From the chocolate in the mini bar (a rare find on safari) and watercolor kit in the riverside room, to the attentive service and posh accommodations Singita Ebony set a high bar for safari luxury.
The Jefferson was built by a Richmond importer, Lewis Ginter, who lost his first fortune during the Civil War, after serving as a major in the Confederate Army. He moved to New York, where he became rich again through banking, but lost most of his assets during a recession. At age 50, he returned to Richmond and made more millions in tobacco, sold the company, and entered real estate. He traveled the world and brought back art he planned to place in a new hotel.
The peaceful pretty beach was my favorite feature at the Beach House. I especially appreciated that there was a designated area on the beach with cushioned comfortable wood lounge chairs and an umbrella for my suite.
We liked the newly renovated modern rooms, the property’s easy river access and views of the river from its elevated walkway, where welcome bubbly drinks, tea and lunch were sometimes served. The main building had a cozy bar and ample space to spread out as well as an inviting outdoor swimming pool, a fitness room and a spa room with several treatment options.
Our property trained local guide was particularly adept driving the boat, selecting the stretch of river to visit and approaching the shore to maximum advantage and a minimum of noise to avoid startling the wildlife. We had exceptional bird sightings, including the best and longest viewing opportunities of African fish eagles we have had anywhere.
Situated within the Sabi Sand Reserve, one of South Africa’s premier game viewing reserves, the 300 hectare Chitwa Chitwa Private Game Lodge offered an excellent combination of dam front setting, service, intimate ambiance, original art, quiet rooms, luxury accommodations and features, gourmet orientation, and good game viewing with a strong emphasis on the Big Five.
Once again the property delivered an outstanding luxury safari experience with optimum game viewing opportunities aboard an uncrowded vehicle, while at the same time providing accommodations, service and amenities designed to enhance our well being in the bush.
Our stay at The Munro, a five room boutique property in Johannesburg, South Africa, was memorable as much for its luxury features and amenities and stunning city views as for the superlative and warm service we received.
Located within a gated one acre property in Constantia, an upscale leafy suburb of Cape Town, South Africa, The Last Word Constantia, a nine room boutique bed and breakfast, offered an intimate ambiance, service oriented staff, a well appointed room with a view, and a pretty pool and garden setting. It was elegant and understated at the same time.
Tucked behind Dock Road, the main street next to the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town’s most popular attraction-cum-mall, the Queen Victoria was in a coveted location. Although it was across the street from the city’s best known upscale shopping center, the hotel itself never felt crowded. The well maintained boutique hotel with a gourmet restaurant was stylishly decorated and spotless. The staff were friendly and service oriented.
During a recent visit to Franschhoek, South Africa’s most refined food and wine village, I stayed at the beautiful La Galerie, a 183 square meter artsy and elegantly appointed two bedroom house with a private garden and pool and memorable mountain views. La Galerie was one of only three houses within the La Cle de Montagnes estate, a gated plum and vineyard property a few blocks from the village main street.
As I arrived at the 420 square meter welcome lounge for The Blue Train at the Pretoria, South Africa train station, steps away from the entrance to the popular mass transit Gautrain railway, I saw a sea of expectant and excited faces and heard a variety of English accents. Among my fellow passengers I met South Africans, expat residents of South Africa, and American, Australians and New Zealand tourists. Despite the early hour, 7:15 a.m., we were enthusiastic about riding the train together. More than a mode of transport from the Gauteng Province south to Cape Town The Blue Train was a medium for many of us to meet and share quality time in a private luxury vessel while enjoying Five Star service and amenities.
What I liked most about Glen Avon Lodge, a small historic property (the internal structure and many original features of the main building dated back to 1785 and remained unchanged) in Constantia, a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa, was the owners’ welcoming demeanor. From the moment we met I felt a simpatico connection with Annette Stringer. Later, I had a chance to meet her husband and Wendy Drummond, her daughter and property co-owner. I appreciated their hard working ethic, straightforward communication preference, employee training and empowerment practices, and efforts to give back to their community.
We felt instantly welcome when we arrived at the Meranova Guest Inn, tired and hungry from a long drive. Within minutes we were settled in our rooms, one fronting a central garden and the other facing the town’s most popular street. While I declined Frank’s generous offer of a cocktail I immediately pounced on one of his homemade brownies. During our stay we found the owners Frank Baiamonte and David Roy to be efficient, punctual, knowledgeable about the area, and gracious hosts.
The name of the property meant Sea Star from the words mer (French for sea) and nova or bursting star. To honor it there was a starfish on the property logo. The location in the heart of Dunedin, steps away from Main Street, could not be beat. We appreciated the amount of labor and dedication the owners had poured into the property over the years. In David’s own words, “We have been able to do everything ourselves on the property except for income taxes and fix refrigerators.”
Perhaps because game viewing at the Karkloof Safari Spa was limited to mostly non predator species the animals we encountered were relatively unafraid of vehicles. Many, including a rhino mom and her young, allowed us to park within scant feet of them with nary a glance in our direction. They knew we were there. They just didn’t mind/ Having a private vehicle with a knowledgeable and friendly guide enhanced the experience manifold.
From the moment Judain from reception greeted me in the off street gated parking lot until his colleague Fenna waved good-bye from the main building terrace I felt welcome at the Grande Roche Hotel. Amenities like fresh flowers, wine and tasty treats in my suite on arrival added to my comfort. Smiling faces and offers of assistance met me at every turn. The staff followed up courteous words with immediate action. For example, when the WiFi in my suite wouldn’t work Judain bent over backwards until it was fixed. Like her staff Anja Bosken, general manager, who I met for dinner, was a charming and welcoming host.
My favorite memories of the Montpelier Plantation and Beach in Nevis, of Nevis and Saint Kitts, include the early morning nature sounds of dogs barking, donkeys braying, and doves cooing in the distance. I enjoyed them most while swimming or when I gazed at the sunrise views of Saddle Hill and the ocean from the covered porch behind my room. At that hour, when the rays of the sun were gentle, before many guests had risen from their beds and the staff had arrived, I had the entire pool area to myself.
The Inn by the Sea offered a long list of features we appreciated and enjoyed during our fall visit to Maine. From the beginning, we were impressed with our comfortable and well appointed two bedroom suite with full kitchen, gas fireplace, large balcony and fantastic views of the Atlantic Ocean and colorful fall foliage. Lovingly maintained lawns and planters, excellent spa services, an exercise room, and quick access to walking and running paths added to the property’s desirability.
Cold, rainy gray weather made it challenging to enjoy the features, facilities and amenities of the Inn to full advantage. The 22 acre property had pretty green lawns and 500 feet fronting a rocky beach. Perhaps because the 32 rooms were spread across three separate buildings the only time we became aware it was full was at breakfast and when the parking lot overflowed.
Migis made us think of a luxury summer camp for adults and families. The 150 acre Maine property with 3,500 feet of shorefront on Sebago Lake was home to 35 Cottages. During our fall visit, we stayed in a new looking and spacious stand alone three bedroom two bathroom suite with internet connectivity, a view of the lake and a fireplace. In addition to the convenient meal plan, there were many features with appeal for a multigenerational audience. For example, there were hiking trails, beaches, tennis courts, massage rooms, a playground and a souvenir shop.
By Virginia standards, Keswick Hall might be considered a newcomer. The original mansion is, after all, a mere century old. But this exquisite property in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains embraced me with all the charm and grace of an antebellum grande dame. And like most grande dames, it had an interesting history. It began in 1908 as Villa Crawford, an 8,000 square foot (745 square meter), two-story Italianate private residence built for Mr. and Mrs. Robert B. Crawford at the original cost of $100,000. After the untimely death of Mr. Crawford in 1919, the villa passed to a variety of owners and experienced diverse fortunes over the next seven decades before ultimately falling on hard times.
In 1759, Terrell’s Ordinary, a modest roadside inn that welcomed westward travelers, opened on land that was part of Virginia’s 1734 land grant, at the exact location where the Boar’s Head stands today. Since then, this lovely swath of rolling hills in the picturesque outskirts of Charlottesville, Virginia, has witnessed much history. It first became a country estate with a successful farming operation before enduring the ravages the Civil War. The property returned to life under a succession of owners before an inn, the Boar’s Head, was once again created in the mid twentieth century. It was subsequently acquired in 1989 by the University of Virginia Foundation. Today, the unique 573 acre (232 hectare), 175 guest accommodations local landmark boasts a championship golf club, outstanding sports facilities with multiple tennis and squash courts, an in house spa and an award winning restaurant.
Shumbalala is within the Thornybush Game Reserve, a private fenced game reserve near the southwestern boundary of South Africa’s legendary Kruger National Park. The Big Five (buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino), along with close to 150 species of mammals large and small, roam the reserve’s 14,000 hectares of bush. Although Shumbalala game viewing vehicles shared space with game viewing vehicles of 11 other properties on the reserve we seldom crossed paths with vehicles from other lodges. From the instant I passed through the gate of the Thornybush Game Reserve, the game viewing was indeed exceptional. No more than a 15 minute drive into it, the Shumbalala ranger who had welcomed me at the gate (no private vehicles were allowed in Thornybush) stopped within feet of a scene that made my eyes pop: white rhinos, a half dozen of them, snoozing in an untidy heap in the shade of a roadside tree.
Located on the western side of Malawi’s Nankumba Peninsula, an area widely recognized as one of the most scenic around Southern Africa’s Lake Malawi, Pumulani was discretely tucked into a steep hillside. The only luxury property along the protected shores of the 9,400 hectare (36.30 square mile) Lake Malawi National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Center, Pumulani was designed by Dutch architect G. Hooft Graafland. In addition to a striking main lodge high on the hill and wide open to the endless lake vistas and the long aquamarine infinity pool below, he designed the property’s ten spacious rooms nestled into craggy granite outcrops around the hillside, each with a secluded private deck with lake views. Under their vegetal roofs of endemic grass meant to help offset their footprint and regulate their interior temperature, the rooms all but disappeared within their lush forest surroundings.
Stretched along the banks of the upper Shire River in southern Malawi, the 580 square kilometer (220 square mile) Liwonde National Park was known for its large population of hippos (mvuu in the local Tonga language). Located at the edge of a lagoon across the river from the park entrance, Mvuu Lodge could be reached only by boat. It immediately lived up to its name as we made our way across under the wary gaze of clustered periscope eyes from several hippo pods scattered around the water. Hippos were ubiquitous around the property as well, from large wooden sculptures in the lounge and guest tents to small beaded table ornaments.
On rare occasions throughout my traveling life, I have come across a place so exceptional that I knew at first glance the experience would never leave me. Mumbo Island Camp was one such place. Located ten kilometers (six miles) offshore from Cape Maclear, in the heart of the 9,400 hectare (36.30 square mile) Lake Malawi National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Center, the tiny island first appeared as a tumble of giant boulders rising straight up from the shimmering water. As we drew closer small reed and thatch chalets barely distinguishable from the tangle of trees began to materialize. We coasted to as stop at a wooden jetty to the warm welcome of camp manager Juliet Dahmen and her staff, and I set foot onto the most pristine tropical retreat I ever visited. The camp was located on two islands. The common areas were sitting just beyond the soft curve of a pretty golden sand beach on the main island. Meanwhile, a long wooden footbridge led to a granitic promontory jutting into the lake, where guest accommodations were perched at the edge of the rocks under a thick canopy of miombo woodland.
It was my first visit to Motswari Private Game Reserve within the larger Timbavati Nature Reserve in South Africa. I had barely settled in and yet, as I made my way along the sandy path toward the common areas of the lodge, I experienced an unexpected sense of familiarity. The azure African sky and blazing early afternoon heat were filtering through the branches of towering native trees. Under their neatly trimmed conical thatched roofs, circular pale adobe structures stood in the dappled shade of the grove. I passed staff members along the way, who greeted me with the earnest warmth of someone who has been looking forward for me to show up.
The Majete Wildlife Reserve in southern Malawi was a rare game viewing destination as yet mostly undiscovered by tourists. Originally proclaimed a protected area in 1955, the 70,000 hectare (270 square mile) swath of Africa’s Great Rift Valley in the lower Shire River had suffered such extensive poaching in the 1980s and 1990s that it had been all but written off as a wildlife reserve. In 2003, African Parks, an international nonprofit organization committed to the rehabilitation of Africa’s national parks took over the management of Majete. They have since methodically restored the park’s bio diversity and reintroduced over 2,500 animals including rare and endangered species. With the recent reintroduction of lions and leopards, Majete became the only Big Five park in the country. Nestled within a 7,000 hectare (27 square mile) private concession with exclusive tourism rights in one the most spectacular areas of the reserve, Mkulumadzi achieved a perfect balance of idyllic seclusion and first class accommodations in the repopulated wilderness area.
Little Garonga was the last stop on a recent extended trip to southeastern Africa. After three weeks of dawn game drives, hectic transfer schedules and all around high voltage excitement, I was feeling somewhat depleted by the time I arrived. I couldn’t have chosen a better place to replenish my flagging energies and gently say goodbye to the wilderness before the long journey home. Set deep into the self contained 22,000 hectare (85 square mile) Greater Makalali Conservancy, west of the world famous Kruger National Park in South Africa, Little Garonga was a relatively recent luxury addition to the long established Garonga Safari Camp.
In a city that is home to 50 Five Star hotels, many of them so firmly entrenched in their luxury status that they have long become legends, the relatively new Le Burgundy (opened in 2010) stood out for its privileged location first of all, on a relatively quiet street just a few steps away from Place Vendome, Rue Royale and Rue Saint-Honore, in the enclave of prestigious Right Bank addresses that are the pulse of Paris fashion. Then there was its already established reputation for personalized service, the kind only an intimate boutique hotel can provide. This was confirmed the instant I reached the property, by the doorman’s attentive welcome and the instantaneous check in process. I barely had time for a passing glance at the glassed in winter garden that is the heart of the public spaces or the art gallery like reception area with its bright mural sculpture behind a long white leather and marble reception desk before I was graciously escorted to my suite.