The i-escape blog / Nikki Tinto

By Nikki Tinto, Co-founder

As well as being i-escape Directors, Nikki and Aidan are our resident South Africa experts. They made their yearly pilgrimage to their favourite country back in October, along with their daughter, Poppy, and a fellow family of 3. Here’s how they squeezed a kid-friendly, coast-to-coast trip into 2 weeks, and why they keep returning for more.

We’ve been travelling to South Africa as a family for nearly 15 years. We go during our winter and, for us, it’s always a winner. You can escape the winter blues with a hit of vitamin D, basking in sunshine and savouring some of the best food and wine in the world at an astonishingly good value (especially with the current exchange rate). From Kruger to the Western Cape, the surroundings are breathtaking and the wildlife is world-class. Your youngsters will love it as much as you. What’s more, if travelling from the UK, you’re in a similar time zone so no inconvenient jetlag – a huge relief with kids in tow.

This time we travelled with another family during the October half term. Flying direct to Cape Town took 11 hours on an overnight flight; time is precious so we didn’t want to lose a day. We sailed through passport control (you no longer need to present birth certificates for your children), then hired our 2WD car from the airport and we were on our way.

Stop 1: Explorers Club

Our first stop was the town of Franschhoek: the wine and foodie mecca of South Africa. It’s only a 45-minute drive from the airport and surrounded by mountains and vineyards. We stayed 4 nights at Explorers Club, the brainchild of our friend Jo Sinfield. Over the last 15 years, he has curated a small collection of stylish rentals in the heart of this charming town, and we stayed in our favourite, the original 4-bedroom villa (of the same name).

Each house is decorated with character and soul and most are well equipped for families, with large, inviting living areas and spacious kitchens – just stock up with what you need from nearby Woolworth’s supermarket (the equivalent of our M&S). Staying here made the start of our trip super relaxing, with loads of space (it works well for 1-2 families), a pool, and a very reasonable price tag.

After a day or so by the pool, we took the youngsters to the nearby Motor Museum (an exceptional collection of vintage cars), and De Villiers Chocolate tasting at the Spice Route estate, but Jo can also set you up with tennis, e-biking, horse riding and other activities to enjoy all the town and mountains have to offer.  For adults, there are upmarket boutiques, galleries and innumerable vineyards (catch the Franschhoek wine tram for a day’s imbibement sans voiture).  We love Boschendal and Babylonstoren, which not only offer excellent wine tasting but also stunning organic vegetable gardens, top restaurants, farm shops and more.

This year we enjoyed spoiling spa treatments at Babylonstoren’s gorgeous new garden spa and an early evening Italian feast at their Old Bakery – platters of freshly picked veg and as much woodfired pizza as you can eat. Our teenage daughter, Poppy, loves their Scented Room where they distil their own essential oils and you can make your own body scrub and face masks.

For brunch we headed to Franschhoek’s latest foodie opening, La Motte Artisanal Bakery and Garden Café. With outdoor tables opening onto gardens and lawns and a farmyard-inspired playground, it’s perfect for families. One of our favourite lunch spots is at Rust En Vrede near Stellenbosch; this beautiful vineyard has provided the setting for some of the most memorable steaks of our lives. In the evenings we were spoilt for choice with a host of restaurants within a few minutes’ walk of Explorers Club. Perennial favourites include Epice and Protégé for their delicious tasting menus, and Yama for excellent sushi. If you have younger children, Explorers can arrange babysitting.

Houses from GBP 125 per night

Stop 2: Coot Club

We reached Coot Club, located near Hermanus on the south coast, after a spectacular 2-hour drive over the Franschhoek pass, then down past Stanford. Main roads and highways in South Africa tend to be well-maintained and traffic-free, plus they drive on the left (the same as the UK), so we always drive ourselves in the Western Cape and Garden Route and then arrange transfers to the more remote safari lodges.

This is Jo Sinfield’s latest project: a boutique nature retreat sandwiched between lagoon, mountains and sea. The last 20 minutes was along a dirt track but we didn’t need a 4WD. We stayed 3 nights in one of their stylish 3-bedroom self-catering boat houses, which worked well for our 2 small families. Wood-panelled walls, jute rugs and wood-burners create a homely feel, while vaulted ceilings and wall-to-wall sliding windows maximise the sense of space. Overlooking the lagoon and mountains beyond, the views were spectacular and the birdlife abundant.

There was heaps of outdoor fun for the kids; watersports included sailing, kayaking and paddleboarding, while landlubbers enjoyed quad biking, nature walks and jeep excursions to deserted beaches, and everyone revelled in whale watching in the bay. Family picnics and cricket on the beach must have created some magical childhood memories.

The Clubhouse, located in the Spookhuis, is the on-site social hub with a relaxed bar, restaurant and games room. Upstairs, the kids played ping pong and table footie, while downstairs, a chatty local pianist played jazzy melodies. Meals were super tasty and served family-style with something for everyone. It was here, with an English-South African crowd, that we agonised through the Rugby World Cup semi-final.

Cottages from GBP 144 per night

Stop 3: More Quarters

The drive from Coot Club to Cape Town took us just over 2 hours. We wanted to spend a few days here before heading east for some safari action so we stayed at More Quarters, just off trendy Kloof Street. These luxe self-catering apartments (sleeping 2-8) also come with the services of a hotel concierge, restaurant, room service and spa, so you get the best of both worlds.

We felt very safe here, located in a row of townhouses in a closed-off street with plenty of parking, while only being a short walk from some of the city’s hippest restaurants, cafes and boutiques. Some of our favourites include Thali Cape Town, ëlgr and Black Sheep, and for the kids, pizza making at Café Paradiso.

The apartments are quite pricey but we loved all the little extras – a fab breakfast spread, afternoon tea and early evening aperitifs – plus if i-escape guests combine it with one of the More Collection safaris, you can often get a good deal. It made for a great base for our family: their daily shuttle service can take you down to the V&A Waterfront for more retail or aquarium action. In the past, we’ve taken the cable car up Table Mountain, the boat to Robben Island, and driven to see the penguins at Boulders Bay.

The team here can arrange all these things for you as well as anything you may need for younger kids (high chairs, cots, babysitting etc). When our daughter was younger, she adored the Scratch Patch, a gemstone factory where you can collect semi-precious stones in the garden. This time our highlight was stumbling across a hidden ceramics studio in the colourful Bo-Kaap quarter where we marvelled at the creativity of local artists.

Apartments from GBP 299 per night

Stop 4: Samara

And so to our safari adventure at Samara Karoo Reserve. We ditched our hire car at Cape Town airport, then took a 1.5-hour internal flight to Port Elizabeth, where we were met by our driver and a luxury people carrier (arranged by Samara) that took us north towards Graaff Reinet. The 3-hour drive flew by with mostly straight roads cutting through the Great Karoo – an impressive landscape of vast semi-arid plains and mountains.

Samara is a large malaria-free private reserve that we first visited 8 years ago. We love it because of the incredible landscapes and outrageous far-reaching views. You can see the Big 5 without the crowds and, thanks to their conservation work, it’s also one of the best places in South Africa to spot cheetahs in the wild. On our last visit, we tracked rhino on foot, while this time we managed to walk up to a female cheetah with her cubs tucking into a fresh kill, and we caught sight of the elusive aardvark. Truly once-in-a-lifetime stuff.

Previously we stayed at the Samara Lodge, but this time we booked The Manor, their luxury, fully staffed house which is ideal for a group of up to 8.  It certainly has the ‘wow’ factor with 4 big and beautiful bedrooms, a cool pool and expansive living space, plus a watering hole where animals stop by. We were with our friends and their 15-year-old who loved all the space, and we were utterly spoilt by the talented chef, wonderful housekeeper and expert guides.

Days started early with a private sunrise game drive lasting 2-3 hours, followed by chill-out time by the pool and delicious meals back at the house. Sundowners on evening game drives were brilliant, and when you stay 3 nights or more, they lay on a surprise dinner in the bush as well as a picnic spread at the top of the mountain. It was breathtaking and one of our all-time Africa highlights.

Rooms from GBP 942 per night, including all meals and game drives

If you’re feeling inspired by Nikki’s trip and would like help planning your own South African adventure, feel free to get in touch with us or check out our tailormade tours