Avid Traveller, San Sebastián, Spain, TravelWatchNews

Six Amigos’ Donostia San Sebastián Cultural Adventure

Donostia San Sebastián CultureDonastia San Sebastián taken at night from near Ondarreta Beach.

In our first venture to the North of Spain we visited the elaborately named Basque city of Donostia – San Sebastián. A city which is difficult to get to particularly from Gourock, a journey of three flights (Glasgow – London – Madrid – San Sebastián).
Ever since watching an episode of Rick Stein and more recently Anthony Bourdain both visiting San Sebastián I have looked forward in anticipation to the gastronomic delights, the world class beaches, and the city’s beautiful buildings.

The city lies on the coast of the Bay of Biscay and only 20 km (12 miles) from the Spanish border with France. Donostia is the Basque name of San Sebastián (the official name of the city in Spanish). Both names are official in their respective languages. With its origins in the Basque language mainly a mystery, it is believed that the “Don” in Donostia comes from “Domine”, the latin word for “Saint”. The second half of Donostia is believed to be an evolution of the shortened saint name for the city so effectively Don Sebastiane became Donostia.

Summary Video

In contrast and confusion some locals will tell you the name Donostia comes from the Basque words “Dono” (Lord) and “Sitio” (Place), which together mean “Lord’s Place”.

No matter what you choose, either names are acceptable!

San Sebastián is very much a fun filled city with a real outdoor vibe, particularly in the summer. The winter weather can be very wet as it’s so close to the Bay of Biscay.

With the city having many Michelin starred restaurants, San Sebastián is a famed culinary capital not just of Spain or Europe but world renowned. World class chefs provide both modern and traditional recipes. There are also pintxo bars (pronounced pinchos), food markets, and gourmet food shops selling local ingredients and dishes. Much of the cuisine includes seafood, but you’ll also find a local twist on traditional Spanish tapas. Dining is a true experience in this city.

San Sabastian a culinary adventure

A very impressive display of Pintxos in Bar Portaletas.

Pintxos are slighty different from tapas, sometimes resembling a smaller version of larger meals, but more often held in place by a toothpick on a piece of bread. The word pintxo means “spike” which maybe linked to the toothpick but then again that’s maybe my mind working overtime!

Pintxos are quintessentially Basque and form the backbone of the superb local food culture in San Sebastián’s old town.

There are two official languages in San Sebastián, Basque and Spanish. While almost everyone speaks Spanish, Basque is spoken by around a quarter of the population. English is also spoken and taught from a young age in most local schools however it’s less common compared to the south of Spain and other more popular Spanish tourist destinations. In the bars, restaurants and hotels of San Sebastián most staff will speak some English and enough to get by with no problem.

Many locals will encourage you to speak in Basque or Spanish and you will be respected for giving it a go. Most locals will give their time to make sure your pronunciation is correct or at least recognisable.

On this trip we’re joined along the way by Anthony & Cath and Janis & Jim, friends who have appeared in previous adventures, we spent 8 fabulous nights in and around San Sebastián.

Five places to visit

Old Town

Nestled between Alameda del Boulevard and the base of Monte Urgull. Known locally as La Parte Vieja, the Old Town is the most popular district of San Sebastián. Most of the buildings in this area date back to the mid-19th century. It is essentially a maze of small streets endlessly lined with pintxo bars, shops and historic buildings such as the church of San Vicente and the basilica of Saint Mary of Coro. Trust me, it will initially be difficult to get your bearings but it will happen the more you visit.

Plaza de la Constitución

A square of 2,000 sq metres right in the heart of San Sebastián Old Town. Rectangular in shape and framed by 4-storey arcaded buildings, this former bull fighting arena is now a pleasant open-air space amid the maze of narrow lanes that is the Old Town. If you look closely the former arena’s seat numbers are written above each of the balconies which surround the square. An ideal place to sit on the terrace of one of the restaurants or pintxo bars lined around the plaza and just soak up the pulse of the city.

Donostia San Sebastián Historic sites

The impressive Plaza de la Constitución a former bullring.

La Concha Beach

Sunbathe on what locals proudly claim is Europe’s most beautiful urban beach. Named after the shell shaped bay it sits in, the beach is 1,350 metres of golden sand sheltered at each side from the Atlantic Ocean by Mount Urgull and Mount Igueldo. In the centre of the bay lies the impressive Santa Clara Island. Sunbathing, swimming, paddle boarding and sea kayaking are the main activities available. The impressive beach also features toilet facilities, showers, lockers and in the summer life guards and Red Cross emergency services.

Donostia San Sebastián beaches

Stunning La Concha Beach, left looking towards Mount Igueldo and right looking towards Mount Urgull.

Mercado de La Bretxa

Basque country fish market in San Sebastian

One of the many fish counters.

We always like a local market, this one located in the basement of the Mercado de La Bretxa shopping centre. A picturesque fresh market where according to locals the top Basque chefs source their ingredients. The displays of fish and seafood, olives, wine, ham and much more are a photo opportunity in itself. Just a pity we couldn’t find a corner and sample the ready-to-eat local specialities.

Mount Igueldo

We didn’t manage to cover this one but I’m told that for a truly breathtaking view of the city, travel up the mountain in the 1912 vintage funicular railway to reach the summit of Mount Igueldo. A very impressive panoramic view across Concha Bay towards San Sebastián city. There is a lighthouse and an old school amusement park with a rollercoaster.

Our Trips and Tours
The Ultimate Pintxos and Wine Tour

the six amigos 3 men and ladies

First glass of rosé Txakoli on our Ultimate Tour

To get a local education as well as tastings of local produce we decided to do the Ultimate Pintxos and Wine tour with the amazing Amaia.

We met Amaia in front of the Goikoa Palace, then after a short introduction moved quickly onto our first stop at Bar Sport. Not a typical Basque, Spanish or even French sounding name but absolutely packed with locals. We tasted Astarbe Basque dry cider and chiperones a la plancha which was just delicious. Although the name of the bar initially put me off it turns out it’s been there for hundreds of years. A real local favourite and I instantly liked the busy bar.

We moved on with Amaia passing on her impressive local knowledge during the short walk to Zapore Jai where we shared some fantastic cured Iberian ham. Amaia informed us about the background to this family-run business and briefly introduced us to one of the owners and his son. The tastings were fabulous and allowed us to experience two of the most-renowned (and most expensive) cured hams from the region.

fantastic cured Iberian hamFather and son hard at work in Zapore Jai.

We moved on and walked through Konstituzio Plaza, the Old Town’s picturesque main square where bull fights used to take place in the 19th century. Here I learned courtesy of Amaia that if you’re born in the Basque region you are Basque, not French Basque or Spanish Basque, simply Basque and very proud of it!

The next stop was Txepetxa Taberna which specialises in anchovies and are just so tasty. Our education continued with stories of how the first pintxo was invented while we sipped at a glass of Txakoli, the regional lightly sparkling dry wine. We had three different anchovy dishes. A gilda to start, anchovies with spider crab cream and slightly sweet anchovies with blueberry jam!

We then made the short walk to Restaurante SSua Arde Donostia, another pintxo bar where the past meets the present. Top class pintxos are produced here using the best local ingredients and creative cooking techniques by younger chefs starting out in their careers and eager to impress. We sampled our first rosé Txakoli (Agerre) which was perfect. Our pintxo of pork cheek tacos worked perfectly with the rosé, an impressive combination of flavours.

A mouthwatering pintxo of tender sirloin steak was next on the agenda, this time at another local favourite Gandarias which was absolutely packed out. The steak was tender and delicious as was the paired Pagos De Araiz Navarra wine. The combination was so good we returned for several other tastings at this bar later in the evening. Ema who works behind the bar took a shine to ‘Our Jim’, she loved his Scottish accent but didn’t miss him with her Basque humour in broken English. She certainly made us all laugh.

Lastly and for dessert we made the short walk to a restaurant which has been open since the 1950s. On our way there Amaia pointed out community kitchen/restaurants where members only can utilise the kitchen and dining area. This particular cooking club (Amaikak Bat) was formed in 1907 and is not run for profit, only covering costs through member subscriptions. On arriving at Bar La Vina we tasted a Pedro Ximénez sherry which complimented the local speciality of baked cheese cake perfectly.

Thanks to Amaia for an amazing evening, the tour just confirmed how incredible the San Sebastián food scene is. Walking around the Old Town, stopping at six family-run pintxos bars for delicious tastings and pairings with local cider and wine. The tour and Amaia’s local knowledge is the perfect way to experience the Old Town. It also provides great insight on local cuisine and takes you to local haunts that you probably would not find on your own.

Topa Amaia! Eskerrik asko. (Cheers Amaia and thank you)

Petritegi Cider House

 

 

 


Petritegi Brut Cider and the whole range.

Sagardotegia Petritegi is a cider house located in the surroundings of Astigarraga, the most important cider town in Basque Country. It is located about a 15 minute drive from Donostia San Sebastián. We booked the gastronomy visit with ‘bottomless’ cider. Not our usual go to drink but it’s a speciality of the area so let’s have a taste.

Our excellent guide for the day Aiende, explained the background and process in making the cider, the history of the producers in the area and everything else there is to know. She also provided a short movie of Petritegi’s history and interesting historical facts.

Petritegi farmhands help with the cider making
Two new Petritegi farmhands
Aiende providing background history for the tour.

From the very start we tasted various ciders all for different occasions. There were displays of original cider presses and various other equipment used hundreds of years ago in the cider making process. We soon moved onto lunch which was a typical cider cellar menu, simple and plentiful food. During the meal, we were encouraged to visit the halls where the cider is kept in huge barrels. Each barrel contains different varieties of cider and you can taste them all. The challenge is can you catch them in your glass as they shoot out of the barrel. Host Aiende guides you through the process. A really good day out which was educational and fun.


historic equipment for processing and making cider

Aiende setting the challenge of catching the cider and some of the historic equipment.

Gros

Gros stretches from the slopes of Monte Ulia to the mouth of the River Urumea and back to the Egia neighbourhood in San Sebastián. The youthful and vibrant oceanfront district is known for its lively nightlife and surf culture. Zurriola Beach attracts hardcore surfers who when going to or from the surf just wander around the streets mostly barefoot, carrying their boards. The bustling streets are where you’ll find pintxo bars, some hosting live music virtually every night of the week. Gros also hosts world-class restaurants and unique shops. It draws a younger crowd, thanks to the thriving surf culture in the neighbourhood.

view from Bar Urgulleko Polborina

Incredible view from Bar Urgulleko Polborina and the exit stairway.

 Urgulleko Polboriña

After our wander to the top of Mount Urgull to see the impressive statue of Jesus we dropped in to this bar for a cold beer and to take in some of the fabulous views. As Kirsty and Phil say, Location, Location, Location and this bar has it all! Situated just below the castle with directions only visible from only a small sign pointing down some historic stairs. Fabulous views, laid back jazz vibe, good local drinks and snacks.

Highly recommended.

Getaria

Getaria

Main square in Getaria and the narrow street entrance.

A beautiful small town on the Urola coast, bordering Zarautz to the east and Zumaia to the west.

A recommendation from Amaia for a short visit by local bus from San Sebastián. If you get the timing right it’s less than 30 minutes by bus (UK9, 10 or 11) which takes you high into the mountains and back down through the picturesque town of Zarautz. Little tight pedestrian alleys take you from the bus stop to the harbour passing impressive seafood restaurants and shops on the way.

Take a walk under the very impressive Church of San Salvador with its gothic and baroque architecture. Most of the good restaurants are booked up in advance so something to think about before any trip. The better restaurants have large charcoal grills outside their premises, watching the chefs at work becomes a sport although don’t go to close as the chefs are grumpy and grills are hot!

fresh fish ona Basque BBQ

  Fish on the outside charcoalgrill.

The town is beautiful, the local area is filled with Txakoli wineries and the locals are proud to share their first class produce with tourists. Getaria is far more compact than San Sebastián but certainly recommended for a visit.

San Sebastián Siren

When out and about in the city we were surprised to regularly hear a military siren. You needn’t worry as it’s nothing to be afraid of with locals well used to the sound. There is no fire nor air attack, it simply signals midday. It’s been sounding since 1930, although previously it was a cannon which was fired in Plaza Guipuzcua. The siren itself can be found at the International Clock Shop on Garibai Street. Back in the day, the midday siren meant that stores were about to close, so any shopping had to be concluded quickly. A city tradition which can momentarily unnerve tourists if you’re not in the know.

Accommodation – Zenit Convento San Martin

The bar where people ‘pray’ in Hotel Zenit Convento San Martin.

Our hotel was located about 100 metres from the Paseo Marítimo and La Concha Beach. It stands in the heart of San Sebastián behind the classic façade of a convent built in 1887 with stones from the Igeldo quarry. The beautifully restored chapel from the old convent is now the main reception and bar area. The hotel provides good facilities with meeting rooms, solarium terrace, rooftop pool, bar/café, restaurant and parking.

Although smaller than some nearby it is a good hotel right in the heart of the city and close to everything from bars to shops and much more. The main reception retains the look and feel of the original Convent building however all other areas including the bedrooms are modern and very well presented.

I would definitely recommend the hotel although one or two things annoyed me such as the bar closing at 10.30 pm and no service even for water available after that. Complimentary drinking water is provided only once at the start of your stay!

Most staff are friendly and helpful, Lilibet was a star working behind the busy bar by herself, while 4 or 5 colleagues sat at reception staring at computer screens. Borja, the concierge did his best to help and engage with you. Despite my moans this is a decent hotel and an ideal place to sit with a glass of Txacoli (pronounced Chacolí) and watch locals and fellow guests come to ‘pray’ at the bar!

Local Basque Drinks
Txakoli

how to serve Pouring Txakolicider in Restaurante SSua Arde Donostia

Pouring of Txakoli in Restaurante SSua Arde Donostia

As mentioned above Txakoli is a slightly sparkling, dry white wine with relatively low alcohol content produced locally in the Spanish Basque region next to Cantabria and Burgos in Spain. Generally served as an aperitif and as its unable to be stored for a long period of time it’s normally consumed within one year of bottling. It’s available in red, white and rosé although the white is the most commonly available. Theatrically poured from a height into tall glasses to increase fizz content it’s also used as an accompaniment to pintxos.

So proud of their unique drink there is a museum near Bilbao dedicated to txakoli.

Basque Cider

An apple cider served in local cider houses known as Sagardoa, it’s another Basque specialty and solely produced in the apple growing region of Spain. Bottled flat and non-carbonated it’s also poured theatrically from height similar to txakoli, essentially to provide effervescence and release the aromas. The Basque cider houses traditionally serve it with the local staple of salted cod omelette and t-bone steak or hake followed by walnuts and quince jelly.

Production methods are similar to wine with the harvest in September and October each year dependent on weather conditions during the growing season. The apples are then fermented until the middle of spring when consumption commences!

Kalimotxo

At first glance, combining red wine and cola sounds like sacrilege, but locals say don’t knock it until you try a Kalimotxo (sometimes written as it is pronounced, Calimocho). This easy-drinking combination originated in the 1920s in the Old Port area of Algorta, a coastal town in the Basque region albeit Coca-Cola was not widely available. That changed in 1953 when the first Coca-Cola factory opened in Spain and it’s now a regular in the cafes and bars in the Old Town of San Sebastián.

Restaurants, Cafes & Pintxo Bars

Restaurants in San Sebastián range from fine-dining options in elaborate venues to quaint al fresco eateries. With a dining scene that revolves mainly around pintxos using local ingredients and fresh fish, there are plenty of places for you to enjoy a romantic date night, a lively family dinner or a simple beer/wine and pintxo standing at a bar.

Kokotxa

Street view of the inconspicuous entrance.

This Michelin star restaurant sits in the heart of the old part of San Sebastián. Located in the area next to the Basilica of Santa Maria, it is at the top end of the gastronomic delights in the city with the cuisine based very much on local and seasonal food produced throughout the region.

Strange restaurant name you may say but this restaurant bears the name that pays homage to one of the finest dishes in Basque cuisine prepared with the delicious barbels of either hake or cod, essentially a fish stew.

All of the top end restaurants are booked up well in advance, some as far ahead as 3 months so thankfully managed to secure a table for 6 persons for a late lunch.

Correspondence with Sofia Caram about the booking was excellent and all staff worked exceptionally hard in their effort to guarantee the quality and excellence of the experience.

We opted for the Market Menu which was a marvellous reflection of the skills of the chef, the dishes were served at the perfect pace, allowing us to enjoy each course of sumptuous food. The service was friendly and relaxed. Ksenia one of our hosts effortlessly managed a couple of food allergies affecting one of our group and ensured suitable alternatives were provided, this was much appreciated. Kokotxa even in late afternoon has a great informal atmosphere to it and fabulous decor blending old with new. This certainly enhanced our experience.

The sommelier, Romain took the time to provide an excellent suggestion of Vi Brant Xarel Lo Vermell Cava as an aperitif . Romain then helped us choose our wine options for our meal, both red and white.

The wine list is extensive and despite one or two of our first choices being unavailable Romain guided us with a few alternatives. We eventually settled on a Ribera Del Duoro Lambuena Reserva 2022 and a Famille Hugel Gewürztraminer.

Another waiter, Gulen described the ingredients of every course and suggested how best to taste the food.

We started with an amuse-bouche of lobster soup which was warm and comforting.

The next appetiser was three different offerings of mussels in a red pesto broth, a wooden spoon with white tuna in a tomato vinaigrette dressing and a black pepper biscuit to finish.

Next course was Pirinean trout and liquid salad topped with codium which is a green seaweed.

This was followed by artichoke, tupinambo, butter beans and pesto.

We then moved onto succulent beef tongue on a bed of celeriac.

Next was bacalao (cod) served with chilli tomato and grilled heart of lettuce on the side.

Our second main was succulent Iberian pork shoulder on a bed of spinach with mustard glazed chives and black sesame paste. The pork just melted in your mouth!

 

 

 

 

Three different appetisers, Iberian pork and the bacalao.

Desserts were paired with a delightful Collantes Los Cuartillos Moscatel Oro.

First was a yoghurt mousse on a bed of apple with hibiscus.

Lastly we had ice cream with chocolate sponge crumb on a hazelnut mousse with a dark chocolate chard.

The desserts paired with the right wine

Three different petits fours were served with a coffee.

The meal, the setting, service and company were just perfect, one of those unique restaurants where the staff were most probably fed up with me saying ‘thank you that was lovely!’ I can’t recommend this restaurant highly enough and will definitely revisit given the chance.

Thanks to Janis and Jim for picking this one up and happy retirement when it comes!

Café de la Concha

Five minutes into our first morning stroll we found ourselves staring at the stunning and very sunny La Concha beach. Needing a coffee we spotted Cafe de la Concha with its scenic views of the crescent shaped beach and surrounding coastal area. In total contrast to some reviews on Tripadvisor we got a table for six and were served very quickly and efficiently. A strong coffee, delicious natural orange juice and tomato bread sitting in the sun people watching set our day up perfectly. A venue with beach and city views which is hard to beat.

A recommended place to sit and chill!

Bodega Donostiarra Gros

Bodega Donostiarra Gros

Bodega Donastiarra in Gros

There are several of these dotted about the city but we stumbled upon the one located in Gros, only to realise it had been previously recommended to Janis. The place was busy and on speaking to the very helpful staff we were told a table would be free in 10 mins and to have a drink at the bar. We ordered a bottle of Lurretik which is a local Txakoli. No sooner than we had taken a sip of this very nice wine our table became free. The girls decided to set Anthony and Jim the challenge of ordering dishes for all six of us. Thankfully the boys’ choices hit the mark very well. Morcilla with red peppers, pulpo salad, indurains (which are spicy-sweet quintile peppers) and bonito tuna belly. Not forgetting the mouth watering but simple gildas which are made up of an olive, a salted anchovy and one or two pickled Ibarra chilli peppers crammed onto a cocktail stick. There you have it, the perfect pintxo lunch chosen by the boys! A highly recommended restaurant come pintxo bar and well worth the walk into Gros from the Old Town.

Eibartarra

This little gem was a find, we were wandering around the very busy streets where the pintxos bars and restaurants were jam packed. Seeing a table to accommodate six people standing become free we jumped at it. A cold beer accompanied by two delicious pintxos of anchovies on bread, goats cheese with tomato jam along with warm tortilla stuffed with potato and red pepper was just what was needed. Arkaitz and Iker worked hard behind the small bar to make sure every customer were served their orders promptly. A great little place and recommended for a quick drink and pintxos before moving back out into the busy pedestrian streets.

Atari Gastroleku

The restaurant is a bridge between tradition and avant-garde located on the stunning corner of Calle Mayor and 31 de Agosto right in front of the mythical Santa María Church. Advertised as a venue where locals and tourists combine to sample the impressive Basque gastronomy and local culture.

This was a bit of a miss, our food was nice although several dishes we ordered didn’t appear. The bar has a wide selection of pintxos which looked spectacular and the ones we tasted were really good but how can you just miss three dishes on an order? A decent wine list and reasonably priced for a prime tourist location. Each time we passed it was completely ‘rammed’ as Anthony described it. Queues form regularly for tables and you can see that potential diners are eager to sample the cuisine and ready to pounce as soon as a table becomes free. But is it worth it? I’m not sure if I’d recommend Atari but if you go I suggest you book online well in advance. There’s a handful of tables outside, overlooking the stunning Santa Maria Church, which would be perfect in warm and dry weather.

Ttipia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bar Ttipia and our barman theatrically pouring our drinks.

Great little bar on the harbour just outside the Old Town walls. Sitting people watching is a favourite past time and this place is perfect for it. Great service and food if you’re early enough as it disappears quickly. We tried our first local cider sitting in the sun, impressively poured theatrically by our barman!

Found ourselves back the next day, recommended!

Safety

San Sebastián is a very safe city for both tourists and residents. Crime rates in Donostia are very low although like in any other world city, it’s worth paying attention to your valuables when you’re out and about.

Happy Travellers

Notwithstanding the fact that the six amigos had a wonderful time in San Sebastián, all other tourists we met also spoke positively about the vibe, the food and the stunning scenery. In what probably became our ‘go to bar’, Gandarias, we firstly shared a drink and a good chat with Harrison from Wilmington, North Carolina in the U.S and Patrick from Helensburgh in Scotland. Both guys hosting top end guests in the region with Perry Golf. Next time we visited Gandarias we chatted to Les and his wife (unfortunately I didn’t catch her name) from Perth, Western Australia who were on a tour of European cities.

All kind people, happy to chat away about their travels and experiences. Everybody just seemed so happy and relaxed in a fantastic city.

End of a successful trip

As the six of us headed back to our different towns in the United Kingdom the question was how could we emulate what was a tremendous trip with culinary delights, delicious local drinks and stunning views.

Answers on a post card please!

San Sebastián is 100% worth a visit. It has it all, a very high standard of food – you’ll struggle to find better anywhere else in Europe, amazing beaches right in the city centre and beautiful mountainous regions dotted on its outskirts.

The north of Spain can be very much overlooked. Most tourists to Spain tend to head to the main cities or the popular beach resorts in the south of the country. However there aren’t many places that have as much to offer as San Sebastián, so making a trip north is well worth it.

I am delighted that some airlines are now making it easier to travel directly to this destination, even from Scotland.

Undoubtedly this means we will be in Donastia San Sebastián again!

Happy Travellers – Donastia San Sebastián Six.

Related links

Other Blogs about Spain – Nerja
– Anda;usia
– Seville
– Frigilliana

All Blogs – http://AvidTraveller.news

Calum Glenny – Gourock’s ‘Avid Traveller’

Check out my other travel blogs and more like this – The AvidTraveller.News

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Having had a wonderful experience in Cape Town during January we thought we’d flip Africa and head North to visit the increasingly popular city of Marvellous Marrakech in mid­­-April.

Why is Marrakech so popular? Apart from being only a 3-4 hour flight from the UK it’s a completely different continent and a feast for the senses, from the bustling Jamaa el-Fnaa square to the intricate tilework and fragrant spices of the souks. It’s a city where you are surrounded by the sights, sounds, and smells of day to day North African life, which may take you some time to acclimatise to. Marrakech immerses you in a truly cultural experience and is a city which poetic analogies compare to “a drum that beats an African identity into the complex soul of Morocco.”

From medieval times until around the beginning of the 20th century, the entire country of Morocco was known as the “Kingdom of Marrakech”, as the historic capital city was often Marrakech. Even today the name used for Morocco is still Marrakech in Persian, Urdu and many other languages.

Marrakech is also known by a variety of nicknames, including the “Red City”, the “Ochre City” and “the Daughter of the Desert”, mainly because of the colours of the buildings and ramparts of beaten clay which were built during the residence of the Almohads.

In 1985 the ancient section of the city, known as the Medina, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

As you take your first steps into the city, you feel the hustle and bustle of Marrakech with an energy all of its own. You get to the heart of things by winding your way through the extremely busy Medina, the walled, historic neighbourhood where it’s easy to get lost and disoriented! But it’s real fun once you relax and realise you’re not at risk.

The Video

It can be a bit intense, but while there you can fully immerse yourself browsing through the souks for local wares, taking in the Moorish architecture and filling up on street food. At the slower end of things, places like Le Jardin Secret, Bahia Palace, and the famed Jardin Majorelle give some breathing space alongside stunning scenery. Or you can always relax at one of Marrakech’s many luxury spas or ‘hammams’.

Marrakech is also famous for its parks, especially the Menara Olive Grove and the walled 1,000 acre Agdal Gardens. An irrigation system built under the Almoravids is still used today to water the city’s gardens.

Red city walls of Marrakech
Red city walls of Marrakech

Do females need to cover up in Marrakech?

While female travellers aren’t expected to dress as conservatively as local women, it’s still a good idea to pack clothing options that will allow you to cover up at appropriate times. In the Medina you can get away with wearing trousers or a skirt that reaches below the knee and a short-sleeved t-shirt, You will see a variation in dress code with some tourists wearing more revealing outfits but better to err on the side of safety.

Accommodation

Iberostar Club Palmeraie Marrakech

Iberostar Palmerie Hotel Reception
Iberostar Palmerie Hotel Reception

We stayed at the Iberostar Club Palmerie. This is a palm oasis with over 100,000 palm trees planted during the Almoravid Empire in the 11th century, the area is filled with natural beautiful and vast gardens. It’s just 15/20 minutes from the historic centre of the city and the hotel provides a great courtesy bus service, although bizarrely the location of the bus drop off and pick up is a good 15 minute walk to the Medina along a route which can be dusty and hot. The hotel is designed in true Moroccan style, with three swimming pools (one adult only) and a Star Camp for kids entertainment with a huge number of activities. The hotel spa features a Turkish bath, massages and treatments, while football, volleyball, spin classes, tennis, table tennis, pétanque, archery, badminton and basketball are all available within the stunning gardens. The hotel staff work tirelessly at cleaning internal areas, keeping grounds spotless and gardens immaculate, and should be commended.

The adult only pool at the Iberostar Palmerie
The adult only pool at the Iberostar Palmerie

The hotel food is buffet style but of high quality and if you stay a week you could easily have a different meal each evening. Lunches in particular are fantastic and became my favourite meal of the day, a wide choice of tasty salads and Moroccan vegetables cooked in the tagine along with fish and a daily BBQ option. Drinks are available aplenty and, apart from the wine and the beer, are French sourced which is not bad at all! I didn’t try one but other guests commented that the cocktails were quite sweet. The house red, white and rose wine is ‘KSAR’ which I cover later and is average, the rose being the most drinkable.

The hotel’s green credentials are impressive with no plastic bottles, filtered water stations strategically placed throughout, and stringent recycling policies.

Hicham is the mixologist at the Zen Bar next to the adult only pool. His service is excellent and he’ll teach you Arabic sayings while he tends to your drinks. Ismail a waiter in the main bar is at the top of his game, he also likes to throw in some Arabic sayings while serving you. Khalid a young waiter at the outside seating area of the main restaurant went out of his way to ensure we had a table for two each evening.

My only disappointment about the hotel is their speciality restaurant, Jawhara which is anything but special! It offers a set 5 course Moroccan taster menu which includes a choice of beef or fish tagine ordered in advance. The standard of food is poor and I didn’t finish a single course. In fact with the soup and vegetable tart starter one taste was enough to down my cutlery. Something’s not right when the standard of the regular buffet restaurant is far superior. I don’t think I’m alone in this opinion.

The Jawhara experience was so bad it made us laugh and despite that I would absolutely recommend the hotel and the staff who work tirelessly to make your stay very enjoyable.

Language Barrier

Morocco’s two official languages are Arabic and Amazigh, but virtually all Moroccans speak French. Spanish is also spoken as I was getting my ‘gracias’ mixed up with my ‘merci’ and still managed to get a reply! It may feel a challenge but attempting a little spoken word, although it may not mean much to you, believe me goes a long way with the locals.

Here are nine words or short phrases passed on by Hicham that may help you get by in Marrakech:

Afak is the Derija word for please. One way I used this word was to simply point at a bottle of water and say ”head, afak”. This translates as ”this, please”.

Fayn is the word for where. You can use it for example to ask for the toilets – “Fayn al toilet afak?” or “Where is the bathroom, please?”.

Shukran is the word for thank you and which I used daily to thank waiting staff in the restaurant and bars. Moroccans greatly value when foreigners speak their language and using this expression will definitely make them smile.

Ech Hal or Bech Hal is used to say “How much?” when you want to buy something.

Smeetee literally means “My name is…” so could be used when meeting someone for the first time.

Shno smeetek? translates as “What is your name?” so after telling people your own name is the next best thing to ask them.

Anta tahdar al engleezeeya? translates as “Do you speak English?”

B’Saha means cheers or literally good health (like ‘sante’ in French or ‘slanj’ in Gaelic).

Trips, Adventures and Restaurants

Private Walking and Shopping tour in the Souks of Marrakech

As the alleyways and dark passages of the Souks can be intimidating we hired a tour guide for a couple of hours to show us around. We met our guide Hussein outside the Cafe du France, a landmark which was easy to find in Jemaa el-Fnaa Square. Hussein was welcoming, friendly and spoke several languages including very good English. Our walk starting to the North of the Souks where Hussein explained the different neighbourhoods,  communities etc. At a brisk pace he took us down lots of tiny alleys with twists and turns that would easily confuse and render us lost without him. Our first stop was at the Herboristerie Le 35 Épices which was an impressive herb, spice and cosmetic wholesaler. The main product on sale was argan oil and after a brief demo of the production process we were shown a large range of merchandise for sale and offered a delicious mint tea. A small purchase and off we set again through the alleys deep in the Souk taking in the interesting aromas, mostly of the pleasant variety!

Madrasa Ben Youssef
Madrasa Ben Youssef

Our next stop was the ‘Gem of Marrakech’ according to Hussein. The Madrasa Ben Youssef is an architectural treasure constructed by Sultan Abdullah Al-Ghaleb Assaadi between the years 1564 and 1565 and is of invaluable historical significance. Wandering within its walls takes you to a fascinating era where art, knowledge, and culture flourish. After a couple of great photo opportunities and a wealth of knowledge imparted by Hussein we continued our tour, this time visiting the tannery, blacksmiths and silversmiths. Some of the compact, centuries old workshops were eye opening, as were the skills of the master tradesmen. A real step back in time.

We then headed to the Souk des Teinturiers where the dying process for wool and silks with natural materials was explained. The colourful bundles of wool drying above the stalls was really impressive. A quick display of how to wear the head scarfs with me as the ‘dummy’ created real entertainment!

Dyedwool-drying
Dyed wool drying in the open air above the souk

Next up was the Place des Épices with all its pungent spice stalls plus some strange objects – allegedly fish eggs floating in water trays. A real feast for the senses with every trader enticing you to buy.

Olives&preserved
Olives and preserved fruit in abundance
Mustapha's famous oven cooked lamb
Mustapha’s famous oven cooked lamb

Mustapha, a local celebrity, is hard at work with his famous oven-cooked lamb, made famous by Gordon, Fred, and Gino on their Marrakech tour.

The tour was a great way to see and learn from an astute guide, it was far more than just shopping and walking, it was entertaining, insightful and really not to be missed. Plus you could relax knowing you didn’t have to find your way out of the maze of Souks. Thanks to Hussein for his knowledge and time, recommended to get your bearings in the Souks.

After leaving Hussein, we had a delicious lunch in Cafe des Épices followed by mint tea. Even in the heat of Marvellous Marrakech the hot mint tea was outstanding and highly recommended.

Atlas Mountains
3 Valleys & Waterfalls Hike plus Camel ride

Atlas Mountain village view from Imlil village
Atlas Mountain village view from Imlil village

This trip came recommended and we were not let down. A day and an experience to remember with thanks to our hiking guide Rachid and driver Omar. Some great views and some sombre ones too due to the destruction from the recent earthquake, very prevalent in every village we passed through. Omar was our driver and the knowledge he imparted of the area, the Berber culture and its history was excellent. He is open and hospitable which helped make the day trip one to remember. At a short stop at an artisan shop just outside of Tahannaout, which is known for its Jewish cemetery and being the first Berber speaking town after Marrakech, the shop owner provided a brief history of the town and surrounding villages followed by a tour of his shop. Then we were off to the Tighanimine Fairtrade Argan Oil Cooperative. Here we had a traditional breakfast of local bread, olive oil, argan oil, rosemary honey, and argan paste (mix of Argan oil and almonds) with herbal tea which was sweet but tasty. Again after a sales pitch on the various products we had a quick walk round and made a few purchases for gifts etc. Back on the road we headed towards the village of Imlil for our hike into the mountains. On route we drove through a very busy market in the town of Asni which was a real sight with bustling market stalls and traders bargaining with locals.

After what can best be described as a sometimes uncomfortable drive due to the earthquake, Omar introduced us to our guide Rachid. We started off our hike at pace on paths, some of which were still badly damaged from the earthquake. The first thing we noticed was the snow still on the mountains and how unbelievably fresh and clean the air was, just brilliant after the hustle and bustle of the Medina in Marrakech. Rachid kept us on track and paid particular attention at potentially hazardous points, all the while imparting his intriguing local knowledge. He guided us up the rocky mountain with impressive views on the way of Jebel Toubkal which is North Africa’s highest mountain. The footpath mostly follows the incredible engineered irrigation system until we arrived at the absolutely stunning waterfalls. Here Rachid took charge of our camera and snapped several great photos which will serve to enhance our memory of the day. One thing to note is that the site can be busy with other tourists but all have a local guide directing them and preventing congestion.

Waterfalls near Imlil village
The impressive waterfalls near Imlil village

After a short break taking in the fabulous sight of the waterfalls we started our decent to the village and on our way even managed to bump into Rachid’s mother and aunt who were on their way to pay respects to a lady in a neighbouring village. Rachid explained the strong relationships that exist across villages and highlighted that even now there are many families still living in tents near to where their houses stood pre-earthquake. He suggested that central government emergency assistance for remote areas was often difficult to obtain.

Suddenly out of the trees a large Atlas Mountain monkey appeared. Rachid explained this was very unusual and it certainly caused a bit of a commotion with several locals emerging from their houses to catch a glimpse.

Rachid seems to know everybody in the village and we were accompanied on the last stage of our walk by a host of primary school kids on their way home from school.

Lunch at a village restaurant was just delicious. Our starter of fresh salad and spiced couscous, accompanied with locally baked bread was great. This was followed by a main of chicken tagine which was simple but very tasty and highly recommended. The food and the mountain views from the roof top terrace just finished off our hike perfectly and so reasonably priced as well at less than £12 in total.

On our way home and fighting our inner concerns for animal welfare we stopped for a short camel ride. This was testing and interesting at the same time. Getting on and more particularly getting off is the challenge. Despite very sweaty hands holding the bar I managed not to embarrass myself …. just!! Something else ticked off the list but I won’t be hurrying back for a repeat of experience.

My Moroccan Camel
My Moroccan Camel

I can honestly say thanks to Rachid, the 90 minute walk was one of the highlights of our trip to Marrakech, the scenery and photographic opportunities were just incredible and not easy to do justice on an iPhone!

A trip which can only be highly recommend and certainly made what it was by Rachid and Omar, thank you guys you do your villages proud!

KSAR Moroccan Wine

Not expecting to find Moroccan wine produced 300 miles from Marrakech we were introduced to KSAR in our hotel. I suppose it is almost inevitable that a former colony of both Rome and France would end up producing wine at some point. KSAR is produced near the inland town of Meknès in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains and belongs to the Les Celliers de Meknès group, the best-known and probably the largest wine producer in Morocco. Investing early in planting Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes while ageing its product in oak barrels was a first in the country. A wide range of red, white and rosé wines are produced by Les Celliers des Meknès and exported under brands such as Château Roslane, Domaine Riad Jamil and KSAR. Having witnessed the landscape of the Atlas Mountains I’m sure the soil and weather is perfect for wine production.

Sampling both KSAR red and rose at the hotel, I far preferred the rose which is dry and drinkable. Although it must be said the red and white KSAR wines were being sampled just as much by others in the hotel. I’m sure other Celliers des Meknès wines will be good but a lack of availability of the wider range in our hotel restricted any tasting opportunities.

The drinkable KSAR Rose wine
The drinkable KSAR Rose wine

Rabha Kedima Spice Square

CafeÉpices- roof-terrace
Looking towards the Cafe Épices roof terrace

Café des Épices is a world-renowned cafe restaurant that attracts people from all over the world and is situated in the middle of the famous ‘Place des Épices’. After one of our wanders through the souks we were lucky to secure a table for an early lunch while watching the busy wicker and spice market stall holders trade their wares and the Henna tattoo ladies bargaining with customers. From my time observing and learning, I’d clearly stick to a price between 33 and 50% of what the vendors first ask!

Épices wicker hats
Vendors even sell the Café des Épices wicker hats while you dine

We couldn’t get upstairs to the terrace as it was already full but I’m told that on a clear day you get a perfect and breathtaking view towards the Atlas Mountains, to complete your experience you sit at low tables on Berber cushions. Pre-booking or waiting a long time on a terrace table is the norm!

Our lunch consisted of aish burrito and a kefta morrocan sandwich, just fabulous with the harissa and mint flavours almost jumping out at you. As with the vast majority of places in Marrakech, there is no alcohol on sale within the cafe. We tried their famous mint tea which really lived up to its star status. Poured with true Moroccan style by our waiter it was a spectacle too. What a wonderful lazy lunch in the middle of a chaotic spice market.

The art of pouring Moroccan mint tea
The art of pouring Moroccan mint tea

So if you are on a visit to Marrakech, make a visit to Cafe des Épices as I can assure you will find the food very tasty and the views a bit chaotic but entertaining.

La Pergola
7/8, Riad Zitoun Lakdim

The rooftop La Pergola is a jazz bar and restaurant located on the terraces of the famous Riad Monceau.

Jazz Band playing on the ground floor of La Pergola
Jazz Band playing on the ground floor of La Pergola

It is easy to find, as we established, and situated only 100 meters from Jemaa El Fna Square. We had a booking for dinner but went early to find its location. Literally stumbling upon the entrance situated down an alley we went in for a drink just to give us the feel of the place. From entering the reception area it was very impressive. An ideal place to enjoy a pre-dinner drink on the terrace or at the bar.

The jazz band were already playing which gave the place a good atmosphere, hard to believe that outside the Riad walls there was the hustle and bustle of the busy Medina. Just sitting in partial sun on the rooftop listening to the live jazz music three floors down in the courtyard was really chilling.

We finished our drinks and had a quick wander round the Souks and Jemaa El Fna Square before returning for our 1900 table reservation. What a transformation the whole place was packed but relaxed still due to the sound of the jazz band.

Walking through the ground floor restaurant of Le Bistro Arabe, which is slightly more refined dining, we then climbed the steep marble steps for our evening meal at La Pergola. In comparison to earlier it was very busy and our fabulous waiter (unfortunately didn’t catch his name) told us the rooftop is generally full days in advance, he recommended booking as early as possible if we wanted to revisit before we returned home.

Morrocan Chateau Raslane
A very nice Morrocan Chateau Raslane

We ordered a bottle of Chateau Raslane from Les Coteaux De L’Atlas which raised my expectations of Moroccan wine.

It was a very nice accompaniment to our delicious lamb nabrik starter stuffed with grilled almonds and goats cheese. It was a large starter so thankfully we opted to share.

The ‘special’ of Moroccan tapas also looked delicious and described as XXL it certainly lived up to its label, so can really only be shared. Our mains of fish & bakchich and crying beef kofta are signature dishes and excellent. The crying kofta comes with a chilli warning but is not too hot, just perfect.

We finished our evening off with a lovely Moroccan mint tea known for its digestive benefits. No wonder the menu is authorised by chef Abdel Alaoui, creator of the Choukran restaurants in Paris, it is magical Moroccan. Highly recommended for its delicious local food or a jazzy pre-dinner cocktail. It has a real warm ambiance, very friendly staff and is a Marrakech culinary experience not to be missed.

Jardin Majorelle

Yves Saint Laurent memori
Yves Saint Laurent memori

A visit to the Jardin Majorelle on Rue Yves Saint Laurent was recommended to us by Tony Reid. With the weather forecast to be 30 degrees plus we were thankful to secure an early morning booking. This was a very good move as it got extremely busy when we were leaving the gardens later in the morning. Even at 0830 it was difficult to take a photo without some random tourist making a cameo appearance. On entering a small gateway the gardens open up in front of you. The peaceful atmosphere initially takes a bit to comprehend since you have just left busy city streets with no hint of the beautiful gardens behind the wall. They are impressive and boast a variety of water features, plants, trees and cactus from all over the world.

catus and palm trees within the gardens.
A sneeky view through the catus towards the palm trees within the gardens.

Everything was impeccably maintained and the clever use of colour (majorelle blue and yellow) really enhances the gardens. Truly a hidden gem and remarkable that such a peaceful and beautiful place can be situated in the city. A great experience, which is recommended and certainly one of the best urban gardens we have visited.

Cafe Bacha

Replica Bacha
Replica Bacha Coffee sign

The story of Bacha Coffee begins in 1910 in the Medina of Marrakech. The spectacular Dar el Bacha Palace, which means “House of the Pasha”, brought together the greatest cultural and political minds of the century over glittering pots of “coffee of Arabia” or Arabica as it is known today.

After being closed for 60 years, Bacha Coffee recently reopened to reignite its tradition of offering fine 100% Arabica coffees from around the world and now has locations as far afield as Taiwan, Qatar, Singapore and of course, France.

After our early morning visit to the Majorelle Gardens we caught a taxi to Cafe Bacha which is located in the Confluence Museum and opens at 1000. We had no choice but to wait 40 minutes on it opening as a queue had already formed. Once inside you pay 10 Moroccan dirham each just to gain access to the coffee shop but this doesn’t guarantee a seat due to how popular it is. It’s important to note that only cash is accepted so be sure to have this on hand. Also I suggest to get ahead of the crowds, it’s best to arrive around 0915 as the queue forms quickly. We were near the front so managed to get straight into the coffee shop. It was worth the wait and offers a truly memorable experience with a massive selection of coffees sourced from all over the world. This caused me a problem as reading the menu I wanted to try them all. I chose a medium strength coffee from Surabaya, Indonesia. We had the set continental breakfast menu – two delicious French bread rolls, homemade jams and local butter. The orange juice was so fresh it tantalised our taste buds. This was followed by a very light and tasty almond croissant and a raspberry & cinnamon croissant. Great accompaniments to terrific coffee. Hot breakfast options such as omelettes are also available and the display of cakes and treats looks fantastic. The service was impeccable, incredibly polite and knowledgeable staff provide recommendations to guests on their choice of coffee.

Marvellous Marrakesh Splendors
Marvellous Marrakesh Splendors

The ambiance in the Cafe is stunning, with beautiful decor that cannot be done justice in photos. The cedar carved doors are simply stunning. Again another Moroccan treat hidden behind closed doors. The entrance is so insignificant you would simply walk by if you weren’t aware what grandeur and treats lie within. 

Travel and Transport

Travel and transport in and around Marrakech is a challenge and very stressful. Our experience was not good but I will come back to that later.

Getting around the Medina in Marrakech is really only done by walking. Most of the historic centre’s streets are so narrow that only pedal cycles, mopeds and motorbikes can gain access to this part of the city. It can be nerve wracking and you need eyes in the back of your head to keep a watch out for the bikes and scooters as they drive at unbelievable speed despite the crowds.

I thought of my scouting days when told that orienteering through the souks is a little tricky, however it can be totally disorienting, there are no maps and guide books often have different street names from the nameplates on the walls of the souks making it even more confusing. If you ask a local for directions it’s mostly customary for them to accompany you and then blatantly ask for a tip, which they will most likely say is not enough, or they’ll take you somewhere different, so not recommended.

I suggest taking a photo of google maps on your phone or asking for guidance from the reception staff in your accommodation before starting out rather than walking about with your phone in hand. It’s a challenge but a good one and to be honest a safe one. Avoiding the sales pitch from the stall holders can a bit wearing but a polite ‘no thank you’ and quickly moving on usually works.

The local buses in Marrakech are very old and are usually packed with people, so I would recommend avoiding them and use hotel courtesy buses or take a taxi instead and if close, go by foot.

If available, I firmly suggest using your hotel courtesy bus where possible. By far the safest option from the maniac driving and drivers who think nothing of texting while they drive at speed through the narrow streets and markets. To be honest our taxi experiences on occasion brought a really stressful end to what should have been magical Moroccan evenings.

Taxis

Two kinds of taxis exist in Marrakech: small ones called “petit taxis” and the big taxi called “grand taxi”. The smaller taxis are used in the city centre while the larger ones are for far-away excursions. Taxis in Marrakech have meters, but unless you remind the driver they don’t activate it. Unless you have pre-agreed a fare make sure they switch it on before you get in, if they refuse, just find another taxi. I suggest you always negotiate and agree a fare for the journey with the driver before the engine starts.

To get around the centre of Marrakech it will cost between 30 Dirham (£2.50) and 50 Dirham (£4) but be aware it can be a nerve-wracking journey. Taxi drivers are very happy to be hired for a whole day and will visit other areas even a few hours drive from Marrakech.

Horse-drawn carriages in Marrakech

This is one of the most traditional ways of getting around the city, a nice to do but again my inner conscious in respect of animal welfare got the better of me and this time I avoided it. The horse drawn carriages are plentiful throughout the city.

Marvellous Marrakech – Been, seen and will struggle to return!

As I view the sun setting behind the beautifully manicured palm trees in the gardens of the Iberostar Palmerie, I wonder if I will ever visit what is an intriguing city again. Several experiences have been wonderful and are highlighted in the review. However, there are a few safety concerns worthy of highlight.

From our first steps through the arrival doors at Marrakech Airport and into a very unsavoury interaction with the taxi manager I have not really felt the love. The aggression shown by this person was quite honestly shocking. He suggested our booking was for 12 hours before the agreed time even though this is tied to a flight number, he demanded my wife’s phone number, refused mine, said our taxi booking which was prepaid with British Airways was invalid and then bumped me with his chest! It was extremely hard to hold back my inner wishes. Only when I suggested we go to the local Police did he back off. Thankfully I have had an initial apology from British Airways who sorted out our return airport transfer but I still await a formal response from BA to my complaint.

The next concern is the manner of driving, mainly by taxi drivers, it is just frightening and totally unsafe in such a busy city. Then there is the constant feeling of being conned or overcharged with every interaction being a negotiation, which leaves such a bad taste and a sad feeling. Yes people have to make money but please don’t exploit what undoubtedly is a good source of income. Once they’re gone, they may be gone for good.

Despite these concerns I would like to thank those named in my blog and the other hotel staff, tour guides, and restaurant staff in places we visited for doing their utmost to welcome, accommodate and enhance our stay. On this occasion however one real bad apple certainly ruined the barrel, unfortunately it tainted our first impression of Marrakech.

But never say never again!

On recovery from the devastating earthquake on 8 September 2023 and to the good and honest people of Marrakech, I truly wish you good health and speedy recovery or ‘B’Saha’.

It’s a choice to visit Marrakech, if you do, enjoy it and please sample the best things on offer but look after your personal safety.

Calum Glenny

Gourock’s ‘Avid Traveller’

Culum glenny

 

 

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Avid Traveller, barbados, family holidays, holidayvacations with toddlers

In this blog post, the Avid Traveller, Calum Glenny, shares the excitement of taking his Barbados Family Holidays with Toddler Maxie. Toddler Maxie was on her first vacation to Barbados. Maxie is warmly cared for by friendly staff throughout their adventures on the island. Calum reflects on the familiar faces they encounter each year at Miami Beach, noting that visitors from Canada, the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom return annually and extend their stays in Barbados. Drawing inspiration from Ian R. Clayton’s book “Rogues in Paradise,” Culum described the atmosphere at Miami Beach as camaraderie and shared laughter among genuinely lovely and helpful people, making lasting memories.

The holiday/vacation was full of surprises, like a day at the race track,like  winning some bets at the horse racing track, the Oistins fish fry.horse racing at sunset

And especially their time at Miami Beach in Oistins Bay. Of particular note were the beautiful friendships forged over time, which emphasized the inclusive nature of Bajans and Miami Beach, which cater to all ages and comfort levels. Notably, the beach offers a tranquil lagoon area, perfect for young children or those seeking respite from the main beach’s waves. Maxie particularly relished floating in the calm waters, accompanied by gentle turtles and schools of fish.

toddler maxie takes a dip in the Caribbean Ocean
Barbados family holidays with maxie

xi

friendle bajs keen to help outOne could not help but notice how local young Bajan business entrepreneurs thrive. Liam at Cottage Meats (the best sausage breakfast cutter on the island) continues to produce top-class products sold in retailers throughout Barbados and hopefully soon beyond.

We brought Liam a bottle of Bruichladdich (pronounced Brook-laddie), my favourite malt whisky from the progressive Hebridean distillery on the Scottish island of Islay. How ironic Bruichladdich is now owned by Remy Cointreau, whose liqueurs & spirits division hosts eight brands, including Mount Gay rum from Barbados. Having one of my favorite rums linked with the single malts of Bruichladdich, including Port Charlotte and Octomore, plus the excellent Botanist gin, is heaven-made for me.

But Maxie skipped those indulgences and happily dipped her toes in the sea and lazed in the shade at Miami beach.

Barbados Family Holidays - Miami beach at oistines

 

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The book Rogues in Paradise By Author Ian R Clayton


africa, Avid Traveller, cape town, Safari, TravelWatchNews

Capt Town- Table Mountain from the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
Table Mountain – Victoria & Alfred Waterfront

Cape Town – Adventure Meets Culture

In the last couple of years, I’ve been lucky enough to experience a warm early January in both the Caribbean and the Canary Islands. This year, prompted by various UK storms (Pia, Gerrit, and Henk), we escaped to take up the challenge of a 10,000km British Airways overnight flight to Cape Town, which opened up new horizons in South Africa and the breathtaking beauty of the area’s natural attractions.

Cape Town is a port city on South Africa’s southwest coast and sits on a peninsula beneath the incredible sight of Table Mountain. It’s one of the big five Antarctic gateway cities along with Punta Arenas, Chile; Ushuaia, Argentina; Hobart, Australia; and Christchurch, New Zealand.

As well as being South Africa’s oldest and second largest city, it is the legislative capital and also hosts the Parliament of South Africa. Because it was the site of the first European settlement in South Africa, Cape Town is known as the country’s “mother city.”

A true worldwide tourist destination due to its sun, sea, outstanding culinary reputation and incredible scenery, probably the reason it’s been voted the best city in the world seven years in a row!

But like many other major cities Cape Town also has a chequered history, Robben Island sitting in Table Bay is Cape Town’s version of Alcatraz, a notorious prison for over 300 years which has also been a leper colony, a mental hospital and a military base. Thankfully, today it’s a Unesco World Heritage site preserved as a memorial to those who were incarcerated there. You can take a boat trip and visit to this living museum and gain an understanding of the strides the city, and in fact the whole nation, has made since Mandela was freed on 11 February 1990.

One of the most famous moments in world history, marking the beginning of the end of apartheid in South Africa came from the balcony of Cape Town City Hall where Nelson Mandela delivered his first public speech hours after his release from imprisonment. In a nod to his fellow black countrymen the start of the speech was delivered in Xhosa, one of the main languages spoken by black South Africans. He opened with:

‘“Amandla! Amandla! i-Afrika, mayibuye! (Power! Power! Africa it is ours!)

My friends, comrades and fellow South Africans, I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all. I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people.

Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I there fore place the remaining years of my life in your hands.’”

It took four years following this event for the first democratic elections to be held on 27 April 1994.

Since then South Africa has become known as the rainbow nation and managed its return from being ostracised by much of the rest of the world.

Summer in Cape Town runs from November to March with its dry heat tempered by the ocean breeze. Apart from Table Mountain, city attractions include the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa on the V&A Waterfront and Bo-Kaap with its colourful houses and Cape Malay culture or a boat ride to Robben Island. It’s also only a short bus ride to many beaches or hire a car (better with a driver) and take fabulous day trips to the vineyards of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek or the Cape of Good Hope.

Accommodation – President Hotel, Bantry Bay, Cape Town.

President Hotel in Cape Town
Infinity pool view from reception

We stayed at the President Hotel which has a long and interesting history dating back to the establishment of the area we now know as Bantry Bay and Sea Point.

A pictorial history chart is displayed on the wall near the dining room and shows that a hotel has stood on the site for 150 years. Prior to that it housed the first substantial building in the area, the Society House, when the very same land stretched down to the sea and up the slopes of Lion’s Head to Kloof Road.

At check-in, we were made most welcome by a young receptionist, Michael Owen, who made us feel very welcome, not only to the hotel but also to Cape Town.

Due to the exceptional city attractions on offer most guests do day trips, then spend the rest of their sun-kissed time beside the infinity pool. Sit back, relax and let Zibele, Vuvu or Thumeka from the waiting staff serve you a cool drink or an oversized pizza! The poolside bar ‘The Deck’ serves great drinks and food and guests have the opportunity to take in the sunset views.

The hotel hosts wine tastings on a Friday evening (unfortunately, we didn’t make it), and on Saturdays, various promotions are held. Johnnie Walker Blonde scotch whisky, Cointreau liqueur, and Corona beer were available during our stay. Giving free Johnnie Walker whisky to a Scotsman in the sun brings on a huge smile!

While the main restaurant is recommended, the hotel location is perfect to venture out and savour delicious locally inspired cuisine in the Bantry Bay restaurants and bars. NV-80, The Greek Fisherman, Jarryds and Aerial are four really good quality restaurants within a 5 minute walk from the hotel. The even closer Piazza da Luz has two excellent and very well stocked supermarkets and a wine shop. The hotel is also an ideal location to reach the beaches, mountains, winelands, shopping and outdoor adventures on offer nearby. The hotel offers a courtesy bus with various stop offs and pick up points, all helpful in your local exploring.

Everything you could think of was on offer at breakfast with very attentive staff such as Nosihle serving you fresh coffee or a range of teas.

A great hotel for its location, facilities and staff.

Cape Town Tourist Attractions

Red Bus – City Sightseeing Tours

This service is on a mission to ensure its touristic sightseeing experiences are the number one thing to do whilst in Cape Town. They are doing a grand job at it, offering memorable and even educational fun. On just one of several open top bus tours you can easily tick off the best bits of Cape Town.

It’s easy to find one of the numerous bus stops, pay for a day ticket on the bus or easily book online. Then simply ‘hop on’ and discover the city sights, with the option to ‘hop off’ to explore particular sights further. The excellent service also offers day trips to Cape Point, the wine country and Table Mountain or join their harbour cruise but be warned the vessels are very small in comparison to some in the harbour area.

The day after our arrival we joined the Classic Tour which lasted close to 2 hours, helped us gain our bearings and allowed us to enjoy several sights on one trip.

Highly recommended.

Camps Bay

Cape town Camps Bay
Camps Bay

Camps Bay has been described as upmarket and draws crowds to its impressive promenade, shops, restaurants, fine white sandy beach and views of the Twelve Apostles mountains. The beach is vast and with huge granite boulders breaking up the sand it looks perfect although the Atlantic water can be very cold. It’s also very open and can be affected by strong winds. Behind the beach, there is a great range of restaurants, cafes and cocktail bars with terraces ideal for a sundowner. The nearby Mall has boutiques and a supermarket. There is also a Theatre on the Bay which advertises drama, musicals and comedy. Houses situated behind the promenade on the hill towards Table Mountain are very impressive and have outstanding views out to the ocean.

The Bay Hotel is at the centre of the area and on our list for a future visit. It really is a lovely area and highly recommend for a visit.

The Bay Hotel

Boulders Beach

African Penguins on Boulders Beach
African Penguins on Boulders Beach

Boulders Beach is a special place as it’s the only place in the world where you can get up close to African penguins, made easy by boardwalks that lead you across the beaches and allow you to view the penguins in their natural habitat. There is also an information centre.From our hotel Boulders Beach and the penguins were just 50 minutes south of Cape Town depending on the traffic and the day you visit. Sundays as we found out to our cost can be exceptionally busy as this is when many families head to the local beaches along the stunning False Bay coastline.

Beach Chalets at Kalk Bay

Beach chalets at Kalk Bay, Caoe Town

Beach Chalets at Kalk Bay on the Coastal Road to Boulders Beach

You can view the Boulders Beach penguins all year round, but locals state the best time is from March to May, the peak of the breeding season. Adults will smile and children will love the penguins and their antics. Boulders Beach which has a separate paid entry is also worth a stop for safe and enjoyable swimming.

The penguin viewing entrance fee is R190 for adults and R10 for children under the age of 12. It’s cheaper if you’re a South African citizen. Most of this charge contributes towards the conservation of this rare breed of African penguins. Tickets can be purchased easily at the entrance by card only as they have moved to a cashless system.

Boulders Beach is believed to be the only place in the world where you can swim effortlessly among penguins and possibly find them flopping onto your beach towel.

Time Out Market

Having been mightily impressed with the New York Time Out Market and in light of Cape Town’s trading port history, which has informed its culinary landscape to include influences from Europe, Asia and of course Africa, we thought we’d give it a go.

The Market is conveniently located in the popular Victoria & Alfred precinct alongside The Watershed which is an impressive design hub, and just a few steps from the Hop-on-Hop-off bus stop.

It’s also next to Nobel Square which features statues of South Africa’s four Nobel Peace Prize winners: Albert Luthuli, Desmond Tutu, F.W. de Klerk and of course Nelson Mandela.

Time Out Market, Cape Town offers about a dozen kitchens, all run by leading local chefs and restaurateurs, alongside four unique bars pouring fine Cape wines, local craft beers, and what seems like an endless list of cocktails.

Plenty of seating options are available with 750 seats, including outside quayside tables with jaw-dropping Table Mountain views.

The Market’s kitchens offer a tasty snapshot that shows just why Cape Town is Africa’s if not one of the world’s culinary hotspots.

Recommended venues include:

Mlilo – Fires of Africa

‘Fires of Africa’ brings a truly pan-African experience, the food on offer interprets the many ways that cultures across the continent have incorporated fire into their cooking. Zulu, Senegalese and Kenyan dishes are all on the menu but we stuck to vegetarian starters of chargrilled corn on the cob and broccoli with satay sauce. They were simply amazing! Highly recommended.

How Bao Now

This Asian street food was a lunchtime favourite and the spicy chicken and fish bao buns left our tastebuds tingling with delight. Also on offer are creative combinations like crayfish bao with Cape Malay flavours and a coconut and curry furikake, or wagyu sando-bao with a chilli crunch mayo, tonkatsu and pickled cucumber.

Culture Wine Bar

Having visited vineyards in Saint Emilion, Napa Valley and throughout Spain we were eager to get a tasting of the Cape wines. It was at this bar we met staff member Siya who expertly guided us through our sommelier tasting flight from a Le Lude Brut Reserve, 2022 Kaapzicht Skralhans Pinotage (which was a clear favourite), a 2020 Ananndale Cabernet Sauvignon from Stellenbosch to the heavier Syrah from Bakenkop Melish. Siya expertly talked us through the wines and after she identified our favourites she then poured us a 2021 Culture Crozes which was their own label and quite simply full of flavour and not too heavy. Siya, thank you, you provided a much needed Cape wine education!

We were later joined by sommelier, Sharrol who talked us through some local wines and vineyards of interest, particularly those lesser known, and of course we purchased another couple of excellent tastings on Sharrol’s recommendation.

As well as the tasting flights the bar has an extensive wine list, including a good range by the glass. Here you can easily sample a vinous trip through the Cape. Culture Wine Bar and its amazing staff captures the best of the Cape in the glass.

Matt Manning please look after your amazing staff!

Dry Dock Bar

Located on the ground floor and the heart of the Market we had a disappointing experience. We stood for at least 10 minutes waiting on the person in front being served, card payment only seems to cause some people problems so please be aware. Then the bar tender who was well aware that we had been waiting for some time immediately served two ladies who also knew we should have been next. No apology or even acknowledgment was forthcoming so we thankfully took our trade to the Culture Wine Bar. Not recommended at all!

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens

Hand on heart I’m not a garden enthusiast but I must give it to the Kirstenbosch Gardens, they are fantastic and so interesting  – even for the uneducated in horticulture like myself, after all my botanics are normally in gin! These impressive gardens are acclaimed throughout the world and very few gardens can match the sheer grandeur of the setting of Kirstenbosch against the spectacular eastern slopes of Cape Town’s Table Mountain.

You can quite easily spend a day exploring the impressive gardens, walking the tree canopy walkway or simply sitting on one of the many benches with a view. If you’re lucky enough to visit on Sunday afternoons between November and March live music concerts are held in the grassed theatre area There are also plenty of restaurants and cafes offering very good quality food and drinks, even picnics which can be taken out into the gardens and enjoyed underneath the shade of a tree. Highlights for me were the Silver trees which looked as if they had been spray painted and the wobbly but impressive Treetop Walkway. It’s only a short drive in a taxi from the city or visit via the Hop on Hop off bus service.

I completely concur with the quote from R. H. Compton, Director of Kirstenbosch 1919-1953 who in 1965 stated, “It would be a tragedy if Kirstenbosch were ever to become static: it should be as changeful and dynamic as the living plants which are its reason for existence”.

Bo-Kaap

Bo-KaapBo-Kaap with Table Mountain and the Lions Head in the background

Due to its impressive pastel coloured house and tight steep cobbled streets it’s one of the most Instagrammable places in Cape Town. On our very short visit it was packed with tourists in large groups. There was also a Pro-Palestine protest ongoing with many law enforcement vehicles and officers in high profile positions. However, there’s much more to Bo-Kaap than the stunning coloured houses, like the 1790s built Auwal Mosque and the local restaurants which serve curries, roti and other Cape Malay dishes.

It’s also one of the oldest and most historic residential areas in Cape Town. I asked why the houses were painted colourfully, the answer given was its attributed to the fact that while on lease, all of the houses had to be painted white. When this rule was eventually lifted and slaves were allowed to buy the properties, all of the houses were painted bright colours by their owners as an expression of their freedom.

The Noon Gun cannon is fired daily at midday from nearby Signal Hill.

Inverdoorn Signature Day Trip Safari

Safarii LiosStandard return transfers from Cape Town are included in your day trip safari experience. Scheduled pick up times are between 0600 and 0700 the morning of your safari tour dependent on how many are in your party. We were to be joined by another three persons so looked forward to a more private safari experience.

Upon arrival, we were greeted with a welcoming selection of freshly-baked banana bread, scones, chocolate brownies, pastries, fresh fruit, and a choice of tea or coffee. Then we embarked on a guided big five (really four) safari game drive, with our guide Shareen, who drove us through Inverdoorn’s incredible wildlife in a controlled but natural habitat. Please note that some of the tracks can be extremely bumpy and dry so expect sand in the wind.

Up close we saw lions, blue wilderbeasts, buffalo, ostrich, rhinos, giraffes, elephants, onyx, zebra and of course the speedy springboks. Only the leopard was missing from the big 5 but seems to have eluded any sightings in the local area for some time

giraffes.

On return to Inverdoorn we sat in the grounds and had lunch. Prior to our departure back to Cape Town at 1500, we visited the shop which sold wildlife souvenirs, snacks, safari gear, and local crafts.

I must say that the safari itself was excellent but the 3 hour 15 minute drive each way was tiresome. Thankfully our driver Craig’s singing kept us awake as did the scenery, some of it just breathtaking.

African Elephants

 Top Rated Travel & Transport

ransportion optionsWe were very lucky to be introduced to Chadd Pretorious by Craig our ‘singing driver’ from Inverdoorn Game Reserve. How we wish we had met on day 1 of our Cape Town trip. Taxis and Ubers are numerous and available 24/7 in Cape Town however Chadd’s company, MCG Charters ranks significantly higher. Their professionalism and service delivery goes above and beyond the norm, his team offering flexible packages ranging from straightforward airport transfers to VVIP close protection.

MCG Charters is based in Kuils River, Cape Town. As Chadd says, ‘I can take you anywhere you’d like to go, at any time’. He’s even driven a prestigious client to Egypt!

Having a chat with Chadd opens your eyes as to what trips are on offer in Cape Town and the surrounding area. Options include Hout Bay, Cape of Good Hope, Boulders Beach, Chapmans Peak, Mariners Warf, Kirstenbosch Gardens however Chadd will also develop a personalised travel plan if you give him an idea of where you want to go or what attraction you want to visit. We arranged a trip to the Cape Winelands and to be honest Chadd, his local knowledge and his impeccably clean Mercedes people carrier allowed us to experience a new level of travel and left us feeling like VIPs.

I can only highly recommend Chadd and MCG Charters.

For more information, advice or bookings, Chadd and his team can be contacted on MCGCharters@gmail.com or WhatsApp App/call him on +2782 959 0024.

Nearby Winelands

Boschendal Wine Estate

Boschendal Wine EstateRecords show that this is the second oldest wine farm in South Africa. It offers picturesque views of the Groot Drakenstein Mountains along with Herbert Baker architecture. On entering through a small door in a stone wall our eyes opened up into a very impressive venue. After a short stroll about we enjoyed an exceptional Methode Cap Classic tasting (MCC – Cape Sparkling Wine) seated in the shade under a tree. The absolute highlight was the Grand Cuvee Brut, a spectacular MCC. Other tasting venues are available on site such as the Cellar Door but by reservation only.

There are also two restaurants (reservations recommended) and fabulous picnic spots beside the band stand. At the farm store you can stock up on various delectable baked goods, ready-made sandwiches, a very impressive range of cured and fresh meats, cheese, fruit, and of course Boschendal wines to enjoy in the shade outside or later at home.

There is a stress free atmosphere which can be enjoyed by family and friends, often joined by very large chickens roaming about freely under tables etc. When we return we will spend much more time at Boschendal and will consider staying in the luxury accommodation.

Wine and vineyards of cape Town

Highly recommended, particularly for its laid back and stress free atmosphere.

My favourite of the day’s vineyard visits and still have the red wines to taste. Looking forward to tasting the Black Angus!

 

 

Delaire Graff Estate

Stunning mountain views at Delaire Graff Vineyard.

This prestigious estate is the jewel of the Cape Winelands and looks stunning from the very moment you enter the grounds. The gardens are beautiful and immaculately maintained, making the drive up to the entrance very pleasant. This beauty then opens up into a spectacular estate with mountain views.We were immediately seated at a table and given an outstanding choice of wine tasting experiences which were elevated by the breathtaking setting.

Boschendal Wine Estate
Stunning mountain views at Delaire Graff Vineyard

The panoramic views provided an unforgettable backdrop to an expertly curated selection of wines. Our sommelier, Sikelela was personable and provided us with in depth knowledge about the one rose wine and three red wines we chose to taste. Throw in the delicious vegetable and olive platter and it was a small feast for the senses.

Delaire Graff is very upmarket and with its stunning views can only be highly recommended.

Fairview Wine & Cheese

Our third vineyard was thrown in as a surprise by our driver Chadd. Fairview is a vineyard & goat farm which offers paired wine & cheese tastings, it has a remarkable farm shop and I’m told it also has a mediterranean-style restaurant. It’s a charming and tranquil place. We had the pleasure of savouring some exceptionally delicious wines and quite honestly the best goat cheeses I’ve ever tasted, making the visit even more delightful. The wine tasting experience with Zita was the least impressive of the day (only because the previous two were unbeatable and staff at Fairview were looking to close up not long after we got there) but still interesting and the match to the cheese and meats was impeccable.

The grounds are pleasant with lots of shaded seating areas and goats penned just nearby. I didn’t come across any kids in our time there but I could see how Fairview would be a perfect destination for families. My only disappointment was due to our flight home we were unable to take some of the abundance of different goat cheeses home. They tasted quite delicious and certainly enhanced the wine sampling experience!

Cape Town Cuisine

Pier

Cape Town Cuisine- The PierWhat an impressive evening! At this fine dining experience, the waiting staff were as integral as the highly skilled kitchen staff. We had the most amazing 11-course tasting menu. I heard another customer call it a ‘masterful tapestry of education and experience,’ so I’m going to steal that quote!

It was by far one of the best dining experiences we have had. The waiter (our star was Warwick) will explain each dish so you can best enjoy it. All allergens can be catered for, even at short notice – gluten free, dairy free etc and for those wishing to avoid tuna! So professional, the kitchen staff simply adjusted each course as necessary and still provided a fine dining experience. Keegan expertly poached our oysters right at the table commenting on all he was doing and outlining the ingredients. They were fantastic!

It’s very difficult to pick a stand out but my favourite course was the crayfish, pork, spiced coconut and kimchi. Very tasty with a chilli kick. Towards the end Gavin brought his cheese trolley to the table. Unable to choose I sampled all 9 cheeses plus accompaniments. Again a fabulous tasting experience.

Eleven courses sounds a challenge but they are small, divine plates, plenty of time is taken over the course of the evening and you don’t leave feeling overly full. It’s all finished with a secret salt course!!

A superb selection of top wines and cocktails are on offer as are wine pairings to match your food. We opted not to have the pairing but most of the tables around us did and it looked impressive as well providing an educational element on the local vineyards. Good to see such a classy restaurant supporting local winemakers!

We ordered a glass of Colmant Brut Reserve from Franschhoek as an aperitif followed by a wonderful bottle of Groot Constantia 2021 Pinotage, both local to Cape Town. It really was one of the best experiences we have had and the tasting menu plus coffees took around two and a half hours.

By South African standards it’s certainly not cheap but from a UK perspective certainly worth the money and I’m 100% sure the cost would be significantly higher if the equivalent was on offer at home.

Can only be highly recommended and not to be missed, so go and let Warwick, Keegan, Gavin and the rest of this top team perform their magic!

Two last points, book well in advance and don’t expect too much by way of views as it’s located on a working harbour but that’s easily forgotten due to the superb food and service!

Thanks to Martin McLaren for his recommendation.

NV-80 Grill & Bar

This gem of a restaurant was recommended to us by both Jacklin Purdon and a regular visitor to Cape Town, Gillian McCrindle. It hides away on the first floor of The Point Mall Shopping Centre in Sea Point.

Despite it being a short 5 minute walk from The President Hotel, we had to ask mall security staff where it was located. It’s generally always busy and bizarrely has only two set sittings, so I suggest booking in advance.

NV-80 focuses on executing the classics very well. It won’t be a gastronomic experience, people come here for great quality steak and meat paired with a sauce and side dish. We had the taster menu with Boschendal wine pairings and it was really impressive.

We started with fresh oysters one with a natural dressing and the other Vietnamese, paired with a small glass of Boschendal brut NV.

Two large but delicious sauteed prawns followed as our second starter. These were paired with a small glass of Boschendal chardonnay pinot noir.

Our main was a flame grilled ribeye steak with pepper sauce and roast vegetables, both on the side. This was expertly paired with a large glass of Boschendal Nicolas red wine.

Dessert followed with a chocolate fondant accompanied with armagnac ice-cream and a small glass of Boschendal Vin D’Or to finish off the fantastic meal.

Would rank this very well in the best meat restaurants in Cape Town.

The Test Kitchen Fledglings

TTK Fledglings Yedst Kitchen
Kitchen Staff hard at work in TTK Fledglings

The British born chef Luke Dale Roberts, who is now based in Cape Town, has won numerous awards for his work at La Colombe. That restaurant won the Acqua Panna Best Restaurant in Africa and Middle East in 2010 and was ranked 12th in the overall San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.

At The Test Kitchen Fledgelings Roberts has focused his energy on offering opportunity to a new generation of talent. Aspiring chefs, often with zero formal training, are brought under the wing of former Fledgelings and professional chefs, and taught the basics from the kitchen to the pass. It’s a remarkable project offering employment, training and hope to young people.

All this certainly doesn’t diminish the standard of food or service. While not fine dining, the focus is on elevated cuisine with an a la carte menu (two or three courses) that runs from starters such as exceptional korean fried chicken and beef tartare through to delicious mains including lobster and pan seared linefish.

On your arrival at the restaurant, every staff member simultaneously greets each new table with a ‘welcome’ chorus!

The open kitchen creates an incredible atmosphere which is intriguing and infectious, the service is exemplary. You can essentially watch the skilled chefs in action creating your dish and follow the process through to your plate being served. Our waiter, Stanton expertly talked us through each course and described our choice of Boschendal red wine impeccably.

There is also an extensive tasting menu with wine pairing.

Located in the Old Biscuit Mill, which also houses its sister restaurants, Fledglings is slightly further out from the harbour, however security are ever present outside in the communal concourse and parking lot and take good care of you ensuring transport is easily and safely accessible to each customer.

A very busy and vibrant restaurant which provides expert on the job training to what will undoubtedly be stars of the future. The restaurant promotes that it’s ‘a place where dreams come true’ but I’d also suggest their clients’ dreams come true as well! The food was fantastic and an experience not to be missed. Highly recommended and a clear favourite of our Cape Town trip!

Thanks again for another fantastic recommendation from Martin McLaren.

Winchester Boutique Hotel

Winchester Boutique Hotel

Walking along Beach Road was a challenge in the wind and heat but this impressive boutique hotel is impossible to miss, The Winchester Hotel stands out with bold appeal on the edge of the Sea Point Promenade. This grand 1920s Cape Dutch-style icon is rivalled only by the views of Table Mountain, Lions Head and the Atlantic Ocean that surround it. It’s also known throughout Cape Town for its Sunday Brunch with live music in its internal courtyard.

As it was our final evening in Cape Town we decided to revisit the Winchester Boutique Hotel for sundown drinks and relaxed bar food. We were greeted by Soso who looked after us all evening.

Initially we sat at the bar’s outside terrace sipping a Boschendal Brut

Rose while watching the sun slip away for the day. The last few minutes of the sun is a spectacular sight and certainly a camera shot, but you only have seconds to capture it!

sunset terrace

Then as the temperature cooled we moved inside and had fabulous oysters followed by a Greek lamb plate and a spicy chicken dish. The bar has small plates on offer as well as the same menu options as the more formal restaurant and the food was excellent.

Highly recommended for the views, service and food. Thanks to Soso for making our final evening in Cape Town a very special memory! 

Cape Hilarity

Cape Town is home to the Africa’s first downhill tobogganing track. Aptly titled ‘Cool Runnings’ after the famous film about Jamaica’s first bobsled team, the track is located just 25km outside of the city centre on Carl Cronje Drive. The late actor John Candy would be very proud.

Personal Safety

Having spent 14 days in and around Cape Town you become aware of the social issues such as homelessness and street begging. Admittedly South Africa does have a reputation for crime and violence, even the South African Minster for Policing, Bheki Cele accepts there’s a big issue and says violent crime rates are “not pleasing at all”.  To be perfectly honest we saw neither crime nor violence apart from little boys stealing fruit off the back of an articulated vehicle. Be sensible in your surroundings and avoid carrying large sums of cash, don’t carry your phones or cameras in clear sight and do not leave belongings unattended, even on beaches. Avoid walking in deserted and dark places at night and take honest advice on where locals go after dusk and I’m sure you will be safe. Private taxis and Ubers are aplenty and very reasonable prices so use genuine transport from appointed taxi ranks or book online.

Private security staff (some even carrying side arms) are everywhere. The sight of them is reassuring and they will generally go out their way to help you or to provide advice. As with anywhere in the world, if you are approached for money, be polite in your refusal and walk on. Every person we came across begging simply accepted a ‘no’ and moved on. The authorities openly urge tourists not to give money to beggars as they say this discourages them from using locally provided hostels or emergency accommodation. As food portion sizes can be larger than wanted in some restaurants we simply took up the option of taking the remainder of food away and handed it to very appreciative homeless persons on our way back to the hotel.

Close

I thoroughly recommend you go and explore Cape Town and the surrounding area where a real world of wonder awaits. From endless white beaches and glittering waves to preening penguins, fluking whales and prowling great whites, there’s so much to discover in the Cape where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet.

It was our first visit to Cape Town and despite a very busy schedule while there, we still have to visit Table Mountain, Robben Island, Hout Bay, Cape of Good Hope and many more attractions – not forgetting our desire to enjoy a stay at Boschendal Vineyard.

cheers with a snorkeling white wine from Cape Town

 

We will absolutely return to explore further the city that the locals say has four seasons in one day (obviously not been to Gourock in the summer!).

With grateful thanks to Gary & Jacklin Purdon who suggested Cape Town as an incredible place to visit, also to Mark Bell and David Shannon for insight into their experiences.

We are certainly open to your next challenge!

Summary Video

Contacts

Calum Glenny - The Avid Traveller

Calum Glenny
Gourock’s ‘Avid Traveller’

More like this – The AvidTraveller.News

Associate of Rogues Guide and the Book
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Depravity of War, TravelWatchNews

Here is a short verse on The Depravity of War

“War destroys the planet- pumping greenhouse gases into our air, changing climate,  increasing global warming. It pulverizes cities, people, and all life, but they dont care. War is greedy and self-serving, caring naught for those who disagree. It does not discriminate, dropping bombs and missiles everywhere, killing hundreds to get at one. How do we stop it when all the might and power rest in the hands of those with much to gain? Perpetuating their cause, like selling lethal weapons to both sides. Profiting from ending lives, money down the drain, it is all just so insane.”

See in-depth article  http://war.RoguesHistory.com

by Author  Ian R. Clayton:

The Depravity of War is taken from “How War is Destroying our Universe,” which is part of a long article on the Hamass Isreal War. It covers media reports and original thoughts on forgiveness, understanding, and reconciliation against hate and revenge. It explores issues of hope and ways to aid the suffering.

More >>> http://war.RoguesHistory.com

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RoguesHistory

Rogues history is derived from the book Rogues In Paradise. An alternative history that includes views of everyday people, unsung heroes, Rogues, and legends. A departure from the original colonial-based historical narrative.