Stellenbosch is perfect for families this Spring!

We did some exploring in the Stellenbosch Wine Route last weekend! My mom moved closer to the area this week, which means that we’ll be spending so much more time in Stellies now. Obviously I’ve already started booking a few things for us to do. I wanted to tell you about a few favourite places that we discovered recently, in case you like them too. Or maybe you’re stuck on something fun to do with the kids these school holidays. So in no real order, we really loved:

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We did a walking tour of a vibrant township, called Kayamandi. Anyone can go, just take your kids or your family and book with Thembi, a registered tour guide. Thembi has lived in Kayamandi for most of her life, and even went to high school there. It seems she’s a bit of a celeb in the town, because so many people stopped to greet her and chat. She’s a most excellent guide and had all the inside stories on the development projects, and obviously all the good local skinner too.

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I really want the boys to learn about the Xhosa culture and way of life, so this was a really great experience for them. We weren’t perceived as tourists or outsiders at all. The kids meshed straight in to the community; challenging every kid with a ball to a soccer game, demanding treats at the spaza shop and wandering in to people’s houses to chat.

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I’m really jealous of the sense of community in Kayamandi. Here in the Suburbs, you would never dream of just walking in to your neighbors house and making yourself at home, or hanging up someone else’s washing just because there’s space on the line. Even in my ‘nice’ area and neighborhood, I wouldn’t let the kids run around the block to meet friends at the park, ride their bikes or play soccer without me. In Kayamandi, your child is everyone’s child. Even mine. Everyone’s doors are open as they cook, wash dishes or watch television. Even when they leave their homes, they don’t even close the front door. The area that we were in (close to the school) is the good or safe neighborhood. Thembi explained that the closer you get to the outskirts – near the shebeens, things start to change… but only late at night.

It’s frowned upon for young women to hang out in Shebeens so girls in their 20s and so on have get-togethers at each other’s houses, which is viewed as more appropriate. Another normality at Kayamandi is that the older children are expected to help take care of their younger siblings once they start walking. There were loads of toddlers being dragged around by their annoyed older brothers who really only wanted to play soccer. Education is very important to the community, and schooling is free. The students get 2 ‘free’ meals at school every day. One of their greatest community development achievements is a colourful day care and creche that has been built opposite the local high school. Girls who fall pregnant in their teens now complete their schooling and get their matric, which Thembi says has changed the lives of hundreds of young girls over the years.

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It’s not really in the Xhosa culture to keep pets for companionship. Animals are kept for food or wealth or work. Kayamandi, like most informal communities (hell even here in Claremont) has a serious rat problem. The infrastructure of their homes makes them quite vulnerable to pests, so lately they’ve started keeping cats in an effort to keep the rat population in order. They don’t show any kind of ‘human’ affection toward their pets and don’t kiss and cuddle them, but they respect their position and purpose in the household. There aren’t that many dogs roaming about, but I did giggle at one young lady who was super keen to get in a taxi to go shopping, but her dog had followed her all the way from home and she had to turn around and take him back. She was trying really hard to be mad, but the dog was so freakin happy and victorious that he’d stopped her from leaving.

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I really enjoyed walking around the neighborhood and chatting to everyone. I especially loved talking to the mamas, and getting their take on parenting. Every mama I spoke to was super shocked that Benjamin is only 4 years old; and such a big little guy. They all offered advice on how to raise such a strong boy and could not emotionally deal with the fact that Noah doesn’t like to eat meat. I also enjoyed how proud the mamas are of their homes, and how all the women work together and have wonderful friendships with their neighbors. I couldn’t believe that they hang their laundry outside their homes or on a hill for the day and nobody ever takes or touches their things. I mean, I’m a stone-throw from Bishops Court and if I hung our clothes outside, you must know that someone on our street will make off with my Country Road coat, you know? If you’re keen to go on a Stellies tour, whether it be a wine, town or cultural tour, then check out all the options here > Stellenbosch Tours

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Another really fun thing to do for the whole family is Middelvlei Wine Estate‘s Boerebraai. I am gutted that we only discovered this place now, and I’m so excited to go back. They have such an unusual offering in a beautiful, picturesque setting. Middelvlei is exceptionally family friendly with kiddies juice pairings, food boxes, colouring in, farm animals and loads of space to run around and play.

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They have toys for the kids to play with on the grass and a big old sandpit on the edge of the lawn. Families can have a long, leisurely lunch without worrying about the kids getting bored or fidgeting at the table. The food is incredible, all prepared on a big braai out at the back. You’ll especially love the homemade Potbrood and Pampoenkoekies. The Snoek Pate is a game changer, and the Malva Pudding is exactly like your Ouma would have made it. Also, go here for literally the best braaibroodjies in Cape Town. You’ll pay R165 a person for a traditional, gourmet braai that includes literally everything. Take a look > here’s the Middelvlei Boerebraai full menu.

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A word of warning, they’re pretty much always full and fully booked, so call +27.218832565 or email info@middelvlei.co.za to make arrangements. The kids can also braai their own marshmallows, feed the farm animals or go on a tractor ride.

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If you’re having a super good time and want to stay over or even do a midweek break with the family, then head over to Spier for a drive-in movie. We went last Saturday, and it was the boys’ FIRST ever drive-in experience. I know that there are loads of outdoor cinemas around, but Spier has the original offering. We reversed my car, put the seats down and made a little family bed from the back. They also have a little tuck shop going where you can buy wine, MCC and snacks. Even popcorn. It’s such a great atmosphere, with the kids running around or sitting on blankets in front of the cars. Again, they book up really fast, so get in touch here > Spier Events.

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We stayed at Wedgeview Country House and Spa, which was really central and super affordable, starting at R695 per night. Again, very family friendly. There are solar heated pools, loads of space and a lapa with a pool table. It’s beautifully decorated and the staff are super friendly too. The estate is surrounded by vineyards for as far as the eye can see, so expect spectacular views from every angle. Graeme had a quick nap before the movie because shame he can’t handle all this fun. Wedgeview is so beautiful that I went full-on ‘The Sound of Music’ all over the place.

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Another great family outing idea is Delvera, a little village created with adventurers and little ones in mind. Aside from the gorgeous restaurant, peddle-cart track, trampolines, the dam and lots of open space, I especially loved the Sustainable Living Centre. This is where they encourage and inform the public, especially the youth, how to live and work in a sustainable manner. This is probably the most important place to take your kids these school holidays, or over a weekend. Their ‘training’ takes 2-4 hours in the gardens, during which time you can have a stunning lunch at the restaurant next door. However, I think you’ll want to join in on the training – especially if you’re keen to have a food garden at home! This is what your kids will learn about >

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Soil care, composting, worm farming, creating seed banks, mushroom farming, how to create a hanging, raised or vertical garden. Aquacultures. Hydroponics. Organic pest control and how to successfully create, harvest and maintain a food garden at home. They’ll also learn about the environment, recycling and upcycling with Mark Heinstein, who runs the entire center. He is incredibly nice and packed with knowledge.

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I think I asked at least three dozen questions and we left with a handful of giant pumpkin seeds and a few worms for our compost maker. Graeme was so inspired that he made a raised garden as soon as we got home. Once the kids are done with the business of learning about biodiversity and sustainable farming, they’ll love burning off some energy at the peddle carts. Delvera is gorgeous and has something for everyone – even full moon hikes. Get in touch with them to book your kids at the Biodiversity Center > info@delvera.co.za or +27 21 884 4352.

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If you’re still looking for something fun to do out of town on a weekend, then definitely check out the Lourensford Harvest Market. Great vibe, live music, kids activities, delicious food and lots of jumping castles and sports games for the kids. Open every Saturday and Sunday! You’re even allowed to take your dog. Also check out Millhouse Kitchen and most definitely go for wine tasting around the corner (I recommend the Turkish Delight pairing!) Get all those details here > http://lourensford.co.za/ Or mail info@lourensford.co.za or call 021 847 2333

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I hope that you’ve found something fun to do in this post, and that you’ll get exploring with the family this Spring. If, like me, you’ve been keeping a beady eye on the weather for next week – we’re in for warm and sunny days every day except Thursday. A major shout-out to all the other parents whose kids are on school holidays next week and have busy bodies to entertain. Have fun! (and good luck)

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That time I went to Paris – September 2015

Paris was an important milestone for me. At school, Art History was the only subject that really resonated with me. I loved the Impressionists; especially Degas. I developed callouses on my right hand from writing so many essays about their paintings and different movements and periods. Art history became my sanctuary. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to see the paintings that became so important to me, and I wanted to see them in real life. I held on to that dream for 14 years.

I went to Paris for the art, and the rest was just noise. The Eiffel Tower meant nothing to me. The vintage dress I bought? Just fabric. The bookshop that everyone raved about was quite… average. The Sacre Coeur? I didn’t bother. On the day I went to the Musee d’Orsay I was shaking while getting ready. I trembled on the train. In the queue. My legs wobbled through the corridors and galleries, like I’d just jumped on a trampoline for 20 minutes and suddenly got off. I walked in to the van Gogh room first and I’ll never forget what it felt like. How overwhelmed I felt. I mean, I don’t even like his work, but to see his paintings in real life made me feel heavy. It made me feel insignificant and important at the same time. I felt… heartbroken. Emotional. Like being in shock when something really terrible has happened and you don’t believe it just yet. I felt like that the entire time that I was in there. After I saw the first Degas I cried like a 4 year old girl that had lost her mother in a crowd. I couldn’t understand why people were just walking past the painting, as if it didn’t matter. It all meant so much to me.

I got to see the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay. I got to live in, and inhale Montmartre for 5 nights and 6 days. I got lost. I got emotional. I got scared and excited and overwhelmed and I got drunk. I felt more of myself than I have in years.

I had a really good time, and I would go back again right now if I could. I had so much fun. You can’t help but be floored by emotion when you’re in Paris, and I suspect that’s part of her appeal. Paris is disarmingly charming and you’d love it if you went – whatever your reasons for going. Wherever I travel to from here, I’ll seek out more art galleries and impressionist paintings. Maybe by the end of my life, I’d have seen them all. This was my personal impression of Paris.

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I bought quite a few posters and art prints for the house and my office. I bought a Renoir print that I’m especially pleased with. A smaller Degas and a Monet. I sat for a portrait at Place du Terte and I have a hard crush on Neoclassicism now. I’ll see you again real soon, Parieee x

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On being in Paris alone.

A few people (mostly Graeme) have asked how I experienced traveling alone to Paris. You need to understand that as a mother, wife and business owner, my life is pretty packed full of commitments and responsibilities. Obviously so is Graeme’s! The thought of being completely alone if even for a few days to do only what I wanted to do, was very appealing. I spend a lot of my time feeling guilty. If I take the boys to get new shoes, I’d feel guilty if I stopped to look at a cute top. When I’m working in the afternoon, I feel bad if I haven’t taken the dogs for a walk, or spent enough time with the kids. I feel bad when I ask Graeme to read the bed time stories because I’m too tired. Or if I wasn’t organized enough to get the kids bathed, lunch boxes packed and dinner ready by the time G got home from work. Of course he doesn’t expect all of that, and definitely not on the clock (and tells me frequently) but this is my family and I want to take care of them. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I like to have these things taken care of for the boys. I feel bad when I don’t hand school forms in on time, or forget the odd change for a bake sale. I can’t attend every school trip and cringe when I tick the “unable to assist” or “unable to accompany” boxes on the permission slips. I know that all parents feel this kind of guilt in some form, and I know that it bites in to all of us.

I feel guilty when I have to cancel a play date, or when I’ve forgotten the dogs’ flea and de-worming schedules. When I haven’t made a nutritionally balanced lunch for the boys and shove a bowl of noodles in the microwave. When I’ve broken a promise on taking them to a movie, or for a milkshake. It’s taxing, emotionally. It’s not a quest for balance, it’s about feeling okay with your efforts in relation to your results.

For me, the prospect of being freed from obligation even if just for 5 days was quite attractive. An actual holiday, from my emotions and the darkness found in the depths of self evaluation. It’s not that I was running from responsibility, because I completely love being a mother, wife and business owner. I ain’t no hussy. I really do love my life, if it’s okay to say that… without sounding conceited.

There’s a vulnerability to traveling alone. An excitement. A sense of anticipation. What will happen? What will I do? Who will I meet and how will I feel? In a world of responsibilities, routine and having Graeme available to run to at every opportunity – I craved a little bit of mystery and wondered how I would feel too. Would I get sad? Scared? What if I got lost or in to some kind of trouble. Being anonymous  and vulnerable in a foreign city filled me with anticipation. A sense of greatness. Strength. Independence. I wanted to learn, experience, grow and make myself susceptible and available to foreign experiences.

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If Graeme was with me, he would have carried our backpack when it got too heavy. We’d dine together, so nobody would have approached me, or confided in me. I wouldn’t have got lost or missed that train because Graeme never gets lost. I would never have felt afraid or vulnerable, because G makes me feel so safe. I wouldn’t have struck up accidental friendships, or spent an hour at the Eiffel Tower taking photos for tourists, just for fun. I wouldn’t have sat in silence at the Luxembourg Gardens pond for two hours, feeling desperately lonely. I wouldn’t have cried at the Degas for 20 minutes, because being alone in front of my favourite painting with nobody to share it with… allowed me to experience and absorb it in silence and in solitude. Without conversation and company as distractions and comfort, I think that I felt and experienced so much more. Of myself.

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There were times that I really longed for Graeme. I had a particularly bad day when I really just struggled with everything. I got lost in translation between 6 floors and 2 information systems that gave me conflicting routes. I missed my train to Monet’s house by 6 minutes (there’s only one every 3 hours) and cried at the station for what felt like most of the day. I put my sunglasses on, I sat on a chair surrounded by strangers and foreigners and I just cried. I missed Graeme when I flooded my hotel room (a disagreement between a tiny shower and it’s curtain) and realized there was no towel in my suite. I missed him when I was queuing at the Louvre and had nobody to share the excitement with. When I saw something beautiful. When I went to bed at night.

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I feel like I really and genuinely connected and engaged with myself for the first time in years. It wasn’t just about the sites and the art or the people and the history. It was about adding another layer to my character, my experience. I feel different. Empowered. Humbled. Satisfied. I mostly think, act, plan and react based on what the people I love need and want. The kids, their milestones and achievements. My relationship with my husband. My business and other projects. Obligations.

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Eventually, I’m going to tell you about the people I met. Conversations that struck up in ticketing queues. In bookshops. In cafe’s. While waiting for drinks or a meal. While being lost. I want to talk about the man from Norway who went to Paris to fulfill his dreams, and now works in a bar at the Moulin Rouge.  A 27 year old girl from Italy who was about to return home to break up with her boyfriend of 8 years. She drank a lot of red wine, and I kept her company until midnight. A 20 year old French girl with a broken heart, who doesn’t understand how young she is. A 31 year old man who was distraught after converting from Catholicism to Hinduism for his wife and was about to walk away, without their 2 year old daughter. A young boy who got lost in the Carousel de Louvre and cried desperately until I took his hand and soothed him, waiting for his mother to find him. A baker from Los Angeles who had traveled to Paris for a funeral. A lady from Milan who was visiting her oldest friend, and wouldn’t let her pay for anything at lunch. An American woman named Tasha who travels the world and hates it, and also cries in stations. Her dad likes to take a lot of pictures, and it embarrasses her deeply. A French painter who has been painting for 35 years, and now spends her days doing portraits of tourists at Place du Tertre, for 30 euros a piece.

I have so much to talk about, and so much that I want to remember about this trip. I haven’t even touched the photos and memories on my camera yet. I haven’t had time to absorb everything, but yesterday was probably my favourite day in Paris. We’ll talk soon.

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Paris. The first few days.

I wanted to write this while it’s all still fresh in my head. I’ve been in bed by 7:30 / 8pm every night because the days here are pretty tiring, physically. Emotionally. I’m guessing that I’m walking about 10 – 15km a day, maybe? Including like 10 flights of stairs at stations. Talk to me about the walk from the Pigalle or Blanche station to the Sacre Coeur you guys. This is why I’ve been living on wine, ice cream, cocktails and cheese for like three days straight. I’m also drinking so. much. water. because the metro is hot and humid and the days are pretty hot too… around 22 degrees. When I tell Graeme that I’m in bed at 8pm he is like GO OUT and party and I’m just like zzzzzz. Also, if staying in Montmartre, you know that you don’t need to leave your hotel room to be at the party. Last night the Parisians were jolling ’til like 3am and musicians walk up and down the streets to serenade the patrons. I kept waking up to beautiful Edith Piaf melodies, which was pretty wonderful. It’s 8pm now and they’ve already started. I can hear people chatting, kids laughing and running up and down the cobble stoned streets. It’s still daylight here, up ’til about 8:30 or 9pm. It’s such a vibe and I would highly recommend staying in Montmarrrrt. I’m on rue des Abbesses which is prime Parisian real estate. I’m basically between the Moulin Rouge and Sacre Couer, and there are 3 metro stations within 5 minutes walk in opposite directions. There are I think like 27 restaurants and cafes on this street and a whole bunch of grocers. Every night I’ve been stopping at the same vendor for a bagel or burger. Also, please can we talk about the chinese food in Paris? Holy smokes you guys. I still haven’t eaten at a restaurant or cafe, but everything I have tried has been absolutely incredible. My hotel does crepes, french bread, croissants and pastries every day. Coincidentally, they also put a big bowl of prunes out with breakfast every day. Just that. Cheese, breads, meat, croissants, crepes and prunes. Good morning!

Paris is wonderful, and I am loving every single moment – even the metro, which I’ve started to navigate like a boss lately. I’m saving all my routes on my metro app and using those every day (thanks Rosanne and Mel) which is a game changer. I got really confused at one of the BIG stations today on a change-over, because the big stations are a bit tricksy with different routes per line. Gare de Nord will be the effing death of me. Seriously. Whenever a route takes me to that station I want to self harm.

I don’t know if anyone really cares about all the touristy attractions. Yes, the Eiffel Tower is big. The Musee d’Orsay is beautiful. That’s just information that you can find on google. What Paris actually does to you on the inside, is what this journey is all about. I’m not very geographically secure, and I’ve found a few places completely by accident. I have so much to write about, but right now I’m just bushed.

I’m missing the boys so much, and they’ve been so busy with dinners and visitors every day that we haven’t really spoken much. Here are some touristy pictures. I’m off to Luxembourg gardens & the Louvre tomorrow, and hopefully Marais and Canal St Martin. I’ve packed my acrylics, so I don’t really know where I’ll end up. That’s half the fun. Goodnight, from Paris x

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Paris: The first 2 hours

I’ve been in bed since 8pm going through my maps and notes for tomorrow, trying to remember and figure out all the little details. This morning I sat in my hotel room ’til 11am because I was literally too nervous to hit the streets. Navigating the metro and Paris in general is pretty tricky, and getting lost is not an option. I am notoriously and devastatingly awful at directions, which increases Graeme’s fears of a “Taken” situation quite drastically. I haven’t switched to international roaming on my phone, and I’m currently relying on free WiFi to lead my way. This makes it quite tricky with saving offline maps and routes and also trying to understand actual paper maps you guys. Remember those? Every time I ask the hotel about a metro line or route, they shove more maps in my hands and I’m like THESE DO NOT HELP ME because maps just make me panicky. Another obstacle is asking for directions because like 97% of the people I’ve stopped are also tourists (I cannot Japanese) or are locals and can’t / don’t want to speak English. Not even the lady in the booth at the Metro today. I mean how dare you work in tourism if you can’t tell me which platform to get on for one of the main tourist attractions in the city? Another interesting obstacle is that I seem to be mispronouncing most of the towns and attraction names. I discovered this at the airport when asking which route to take to Montmartre (I said Mont-mart-tray) and the lady was like that does not exist who even are you get out of my French face. Eventually after pointing at my notebook she was like “Ooooh – Momarrrrt. Line 2.” Or maybe it was line 12. I have forgotten.

I mean even on my very first metro trip from the airport, I figured out that the dot next to the name of the ‘suburb’ would flash when stopping at that station. Stunning. Except just before my station, we stopped and it was flashing. I’d heard that the doors close fast so I stumbled as quickly as I could with all my luggage (big bag, backpack and handbag) but the door wouldn’t open. I started panicking and an announcement blared from the speakers in FRENCH and I was like “omg I’m never going to see my family again.” Nobody else knew what was going on either, but it wasn’t their stop so they were like… whatever. In the announcement, I understood the work “security” and I think someone without a ticket had been kicked off. We weren’t moving for a very long time and were in fact, between stations. Eventually when we got going, it was my stop, and again the door didn’t open. I didn’t know that you have to manually turn the handle, but someone jumped up and turned it for me before I missed my stop, and royally screwed up my arrival.

I got to the right station that (on the map) (stupid effing paper maps that don’t give travel times) looked pretty close to my hotel. I figured I could walk, even with all the luggage. I am notoriously stubborn and always keen to save money. Also, remember that I couldn’t uber because no WiFi.

You guys.

My hotel ended up being at the very top of a hill pretty far away from the station. I also didn’t realize that the streets literally have no names. Was that U2 song about Paris? Maybe they got lost too. I stopped so many people, and of course without WiFi, I was pretty screwed. Like 7 people tried to sell me kak because the only people willing to talk to me were the street vendors and gypsies. Another fun fact is that the metro doesn’t have (that I saw) wheelchair ramps or escalators. Instead, there were 4 – 6 sets of stairs to get to a street. My massive bag was on wheels, but at all the stations (all three) I had to pick my bag up with two hands and really struggled. This is a good time to point out how gentlemanly South African men are. Dozens of students and men jotted past me and nobody stopped or offered to help. I so badly wanted someone to take that bag from me. I also didn’t know that you have to push your bag through first at the metro gates, which open and close on motion sensors. This resulted in my main luggage getting properly wedged between the automated gates. A really friendly guy used his ticket to open the doors again, and pulled my bag toward his side of the gate. I had to kick it toward him from my side to try un-wedge it, and he had to pull a good couple of times. This meant that upon my arrival, my bag was with a complete stranger on the other side of the metro gates. He was really nice, and used his tag to open the gate again and handed my bag over to me. He was really kind. I wish he also carried my bag. Everywhere.

By the time I got to my hotel, I had callouses and blisters on my hands. It was hot, and I’d just had a 13.5h journey with very little sleep. I quickly unpacked and headed straight to the nearest bar for very many cocktails. They were so delicious. All like 7 of them.

It’s beautiful here, I’m having the most incredible time. I’m learning how to read the maps and I’m navigating the metro with a bit more confidence. My hotel and room is beyond any expectations I had. I’ll share all the GOOD and happy things soon. I spent the majority of today crying with joy, but more on that later. Goodnight, from Paris x

 

Pssst: Thank you Keri and Rosanne for helping me with directions the way that you have. You are both wonderful and lovely.

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Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge Resort in the Pilanesburg National Park

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We left rainy, cold Cape Town last week to visit Kwa Maritane in Pilanesberg. We flew out on Friday afternoon, our flesh covered in a mass of jackets, jerseys and scarves. As soon as we landed in Pilanesberg a wave of heat washed over us as we scrambled to offload our winter attire and swap in to shorts, slops and vests. The weather was incredible – reaching 28 and 29 degrees every day. I don’t know know how to summarize everything that we did, saw and experienced, but we really grew closer as a family this weekend. With the bustle of school, Graeme’s job, play dates and my business, we’ve grown comfortable in our homely routine. My mindset is mostly to ‘get things done’ and over the past few months we’ve lost the joy of just being.

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There’s no adventure in routine, and no fun in chores, so I really appreciated this break. We stepped out of our comfort zones in a big way this weekend, but also really enjoyed the relaxing moments too. The boys are in love with this place, and I am too. They made a few holiday friendships and they were so relaxed the whole time. Usually when we travel with the kids, we worry about them going crazy (also known as ‘being kids’) but I think they were so enthralled by everything that we were doing that there was no time for them to get distracted or bored.

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The ‘lodge’ is more like a resort, with all kinds of different accommodation options positioned like a village and nestled under ancient African trees. Green grass, thatched roofs and an abundance of bird life will get you in that ‘safari’ mood as soon as you arrive. You’ll immediately notice that the resort is fenced and as you walk to your chalet / lodge or room you’ll spot a few zebra, a wildebeest and maybe a few impalas on your way. You’ll probably literally walk in to a Loerie because they are so tame and friendly that you’ll want to put one in your backpack and take one home. So here are a few of our favourite things that we did during our 3 night, 4 day stay.

The Game Drives will get your heart rate going.

I jumped right in to this because the wildlife is incredible. I mean, I grew up in Kwa-Zulu Natal so obviously I had been on game drives before. At Kwa Maritane, we had a few breathtaking and heart-stopping encounters that have created buckets and baskets of family memories for us. Sheldon was our guide, and I mean what a great guy. The kind of guy that you want to invite over for a braai, but also the kind of guy that you really want to stay close to when you’re in the wild.

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Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 2.52.54 PMWe went on 2 drives every day at 15:30. The days were hot, so this was a great time as all the animals were coming out of hiding and moving out of the shade. I was dead-set on seeing a Lion and to lift my ‘never seen a lion in the wild’ curse. In retrospect, I really enjoyed our game drives at Hluhluwe because of car windows that could close. Going in one of those “I HAVE NO WINDOWS”  jeeps is next level vulnerable. We had some gorgeous, heart-stopping and wonderful sightings.

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We had moments where we just switched off the engine and watched the animals ‘be’ and interact with one another. We watched herds of elephants move across a veld while zebras and wildebeest played and grazed in the foreground. The kids had little naps, we tucked in to some wine and we had picnics, stops and visits to the hides. Probably my favourite moment was being maybe 5 meters from a journey of Giraffes. Isn’t that the most beautiful collective noun? A journey of Giraffe. Thanks Sheldon! Other highlights included Graeme spotting a Leopard lounging on a branch of a Marula tree. As he leaped out of the tree and started moving… Well that was the first time I checked for my window’s handle. Awkward.

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Another highlight was definitely stopping alongside an elephant bull just going about his usual elephant business. I really respected how well Sheldon knew the animals in the park – knowing and recognizing most by their nicknames among the staff and other guides. He knew their personalities and behavior patterns. He knew which ones he could get closer to, and which ones to be wary of. He knows their individual stories and their relationship dynamics with other herds and animals too. It was incredible.

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We drove back to camp in the dark each day, with about 30% vision provided by the Jeep’s head and sidelights. We had our Boma dinner to get to, and as we came around a bend, we quite literally almost ‘bumped’ in to a mother elephant with her 3 youngsters. We were lucky that the youngest was closest to the vehicle at that point, and that we didn’t give the mother the initial fright. Sheldon quickly cut the engine and switched off the lights while we waited for them to make their next move. Can I please explain to you what it’s like to be that freakin’ close to a wild elephant? While freaking out (inside) about the safety of your own kids? The youngest was quite curious and touched the vehicle with his trunk. This made the mom get protective, so she moved toward us to put some distance between us and the others. I literally felt like I was in Jurassic Park and every step was like water shaking in a glass. Another elephant moved past Graeme’s side on the right and if he’d have stuck his hand out he would have touched it. The boys didn’t understand any of it. Disclosure: MY KIDS DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT OF WILD ANIMALS OR DANGER.

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The boys were getting bored and couldn’t understand why we were sitting motionless and in silence in the dark. I get it. Sheldon was doing a super job at keeping calm, and keeping us calm as he watched the mom’s behavior and decided what to do. We were stuck, because if we put the lights or engine on, then we’d scare her and she would probably  have charged. She was just standing there in her giantness, right in front of the vehilcle, just watching us. She’d moved forward to close the gap between us and her family. As she started to lose interest and move past us, we’d just whispered “Shhhh” to the kids, but G and I did it at the same time which upped the volume. She turned like a woman on fire and faced us with her ears flared. I have never in my life felt so tiny or insignificant. I was scared, my heart was racing. Sheldon was talking us through the possibility of starting the engine and making a run for it, and warning us that she might give chase. Graeme was (finally) getting a bit freaked out and the kids were like “what time is supper and do they have pudding”.

Eventually after Sheldon standing his ground and showing that we’re not a threat, she moved past us and we switched the lights on and kept going, all of our hearts beating at about 140km p/h and feeling rather relieved. I hadn’t felt adrenaline like that since jumping off a bridge with a rope tied to by ankles. It was intense, and incredible. I was super happy to get to dinner and drink a LOT of wine. There are no pictures of this incident because quite honestly I was afraid to even breathe. Another thing we loved about Kwa Maritane was…

Alllllll the kids activities, play centers and pool areas

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Everything from rock climbing, chess, swimming, super tubes, snake shows, pool tables, table tennis, foosball, trampolines, jumping castles, play areas, secret tunnels and hides and especially the wildlife center. They have this program called “Junior Rangers” where a guide takes the kids out for a few hours to track animals and learn about the bush. They saw fresh lion tracks, found nests, spider webs and even saw an elephant carcass. They each got a book with lists of all the things they need to find in the wild, and ticked them off as they went. They also get a certificate, badges, stickers, treats and a colouring book. When we collected them at the wildlife center they were SO CHUFFED and felt like the smartest, most important little boys in the world with all their goodies. I love it when our kids are out and about in nature, so this was especially special for me. We’ve been back for a week and they’re still filling in their little wildlife books and gushing to everyone they see that they know how to track and find real animals in the real wild! Graeme and I had taken our laptops with, in case the boys wanted to watch a movie or something. Needless to say, they didn’t ask for any kind of technology even once. Even the televisions in our rooms had live-streamed footage of the watering holes around the lodge. Every time we got back to our room, they rushed to the TV to see if the hippo had moved, or if a new little bird or animal had arrived. While there is SO MUCH good, wholesome and educational fun for the kids to do, I really loved

All the fun things for adults to do too

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While the kids were at the wildlife center and out in the bush, Graeme and I retreated to the Kwa Maritane Spa. It’s such a gorgeous setting, with the heated pool and loungers overlooking the game reserve. We saw Kudu and Zebra and more Impala as we lounged around in our robes between massages and manicures. I had my nails done while Graeme opted for a full back, neck and shoulder massage, which he obviously loved. The spa is gorgeous and quite busy, so be sure to get your name in their diary as you book your stay.

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The boys were very occupied at the pool, where we also had lunch every day. They have a really good poolside menu, so you can order salads or prego rolls, hotdogs, burgers, sandwiches and seafood from the comfort of your lounger without disturbing your tan. The boys spent all day on the super tube, which freed up a lot of time for Graeme and I to watch them and catch up with each other while tanning and indulging in a few delicious cocktails.

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I have so much more to write and tell you about, so consider this my first post. I need to tell you what happened when we saw the lions, and HOW it happened, and how I freaked out… again. We need to talk about the Boma dinner and drums and dancers which was completely magical. All that for another day. If you live close to Joburg or Pilanesburg, you absolutely must visit and take the whole family. Find the rates and book here > http://www.legacyhotels.co.za/en/hotels/kwamaritane

If you live around KZN or Cape Town, then know that SAA flies directly to the Pilanesberg airport, which is 3km from Kwa Maritane. We had an incredible time and we’ll definitely be back, probably this December holiday. The boys have not stopped begging since we got back, they really did have the time of their lives (and us too!) A major thank you to Patrick, Sheldon, Megan and Trevor for making our stay that much more special, and to Emma and all the other guides that took such great care of our boys. We’ll be back real soon!

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Luxury bush accommodation Gauteng – Kwa Maritane

Exciting news! We’re flying to Gauteng next month to check out Kwa Maritane, a luxury bush lodge in the Pilanesberg National Park. We’ve never been on a family ‘bush break’ holiday, so I’m really excited to check it out. The boys have never been on a professional game drive either, and I’m so excited to experience it with them! They have a Junior Rangers program for the kids, and a gorgeous looking Spa where Graeme and I will be spending some time too! I’m especially excited about the Game Drives and the Bush Braai Boma. You can view all their activities here > Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge Activities.

Kwa Maritane

The lodge is located on the slopes of an ancient volcano, in a malaria-free area. They’re situated 2 hours from Johannesburg, 3km from the local airport and 10 minutes from Sun City. We do a lot of exploring around Cape Town, so we’re all really excited about this trip and to see what Kwa Maritane is all about. We fly out on the 14th of August and we’ll spend 3 days exploring the lodge and its facilities. In the meantime, here’s a sneak-peek of what we’ll be up to. All images supplied by Legacy Hotels, Kwa Maritane.

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My Paris itinerary for September

Two weeks ago, I booked and paid my flights to Paris. This week, I collected my visa! I’m putting a lot of effort in to the planning, and a lot of muscle behind the excitement. Things that I love in life include travel, research, organizing, making list and schedules. So this is like the best time of my life right now, you understand? Other things that I love is heritage, art, art history, literature, writing and poetry. DO YOU UNDERSTAND. I have incredible friends who have given me the best “Paris” advice, like Vanessa and Keri and even complete strangers and acquaintances like Rebecca have gone out of their way to get in touch and share some info with me.  I am so grateful and treasure every little bit of advice. This trip is costing me quite a bit, so I don’t want to waste entire DAYS doing things or getting stuck somewhere that I don’t actually want to be.

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I am going alone. Graeme went to Cannes a few years ago (although it was a work trip) and logistically it makes sense for him to stay with the boys for this trip as they are still very little. Although we have my mom that would love to have them for a few days, and Graeme COULD come with, Paris is not a destination that he’s super passionate about at all. In his words, he said he’d rather go somewhere remote like (his actual words) Antarctica or climb Kilimanjaro. How our marriage has survived this long, I just don’t know.

To be honest, I want to go alone. Some people find that horrifying, but I absolutely love being on my own. Being alone is my comfort blanket. My actual sanctuary. I know that my boys will miss me (and I will miss them like mad), but they just spent 4 days with my mom and apparently only missed or mentioned me once or twice. While I’m away, the boys will be at school and super busy with extra murals. I’ve got little plans to leave a present and letter for them to unwrap every day while I’m gone. I’ve also scheduled my flights so that I leave on a Sunday night and get back on a Saturday afternoon, so I’ll still have the weekends with my little family. In reality, the person who will probably feel my absence the most is Jack. I think the boys will really enjoy their ‘daddy’ time and I’m sure that Graeme will spoil them with special dates and activities. The thought of going as a family on our first trip is just a bad idea. I mean, we can’t even go to Cavendish together.

Another point to mention is that when I’m in Paris, is that I don’t want to eat at a single restaurant. At all. I’m not a foodie, and mostly view food as a necessity – sustenance. I get a buffet breakfast at my hotel every morning and I’m not a big eater, really. I’m happy to grab fruit and cheese at a local market and shove it in to my bag to snack on throughout the day. Food doesn’t interest me. Another thing is that I don’t want to do any shopping or go to any shopping centers. Sure I love clothes, but I am not big on shopping. I am not going to Paris to eat or shop, because that’s just not me. I am going to Paris to see art, write, paint, walk, learn, grow and explore. So these are the things that I’m keen on.

A lot of the pictures are shared from Love Made Visible’s Paris blog posts. Their travel pictures are phenomenal – go read her Paris posts! The other pictures are from the official websites linked below. Do you have more suggestions on where to go? Or did you find any of these to be a total waste of time? I am getting mixed ‘reviews’ on Versailles. Is it worth the trip? Here’s my must-list!

Musee D’orsay (image by lovemadevisible)

I can’t explain how excited and overwhelmed I feel. I can’t believe that I’m going to see some of my favourite artworks in real life. From Degas, Monet and Renoir. I’ve read at least 17 articles in search of tips and tricks, like to start at the top and work your way down. To go AT opening time. To pre-book tickets. I really want to buy some art prints and stationery, and I’ve already browsed their online shop and created a budget for it.

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Louvre

For obvious reasons. I know that people suggest NOT going as the queues are intense and it gets super crowded (and the Mona Lisa is small) but I’m going to pre-book my ticket and have it sent to the hotel. Again, gonna try go super early. On Thursdays the museum is open at night, so I might do a night visit too. I AM SO EXCITED.

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Musee de’l’orangerie

I am only going to see the Water Lilies. They’re in Tuileries Gardens, so maybe I can ride my bicycle around there and try find that funfair that’s around there, if it’s still around. The museum has exhibitions going all the time, so hopefully I’ll discover some new work! I’m really excited about this tiny little baby museum.

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Montmartre City Tour  (image by lovemadevisible)

Rebecca told me about this free tour and sent me the site! It says > Hidden in the North of Paris, Montmartre joined the city year 1860 and became the place for bohemians, artists and courtisans including Van Gogh, Picasso, Renoir & Degas. I’m staying in Montmartre in a sweet little hotel, so I’m dead keen on this tour!

Montmartre Moulin Rouge

Paris Bus Tour

Obviously I am doing this! I might buy a 2 day ticket and use it to get around and spread the trip over a few days. I don’t know, but I sure as heck want to be a tourist and learn all about Paris. The tour also covers all the main sights that I don’t really, really want to spend time at, like the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame and Grand Palais. Maybe I’ll do this on my first day so it will help me gather my bearings. I am awful at directions!

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Funfair next to the Tuileries gardens (image by lovemadevisible)
I don’t know if this will still be here, but I’m keen to cycle around here and take a few photos. I might pack a picnic in my backpack for the day and just spend the entire day cycling and having little picnics with my notebook all over the place. Or I might be super hung over and sit under a tree all day, people-watching. Who knows?
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Montmartre – Place du Terte – a square full of artists

I want to get my portrait sketched or painted by one of these guys. Maybe they’ll have a nice piece that I can buy? I’ve purposely saved loads of wall space in my office for art. Graeme doesn’t like the impressionists as much, so I have full reign over the office (I am assuming)

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Seine – paint something.

I haven’t painted in years and I’ve really been itching to. Even if it’s awful, I can always say “I painted this in Paris”, you know? Any suggestions on where I can pick up some acrylics and brushes or am I allowed to take that kind of stuff in my luggage?

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Shakespeare Bookshop – write something (image by lovemadevisible)

I really want to write a few short stories. I have some ideas in my head and want to spend a lot of time just fleshing out a few adventures. I found the perfect notebook and pen for this – the pen is so important, right? I want to spend most of my time cycling around Paris with brushes, notebooks and my camera. Maybe a sneaky bottle of wine and some cheese, or buy some treats from local vendors. I am emotional as I type this.

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Seine boat at night 

A girlfriend of mine is going to be in Paris on my arrival day, so I’m looking for something fun to do. I’ve seen some pictures of the Seine cruise and seeing Paris by night, so I’m really hyped about this. Apparently they do dinner and a show too, but I don’t really want that part. I’m looking for other boat companies that just do standard night time river cruises. It’s going to be the end of summer / beginning of autumn.

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Crazy Horse Cabaret

Again, I’ve heard such mixed things about the Moulin Rouge and so many blogs have said that this is a super cool alternative. More authentic Paris cabaret. There won’t be any ballet on while I’m there, and I love theater… so Crazy Horse it is! Apparently it’s incredible.

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Belleville – Cafe Aux Folies

I’ve always wanted to see Belleville, and apparently this cafe was an Edith Piaf favourite. I’ve been reading up on most of the places I want to go to to see if there’s a bit of history or emotional connection there. Any other great cafe’s you could recommend in Paris?

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Le Marais (image by lovemadevisible)

I don’t really know if I want to visit here, to be honest. Everyone says it’s super amazing and beautiful, but I don’t know if it’s worth spending an afternoon here? I imagine sitting in this cafe with a few glasses of wine and people-watching for a few hours with my notebook. Anything else I should see in Le Marais?

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Sundowners – les Ombres

Okay so I found the holy grail of great restaurants and hotel bars that all have an excellent view of the Eiffel Tower. I don’t want to go UP the tower, but I wouldn’t mind having a few cocktails while looking at it, you know? Apparently I’ll see a lot of great cafe’s in the area, but I’ve made a list for back-ups!

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Rent a bicycle in Paris

Maybe this is something I can do while exploring le Marais? Maybe I can ride around Luxembourg gardens? Or around Canal st Martin? I’ve been looking for pretty places to cycle around and also I’ll need a backpack! And a map.

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I’m going to have a ‘general’ plan for while I’m there, but I’ll probably end up missing one or two things. Please add any travel or Paris advice. I’m super keen to learn from you guys, and to make my first trip as awesome as possible. Again, not keen on malls or restaurants because it’s just not my personal vibe. Any websites you found helpful would also be great! If you have any suggestions, I would love any and all advice. An interesting Parisian to follow on Instagram? A useful website? A great tour or a way to skip the queue at museums? A nice place to hire a bicycle? A great online booking resource for museums? Really anything is so appreciated. Where do the artists hang out? Where can I buy certified art prints? Is the Crazy Horse really better than the Moulin Rouge? I am a huge art lover, but I really don’t want to see the Dali, Picasso or Rodin museums just based on personal preference. I want to go wine tasting, but don’t know where. Please let me know if you want to add to this list! Please please.

 

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The Cellars-Hohenort. Luxury travel in Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town Hotel

Last weekend we went to visit and spend two nights at the beautiful Cellars-Hohenhort. I’d heard so much about this beautiful hotel and estate, and it lived up to every expectation we had. The Cellars-Hohenort was originally established as a refreshment point for ships traversing the oceans to gather spice imports from Asia.

The Cellars

The Cellars buildings is located on nine acres of beautifully maintained land in the Constantia Valley of Cape Town. Their gardens are award winning, and won the Relais & Châteaux Garden Award in 2010. The boys had such fun running around the gardens, chasing squirrels, feeding the geese and ducks and playing a few games of casual tennis. <sidebar> there will be no tennis champions in this family, but they had a lot of fun.

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Originally known as Klaasenbosch Farm, this property first belonged to the chief surgeon of the Dutch East India Company, Hendrik ten Damme, in 1693. In 1991, Liz McGrath purchased the Cellars building to restore its historical beauty, transforming it from a simple country guesthouse. In 1993, McGrath began an extensive renovation that saw the hotel reopen its doors. How beautiful? Liz McGrath passed away earlier this year, and her heritage and vision lives on here. We felt so honored to spend time here.

Cape Town South Africa Hotel

We stayed in inter-leading rooms in the main building, with the boys occupying a Double Room and we had a Suite. There’s a door to close off and lock the passage, so you have your own mini house with a kitchenette, 2 bathrooms, 2 bedrooms and living room all to yourselves. Both rooms opened up to a patio / verandah with little tables and chairs and direct access to the lawns and pool area. It was incredibly private, so we didn’t have to worry about the kids being noisy or anything like that. We felt so relaxed and the kids were occupied and entertained the whole time. Amazing.

Cape Town Constantia hotel and spa

Double Rooms at The Cellars-Hohenort each offer either a view over the garden or open onto a terrace overlooking the lawns.

The room fee(R3850) includes:

  • A welcome bottle of wine
  • A fruit platter
  • Slippers and bathroom amenities
  • Romantic turndowns, with sparkling wine, for honeymooners
  • Tea and coffee making facilities in the room
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi
  • A bottle of water at turndown
  • Hot water bottles placed in beds at turndown in winter
  • A complimentary newspaper

They have three resident cats who will stop by and pay you a little visit. The boys called this one “socks” and there was a ginger one that they played with in the lounge while we were finishing off our dinner. The kids were highly amused that neighboring geese popped by for swims in the pool, much to the caretaker’s distress, I’m sure. We felt right at home.

The Cellars South Africa

We need to talk about the food, because you’ll be excited to see what Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef Peter Tempelhoff gets up to in the kitchen. We had dinner on the first night and every dish was absolutely incredible. They’re running a great Winter Special in the Conservatory at the moment: 3 courses for R210 pp. If you want to treat your husband / girlfriend / mother / wife / father to a delicious meal in an exquisite setting: Go here! They’re situated on 93 Brommersvlei Rd, Constantia and you’ll love the Fern Bar, Martini Bar and Conservatory. NOTE: The Greenhouse is currently undergoing renovations.

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Cellars Hohenort

And then we really need to talk about breakfast. If you’re looking to seriously impress someone or treat a loved one, then you absolutely need to to bring them to The Cellars-Hohenort for breakfast. I have never in my life seen such a gorgeous room and setting. I love how the outdoors carry through to the indoors with loads of botanicals and inspiration from nature in all the decor. You really feel like you’re dining in a greenhouse.

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The Cellars-Hohenort also has a gorgeous Wellness Center and Spa on the grounds, including a hairdresser and even a few boutique and jewellery shops. I had a 90 minute Dermatologica facial and felt a bit ‘hollywood’ when I walked out of there. The spa is gorgeous and the treatment rooms have stunning, private views of the gardens too.

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We had a really great time as a family, and there were loads of local couples and international holiday makers there too. For locals, I’d say this is the perfect spot for a romantic anniversary celebration. There’s a Martini Bar with luxurious lounges and a huge wall to wall fireplace. Go for a picnic on the lawns, play tennis, go for massages and ask for the ‘romantic turn down’ at night, with bubbly and rose petals. You’ll enjoy the quiet and tranquility, as well as the luxurious finishes at The Cellars. Find more information here > The Cellars-Hohenort.

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 11.51.45 AMPlease note that all pictures and views are my own, and not those of The Cellars-Hohenort or The Liz McGrath group.

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