Cape Town South Africa
by Deborah Davis
Our Journey from Florida to Cape Town started In Johannesburg. Due to an extremely long flight with a required de-boarding and refueling in Dakar, I needed to stretch out and lie down and take a hot bath! The perfect place to do this ended up being the Hotel Inter-Continental Hotel, located right within the Joburg Airport. All we had to do was collect our bags and walk across the airport road to this elegant, modern and upscale hotel for a much needed recharge. A wonderful dinner in the hip dining room, and a beautiful accessible room made this a great start to my introduction to SA!
Early the next morning, we took a flight to Port Elizabeth, a good kick off point for the Scenic Garden Route drive to Cape Town. The Garden Route drive is nothing less than an exceptional experience that provides the window to why South Africa is considered one of the most beautiful countries in the world. It is approximately 8 hours from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town, and every mile is photo worthy. So get you camera ready, you will want to take nonstop pictures along the way!
First stop is for lunch in Jeffrey’s Bay. This Beach is popular with surfers and with a strong push up a steep hill; I was able to dine at the “Kitchen Window” which gave me my first SA dolphin sighting!
We decide to break up the full day drive with a stop in the quaint coastal town of Knysna along the famous “Garden Route” to get to Cape Town. The lovely Protea Hotel had an accessible room, yet unfortunately the view was not of the amazing water views, but down to the parking lot. This happens often when it comes to accessible rooms, as they tend to be placed in the least attractive locations on a property. We really need to advocate trying to change this!
From Knysna, we had only 4 more hours along garden route to Cape Town with more outstretched lands to take in, and farms that make you understand why the meat and food taste so good! All natural and no chemicals, just grass feed, free range, local and healthy!
We arrive in Cape Town! While the original hotel we had booked, The Ambassador Hotel, had one of the most amazing cliff top views directly down onto the ocean and rocks below from the hip restaurant, the actual designated handicapped room was across a busy street from the main hotel. I just could not bring myself to accept the possibility of being run over while crossing the road in a wheelchair. After it took me a 22 hour plane trip from Florida, a short flight from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth and an 8 hour drive to get here, I had no intention of staying anywhere that I did not feel completely comfortable or safe.
So the Hotel referred us to a partner Hotel that they knew had an accessible room available nearby. “Wonderful!” I thought until I learned the option came with a price tag: R6000 rand a night (that was $600 US at the time)! “Ok I said, I don’t care, it is one night, it is the only accessible room available (at very short notice and that was nearby, in town). I am ready to settle in, let’s go!
The Victoria and Alfred Hotel: Our Unplanned but Fortunate Alternate Oasis
This Hotel ended up being the piece de la resistance of the trip. The view, I believe should hold a place on the list of “The Best Hotel Views in the World”. The "handicapped accessible” room's view is revealed via two outward opening large bay windows looking down directly onto the harbour and waterfront and then up to the most breathtaking Table Mountain in the distance.
"Welcome to the Victoria and Alfred Hotel Madame"! We found a disabled parking spot right in front (used my FL handicapped tag), and a bellman came to greet us at our car and brought up luggage. A small elevator right off the lobby took us up to the 2nd floor of this 3 story former shipping warehouse built in 1904, and converted in 1990 to this luxury hotel. It is named in honour of the Queen of England and her son, Prince Alfred
“This landmark hotel is perfectly situated in the heart of the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront and offers spectacular views of the working harbour and Table Mountain. Walk in the utmost safety to some of the finest retail outlets from designer stores to restaurants, craft markets, cinemas, boat cruises to Robben Island and entertainment in the amphitheater.”
Double wide hallways lead to the extra-large rooms that are best described as “elegant contemporary”. The windows beckon you and open outwardly with the white billowing sheers giving way to the sights, sounds, and views that make this room, and this experience worth the splurge!
If you want a shower, then the accessible room has one with a small pull down wooden slate bench seat, or if you want to soak, a large tub with grab bars. The bathroom toilet is a good height for transfers, and has grab bars, but there is a folding door track that is a little awkward to go over and position yourself next to toilet-but it is definitely doable!
The rate comes with breakfast and champagne mimosas you can refill yourself from chilled Moet and Chandon bottles in a large ornate silver basin…nice touch! Sumptuous buffet, and made to order a la carte eggs, bacon etc. will leave you feeling like you definitely got your money’s worth, and a nice relaxed start to the day . There is outdoor and indoor patio seating, with small chandeliers over tables and bright fresh flowers in the vases. To access the dining room via wheelchair, you need to go outside the front entry off the elevator and down the outside ramp toward the waterfront and either stay on the outside and dine along the waterfront, or enter a door on the same level to sit inside the enclosed sun room.
The location on the waterfront harbor is perfect for just strolling around and exploring the smaller boutique shops featuring local artisans, visiting the other large and glamorous hotel properties located near (but not directly on, like the V&A) the waterfront, and taking in the numerous authentic African street performances that take place throughout the large quayside complex. You can walk to the Two Seas Aquarium, The Victoria Wharf shopping complex, a folk art complex, Nobel Square (Peace prize laureates Statues in bronze) or the many restaurants to choose from. I suggest you do not skip going to the top rated Belgian Den Anker restaurant and have the pot of beer infused mussels, salmon plate, French fries (called “pomme frites” and served with mustard mayonnaise instead of ketchup-which, if you must have, you ask for “tomato sauce”) and Belgium chocolate sundae! TO DIE FOR!!!! Here is a link to their Terrace menu: http://www.denanker.co.za/Terrace_Menu_Den_Anker.pdf
After the waterfront, the real must see attraction is the big beauty that makes up your window, the glorious Table Mountain. A fully accessible, exciting lift takes you up, up and away, all the way to the very top for a walk around the mountain’s flat top surface pathways. The views from that 3567 ft. (1087 meters) height are what can usually only be described by pilots and mountain climbers. Awesome!
After Table Mountain, continue up to Stellenbosch and stay the night at one of the accessible resorts there, spending at least a day taking a wine tasting tour of the many fully accessible wineries in the region. The region puts out a guide book that will highlight those wineries that are accessible: http://www.cadek.co.za/swr/. Breathtaking beauty, fresh and sumptuous delicacies on outdoor balconies, and charming, elegant and visually stunning winery views are a treat to all the senses. This wine region, which is said to be the start of the longest wine route in the world, is a must not miss minimum one day and overnight excursion from Cape Town.