What do Princess Diís brother, Margaret Thather's son, Madonna, and Cher have in common? They either have or else are looking for homes in Cape Town! During our stay, it became very easy to see the great attraction of the Cape Town region the vibrancy of its people, the grandeur of its scenery, and the wondrous blend of old and new environments. However, we never did spot Madonna or Cher!
This was our first trip to Cape Town, and I dealt in advance with the South African Tourist Board. Besides acquiring helpful suggestions and literature, it led to very fortuitous in-country arrangements. However, there was one negative to our trip and I bear responsibility. Thinking that a "downtown" hotel would be more convenient, I personally chose the the 5-star rated Cape Sun Inter-Continental Hotel which was supposed to be fully accessible. Unfortunately, it was a poor choice. Without dwelling at length, suffice to say that most of the public facilities of the Cape Sun Inter-Continental Hotel are inaccessible, and this includes the shopping arcade. I provided a long list of suggested improvements to the hotels management and received in return a practiced smile.
In retrospect, the place to have stayed was at the fantastic Victoria & Waterfront. My first choice would have been the Victoria & Alfred Hotel (an outstanding accessible room, so book it early) followed by the Breakwater Lodge, The Portswood, and the City Lodge. The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is a grand place, and its many shops, galleries, museums, restaurants, pubs, taverns, and theaters are open late. It is still a working waterfront and the variety of ships and boats and the supporting services add a distinct nautical flavor. More facilities are planned including a marina, a Sun International Hotel (opening in 1997), and other retail establishments. This is a must place to visit. Add in the excellent Two Ocean Aquarium and you can easily spend two full days of browsing, shopping, eating, and just plain enjoy
Among the places we were particularly anxious to visit were Table Mountain, the wine region, and Cape Point. Table Mountain rises 3,000 feet above sea level and it is Cape Town's most famous backdrop and national landmark. A splendid sight was watching the white clouds gather about tie flat summit and come tumbling down the steep flanks. Capetonians call this the 'table cloth." A cable car travels to the summit where there is a restaurant and souvenir shop. Assured that the cable car was accessible, we had made advance reservations (a wise suggestion). Getting on and off is a doable arrangement. However, there are plans to build a new cable station and acquire enlarged cable cars - and full accessibility is one of the major objectives.
California's wine country has always been one of our favorites, and now we add South Africa's Cape, Winelands with its 23 wine estates and 5 cooperative cellars. About an hour's drive on excellent roads from Cape Town, is marked by incomparable scenery; vineyards, embraced and forests, stretch from one horizon to the other. Gracious Cape Dutch homesteads harmoniously dot the landscape add a rich historical and architectural tradition. At the town of Somerset West we visited the vineyard of Vergelegen, the magnificent old homestead and farm built in 1700. Easily accessible, we wandered about the famous rose gardens and relaxed under the spectacular 300 year old camphor trees. We enjoyed sampling the delightful wines - and, yes, we made a purchase. Two impressive hotels we previewed in Somerset West were the Lord Charles Hotel and the Erinvale Estate Hotel. Although a month too late, we were told that the bustling town features a fantastic Christmas light display. leaving Summerset West we set off along the designated Wine Route for the historic town of Stellenbosch. However, lunch time was upon us, and we stopped at the 300-year old wine farm, Spier. An amazing, fully accessible place! Recently completed was a 1,000-seat open air amphitheater at which Pavarotti has performed. There is also a new 'Conference & Festival Centre," rose garden gift shop, an old manor house, and, of course, the "Spier Wine Cellar." Of the three restaurants to choose from, we settled for Cafe Spier, and enjoyed a most delicious lunch. Another facility starting construction at Spier is a 250-room hotel!
A 10-minute drive and we arrived at Stellenbosch, the heart of the wine country and South Africa's second oldest town (after Cape Town). While the tourist brochure informs that "Stellenbosch can be ideally discovered on foot," getting about on a wheelchair can be challenging, both for its streets and many of its shops. Comforting ourselves largely to a "windshield" tour, we cruised down Dorp Street which contains one of the longest rows of old buildings still surviving in the country, we drove around the village green ("The Braak") with a number of handsome Cape Dutch houses in the vicinity and before heading back to Cape Town we journeyed through the grounds of the University of Stellenbosch.
"Spectacular" is the only word to describe the drive out to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve and to the lighthouse at Cape Point - which the tourist literature proclaims to be the area where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. At Cape Point we lunched at the Two Oceans Restaurant, a very accessible facility with quite enjoyable food. For the unwary person eating outdoors, there's a risk of a baboon suddenly dashing out of the rocky brush and go off with your lunch! There are buses to take you up to the lighthouse, but these will soon be replaced by a tram railway and it was pleasing to observe the accessible features that are being incorporated. Stare seaward and you can conjure up the image from five centuries ago of a storm-tossed Portuguese sailing vessel carrying Bartholomew Dias and his scurvy-infected crew - the first Europeans to round the southern end of Africa.
Yet another place we enjoyed was Sea Point, a cosmopolitan suburb with its high rise apartment buildings and seaside promenade. In many ways it reminded me of an early Miami Beach! Another delightful stop was at the Kirstenbosch Gardens one of the worlds most famous botanical gardens. The gardens are fully accessible and there is even a special "touch and smell" area for the visually impaired visitors.
Our good fortune was to have "pre-discovered" Titch Travel in Cape Town. Certainly Evette Johnson, the firms managing director, has a special sensitivity concerning people with disabilities. The tour itinerary she prepared for us had been checked in advance so we would have little if any surprises. Titch Travel has developed a series of tours for people either physically disabled or visually impaired. Obviously, Cape Town is a phenomenal place and you can be sure, we look forward to a return visit.
One final note, Cape Town is enjoying a surge m tourism and the relatively small airport can be somewhat chaotic. Also, be cautioned that non U.S. flag airlines can impose restrictions on the number of disabled passengers on each flight. When both making your reservations and when reconfirming make sure the airline is aware of your particular situation. In some cases you may be required to complete a form stating your condition and requirements.
For more information, contact the following:
South African Tourist Board, 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110. Telephone (800) 822-5368
Titch Travel, Attn: Evette Johnson, 26 Station Road, Rondebosch 7700, Cape Town, South Africa. Telephone: (021) 689-4151
This newsletter comes out six times a year and is devoted solely to travel. The author Beverly Nelson travels extensively and writes about her experiences as well as offering travel tips.
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