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“It’s quite the stereotype, that all of Africa is one big safari,” says actress and The Woman King producer and writer Maria Bello, who lives part-time each year in Kenya. Indeed, the continent offers so much more beyond wildlife — though the fauna of the continent is naturally one of the biggest draws for an exclusive echelon of traveler. “There are thriving, beautiful cities. It’s about culture, it’s about food and fashion. I think there’s so much energy right now on the continent,” says Bello.
Here are some of the best places to visit in Southern and East Africa right now, including Hollywood-frequented luxury hotels in Cape Town, South Africa; pastoral new retreats in South Africa’s Cape Winelands region and beautiful, recently debuted spots to stay in Nairobi, Kenya. (For THR‘s look at the best new and updated safari camps in Africa, see here.)
Cape Town, South Africa
Katie Holmes, Sean Penn and Charlize Theron have stayed at the gracious pink Mount Nelson, A Belmond Hotel, which this fall launched genuinely immersive experiences such as Be A Marine Biologist for a Day with shark scientist and storyteller Justin Blake, who leads guests through Cape kelp forests (made famous in My Octopus Teacher) and tracking tagged sharks.
One&Only Cape Town (from $650 a night) — where rumored past guests include Matt Damon, Clint Eastwood, Robert DeNiro, Mariah Carey and Justin Bieber — has unveiled an extensive reimagining of its 133 rooms and suites and resort spaces that spotlights emerging artists and draws aesthetic inspiration from the surrounding topography, mythology and culture.
Ed Westwick and model Jourdan Dunn have each checked into the ultra-opulent boutique hotel The Silo (from $1,167 a night) above the Zeitz MOCAA museum, where the rooftop pool is the continent’s most spectacular. Elsewhere in Cape Town (known as the Mother City), The Power & The Glory bistro and bar draws artists, musicians and writers, according to Kweku Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela and a producer/director who has worked in a dozen African nations. For shopping in Cape Town, Mandela says, “I love Duck Duck Goose, they carry all South African fashion designers.”
While filming The Woman King — the hit film that tells the incredible story of a historical unit of all-female warriors, the Agojie, who fought the Europeans in what is now Benin — Viola Davis’ makeup artist Sergio Lopez-Rivera loved shooting at The Castle of Good Hope, a 17th-century fort. “It was beautiful what the production designer and set designers did there — it’s the closest thing to time travel.”
Lopez- Rivera recalls that his husband came for Christmas last year amid the Omicron wave, and “we managed to eat in 27 different restaurants,” he says, adding “the cuisine was absolutely unbelievable” — and shockingly affordable. “This was like going to The French Laundry every day.” A favorite was Salsify at the Roundhouse Restaurant. “It was really tiny portions, absolutely beautiful. For dessert we had homemade Snickers bars paired with an espresso martini — I keep thinking about it.” Codfather Seafood & Sushi in Camps Bay was “unbelievable,” and he loved Saturday mornings at The Old Biscuit Mill market, “surrounded by like-minded people who love to travel, like food and music.”
Cape Winelands, South Africa
On one of the oldest working farms in Franschhoek is the wine mecca’s newest luxury retreat: Sterrekopje (from $920 a night), which opened in early 2022. The female-owned regenerative hub of conscious living and soulful transformation sprawls across 50 wild hectares, 11 private sanctuaries, gardens, an atelier and a bathhouse.
Beloved boltholes in the idyllic wine-growing area include Royal Portfolio’s La Residence (from $427 a night) — where Elton John is such a frequent guest there’s a suite named for him — and the Edenic farm, restaurant, hotel and spa Babylonstoren (from $369 a night), which revealed its new five-bedroom Fynbos Family House during the pandemic as well as the country’s first wine museum, The Story of Wine, in March 2022. “We spent our wedding anniversary, New Year’s Eve, in the honeymoon suite,” says Lopez-Rivera, who also dined at Le Petite Colombe while in the winelands. “Babylonstoren is heaven on Earth,” he says. “Literally, there is nothing that you could possibly need that they don’t grow or make. It’s amazing.”
Designer Anna Trzebinski opened Eden Nairobi last year (from $440 a night per person, sharing), and Bello shares that she lives “in a little cottage on the grounds” when she’s there. “Anna is an incredible designer and the property is amazing,” says the actress. Film producer Geralyn Dreyfous is also a fan. “Anna does these salons; she’s a real community builder, so it’s more than just staying in a hotel, it’s being connected to some of the most culturally creative people in Nairobi,” says Dreyfous. “She curates experiences for you and is very forward-thinking.”
The iconic Giraffe Manor — where Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi and Derek Hough have stayed — opened The Retreat last year, a newly built day-use escape designed for travelers to relax amid long-necked beauties, swim in the infinity pool, dine in Daisy’s Cafe and indulge in dreamy spa treatments or workout on their way in or out of Nairobi; $250/pass; $800 for a day room.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in South Africa and I thought that was possibly the most beautiful place in the world until I went to Kenya,” says Dreyfous, adding “I’ve really just fallen in love with the Kenyan people, the diversity of geography, and culturally it’s very interesting. Nairobi is on fire right now, the tech sector is very vibrant, fashion and graphics and design are very vibrant, and film is trying to make a comeback.” Docubox is a “spectacular nonprofit [that is] feeding and nurturing future talent and incubating documentaries,” she says. The Nairobi-based organization is “dedicated to social impact filmmaking, freedom of speech and protecting the cultural creative community of next-generation Kenyan storytellers.”
In the dynamic, multicultural city — home to Bello’s favorite African director, Wanuri Kahiu, who made the 2018 film Rafiki — the actress and producer’s go-to restaurants include chef Dennis Ang’ani’s Embark Restaurant and Tin Roof Café.
“The River Café on the other side of the forest is incredible, the best meals. And Talisman, of course,” says Bello. But the Nyama Choma roadside stand in Nanyuki several hours outside the city is her top eat. “It’s barbecued meat, basically, but it’s so beautifully [done] — I’m salivating thinking of it.”
Johannesburg, South Africa
Bello has filmed in South Africa’s largest city and calls it “really cool. The up-and-coming art scene is amazing, the style and what young people are wearing.” The Saxon, one of Mandela’s favorite African hotels, is popular with industry types, he says. It boasts the Nelson Mandela Platinum Suite ($5,435 per night), which Jay-Z name-dropped in “MOOD 4 EVA.”
“For music,” says Mandela, “I go to Marabi at the Hallmark Hotel,” and he enjoys Mesh Club, which draws creatives as club members.
Elsewhere in the city, Bello recommends Amatuli Artefact, the Soweto tour of Hector Pieterson Museum, and the Maboneng neighborhood that she says “is like Brooklyn but in Joburg.”
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