Exotic Vacations

As the winds start to pick-up and the temperatures begin to drop so many Capetonians begin to plan their hibernation, withdrawing into the safety of their homes with a good glass of red.  But, before you settle into your winter routine, slip away for an adventure – sans the crowds.

The Northern Hemisphere is blooming into spring, quite literally, making it the perfect escape if you want to enjoy warmer temperatures for a little while longer. There are plenty of typical options to choose from but we’ve opted to explore some of the more beautiful and lesser visited places during our autumn months.

THE CHERRY BLOSSOMS OF OSAKA, JAPAN

March, April and May are the months of Hanami (cherry blossom viewing), and it’s quite literally a feast for the eyes of a majestic kind. All the stories, poems and art inspired by the short-lived, yet exquisite cherry blossom known as Sakura cannot possibly express the sheer magic of this rare bloom.  Of course, Osaka being the 2nd largest city in Japan is, in itself, worth visiting – with a stunning mix of both the modern and the ancient thrown together.  The city is alive with energy throughout the day and night, allowing for loads of adventure-filled activities and culture-full experiences to throw yourself at.

Your search for the finest Sakura blooms should start at the Kema Sakuranomiya Park.  The park runs alongside the Okawa River and is built on a river terrace between the Kema Araizeki and the Temmabashi Bridge. It expands over several kilometers and is filled with nearly 5 000 cherry trees and many paths to walk along to enjoy them – not to mention numerous ideal picnic spots. The park is easily accessible and there is no entrance fee – a definite bonus!

“Osaka offers the best of both worlds for the visitor seeking both a cultural and shopping experience.”

Combine your search for the best blooms with a cultural experience at the Osaka Castle. The castle epitomizes the romantic beauty of Japan in the spring and offers a chance to learn more about the city’s heritage at its museum.  For your Hanami experience at the castle, the Nishinomaru Gardens is the place to be.  Spread over the former western citadel, the garden is filled with 600 cherry trees, as well as the Tea House, and the former Osaka Guest House. Visitors are also treated to fantastic views of the castle from below.

Osaka offers the best of both worlds for the visitor seeking both a cultural and shopping experience. The city boasts a massive number of shops, malls and arcades – including the longest above and underground arcade in the country (known as a Shōtengai), which is 2.6km long.  Other key shopping areas in the city include Umeda, which is home to the fully underground shopping mall of Hankyu Sanbangai, and Den Den Town, which is the ultimate electronic and anime/manga shopping district.

Of course no trip to somewhere exotic is complete without dipping your fingers in the local cuisine. Touted by world famous English food writer Michael Bloom as the cuisine capital of the world, you can sure of a particularly outstanding experience. The obvious choice to start with would be sushi, and while we have access to many great sushi restaurants here in Cape Town, there is nothing quite like eating a traditional dish in its home country.  Pair your meal with Sake, Japans signature alcoholic drink to complete your experience. Other daring, yet delicious delicacies to try include okonomiyaki – a pan fried batter cake, and takoyaki – fried octopus in batter.

The flowers, the food and the fantastic weather makes a trip to this part of the world during the months of March to early April an absolute must for the travel bucket list.

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FIND SOLITUDE IN PRASLIN, SEYCHELLES

No matter what time of year it is it’s always a good time to take an island holiday in the Seychelles…and there are definite perks to visiting in the months of autumn. Praslin, the second largest, but far less populated island, offers the ideal weather conditions for an autumn visit. The island is sheltered from the winds to a large degree and the temperatures are not quite as hot and humid as it is in the summer months, making days spent on the beach much more enjoyable.

And the beaches Praslin has to offer! There are just fewer than 20 beaches to be enjoyed around the island with several of them regularly making top ten lists around the world.  However, it is wise to stick to the eastern and northern parts of the island during autumn, as seaweed often washes up on the southern beaches.

If you can pull yourself away from luxurious beach days in this paradise, you’ll find there is an incredible tropical world waiting to be explored.  An ideal start would be where it was thought the Garden of Eden was discovered – the enchantingly beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site – The Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve. On your visit you may have the chance to see the rare Cocoa De Mer – a coconut palm tree that produces a ‘double coconut’ and is now only endemic to the islands of Praslin and Curieuse, having become extinct everywhere else.

Praslin also happens to be a short boat ride from a number of the smaller surrounding islands. A trip to the Island of Curieuse will give you the opportunity to see the hump-headed parrotfish as you arrive at the island, Aldabra tortoises in the wild, and even the breeding grounds for the Hawksbill and green turtles.

Continue to get close to the natural surrounds of the Seychelles with another daytrip to Island Cousine. The island can be reached by boat or helicopter – but a favourite is definitely by means of helicopter. Not only does it create less of a disturbance to the ecosystem of the island, the views from Praslin to Cousine are truly out of this world. Once you arrive at the island there’s an array of activities to choose from.  Many visitors choose to get involved in the conservation effort. The work involved ranges from planting a tree or monitoring the turtles or enjoying an organic treatment at the island’s spa.

If you’re wondering about what it would be like to live in paradise, take a trip to Eden Island and spend a night or two in one of the stunning private homes that are rented out. The secluded beaches, private mooring bays and multitude of restaurants offer a taste of what it could be like to live there.

Whether you find yourself spending your days lazing on the practically empty beaches, or off exploring the lush tropical islands, you can be assured that you’ll return to Cape Town relaxed and ready to take on those winter months.

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WANDER THROUGH THE TULIPS OF AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS

Europe is calling and while it’s tempting to head to the usual spots from June onwards… the crowds just make it that much less appealing. So join us in giving the usual European spots and summer crowds a miss, and maximize on the spring months between March and May in Amsterdam. Not only will you get your European fix, you’ll also get the chance to take in some of its most beloved spring-time traditions and festivals. The city bursts to life after its sleepy winter months, the little cafés and terraces become fuller, the days become noticeably warmer and the nights are shorter. But of course, most noticeably, its colours become brighter with shades of red, yellow, pink and purple as the tulips start to show their faces.

There are many ways to take in the beauty of the tulip blooms, but the most popular tradition is taking a bike ride through the bulb farms. Whether you’re a Tour de France level cyclist, or just able to meander along at a leisurely pace, it doesn’t matter – there are many paths to choose from, all of which give you unparalleled views of the multi-coloured tulip fields.

If cycling isn’t your thing then make sure you arrive when the Keukenhof Gardens open at the start of March. The tulips are the obvious attraction, but don’t miss out on the wonderful tapestry of colours created by the rest of the 7 million flowers, including daffodils, narcissus, and hyacinth to name a few.

For a true taste of Dutch tradition visit the city towards the end of April when King’s Day (formerly Queen’s Day) is celebrated on the 27th. The festivities start early – with flea markets known as vrijmarkt popping up all over the city, which soon turn to street parties as the day turns to night. For those travelling with families, head on down to Vondelpark where there is live music, many a delicious food stall and plenty of fun and games for children.  No matter what you decide to do on King’s Day, make sure you do it dressed in the colour orange – the colour of the House Oranje-Nassau – the Dutch Royal House.

No matter when you choose to visit this vibrant city this spring you can be sure to enjoy all the appeals of European culture, with a few less of the regular tourists.

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