A South Africa Odyssey

Olivia Balsinger

South Africa’s gorgeous beaches, craggy mountains, and lush bush make it a premier destination for those seeking to be more intimately immersed in nature while also treating themselves to a standard of elegance. The choice of destinations and accommodation is as varied as South Africa’s geography itself. Whether it’s a brand new attraction, a hidden gem that I have yet to discover, or even somewhere familiar and nostalgic, a trip to South Africa is always an odyssey.

The City:

A visit to South Africa is incomplete without a stop in Cape Town, The Mother City. If you’ve never traveled to this gem cupping the edge of the continent, my first recommendation is snapping a picture on top of Table Mountain after a leisurely gondola ride, gaining perspective of the city’s intricate layout. A hive for both local and international chefs, Cape Town offers a wide array of dining options. From sundowners overlooking Camps Bay beach at the trendy Surfshack diner to a filet cooked to perfection at The Shortmarket Club, an industrial 1920’s “members- only” inspired space downtown, foodies find no shortage of delights either.

To Stay:

A romantic escape from downtown is Cape View Clifton, a boutique hotel with seven suites all open to uninterrupted views of Cape Town’s iconic coastline. The rooms are bright, airy and spacious, nestled into the slopes of Lion’s Head Mountain and adjacent to Clifton Beach. Cape View Clifton is ideal for couples or honeymooners desiring intimacy and privacy.

Olivia and her partner, Jonathan, in their suite at Cape View Clifton, overlooking the pristine Clifton Beach

A family-friendly option nestled in Bantry Bay, the area between the bustling city and the idyllic Atlantic Coast, is The President Hotel. With 349 luxury rooms and child-friendly apartments with full-functioning kitchenettes, this hotel quickly feels like home. Better yet, the hotel has full-service restaurants and cafes, epitomizing convenience for the busy family.

The Vineyards:

The words “wine” and “Stellenbosch,” the flourishing region east of Cape Town sprawling with vines, have been synonymous with one another since the first Dutch settlers arrived in the 17th century.

Olivia wine’ding down in Stellenbosch (Photo Credit: Jonathan Liveng)

Though I was astonished by the vast stretches of vineyards, I soon realized that wine isn’t the only striking aspect of the area: it also boasts intriguing history, culture, natural beauty, and ample outdoor adventure opportunities, such as daylong hikes through the mountains.

To Stay:

A leisurely day trip to wine country is complete once spending a night at Santé Wellness Retreat and Spa, a Spanish Colonial-style building flanked by the beautiful Drakenstein mountains. With a complete spa treatment menu, a diversity of healthy eating options, and 360-degree views of verdant nature, relaxation, and rejuvenation are paramount at Santé. The property would be the perfect itinerary addition for a couple craving seclusion or individuals hoping to kick start a healthy routine.

A sublime piece of paradise at Santé Wellness Retreat and Spa in Stellenbosch. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Liveng)

The Nature:

After a few days exploring Cape Town, I began to get antsy to see what the rest of the country has to offer. Luckily, South Africa’s Garden Route, extending from Cape Town to the Eastern Cape, is the ultimate road trip. Along the verdurous coast, you can swim in the Indian Ocean or whale watch in the bay.

You can try bungee from the world’s tallest bungee or sip white wine from the boutique Kay & Monty Vineyards. The Garden Route winds an enchanting spell along South Africa’s coasts, and the drive’s nickname pays homage to its intricate and stunning ecological diversity.

Enjoying serenity and local wine at Kay & Monty Vineyards (Photo Credit: Jonathan Liveng)

To Stay:

I recommend settling into The Old Rectory, the boutique beach hotel located in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa’s surfer and seaside paradise. Dating back to 1777, this property dually cherishes its history by maintaining is charm and heritage while adapting to the present with seamless renovations. This family-friendly hotel is located just meters away from top beaches and restaurants oozing with the smell of freshly caught fish.

If you’re looking for the ultimate leisure escape amidst a hectic itinerary, The Fancourt Hotel, in the colonial town of George, is the answer. The resort breathes nature, located on 613 hectares of Garden Route countryside, sitting in the folds of the Outeniqua Mountains.

A sunny afternoon at The Fancourt Hotel

Golf lovers will find paradise at The Fancourt — the property’s three golf courses have consistently ranked as top in the country. The hotel is family-friendly—while children can splash in the pools or rent bikes, adults may relax in the harmonious Roman Bath and spa.  

If you crave a touch of safari experience while traversing the Garden Route, then the all-inclusive Inzolo Exclusive Lodge, a getaway just north of Port Elizabeth, is the choice. The wild game roam freely through the unique mountainous landscape here. This hidden–almost inaccessible–pinpoint of paradise caters to upscale and sophisticated clientele, with only four chalets and elegant décor.

Following an afternoon game drive, guests will be treated to premium wine and spirits and hors d’oeuvres at a bonfire, the sprawling African sky the most spectacular of canvases. Dinners are served family-style and the multi-course dinners are created with fresh ingredients and passion. Intimacy, tranquility, and seclusion are paramount at Inzolo Lodge.

An afternoon game drive brings many surprises at Inzolo Exclusive Lodge (Photo Credit: Jonathan Liveng)

The Bush:

No trip to South Africa is complete without experiencing the most remote areas in the bush, waking up with the sun to the sounds of mating impalas and snorting warthogs, falling asleep each evening under the stars, the grass stirring as the hungry lioness hunts for her dinner under the light of the moon. Hoedspruit Airport is about a one-hour flight from the country’s capital, Johannesburg, and is the gateway to the country’s wildlife heartland.

What is a South African holiday without a safari?

To Stay:

Becks Safari Lodge, situated on the 9,000-hectare Karongwe Private Game Reserve in the Limpopo Province, offers guests intimacy in the heart of the African bush. The lodge is easily accessible, about an hour’s drive away from the Hoedspruit Airport.

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There are ten luxury safari units offering views of either the Makhutswi River or a popular watering hole where I spotted a warthog from the intimacy of my own porch!  With its bomas (a traditional campfire dinner), an infinity pool sitting on the edge of the bush, and guided walks led by rangers throughout the dramatic landscape, Becks would be the optimal safari choice for families with older children (12 and up) or couples. 

Olivia adventures around the bush on foot in the company of head guides at Becks Safari Lodge, Antony Soares & Ruan Momberg (Photo Credit: Jonathan Liveng)

The Outpost Lodge

Hidden in the northwestern corner of South Africa, delicately touching Mozambique and Zimbabwe, The Outpost Lodge provides a unique safari experience where nature reigns. This northern sector of Kruger National Park is known as the Eden of Kruger and home to 80% of the park’s biodiversity.

The lodge provides plentiful opportunity to be immersed in this unique landscape, including bush walks, game drives, and 180-degree views from rooms. The Outpost is easily accessible by flight with a transfer and is the ideal lodge for an adventurer looking for a more remote, wild area to explore.

Olivia relaxes in her private, contemporary tub at The Outpost Lodge. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Liveng)

The sophisticated and secluded Dulini Lodge is the optimal choice for a discerning traveler. It is just two hours from Hoedspruit airport in Sabi Sands.  The main lodge showcases traditional African artwork. Human connection and conversation are important here.

Dulini Lodge provides an optimal melding of luxury and adventure. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Liveng)

Dulini Lodge would be the ideal choice for honeymooning couples because it is intimate. There are six thatched suites, each with their private plunge pools and privacy. For an intimate experience, the lodge may arrange a candlelit dinner inside the suite. This includes a personal butler who delivers individual courses to guests.

The lack of boundary fences on the land that encompasses Dulini makes observing the Big Five in their natural habitat all the more possible.

An alert female lion just feet away from the vehicle. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Liveng)

From its jagged, unspoiled coastline to its bustling metropolitan areas, from its rugged, untamed bush to some of the world’s most condensed and intense floral biodiversity on the Garden Route, one thing is for sure: South Africa truly encompasses it all. South Afica is the place to be.

Interested in more travel guides? Check out Olivia’s LA STYLE Estonia guide!

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