This is the sixth post of a guest series. We ask friends and colleagues to share with us what the expression to “feel at home” means to them. We believe that to truly enjoy a place, you need to really experience it, to make yourself at home. This means different things for different people, but it is an essential part of our lives, both as travelers and travel professionals. The idea came from a post I published in March and that you can read here.
Feeling right at home in a strange place
I’ve lived in various places around the world and visited many more but there are only a handful of places where I truly felt at home. These places share one common trait – they all felt right, almost familiar, like I’d been there before, even though it was my first visit. One place in particular springs to mind: Cape Town.
I’ll always remember the first time I visited Cape Town in 2004. My flight from Amsterdam arrived in Cape Town in the evening. Before the plane landed, it swooped past the floodlit Table Mountain. It was a surreal experience to see the mountain cast in a soft glow, right from my seat in the aeroplane.
As I stepped out of the plane and into the airport terminal, I sensed a surge of excitement – I’d always wanted to visit South Africa – but the emotion that really struck me was how I felt so much at ease. Hardly anything felt strange. It was like taking a stroll in my own backyard.
That evening, after checking into my hotel, I headed to the hotel bar for a snack and a drink. I ordered a seafood platter and a glass of wine. The fresh kingklip was grilled to perfection while the full-bodied Chardonnay tasted like a divine vanilla crème brulée with gorgeous aromas of oak, apples and pears. I sat at the bar feeling like I’d returned home, and I couldn’t stop myself from grinning with glee.
I WAS HOME!
During the next few days, that feeling of ‘coming home’ only grew stronger. I somehow knew my way around town without a map, I chatted with the locals like I’d known them for years and I savoured each and every meal (and wine) with a degree of delight I’d not experienced in years. I kept wondering what it was that made everything feel so familiar. Was it the excitement of being on holiday in a country I’d always wanted to visit? Or was it because everyone speaks English? Maybe it was Cape Town’s attractive lifestyle: with its mild climate, oceanside setting, great array of gourmet eateries and excellent wines, and the stunning scenery, it’s really not hard to not like Cape Town.
The answer probably lies in a combination of elements: I enjoy good food and fine wines; I love the outdoors; nothing inspires me more than the sight of towering mountains or the colours of the sea; and the fact that English is spoken certainly helped me feel much more at ease. Cape Town combines these elements effortlessly. In addition, South Africans are some of the friendliest, most hospitable people I’ve ever met. All these factors make Cape Town an incredible place to visit; a place that makes me feel right at home.
I’ve visited Cape Town twice since that first trip and each time felt like an extraordinary homecoming.