South Africa is a land of contrasts, and at no time during your trip will you appreciate that more than at sundown, when the music turns up, the drinks come out, and the sun sinks out of sight beyond the horizon. Whether you’ve spent your day on safari in the South African wilds, or you’re hunting for diamonds and tanzanite among the jewelers in the city, you’ll enjoy this nightly social get-together.
What is a Sundowner?
Since the 1950’s the term Sundowner has signaled the relaxing event of taking a drink at the end of the workday. In the United States, this practice is often called Happy Hour. In South Africa, the Sundowner has become more than a tradition. It’s an art, a production, a much-anticipated celebration that is now a major highlight of the South African experience.
The tradition started rather basely: back in the 19th century English inhabitants in South Africa would take a drink of quinine every night to ward off mosquitos (and malaria) and lace it with gin to mask the flavor. To increase the health benefits over the years, people began adding rum or citrus peel or both. Today, if you host a Sundowner, you’re free to have a bar as sophisticated as you like, preferably with a variety of cocktails and South African wines for your guests to choose from.
Favorite concoctions often include gin and tonic, scotch and soda, and classic martinis, though you should request a South African brand of gin for a more authentic flavor. Other native ingredients such as the South African cream liquor, Armarula, or a local tequila called Konyagi are unique and indulgent and help to establish an intimate connection between the drinker and the South African landscape.
The second crucial element in the perfect Sundowner is the food. If you only have one Sundowner, let it be on the last day of your stay, and ask your chef to make it as authentic as possible. Afrikaners typically set out appetizers of freshly baked bread and sweet jams next to an array of seafood delicacies such as Cape lobster and snoek, (a hot smoked fish). And no Sundowner is complete without the dried, cured meat specialty of the region: biltong.
You can hire live music, or just turn up the volume on your favorite party mix to set the atmosphere, but don’t let your playlist distract from the most important element of the Sundowner: the glory of the sunset.
Local Tip: If you’re invited to an Afrikaan family’s home for a Sundowner during your visit, you’ll certainly enjoy the relaxed atmosphere, the traditional food and music, and of course, excellent libations. Cold lager is the typical choice if you prefer beer. If you want to bring a gift, a bottle of wine, a bunch of flowers, or a box of chocolates are always appreciated. A unique gift to offer might be something from your home country if you’re able to pack something in advance. Dress is usually casual, and it is appropriate to bring swimwear (trunks are called a cozzie) as most homes have a pool and you might be invited to take a dip. Be sure to keep the fun going by arranging for a driver to take you home afterward!
The Ideal Villas to Help You Host
We’ve chosen our favorite South African luxury retreats with spectacular views and settings, so you and your guests can just sit back and relax as the day comes to an end in signature African fashion.
Luxus, Camps Bay
Luxus is set on the slope above Camps Bay on the Western Cape. Open and spacious, it’s the ideal gathering place for family and friends and comes pre-staffed with a private chef and housekeeper. The villa expands vertically over four levels and features an alfresco dining area and infinity pool looking out over the ocean and toward the dramatic Twelve Apostles Mountain Range. Bonus: One of the included amenities is a karaoke machine!
Sunset View, Bakoven
Sunset View is a contemporary villa that sparkles with beautiful design details such as glass walls and white and chrome furnishings. With six bedrooms (all en-suite) it has enough room to sleep 12 comfortably and is a lovely setting in which to celebrate important occasions. Extraordinary views of Camps Bay and the horizon beyond inevitably draw guests outside as the sun goes down, while the private chef prepares your meal in the gourmet kitchen.
La Grande Vue, Walmer Estate
La Grande Vue is part of the Walmer Estate near Cape Town and is perfectly oriented to take advantage of an expansive view toward Fresnaye and the Atlantic. Spend a day hiking Table Mountain, which reaches down practically to the backyard, and then return for a plunge in the pool and some braai barbecue for lunch, prepared by your private chef. As the day begins to wane, gather in the alfresco living areas and enjoy the high-columned veranda with a glass of something from the wine cellar, or your favorite cocktail.
North, Green Point
North enjoys a view looking down to the Atlantic Coast from its wall-to-wall windows. The richly decorated property is found in the trendy Green Point neighborhood. This is the ideal location for enjoying the beaches and the shopping of Cape Town, with convenient access to the V&A Waterfront and the scenic stops along the Seaboard. Five en-suite bathrooms have their own terrace or balcony, so friends can enjoy their time together or relax in privacy as they desire.
River House, Madikwe Game Reserve
River House is the ultimate choice if a private luxury safari is on your bucket list, a Morukuru property inside the Madikwe Game Reserve. Sundowner festivities here are a more private and personalized affair, with detailed attention from staff and an unforgettable setting. Bespoke agendas are honored by your private Ranger as you drive through the wilderness in search of your favorite animals. While you’re away, the devoted staff prepare a lantern-lit wooden terrace for your return with delicacies, drinks, and perhaps a performance by the local dance troupe. Or if you prefer the sounds of nature, listen out for the elephants who bathe in the nearby river at the end of the day.