Chomp, chomp, chomp … just before dawn on our first night at Selous Safari Camp we woke to persistent chewing so close it seemed to be next to our bed. Hesitant to disturb the chewing beast, we remained sitting and listening intently until the dark of the night morphed into a soft gray. Eventually we peeked out of the folds of our tent to see the profiles of several huge animals grazing contentedly. We continued listening as the sound of hippos feeding faded toward the still water of the nearby lake. Moments like these are the reason we travel long distances across land and sea in search of game viewing experiences.
Named Sasakwa for a local chief who used to live on the hill on which the lodge is located, the stately family friendly property offered many advantages for luxury oriented game viewing enthusiasts. In spite of its remote location in the Western Corridor of the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, bordering the Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania, Sasakwa offered guests a level of luxury and many creature comforts other properties only dream of having. Sometimes small touches say as much as the widely advertised features. We were impressed with the fresh roses in our cottage, fresh flowers throughout the property and freshly baked butter welcome cookies in our well stocked minibar.
When I think of Sabora I remember chilly mornings followed by hot days, smiling and friendly staff, delicious and well served food, exclusive and rewarding game viewing, a homey informal ambiance and a magnificent tent experience. I reminisce about a perfect day spent in the Tanzania plains with Aloyce, our indefatigable, affable and competent local guide, viewing cheetah in the morning and tree climbing lions in the afternoon; followed by a romantic gourmet candlelit dinner for two accompanied by brutally cold Krug champagne.
We found Jongomero, named for the He He tribe’s word zongomero which means great wilderness, in a remote corner of Ruaha National Park, one of Tanzania’s fenceless parks dedicated exclusively to game viewing. Described as the “ultimate wilderness” by property manager Greg du Toit, the small luxury tented camp was perched on the edge of the Sand River. Since there were no other camps for many miles, Jongomero guests enjoyed almost exclusive access to that part of Ruaha.
A two hour morning flight from Ruaha National Park on a Cessna 13-seat plane found us at the Mtemere airstrip, a half hour’s boat ride from Selous Impala Camp. Musa our guide for the duration of our stay, and a boat driver greeted us at the airstrip. After brief introductions and the customary jambo greeting in Swahili we walked to the small motor boat on the Rufiji River banks on which we made our way to camp.
Singita Boulders Lodge, situated within the coveted Sabi Sand Reserve just west of the Kruger National Park, offered understated luxury in a magnificent bush setting. Singita was named for the Shangaan word meaning “The Miracle.” Boulder’s Lodge, a distinctive luxury property with an elegant contemporary style fronting the Sand River for which the reserve is named, stood out for its fabulous adult oriented accommodations (children were welcome in a private section of the property); rustic elegant décor; tasty dishes; and varied activities options such as twice daily Big Five game viewing drives, cellar wine tastings, local village visits, shopping, work outs a the fitness center and spa treatments.
A few months before we visited the property, the aptly named River Lodge in the Exeter Private Game Reserve joined the ranks of Conservation Corporation Africa (CC Africa), a well known African property management company. Although the child friendly property was still completing its incorporation into the new management company’s way of doing things, we heard about upcoming modifications and saw part of the Lodge transformation.
In the early 1900s, several attempts were made to substitute Mala Mala’s wildlife with cattle farming. A losing battle with lions and a constant struggle with wildlife, diseases and drought proved that it was not a viable option. Established in 1929 by Wac Campbell as a preservation area and legacy for his children, by the 1950s it had become a game viewing property. In 1964, the Rattray family purchased the property and upgraded the accommodations to a 1950s style luxury standard. Now part of a conservation gene pool of 5.5 million acres of South African lowveldt, it shares 19 kilometers (12 miles) of border with the Kruger National Park in one of the prime game viewing areas of the world.
This small family owned luxury property located in the heart of Cape Town was a jewel. Renovated from a home that had fallen into hard times, the property was carefully spruced up and decorated to accent its assets. The 200 square meter Owner’s Villa, my favorite part of the property, was a two-story one bedroom villa next to the main building. Downstairs, it had its own entrance, social area, fully equipped kitchen, private plunge pool, entertainment center, high speed Internet access and terrace. Upstairs, there were comfortable and attractive sleeping quarters for a couple. Someone dedicated much time and care to ensure Villa guests a good looking, roomy and well appointed place to retreat from the city’s excitement while remaining within easy reach of all the Cape Town fun.
A trip on South Africa’s famous The Blue Train is the dream of a lifetime for many. On board, travelers celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, honeymoons or just long planned trips to South Africa. The 1,600 kilometer train ride affords guests the opportunity to see some of the South African countryside while basking in luxurious accommodations and enjoying appetizing meals and premium service. The Blue Train offered guests an out of the ordinary ride in luxurious comfort and style that they could reminisce over for years.
Overlooking a tranquil oxbow lagoon, the luxurious Mfuwe Lodge was one of only two permanent, year-round lodges within the 3,500 square miles of pristine wilderness of the South Luangwa National Park. In addition to the large lobby and reception area, the striking open-plan main lodge housed a lounge, bar and dining room under a soaring thatched roof. The space was anchored at both ends by spectacular matching stone fireplaces. A wide boma (timber deck on stone pillars) overlooked the lagoon, as did the swimming pool. Both were ideal spots to enjoy the constant parade of game that visited the lagoon.
It was already well into the evening when I arrived at Kuyenda, a remote bush camp in the South Luangwa National Park. It was my first destination in the park, at the end of a lengthy journey from the United States, and the start of my maiden safari. I immediately felt transported to a timeless Africa I had expected to be long vanished, other than in my imagination! The camp was nestled in a grove of giant trees, facing a grassy meadow that gently sloped down about three hundred feet to the edge of the Manzi River. It consisted of four spacious guest rondavels, traditional South African circular huts built entirely of local wood, reed and thatch. They were clustered around a thatch-roofed, open-wall dining and lounge area. The entire camp was bathed in the soft glow of oil lanterns, as was the long dinner table invitingly set at the edge of the dry riverbed. The darkness echoed with a rich cacophony of sounds that hinted at abundant wildlife nearby.
Tucked in the shade of ancient ebony trees at the apex of a permanent oxbow lagoon, Chindeni was a verdant oasis in the parched immensity of the South Luangwa National Park when I visited in the final weeks of the dry season. Everything about the camp exuded welcoming abundance, from the warm reception of the staff to the comfort of the tented accommodations and the profusion of game around the lagoon. Superb vistas of the Nchendeni Hills filled the horizon. The inviting common areas consisted of spacious, thatch-roofed platforms, raised high above the lagoon, and cleverly designed around the trunk of a giant ebony tree that contributed both a sculptural quality and cooling shade to the structure. It included a long viewing deck that was a perfect place to enjoy an early morning breakfast while contemplating the spectacular sunrise over the hills.
Chamilandu was the most intimate of all the bush camps I visited inside the South Luangwa National Park. It consisted of three guest chalets perched on eight-foot high platforms. Built in the local style with a contemporary flair, each chalet was composed of three walls sheltered by a peaked thatch roof. The fourth side of each rectangular structure was fully opened to a private deck that offered a startling 180 degree view of the Luangwa River, against the distant backdrop of the Nchendeni Hills. The guest chalets were only a few steps away from the spacious dining and lounging hut that was a welcoming gathering spot for all common activities.
The Rancho Bernardo Inn was a short drive east from the coastal highway in San Diego and a world away in style and pace. Relaxed and verdant, the property’s golf courses and gourmet restaurant were the center of attraction in an otherwise quiet residential neighborhood.
Villa de Lena, like Tobago, was a journey of discovery. We began the journey as curious visitors and ended it as friends. The two story $1.2 million villa occupied 374 square meters. It was well situated in a residential district near the tourist areas on the western end of Tobago. This meant our street was quiet with little traffic. At the same time we were within a five to 10 minute drive to the airport, tourist attractions, the Store Bay market and food stalls, restaurants, hotels, souvenir shops and tourist activities such as diving and water sports.
It was easy to forget work, stress and the everyday while gazing toward the blue and green hues of the Caribbean on an open terrace 180 feet above the coast. We were the sole occupants of Being, a $2 million private luxury villa in Tobago created by tourism industry executive Auliana Poon a Trinidadian herself. Perched on five acres of land on the edge of the rain forest, Being had a distinctive look, a mixture of Caribbean elegance and modern styling with a playful touch of European flair.
Our stay in the aptly named Sugar Beach Villa was wonderful. Although living in South Florida with access to world famous beaches has made us pickier than most about beaches we thoroughly enjoyed the Villa’s swimming pool like beach. In addition to an exceptional white sand and turquoise water beach, the new looking property had many advantages that made it stand out.
There’s something wonderful about home. It’s familiar and comfortable. Staying at The Peech Hotel was a little like being home. Waking up in a comfy and cushy bed with the lazy early morning light filtering in through the window blinds to the sound of birds reminded me of home. Being greeted by name by the hotel staff when I arrived back from an excursion or settled in for dinner made me feel especially welcome, particularly in a city of 10 million souls like Johannesburg.
This small family owned luxury lodge in the heart of South Africa’s prime game viewing private reserve set a standard of excellence other properties should strive for. At Rattray’s the total was greater than the sum of the parts. In addition to elegant, comfortable, new and spacious suites, top notch facilities, remarkable Big Five game viewing and excellent service Rattray’s also offered modern conveniences. Service was personalized and attentive, head and shoulders above the norm.
The outstanding natural surroundings of the Morgan’s Rock Hacienda and Ecolodge, combined with the luxury of its accommodations and the friendly service provided by its ever attentive staff, should earn the resort high rankings by any standards. However, what made Morgan’s Rock unique was the success of its creators in translating their commitment to nature conservation, reforestation and community development into a retreat of exceptional architectural and esthetic quality.
The Lapa Rios Ecolodge has garnered so many awards and accolades in recent years that I approached it with high expectations; these were promptly exceeded! No words or trophies could have prepared me for the breathtaking reality of Lapa Rios. The site was spectacular. Perched high on the tip of Costa Rica’s remote Osa Peninsula, the resort discretely blended into a private nature preserve that spread over 1,000 pristine acres of one of the last remaining lowland tropical forests in Central America. The main lodge, built at the top of a 350-foot ridge, housed the reception area, restaurant and bar. From there, 16 private bungalows were strung through the lush tropical vegetation along a sloping 500-yard long path of steps and bridges that connect three ridges. Like the main lodge, all the bungalows were built exclusively of local materials, topped by high pitched roofs thickly thatched with Suiita palm and casually decorated with comfortable bamboo furniture. Each bungalow featured a private deck and patio, complete with outdoor shower, and a sumptuous view of the forest canopy rippling down to the gentle waters of the Golfo Dulce. Fifteen miles across the gulf, the rolling hills of the mainland fade in the distant haze.
A friend asked recently, after hearing our complaints about the cold weather in Paris, why we were there in winter. Summer, he reasoned, was warm and we wouldn’t need heating or cold weather clothes. Right he was. And yet, we enjoy the holiday spirit and seasonal foods available in Paris at the end of the year. People seem to be in good spirits and we make time to take advantage of the countless choices the City of Lights has to offer or just relax and enjoy being there. The 700 square-foot apartment on Rue des Ecoles enhanced our stay, providing a centrally located, pleasant, clean and comfortable corner to call our own for our month long sojourn.
Problems with the landing strip at the camp we planned to visit caused a change in our travel program and a last minute change of camp to Xigera, pronounced kee-jeh-rah. From the beginning, one of the things that appealed to us at Xigera was the guest diversity. We were the sole Americans among a group of Europeans and Aussies. Our fellow guests there, more even than at other camps, seemed especially eager to chat with everyone else and learn about them and their game viewing experiences. We quickly struck up conversation with several couples and found we especially enjoyed the meal times and social moments at the Camp.
The wide range of activities available at this lodge set it apart from many other camps. While at Sussi, we experienced game drives in the Mosi-oi-Tunya National Park, a trip to the world famous Livingstone Falls, and riverboat rides at sunset where we viewed wildlife from the river. The sunsets on the upper Zambezi River were some of the most stunning we have ever seen. Because Sussi Lodge was within the Mosi-oi-Tunya National Park there was an abundance of wildlife that came into the camp area, and the wildlife viewing from the common areas overlooking the upper Zambezi River was outstanding
Well-known as the temporary home of former South African president Nelson Mandela when he was released from prison, the all-suite Saxon had a homey yet sophisticated feel. At the same time, we felt safe inside the compound-like grounds which blended in discreetly with the neighborhood of heavily guarded upscale properties. From a tourist perspective, it was a convenient location. We were minutes away from Sandton City, one of Johannesburg’s best known malls, and many popular restaurants.
One of our fondest memories of Savute Safari Lodge was bathing with elephants – well almost. A bachelor herd frolicked in the waterhole immediately in front of our room while I showered. Thanks to the glass windows and sliding glass door I could see the waterhole and the elephants from the shower. They went on drinking and spraying themselves with water long into the afternoon allowing Gary to observe them while he took his shower a little while later. We continued watching them delightedly from the living area of our room for several hours.
Named for a combination of the
Located within the borders of South Luangwa National Park, Puku Ridge Tented Camp had a traditional safari feel with modern comforts and amenities. Each tent was built on a concrete slab for a sturdy yet sophisticatedly rustic feel. The décor was simple and romantic, highlighting a beautiful sunken bathtub. The camp was situated on a ridge overlooking the African veldt (a field), which had abundant wildlife and beautiful sunrises in the mornings. Because the camp was inside park borders, animals wandered through as they pleased.
It required a day of travel and three flights, the last one on a small bush plane, from Cape Town to reach Kwetsani Camp. We left the comfort of our waterfront hotel at 7 a.m and reached our new honeymoon suite at Kwetsani at 7 p.m. Although we were tired and hungry, we were also thrilled from a close viewing with a female leopard on our way from the airstrip to the Camp. Kwetsani could house up to 10 guests on its one kilometre site which was raised on stilts beneath a shady canopy overlooking the plains. It was one of several properties on the Jao Reserve, a 15-year 60,000 hectare concession with maximum guest occupancy of 48. The large elongated island was heavily wooded with palm mangosteen and fig trees and was one of the most remote camps in the expansive Okavango Delta. That night we enjoyed a fireside buffet dinner on the sandy boma enclosure. Prior to dinner, we watched with pleasure as local staff members sang and danced around the roaring fire with enthusiasm and laughter.
Although every trip and every lodge and camp we have visited in the past had qualities that distinguished it among its peers, some stand out for their sheer excellence. Our stay at Kings Pool, named for a Scandinavian monarch who visited the area before the camp was built, was one of the most rewarding overall visits to a game viewing tented camp in two dozen experiences to date. Fronting an oxbow of the Linyati River, Kings Pool had a rare combination of a superb location, extraordinary game viewing possibilities, a well designed, spacious and comfortable room, superior “home cooked” food and an outstanding, experienced and knowledgeable guide.
The common areas at the Chichele Presidential Lodge were beautifully appointed, combining European flair with classic African design. They were open, airy spaces overlooking the African bush that undulates over rolling hills finally giving way to a river in the distance. Chichele is located on a hilltop above the Luangwa river bottoms, which are teaming with wildlife. Evening meals were exceptional, served out under the stars on a patio situated near the swimming pool. The patio provided a quiet, private, and intimate setting. We especially enjoyed the candle light dinner for two with a dedicated waiter who served our table only. On our second night, the evening meal was an excellent Bra i (barbeque) served at a banquet style table. The service was attentive, helpful and gracious.
Our second visit to the Cape Grace was once again a pleasure. We only had one afternoon and night to spend in Cape Town (our international flight departed the following morning) and although there were many choices near the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront our initial visit to the Cape Grace was so positive we decided to return. Staff were attentive and polite and the facilities were just as handsome and comfort oriented as the last time although our room had signs of a little wear. The small hotel, offered well designed, luxurious, waterfront accommodations for business and pleasure oriented guests with great attention to detail.
Our first impression of Camp Okavango was colored by the positive comments we had heard from fellow travelers before arriving there. Whenever we mentioned to someone we were headed to Camp Okavango their faces would light up in a smile. They would tell us how much they had enjoyed their stay and send their regards to Rob and Tammy, the Camp managers. We arrived at Camp Okavango following one of the bumpiest bush plane flights we’ve ever had, hot and nauseous not to mention shaky. Rob’s quiet and concerned welcome was priceless. Our introduction to the Camp was beneath the huge mangoosteen tree that was the heart of the one square kilometer island based Camp. Under its shade we enjoyed pleasant moments of contemplation, conversation and excellent bird watching. Thanks to a water feature at the base of the tree many birds congregated and nested there.
Our half hour drive from the Cape Town airport to the Steenberg Hotel was easy. On the way, we admired the beauty of the area including the mountainous background that gave it a dreamlike quality. Inside the property, which shared space with an upscale golf community, there were grapevines lining the road. At the Steenberg, we were close enough to enjoy all the benefits of bustling Cape Town and yet it was a different world of serene beauty.
After two days of traveling from the U.S. to South Africa via Europe we arrived in Port Elizabeth jet lagged and exhausted. Viktor, a Shamwari representative, awaited us just outside the arrivals area and drove us through verdant and rolling hills to Eagles Crag at the 20,000 hectare Shamwari Game Reserve. An hour later found us at the entrance to elegant Eagles Crag, named for the crowned and booted eagles that made the area their home, and one of six properties on the Shamwari Game Reserve. The Reserve, named for the word friendship in Shona, was the first project to repopulate land in the Eastern Cape area of South Africa with animals that, over time, had been exterminated by man. When we visited, the Reserve had an abundance of healthy animals and the largest concentration of black and white rhino in private hands in the world. When we arrived, lodge managers Tania and Ryan Plakanouris welcomed us and helped us settle in to our spacious suite with a view of the crowned eagle’s nest.
Our week-long trip aboard the SeaDream II was reminiscent of the by-gone days of classic ship travel where passengers had an opportunity to meet each other while sharing time and space with fellow travelers and crew members. In an era fraught with time constraints our “cruise” aboard SeaDream II provided us the luxury of meeting like minded people while enjoying a leisurely and luxurious voyage along the coast from Italy to Spain in the prime of the area’s tourist season.
We thoroughly enjoyed the pluses the sailing offered such as a limited number of passengers (there were 108 of us) and high crew to passenger ratio (there were 96 crew members).
From the outside the Hotel Arts Barcelona looked like another office building with a distinctive metal sculpture in the front. It had a tall rectangular shape and external white metal structures revealed little about its contents. Inside, we rode an elevator from the ground floor to the lobby, where we began to discover the property’s upscale ambiance. Beautiful flowers, scattered in the lobby and common areas, brightened the earth tones of the hotel’s interior. As soon as we exited the elevator we found the reception desk to the left of the sunlit lobby, decorated in sober tones. Having been evicted from our comfortable yachting digs first thing that morning, we migrated wearily to the striking Hotel Arts, relying on the Ritz Carlton reputation for a warm welcome in spite of the early hour. At the reception, Diego greeted us kindly and promised to find us a room as soon as he could.
Established by famed hotelier Cesar Ritz at the request of the Italian president in 1894, this Roman jewel is said to have its foundation over the Baths of Diocletian. The hotel, built on land belonging to Pope Sistus V, recently underwent a $35 million renovation requiring 450 workmen, including 151 skilled craftsmen and one million man hours of work.
Arriving at the Hotel Hassler after a transatlantic flight and dizzying taxi drive from the airport, I was relieved to discover my room was ready. Inside, the charming and comfortable black and white themed room with a delightful view of the city and welcome fruit basket, helped reenergize me. In spite of the lack of sleep and jet lag, I was eager to revisit Rome after a long absence. From the small balcony I could see the Spanish steps and beyond them, in the distance, the Vatican. And what a location! The Hassler is in the heart of Rome, at the top of the famous Spanish Steps, an excellent point of departure for tourist oriented visitors. The wholly independent and small family run hotel, which has been temporary home to many celebrities over the years, had a historic character.
One of the most extraordinary things about the Tahuayo Lodge was that this welcoming enclave of comfort should exist at all in the midst of the untamed wilderness of the Western Amazon. Perched high on a bank of the Tahuayo River, the lodge was a sprawling, thatched-roofed complex of large huts linked together by covered bridge-like walkways. Entirely built on stilts, it was distinguishable only by its size and layout from the tidy indigenous villages down river.
I arrived at the Royal Plantation after a pleasant two-hour drive from the Montego Bay airport tired and hungry. A short while later I was at the hotel’s beachside restaurant a step from the sand, facing a beautiful inviting beach and munching on a burger while I waited for my room to be ready. All the morning’s frustrations including my long flight routed through Kingston, cancelled airport meeting with fellow travelers whose flights were delayed, and my “international” cell phone not working were slowly forgotten thanks to the hotel’s ambiance and the staff’s friendly can-do attitude.
Our spacious villa at Round Hill, a 110-acre haven constructed for wealthy foreigners in the 1950s on the grounds of a former pineapple and allspice plantation, felt like a home away from home. Built on an encircling hill overlooking a small cove and beach, Round Hill is home to a small two-story hotel, Pineapple House Hotel, and 27 privately owned rental villas. The practical and appealing architectural design ensured maximum exposure to the view of the bay and the hill while providing privacy from passersby and neighbors.
When we arrived at the Jamaica Inn by boat, the most notable feature was its bright blue color and white trim. After braving the gentle waves that lapped against the shore and climbing a few short steps toward the entrance, we were greeted by Nicole and Terri, two of the hotel staff members. Slowly, as we walked from the jetty through the dining terrace past the bar and library common room, we delighted in its understated grace and quiet. The staff exuded friendly warmth and a welcoming attitude making us feel like we had been there before and were returning after a long absence instead of visiting for the first time.
Turning off the main road onto a non-descript private street that would have made a mountain goat feel at home, we arrived at Villa Bel’Ombre. We were pleasantly surprised to find it was more comfortable and prettier than the photos we had seen online and the postcard view was even more stunning than we could have imagined. The $3 million villa was spacious, open and full of thoughtful features we liked such as a shaded deck area facing the bay, comfortable lounge chairs in the sun and shade, indoor and outdoor dining areas, a partially open kitchen facing the bay, and a Jacuzzi by the master bedroom. Marble landscape skies with a moon, pink and purple sunrises, the sound of birdsong and the surf, the impeccable swimming pool where we could linger while enjoying the view from the infinity edge and a welcome sense of privacy were some of the extras we discovered onsite.
Our latest recipe for a worry free off the beaten path luxury vacation in the sun began with a liberal amount of blue skies. These were sprinkled with pretty puffy white clouds for character and occasional shade. Mix in large quantities of calm and clear Caribbean water in many blue and turquoise hues; throw in a well built, roomy and comfort oriented 47 foot catamaran and mild winds to sail by. We made sure to add the key ingredient: a friendly and experienced crew with local knowledge that sailed, cooked, cleaned and most important took us to all the magic corners of this unspoiled area of the Windward Islands; following an itinerary developed together around our preferences, time available and local conditions.
We had barely entered the arrivals area at the modern Gustave III airport, hot and tired after a long day of travel, when we encountered Xavier, the Guanahani representative who was waiting for us. He collected our luggage and walked us over to his waiting van, where he provided us Evian bottles and Hermes refresher towelletes. These small touches meant a world to us and were the promise of things to come. At the hotel , he waited while we went through a five minute check-in, and then drove us to our room.
When, after a short walk along the palm-shaded sandy paths winding through the lush gardens of Azulik, we reached Villa #2, we instantly knew that whatever plans we may have had for the next few days had just been canceled. What could possibly be compelling enough to entice us away from this serene enclave of rustic luxury? Perched on a 20- foot high ledge over the Caribbean , for a breathtaking view of the shimmering turquoise sea below, our large thatched roofed one-room villa blended discreetly into the lush jungle surroundings. In the peaceful seclusion of Azulik , the “adults-only, clothing optional” character of this eco-resort seemed an obvious irrelevance
We prized Villa Montagna’s expansive views over moon valley, Sonoma, the Bay area and the nearby vineyards. We found it an ideal getaway home, especially during warm weather months, for a family. Though the guest bedrooms were modest in size, the property’s abundant and inviting social space provided plenty of areas for family members and friends to spend time together indoors and outdoors. Our cooking enthusiast appreciated the large open sunlit kitchen with professional Viking and Kitchen Aid appliances.
: We will remember the Omni San Francisco for its many desirable qualities, especially its friendly, proactive, helpful, enthusiastic service oriented staff. Feeling welcome and knowing there is always someone available to answer questions, lend a hand with restaurant recommendations reservations, directions, and all those little things than can make the difference between an ok stay a truly enjoyable one.