It’s impossible to overstate the sheer physical grandeur of South Africa, the beauty of the scenery that, at various moments throughout the day, forces you to stop in your tracks, look around, and catch your breath: The sweep of a sky speckled with birds wheeling overhead; the variously jagged and smooth-lined mountains off in the middle distance; the astounding lushness here in Franschhoek, where I’ve spent the past two days.
I had heard about South Africa and in some sense was somewhat prepared for the utter beauty of this part of the country: Anyone who comes back from traveling here is guaranteed to sing the praises of its landscape. What I wasn’t prepared for was the incredibly rewarding nature of the experience of traveling here in toto.
All of my high expectations, everything I’d hoped to see and experience—it’s all been exceeded a thousand times over.
I’m spending eight days here as part of a trip run by South African Tourism (and, here with us, the fantastic Erick van Zyl, Product Specialist for SAT, as well as the excellent Senior Tour Leader Havelyn Pietersen, of Roots Africa Tours). I, alongside nine other journalists from around the world—France, Austria, Switzerland, China, and Japan, and two of us from the United States—am experiencing an astounding range of all that South Africa has to offer.
We’ve begun our adventure in Franschhoek, the “French Corner,”an easy drive from Cape Town. It’s a place of sweepings vistas, world-class hospitality, and what is generally agreed to be among the best food of the country: Franschhoek is justifiably known as the gourmet capital of South Africa, and it’s easy to see why.
In just 48 hours, I have eaten as well as I ever have. We tasted a wide range of smoked and cured salmon and trout from the Franschhoek Three Streams Trout Farm at Salmon Bar. Tucked into two phenomenal dinners (one at La Petite Dauphine, where we are also staying the nights in supremely elegant individual suites; the other at Foliage Restaurant, in the IS Art Gallery, helmed by Chef Chris Erasmus: I never would have guessed that warthog and ox tongue en crepinette and a loin of wildebeest, both decadently accompanied by a honeybush jus, could be so utterly delicious). We have savored biltong and local cheese sandwiches at Greenhouse in the remarkable Babylonstoren after having toured their epic gardens. Sipped gorgeous, age-worthy local wines from MY WYN and Haut Espoir, spectacular sparklers at Franschhoek Pass Winery, a phenomenal lager from craft brewer Ndlovu (they don’t make quite enough to export yet, but I’m hoping they do eventually: it’s delicious, with an addictive orange note swirling up through the fluffy head). Breathed in the warm, almost chocolatey aromas at Terbadore coffee roasters. I also, just this morning, swooned over the best carnitas I’ve ever eaten, the pork all sweet and spicy, the tortillas made in-house, at Cosecha at Noble Hill estate. It was accompanied by guacamole made with toothsome local avocados and a heady, complex dried-chili blend produced from chilies grown on the premises.
We’re now off to a day in Paarl before spending three in Cape Town and then heading up for a two-day safari. And just as was the case before I got on the exceptionally pleasant, remarkably easy 15-hour South African Airways flight to Johannesburg from New York, I have no idea what to expect, but I’m not concerned: If the past two days are any indication, it promises to be an epic remainder of the trip. I’m already dreaming of the next time I’ll be fortunate enough to come back to South Africa. It’s a country that is spectacularly easy to fall madly in love with. I already have. And so has my palate.
Additional links to help plan a visit:
Roots Africa Tours – www.rootsafrica.co.za
South African Airways – www.flysaa.com