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  • Writer's pictureSamantha Sendor

Wilderness and Winelands in South Africa

Prior to October 2019, there were two surprising facts about me. The first, I'd not yet been to South Africa (but was dying to!), and had never utilized a travel agent. I feel funny using the term "travel agent"... in my mind, this summons a vision of a small office in a strip mall, detailed with stock photo travel posters plastered to the walls, and desks attended by operators typing on oversized and outdated desktop computers. In the millennial age of internet bookings and travel discussion forums, it was easy to think this industry would quickly fall by the wayside. Perhaps it's the imagery surrounding the idea of the "travel agent" that did, or the very term itself. Either way, after making my way across six continents, I got schooled a bit.

I'll say this- in customizing my itinerary for my journey to South Africa with Alluring Africa, a US-based team of luxury travel experts specific to destinations in Africa, I got schooled a bit. I wouldn't call them agents... they're more like African travel dream curators. Concentrating on one continent and one continent only- Africa- they are masters of their profession. They know the best of the best-- what's worth seeing, experience, and exactly how to do it right. Why haven't I been doing it this way all along?

In working with Alluring Africa, I felt seen and heard. They listened to what I was hoping to experience and achieve in my journey, and planned accordingly with precision. Now, I've been on many trips in my lifetime, and have seen many itineraries, but never in my life have I seen it done like this. It's like they tapped into my most organized travel goals, and wrapped it in a pretty, seamless package. A few days prior to my departure for Johannesburg, a beautifully personalized 5x7" companion spiral bound itinerary and travel handbook arrived in the post. Inside there was every detail about my journey laid out for me (down to the minutes it would take to transfer between activities), in addition to A-Z info about traveling in Africa, answering any and every question I could possibly have about anything, ever. Yet still, upon its arrival, I shared an in-depth call with my amazing contact and team member at Alluring Africa, so we could address anything on my mind, and I could gain invaluable insights that would allow me to enjoy this trip to the absolute fullest.

Following a comfortable flight from NYC to Johannesburg with South African Airways, I had a seamless transition to Port Elizabeth en route to my first safari accommodations at Shamwari Eagles Crag Private Game Reserve. Alluring Africa had arranged for contacts on the ground too quickly move me through immigration and customs, so all I had to do was enjoy myself in the wild. The moment I pulled up to Shamwari, a family of elephants crossed the road, and I instantly knew this was going to be an unforgettable excursion. While I'd been on safari before in Uganda, the next three days were absolutely eye opening. On a massive private reserve, in the most exquisite horizon I could dream up, I'd had encounters with elephants, giraffes, cheetahs, lions, zebras, rhinos (including the rarely spotted black rhino!), and so much more. The dedicated and knowledgable rangers made the experience one-of-a-kind, and quite simply- I never wanted it to end. Morning and evening game drives afforded me incredible photographic opportunities on a game vehicle thoughtfully equipped with blankets, water, and anything else I could need to keep me cozy in my bewitched state of awe. The accommodations were as luxury as it gets... in a private lodge bigger than my apartment. An absolute paradise offering utmost privacy and romance, fully equipped with a plush oversized bed, tranquil living room area, enviable bath and vanity space, and my very own outdoor terrace with a dipping pool. The food, wine, spa, hospitality... absolutely top notch. Imagine the most perfect luxury safari experience you can dream up, and that's Shamwari. I know Kruger National Park is the largest of its kind in South Africa, and probably the most popular for tourists, but the Eastern Cape is truly a gem. Another unexpected perk? The region is completely malaria-free, and if you've known me for five seconds, you know I cannot stand those pesky illness ridden mosquitos. 

Three days in the wild, I won't say I was quite ready to leave, but I was eager to get another taste of South Africa among the winelands. Off to Cape Town, I explored this wondrous city before making my way to Cape Winelands of Franschooek. Two nights at La Clé des Montagnes, and I was immediately immersed in the tranquility and beauty of this spectacular region that is home to some oof the world's finest wines. Essentially with a fully staffed villa to call my own, this distinctive and dreamy estate on the vineyards is as picturesque as it is delectable. After indulging myself in local wine tastings, artfully prepared cuisine prepared by renowned chefs, and just the perfect amount of downtime to absorb the elements that surrounded me, I'd come to the executive decision that this is where I would like to retire to someday. The beauty at La Clé was matched only by its comfort and hospitality. It's like the team has made it their personal mission to capture one's best self by spoiling them rotten.

On to Delaire Graff, my only regret is that I didn't have more time to spend here. And by more time, I mean I want to live at Delaire Graff. If the Graff name strikes a chord of familiarity, it is probably because of its prominent name in the diamond world, and let me tell you- this place is a most precious gem. Located in the beautiful setting of Stellenbosch, Delaire Graff is like a Bob Ross painting come to life. Located on its own mount of vineyards, producing their very own distinguished wine, it is home to Indochine (a culinary destination in its own right), and quite possibly the most impressive accommodations I have ever been fortunate enough to experience. My lodge was stylish, modern, and a work of art at every turn. If it gives you any indication of the type of lodging they do here... I had a smart toilet, you guys. Upon arrival, I was soon swept away by the discovery and luxury of the grounds, and pampered with artisan delights, a massive fragrant bouquet, and spectacular bubbly.

Back in Cape Town, I had the opportunity to explore what was certain to be a highlight of my trip at Ellerman House. Everyone I had spoken to from New York to South Africa oohed and aahed this place, indicating I was in for a real treat. This uber-sophisticated, exclusive, and celebrated boutique hotel with unparalleled views of the coast is easily mistakably for a fine art gallery. Being a guest at Ellerman House affords one the enviable opportunity to explore its private art collection, rivaling a trip to any famous art museum I've ever been to (and being a New Yorker, that's saying a lot). The setting of the hotel is quaint yet upper crust, befitting of a proper holiday for the royal family. 

My final destination in South Africa was at Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge located at Kruger National Park, concluding my trip with another prized safari in total style. Upon my arrival to Skukuza Airport, which fronts more like a luxury tiki lodge in the wild than the actual airport that it is, my ranger had indicated that the property will sneak up on us, and I had no idea what that meant. He was right though; Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge is like this magical place that James Bond would hide out. It has all the luxury and splendors one could ever want, and it appears virtually out of thin air. Having recently undergone a massive renovation, my lodge was absolutely unreal in every sense, beautifully appointed with unique fixtures and amenities, and surrounded by wildlife. At times, families of warthogs roamed about the property, and I stared out to them with anticipation, wondering if they too would enjoy my dipping pool the way I had. Given the vast population of leopards on the grounds, it wasn't long before I'd have my first sighting. A very different terrain and perspective from Shamwari on the Eastern Cape, but every bit as beautiful, it would be impossible to decide which is better. It's one of those places where experiencing both is an absolute must. Once again, the South Africans got together and conspired to plump me up with their incredible cuisine... it's safe to say I ate like kings and queens (I say both, because that's how much I ate).

There is just too much to share about my absolutely incredible time in South Africa- the highlights cannot possibly do it justice! For a more comprehensive capture of this journey, be sure to check out the 2020 Sophisticated Weddings​. I am absolutely certain you'll be ringing Alluring Africa to design this once in a lifetime experience in no time!




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