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

 

 

 

Where should I go on safari?

It’s cold. It’s wet. It’s dark. At this time of year, it’s only natural that thoughts turn to holidays! If you’re having a destination dilemma, and are tempted by a safari, read on – you’ll find the top ten questions we get asked at travel shows every year (with answers.) It might just help you narrow the selection down! 

In the entertainment world the New Year is punctuated by a series of glittering awards ceremonies – in January you have the Golden Globes, followed by the BAFTAs and then of course it’s the Oscars at the end of February.

In travel, it is our busiest time of year with wall to wall travel shows, brochure requests and enquiries galore  – so we are just as busy but possibly not quite as glamorous!

Travel Shows offer a great opportunity to find out everything you need to know about your destinations of interest. You can pick up brochures on a whole range of places and experiences, ask the experts your burning questions, and enjoy presentations on world food and travel in the celebrity and destination theatres.

Here are some of the most common questions fired at us during the travel shows (with abbreviated answers – if you want the ‘full’ answer , do give us a ring on 01603 283 517).


Where should I safari in 2016? Here goes with the top ten questions. 

Q.Where’s the best place to catch up with the migration?
 A.Kenya’s Masai Mara or Tanzania’s Serengeti (depending on time of year).
Take a look at this classic tented safari holiday, put together with the Migration in mind.

Q.We’re on a budget – where do you recommend? 
 A.South Africa and Kenya currently offer the best value in Africa. 
This 19 day trip to South Africa, including a stay in a tented camp in the Greater Kruger is fantastic value.

Q.We’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime journey. Where do you recommend?
A.It has to be Botswana…ideally combined with Victoria Falls (but the answer will vary depending on who you speak to!)
To be honest, if you go once, and do it right, we know you’ll be smitten and desperate to return to Africa!
Q.We’ve travelled lots in Africa and are after something completely different? 
A.Namibia or Ethiopia will make a big impression.

Q.Where can I see rhino?
 A.Your best chances are in Kenya (Lake Nakuru or Laikipia); South Africa (KwaZulu Natal); Namibia (Etosha, Damaraland)

Q.Where can we have an adventure? 
A.Take your pick: Zimbabwe (walk in Mana Pools, canoe the Zambezi, track rhino on foot in Matusadona); Botswana (horse ride, canoe, camp) Uganda & Rwanda (trek to see gorillas and chimps); Tanzania (climb Kilimanjaro, dive the Indian Ocean); South Africa (cage dive with a Great White); Zambia (incredible walking safaris)

Q.What do you recommend for a classic safari and beach holiday?
 A.Tanzania is wonderful – combine a classic Northern Circuit with the Spice Islands of Zanzibar or Pemba. Or get off the beaten track, and head to the vast southern parks of Selous and Ruaha, followed by the mainland coast or rustic Mafia Island with its marine reserve.  Alternatively combine a safari in South Africa’s Kruger with the beaches of Mozambique, or safari in Zambia before chilling on the shores of  Lake Malawi. Got more time and a bigger budget? Try Botswana and Mauritius, or Kenya and the Seychelles.

Q.Where can we tick off the Big Five?
A.Kenya is your absolute best bet. We even have a sample holiday called The Big Five! Don’t forget the Big Seven – head to South Africa for that!

Q.We want to see leopard – where do you recommend?
 A.Our top picks would be Zambia (the South Luangwa offers night drives, ideal for catching up with these nocturnal beauties); South Africa (Greater Kruger – Sabi Sands area); Botswana (a private concession in the Okavango)
Q.What’s the best time to go?
A.Sub-saharan Africa covers a vast area so it depends where you are going and what you would like to see! As a very general rule the peak months for Botswana, Zimbabwe , Zambia, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa’s Greater Kruger  are May to October. For East Africa the peak months for safari and beach are December to February and  June to October while the weather in Ethiopia and South Africa’s Cape would be best November to March. The peak months for gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda tend to be between June and September, the long dry season.

By Sara White.

 

Forget Chelsea Flower Show – South Africa is where it’s at!

Calling all garden lovers! You may have been lucky enough to visit the RHS Chelsea Flower Show or like me, you are currently enjoying the TV coverage from the comfort of your armchair. Always stunningly beautiful and inspiring, the Chelsea Flower Show has me itching to get out in my garden and copy some of their ideas. However somewhere else in the world really inspired me when I visited it a few years ago. South Africa.

South Africa is one of the most wonderful places to visit if  you are interested in gardens and rare or unusual plants. South Africa has a fabulous climate which means it is home to some stunningly beautiful gardens.  I am going to focus on the nations wonderful botanical gardens which are run by SANBI, the South African National Biodiversity Institute. They manage 10 National Botanical Gardens with an emphasis on preserving the indigenous plants and natural habitats which are so unique to South Africa and they are fantastic places to visit as a tourist.

South Africa’s National Botanical Gardens

The ten national botanical gardens are Kirstenbosch, Pretoria, Walter Sisulu, Free State, Hantam, Harold Porter, Karoo Desert, Kwelera, Lowveld, and KwaZulu-Natal. Altogether they make up over 7,400 ha of natural habitats and vegetation now protected for future years.  They also provide a wonderful tourist attraction for local economies with nearly 1.5 million visitors a year. Kirstenbosch, is one of the world’s very best botanical gardens and it has almost a million visitors a year on it own. It’s also one of my favourite places to visit when I am in Cape Town.

Kirstenbosch

Kirstenbosch is one of the most dramatically scenic botanical gardens in the world, as it sits nestled on the inland side of Table Mountain in Cape Town.  Kirstenbosch is also one of the world’s most important botanical institutions as it is home to some of the rarest species of plants. The garden was established over a hundred years ago by English botanists who settled in Cape Town. It makes the most of its stunning backdrop and the wonderful balmy climate to focus on the vast and diverse indigenous flora of South Africa. This creates a very natural atmosphere perfectly at home within the landscape and large sections of its huge acreage have been left as native fynbos. Many visitors head straight for the Protea garden and these South African flowers, showy and strange, have become popular now in the UK and can be seen at Chelsea! The botanists based at Kirstenbosch are still making important scientific discoveries on a regular basis.

Hantam

Situated just outside Nieuwoudtville, award winning Hantam is one of the world’s very special biodiversity treasures and the first National Botanical Garden in the Northern Cape. This, unlike Kirstenbosch, is a relatively new botanical garden having been founded in 1982, but it has been a popular public garden since the 1800’s.  The natural vegetation of this area, Gauteng, is known as the ‘Rocky Highveld Grassland’ and it accommodates over 600 naturally occurring plant species. This kind of vegetation means that it is home to plenty of wildlife including a breeding pair of Verreaux’s Eagles nest on the cliffs alongside the waterfall.  There are over 220 birds species recorded on site and a number of reptiles and small mammals, including small antelope and jackals.

The Karoo

The Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden is different to all the others as it specialises in a wide variety of desert and semi-desert plants. The 154 hectare Garden lies at the foot of the Hex River Mountain range in the arid Karoo Desert region north of Cape Town. Only a small part is cultivated and the rest is all wild and natural giving the visitor a great chance to explore a natural but protected environment. There are also two fantastic hiking trails here. This is the place to come if you are interested in desert plants such as cacti and succulents and the best time to come is in the South African spring (August and September) when many of them are flowering and the sight is spectacular.

Kwazulu-Natal

The beautiful and tranquil KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden is in the east of South Africa and once again has its own special atmosphere created by the local landscape and natural vegetation. It too was set up by Victorians and they added a fascinating collection of rare specimens of northern hemisphere plants, such as the swamp cypress, tulip trees, camphor trees, plane trees, giant figs and magnolias. There is even an avenue of London plane trees which is over 100 years old! Of course there are plenty of local plants from the eastern grasslands such as Clivia, Gerbera, Kniphofia and Watsonia. It is also a protected environment for local birds with over 150 species recorded. Another fabulous section of the garden is the fascinating Useful Plants Garden, which displays local plants used by the Zulu people for medicine, craft, and food.

The scenery here is much as you would expect in this stunningly beautiful region. There are two main rivers which cut through the gardens and they create spectacular waterfalls and there are two wonderful viewpoints to see them. The Crocodile and Nels Rivers create the green and lush scenery and the African rainforest section which has some unique plantlife as well as a suspension  bridge with great views over the tumbling river below.  Various plant species have been introduced into the Garden in order to conserve them including South African coastal species and a unique collection of plants which represent the rapidly disappearing tropical forests of central and west Africa.

If you fancy a tour of the best of South Africa’s gardens then give us a call. We tailor-make all our holidays and we can create a holiday around specific gardens and any other interests you have.

Posted by Ruth Bolton

Birdwatching in Africa

Most people visiting Africa think of safaris and the big game such as elephants, rhinos, lion and leopard. However the birdlife in Africa is absolutely stunning and there is a huge range of wonderful birdlife to be found in every country.  The green or rainy seasons are usually the best time for birdwatching and also tend to be the quietest and cheapest times to visit. Africa makes for a wonderful birding holiday and we can tailor-make some fantastic itineraries based around birdwatching in particular.

The continent is vast with a massive array of different habitats; from montane and rain forests, marshes and wetlands, deserts and salt pans, lush grasslands and soaring mountains and a very diverse coastline. You also have endemic birds specific to that country or those just passing through on their annual migrations. With so much to choose from we have narrowed it down with some ideas below.

South Africa

South Africa is home to the highest number of endemic bird species in the whole of mainland Africa due to its excellent climate and wide range of habitats. The Cape area is an excellent area for birdwatching with plenty of interesting and rare species attracted to the unique fynbos vegetation. In fact the Cape is an extremely important area as its unique habitat and vegetation is home to endemic bird species not found anywhere else. We offer stays at the De Hoop Nature Reserve and Grootbos Private Reserve which are both excellent birdwatching spots in the Cape. In fact most places along the Cape and the beautiful Garden Route offer great birdwatching opportunities to see species such as Salvin’s albatross, cormorants and large colonies of gannets. And we mustn’t forget the colony of African penguins at Boulder Bay.

In the Cape and all over South Africa you can see some fantastic birds of prey or raptors in places such as the Drakensberg Mountains, and in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park. These include various vultures, eagles and falcons including the pygmy falcon and the African fish eagle.  And of course the world famous Kruger National Park is home to a vast array of wildlife including wonderful birdlife such as the intriguing Honeyguide Bird.

Botswana

To the north lies the enormous country of Botswana. Much of northern Botswana is a true wilderness with no signs of mankind for hundreds of miles and is home to huge amounts of wildlife including fabulous birds. In Botswana you have a complete contrast in habitat from the arid salt pans and the Kalahari Desert to the opposite extreme of the Okavango Delta and its vast tracts of wetlands, rivers, marshes and islands. Another great spot for birdwatching is the Chobe National Park which is a huge area of wilderness.  Most people head for the Okavango Delta and after the summer rains the birdlife really comes into its own in October and November when you will see lots of water loving species such as a variety of egrets, herons, cranes and storks. There are also plenty of smaller breeds including various babblers, finches and lark as well. If you are lucky you might even see the rare Pel’s Fishing Owl.

Namibia

Neighbouring Namibia is also home to some extreme opposites with arid deserts and the famous sand dunes of Sossussvlei to the wild and remote coastline which is home to large numbers of sea birds including cape cormorants, white pelicans and terns. The best time for bird watching in Namibia is actually during the rainy season, between November and April.  One of the best places to visit is the Etosha National Park which is home to vast salt pans that fill with rain during the winter and become home to large flocks of both pink flamingos and blue cranes.

The deserts of Namibia are also home to many species including plenty of birds of prey such as eagles, hawks and the only endemic bird species of Namibia, the dune lark. You can stay at our lodges and camps in Namibia which are all in excellent locations for birdwatching including the stunning Fish River Lodge overlooking one of the world’s biggest canyon and home to soaring raptors riding the thermals.

Zambia

The central location of Zambia means that it is home to a real mix of birds from all over Africa including birds from southern, eastern and central Africa.  It is also home to the unique shoebill which is highly sought after by birders. Again the rainy or green season over our winter months is the best time to go birdwatching and you can often see visiting species over-wintering here before heading north. Zambia is home to the best walking safaris and this means that keen birdwatchers can really make the most of getting up close to the local birdlife.

Malawi

Neighbouring Malawi is also home to some rare species mainly based around the shores of Lake Malawi and in its dense forests. This huge lake is more like an inland sea in terms of size and its shores are lined with all sorts of varied habitats including marshes, savannah and forests, which support a wide range of species.  The Shire River and the Liwonde National Park are excellent birdwatching places with some fantastic birds including Pel’s fishing owl.

Rwanda

Rwanda is not somewhere that people think of as a birdwatching destination as most people come here to see the endangered mountain gorillas. However, birdwatching in Rwanda is superb and it really is a must-see destination for birders. Despite its diminutive size Rwanda is home to over 600 species including the Albertine Rift endemic bird species. The best place to stay is the Nyungwe National Park which is set amongst the montane forest and home to 13 species of primates alone.

Kenya and Tanzania

Kenya and Tanzania are excellent destinations for a birdwatching holiday and Kenya is home to the second highest number of species in Africa. Kenya holds the world-record ‘bird watch’ – with 342 species seen in 24 hours! You can see everything from the famous flamingos of Lake Naivasha and Lake Nakuru to the vultures and maribou storks picking over the predators’ leftovers.  The famous national parks are not just home to the Big Five but also many birds including migrants such as swallows and various waders.  The Masai Mara is home to the rosy-throated longclaw and magpie shrike and the Samburu is home to the shining sunbird and pink breasted lark. In Tanzania the southern parks of Selous and Ruaha are excellent birding spots as they are vast and unspoilt and teeming with a variety of species. Over a thousand species have been recorded here including a good amount of endemic species such as Mrs Moreau’s warbler, Loveridge’s sunbird and the Usambara eagle-owl.

Mozambique

Mozambique is a huge country stretching along the east coast of Africa from Tanzania to the north down to South Africa in the south. It reaches inland to Lake Malawi and Zimbabwe and as such offers a huge range of landscapes and habitats.  For the most part it is lush and green with some great national parks such as Gorongosa  filled with big game and wonderful birdlife. The coastline, which stretches for more than 2,000 kms, provides a home for a vast array of birdlife from waders in the sandbanks and marshlands to the fishing species of the mangrove swamps and islands dotted off the coast and around the archipelagos. The Zambezi Delta is home to many rare and important species such as the mangrove kingfisher and the elusive but colourful African pitta.

You can find out more information on some of Africa’s finest birds on our website under our safari animal section.

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