Treat yo’self with a visit to the Award-winning Heavenly Spa by Westin™

As it turns out, the stairway to heaven isn’t a stairway at all but actually a sleek stainless steel elevator. And it’s located within the sweetly scented lobby of the Westin Hotel in Cape Town. Set the destination for floor 19 because it’s here you’ll find the international award-winning Heavenly Spa by Westin™.

Now, I’m typically suspicious of establishments that liken themselves to the abode of the Gods. My personal concept of heaven is a pretty lofty ideal to reach: anything short of milky maidens bathing in great glass vestibules of Chateau Lafite 1787 simply won’t do! And so it was with middling expectations that I entered Heavenly Spa, clean as a whistle and ready for my 60-minute Heavenly Spa Signature Massage.

Heavenly spa westin

Step into the oasis

The noise fell away, the temperature dipped ever so slightly, and the smell of essential oils pervaded. The neatly dressed staff at the front desk welcomed me with demure smiles and wasted little time in ‘signing me in’. Administration out of the way, I was lead along a winding, airy corridor to the ladies bathrooms, where I changed into my assigned fluffy bathrobe and Westin branded slippers. The bathrooms boast generously sized showers (with complimentary toiletries), lockers in which you can store your valuables whilst undergoing treatment, a hair and make-up station, and a staggering north-facing view of Cape Town.

Heavenly spa westin

It was here – 19 storeys in the sky, clad in bathrobe and slippers, and ensconced in the serene climate controlled interior of a luxury spa – that I stared out of the window over the city below with her car-clogged arteries and thumping dockside industry, and idly wondered if anyone down there could see up my bathrobe. Not really caring, I silently admired the view from heaven.

Treatment commences

Much to the relief of the traffic below (or perhaps to their disappointment), I moved away from the window and to the lounge area, where spa guests are invited to relax prior to, and after their treatment.

Heavenly-Spa-Westin Hotel

I’ve always believed that true ‘zen’ lies in nature and, apparently, so too does Heavenly Spa’s interior designer because the décor here centres on nature with earthy tones, natural textures, and organic elements reigning supreme. It’s clever really because, in a way, your therapy begins before you’ve even stepped into the spa room. With 10 minutes to kill, I helped myself to the ice water that had so considerately been provided (along with juices, green tea, and a few nibbles) and commenced my decompression.

Heavenly massage

Heavenly Spa by Westin™ offers a bevvy of treatments, including facials personalised to your skin care concerns, manicures/pedicures, calming body treatments and massages, men’s services, and waxing. They have a gym, an infinity pool, the latter of which has the most incredible view of the city, and an impressive 15 deluxe treatment rooms. Mine was called something seductively exotic like “sea of elixir” or “waves of tranquility” or “this is going to be the best day of your life”.

Heavenly spa westin

My lovely massage therapist left me to arrange myself on the heated massage bed and protect my modesty with big fluffy towels. The treatment in question, the Heavenly Spa Signature Massage (R820), is a 60-minute Swedish style medium to firm massage of the entire body, from toes to fingertips. And with deft, fluid movements of her surprisingly strong hands, she coaxed out the stress and the strain of a life lived writing, adventuring, jogging, and pestering the occasional cat.

The Heavenly Spa promises, in its offering, to pamper its guests and deliver world-class treatments that are both unique and luxurious. I can personally testify to this statement’s verity. Floating out of the dim, fragrant recesses of the treatment room, I repaired to the lounge once again; this time to attempt to wake up sufficiently so as to be able to get dressed and exit the premises without walking into any walls.

Heavenly spa westin

Escape

The Heavenly Spa by Westin™ is an international award-winning one and I say that without a trace of surprise or incredulity. Quite simply, it is heavenly! It’s also on the 19th floor of the Westin Hotel, which is located (and directly connected to) the Cape Town International Convention Centre. This means that it’s quite literally on the doorstep of anyone visiting, working, or playing in the Mother City.

Heavenly spa westin

Instead of becoming a cog in Cape Town’s perpetually gridlocked traffic system, why not wait out the worst of rush hour here? Or impress your special person with a spa gift card? With the frustrations of work, traffic, load shedding, and the political farces that play themselves out on the news and in the media, we could all use a little pampering. And you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more gorgeous place for that than the Heavenly Spa by Westin™.

I know I departed with the effects of weeks’ worth of working days, a few park runs, and one particularly taxing night of karaoke lighter than when I had arrived.

Heavenly spa westin

The Heavenly Spa at the Westin Hotel is open Monday to Sunday, 09:00 to 20:00
For bookings and enquiries, please call +27 21 412 8200.

This article was originally written for Southern Vines, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/02/28/heavenly-spa-by-westin/

Meet Gorgeous George

Launched very recently in April 2019, Gorgeous George is a boutique designer hotel tucked into two lovingly restored heritage buildings on St George’s Mall in the historic, cultural, and culinary heart of Cape Town. The hotel’s interior is the creative effort of a constellation of local artists and designers brought together by German owner Tobias Alter. One such artist is Lucie de Moyencourt who hand-painted the 1,800 ceramic tiles that now adorn the walls of the foyer, depicting a map of the city; another is David Brits, whose painted murals add colour, depth, and intrigue to walls throughout the hotel, including the interior of the bell tower on the pool terrace. The outcome of this artistic collaboration is a grand masterpiece that is quirky, chic, cheeky, tranquil, fashionable darling, and, of course, gorgeous!

Meet George…

Gorgeous George has 20 studio apartments, eight one-bedroom suites, and four two-bedroom suites, all trendily dressed and kitted out with the usual mod cons and luxuries. The suites have a consistent South African contemporary design aesthetic, which is framed by raw, industrial elements, like the exposed ceiling pipework and original steel or wood window frames. Handpicked treasures, velvety drapery, and patterned rugs add personality and pops of colour.

The bathrooms are equally impressive – some even feature freestanding Victorian-style bathtubs. All are stocked with designer fragranced soaps and creams that are biodegradable and vegan-friendly. A kaleidoscopic floral carpet winds its way through the hotel’s sleek, black corridors like a river of paint. In no other place on Earth have I been so bewitched by the floor and if it weren’t for the guide showing me around the hotel, in my trance-like state I very likely would have walked straight into a wall.

Gorgeous George Interior

Location, location, location

Gorgeous George exists at the very epicentre of Cape Town. In every direction, the Mother City’s famed attractions, historical sites, restaurants, and bars line the streets. Towards Table Mountain, there is the Company Gardens, Iziko Natural History Museum, and South African National Gallery. Towards Lion’s Head, Long Street’s bar scene and foodie favourite-Bree Street unfurl at your feet with the cultural gem of Bo-Kaap a stone’s throw beyond. Then, there’s the vibrant shopping street of St George’s Mall and a vast buffet of artisanal coffee shops, uniquely flavoured eateries, food and craft markets, and sexy cocktail bars, making Gorgeous George oh-so-desirable in the eyes of visitors to the Cape.

Gigi Rooftop Bar at Gorgeous George
Gigi Rooftop Bar at Gorgeous George

Gigi Rooftop Restaurant and Bar

On the topmost floor of the hotel you’ll find Gigi Rooftop, a jungle-inspired lounge, bar, and restaurant where hotel guests can take their meals, sprawl out on the enormous couches, or lounge by the pool, and day visitors are encouraged to “come for breakfast and stay for dinner.” On the covered veranda, the ceiling drips with textured woven baskets and planters with moss beards, while large palm trees lend their verdant fronts to the oasis-like atmosphere.

Gigi-Rooftop-Bar-Gorgeous-George

It all works together to create a tranquil, green space that appeals to the sub-conscious’ need to feel close to nature. Inside, the restaurant has a decidedly different feel of an 18th Century gentleman’s lounge with a rugged, industrial edge. Chef Guy Bennett, previously of The Restaurant at Grande Provence in Franschhoek, heads up the kitchen of Gigi Rooftop, crafting seasonally and locally inspired dishes that are both healthy (read: guilt-free) and delicious. Behind the bar, inventive cocktails are proudly brought to you by well-known mixologist, Jody Rahme.

A place you’ve got to meet

Gorgeous George exudes history, fashion, and charm and presents as a work of art. More than that, however, it feels personal… like someone’s warm, colourful, and perhaps a little eccentric personality has been transposed onto its physical interior. And after spending a few hours poking about the hotel and sitting down to lunch at Gigi Rooftop, I wish that there were more people in the world with personalities like Gorgeous George.

Gorgeous George Hotel and Gigi Rooftop bookings and enquiries: +27 (0) 87 898 6000 | Gigi Rooftop Bar & Restaurant: gigi@gorgeousgeorge.co.za, +27 (0) 87 898 6000

The Den: a Base to Explore the Best of Stellenbosch

The Den Stellenbosch

The wind gently tousled through the rooftop area and as the sun descended below the western horizon, the chill crept, reminding us that although spring is on its way, winter still has dominion over the Cape; particularly the nights. We milled about, glasses of Waterford “Rose-Mary” Blanc de Noir and gin-and-tonics in hand, chatting and admiring the views over the entirety of Stellenbosch.

In the winelands summer heat, the pool would be irresistibly seductive but tonight, it is just pretty to look at. The rooftop of The Den, the venue for our drinks and canapés (and chin-wag), offers a remarkable space for visitors to spend time. Clean-cut and modern with extraordinary valley and mountain views…how could one not be inspired up here, I mused as I hoovered down my fifth basil, buffalo mozzarella, and cherry tomato hors d’oeuvre.

The Den Stellenbosch

The Den in Stellenbosch

The Den in Stellenbosch is a large apartment complex located on Dennesig Road, on the very doorstep to the historic town centre, the University of Stellenbosch, and all the wonderful wine estates beyond. Cape Summer Villas is a privately owned hotel group that began in 1996 as a single three-bedroom guesthouse, which has since expanded to a boutique collection of high-end properties scattered throughout the Western Cape. All feature “tastefully decorated interiors, the finest linen, and five-star amenities that have all been selected to showcase their surroundings.”

What do The Den and Cape Summer Villas have to do with each other? Well, the hotel group has just added 18 of The Den’s apartments to its portfolio, which it now offers as beautiful and super convenient self-catering accommodation to visitors to the Cape. And it was one of the 15 open-plan studio apartments that I would be spending the night – taking it for a test run, if you will.

Thank you Waterford Estate for the gift of wine and chocolate, and Stellenbosch’s very own Banhoek Chilli Oil Co. for the gift of oil that I shall slather my next slice of pizza with!

The Den Stellenbosch

Modern, comfortable, and entirely serviceable

If a luxury hotel and the student digs of your dreams had a whirlwind romance, the offspring of that would be what the Cape Summer Villas have done with their self-catering apartments at The Den in Stellenbosch. The rooms are compact and feature everything you could possibly need to live, never mind spend a night or two. Yet they also convey a sense of space so that you don’t feel claustrophobic. For example, my humble open-plan studio apartment had a queen-sized bed, a fully kitted-out kitchen (complete with high-end appliances, a washing machine, stove, and medium-sized fridge), small table for meals, study nook, large flat-screen TV, and ample closet storage on either side of the bed. It even had a balcony with a built-in braai. You could actually live here and very comfortably too.

The Den Stellenbosch

This made me think about the audience for such accommodations. Being a budget traveller, I’m always attracted by accommodations that have kitchen facilities and allow for complete independence. This is what The Den offers – complete independence – which essentially means that the target audience is limited only by imagination: foreign and domestic tourists, business travellers, tour groups, wedding parties, long-stay visitors; heck, even parents visiting their kids at the University of Stellenbosch. From R1,250 per night, it’s incredibly affordable accommodation, conveniently located, and allows for complete travel independence.

Practical considerations aside, these apartments are gorgeous. Artfully decorated with interior design by Clara’s Interiors, each room blends a palette of soft greys, whites, and blonde woods with pleasing accent colours (in my room, a gentle azure blue), whimsically patterned tiles, and artwork inspired by nature. There’s also high-speed fibre Internet and, for those concerned with safety, private parking, closed circuit cameras, biometrics, and 24-hour security. If I were a trust fund baby and a student at the University of Stellenbosch, this is where I’d like to spend my college years.

The Den Stellenbosch

Dinner by Chef Rich Rorich; wine by Waterford

That evening, a glass or two of Waterford’s “Rose-Mary” down (a delectable Blanc de Noir made from Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Tempranillo, and Grenache grapes), we all gathered for supper in one of The Den’s two-bedroom apartments. Just to illustrate to you how serviceable these accommodations are: Rich Rorich, the Head Chef of Cape Summer Villas’ Sky Villa Boutique Hotel in Plettenberg Bay (who had been brought down to Stellenbosch for the purpose of cooking for us), was able to use these kitchen facilities to whip up a delicious three-course meal. On the subject of working in a small kitchen, as opposed to the imposing stainless steel jungles he’s accustomed to, the gently spoken Ritchie had this to say:

“As chefs, we love nothing more than this. This is how we learned to love our craft: by cooking for friends and family in cramped spaces and environments.”

The Den Stellenbosch

How wonderful! Additionally, each course, I was absolutely titillated by, was brilliantly paired with wines from Waterford Estate: a starter of creamy mussels in coconut and coriander with the Waterford Chardonnay 2017. Mains of tender lamb curry, turmeric rice, and vegetables paired with the Waterford Grenache Noir 2017 or tall, dark, and handsome Kevin Arnold Shiraz 2015 (or, if you’re a wine glutton like me, both). Finally, for desserts: a kalaeidescopic selection of macarons and a fun game of “guess the flavour.”

Falling asleep has never been so easy.

The Den Stellenbosch
The Den Stellenbosch

A base to explore

The Den in Stellenbosch is the most recent addition to Cape Summer Villas’ constellation of properties and after spending the night, it’s clear that there is very little restriction on the audience these beautifully furnished and affordable self-catering apartments appeal to. With summer slowly on its way, even I am hatching a plan to get friends and family here to enjoy an itinerary packed with the best the Stellenbosch Wine Valley has to offer.

Cape Summer Villas: www.capesummervillas.co.za

The Den: www.thedenstellenbosch.co.za

Waterford Estate: www.waterfordestate.co.za

The Annual Blooming of the Cape Wildflowers

Namaqua daisies Cape wild flowers
Carpet of Namaqualand daisies on abandoned fields, Skilpad, Namaqua National Park, Northern Cape, South Africa. By LBM1948 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Beneath the seemingly infertile soils of the Western and Northern Cape lie the dormant seeds of more than 1,200 different species of wildflowers; waiting for the sun to rally against the winter chill. Towards the end of August and the beginning of September, when the days begin to warm, the seeds split open and send tender shoots skywards to bloom. And so, it is that the arrival of springtime in South Africa becomes marked by a spectacular event that transforms the otherwise drab and semi-arid landscape into an explosive cacophony of colour.

For a few precious weeks, places such as Darling, Clanwilliam, the West Coast National Park, Cedarberg, and, further afield, the Namaqua National Park, Kamieskroon, Port Nolloth, and Springbok become heavily carpeted with purples, oranges, yellows, and reds like thick brush strokes of oil paint. This spellbinding show by nature attracts people in the thousands from all over the country, as well as from abroad. But, for all their beauty and vivacity, the blooms are short-lived and as September passes, the spectacle wanes until the landscape is once again returned to its usual shades of browns, greys, and greens.

Darling Wildflowers Show
Silver Dune Photography

The Darling Wildflower Show 2019

The annual blooming of the wildflowers isn’t only celebrated by the local wildlife, which delights in the unusual abundance of food; several towns in and around the so-called “Cape Flower Route” also put on exciting festivals. And perhaps the best known and loved of these is the Darling Wildflower Show, which is held every year on the third weekend of September. This year, the 102nd instalment, it’s taking place on the 20th to the 22nd September and is set to be an extravagant affair; the perfect complement to a morning or afternoon spent admiring the spectacular wildflowers.

Here, visitors can enjoy attractions, such as craft and gourmet food markets, a beer tent, a mini-wine route, tractor-drawn wagon rides, veteran car and tractor shows, kids’ play park, live entertainment by local artists and musicians, conservation talks, and educational workshops for both adults and children. And, of course, when you’re not delighting in the food, tipple, entertainment, and enlightenment on offer, there is the remarkable Cape floral kingdom to admire.

The main celebrations will be going down at the Darling Golf Club but there will also be shuttles taking visitors on a tour of Darling’s key points of interest, including the Renosterveld Reserve, Darling Museum, Duckitt Nurseries, and Evita se Perron: famous South African comedienne Evita Bezuidenhout’s cabaret theatre and restaurant.

Darling Wildflowers

Wildflower viewing tips

Wildflowers bloom in gardens, fields, and along the roadside throughout the Western and Northern Cape but the best places to see them are those that are undeveloped and unspoiled. The West Coast National Park, Darling (both 1 hour’s drive from Cape Town), Clanwilliam (2 hours, 20 minutes), and the Biedouw Valley in the Cedarberg (3 hours, 20 minutes drive) are rewarding spots to travel to. However, getting the most out of your wildflower viewing requires more than just jumping in your car and driving to your destination.

The wildflowers are coaxed open by the warmth of the sun and so they are best viewed on warm, sunny days between the late morning (±10am) and late afternoon (±4pm). If the weather is poor or it’s too early or too late, the flowers will close to protect themselves from the cold and possible frost, and you won’t get the full visual effect. The wildflowers also angle their heads towards the sun, so it’s best to travel from north to south or from east to west along the flower route so that you keep the sun behind you and, therefore, the flowers open towards you.

Tienie-Versfeld-Wildflower-Reserve

A bucket list must for Capetonians and visitors

The annual blooming of the wildflowers is a truly magnificent show that every South African needs to see at least once in his or her lifetime. With the fun and flamboyant Darling Wildflower Show, and some of the most ostentatious floral displays as little as an hour’s drive from Cape Town, there’s every reason Capetonians and visitors should add this to their travel bucket lists!

For more information on the Darling Wildflower Show:
Telephone: (+27) 72 178 5744 or (+27) 84 916 1111
Email: info@darlingwildflowers.co.za
Website: www.darlingwildflowers.co.za

This article was originally written by Thea Beckman for Southern Vines Magazine: http://www.southernvines.co.za/2017/08/13/annual-blooming-cape-wildflowers-2017/ 

All Aboard! MSC announces its INCREDIBLE plans for the new cruise season and the next 8 years

In Cape Town, MSC is one of the most widely recognised company acronyms. The name is emblazoned across the gargantuan hulls of the cargo ships that frequent our harbour and, of course, the name has become lovingly associated with luxury, all-expenses-covered sojourns into the Indian Ocean and beyond. Cruises and cargo: that’s MSC. But, since 2017, the marine brand has been hard at work plotting its upward trajectory, the ambitions of which would have Superman quaking in his crimson boots.

Ross Volk
Ross Volk, Managing Director of MSC Cruises South Africa

But “It’s better to set your sights high and fall short, than to set them low and always succeed.” This is the unofficial mantra at MSC, said Ross Volk, Managing Director of MSC Cruises South Africa during a media brief that took place Monday 19th August at the Old Harbour Conference Centre, Westin Cape Town. Seated around a conference table the size of a rugby field, 30 pairs of eyes grew larger and larger as he and Angelo Capurro, Global Executive Director at MSC Cruises, laid out the company’s plans for expansion, renaissance, and revolution in the coming decade – plans that have been on the drawing board since they kicked off their “second phase” in 2017.

But before I spill the goods, let’s take a brief look back at the history of this vastly accomplished cargo and cruise company.

Then and now

Unlike most other cruise lines, MSC is a family owned company with a family spirit. Its 50-year history began in 1970 with its conception as a cargo shipping enterprise in Brussels, Belgium, under the stewardship of businessman Gianluigi Aponte. Then, in 2003, MSC added commercial passenger ships to its offering and over the course of the next 10 years, enjoyed a monstrous growth of 800%. Today, MSC Cruises is the number one cruise line in South Africa, Europe, South America, and the Gulf, with 70,000 employees transporting millions of passengers to 211 global destinations on five continents annually.

“Phase Two” AKA Operation Reach for the Sky

Or should I say horizon?

The new phase of MSC’s expansion, which is as much about getting bigger as it is about getting better, is multi-faceted and has been laid out over a 10-year timeline, from 2017 to 2027.

“South Africa is an important market for MSC Cruises and reflects our broader growing investment in cruising globally,” says Capurro. “We have committed to launching 13 next-generation ships between 2017 and 2027, which will bring our fleet total to 25 and see our passenger capacity more than triple. Our total investment in these ships amounts to approximately R200 billion.”

This year alone, the company has added two new ships to the family: the MSC Bellissima and MSC Grandiosa. But this is small news compared to the grand scheme of their designs; designs that bode exceptionally well for South Africa in terms of our choice of holiday destinations, our tourism, our economy, and our future.

MSC Grandiosa
MSC Grandiosa

I. Four ship classes

The company has identified four ship classes that are based largely on delivering the best possible experience to passengers based upon their desires and, to a lesser extent, budget. For example, ships in the Meraviglia Class are primarily for cruises in off-peak seasons, when the weather might not be so conducive to outdoor lounging. And so the ship is designed with more indoor space and a focus on indoor entertainment and activities. The Seaside Class, on the other hand, is tailored to travel itineraries in sunny, peak season travel with maximum outdoor space and sophisticated outdoor amenities, entertainment, and activities, giving passengers that ultimate “seaside” experience. Next in the portfolio is the World-class fleet, which delivers longer trips to far-flung cruise destinations. And finally, the Ultra Luxury Class: for people with more green than the Amazon rainforest.

II. Expansion and Improvement

Hand-in-hand with the development of these ship classes comes the addition of new cruise vessels to MSC’s already handsome portfolio of ships. As previously stated, the company introduced the MSC Bellissima and MSC Grandiosa this year and have committed to adding one to two ships per year to swell their ranks to upwards of 27 ships by 2027 (that’s triple their current guest capacity). As for their original fleet, which has been in service since 2003, they have received a loving “make-over” and major upgrade through MSC’s Renaissance Program, so that they can offer passengers a modern, luxury travel experience.

Ever in pursuit of improvement and refinement, MSC is also evolving its fleet to offer greater comfort and a more seamless experience that begins on the shore already. Refreshingly, they are doing this by tapping in to their most valuable resource: customer feedback (don’t we wish more big brands would do that?) And so, the design of new ship prototypes has been largely dictated by customer feedback on the existing ships and the experience they deliver.

III. Partnering with the best-in-class

If you want to build a beautiful, sophisticated space and curate an unforgettable experience for your passengers, you need to work with a grand variety of partners who are considered the best in their class. And since a cruise ship is essentially a self-sustaining microcosm, MSC has established partnerships with people and brands that are considered to be at the pinnacle of their field, from top chefs, wine estates, and tech companies to entertainers, musicians, and even toys for kids. If you want to offer the best, you’ve got to work with the best!

IV. New infrastructure

More than mere ships, cruises, and cargo, MSC is set to revolutionise the cruising industry in South Africa by investing in infrastructure to enhance and extend the cruise experience and offering. This investment has been particularly noteworthy in the development of the Durban port terminal over the past few years: a R200+ million construction of a new world-class Durban Cruise Terminal as part of the KwaZulu Cruise Terminal Consortium (KTC).

“This multi-user terminal will make Durban an even more desirable destination for cruise ships from all over the world,” explains Volk. “It will substantially boost tourism numbers, create thousands of jobs, and lead to supplier development. All the partners in the initiative will shortly sign off the final design of the terminal and ground-breaking is scheduled to begin in November this year. We want the Durban Cruise Terminal to be an iconic destination. We hope the new port will be operational by January 2021.”

V. FREE training program for South Africans

“Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” – John F. Kennedy, 1961

MSC has made a commitment to the betterment of South Africa by introducing their Shosholoza Ocean Academy, which offers a FREE three-month training program (either in hospitality or some kind of trade) to 5,000 students. Upon successful graduation, these students can seek employment with MSC and work as many seasons as they wish.

In other words: it is a wide open doorway to a career at sea, whether it’s as a server in a fine dining restaurant aboard an MSC cruise, or as an electrician on an MSC cargo ship. Did I mention the Shosholoza Ocean Academy is free? It is, and with no obligation to even work for MSC upon graduation. This is just one facet of the company’s commitment to investing in the future of South Africa.

VI. More travel itineraries for South Africans

Finally, MSC has announced the addition of several new cruises and itineraries to South Africa:

  • MSC Opera will sail from homeport Cape Town from December 2020 to March 2021;
  • MSC Musica will sail from homeport Durban from November 2020 to April 2021;
  • Next season will offer over 60 cruises from one of two home ports (Cape Town and Durban);
  • And guests will have eight different itineraries to choose from: the most in Company history!

“Our decision to increase the number of ships for the South African cruise season in 2020/2021 is due to the significant growth in demand we have seen in our guest numbers over the past few years,” explains MD Ross Volk. “Our most recent season saw a 25% increase in guests compared to the same period in 2017/2018. MSC Cruises has been bringing bigger and better ships to this country and enriching our itineraries as more South Africans are realising that a cruise is an affordable, convenient, and exciting holiday option.”

MSC Opera, which can accommodate 2,500 guests and was completely refurbished in 2014, will offer 22 cruises next season alongside MSC Musica. MSC Musica can cater for approximately 3,200 guests and will offer 40 cruises. The ships will alternate routes, providing South African cruisers with a wider choice of options to suit their holiday needs. This means that both Cape Town and Durban ports of embarkation will get to experience the leading cruise line’s elegant and diverse product offering and enjoy more cruise destinations and packages than ever before.

One highlight of the 2020/2021 cruise itinerary is MSC Cruises’ 14-day New Year cruise around Southern Africa, incorporating destinations such as Portuguese Island; Nosy Be, Madagascar; followed by Port Victoria, Seychelles; and then Port Louis in Mauritius. MSC Orchestra will also make her maiden voyage to South Africa in November, offering three, four, and five-night sailings around the South African coastline until April 2020, visiting Pomene Bay in Mozambique – a marine safari experience complete with its own beach club – Portuguese Island, and Maputo.volk

Investing in the country’s future

“If there is one thing that can save South Africa’s economy, it’s tourism,” said Volk during his presentation of MSC’s incredible new plans, and with the company providing more cruise ships, more destinations, and more infrastructure for travel here in South Africa, not to mention a free training program that could give 5,000 students a career, they are guiding the country quite powerfully towards a better future.

What adventure awaits?

www.msccruises.co.za

This blog article was originally written for Southern Vines magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/08/23/all-aboard-msc-announces-its-incredible-plans-for-the-new-cruise-season-and-the-next-8-years/

Eden on the Lagoon – Knysna and the Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa

Two years ago, the worst wildfire disaster in South African history befell the Garden Route, so named for its lush and ecologically diverse vegetation, lagoons, and lakes. A combination of drought, powerful winds, and abundant fuel in the form of hardwood forests and indigenous scrub lead to the stoking of a “mega-fire” that killed seven people, consumed more than a thousand homes, and razed hectare upon hectare of verdant coastal landscape to the ground.

Two years on, driving into the picturesque emerald town of Knysna, sitting pretty on its glittering throne of turquoise lagoon, it’s difficult to fathom the tragedy that occurred here. The vegetation has rallied, the people have rebuilt, and, as ever, this neck of the woods remains an utterly gorgeous holiday paradise for visitors from all over the country and world. And for two indulgent days, we would be calling it our home.

Nice, ne?

Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa

www.turbinehotel.co.za, +27 (0)44 302 5746

Our home away from home for our stay was the Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa, a fabulously quirky five-star hotel located on Knysna’s Thesen Island, a multi-award winning marina development in the scenic Knysna estuary. The hotel – one of Knysna’s most unusual – used to be a wood-fired turbine that powered the town, as well as neighbouring Sedgefield and Plettenberg Bay. Today, of course, its massive industrial machinery has been retired, artfully strewn about the hotel, and given a colourful coat of paint. What is an indelible part of the establishment’s history is now also, through décor, an indelible part of its present and future.

Turbine Hotel Knysna

A little too early for check-in, we dropped our bags off in the lobby, scuttled off to a miniature quay a stone’s throw away, and boarded a motorised pontoon barge for Featherbed Nature Reserve with a stop en route to admire the Knysna Headlands or “Heads” as they have become affectionately termed. The steep sandstone cliff faces, which serve as the gateway to the Knysna Lagoon, protect the estuary from the unbridled fury of the thundering Indian Ocean beyond, transforming it into a watery wonderland for boating and kayaking. It’s also created a favourable environment for the endangered Knysna seahorse to thrive in, as well as a plethora of beautiful birdlife, from African spoonbills, grey herons, and black oystercatchers to pied kingfishers, little egrets, and that most iconic of our country’s birds: the African fish eagle.

Featherbed Nature Reserve

www.knysnafeatherbed.com, +27 (0)44 382-1693

Featherbed Nature Reserve has long served as one of Knysna’s top attractions, offering visitors nature trails, hiking, birdwatching, unparalleled views of the area, and a decent lunch. Tragically, the nature reserve succumbed to the 2017 fire, losing a staggering 98% of its vegetation. But, in a heroic real-life demonstration of the phoenix rising from the ashes, the team at Featherbed Nature Reserve used the opportunity to weed out all of the alien vegetation and replant only indigenous trees and plants. Today, the reserve is carpeted with new growth of indigenous fynbos and coastal forest, and the towering trees they thought would never recover, came back from the dead.

The new, wholly reimagined offering (opened since December 2018) is elevated several storeys above its predecessor. The new restaurant, which boasts a bar, wedding venue, and conference facilities, is a gorgeous affair; riddled with botanical and nautical-inspired décor and masterfully crafted indigenous wood tables by a local artist.

The reserve also offers affordable tour packages, such as the Eco Tour, which includes a return ferry trip on the Knysna Lagoon; a 4 x 4 drive up the headland onto the reserve, stopping at spectacular viewpoints and to hear the specialist guide talk about the history, fauna, and flora; an optional guided 2,2 km walk through coastal forest and fynbos into ancient sea caves; and concludes with an outdoor buffet lunch of such epic proportions, you’d do well to starve yourself beforehand. All of this for only R700 per person, and they also have South African resident rates for winter, which never hurt anyone’s wallet.

A visit to Featherbed Nature Reserve is a pilgrimage that all visitors to Knysna should make, or so I thought as we putted back to Thesen Island on the still waters of the lagoon.

Turbine Hotel Knysna

Settling in and spa treatment

Back at Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa, we finally checked in to our rooms, many of which had balconies overlooking the spectacularly beautiful surrounding canals and waterborne suburbia. Each of the establishment’s 26 rooms has a unique name and theme (mine was the botanical room) and, of course, the hotel’s history is honoured with industrial elements like painted pipework and wall-mounted panels containing gauges and buttons. Yes, you are welcome to fiddle with them.

Turbine Hotel Knysna

After settling in, which included a hot chocolate, a quick nap in soft white sheets, and a restorative shower, I luxuriated under the sure, strong hands of my lovely masseuse at the Turbine Spa – is there any better way to dissolve the tensions of travel than with a spa treatment? A laid-back supper at the hotel’s Gastro Pub (with cocktails) doesn’t hurt, either.

Turbine Hotel Knysna
Turbine Hotel Knysna

Breakfast and bicycle ride

Breakfast is served in the hotel’s Island Café, which also serves a decent lunch and dinner. And after accosting the continental breakfast buffet, we grabbed a bicycle from the Turbine Hotel’s very own adventure centre, the Turbine Water Club – offers lagoon cruises, ferries to Featherbed Nature Reserve, kayaking, bicycle hire, and more – and struck out on two wheels to explore the estuary all the way up to the headlands. I don’t think I’ve ever sat down to a more deserved lunch and glass of rosé!

Dinner that night was taken at the Island Café – an exceptional, fall-off-the-bone lamb shank with vegetables and potato purée, which I washed down with a glass of Hartenberg Estate’s Alchemy Rhone Style Red 2017. One thing I greatly enjoyed about the Turbine Hotel is the fact that, in spite of its boutique status and compact lunch and dinner menus, it maintains a generous wine list, featuring beautiful picks from wine routes all over the Cape.

Turbine Hotel Knysna

Ancient Knysna Forest Walk

On our final morning, after another plunder of the hotel’s breakfast buffet table, we struck out for the Knysna Forest, the largest in South Africa, and went on a 9 km hike in the deep, cool shade of 900-year-old yellowwood trees. The tap-tap-tapping of woodpeckers, the liquid melody of orioles, and the harsh barking of Knysna loeries were the soundtrack to our adventure; that and the burbling of the streams that cut their way through the ancient thick tangle of vegetation and towering trees. One could scarcely imagine a more tranquil and deeply restorative place on Earth, and if you ever find yourself on the Garden Route, I urge you to visit the Knysna Forests and relinquish yourself to its verdant embrace.

Luxury base with a personality

Birdwatching, outdoor adventure, charming shops, a thrumming restaurant scene, and raw nature… Knysna is a unique and heart-achingly beautiful town that leaves a lasting impression. The Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa, a luxury accommodation with a personality (and with convenient connections to all of this action) is a highly recommended place from which to soak it all up.

Turbine Hotel Knysna

www.turbinehotel.co.za

This blog article was originally written for Southern Vines magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/08/20/eden-on-the-lagoon-knysna-and-the-turbine-boutique-hotel-spa/

Life Off Road – The Cape and Country’s 4×4 Adventure Tours

Beating a path into the heart of the Western Cape wilderness, in an eco-conscious way, of course, reveals treasures you could scarcely hope to see from any well-travelled road. There are pristine tracks of indigenous flora, thriving birdlife, vantage points of a breath-taking scale, and new paths that few takkies have trodden before. All it takes to become an intrepid explorer are four wheels with torque and a little horsepower. Let’s see the Cape by 4×4!

The muscle for the hustle

Offroad 4x4 tours South Africa

A 4×4 has a two-axle drivetrain capable of providing torque to all four of its wheels simultaneously. In other words, it’s the kind of vehicle owned by people who need power and people who enjoy power. This, coupled with an engine with more muscle than a Howitzer, enables drivers to tackle any terrain imaginable, save perhaps for boiling fields of lava but that goes without saying. This affords people rare and privileged perspectives on our country – no wonder 4×4 touring is such a popular tourist activity and local pastime!

4×4 Guided and self-drive tours

You don’t need to own, buy, or even know how to drive a 4×4 to partake in a little ‘bundu bashing’. There is an abundance of 4×4 adventure companies in and around Cape Town that offer guided and self-drive tours. Some even provide training. Dirty Boots Off-Road Adventures (+27 21 713 1491, Dirtyboots.co.za) runs single and multi-day trips in the Cape and throughout the country.

Xtreme-Trex Adventours & Transport (+27 21 713 1491, Xtreme-trex.com) does the same and maintains a fleet of modified Hummer H3s, Land Rover Defender TD5s, and Range Rover HSEs.

Further afield, Cederberg 4×4 (+27 21 910 1363 Cederberg4x4.co.za) arranges camping trips and overland tours to beautiful, remote locations and even neighbouring countries throughout pretty much all of southern Africa.

4×4 Trails near Cape Town

Landrover 4x4 trails South Africa

For those with the necessary tools of the trade and the skills to operate them, you’ll find no shortage of bushwhacking, dune bouncing, and donga diving opportunities nearby. The steep dune systems in Atlantis, 45 km from Cape Town (difficulty level 2-5), offer a thrilling romp for 4x4s. You’ll need a permit, though, which you can obtain at the City Council in Wale Street (Capetown.gov.za). Some other coastal trails include Blombosch 4×4 Nature Trail in Yzerfontein (level 1-2) and Buffelsfontein, which is spread out over Yzerfontein, Darling, and Langebaan (level 3-4).

For more mountainous challenges with gorgeous views of vineyards and farmlands, try:

  • The Wiesenhof Trail in Stellenbosch
  • Two Oceans View Route in Somerset West (level 3-4)
  • Takbok 4×4 Trail in Paarl (level 2-3)
  • Babylonstoren Trail in Malmesbury (level 4)
  • Sir Lowry’s Pass Route (bookings through CapeNature.co.za)
  • Sneeukoppie 4×4 in Rawsonville (level 2-3)
  • Tierkloof 4×4, also Rawsonville (level 3-4)

Wind in your hair, torque at your fingertips

offroad adventures south africa

A 4×4 adventure allows you to visit the remote, hard-to-reach places where life in all its myriad iterations flourishes. More than that: it offers the adrenaline rush of zooming about the bush, beach, mountains, and valleys in a car with serious muscle. And it’s in the name of discovery and maybe just a little danger that we veer off the beaten path to experience the Cape’s and country’s secreted away gems.

This blog article was originally written for Southern Vines magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/06/20/life-off-road-the-cape-and-countrys-4×4-adventure-tours/