If you haven't seen our latest Family Brochure yet, I'd like to think it's the best we've ever produced, and that's including two that won the illustrious Guardian/Observer Best Brochure of the Year award. The reason? We've meticulously laid out the best family travel destinations (some classics, some supercool original ones), as well as the reasons why to visit and - most crucially - what ages the children should be to get the most out of each place.
My own family's well-thumbed copy has become something of a travel bible, with the (ever increasingly spoilt rotten) children plotting our next holidays like tiny tour operators. But now I've got a bit of a problem; you see, our recent holiday to South Africa might be impossible to better.
It would take a longer blog than the most attentive attention span to go into the intricate details of the trip, but suffice to say that an Easter holiday fortnight in South Africa's Western Cape, with added safari in the malaria-free Waterberg or Madikwe regions further north, is almost dictionary definition perfect family fun.
It All Started in Cape Town...
…which might be an 11-hour flight away, but when those flights are overnight and there's minimal time difference (one hour) the children should - emphasis on should - hit the ground running in one of the most fabulous cities on earth. We stayed in the venerable Belmond Mount Nelson (referred to endlessly by the children as the 'Nelson Mandela') which may be Cape Town's grande dame hotel, but which also does families superbly. There's an excellent family wing with interconnecting rooms, a lovely pool and acres of gardens where the children climbed trees, made dens and carved their initials alongside those of countless others on the century-old banyan tree.
The hotel is also the perfect base from which to explore the city and wider Cape Peninsula, and over the next couple of days we took the revolving cable car up Table Mountain for gob-smacking views of the city below and sightings of cute fluffy dassies (like guinea pigs) and visited the extraordinary verdant Kirstenbosch Gardens, complete with Boomslang treetop canopy walkway (named after a local tree dwelling snake for added excitement), playgrounds and lifestyles dinosaur sculptures. The highlight was exploring the wild and woolly Cape Peninsula on a guided day in an AUV (Adventure Utility Vehicle) loaded with surfboards, binoculars, stand up paddle boards and wetsuits. The children surfed and boogie boarded on perfect beginners' waves in Muizenburg, spotted ostriches and baboons in the National Park, took selfies with basking sea lions in Kalk Bay and watched penguins surfing in Boulders Bay, all in one exhilarating day. There was still time to eat out, and we received several excellent recommendations from our clued-up local Concierge Zola, who then booked us tables at the recommended restaurants.
In the blink of an eye our time in Cape Town was over, and we picked up a hire car (or hire minibus, more correctly), destination the legendary Winelands, via lunch at lovely Babylonstoren, where the children met and petted the resident donkeys, geese and tortoises. The Winelands have - until recently - been the preserve of couples keen on sampling some of South Africa's fine, fine wines, but now a series of imaginative initiatives mean that parents can take their progeny to the region entirely guilt-free, safe in the knowledge that they'll enjoy the place every bit as much as their parents. We packed in wine tastings (while the sprogs sampled different flavoured ice teas); explored a spooky cobweb filled wine cellar (complete with ghost stories) and then visited a Farm Sanctuary where one of the rescue pigs has become a celebrated artist. Named, naturally, Pigcasso, she grips a paint brush between her teeth and knocks out abstract masterpieces that go for several thousand Rand a pop, helping to supplement the farm's charitable status.
Franschhoek Town, the epicurean epicentre of The Winelands, is also a fun family place to hang out, with great boutique shops, a playground and a frozen yogurt store the children quickly became obsessed with. There are also plenty of beautiful (and easy) walking trails in the surrounding hills that are very kid-friendly, with more chances to see baboons. Franschhoek isn't long on family-friendly hotels (yet) but we stayed in one of the private cottages at La Cle des Montagnes, a cluster of houses with their own pools and charming staff. It's a nice change from a hotel stay and the children loved having their own pool and having a braii (South African barbecue) expert on hand to show Dad how it's done properly.
Part 2 coming soon. If you want help booking the perfect family holiday to South Africa, then feel free to contact us.