Great Escapes in Africa’s Western Cape
Idyllic African city Cape Town has an impressive selection of high-end hotels and dining within the city limits, but what a shame it’d be to overlook what lies just beyond. Some of Africa’s most iconic hotel properties are outside of the Mother City, and a few farther-flung restaurants are just as booked solid as the ones you’d see in the heart of its downtown. For your next trip, hit the road and experience these exceptional foodie-approved hotels and restaurants all less than a two-hour drive from Cape Town.
Arguably one of the most stylish boutique hotels in the world, Majeka House has forgone traditional luxury to become a contemporary wonderland in the Stellenbosch wine region. The secluded ranch-style estate features individually decorated rooms by South African design hero Etienne Hanekom that feature everything from ceiling-mounted paintings over a canopy bed to swiveling television/artwork units that transform rooms from entertainment space to gallery in seconds. Guests enjoy large indoor and outdoor pools, spa services, and splendid mountain views in a relaxed atmosphere. Majeka House serves as a central point for jaunts to the Stellenbosch’s innumerable wineries and restaurants, and also hosts one of South Africa’s most celebrated eateries, Makaron, within the property.
Led by acclaimed South African chef Tanja Kruger, Makaron consistently earns top marks for its creative, well-executed dishes and swanky interiors. Only overnight guests can enjoy the restaurant’s breakfast service, but it opens its doors nightly to the public for dinner with mouth-watering set menus and à la carte selections. Makaron’s most coveted two seats are in the Kitchen Table, an intimate, menu-less tasting experience where guests watch the chefs cook for them and all the hungry gourmands back in the main dining room.
Not many Stellenbosch eateries can compare with Makaron, but the close-by Tokara is undoubtedly one of its worthy contemporaries. Exquisite plates with contemporary Asian flair dominate the menu, offering forward-thinking dishes such as springbok meat with asparagus, strawberries, and frozen yogurt with a black pepper and hibiscus jus. Dining with direct views of rolling vineyards is a huge plus, and there’s much to see and consume. Take, for example, the wine/brandy shop and tastings, delicatessen, outdoor sculpture collection, and an impressive contemporary art gallery.
Birkenhead House, a five-star beach property, hosts 11 lavish suites perched on a cliff with spectacular vistas of Kleinrivier Mountains and Walker Bay. The five-star beach house hosts 11 lavish suites perched on a cliff with spectacular vistas of Kleinrivier Mountains and Walker Bay. This super-exclusive retreat's top-class French fusion dining, spa services, and amenities are only available to overnight guests. Though patrons can take the plunge in their cliff-straddled infinity pool, the ruggedly gorgeous beach is but a few stone steps away, and the property sits along the Hermanus cliff path, one of the world’s great coastal walks, which leads to the bustling village of Hermanus. Whale watchers will rejoice come June to November, as Birkenhead House overlooks the Southern right whale migration from just yards away from the beach.
When heading into the heart of buzzing Hermanus for the day, no gourmand should miss lunching at SeaFood at The Marine, a restaurant in The Marine Hotel, a fellow five-star hotel also situated along the picturesque Walker Bay. The hotel’s casual public restaurant offers a predominant seafood menu with some delightful twists, such as Richman’s fish and chips made with hake or octopus carpaccio with ginger and chile panna cotta. With al fresco tables giving way to uninterrupted views of the expansive bay and cliff, eating here’s a great way to unwind in the busy village.
Founded in 1690, Babylonstoren is one of the oldest existing Dutch Cape farms. It doubles as a chic, full-service luxury hotel in a secluded area of the Cape Winelands. The extraordinary 600-acre property features 12 contemporary farm cottages, vineyards, an all-edible garden, a greenhouse, and a top restaurant, all surrounded by the dramatic Drakenstein Mountains. Guests are free to roam the grounds (via foot or with complimentary bikes) and to forage in their garden, a massive, motley plot of fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs also used for their flagship restaurant Babel.Idyllic African city Cape Town has an impressive selection of high-end hotels and dining within the city limits, but what a shame it’d be to overlook what lies just beyond.
Though quite a trek compared to other great restaurants in proper Cape Town, Babel is consistently booked for its fresh, unfussy take on “farm-to-fork” dining. Portions are generous, its menu is ever-changing, and a few items add playfulness to the experience, such as a dessert of tequila-lemon sorbet served with a side of salt atop a pared egg carton. Reserve early and enjoy a farm restaurant with an intriguing modern touch.
Billionaire mogul Richard Branson unveiled his newly renovated Mont Rochelle estate in late 2014, and it has already become a hit with locals and jetsetters in the classic vineyard region of Franschhoek. Like Babylonstoren, Mont Rochelle is a sprawling hotel and vineyard enveloped by a dramatic arrangement of mountains, offering both luxury and tranquility during one’s stay. In homage to its vineyards, the five room and suite categories are cheekily named after wine types — shiraz rooms are entry-level, and Cap Classique Suites are the most spacious and sumptuous — and all have king-size beds and comfortable interiors with a soft, modern touch. Guests are more than welcome to explore the 100-acre property, which also boasts two celebrated restaurants: the cosmopolitan Miko and the casual Country Kitchen.
The Country Kitchen runs both an informal restaurant serving continental fare and a wine-tasting station, allowing guests to sample Mont Rochelle’s 2008 syrah or an unoaked chardonnay from their adjacent wine cellar. Perhaps Kitchen’s most in-demand option is their picnic basket, which provides peckish visitors with antipasti, zesty wraps, glazed wings, shrimp with avocado, and wine to be enjoyed among the vineyard and breathtaking mountain views.