St Valentine’s Day Ideas

It’s Valentine’s Day this week and we have some great ideas for those of you who are stumped for a good gift or looking for a truly romantic gesture.

Kenya is home to a truly Out of Africa experience and as this year sees the 30th anniversary of that wonderful film starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford we think it’s perfect for a Valentine’s Day celebration. If you haven’t got time to get there this year then maybe you could book it now for a trip later in the year – after all who doesn’t like to receive a pair of tickets to a romantic destination as a surprise?

We recommend staying at many different romantic lodges and tented camps in Kenya.  One of the most romantic is the recently opened Angama Mara in a private conservancy on the edge of the world famous Masai Mara National Park.

Angama Mara

This is an incredibly romantic place because of the absolutely breath-taking views. These are so spectacular it’s almost impossible to drag yourself away from the camp to go on safari!  Each tented suite enjoys a 180° view over the beautiful Masai Mara stretching out far below. The Masai Mara is the best-known game reserve in the world, home to the Big Five and the world famous Migration which runs from July to October of each year and also the home to some truly stunning African scenery. The Out of Africa back-story adds romance and the tented suites are decorated in traditional romantic safari style with extra touches of luxury making it feel even more special. The staff at Angama Mara also go out of their way to make sure your stay is special and you will have some incredible memories to take home with you.

Other than Kenya two of our other favourite places for romance are the intimate and luxurious tented safari camps of Botswana and the luxury hotels on the shores of the stunningly beautiful Lake Malawi. In both these places we can off the exceptionally romantic experience of sleeping under the African night sky in a star bed. You can’t get more romantic than that!

Kanana Camp, Botwana

This little camp is a hidden jewel on the Xudum River in the Okavango Delta. The area is home to a long line of little islands dotted with lush greenery and trees interspersed amongst the rivers and lagoons. As you would expect the Okavango is filled with wonderful wildlife and you can take the camp’s glass bottomed mokoro canoe to make the most of it. The camp is tiny with only seven spacious twin and double-bedded safari tents each with an en-suite bathroom.  The tents are well spaced apart which means they all feel very private without being too far from the main camp area. New for 2016 are the amazing Star Beds which allow you to sleep out under the Botswana stars. With no light pollution the star gazing here will blow you away and the star beds means you can do it in style!

Nkwichi, Lake Malawi

Nkwichi, is a really wonderful secret that we are not sure we want to share – but we will! It really is a wonderful paradise tucked away on the beautiful shores of Lake Malawi.  There are 8 secluded beaches set along a stretch of the beautiful Rift Valley coastline which are all around Nkwichi. Not only do you have easy access to stunning beaches and crystal clear warm waters along the lake but also to some untouched wildlife and inland scenery. The accommodation at Nkwichi is also very romantic as you stay in lovely chalets and house set around the resort. Tucked away in the treeline, each chalet is unique.  All individually are individually designed and built using local materials to blend in to their surroundings, they deliver absolute luxury in a natural setting. This means they are really private and romantic with 4 poster beds and rock-pool baths carved out of local boulders and all of them have mesmerizing vistas of the lake. Nkwichi is also home to a fabulous star bed which means you can also sleep out under the stars. If you don’t fancy that then you can still enjoy a private dinner on the beach. Lake Malawi is often called the Lake of Stars so it really doesn’t come more romantic than that!

 

Posted by Ruth Bolton

 

What do you do when you and your partner want different holidays?

Do you and your other half disagree on what holiday to book? This is the time of year, when the days are long and dark, when most people are looking into booking their big holiday for the year. It’s hard enough trying to decide where to go and how much to spend but it can be a total minefield if you and your partner want completely different things.

Hands up – who wants to lie on a beach but has another half who wants to be active? Who wants to enjoy fine food and drink in a luxury hotel but your partner wants to rough it in the great outdoors? Does one of you hanker after bright lights and city breaks but the other prefers fantastic scenery and wildlife?

Well I have the perfect solution for those of you with this dilemma – South Africa!

It may be a cliché but South Africa really does have something for everyone. If you want a city break with luxury hotels, fine food and wine, nightlife, shopping and galleries then Cape Town is the place for you. Cape Town is not only a vibrant and exciting city but it is also surrounded by amazing scenery. Accessible from Cape Town is a wide range of scenery from mountains to vineyards, beaches to bush and incredible wildlife including whales, sharks and dolphins. While you are relaxing on the beach, visiting galleries, enjoying a superb lunch or shopping your partner could be sailing, fishing, shark diving, taking a helicopter flip, whale watching or golfing. You see what I mean? There aren’t many places in the world where you can do all this in one place!

If one of you wants great beaches and the other wants to go on safari then this can also be done easily in South Africa. (Actually Kenya or Tanzania are also good options as you can easily combine a safari with a beach stay on the coast or on Zanzibar.) The world famous Garden Route is chock full of beautiful beaches and you can stay at Knysna or Plettenberg Bay two small but lively beach towns surrounded by amazing scenery. Combine this with a few days on safari in one of the 5 star private game reserves in the Eastern Cape and you can both be happy!

If one of you wants to experience the great outdoors then staying in a tented camp on safari or a lodge tucked up high in the stunning Drakensberg Mountains are both excellent choices. If you are is super sporty then you can play golf at one of the numerous golf courses all over SA, go surfing at Jeffrey’s Bay on the Garden Route, go shark-diving in Cape Town, mountain biking, horse-riding or hiking in the Drakensberg Mountains, fishing, whale watching, dolphin spotting all along the Garden Route – the list is endless. If the other half is not so keen then there are plenty of alternatives on offer in all of these places.

If you also cannot decide on what kind of accommodation you both prefer perhaps you could mix and match and combine both your preferences? If you do one of our wonderful self drive holidays you have a huge range of choice. You can stay in everything from private luxury villas to boutique bed and breakfasts. We have eco-lodges, luxury hotels, self-catering apartments, safari lodges, city hotels, beach resorts, bed and breakfast accommodation, country houses, vineyards – the list is endless. You can find our full range in the Lodge Library.

If you would like to talk to one of our experts about your holiday dilemmas then just give Paul, Helen or Lily a call –we are very good at finding the perfect solution!

Posted by Ruth Bolton

 

 

 

Our Top Ten Island Getaways in Africa and the Indian Ocean (Part 2)

Brrr, this hasn’t been a warm summer so far has it? Are you dreaming of some proper sunshine and some beautiful far off beach where the water is the temperature of a warm bath and the sky is always a perfect blue? Well forget the Mediterranean or the Caribbean, Africa has some truly gorgeous island getaways just right for escaping our typically British wet summer or at any time of the year.  Way back in January we covered the first five of our top ten island getaways and now it’s time to reveal the next five.

Some are tiny with just a handful of rustic hideaways whilst others are much larger and more established with lots of luxury hotels, fantastic water-sports and world class restaurants.  All of them have sublime scenery; some have dramatic rocky coves whilst others have dreamy beaches with white sand and turquoise waters. Here are the next 5 in our favourite top 10 as voted by the Real Africa team.

Zanzibar, Tanzania

Zanzibar is still commonly known as the Spice Island (although its official name is Unguja or Zanzibar Island). It is the largest and most populated island of the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania. The African island has been for centuries an important trading centre, a melting pot of African, Indian and Arab influences. Zanzibar’s major attraction is Stone Town, with its whitewashed colonial houses, charming shops, bazaars, mosques, shady squares and intriguing courtyards. Stone Town is a very atmospheric, exotic, exciting and historical town where you can catch glimpses the sea and boats plying their trade in and out of the bustling port. Many buildings are crumbling away and there are tiny alleyways to wander down, bustling markets and the smell of spices fill the air. Another big attraction are the beautiful white sandy beaches lapped by the turquoise sea. The coast of Zanzibar is truly spectacular and all the beaches are stunning from rocky coves to huge stretches of perfect palm backed soft white sand. There are a wide range of hotels here with small boutique five star options such as the fabulous Baraza Resort to larger more family friendly options. There are places to choose for their seclusion and tranquillity and places to go for fabulous food and nightlife. Many of the larger resorts offer great water-sports facilities and fabulous excursions such as dhow cruises and dolphin safaris.

The  Seychelles

The Seychelles are being included as a group of islands, mainly for the reason that I cannot pick one over the other! There are several islands where we offer a fabulous beach getaway; from the larger Mahe and Praslin to the smaller private islands of Bird Island and Denis Island.  Once a hideaway for pirates and Arab merchants the islands now a popular tourist destination with many different hotels and resorts. Its white sandy beaches  are among the most beautiful in the world and you may well have seen these iconic beaches in photographs before. The palm trees, soft white sand, huge granite boulders and turquoise waters are truly perfect. The Seychelles also have substantial expanses of tropical forests with birds such as the endemic Seychelles Bulbul. You can chose from quiet little boutique hotels perfect for a honeymoon to large family friendly resorts with fantastic water-sports across the Seychelles and all the islands have something different to offer. The snorkelling and scuba diving is wonderful with coral reefs providing a home to a huge range of marine life. We like Praslin for its pretty scenery and its glorious beaches but all the islands are fabulous. If you are looking for luxury, romance, style and the most incredible white sandy beaches on a private island – then Denis Island is the place for you! We also offer hotels on La Digue, Mahe, and Bird Island.

Funzi Island, Kenya

Funzi Island is a tiny island off the coast of Kenya sitting in the middle of the gloriously warm and crystal clear Indian Ocean. It is easy to reach being only 15 minutes by air from Mombasa. This is the place to come for a true Robinson Crusoe style getaway. Although this is barefoot luxury not basic! If you want to stay on Funzi Island you will stay at the lovely Funzi Keys which nestles peacefully in the private white sands of its own peninsula. Designed to blend unobtrusively with its idyllic beachfront setting and to reflect the influence of the local culture and coastal architecture, the accommodation consists of nine spacious sea front cottages set along the high-water line and eight sea view cottages, all constructed of stone and thatch with large netted windows open to the balmy sea breezes. Surrounded by water and superbly located on a west-facing beach with glorious views of the African sunset, this remote and exclusive hideaway is the perfect place to escape from the outside world in style.

Nankoma Island, Marelli Islands, Lake Malawi, Malawi

Nankoma Island is one of many different islands on Lake Malawi. Lake Malawi is like a beautiful inland sea due to its enormous size. The waters are crystal clear and warm and perfect for swimming in. You will find many different white sandy beaches around the lake and islands as well as rocky coves, laid back beach bars, expensive boutique hotels, tiny rustic lodges and bustling towns.  There is something for everyone here and it works perfectly as a beach extension at the end of a safari in Malawi. Tucked away on Nankoma Island, a part of the Marelli Island archipelago, is the Blue Zebra Island Lodge. The lodge is a simple, eco-friendly place with rustic safari chalets which are great for those who want to make the most of the location for water sports and scuba diving and who are looking for a laidback informal type of holiday. For those who don’t want a safari tent you can also book a larger more private wooden style chalets called the Kingfisher, the Cormorant and the Fish Eagle. It is also a great place for families.

Mauritius

Mauritius is a huge island and country in its own right. It is a beautiful, lush green island that offers the visitor lots to see and do. There are national parks to visit, mountains to climb, waterfalls to gawp at, hiking trails to explore and bustling markets to shop in. The scenery and wildlife of Mauritius are wonderful and this is a great family destination. Port Louis is the beautiful and atmospheric French Creole capital with lots of French colonial architecture but also many foreign influences as befits its place in the Indian Ocean between Africa and Orient. There are lots of wonderful restaurants, shops and galleries across the island so you will never be bored.

But of course, Mauritius is most famous for its wonderful coastline and amazing beaches. White sandy beaches backed by palm trees and the soaring volcanic peaks. And the water is crystal clear and warm with wonderful coral reefs and abundant marine life meaning this is a fantastic place for snorkelling and scuba diving. If you are looking for somewhere lively then you should head north to Grand Baie, where you’ll find a lively restaurant and bar scene. If you love water-sports and windsurfing and kitesurfing then the north is the best part of the island for you. The east coast is best for beach lovers and the south-west corner is a family favourite with calmer waters and some excellent diving and dolphin-spotting too. We offer the Constance Belle Mare Plage in Mauritius, a wonderful luxury beach resort on the East Coast. Set in beautiful tropical gardens of almost 20 acres and 158 acres for the golf course, the hotel is surrounded by lush greenery making for a tranquil retreat. The beach itself is protected by an offshore coral reef making it ideal for swimming and water sports.

So now you can dream all about tropical islands in Africa and the Indian Ocean. You can find out much more on our lodge library at the top of the home page where you can find all our beach retreats or follow the link here. Or you could give us a call and let us know just what kind of place you are dreaming of and we can fix you up!

Posted by Ruth Bolton

 

South Africa’s Top Foodie Getaways

If you are a food lover then Africa may not be the first place that springs to mind but South Africa can compete with the best countries in the world. South Africa is at the forefront of the modern culinary revolution and offers too many fantastic foodie destinations to mention them all. You can dine in trendy restaurants with the latest in cutting edge cuisine, you can dine in more traditional fine dining establishments, you can sample local produce at fabulous farms and vineyards, enjoy a brai at the beach or dine under the African stars at a top safari lodge whilst listening to the lions roar!

There are lots of incredible restaurants in South Africa especially in Cape Town and Franschhoek in the Winelands where you are spoilt for choice. However we have narrowed it down to some great restaurants which are part of hotels so that you can book a holiday and actually stay at some of these places without having to book a taxi home at the end of the night. Because don’t forget that South Africa is also home to some world class wine as well!

1. Franschhoek, Winelands

The pretty and historic town of Franschhoek in the heart of the beautiful Cape Winelands deserves a mention on its own as it is one of the best places to base yourself if you love good food and wine. In fact it is often claimed to be the culinary capital of South Africa and few would argue with that. There are amazing places to eat dotted about (as well as lovely hotels) including the world famous The Tasting Room which regularly features in the Top 10 South African restaurants lists. It features an 8 course South African menu but you can also enjoy a lovely lunch at its sister restaurant, Bread&Wine if you are just passing through for the day, although you must book in advance! We have a wide range of accommodation in and around Franschhoek and the Cape Winelands so there are plenty of options, including Akademie Street Boutique Hotel and La Fontaine in Franschhoek itself. In neighbouring Stellenbosch, another pretty Winelands town with great restaurants, we have Wedgeview Country House and Hawksmoor House.

2. Babylonstoren, Franschhoek

One of the most recent additions to our accommodation portfolio, the Babylonstoren combines a working farm, a 5 star hotel and a fabulous world class restaurant, Babel. The team behind Babel have a very modern outlook on cuisine and they focus on using their own produce from the stunning kitchen gardens which guests can wander around. They “pick it, clean it and then serve it” focussing on the pleasure of the fabulous produce and simple dishes with an edge.  The bountiful breakfasts at Babel are also another fabulous treat if you are staying at the hotel or exploring the Winelands.  The hotel is very chic with beautiful white luxury rooms in the old Cape Dutch farm buildings dotted about the farm and beautiful views over the surrounding valley.

3. Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, Gansbaai, the Garden Route

Grootbos Private Reserve is a lovely private nature reserve made up of fynbos and woodland with stunning views over the coast and plenty of wildlife. This area is close to Hermanus on the Garden Route and Grootbos overlooks the beautiful Walker Bay which is a fantastic place to see whales, especially in our autumn months.  The two restaurants at Grootbos are the Garden Restaurant and the Red Indigo Restaurant which both offer sophisticated cuisine created from the finest local ingredients which in this part of the world includes incredible seafood and excellent wine.  A lot of the organic produce used in the kitchen also comes from their community project , Growing the Future. There are beautiful views from the restaurants as well as the guest accommodation and guests can also enjoy exploring the beautiful landscape on the nature reserve and perhaps work off some of that food! This is a fantastic spot for honeymooners. You can order a luxury picnic for two to take to the beach or book an even more romantic outdoor candlelit dinner set under the rare milkwood trees at Grootbos (see photo at bottom).

4. Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse, Drakensberg Mountains, Kwa-Zulu Natal

The Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse is one of our most romantic and scenic hotels. It sits on the edge of beautiful lake surrounded by the stunning Drakensberg Mountain range and its own pretty gardens.   One of the main draws of this hotel is the gourmet menu which makes the most of the local produce available in South Africa and from further afield. If you are lucky enough to stay here you will be treated to a 7 course dinner but any meals are a treat – have you ever had a 3 course breakfast? The food here will set you up for the day which you could spend hiking or exploring the incredible scenery of the Drakensbergs including many important rock art sites.

5.  Cape Grace, Cape Town

The Signal Restaurant at the Cape Grace has a lot of stiff competition it is true but we can happily recommend it as one of the best places to eat in Cape Town. The Cape Grace is a stylish and luxurious 5 star hotel situated right in the heart of the world famous waterfront and the buzzing heart of this vibrant city. The hotel offers fabulous views over the marina and the luxury yachts as well as towards Table Mountain.  The restaurant matches the hotel for style and finesse and it gets its name from the spectacular views towards Signal Hill, an iconic Cape Town landmark. There are taster menus for both food and wine and the restaurant specialises in creative Cape cuisine that’s fresh and inventive. There is a nod to the past with flavours from nations that have passed through Cape Town but there is an emphasis on fresh, local produce from local farms and fabulous seafood straight off the boats in the harbour out front. As you would expect the menu changes seasonally, but a common factor is the quality of ingredients and a distinctively South African flavour.

So have I whet your appetite for an indulgent trip to South Africa? If you fancy sampling some of these amazing places yourself just give us a call. You could book a long weekend in Cape Town or the Winelands or something longer if you have the time to take in the Garden Route or the Drakensberg Mountains.

Posted by Ruth Bolton

 

Unusual Places to Sleep – Star Beds

In Africa you can find some really unusual places to sleep including treehouses, rustic cabins, cruise boats, luxury trains and most excitingly of all – star beds. The star bed is a relatively new phenomenon but it is proving incredibly popular and I can see why. It combines the excitement and atmosphere of camping with the luxury and comfort of a safari lodge.

Star beds are the name given to beds out in the open, giving you the opportunity to sleep with nothing between you and the African night sky. Due to low light pollution in Africa the stars are incredibly bright and clear and you can see far more than here in the UK.  The African night sky is one of the most under-rated marvels of this amazing continent and one of the most incredible aspects of the unique nature of the African bush. This is truly a magical, once in a life time experience and definitely one for a memorable honeymoon!

Real Africa has several places where you can enjoy a night or two under the African sky in a star bed:

Tswalu Game Reserve, South Africa

Tswalu Kalahari is South Africa’s largest private game reserve, covering an area of over 100,000 hectares in the vast Kalahari wilderness. Tswalu takes conservation as its absolute priority which means numbers are kept low with a maximum of thirty guests at a time.

The Malori Sleepout is the name of the star bed at Tswalu.  Imagine sleeping in a luxury king-size bed on a raised deck in the middle of a game reserve, surrounded by the calls of nocturnal animals, with nothing between you and the brilliant stars of the Kalahari night sky. You sleep on a raised platform with a thatched overhang for protection should it rain.  You can choose to sleep under the thatch or further along the deck where it is completely open to the night sky. The bed itself is luxurious with lovely linens and there is a private outdoor bathroom close by. The Malori deck was built to maximise the stunning surroundings and the bed has panoramic views of the vast plains of the Green Kalahari and its famous sunsets. You will be provided with sundowners and also a supper so that you can enjoy this space on your own. This is also available for families as the lodge can provide extra camp beds for the children.

Nkwichi Lodge, Lake Malawi, Mozambique

Nkwichi, is a halcyon paradise hidden on the pristine Mozambican shores of Lake Malawi. This is the place to come if you want to sleep out under the African stars but on a beach rather than in the bush.  This is a truly tranquil and remote spot. With 8 secluded beaches set on 4 kms of Rift Valley coastline, Nkwichi is the perfect setting to discover a lost world on the shores of one of the world’s most beautiful lakes. The best way to enjoy the unrivalled beauty of Lake Malawi is Nkwichi’s ‘Lake of Stars’ Bed’. Set on a deserted, virgin beach  or on a private rock island close to the shore with Fish Eagles soaring overhead, this is the perfect way to soak up the glory of an African night-sky. Again you will be looked after with all the comforts of the luxury lodge at hand but with the peace and tranquillity of your own private outdoor location.

Loisaba Wilderness Lodge, Kenya

The two sets of Star Beds are unique to Loisaba. The first and original set are located among a kopje of rocks in one of the eastern valleys overlooking the “Kiboko” waterhole. The second and newer set is located about 8 kilometres further south on the banks of the Ewaso N’giro River. These are perched on stilts above the river below and are reached by footbridge from the opposite bank. Each Star Bed dramatically designed, handcrafted wooden raised platform, and partially covered with a thatched roof. The homemade “Mukokoteni” (uniquely designed bed on wheels), can either be wheeled onto the open deck area for a night under the stars, or left under the shelter of the roof. All the beds have complete “four-poster” insect netting. The Star Beds are normally reached by one of many options; on foot, horse, camel or vehicle and with two sets now in place create a unique opportunity to travel between them both and the lodge as part of a Star Bed Expedition.

Guests are guided and hosted by a team of traditional Samburu and Laikipiak Maasai warriors. Food is prepared in traditional camp kitchen on an open fire.  Both the Kiboko and Koija Star Beds comprise of 2 double sleeping platforms and one twin platform. Each double platform is designed for 1 or 2 people. The family platform accommodates 4 people (sharing bathroom facilities). Each platform is en-suite and has a large camp-style shower. The platforms are sited to ensure complete privacy.

If you are looking for a truly unique experience and you fancy camping under the stars but in total comfort then give us a call and we can book one for you!

Posted by Ruth Bolton