As winter descends on the Northern Hemisphere and snow covers Europe’s cobbled streets, the tendency to daydream about sunshine and warmer temperatures can become habit. Where do you go to turn those daydreams into reality? One place: South Africa.
If safari is on your bucket list, then consider the months between September and December as the optimal time for animal viewing. During September and October, dry weather tends to drive animals in larger numbers to permanent watering holes, and it becomes easier to spot the ‘Big Five’ – the five game animals that everyone wants to see on safari: the lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros. During the latter months, when the rainy season begins, a lush landscape may make for more beautiful photographs of the bush and plains where the animals reside. But January and February, when the rain comes down the heaviest, should be avoided; you should plan to take a holiday in March or April when conditions are still good for safari. You could consider staying at the Thornybush Game Reserve in their collection of lodges, located not far from Kruger National Park, and while you’re there ask for a tracker by the name of Orlando.
Stellenbosch is known as a ‘Town for all Seasons’. However, it’s more than just a town. It’s a region of wineries and family farms that are amongst some of the oldest in South Africa, all set against a mountain range under the blistering sun. The weather is mild all year round, but the dry season, just before the rains come in April, is exquisite, with coral trees in full bloom and an abundance of flowers. Begin your holiday at Spier Wine Farm, where the mixture of fine art, Dutch Cape architecture and thoughtfully placed areas of relaxation along with world-class dining will make you forget all about the frigid temperatures back home. Continue into the town of Stellenbosch for an afternoon wine tasting at Lanzerac Hotel and Spa followed by dinner at De Volkskombuis, where traditional Boland cuisine will make you feel warm inside and out.
With its waterfront setting, abundant hiking trails and average annual temperature of 16.6 degrees Celsius (61.9 degrees Fahrenheit), Cape Town is ideally suited for a getaway that focuses on winter fun in the sun. The view from Table Mountain will make your jaw drop, but getting that much closer to the sun’s warm rays is what motivated me to ascend the heights. Follow that with a paragliding experience from Signal Hill or a hike on Lion’s Head and you’ll earn your evening of food and wine. Try the Fynbos dinner at the Table Bay Hotel for gorgeous views of the harbour and Table Mountain lit up at night. For a daytime culinary adventure, head to The Mount Nelson, where you can forage with Chef Cheslin Cornelissen and local food expert Charles Standing before enjoying the spoils of your search at the chef’s table in Mount Nelson’s expansive kitchen. Cheslin’s creations bring the sunshine of Cape Town indoors to be enjoyed on a plate in a way you won’t experience elsewhere, and when paired with local South African wines, it’s the best way I know to bring the warmth of a summer day indoors. End your holiday by enjoying sundowners at the Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa while you watch the sun melt into the ocean.
South Africa has so much to offer during the cold months of a European winter; from outdoor activities to bountiful options for indoor warmth, the country is a great destination to choose when you need to trade winter’s chill for hot winter sun.