The Royal Portfolio, South Africa

A Royal Flush

Some of the best stories begin with “Once upon a time”. Such a time was 1999, when Liz and Phil Biden decided to convert their holiday home in the African bush into what is now Royal Malewane. located in the Thornybush Private Game Reserve on the western border of the Kruger National Park.

Royal Malawane Safari Lodge. Client: The Royal Portfolio. Art director: Paul Duncan. Stylist: Nathalie Williams.
Royal Malewane Safari Lodge private plunge pool at sunrise. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

This marked the beginning of The Royal Portfolio, a selection of exclusive accommodation destinations imprinted with Liz Biden’s nous- informed by her travels and involvement in the fashion business.

Royal Malewane patio. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio
Royal Malewane patio. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

Royal Malewane exudes the romance and beauty of a bygone age while offering every modern comfort. Claiming to have the most qualified guiding team in Africa promises wonderful wildlife experiences, and the diverse accommodation is uber enticing.

Nearly 1200 miles/ 1900km away is something equally enticing.

The Silo Hotel- A Great Gatsby of a Treat

The Silo Hotel at Sunset. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio
The Silo Hotel at Sunset. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

Cape Town is awash with magnificent views. Mountain, sea. Harbour. More mountain. Sitting at the eleventh floor Rooftop Bar of The Silo Hotel, looking beyond the pool to a Lion’s Head so prominent that you might as well be nibbling on Nyala with Simba on Pride Rock, the mind reconciles itself with the fact that you might have finally found the ultimate sundowner spot.

Rooftop relaxing. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio
Rooftop relaxing. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

The Silo Hotel is housed in a historic grain silo complex. It has been part of the landscape forever, so to give it a new identity was a tantalising prospect. It wasn’t a half job, either. The extensive use of exterior glass make it shimmer by day, and sparkle by night. From afar, it looks like a diamond-shaped Jenga monument- eye-catching to say the least, and the happy consequence of all that glass is that every room offers a unique perspective of one of the most picturesque cities in the world.

Opulence Personified

With just 28 rooms and a street reputation of some of the most expensive hotel rooms in Africa, the Silo Hotel most certainly delivers on the wow factor. It is lavish layer upon layer of luxury and relaxation.

Royal Suite detail. Photographer: Mark Williams
Royal Suite detail. Photographer: Mark Williams
Lobby detail. Photo by Micky Hoyle.
Lobby detail. Photo by Micky Hoyle.

Liz Biden took it upon herself to meticulously decorate each room. That considered individual touch is immediately noticeable and you sense the great deal of fun she had, with splashes of colour and wit around each corner, with a concerted effort to pay homage to what this great building once was as uncompromising steel meets delicate glass in a fusion that is very easy on the eye.

Most pleasantly for the traveller who returns from a day of wine tasting or perhaps hiking up one of the mountains, significant attention has been given to the bathroom experience. Each room has a soaking tub that looks out to something phenomenal, and demands that guests slip in and forget themselves for an hour or so.

Deluxe superior suite bathroom. Photo Courtesy of The Royal Portfolio
Deluxe superior suite bathroom. Photo Courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

The rooms are listed according to six categories, defined by room size and the views they afford. The Royal Suite and the stand-alone Penthouse are, naturally, in a league of their own.

Study in Penthouse bedroom. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio
Study in Penthouse bedroom. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

Our duplex suite had the most wonderful waterfront views. The lounge area was vast enough to almost pass as another bedroom, with a well-stocked mini bar that was just asking for trouble.

Decadence at the Granary

The brasserie – style Granary Café delivers decadence by the bite. It’s setting, on the sixth floor, provides uninterrupted views across the city and harbour and the double volume ceilings help to create an air of privacy for each table.

The Granary dining. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio
The Granary dining. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

The menu takes inspiration from its surroundings, with some truly exquisite seafood offerings. The delicately treated langoustine starter will linger long in the memory. The quail starter my partner chose smelt divine, and was generous enough to almost be a main dish.

The entrées were phenomenal. A Springbok loin and a magnificent rib eye, flamed to perfection, and paired with the velvety house red. There simply was no logical room for dessert, but the chef still insisted on sending a chocolate tower to share.

If you haven’t over extended yourself the night before, breakfast simply has to be the harvest table, which looked a nibbler’s delight. Sensibly, I plumped for the daintier house pancakes, with summer berries and fresh yoghurt.

Charisma with a Conscience

The Silo Hotel goes beyond fine dining and endless views, though there are more intimate dining rooms. And another wonderful bar, a library and gym. The intimate spa is neatly tucked away and, though the hotel is above the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, it also has its own private gallery, showcasing the very best of South African talent and creativity.

As Nick Carraway opined in The Great Gatsby, there are careless people in the world, who smash up things and creatures, and then retreat back to their money or their vast carelessness.

That is most assuredly not the case here. The Biden Family have creatively reimagined and reinvigorated a piece of Cape architectural history, and there is a considerable amount of perspective behind the Silo Hotel, and the other accommodation jewels on the roster.

The Royal Portfolio Foundation, managed by Ali McAdam, Liz and Phil’s daughter, provides regular support to communities close to each property. They raise awareness on conservation and, in the midst of the pandemic, provided relief to communities in need.

Reside a While

It is in the mountainous magnificence of the tranquil Franschhoek Valley, just over an hour’s drive from Cape Town, that La Residence nestles- surrounded by premium wine country, with the stylish little town of Franschhoek at its heart.

La Residence. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio
La Residence. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

La Residence hosts you in a grand villa. The forecourt with a gurgling sculpture adorned fountain directs you through lofty glass doors into an even loftier hall- at once lobby, with, to one side an elegant salon and the other a beautiful dining room. The fragrance of opulent flowers welcomes you.

An Impeccable Heart

View from the heart. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio
View from the heart. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

Refreshments are enjoyed on the terrace from where glorious views unfold. La Residence’s heart is an inner garden with impeccably manicured lawns fringed with perfumed shrubs and shaded by an avenue of regal palms leading to a marble edged pool. Beyond stretch yet more rose and jasmine scented gardens, inviting one to explore the expansive grounds and views across orchards and vineyards dotted with historic Cape Dutch homesteads, whence the grapes that produce the group’s fine Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Rose are harvested.

Debonair GM Edward Morton took our conversation to warm remembrances of developing the property. “The vision has always belonged to Liz,” he says, “from the structure, the garden layout, to the interiors.”

Suite Dreams

My flower filled Tibetan Suite’s large balcony faced north across the gardens. It is lavishly proportioned, with the rooms exotically appointed in brilliant oriental orange silk draperies and deeply upholstered furniture. Large Tibetan ancestor portraits decorate the walls, lit by sparkling chandeliers sourced on journeys across the Indian subcontinent.

Tibetan Suite. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio
Tibetan Suite. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

An elegantly proportioned oriental armoire houses a well-stocked minibar, snacks and NESPRESSO machine. The slightly larger Superior Suites offer a more complete ‘wet’ bar with a comfortable dining area, should you wish to take your meals privately.

The marble floored bathroom forms a natural extension to the bedroom, with an oversized bath tub flanked by Chinoiserie vanities and tall mirrors. The large walk-in shower and WC are discreetly tucked behind spacious his and hers wardrobes.

The estate is also home to a series of impeccably appointed vineyard suites.

Vineyard Suite interior. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio
Vineyard Suite interior. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

Sundowners are enjoyed in the elegant loggia, with views across rolling lawns where peacocks strut and call toward beautiful wooded gardens and distant mountains. A romantically furnished summerhouse faces the lake with its willow dressed island. Flowering jacarandas (gifted by Elton John) frame the sunset view.

Dining Delights

Dinner is taken in the vast hall. A table in the sunken lounge at the far end seats a honeymoon couple, who seek only the company of each other and a flaming log fire. A highly lacquered coral pink boudoir grand discreetly keeps an eye.

Dining area. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio
Dining area. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

At the opposite end, an open plan kitchen allows guests to enjoy a fine Chef’s Table prepared in their presence. Banter flies back and forth from a jovial group. They fall silent. Clearly dinner has been served.

Our table was set close to another fireplace, lit to take the chill off the evening. We enjoyed a bottle of elegantly pink La Residence Rose Shiraz, fragrant with lingering rose petals and Turkish delight, from the comprehensive wine list.

The menu offers three choices each as starter, main course and dessert. We plumped for roasted baby beetroot with salad fresh from the hotel’s kitchen garden, lightly dressed and topped with toasted walnuts and brie. Also, Thai inspired seared tuna on a julienne of vegetables topped with avocado, sesame seeds and delicately dressed with a soy and ginger reduction. Our waiter offered us each a tiny taste of the soup. Carrot and coconut. Heaven!

As mains; pan fried Yellowtail with a sweet pomme puree, confit tomato and courgettes and cucumber and tomato salsa or thyme baked baby chicken with herbed new potatoes, baby carrots and mangetout. This deliciously accompanied with a densely flavoured mushroom jus.

The prize for dish of the evening went to that which we never ordered, but certainly sampled. Sautéed pea tagliatelle, sundried tomato, green beans, shaved parmesan and basil pesto crème. Top marks!

Dessert. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

The meal ends with a choice of chocolate fondant, chocolate crumble with blueberries and ice cream or a selection of sorbet and a Macadamia nut ice cream. The cheese board was beyond us.

And so to percale, surely to dream. The vast bed is impeccably made up with crisply ironed bed clothes of cotton sateen and pure linen. Thanks Ralph Lauren, fluffy pillows and sleep.

After an indulgent morning soak, breakfast on the veranda. The menu features interesting twists on breakfast classics. Eggs Benedict: here with maple glazed ham on toasted sourdough bread- the hollandaise infused with smoked paprika, the perfectly poached farm eggs zested with thinly sliced radish. Or, poached egg, roasted chick peas, feta with dukkah spiced butternut, crispy bacon and rocket.

A Whale of a Time

A drive over the mountain passes and up the coast takes one to chic and intimate Birkenhead House (named after HMS Birkenhead which sank along this treacherous but beautiful coastline) in Hermanus, with its exhilarating cliff-top position overlooking the whale watching paradise of Walker Bay.

Birkenhead House. Photo courtesy of What My Boyfriend Wore
Birkenhead House. Photo courtesy of What My Boyfriend Wore

One could take in all the Biden properties as a package deal. The good news for South African residents are the special discounted rates on offer until the end of April.

Find out more here.

Green Corridors, KwaZulu-Natal- Ready, Steady, Camp

Pop Up Camps

These are a wild camping concept for exploring some of Durban’s wildest areas in accommodation under a million stars- and not the same old, same old beach and barbecue offerings associated with South Africa’s bustling subtropical coastal city.

Author Hilary McLernan at the Mqeku River
Author Hilary McLernan at the Mqeku River

Mqeku Camp is the idyllic, very happy ending to a fun tale, which is filled with twists and turns, colourful characters and captivating scenarios.

After turning off Old Main Road in Botha’s Hill, west of Durban’s suburbia, there is only one junction, where you take a left, and then continue over wondrous passes and through colourful communities to the very end of this ultra-scenic road. Only Shanks’s pony can take you further.

Somewhere Over The Rainbow

Just like that pot at the end of the rainbow, Mqeku Camp is a treasure, so worth discovering and exploring. Sibusiso Shangase welcomes you to a beautifully kept, cleverly laid-out arrangement of level, lawned camping sites, each with a stone braai facility, all interspersed by giant granite boulders, next to the magical Mqeku River.

Mqeku camp. Photo courtsey of Val Adamson
Mqeku camp. Photo courtsey of Val Adamson

Susan Dlamini and Nompilo Ngcobo of Green Corridors are in the hospitality tent with drinks and platters of fresh fruits and cheeses. Even though there are canvas chairs set out, everyone is drawn to the river and we sprawl across the granite boulders that are so huge one could only refer to them as slopes, imbibing the sights and sounds.

Everything is authentically natural and we quickly feel very at home.

The Mqeku River beckons. Photo courtesy of Hilary McLernan
The Mqeku River beckons. Photo courtesy of Hilary McLernan

It is hot and sunny, the tubes and safety gear are all lined up on the rocks, ready for those who want to go tubing. There is a deep, calm wallowing pool above the first rapid, which lures in the lazy ones.
The Mqeku has its source in the surrounding mountains and the water is clear and clean enough to drink.

Green Corridors guide Joe Jiyane tubing the rapids. Photo courtesy of Hilary McLernan
Green Corridors guide Joe Jiyane tubing the rapids. Photo courtesy of Hilary McLernan

Susan and Nompilo spoil us further with hot cheese and onion toasted sandwiches, chicken and cheese salads, juices and coffee.

Dining room at Mqeku camp. Photo courtesy of Val Adamson
Dining room at Mqeku camp. Photo courtesy of Val Adamson

Where Trouble Melts Like Lemon Drops

The camp itself is so comforting but also so stimulating with fantastic birdlife, ponds of aquatic life, sedges, grasses and trees, that we have to be enticed to go walking. Thulas, our knowledgeable guide leads us off and up, up, up into the scarp-forested hill behind the camp and Sibusiso follows at the back.

Way Up High

The beauty of this forest is that is really is pristine. Whoever has walked it, has had the respect to maintain single-file. The path is steep but, wow, the prize at the top is awesome! We get to see the layers of hills, the different vegetation zones and right down at the feet of the hills slithers the mighty Umgeni River.

View along the Umgeni River valley. Photo courtsey of Hilary McLernan
View along the Umgeni River valley. Photo courtsey of Hilary McLernan

It is summer and we have had good rains so the Mqeku is healthily pumping and we have to cross it a couple of times, so hiking boots and shorts are probably the answer for comfort and safety.

All in all, it was about a two-and-a-half-hour walk, led by our humorous, very motivated guide, Thulas Luthuli.

Umgeni River valley view . Photo courtsey of Val Adamson
Umgeni River valley view . Photo courtsey of Val Adamson

Everyone has settled into their very comfortable tents, which even a tall person could stand up in, beds are turned back ready to collapse into and it’s twilight; that happy hour time when the transition from day to night makes everyone excited and we gather for an evening drink.

Lots of happy chatter and as we watch the light fade and the colours change, a most exciting crepuscular treat clambers onto the granite boulder directly opposite us. It is the elusive African Finfoot. He belongs to an ancient group of birds, Gruiformes, with a rich fossil history. Bright orange legs with large conspicuously lobed toes, he is the bird known for “walking/running on water”.

There are ponds and wetland areas within the camp and unbeknown to us there is a hive of activity that has been getting going within and around them. From a single high-pitched peep, within minutes the entire froggie-chorus creates a complete cacophony- from belching oboes to sweet tinkling triangles. We take our torches out and it is nothing short of fantastic to see the number of frogs and the diversity.

So, between the frogs and the rushing river, we battle to hear one another but that’s fine because our mouths are otherwise occupied; more delicious food from the bush kitchen; vegetarian and meat kebabs, salads and hot pasta.

Once in a Lullaby

It is exciting to go to bed when you just know that you’re not going to need a lullaby or any other sleep inducer. There is another strong factor of utter mental unwinding; there is no cell phone reception whatsoever and that is a complete treat. One of the few remaining areas of this “health retreat” perk.

Mqeku camp. Photo courtsey of Hilary McLernan
Mqeku camp. Photo courtsey of Hilary McLernan

Early coffee with the bird morning chorus and a pre-breakfast walk, but this time a far more sedate kind-of amble.

An Appetising Amble

Another very knowledgeable guide, Joe Jiyane, joins us. We backtrack along the road which brought us into Mqeku, which runs parallel to the Umgeni River. Joe, Thulas and Sibusiso take turns in stopping us to give us various forms of fascination, from birds, to arthropods, trees and associated cultural uses and stories.

Sibusiso Shangase, our host, carries the same surname as the local chief. He has lived there most of his life and is very proud of his achievement. He tells marvelous stories about the history and the general customary ways of the people.

Life in this valley is completely authentic and I don’t think has changed much at all over the generations. The only conspicuous change is how many people have left their area, seeking the life-style of urbanisation. As we walk along the road the local people greet us as they get on with their simple lives.

Green Initiatives Creating Opportunity

Joe tells us about one of the strands of the massive interconnected web of interventions Green Corridor has created to uplift communities in conjunction with their local environments. There is a recycling project where pavers are created in a clever combining of invasive water-hyacinth and Spanish-reed and plastic.

At the end of the road, just before it bridges the Umgeni River, is Mfula store, which used to be a thriving bustle and a pumping throng on weekends. Again, due to the mass desertion of the area, the store is quiet but imperative to the locals. The storekeeper has a lot of mango trees and he makes and sells bottled green-mango atchar; one of the helpful introduced species and practices.

Our stomach enzymes affect our pace and soon we are back with the wonderful Susan and Nompilo and their wonderful food; scrambled eggs and bacon and hot crumpets with syrup and a hot cup of coffee.

We only had the one night in Sibusiso’s magical Mqeku Camp, but it felt as if we had been away for a week. He can be very proud of his camp; not an alien plant in sight, not a hint of litter. Perhaps granite boulders heighten gravity but whatever it is, something draws you in at Mqeku Camp and you will want to return.

Pop Up Options

Apart from Mqeku, there are three other sites- Maphepetheni, on the edge of a cascading series of waterfalls and rapids overlooking a deep gorge; a gorgeous location on the shores of Mnini Dam with excellent bass fishing, canoes for hire and a range of hiking trails; eNanda Adventures on the shores of eNanda Dam- an ideal spot for mountain bikers, hikers and canoeists.

You have the option to self-cater or let the guides cater for you. All the Pop Up Camp sites are managed in conjunction with the local community and include 24 hour security.

Rates include transport to the site, or a guide can be sent to help you find your way.

  • Fully catered: ZAR650 per person
  • Self catering: ZAR400 per person
  • Min 4 pax per group
  • Inclusive of all entry fees, transport, guides

Visit https://durbangreencorridor.co.za/

Umdoni Park, KwaZulu-Natal- a hidden golfing secret

A Challenging Walk in the Park

You haven’t played KwaZulu-Natal coastal golf until you’ve toured Umdoni Park, a top 100 course. Perched, like a hidden secret, within an indigenous forest and overlooking the Indian Ocean, it is a fantastic challenge for golfers of all levels.

Photo courtesy of Ndimbulele Khasibe
Photo courtesy of Ndimbulele Khasibe

The secret to the golf club’s enduring success is the warmth of its members and staff. Within minutes of arrival, you feel part of the place – which is just as well, ahead of the challenge that awaits.

The sharp elevation of some approach shots, particularly on the front nine, speak to deceptive design, and you under club at your peril.

Often, a golfer is most fearful of that which they don’t know. The members will tell you to pack plenty of club for each shot chasing the safety of the green.

Don’t Come Up Short

For players coming from up north, where the air is light and the ball flies forever, best you adjust your yardage early. You will need at least two clubs longer, and that is before you take the wind into consideration. Here, too, the course can hoodwink the uninitiated. Even if you can’t feel it beneath the trees, your shot will be affected.

Terrific features of Umdoni are the short holes on the course. Each is unique in character, and places a massive premium on accuracy. The charming third and the wicked 12th both require little more than a wedge, but they can both gobble up a shot short on distance.

Photo courtesy of Alex Crowie
Photo courtesy of Alex Crowie

There are plenty of candidates for a signature hole, but the closing stretch of four holes, heading back to the clubhouse and the sea, will demand your last bit of concentration.

The final hole, from a tee box that has a view as vast as it is blue, is a wonderful par-five. The heroes will try and get there in two big blows, but water near the green combine with forest on the left to protect a well-bunkered putting surface.

Convivial Clubhouse Company

Head into the convivial 19th hole for tales of adventure and what could have been, as the wind outside whips up and brings in the night.

Photo courtesy of Ndimbulele Khasibe
Photo courtesy of Ndimbulele Khasibe

If you’re eating, the clubhouse restaurant has some excellent choices every day expect Monday, including a truly sumptuous fillet dish that would sit proudly at any reputable eatery.

Rustic or Baronial?

If you’ve travelled from afar, Umdoni’s range of accommodations offerings suit every budget and party size. For the modern Tarzan and friends, there are rustic dwellings near the 12th green- the self-catering forest cottages which accommodate up to 20 people, well away from anyone else. You can be as loud as you want, and only the resident mambas (snakes) might complain.

Photo courtesy of Angela Buckland
Photo courtesy of Angela Buckland

For those after a more genteel night’s rest, Botha House sits between the estate entrance and the clubhouse. Botha House was originally built for General Louis Botha as a beach retreat for his wife Annie. Today this sensitively restored, gracious homestead stands proudly above the ocean, the sound of the waves crashing on the Umdoni Point rocks below.

Surrounded by rolling lawns, it has a certain country charm and appealing grandeur. Its architecture is unmistakably Cape Dutch, its interior elegantly colonial- think columned entrance hall, drawing room, dining room, country house paraphernalia, fireplaces, oil landscapes and portraits- and it is a sublimely relaxing retreat.

Photo courtesy of Angela Buckland
Photo courtesy of Angela Buckland

The four rooms of the manor house are glorious and cavernous, with views towards the sea or the forest. The staff, led by the knowledgeable Charles, are attentive and knock up a traditional breakfast, which you can take in the grand dining room or on the terrace, with the morning sun and sea breeze for company.

Photo courtesy of Alex Crowie
Photo courtesy of Alex Crowie

It is an experience that speaks of a bygone era, where time went by as slowly as the gin and tonics. There are also cottages dotted around the main house, and these are also comfortable and make for fine double rooms.

Off Course, On Track

It’s not all about golf, so golfing widows or widowers have plenty of options. That forest I mentioned? Imagine riding through the forest simply enjoying the solitude and hearing nothing more than birds tweeting and the hooves of your horse as you make your way along the trails.

Photo courtesy of Shannon Stoffels
Photo courtesy of Shannon Stoffels

There are walking trails with Bushbuck, Impithi, Red Duiker and so much more, running trails with weekly parkruns and myruns, and cycling tracks, over 120 tree species, ditto for grassland species, a resident pair of Crowned Eagles and over 150 bird species.

Photo courtesy of Thobekani Mdletshe
Photo courtesy of Thobekani Mdletshe

For the more adventurous, hike down to the gorge and along the Nkumbane River and Ridge Trail. Stop off at the Otter View Site and take-in the forest sights and smells.

Photo courtesy of Khulasande Tshayile
Photo courtesy of Khulasande Tshayile

There’s a whale watching deck, lovely picnic area, an Environmental centre, with interactive walks to learn about the fauna and flora. The beach has a tidal pool and the best access to Pennington point, a renowned fishing spot.

Photo courtesy of Thando Ngcobo
Photo courtesy of Thando Ngcobo

Closing Shots

It is easy to forget that KZN has two coasts, completely different in manner or manor.
The well-heeled North attracts the attention, and even more so after the airport relocated. Everything happens quicker on that side of Durban.
But, as the international pandemic has reminded us, there is still a time and a place for old creature comforts.
Like the south coast, and hidden treats like Umdoni and it’s wonderful people.
Go.
Play.
Stay a while.
Visit www.umdonipark.com

Fugitives’ Drift: the legacy, the raconteur, the guest who never left

True Tales, True Beauty

It’s hard to top a good story, well told- exceptionally portrayed would be more fitting. And the stories told at the sites of the battles near and on the property of Fugitives’ Drift, around the boma fire, or at the bar, are of such immense scale that one is swept up and along, heartstrings plucked as the events of 22-23 January 1879 are vividly presented.

The scale is matched by the vistas, which equally tug at the heart and feed the eyes and soul. The word Zulu means ‘Heaven’, the Zulu people, amaZulu, are ‘The People of Heaven’, and their home, KwaZulu, is ‘The Place of Heaven’. Easy to see why. The land is as rugged and majestic as the Zulus aspire to be.

Fugitives’ Drift Reserve Views
Fugitives’ Drift Reserve Views

Located in a natural heritage site on the lip of the Buffalo River gorge, approximately four and five hours from Durban and Johannesburg respectively, Fugitives’ Drift commands magnificent views across the plains to the mountains of Isandlwana, the Oskarberg, and down 1 150 metres to the river crossing on the Buffalo River which gives the reserve its name. The 22 km river boundary includes the spectacular Indaweni gorge.

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Resolve Realised

It is here that David and Nicky Rattray pioneered heritage tourism. In 2007, David was murdered, with Nicky standing beside him, but this self-effacing woman with indomitable strength remained and the family have continued and built on David’s legacy.

Lodge boma and deck dining area
Lodge boma and deck dining area

From humble beginnings of one cottage and a vehicle they built Fugitives’ Drift into what it is today: the lodge, guest house, Umzinyathi Farmhouse and KwaGeorge cottage.

Harford library view
Harford library view

Views from the lodge rooms are lovely and, from the wraparound verandah of the beautiful Harford library, just wow! If you go, do yourself a favour and stay for three nights so that you have time, in between battlefield excursions, to appreciate the beauty of Fugitives’ Drift, to while away some hours at the library, around the perfectly positioned swimming pool or swaying in the ridiculously comfy suspended seating on a lodge room balcony. If you’re in the guest house, you have your own perfectly positioned pool and much more besides.

 

Rest Easy

In both the lodge and guest house, accommodation is spacious, attractively decorated, with full ensuite bathrooms, inside and outside showers, lounge area, huge and exceptionally comfortable beds and pillows, and private verandahs- all encompassing the views.

Lodge bedroom
Lodge bedroom

The bathrooms are a delight – all the touches from heated towel rails, bowls of bath salts to pump pots of body lotion. The practical is not forgotten either. Every suite comes equipped with walking sticks, umbrellas, torches, a bedside clock and mosquito spray (Fugitives’ Drift is not in a malaria zone).

Lodge room
Lodge room

Umzinyathi is essentially self-catering but meals can be taken at the Lodge or Guest House by arrangement. Guests at KwaGeorge take their meals at the Lodge or Guest House.

Guest House
Guest House
Guest House bedroom
Guest House bedroom
KwaGeorge interior
KwaGeorge interior

War and Peace

The battlefields region of KwaZulu-Natal is a landscape of rolling hills and grasslands over which were fought a total of 63 battles that shaped the history of South Africa. The main focus of Fugitives’ Drift is the history of the Anglo-Zulu Wars fought primarily at Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift but you do not have to be a history boffin to enjoy tours. Against the background of war are the stories of ordinary people. Stories of adventure, bravery, heroism, treachery, betrayal and arrogance. It’s stirring stuff indeed.

Douglas Rattray at Isandlwana
Douglas Rattray at Isandlwana

Douglas Rattray- all of the guides actually- are consummate narrators and we were enraptured, most visibly emotional as the stories unfolded. They are dedicated, inspired and inspiring custodians of the history, not only of the Anglo-Zulu war, but of Southern Africa and its cultures.

Mphiwa Ntanzi at Isandlwana
Mphiwa Ntanzi at Isandlwana
Rorkes Drift at sunset
Rorkes Drift at sunset

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fugitives’ Drift museum
Fugitives’ Drift museum

But you can enjoy Fugitives’ Drift on so many other levels. You can stroll through the indigenous rock garden or walk through the reserve. Game is abundant on the 5000 acre property, as are species of birds. Without major predators to make them nervous, you may have to remind yourself that the animals are wild as they are pretty chilled and it is unusually easy to get close to them.
For the slightly more energetic there is coarse fishing in the Buffalo and for the really energetic there are trail runs and a network of single-track mountain biking routes ranging from flat to steep.

Giraffe with Isandlwana in the distance
Giraffe with Isandlwana in the distance

Lest you think all this sounds quite focussed on grownups, it was great to see how youngsters are entertained. An ex Gurkha officer and his family were staying while I was there. Understandably he was very interested in the military aspects, and he and his wife were delighted that their three children, aged six to 10, were so well engaged in interactive tours of their own, including a game walk and game drive, so that the parents could take in the tours which would have been a bit much for the kids.

Douglas was fantastic to the children during the afternoon walk, 15 minutes from the lodge, to where the first men in history to earn posthumous Victoria Crosses, Lieutenants Melvill and Coghill, were buried. He gave them much of his attention, his knobkerrie (walking stick) to parade with- and even persuaded them to adopt some pet rocks. Said rocks were quartzite, dating back to the beginning of the planet, and the area is a geologist’s treat, with plunging cliffs and crags of Karoo sandstone and dolerite.

The excursions are exceptionally executed. Not just the storytelling, but the timing, the thoughtful touches.

 

Rorkes Drift Battlefield Tour
Rorkes Drift Battlefield Tour

Homely Luxury

You are made to feel at home from the moment you arrive. There are several staff that have been at Fugitives’ Drift for 20 years or more. That, and their smiles, tells a story. Good management, happy staff, happy guests. Grace Ndlela is mentioned in many guest reviews. Smiling, singing, charming and guaranteed to brighten your day. The food deserves a mention too, as does the wine list. Whatever your dietary requirements or preferences, you will be pleased- especially with the pre-dinner drinks canapés which included the best little pastries I’ve had.

Grace Ndlela at the bar
Grace Ndlela at the bar
Lodge lounge
Lodge lounge

 

 

 

 

The library is a wonderful place to take meals too. Like the lodge, there’s wi-fi if you need to connect beyond the marvellous scenery. Apart from the amazing collection of historical literature and artefacts that the Rattray’s have accumulated (here and in the museum opposite the reception offices) it’s completely geared to host functions or special occasions but, more meaningful for me, geared to relaxing. Those views…

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

So said Aristotle. Micko O’Byrne- the Australian who came to visit and never left, marrying Nicky instead, probably best sums up what is so special about Fugitives’ Drift: “I was struck by the immensity of the stories that they tell here. But I was also taken by the people that started this because, as a business analyst, I thought it doesn’t make sense to have a business that just tells stories and your clients- 80% of them- live in England. But I knew that extraordinary people, with vision, make what appear to be unsuccessful ideas, work”.

Just one of the many nice touches is a washed vehicle for departing guests and water and homemade crunchies to keep you going on the way to your next destination.

What is absolutely certain is that you will leave having had a deeply enriching experience.
Visit www.fugitivesdrift.com

Listen to a podcast with Nicky and Doug Rattray and Micko O’byrne here
Watch and listen here

Getting there

Fly into the cities of Johannesburg or Durban and drive from there- five hours from Johannesburg, four hours from Durban. Fugitives’ Drift partners with Three Tree Hill Lodge  and Nambiti Private Game Reserve, which offers the Big 5 African game viewing experience, lies between the two lodges if you a rewarding roadtrip is what you’re after.

Three Tree Hill Lodge- My Favourite History Lesson

One learns all the time, especially when travelling.

If nothing else, names of places, people and species- often forgotten or partly remembered.

Three Tree Hill rooms in the mist
Three Tree Hill rooms in the mist

I learned something I won’t forget at Three Tree Hill Lodge, which overlooks the secluded Mfazimnyama Valley of the Spioenkop Game Reserve, in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains in KwaZulu-Natal.

Molly Blackburn Library
Molly Blackburn Library

Seated in the recently completed Molly Blackburn library, with the late Black Sash activist’s portrait and Philosophy PhD on the wall, it seemed that the apple did not fall far from the tree in her son Simon’s case.

Owners Simon and Cheryl Blackburn are well read and podcasted and Simon, who recounts the terrible battle that took place on the Spioenkop massif across the valley, changed my perspective on history when I asked if, with the passing of time, younger generations and colonial history not flavour of the month, whether interest in the South African battlefields had waned.

 

 

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Simon Blackburn- battle stories in the grass
Simon Blackburn- battle stories in the grass

“No” was the short answer, as he gathered his resonating thoughts. Simon hated history at school- and his and Cheryl’s lack of interest in history stalled their purchase of Three Tree Hill Lodge.

A Rich History

Fatherhood- and a sense of mortality, changed that. Legacy, his own and his forebears, became an interest and, listening to expert David Rattray’s recounting of the battles of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift, he fell in love with the narrative and the humanity of history.

Ron Gold battlefield talk
Ron Gold battlefield talk

Simon’s tour of the battlefield was an emotional experience for me and elicited simultaneous applause and tears, such were the human stories within stories of the most devastating clash for both Boers and English in the 2nd Anglo-Boer War- both sides incurring their highest casualties in a single day on 23 January, 1900. Whether it be Simon or resident historian Ron Gold who guides you, I do recommend it.

Although the wood and iron buildings are thoughtfully constructed in the style of the period, Three Tree Hill Lodge is about far more than history. It’s about relaxation, nature, family, escape.

Painted matte green, the buildings melt into the surrounding acacias and aloes, giving a sense of glorious isolation. New to me since I last visited are the family cottages with very comprehensive self-catering facilities. No microwave, no tv- in line with the emphasis on sustainable and responsible tourism.

Michael Poliza- aerial view
Michael Poliza- aerial view

Fair Trade Status

Three Tree Hill was the first KwaZulu-Natal holiday destination awarded Fair Trade status. Fair Trade practice was established to serve the interests and rights of farmers, workers and producers in South Africa- as well as to promote sustainability across the board- and Cheryl and Simon carry these practices through to every aspect, from the solar stove to the handmade toiletries in the bathrooms and other cleaning products; from staff employment (no lay-offs during the Covid 19 pandemic) to involvement in community projects.

Family Friendly Cottages

The family cottages don’t only accommodate kids, they are kidcentric. From toys and children’s books in the rooms to little kiddies’ backpacks for hikes and kids’ toiletries, they have your little ones covered. I loved seeing children just being children- their bikes left mounted on the family cars as they used the playground, careered about the property, or made fiery patterns in the air around the outside fire after dark with burnt sticks.
     

The property is great for mountain bikers of all levels. Horse riders too. You can take yourself on nature walks and Simon (the Blackburns are vastly experienced safari and mountain guides) takes guests through the game reserve.

Nature Walks and Stunning Views

Rhino among the acacias (Vachellia nilotica)
Rhino among the acacias (Vachellia nilotica)

Rhino among the acacias (Vachellia nilotica)

Sundowners

The views over the valley from the cottages are lovely, but more beautiful aspects present themselves on a guided walk- as do game, including white rhino. While the cottages face the valley and the morning sun, the afternoon vistas from the other side of the property, over Spioenkop Dam and surrounding hills toward the Drakensberg mountains, are equally compelling.

There is really just so much to do and all the animals on the property make the lodge so much more homely and welcoming. If you like dogs, they’ll accompany you on a walk or a ride. If you like cats, Gin, Tonic and Squeak are happy to visit and Tonic has been known to enjoy a game walk or two.

Main swimming pool
Main swimming pool

Burchells lounge

Burchells lounge

Burchells Cottage

There is a swimming pool and sun deck away from the main buildings and Burchells, where we were ensconced, has a lovely pool area with loungers.

Burchells master bedroom
Burchells master bedroom

Burchell’s is a superb, 105m2 space for a family of six and whilst there, choose to take a mid-morning bath and take your binoculars with you.

A Birder’s Paradise

The massive clear window looks out onto pristine rocky hillside alive with exciting birds. Looking towards the valley, the skyline is broken by fantastic aloes; marlothii and excelsa, stretching up to 4 meters.

In winter, unless prewarned, birding becomes quite bewildering as “subspecies” emerge. Orange-headed mousebirds, weavers, starlings, sunbirds are quite a sight, after having plunged their heads into the deep, powdery orange pollen of the flowering aloes.

The bird-buzzing aloes lure the odd raptor in; sparrowhawks, goshawks and the likes break the peace, darting through on an opportunistic hunt.

Aloes and weaver bird
Aloes and weaver bird

Each chalet or cottage has polished cement floors, sash windows, ceiling fans and verandah completing the historical feeling.  The attention to detail and design is impeccable.

Twin bed room
Twin bed room
Twin room cottage verandah at sunrise
Twin room cottage verandah at sunrise

The theme continues in the main building with its huge lounge and dining room and deep, wrap-around verandah. The furnishing is an eclectic collection of solid, comfortable and tasteful pieces. Below the well-stocked library is a lovely, possibly better stocked wine cellar.

Many of the pictures on the walls are taken from newspapers of the period, with advertisements extolling the benefits of eating Bovril – “the food of men on the front” – Keane’s mustard and adding Scrubbs cloudy ammonia to your bath.  It’s quirky and fun.  Even the place mats on the dinner table recall political cartoons of the time.

Main lodge eastern entrance
Main lodge eastern entrance
Verandah dining
Verandah dining

If you’re not self- catering, meals are taken around the long, scrubbed wood tables in the main building, encouraging conversation among guests.  I vividly recall lively banter between a somewhat fortified guest and a couple who did not consume dairy, gluten, processed sugars, meat, alcohol or caffeine. Not dull, but I was most impressed by the lengths taken to produce tasty treats for those guests, as well the superb repasts prepared for us less evolved scoffers.

Golden Gate National Park and Much More

Three Tree Hill is centrally situated for a host of activities the non-history buff would hope for: hot air ballooning; hiking; helicopter flips; a canopy tour; raptor centre and the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School.  Clarens and Golden Gate are just an hour-and-a-half’s drive away, and Champagne, Cathedral Peak and Royal Natal 45 minutes.

It’s all there to do and enjoy, but with the overarching bonus of peace and tranquility as constant companions, broken only by bird and jackal calls and the laughter of children.

The final word:  book in for at least three nights.

Visit threetreehill.co.za and listen to the podcast here

View a video slideshow here.

 

Chobe – What’s The Buzz?

Beauty To Fill The Soul and Lens

If you have an eye for natural beauty, you’ll know as soon as you reach the Chobe River, in north- eastern Botswana. It’s a wildlife lover and nature photographer’s dream.

 

For elephant lovers and safari fanatics, the great elephant concentrations on the Chobe River occur during the winter months. For birders, the wet summer months are the drawcard, when the migrant birds are in full colour, and antelope start dropping their young. Any time of the year, the Chobe provides the most spectacular sunsets.

 

Game viewing in the dry season pretty much guarantees excellent sightings, since animals have to visit the river to drink when all the watering holes dry up. And viewing game from the water is possibly the nicest way. And possibly the nicest way to do that is aboard Flame of Africa’s Chobe Explorer.

Chobe Explorer

Chobe Explorer
Chobe Explorer

 

On board this triple decker, spacious, wood cladded river cruiser you have what my fellow “shipmates” described as their best Chobe experience ever- and between us we had had over 50 such experiences.

Skipper David Twembuchi, barman and charming front of house Ronald Rungwe, with Kabelano, Mercy and Malebogo running the kitchen, were warmly welcoming. Then, it was a short hop from the Flame of Africa jetty in the town of Kasane, Botswana, before the boat nudged in at the Chobe National Park offices to gain entry permit to the park (the cruise is on the Chobe River and there are happily no immigration formalities). After our welcome briefing and drinks from Ronny we were sedately on our way.

Raise Your Glasses

Drinks glasses became prism glass as guests reached for cameras when skipper David got us up surprisingly close and personal- especially considering the boat’s size- with a plethora of wildlife. One such involved a massive bull elephant swimming across a river channel and then taking a keen interest in the long grasses at the boat’s prow, causing an evacuation of the lower dining deck.

 

 

After 1 ½ glasses of Nederburg Brut bubbly, backing off from one sighting was a giddy delight as David spun the big vessel almost 360 degrees.

 

The dining deck is where we enjoyed a superb lunch: delicious Botswana beef steak, boerewors, chicken, various salads, potato bake with excellent freshly made bread- followed by a delightful dessert and accompanied by a selection of wine.

The five adults at our table- repeat visitors to the area and one a riverside resident- repeatedly exclaimed that this was their best Chobe River experience. Exclaimed may not be the correct term. We were too laidback for that, lulled by the sumptuousness and the pace. And it is the pace, together with the service and the space afforded, that sets the Chobe Explorer apart. Another plus is that you have a head start on the usual afternoon mass launch, seeing plenty of wildlife long before, without any jostling for photo opportunities.

 

Above the dining deck is the bar and lounge, with ample, comfortable couches which seemed even comfier post-lunch- and the top deck has a formation of suspended, luxurious loungers which really top off the show.

 

Gently swaying atop the boat is the dreamiest way to top off the day. And, having launched around 11 am, it was on the stroke of 6pm that we nudged up to the jetty again- pretty much the whole, glorious day.

Plugging Away

I shamelessly plug Flame of Africa, simply because of my experience using them. It was a Google search for a transfer company that kicked it off and I have extensively used them for transfers between Kasane and Victoria Falls, 80 km distant, and/or Livingstone. I’ve also experienced lodges they market and activities they provide in the Chobe area.

Another recommended river outing, if all day is too long, is aboard the sumptuous Chobe Style- perhaps with lunch on The Raft. Flame of Africa owner, Brett McDonald, lives most of the time on the Chobe and constructed this unique 64-seater floating restaurant from scraps and throwaways.

A trip to the Chobe or the Zambezi would not be complete without trying your hand at fishing. These waters are home to the voracious, powerful tiger fish- a true thrill to every serious or amateur angler. Capture and release is the policy with tiger, while “hook and cook” is adopted for the delicious bream that frequent these waters.

Brett McDonald
Brett McDonald

Impalila Island is well worth a visit. It has a  colourful history and is uniquely positioned, straddling the intersection of four countries. Here you can enjoy a Zimbabwean Zambezi beer, a Botswana St Louis, a Zambian Mozi and a Namibian Tafel and know that the countries from whence they came are not more than 200 metres away.

Also try to make time for a visit away from Chobe- in particular to Victoria Falls, if you’ve never been. Even if you have, it never loses its awesomeness.

Luxury Meets Nature- Cresta Mowana Safari Resort & Spa

Chip and Chill

Fancy a round of golf? Do so in very close proximity to the vast elephant population surrounding the course at Cresta Mowana Safari Resort & Spa. Magical- even if you have to wait for various game to be coaxed off the course.

Here on the banks of the Chobe River, in north- eastern Botswana, on the outskirts of the town of Kasane, there’s no rush in any case- unless it’s to bring your camera or binoculars to your eye in this fabulous game viewing destination. Rather chill, catch a cocktail, as you enjoy views from the beautiful grounds across the river and the floodplains into Namibia on the far side.

Enjoy the friendly service, the extensive facilities and activities- on and off site- not forgetting about nine holes of golf of course. Enjoy, too, the old world yet fresh style of this grande dame, the recent recipient of a major overhaul.

Refreshed and Refreshing

The brief was to freshen up the whole property, taking inspiration from the river and the surrounding vegetation, and to make it contemporary. I would definitely say the overall tone of “luxury meets nature” was achieved and, having visited before, appreciate the new decks, the decluttering, the clean, contemporary surfaces with minimalistic organic elements like chandeliers and iconic pieces of furniture and wall sculptures.

 

The fresh blues and greens with greys and white lighten everything and create a cool, calm, refreshing feel which complements the warmth of the thatch and terracotta flooring. The tech upgrades are much appreciated, with an improved Wi-Fi experience and many more plug points- although the large tv in my room was never switched on. Too much to do.

 

Mowana, more elevated than other lodges on the Botswana river bank, has arguably the best views, with all 112 bedrooms and four suites having sliding glass doors opening onto a private patio with views of the Chobe River, though you may have to share the patio with vervet monkeys or a warthog or two, especially if you have fruit. The upstairs bar is the place to be if you want to see the most beautiful African sunsets.

Cresta Mowana upstairs bar

 

Within the resort complex the mowana (baobab) is a central focus point. The high thatched roof of the lobby pretty much points at the tree, and lodge buildings circle it- at a respectful distance.

 

The hotel amenities are superb. it has tennis court, several swimming pools, golf course, gym, spa- and the masseurs really know their stuff!

 

Game For Adventure?

Mowana is a 10-minute drive from the North part of the 11 700 square kilometre Chobe National Park. Arguments rage as to whether the elephant population is 60 000 or 120 000. It really does not matter which is correct as the sight of herds numbering in the hundreds is a sight you will never forget. In this park, where predators like lion, leopard and wild dog abound, it is no wonder it has been called the Galapagos of Africa.

Another argument (mine) is that the best way to view game is from a boat. Mowana’s custom designed game viewing boats are designed to go where the larger game viewing boats are not able to, creating an opportunity to get up close and personal with what the Chobe has to offer.

 

Other options on the Chobe- and neighbouring Zambezi- include an outing on Flame of Africa’s luxurious double decker Chobe Style or a day aboard the triple decker Chobe Explorer, or fishing. These particular waters are home to the voracious, most powerful power to weight ratio fresh water fish in the world- the tiger fish- a true delight to every serious or amateur angler.

 

 

 

 

Or outings to Victoria Falls (full day) which, if you’ve not been, is a moving must-do. Impalila Island, which straddles the intersection of where four countries- Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia- meet, is another interesting visit, with a huge 2000-year-old baobab tree riddled with bullets from when South African armed forces used the tree as both a lookout, a machine gun placement and- clearly- target practice.

Obed Silumbu and 2000 year old baobab
Obed Silumbu and 2000 year old baobab

 

That mowana outlasted all- and, I’m sure, your memories of Cresta Mowana Safari Resort & Spa will similarly linger. You can experience this by taking advantage of the 2019 Mowana Christmas special of P7425 (approximately R10042) for a three night stay.

 

Fordoun- For all the right reasons

Sensory Surrounds

My favourite places seem to be family owned or run and Fordoun Hotel and Spa is one such place. All five senses celebrate at five-star Fordoun … and then further celebrate as birth is given to their sixth sibling.

It happens in an extremely romantic setting; weeping willows with their gentle flowing boughs, enormous organic artworks, ethereal azaleas contrasting against rolling hills, iris-lined pathways, ancient terracotta bricks mottled with age evoking a Hansel and Gretel nougat house- all peacefully nestled in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, a few minutes from Nottingham Road village.

                                  

From cascading steps, to greyhound guarded Roman-bath fountains, to mini-canals; there is flowing water around every corner, all creating a vibrant life-giving energy, like a giant vascular system.

    

 

 

 

 

There is such wealth in the glorious gardens- the essence of it all- which is then brought inside to pamper one in every which way.

The Limitless Skye

Skye Bistro at night

Fresh food delights of a superb standard are presented in utter comfort in the Skye Bistro. Chef Lorenzo Giliomee and his team have upped the ante since last I was there. The menu may change but some firm favourites remain- like the grilled beef fillet nestled on horseradish potato mash and red wine tomatoes, gratinéed with gourmet Greek “Brie” cheese and a Fordoun wild herb garden buchu jus. Superb. Vegetarians won’t scratch for options, with offerings like wild mushroom and black summer truffle risotto, topped with creamy Indezi blue cheese, and slow roasted butternut and peppers. Starters and desserts are possibly more enticing, as is the extensive and well-crafted wine menu.

Hedonistic indeed. If, however, you are on a detox retreat, your choices are a juice fast or raw, vegan healthy eating- and much time in the spa.

Not-So-Guilty Pleasures


Fordoun’s spa is all encompassing and the therapists are delightful, adding to that feeling of rejuvenation. The old grain silo has been brilliantly converted into a magical grotto, where one floats in the essence-imbued pool with calming music being amplified through the water; a unique experience. Apart from treatments from skilled masseurs, Reiki and Bio-energy specialists and aestheticians, the spa features a rasul, indoor swimming pool, gymnasium, sauna, steam room, hydrotherapy room, and a couples’ treatment suite with hydrotherapy bath.

 

 

A Unique Connection

Integral to the spa and Fordoun as a whole is Dr Elliot Ndlovu- inyanga, sangoma and ethno-botanist. In Elliot’s garden and around his consulting rooms are over 120 different species of healing plants, used by him and in Fordoun’s products. The poignancy and passion underlying his uthwasa- the necessary process of suffering to become a traditional healer- endear this huge character to believers and cynics alike, including Hollywood stars and the British Queen.

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Afternoon walks are a great idea. Oak-lined avenues, waterfowl preening themselves on the shores of dams, a deeply wooded grove full of bee-hives leading to the tennis courts and outdoor pool. One imagines an otter or two in amongst the impressive trout rising for their evening feed.


Fordoun has a field of the happiest hens in the entire world; they come to greet you as you arrive at the edge of their enormous scratch-patch field. And yes, the eggs taste wonderful.

Choices, Choices

Fordoun Farm Village

And, beyond the field, the Fordoun Farm Village comprising a tasteful multi-functional venue, chapel, nine luxurious self-catering chalets, veggie gardens and the spinning classroom- all arranged around a full-size cricket oval. Although separate to the original establishment, adults staying here have access to the facilities up at the Hotel- and vice-versa.

The main buildings, originally part of a dairy farm from the 1860s, have been thoughtfully adapted. There are 22 luxurious double suites with verandas, underfloor heating, bath and shower and a dressing area. There is also a wheelchair friendly suite.

 

If founder John Bates is about, he may share with you Fordoun’s interesting history, dating back to 1850, or enthuse about the social and environmental initiatives Fordoun is involved with- including a nearby crane sanctuary- or let you sample his leonotis (wild dagga) gin.

Retiring to one’s suite is a dream- especially one of the five superior mountain facing room set atop a ridge with views toward the Drakensberg, and the size of a country cottage. The bed, the linen, the bathrobes and all the treats are of the highest quality. It’s sumptuously draped and lavishly appointed with high, pitched ceilings. A cold snap makes the ready lit blaze in the glass-fronted fireplace, the bedtime treats and story, most welcome.


Stepping out of the French doors, the eye is led across rolling pastures to the hills- with the young maiden’s breast, iNhlosane, dominant and framed by not-too-distant mountains. A table and chairs, loungers and a tumbling water feature in a secluded courtyard is a tempting lolling spot in the day.

The thickly carpeted passage takes you to a large dressing room opposite a lovely black and white chequered bathroom with heated towel rails, underfloor heating, dual vanity basins, bath and shower, which leads to a further, outdoor shower.
The fresh air and the heightened stimulation of the senses, not forgetting the awakening of that sixth sense, all make one beautifully exhausted. The huge bed waits to engulf.

The countryside goes silent, as iNhlosane’s silhouette slowly merges into the night.

Visit www.fordoun.com or e-mail reservations@fordoun.co.za for further details and bookings.

Chobe Water Villas- Inspiring Tranquility

Crossing the wide expanse of Chobe waters from Botswana to Namibia, all one sees is the row of A-frame peaks, like the zigzagged scales on a crocodile’s tail. Grinning Gilbert sees us safely onto the sturdy boardwalk-jetty and then…

Secluded Sophistication

A tranquil, sophisticated ambience is endorsed by the warm, welcome smiles of graceful Subiya tribe staff who drift through our neutral-coloured, fascinatingly designed “home” for the next few days. The simplicity, the open spaces, the cubist arches and columns- all reminiscent of an Afro-Roman palace. Organic textures, desert sand and seed-pods capturing the essence of Namibia’s simple beauty.

Stylish, chic, elegant, arty and many other adjectives apply. The attention to detail is noteworthy, furnishings, fixtures reflect a fine eye for design with an enviable artistic flair. So too the architecture.

The complex and intriguing layout leads the eye and invites exploration of interleading indoor and outdoor spaces. Gentle steps to a patch of manicured grass, sunken seating with hot rock firepits, a long infinity pool, overhead metalwork extending the indoor-outdoor flow, ringed by trees and shrubs with cushioned alcove seating dotted about- one could spend hours just taking it in.

“God, this place inspires me! I love beautiful things, beautiful places”

exclaims Hilary. I had popped in once for a quick lunch and had been dying to return, so am chuffed to be so vindicated- especially by someone with a home on the riverbank and a good idea of what is on offer elsewhere.

 

Boardwalks interwoven amidst natural flora of silver clusterleaf and sausage trees lead to the villas.

What a welcome. A cool, spotlessly clean space where an impressive variety of materials have been cleverly used to create ultimate luxury and comfort. Meshed inner curtains soften the view onto the daba grass and the river.  The room itself has the best of everything including a cabinet containing a kettle with multi-boiling points, exquisite wines, full mini bar and snacks, great coffee and a superb selection of teas and black china- all lit by automatic lighting. The bathroom is superb, as are the lemon-verbena pampering lotions.

 

The outside deck has been cleverly railed like the bow of a cruise liner to maximise the effect of being “at sea on the Chobe”. I keep expecting distant trees to move past the uprights, or past the windows when lounging on the emperor size bed. Delectably comfortable loungers are a temptation to stay on deck all day but once the clouds of whistling ducks have settled into the evening, resist the temptation of staying aboard as disembarking back to the palace heralds the start of another experience – a feast for any aesthete.

Night Time is the Right Time

 

Clever lighting maximises the spaces and the art. Epauletted fruit bats silently dance amongst the giant leaves of fruit trees. The rim flow swimming pool has transformed into ink, reflecting the last hint of the African day. In the dining area, resplendent with gleaming glass, crockery, cutlery and crisp linen, one gets very excited at the thought of a menu which will surely complement. And it does, magnificently.

A degustation menu- seven little courses of delectable tastes- awaits. Chef Linus Siyambangu changes his menu daily, so the following night it’s his Sense Experience. Tastes to remember include seeded and rosemary lavash, fresh basil pesto, apple and cucumber gazpacho, superbly plated kudu fillet with perfectly complementary selection of veggies, red pepper puree and red wine sauce- probably trumped by the pan seared Norwegian salmon dish and the excellent strawberry cheesecake.

The lodge is transformed at night by the truly exemplary lighting (did I mention the lighting?), seducing one to tarry here, tarry there.

Tarrying is lovely but the sun rising in front of the villa reminds one there are things worth doing.

A quickish breakfast (we never get beyond the Continental option) and we are on a boat and across the river to Botswana immigration to get passports stamped and be welcomed by N’Jay Sankwasa, our Flame of Africa game guide. Then we’re into the unfenced 11700km2 Chobe National Park for a morning game drive- never a disappointment.

Back from learning about the wildlife, including a lion we spot within a few minutes- as well as the birds, history and plants and our game vehicle becomes a boat- surely the best way to view game? Undoubtedly a wonderful way to enjoy a lunch and an afternoon cruise, with a quick nap before din-dins.

The bed itself provides inspiration for me, seeking an air conditioning solution to a double volume house. The overhead canopy does not merely provide a rail for the mosquito curtain, but a curtain of air-conditioned air.

We’re not the only ones to be inspired. SABC3’s Top Billing had just been and their take of Chobe Water Villas plays on screens (elsewhere), while we just play.

Getting There:
Airlink is a privately owned airline business, operating as a regional feeder Airline, connecting travellers to more than 55 routes within southern Africa and St Helena Island.
Airlink provides direct scheduled flights from Johannesburg to Kasane (Chobe), Botswana. With an all Jet service, Airlink provides a Business Class service, styled in the manner of a European intra-continental service.
Through airlink’s alliance with SAA, travellers can connect conveniently, effortlessly and seamlessly, with SAA, their Partner airlines and other carriers throughout Southern Africa and the world.
Airlink is a member of South African Airways Loyalty programme -Voyager.
Discover more:  www.flyairlink.com
Book Direct:  https://www.flyairlink.com/destinations/flights-to-kasane

Nalitumila (thank you in Subiya) to Chobe Water Villas and Flame of Africa.