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Boks of delights

PUBLISHED: 13:11 10 December 2008 | UPDATED: 13:26 24 August 2010

Fabulous setting: The Victoria & Albert Waterfront in Cape Town

Fabulous setting: The Victoria & Albert Waterfront in Cape Town

CAPE TOWN by Will Davies A general assumption is tailor-made, bespoke holidays are the preserve of the wealthy. Packages, with budget flight, middle-of-the-road hotel with building site adjacent and tasteless meals thrown in, are what mos

CAPE TOWN

by Will Davies

A general assumption is tailor-made, bespoke holidays are the preserve of the wealthy.

Packages, with budget flight, middle-of-the-road hotel with building site adjacent and tasteless meals thrown in, are what most of us know, and even learned to love.

The alternative is to arrange everything yourself, which is fine if you have time to trawl through the plethora of travel sites on the internet seeking the best deal.

Or you could do it the old fashioned way, and pop down to your nearest travel agent and speak to their fine selection of young ladies, who will book you a lovely 10 days in Magaluf.

But if you are fed-up spending your main holiday of the year somewhere you don't really want to be, there is another option, which won't break the bank.

Travel companies are offering affordable, tailor-made trips to destinations guaranteed to keep you raving to friends long after your return.

One company is Travel Exclusively African (TEA), a family-run business, that will take you to places so beautiful, so exhilarating, you will never want to leave - and make you think you've hit the jackpot. But unless you want to jet around in a private chopper (which can be arranged) while being fed champagne intravenously (unfortunately, not on offer), buckets full of cash are not needed.

Flights start at around £400 direct from London to Cape Town. Once you're there, nothing is out of the realm of possibility.

I went out last month. With the summer heat at its peak, it was a blessed relief from the relentless misery of the British winter.

On landing, we headed out to the Western Cape's celebrated wine lands.

Small, idyllic wineries dot a landscape of sweeping vines, set in a backdrop of commanding mountains that turn pink when the blistering sun dips below the horizon.

To ease into the trip after the 11-hour flight, a day touring the wineries is an ideal start. Guided on an intimate and relaxing tour by TEA's owner Ian, a wine expert, we sampled wines unheard of but infinitely better than their more commercial rivals. The area's Cape-Dutch university town of Stellenbosch is at its heart and worth a half-day, if only to sample its bohemian café culture and laid-back restaurants.

But do not dwell there. Only 30 minutes drive away through breathtaking wine country is the impossibly beautiful French town of Franschhoek.

We stayed at the aptly-named Le Franschhoek, with the addictive pink mountains setting the backdrop to white-washed thatched cottages amid plush gardens, slipping you into a into a state of relaxation never before felt.

With refined restaurants that will make you giggle with every mouthful, Franschhoek will ensnare you.

But Cape Town has much to offer, not least the obligatory and fascinating trip to Robben Island, the prison made notorious for housing political prisoners during the apartheid regime, including Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.

Many of the guides on the island are former inmates, and will lead you on a humbling tour which resonates deep, leaving you with a profound anger towards despotic nature. I also left with a sadness for the atrocities committed during that time but above all, a feeling of optimism for what this complex county has achieved in such a short time.

A wander round the V&A Waterfront is a must. So is a trip up the cable car to the inimitable Table Mountain, Cape Town's monolithic badge of honour.

For the brave, a two-hour drive takes you to the best spot in the world for diving with great white sharks. I bullishly insisted on going, expressing little fear. But on first sight of a three-footer - a mere baby - my legs turned to jelly and a wave of fear swept over me before I had even changed into my wetsuit.

With uncontrollable shivers, I descended into the cage and was and confronted by a beast which nonchalantly swam up and looked me straight in the eye. I'm glad high-pitch squeals can't be heard under water.

And no trip to Africa is complete without a safari. Budget and time constraints may need stretching to see The Big Five (usually done over a few nights' stay on a game reserve), but a great alternative is a day safari, where in one day we came upon herds of buffalo, charging rhinos, springboks mingling with zebras and elephants peeling bark from a tree. We even stroked a cheetah.

My girlfriend is always bored rigid anytime Sir David Attenborough appears on the box, but after a day in the wild she was positively hooked.

Our trip hardly skimmed the surface of what this mesmerising rainbow nation offers, and although no extravagance was spared, we still came back with currency to exchange. I'm putting mine in a jar for next time.

w.davies@archant.co.uk

How to get there

Will travelled courtesy of Travel Exclusively African.

Visit www.exclusively-african.com Email ian@travelxa.com or phone: 0845 094 6612.

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