top of Table Mountain.  Take the cable cart up, or, if you’re up for it, hike up (takes about 2 hours)!  But don’t underestimate how steep it is.  On a calm day it is still remarkably windy up on the mountain, but so worth it.  Watch the sun set and turn Cape Town a brilliant pink.

Table Mountain, Cape TownTable Mountain, Cape Town

WILDLIFE SIGHTING – A leopard trying to kill an impala at Rattray’s in Sabi Sands.  Sadly she failed, but it was thrilling watching her pounce.

IMG_3768

TOWN – Franschoek.  I loved the Cape Dutch architecture here: the white-washed cottages and the pretty churches.  Franschoek is filled with charm and lots of cosy restaurants, cafes and bars.  Grab the wine tram and stop off at all the wonderful surrounding vineyards (Mont Rochelle, Maison Estate).  Stay just out of town (15 minutes) at Babylonstoren, the most wonderful farm with the most beautiful gardens.

Babylonstoren, Franschoek

CITYCape Town.  It simply has it all.  Incredible restaurants and bar (from Kloof Street to Bree Street), the most phenomenal setting (surrounded by white beaches, Table Mountain and Constantia’s beautiful vineyards), lovely people, amazing wildlife (seals at the Waterfront, penguins at Boulders Beach, dolphins in front of 12 Apostles), so many outward bound activities on offer (hiking, surfing, horse riding) and super affordable.

Cape Town

COCKTAIL – Thai Green Curry Martini at the Pot Luck Club.  After a fairly disappointing run of cocktails during our holiday, I regained my confidence in South African cocktails.  I also tried their rosemary and elderflower Martini (equally good).  If you’re looking for a more casual bar, then 210 on Bree Street makes a fab Whiskey Sour for £2.

Potluck Club, Cape Town

BREAKFAST 12 Apostles Hotel & Spa. A combination of fantastic views (dolphins and seals playing in the beautiful ocean in front of you) and an array of treats like oysters and champagne.  Not a bad way to start your day.

12 Apostles, Cape Town

EXPERIENCE – Chasing lightening at Rattray’s on Mala Mala in Sabi Sands.  Super thrilling as well as just a tiny bit frightening.  I’ve never seen a sunset quite like it or lightning quite so constant and brilliant.

Rattray's Mala Mala

RESTAURANT – A toss up between the 10 course tasting menu at the Test Kitchen (awarded the number one restaurant in South Africa 3 years in a row) and lunch at the beautiful, elegant La Colombe (second photo).  Both meals I will never forget.

Test Kitchen, Cape Town

La Colombe, Cape Town

AUTHENTIC MEAL – Lunch at Mariana’s, in the tiny town of Stanford, down the road from Hermanus, is as authentic as it gets. Peter and Mariana run a small restaurant at their home (the Owls Barn): Mariana cooks, Peter hosts. It is so unpretentious, such a warm experience, with lovely countryside views from their garden and truly excellent home cooking.

Mariana's, Stanford

BEACHPlettenberg Bay and the surrounding beaches.  Too stunning for words.

Plettenberg Bay
CITY BEACH – Camps Bay.  It does not get more glamorous or beautiful than Camps Bay.  And to think it’s basically a ‘city beach’, a 15 minute drive from downtown.  The combination of the deep blue sea, lovely white sandy beach and the mountains as the backdrop is magical.

Camps BayCamps Bay

CAFEFournil de Plett in Plettenberg Bay.  Sip a homemade lemonade in the shade of a tree in their leafy courtyard, and enjoy a healthy brunch.

Fournil de Plett, Plettenberg BayFournil de Plett, Plettenberg Bay

SEAFOOD – The Look Out Deck, Plettenberg Bay.  I thin we just hadn’t expected the food to be so good, as the setting is impressive enough (stunning views of the – empty – Look Out beach).  The Look Out is not a fancy restaurant, it’s down to earth and a great day hang out, and that’s why when our food arrived we were somewhat taken aback.  Rob’s tuna steak was perfectly cooked and so fresh, with wasabi and soya sauce.  You’d pay a fortune for that in London, but here it was £8.

The Look Out Deck, PLettenberg BayThe Look Out Deck, PLettenberg Bay

HIKE The Robberg Peninsula. Wow.  There are three hiking options, one is an hour hike, one 2 hours and one 3 – 5 hours.  We chose for the middle option.  The hiking is easy enough, but is still a bit of work out.  You will see a huge colony of seals from above (and smell them – less pleasant!), as well as lizards, snakes and beautiful birds.  The beach you come to is deserted and breathtaking.

Robberg Peninsula South AfricaRobberg Peninsula South Africa

HOTEL –  A really tough one because all the hotels we stayed at were fantastic.  But I think Hunter’s Country House wins this one because it is just one of the most charming, prettiest places.  The gardens were incredible, and I loved all the cottages scattered around the estate.  It is such a peaceful place.  You’re 10 minutes drive from Plettenberg Bay, so it’s the perfect location.  Their main sitting room with huge fireplace was so cosy, the perfect place for pre-dinner drinks.

Hunters

SPAThe Marine Hermanus.  A Relais & Chateaux which unsurprisingly gets its spa right.  We enjoyed a grey afternoon being pampered in the spa – they offer couple treatment rooms, so while I enjoyed a facial, Rob had a Swedish massage.  Later we enjoyed the steam room.  It’s about £26 for an hour’s massage.  Too good to be true!  The spa at the 12 Apostles was also brilliant.The Marine Hermanus

VINEYARDMaison Estate, Franschoek.  All the vineyards around Franschoek are incredible, but we especially loved Maison, which have a fantastic restaurant ‘Kitchen’ and beautiful views of their vineyard.  The interiors have a Scandi/minimalist feel to them. Apart from that another wine we kept seeing in top restaurant’s was Paul Cluver.  The vineyard is in the Elgin Valley, on the way from Hermanus to Franschoek and Stellenbosch, and is also meant to serve very good food to accompany top notch wines in a beautiful garden setting.

Maison Estate, FranschoekMaison Estate, Franschoek

POOL – The Rock Pool at 12 Apostles. While their other pool is heated and has the view of the ocean, I loved the originality of the Rock Pool, and you really feel completely in nature here.  There are a number of hiking trails you can take or you can just relax on a sun lounger in complete peace and quiet here.

12 apostles

HOLIDAY READI am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes.  You just can’t put it down, from the first page you’re gripped.  It’s ideal for lying on the beach, or waiting at the airport, or relaxing by the pool.  My problem was I was so into it that I forgot to put suncream on (not recommended)…

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