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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

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

 

Argentina, Blog

Llao Llao, Bariloche – STAY

January 10, 2016
Llao Llao, Bariloche

If I’m being honest, I didn’t expect to love Llao Llao. I don’t really like big hotels, with golf courses and the like.  But from the moment I arrived, and saw the breathtaking views, was warmly greeted by the charming staff and shown to my very spacious studio, I retracted all negative feelings and completed embraced it.

Why would you come here in the first place?  Bariloche was perhaps my favourite destination in Argentina.  Known as ‘Little Switzerland’, because of the chalet style architecture, the lakes and the mountains (and not to forget the obsession with, and skill at making, chocolate).  The scenery is out of this world, and it is truly the place to come to in Argentina’s summer months. From swimming in the lakes, to kayaking, hiking, abseiling, riding, boating, condor watching – there are never ending activities to be done and in the most beautiful setting ever.

BarilocheBarilocheBariloche

Yes, Llao Llao is a large hotel, with 205 rooms. But because it’s divided into two wings – the Bustillo and the Moreno wing – it didn’t feel like there were a lot of guests.  The main old building – built in the traditional chalet style, where a lot of the rooms still have fireplaces (in my mind one of the only positives of staying in this wing rather than the Moreno), is called the Bustillo wing. Here you’ll find all the restaurants, the spa, an excellent gym and the pool which allows you to swim from inside to the (heated) outdoor pool. The views from the pool cover the lakes from either side of the hotel and are a real wow factor.

Llao Llao, BarilocheLlao Llao, Bariloche

The Moreno wing is the new wing, added on a few years ago, where you’ll hands down find the better rooms. You can expect huge windows, both in your room and bathroom, with incredible views of the Moreno Lake and mountains, contemporary interiors and lots of space.  Once you get in the bath, you won’t want to get out.

Llao Llao, BarilocheLlao Llao, BarilocheLlao Llao, Bariloche

For active people, Llao Llao is the dream. They have a full complimentary fitness class list – from yoga to pilates to hikes. You can play golf, take boat trips, go abseiling, go riding. Kids will love it here too, with a kids spa, pool and special kids club. There’s no way they’d get bored here!

Llao Llao, Bariloche

While breakfast was wonderful, with a huge range of options and again, ‘that’ view, I was a bit disappointed by the restaurants. For a hotel of this calibre you’d expect the food to be better. Instead, try other restaurants nearby which are much better, like Cassis, La Masia and Il Gabbiano.

Llao Llao, Bariloche

If you still prefer to stay in a smaller hotel, then El Casco Art Hotel is for you.  It’s slightly more in town, directly on the lake and also has great views, but is much smaller, with 33 rooms.

Llao Llao

Ezequiel Bustillo Km 25,

8401 San Carlos de Bariloche

Argentina

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)…

Argentina, Blog

Hub Porteno, Buenos Aires – STAY

November 10, 2015
Hub Porteno, Buenos Aires

The Recoleta district in Buenos Aires is where you’ll find the majority of the city’s top hotels.  One of the wealthiest areas of Buenes Aires and a big tourist hub (mainly because of the famous Recoleta Cemetry), it’s where you’ll see many ‘chateaux’ built in the late 19th Century, imitating the French palaces.  Many of these palaces have been turned into five star hotels like the Park Hyatt (Palacio Duhau) and the Four Seasons.  But amongst the five star chains, you’ll also find the smaller, more characterful boutique hotels, like Hub Porteno.

Located round the corner from the Park Hyatt, and walking distance to Recoleta cemetery, you’ll find the 10-room Hub Porteno.

All the rooms are remarkably spacious – the Queen Twin room we had was massive, and the two ‘twin’ beds were actually like small doubles.  The complimentary amenities are worth mentioning: Nespresso machines in the room, snacks, lovely bath products and afternoon tea served at 4pm with apple cake.   What really stood out for me was the bathrooms – practically the size of the bedrooms, you can expect a lot of glass, marble and metal.  I had the best power shower ever there.

Hub Porteno, Buenos AiresHub Porteno, Buenos AiresHub Porteno, Buenos AiresHub Porteno, Buenos Aires

I found the ‘living room’ (which also doubles up as a library) a little bland, it’s strange since while the interiors are all creams and whites, it felt quite dark dark due to a lack of natural light.  Still, all is forgiven when you reach their 4th floor roof terrace; an expansive green space, with comfortable seating and it does feel, as they say, like an oasis in the middle of the city.

Hub Porteno, Buenos AiresHub Porteno, Buenos Aires

For those looking for a bit more action, then their small gym is actually perfect for a quick work out, and they also have a spa and sauna if you want some pampering.

I didn’t get to try their restaurant, but I did have a (rushed – sadly) breakfast there, and it was truly superb.  The coffee was the best I had in Argentina, and their china so beautiful.  The croissants were freshly made, and I managed to enjoy some eggs and bacon too (if you put your mind to it it’s amazing what you can eat in 10 minutes!).

Hub Porteno, Buenos AiresHub Porteno, Buenos Aires

And finally, the service was wonderful – so helpful, so personal and very warm and welcoming.  It definitely made my experience in Buenos Aires.

Hub Porteno

Rodríguez Peña 1967,

Buenos Aires

Photo credit: Hub Porteno

Instagram shot: mine

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