How to do December in style
Switch off the TV, put down the mince pies and do December holidays in style. Candice Botha tells you how
BOTANIC GARDENS TRAIL OF LIGHTS
The Durban Botanic Gardens is a haven of green on the busy Berea, and in the evenings at Christmas it is transformed into a wonderland of festive illumination for visitors: the Trail of Lights. Millions of lightbulbs start glowing at sunset in themed areas. These include an African village, a garden of stars, a butterfly sanctuary, a magic lighting digital experience, an enormous 2019 motif and a kids’ themed display. At the festive market and food garden there will be live entertainment. The proceeds go to charity.
The essential info: Durban Botanic Gardens, December 12 to 30, 6.30pm-10pm. Tickets are priced from R50. trailoflights.co.za
THE BALLITO GIN FESTIVAL
The period between Christmas and New Year is the ideal time for spending an afternoon sipping G&Ts under the shade of litchi trees. The Ballito Gin Festival on December 28 is perfectly timed for visitors to make the most of the balmy north coast weather and the holiday atmosphere. The event is sponsored by Fitch & Leedes, and its delicious tonics will be paired with local artisanal and craft gins and carefully chosen infusions. Cheers!
Essential info: The Litchi Orchard, Ballito, December 28 at 2pm. Tickets from webticket.co.za
NEW YEAR’S DAY AT CRYSTAL BARN
Crystal Barn Country Estate in Fort Nottingham is a magical spot with whimsical architecture and décor that delights guests, young and old. There are surprises around every colourful corner — indoors, vintage enamel advertising boards hang on fuchsia-coloured corrugated iron walls under crystal chandeliers, and saris are embedded in the floors; outside, giant trees provide ample shade, and a fluff of bunnies call the rolling lawns beside the lake home.
You can celebrate the first day of 2020 here — there will be live music, food stalls and fun for the kids. Or even better, stay for a few days and explore the surroundings.
Essential info: Crystal Barn, Fort Nottingham, KwaZulu-Natal, January 1 from 11am. The entrance fee is R70; crystalbarn.co.za
UMGENI STEAM RAILWAY
Take a trip into the past in a vintage steam train as it chugs its way along one of the oldest active railway lines in SA — through the Valley of a Thousand Hills to the quaint station at Inchanga, built in 1895. Umgeni Steam Railway’s historical steam locomotives run regularly throughout the year, but at Christmas Santa is a passenger, and the craft market at the station has a festive flavour. There are several Santa trips and three Carols by Candlelight evenings — unique festive experiences.
Essential info: visit umgenisteamrailway.com for more information and booking details
ABINGDON WINE ESTATE
No, it’s not in the wrong spot, this award-winning winery is indeed in KwaZulu-Natal — in the Midlands, to be exact. The company’s wines are renowned, but it’s the restaurant that is making a splash right now. It is named the Best-kept Secret in American Express Dining Awards 2020. The accolade is well deserved. The food is served tapas-style and will have you booking for your next visit before you leave the venue. The wine-tasting is a unique experience in the province, and provides an opportunity to try out some of the winery’s excellent produce.
Essential info: abingdonestate.co.za
CHRISTMAS EVE HOTEL DINNERS
’Tis the night before Christmas in a stylish hotel / The champers is chilled and the desserts as well / Canapes glide by on trays all aglitter / And later it’s time for a gourmet dinner.
Sound good? Our picks are:
● Qunu restaurant at the Saxon in Sandhurst, Joburg ;
● The View restaurant at the Four Seasons in Westcliff, Joburg ;
● The Oyster Box Hotel in Umhlanga;
● Bombay Brasserie restaurant at Taj Hotel, Cape Town;
● Lord Nelson restaurant, Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel, Gardens, Cape Town;
● Tintswalo Atlantic, Hout Bay,
Cape Town; and
● Origins restaurant at The Marine Hotel, Hermanus.
PETER PAN ON ICE
For SA children, celebrating Christmas in summer, there’s something extra special about sitting bundled up ice-side to watch a classic fairy tale come to life. This year, Montecasino presents International Ice Dance Sensation’s production Peter Pan. The skaters are marvellous (think former world champions) and the costumes and sets exceptional.
Essential info: The Teatro at Montecasino, December 6 to January 11; tsogosun.computicket.com/
NUTCRACKERS WINTER CIRCUS
The word "circus" can leave some people feeling uneasy these days, and even more so when you hear "Parade of the Animals" spoken in the same breath. Never fear, however: the enchanting Nutcrackers Winter Circus’s show Parade of the Animals features dance, acrobatics, puppetry and theatricality aplenty to bring a menagerie of charming imaginative creatures to life. Set in a spectacular circus tent at Sandton City, it’s a must-do this holiday, especially as all proceeds go to charity.
Essential info: Sandton City, December 12 to January 6. Tickets cost R15 pre-booked or R20 if bought at the door; ticketpros.co.za
TIED BY TIME AT EVERARD READ
Artist Tamlin Blake’s Tied by Time installations take visitors through the history of industry, from steam to electricity, automation and finally digitisation. The works are intricate and intriguing — a touch of culture to balance the festive frivolity.
Essential info: Everard Read Gallery, 2 & 6 Jellicoe Ave, Rosebank, Johannesburg. The exhibition is on until January 13 and entrance is free; everard-read.co.za
DINOKENG GAME RESERVE SELF-DRIVE ROUTE
If you have family coming from overseas and you need to show off SA flora and fauna without travelling many kilometres, Dinokeng Game Reserve in Pretoria is a must-visit. It houses the Big Five along with cheetahs and brown hyenas, plenty of buck and giraffes. You drive yourself and have the luxury of deciding your route and how much time you’ll spend there. It’s ideal for a busy holiday of sight-seeing.
Essential info: Dinokeng Game Reserve, R734, Pretoria. It’s open from 6am to 6pm, but the entrance closes at 3pm. The entry fees are R20 a child, R30 an adult and R220 a vehicle; dinokengreserve.co.za
The festive season is for eating well, and for those who like to do it with a bit of glitz, new Jozi restaurant Basalt in Melrose’s Peech Hotel is a win. Stylish interiors and fine dining characterise the place, which is headed by Joburg-born internationally experienced chef Frederico Dias.
Essential info: The Peech Hotel, 61 North Street, Melrose North
AFRICAN SUMMER PALACE, V&A WATERFRONT
The V&A Waterfront’s festive installation African Summer Palace celebrates all things African, and has sustainability as the guiding principle. Kids can delight in spotting intricately detailed beaded creatures of all shapes and sizes made by local artisans, and can meet Mother Earth and the Guardian of Joy rather than Santa Claus. It’s an exceptional interpretation of Christmas in Africa, and not to be missed.
Essential info: Centre Court, Victoria Wharf Shopping Centre, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town. It’s on until December 24, 10am-6pm; waterfront.co.za
V&A SILO CONCERT
Against the imposing backdrop of the silos, swing and big band musicians will put your dancing shoes through their paces as the sun sets. Jitterbug, jive, swing and Charleston under the stars. It takes place on January 3, so you’ll have recovered from New Year festivities.
Essential info: Silo District, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town, January 3 at 7pm. Entrance is free; waterfront.co.za
KIDS WORKSHOPS AT NORVAL
The Norval Foundation’s wonderful education programme for kids has a festive flavour in December. Take your budding artist or designer along to workshops inspired by the brilliant current William Kentridge sculpture exhibition. Activities range from making Christmas cards and decoupage to robotics and creating thaumatropes. Guided tours of current exhibits for kids and families happen regularly. On the first Thursday of every month there is free entry all day until 8pm.
Essential info: Norval Foundation, 4 Steenberg Road, Tokai. See norvalfoundation.org/kids for the schedule, prices of entry, workshops and tours
PICNIC AT THE TWELVE APOSTLES HOTEL
There are few picnic spots more spectacular than those at the Twelve Apostles Hotel, perched on the cliffs above the ocean. This December the hotel’s chefs are putting together a basket of luxury treats for two. It can make for a special afternoon spent soaking up the view while sipping on a glass of Moët & Chandon Imperial Champagne, included in the price.
Essential info: Twelve Apostles Hotel; 12apostles.co.za
FRANSCHHOEK VILLAGE CHRISTMAS MARKET
This three-day event offers delicious food, fine wine, arts and crafts, vintage clothing, antiques, delicatessen goods, fresh produce, coffee brewers, artisanal foods, craft beer and handcrafted items. The picturesque town is a heavenly destination in itself and the Christmas market is an added bonus, having the best produce and products of the area on show in one place. A kids’ area and live music make it a must for your holiday calendar.
Essential info: Franschhoek Village Market, 29 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek, December 21 to 23, 9am-3pm; franschhoekvillagemarket.co.za
HOT AIR BALLOONING
Planning on giving experiences rather than gifts this year? How about a hot air balloon flight over the Cape Winelands? Take in breath-taking views of vineyards, mountains and the ocean as you glide in silence in the morning air. It’s a bucket-list item if there ever was one.
Visit airtoairafrica.co.za to find out more.
If you’re in Plett this holiday, treat yourself to a meal at Zinzi restaurant. Shortlisted in American Express Dining Awards 2020, its excellent cuisine is served at tables under the stars.
Essential info: zinzi.hunterhotels.com
SERENDIPITY GUEST HOUSE AND RESTAURANT
Escape from reality to the Wilderness National Park on the banks of the Touw River lagoon. This award-winning restaurant serves up an SA-inspired fine dining experience that will leave you feeling indulged. Work it all off afterwards by canoeing, hiking or cycling in the magnificent surroundings — or just vegetate on the bed with a book.
Essential info: serendipitywilderness.com
IF YOU’RE GOING TO BE OVERSEAS THIS CHRISTMAS, CHECK OUT THESE FESTIVE (AND FREE!) EVENTS:
Don’t miss Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. It’s pure illuminated enchantment, with food and craft markets, ice-skating, a giant observation wheel, a fairground — complete with rollercoasters, ice sculpting workshops and live entertainment, including shows featuring Paddington Bear, Zippos Circus performers and A Christmas Carol on Ice. Add to this the chilly temperatures and chance of snow, of course.
Story is an ever-changing retail concept store that combines shopping with entertainment and experiences. This December, it’s chock-a-block with fabulous gifts and inspiring installations, all themed around the holidays in the Big Apple. It’s a complete delight and won’t cost you any dollars to visit.
Paris is not called the city of lights for nothing, and at Christmas millions of lights illuminate just about every inch of it. Not to be missed are the Christmas installations at the four big department stores: Galeries Lafayette, Printemps Haussmann, Le Bon Marché and BHV Marais.
From nostalgic to modern, whimsical to design-forward they are different, but just as divine, every year, and most feature moving parts and enormous Christmas trees. You’ll feel as if you’re in a festive fairy tale.
The Australian cultural capital is lit up with light projections on land-marks. The multimedia installations are headlined by Very Melbourne Night Before Christmas, written by Marieke Hardy and narrated by Lee Lin Chin. A great way to experience the creativity and technical knowh ow of this diverse city.