Travel notebook: South Africa, from humanity year zero till now

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Travel notebook: South Africa, from humanity year zero till now

Still unknown to many tourists, South Africa unveils many charms to seduce you. Its complex past slowly gives way to a world of culture, the keystone of a promising future.

Air France Travel Guide takes you to the heart of the southernmost land of the African continent. Land in Johannesburg to explore the metropolis of the Gauteng province, then move away from its touristic bustle, either into the air or in a return to the roots of humanity. Before visiting South Africa's capital city Pretoria, explore the Kruger National Park and get close to the Big Five you've always dreamt of. Further south, you find yourself in Cape Town, steep-sided between land and sea. Relive Nelson Mandela's dark hours in Robben Island and climb up Table Mountain. Finally, give yourself some time to wander the city streets before roaming the countryside, looking for the wine routes. South Africa is all that and even more, a mix that leaves a lasting impression.


Travel notebook: South Africa, from humanity year zero till now

Day 1: Johannesburg, the artistic one

As a city of culture, Johannesburg is riddled with artists paying tribute to the country's turbulent history. Late morning, the David Krut Art Resource gallery is a perfect place to start your South African journey. Thus, you'll be aware of the importance of art in the city: discover contemporary artists, and sometimes meet them in person as many come and use the experimental studio that is provided by the gallery.
The Kim Sacks gallery is just as captivating, though in another genre: it gathers magnificent pieces of African Art, like ceramics, wooden sculptures and pearl jewellery that is available to buy. In so doing, you contribute to protect an endangered civilisation.

David Krut Art Resource
140 Jan Smuts Avenue
Johannesburg 2193
+27 (0)11 880 5648

Kim Sacks Gallery
153 Jan Smuts Avenue
Johannesburg 2193
+27 (0)11 447 5804

Where to eat?
Already missing home? Then head to Browns for dinner. In this gathering spot for expats, you'll find the four corners of the earth in your plate. Above all, you'll discover a truly exceptional wine and cheese list, impressive to the point of making some French restaurant owners fairly envious. Take a seat on the terrace, order wild mushroom lasagne and make up your own cheese and wine pairing.

Browns of Rivonia
21 Wessels Road
Johannesburg 2128
+27 (0)11 803 7533

Where to sleep?
Spend time in Gandhi's shoes in this B&B that offers seven rooms. Completely renovated, Satyagraha House retained its serene atmosphere through pared-down decoration. It is actually during the year he spent there that Gandhi developed his passive resistance concept, “Satyagraha” in Sanskrit.

Satyagraha House
15 Pine Road
Johannesburg 2192
+27 (0)11 485 5928


Travel notebook: South Africa, from humanity year zero till now

Day 2: a trip around Johannesburg

Enjoying breathtaking views onto South African nature is for early birds! A one-hour drive from Johannesburg, Bill Harrop's hot-air balloons take off at 5:30 a.m. One thing is sure: you won't miss these few sleeping hours, as the view from the sky is so magnificent it will leave you a lifelong memory of country.
One hour later, your feet are firmly back on the ground. After a generous breakfast served two steps away from the balloon, use the opportunity to enjoy another adventure, this time in the past. 30 miles from your location, the Cradle of Humankind centre reveals the origins of this vast region where numerous fossils have been retrieved. You will discover underground tunnels and learn about current excavations. Will you dare go back in time and mingle with our prehistoric cousins?

Bill Harrop's “Original” Balloon
R 560
Skeerpoort 2146
+27 (0)11 705 3201

The Cradle of Humankind
+27 (0)11 668 3200


Travel notebook: South Africa, from humanity year zero till now

Days 3 and 4: head East

After some well-deserved rest, hit the road to the Easternmost region of the country. By plane or by car, cross the 250 miles that separate the city from one of the world's most beautiful nature reserves. Kruger National Park is famous for the Big Five: meet lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes and rhinos. Get on board for an extraordinary safari, during which you'll also see giraffes, hyenas and free-roaming hippopotamuses. Sleep amid nature in the Singita Boulders Lodge before going back to Pretoria in the morning.
The capital is an essential part of your journey that will give you better understanding of South Africa's political history. Make the best of the day and visit Union Building, where Nelson Mandela delivered his inaugural address, as well as the Voortrekker Monument and Paul Kruger's house and park.

Where to eat?
With brick walls and homemade furniture, this large dining room feels just like a farm. Sustainability-oriented chef Adriaan Maree knows quite a lot about cooking, using fresh produce from the restaurant's own garden. He will serve you his tasting menu, changed on a regular basis and for which nothing is left to chance. Crayfish, mussels, sea bass and antelope compose a perfectly paced menu, followed by chocolate bites for dessert.

Fermier Restaurant
Karoo Yard
Corner of Albeth and Lynnwood Road
141 Lynnwood Road
The Willows
+27 (0)76 072 5261

Where to sleep?
Built on stilts, the 12 rooms of the Singita Boulders Lodge is a perfect retreat from the rest of the world. The only guests are you and local elephants that come and drink at the nearby water source. Discover a perfect mix of luxury and safari spirit, right at the entrance of the Kruger National Park. Get ready for a delightful night ahead of you.

Singita Boulders Lodge
Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve
Hazyview 1242
+27 (0)13 735 9800


Travel notebook: South Africa, from humanity year zero till now

Days 5 and 6: Cape Town and its complex history

Just like its parent city Johannesburg, Cape Town has opened to the rest of the world through art and culture. It still bears traces of a complex past, like Robben Island, a few miles from the harbour. It is where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned from 1964 to 1982, in a 4 sqm cell.
Back on dry land, you can set out to climb up Table Mountain, on top of which you'll enjoy unobstructed views onto the city on one side, and onto the ocean on the other. You can either use a cable car or your feet to do so.
Cape Town also offers numerous shops and cultural outings, with museums and galleries, as well as beautiful and green walkways.

Robben Island Museum
Private Bag Robben Island
7400 Cape Town
+27 (0)21 413 4200

Where to eat?
Get ready to leave town for a while and head to Camps Bay. The Paranga Restaurant offers a view as striking as your upcoming diner. On the menu, great seafood and fish, such as grilled kingklip and seafood platters.

Shop No. 1
The Promenade
Victoria Road
8040 Camps Bay
+27 (0)21 438 0404

Where to sleep?
As soon as you enter this 18th century hotel located in the centre of Cape Town, you'll be thrown back in time. Each room is unique and decorated in the style of particular periods. Wooden floors creak like in old houses, and this is only one of the many nostalgic charms of the Cape Heritage Hotel.

Cape Heritage Hotel
90 Bree Street
8000 Cape Town
+27 (0)21 424 4646


Travel notebook: South Africa, from humanity year zero till now

Day 7: the wine routes

For your last day in South Africa, follow the wine routes, known for producing great quality wine and for its superb estates of typical Cape Dutch architecture.
Imported by the French at the end of the 17th century, vine stocks have formed what today really looks like French countryside. In the middle of the triangle formed by Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek, the wine valleys amazingly spread in front of your eyes. From these grapes, delicious Chenin Blanc, Malbec and Cabernet will soon be produced. The vineyards can be visited by foot or on a bike, allowing you to stop, visit and taste at will.
There is little doubt that, when boarding your plane back home, you'll reminisce on all these unforgettable memories. Concentrating marine, mountainous and arid landscapes, natural habitat of wild animals and fertile ground of large metropolis and small, timeless, villages alike, South Africa well deserve its “rainbow country” nickname.


Discover our travel guides for Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa