Blissful hotel stays in South Africa

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The infinity pool at the Oyster Box hotel in Durban overlooks Umhlanga Rocks.
The infinity pool at the Oyster Box hotel in Durban overlooks Umhlanga Rocks.

Here's something to tell clients who can afford the best: Reward yourself for traveling halfway around the world to South Africa with a first-class adventure.

I flew direct on South African Airways and started in Durban, the alluring and often overlooked city on the country's east coast. A major makeover for the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament brought spruced-up beaches that line the balmy Indian Ocean and a knockout stadium with a soaring arch to climb as well as the world's highest swing. More Indians live in Durban than anywhere outside India, making its markets a must.

Any memorable stay has to feature the Oyster Box luxury hotel, whose infinity pool overlooks the peach-colored sand and picturesque Umhlanga Rocks. There's a curry buffet, and monkeys roam the gardens alongside the spa.

Pry yourself free and take a day's excursion on the Midlands Meander, a surprising drive through lush rolling hills and dozens of artsy destinations that include the Ardmore Ceramic Studio as well as the Nelson Mandela "Capture Site." Return via the ghostly beautiful Thousand Hills area, home to the punishing Comrades Marathon.

In Cape Town, the Table Bay hotel boasts a spectacular waterfront setting that abuts the upscale malls, restaurants and ferries. The Mount Nelson is the elegant "in-town" choice, a pink-painted colonial throwback. Grab a cab for the quick ride to the three-minute tramway up Table Mountain, then head back in time for high tea. A must is lunch at the bustling Biscuit Mill.

Visit the Bo-Kaap neighborhood for its picturesque network of lanes and vividly colored houses plus its history of freed slaves and Muslim inhabitants.

Take the 90-minute drive north up the west coast to Paternoster, fast becoming a favored seaside retreat. There are plenty of galleries, restaurants and small hotels; treat yourself to an ocean-side room at the Strandloper Ocean Boutique Hotel, perched on picturesque dunes with its own spa, and visit the lighthouse south of town.

A mere two days at Thornybush, the large private game reserve that abuts Kruger National Park, netted not only the Big Five but everything from zebras, warthogs and giraffes to a troop of baboons and a rock python. Policy here limits Land Cruisers to two per animal sighting, so you get the thrill of an up-close encounter. The Main Lodge boasts plush cabins set along pathways that require an escort at night. I heard the lions roar and, blissfully zoned out, emerged from a spa treatment and practically bumped into a passing impala.

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