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Tales of two cities

Published: 02/06/2012 - Filed under: Home » Archive » 2012 » June 2012 » Destinations »

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South Africa is a half-million square mile nation that occupies the southern tip of the African continent. It’s bounded on its western coast by the Atlantic Ocean and on the east by the Indian Ocean. Along these coastal regions, two of the country’s most populous and popular cities – Durban in the northeast and Cape Town in the southwest – have long been desirable destinations for both business and leisure travelers.

Each urban area enjoys a mix of economic activities, including import/export businesses (Durban is Africa’s busiest container shipping port), agriculture (Cape Town’s wine region is world renowned, and deservedly so), manufacturing, service industries and, naturally, tourism. As a consequence, scores of hotels, B&Bs, and vacation rentals dot the beaches, harbors and city centers of these coastal hotspots. Herewith a small sampling – a mere half-dozen – to give you a taste of the hospitality on offer, the likes of which one can find in abundance in both these South African ports of call.


With a population of 3.5 million, Durban is the largest city on the eastern coast of Africa. Its beaches, casino and now-iconic arched Moses Mabhida Stadium (built for the 2010 World Cup), are all popular destinations for both domestic vacationers from bustling Johannesburg, some 300 miles inland, and international travelers. Durban is also the gateway to nearby nature reserves, national parks, and the historic sites of Zululand and the Drakensberg.

Along the so-called Golden Mile, which stretches up the North Beach from the city center, high-rise hotels hover over the ocean front, offering grand views and a variety of price ranges and amenities. Luxury properties, boutiques and familiar chain names are all to be found around Durban. 

Southern Sun Elangeni Hotel

Among the dozens of properties on Durban’s Golden Mile, Tsogo Sun Hotel Group’s Southern Sun Elangeni is one of the stand-outs, due to its clean contemporary design and high caliber service. The hotel sits across the street from the beach, separated from the Indian Ocean by only a wide swath of sand and an amazing open air public plaza and seaside esplanade.

The Elangeni is a convenient (and cheap) cab ride from the Durban city center, the International Conference Center, and the recently revamped Durban Point Waterfront, which features the uShaka Marine World, Africa’s largest marine theme park.

All of the Elangeni’s 449 rooms have some kind of ocean view. They’re large and well-appointed, with spacious bathrooms, high-speed WiFi (for a fee), large screen TVs, and laptop-size safes. Three on-premise restaurants cover the waterfront, including Japanese and Indian cuisine and the Lingela Restaurant, which offers an eclectic mix of regional and international fare. Rounding out the amenities are two pools, a spa, and nine meetings venues that can accommodate up to 500 guests.

63 Snell Parade, Durban, South Africa 4001 Tel: +27 31 362 1300 Visit 

Hilton Hotel Durban

If a little less beach-ness and a little more business is your calling in Durban, the Hilton Durban hotel adjoins the gigantic International Convention Center. 

Even the standard rooms are generous in size, starting at 334 square feet. Suites range up to 829 square feet. Not so far away from the water that you can’t catch a view of the sea (or if you prefer, the city skyline), the contemporary rooms have large, opening windows. They also feature high-speed internet and an ample work desk. 

The Rainbow Terrace Restaurant presents a medley of menu items that represent the breadth of cuisine in this multicultural city, including local selections, fresh seafood and Indian dishes. The requisite comforts are all available; outdoor pool, spa, a fitness center, a business center and three bars. Even though adjacent to the massive ICC, which can accommodate up to 10,000 attendees, the Hilton offers its own meetings space, with 10 rooms that can handle up to 400.

12-14 Walnut Road, Durban, South Africa 4001 Tel: 27-31-336-8100, Visit

The Oyster Box

Northward up the coast in Umhlanga, about half-way to King Shaka International Airport, you’ll find another cluster of oceanfront hotels, including the Beverly Hills, the Protea and the Red Carnation Collection’s property known as The Oyster Box.

Originally built as a navigational beacon in the 1860s, the Oyster Box was first converted into a seaside hotel in the 1930s. Most recently, the 86 rooms and suites in the hotel have been completely refurbished with all the modern conveniences. Today the entire property is richly decorated in a distinctive décor that’s playful, and yet lends an air of seaside serenity to the whole proceedings. Each room includes satellite TV, a lounge area and free WiFi. Amenities include the spa and fitness center and an infinity pool that goes on, well – forever.

The Oyster Box offers five on-site meeting rooms, the largest of which will hold up to 200 for a reception. The hotel provides three on-site culinary experiences, ranging from casual dining in the Ocean Terrace or Palm Court restaurants to the upscale Grill Room. And don’t forget to check out the wine cellar with its glass ceiling and private dining space. 

2 Lighthouse Road, Umhlanga Rocks, South Africa 4319 Tel: +27 (0) 31 514 5000 Visit 

Cape Town 

Across the continent on the Atlantic coast, 800 miles from Durban as the crow flies, lies Cape Town. Set against the dramatic backdrop of 3300-foot Table Mountain, Cape Town is nestled around Table Bay, forming something called the “city bowl.” Viewed from the top of Table Mountain, it’s easy to see where the name comes from, as the entire urban area spreads out before you.

At the historic heart of Cape Town, near the city center, is the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, a shopping and entertainment complex built on the docks of the harbor. It celebrates the city’s beginnings as a way station for seafaring Dutch merchantmen headed for the East Indies. The influence of these early settlers is evident in the Cape Dutch architecture seen throughout the region. The central business district’s broad city streets give way to winding coastal roads that lead through quaint suburban enclaves with names like Camps Bay, Simon’s Town and Fish Hoek. Those roads will take you eastward to Stellenbosch and the wine country, north to Table View or south along the peninsula to the Cape of Good Hope.

One&Only Cape Town

The V&A Waterfront is home to a number of the city’s better hotels, but one that’s garnered much attention lately is the aptly named One&Only Cape Town. As one of Cape Town’s newest luxury hotels to open recently, the hotel bills itself as ‘South Africa’s premiere urban chic resort.’ What that means is it incorporates a healthy dose of South African style into a hip and trendy heart-of-the-city hotel.

The rooms are generous and feature fabrics and furnishings chosen from a distinctly African palette. Amenities include a multi-media entertainment system with 42” flat screen television and satellite TV with DVD/CD player, a Nespresso machine, and pillow and aromatherapy scent menus. The spacious bathrooms are well-appointed with rain showers and dual marble vanities. 

With its waterfront location and views of Table Mountain to add to the ambience, a particularly strong suit for One&Only seems to be the dining. The hotel hosts two restaurants; Nobu, the first-ever restaurant in Africa for Michelin-starred chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa. Plus local celebrity chef Reuben Riffel – who is one of South African Airways culinary contributors – and the recently opened Reuben’s, featuring a blend of flavors from the Rainbow Nation and beyond. 

Dock Rd, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town 8001, South Africa Tel. +27 21 431 5888 Visit 

Mount Nelson Hotel

In contrast to the One&Only’s trendy take on luxury, the Mount Nelson Hotel has been a Cape Town institution for over a century. The house itself was built in 1806 (named in honor of Admiral Lord Nelson) and was converted into a hotel in 1899. It’s convenient to the city core, an easy cab ride from the beaches, the V&A Waterfront or Cape Town’s convention center. 

Befitting Mount Nelson’s age and status as the grand dame of Cape Town, each of the 209 rooms and suites has its own quirky personality. The décor, like the service, is steeped in tradition, from the large high-ceiling rooms to the pink exterior. Nonetheless, this Orient Express property offers what modern business travelers have come to expect in the way of amenities – free high-speed Internet, a business center, a fitness center and pool, and complimentary breakfast.

There are also some things travelers might not expect, such as the lush garden setting and spectacular views of Table Mountain. The Mount Nelson offers superb service, a tranquil and secure location near the city center, and the spread for afternoon tea is something not to be missed.

76 Orange St., Cape Town 8001, South Africa Tel. +27 21 483 1000 Visit 

The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa

About 15 minutes from the city center you’ll find a world apart: The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa stands at the edge of the Atlantic. Another in the Red Carnations Collection, the property gets its name from the mountain crags – called The Twelve Apostles – that rise up behind it. 

The hotel offers 55 guest rooms and 15 suites, either overlooking the rocky coastline, or with mountain views . Either vista promises to be stunning, but we’d recommend the oceanfront; watching the sun set over the Atlantic is something of a rarity for North American travelers. No two rooms are exactly alike, either in layout or décor, mixing African style with a sort of seaside cool in the selection of textures and colors. Baths are ample and well-appointed, and the rooms are equipped with big screen TVs and DVD players, and WiFi is available.

There are two restaurant options on-site, the 24-hour Café Grill for casual dining and the upscale Azure, which features fusion cuisine and an impressive list of South African wines. There’s no mistaking the Leopard Bar, where evening drinks and ocean sunsets go hand-in-hand. The Twelve Apostles Spa comes complete with hydrotherapy pools, a sauna and flotation tank.

We’re told the buildings of the Twelve Apostles will never be any color other than white because it shows up on sailing charts as a landmark of the Cape. With its exceptional service and stunning location, there’s little doubt this landmark will be on the charts for a long time to come.

The Dr, Camps Bay Cape Town 8040, South Africa Tel. +27 21 437 9000 Visit

— Dan Booth


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