Creatures and Comfort
During our trip to South Africa, our days at MalaMala—the oldest private game park in South Africa, dating back to 1927—are so full of pinch-me moments that it’s hard to process them all. Exploring the 33,000-acre reserve by Land Rover, our senses on alert, we take extended game drives early each morning and again in the late afternoon and early evening, led by our friendly guide, who shares his knowledge of the animals and birds we encounter throughout the park, filling in details that amplify an already mesmerizing experience. He spends time with us frequently throughout the day. He delivers our personal, early morning wake-up call and greets us with steaming coffee and tea before our drive. He also joins us for meals, answering questions and recounting memorable stories about the animals, the game park and our historic lodge.
On our first outing, a herd of elephants, including a baby ducking out from between its mother’s legs, lumbers by within inches of our vehicle. We hold our breath. The next day, we spot a herd of Cape buffalo just in time to see a fight break out between two young males. They lock horns when they’re not whacking each other with them. Later, we happen upon a pride of lions in a clearing. Sprawled over one another in the grass, looking as cuddly as stuffed animals, they don’t even bother opening their eyes when our noisy Land Rover stops a mere 8 feet away. On our trip to South Africa, we’re in animal lovers’ heaven.
Long open-air drives over bumpy terrain end back at our colonial-style lodge, where we savor lavish breakfasts served on an expansive outdoor terrace. For other meals, we help ourselves to delicious buffet-style lunches and dinners. Our luxury suites—with his and her en-suite bathrooms, a sitting room and sliding glass doors that open onto a lawn and a riverbed where animals occasionally wander by—are the perfect place to recharge during our trip to South Africa.
Next Stop, Eden
It’s rare not to experience cultural whiplash when traveling to another continent. But experiencing it within a single country happens less often. We leave the bushveld and by late afternoon enter La Residence, an elegant, European-style country house hotel in the Franschhoek valley, the epicenter of South Africa’s winelands. But a glass of a top-notch varietal from vineyards a stone’s throw from our villa suites eases the transition nicely. Our day ends with cocktails in front of a marble fireplace, superb cuisine by candlelight under crystal chandeliers, and regret that we’re leaving a place, once again, where I would gladly have lingered for days. Regret, though, is fleeting in South Africa.
The next day, we head south to the coast. Along the way, we visit a 21st-century Garden of Eden for gourmets in this fertile valley cradled by stone peaks. Babylonstoren, a Cape Dutch farm, with vineyards, orchards, a winery, a bakery and a celebrated garden-to-table restaurant. On our tour of the winery, we taste five vintages, both red and white, from a refreshing Viognier to a signature blend, an oaky red. Our meal at Babel can only be described as art on a plate, especially the color-coordinated salads that each contain a medley of one shade of freshly-picked vegetables. Afterward, we tour gardens that even feature a section for tropical fruit—including papayas, mangos, pineapples and guavas.