Just back from…South Africa

After a few weeks of jet-setting in the southern hemisphere we finally pinned down Clare, our South Africa guru, to get her insider recommendations on her favourite country in Africa.

Clare in Cape Town

Why do you love South Africa? Or do you? We can’t just assume….

There’s so much to do here from the city buzz to rolling valleys, rugged coastline and safari, and they’re all spectacular.  Being a true foodie, wine lover, and outdoor enthusiast (with admittedly, a distinct love of the odd bit of R&R) South Africa truly ticks all of the boxes, and much, much more.

What’s your favourite part of visiting SA?

I’d really have to say the people.  Everyone was so incredibly warm and welcoming wherever I went.  Some of my friends and family were sceptical about my travel to this part of the world having read some less than glowing news articles, but I couldn’t have been more swayed by the charm of South Africans.  Absolutely nothing is too much for them to organise, and they really will go out their way to make visitors feel completely at home – utter bliss when you’re travelling solo and ready for a good natter!

Cape Grace and Table Mountain, Cape Town

We’re yet to meet anyone who doesn’t love Cape Town, but where’s your favourite place to stay?

Arriving in Cape Town after an 18 hour flight, I couldn’t have been more excited to sink into my large and seriously inviting bed at the Cape Grace.  It’s on the bustling Waterfront (albeit tucked away enough to still be peaceful) and is the ideal spot to head out for an evening stroll and dinner at one of the nearby seafood restaurants.  The day beds in the spa are the perfect place to read a good book and take in the glorious views up to Table Mountain. For something a bit livelier I’d probably head down to the hotel’s Bascule Bar for a cocktail, or try to choose from one of their 400 whiskies.

Top tip: every evening the Cape Grace offers complimentary wine tasting hosted by one of the hugely informative sommeliers – it’s a great way to meet other guests and to swot up on your wine facts.

If you had to give a personal recommendation for family trips to South Africa, where would you suggest?

If you’re headed to the Winelands then Boschendal caters for even the fussiest family member.  There’s a wonderful farm school where children are looked after by qualified childminders and taught all about foraging, outdoor cooking and upcycling – maybe even enough to teach the parents a trick or two!  Each child receives their pair of wellies and hat, ready to explore the greater countryside.  For the more active, there are mountain bike and hiking trails galore as well as horse riding and plenty of farm tours.  If you’re craving some adult time, ask for a babysitter and sample some of the seriously good food in their fine-dining restaurant, the Werf.

Top Tip: If you’re there on a Friday during the summer, be sure to check out the evening market.

Tree House School at Boschendal

Where’s your secret hotspot that no-one really knows about?

Morukuru Beach Lodge is one of those gems that you don’t want to shout too much about for fear of it being fully booked for evermore.  The drive there isn’t for the faint hearted but boy is it worth it!  Spend the day doing nature drives (in a safari vehicle with heated seats no less!) and ocean walks along the beach, before arriving back to warming hot chocolates laced with Amarula. Afterwards enjoy drinks and delicious food with your fellow guests, all whilst lapping up the most incredible sea views.  I was too busy watching the whales out the window to eat my breakfast – I think I counted 8 at one time, incredible!

Top Tip: Take an early morning stroll over the sand dunes and you will more than likely find the place to yourself to really appreciate the stunning views.

Dunes at Morukuru Beach Lodge

This is a hotly debated topic at Extraordinary Africa HQ, but where would you choose to go for safari?

Tanda Tula. Set in the Timbavati Nature Reserve on the edge of Kruger, it epitomises the rustic safari camp vibe.  All rooms here are tented but seriously well kitted out.  There’s something rather romantic (with possibly some nervousness mixed in) about lying in bed, looking straight out of your tent and knowing that any form of wildlife could quite happily wander up to within a few feet of where you’re lying.  Rest assured though, the wonderful staff here will ensure that your nerves are kept well under control!

Top tip: Keep your eyes peeled for the elusive white lion, known to be seen from time to time in the Timbavati

White lion in the Timbavati

As an outdoors lover, where would you go for an active adventure?

Set just outside Plettenberg Bay, Hog Hollow is the perfect place for lovers of the outdoors.  The huge rooms here are perched amongst the trees with large decks offering sweeping views over the valley.   There are a wealth of activities to choose from whilst staying at Hog Hollow; hikes for even the most serious of walkers, adventure playgrounds for the younger members of the family, various animal sanctuaries to visit, horse riding (which Hog Hollow are well known for), or for those wanting to put their feet up, a quiet day on the beach. And the best bit after a busy day of exploring is to curl up by the warming fire pit for a sundowner with your fellow guests.

Top tip: There’s a great walk down the valley and up the other side (not for the faint hearted!) to Birds of Eden or the Monkey Sanctuary and once you’re finished, you can ask for a complimentary lift back to save those weary feet.

Knysna Turaco at Birds of Eden

If you were sending a friend on honeymoon to South Africa, where would you recommend for romance?

For a serious dose of romance, I couldn’t help but fall in love with Dulini River Lodge.  Sleeping just twelve guests in six suites, this is the perfect place to escape the rat race and indulge in some well-earned R&R.  Each suite is vast, with the sort of bed you could easily get lost in.  The shower and bath make the most of the wonderful views out to the river bed, and on warm days there’s a hugely inviting (heated) plunge pool out on deck where I happily spent a few minutes lapping up the peaceful surroundings while watching a herd of elephants slowly walking past. There was so much love in the air that one of the other guests assumed the manager, who had kindly offered to eat with me, must have been my newlywed husband…

Top tip: Do try their ChocaMocharula (hot chocolate, coffee, amarula) mix as a sundowner on a chilly game drive, it certainly warms those cockles.

Private dining in suite at Dulini River Lodge

You’re known in the EA office for your love of good food: where would you recommend to fellow foodies?

The winelands (and Cape Town for that matter) are renowned for seriously good food, and drink.  So picking one is an arduous task, however, Babylonstoren is just one of those places that oozes foodie charm in the bucket loads.  There’s a serious ethos here encompassing ‘from nature to plate’, and nearly everything found on the menu in the various restaurants, and for sale in the farm shop, comes direct from the farm.  Not only is the main restaurant here (Babel) award winning and with utterly scrummy food, their harvest tables at breakfast are also a true work of art. If you’re lucky enough to be staying here in one of their charming cottages, we’d highly recommend scouting out some goodies in the farm shop to take back to your private state of the art kitchen via the chefs in the main restaurant who will more than happily provide you with some top notch cooking tips.  If you’re after a bit of an Italian twist, do be sure to head to the bakery on a Monday or Friday for their Italian inspired homemade pasta and wood-fired pizzas.  After all that eating, walk it off with an informative tour of the farm grounds to see exactly where all their delicious food originates from, followed by a warming glass of red in the tasting room…

Top tip: If you’re looking for somewhere to propose, there’s an island in the middle of the lake which is called the “yes spot”, and staff will do everything to make it magical.

The breakfast spread at Babylonstoren

Post Christmas Getaways for Grinches: No phone Reception, no contact with family and friends…

When the last cork’s popped, the turkey sandwiches are all eaten, and the door’s finally closed on the last member of your family, it’s time to get away. Away from demanding teenagers with endless Christmas wishlists, away from awkward conversations with cousins you only see once a year, and away from other people’s children who are charming but so very, very noisy.  And if you travel far away enough, you get to the sort of places where they can’t call you, even if they try.

If you need to switch off and tune out, this is where to go in Africa:

Chimp trekking at Greystoke Mahale

Greystoke from Lake Tanganyika

Greystoke Mahale (Western Tanzania). There’s a reason that tycoons’ wives whisk them off here when they really, really, need a break from their Blackberries. Greystoke isn’t a place for the intrusions of the outside world even if there were phone reception. When you’re sitting around the campfire late at night, the only dim glow (or blazing fireball) you need is from the shooting stars up above. In fact, from the minute you step onto the dhow – and look down at the hippos swimming in the water below you- you’ll be ready to hurl your phone overboard and stay forever.

Sundowners at Serra Cafema

Sundowners at Serra Cafema

Serra Cafema– Namibia- This oasis on the shores of the Kunene River is a remote safari camp, even by Namibian standards. Most guests come here for the chance to meet the Himba community (though not all that long ago, two nomadic Himba ladies walked for a couple of days to come have a look at the tourists), and chances are, they’re far more fascinating than whoever you might be talking to from home…

Relaxing in the Mwaleshi River

Relaxing in the Mwaleshi River

Mwaleshi, North Luangwa, Zambia- At Mwaleshi it’s challenge enough to even charge your phone, let alone getting enough reception to take a call on it. Far better to immerse yourself in the timeless world of North Luangwa, rising with the morning sun, wandering by elephants in the woods and cooling your feet in the river at the end of the day.

Elephant at Old Mondoro

Visitors at Old Mondoro

Old Mondoro Lower Zambezi, Zambia- The sort of place where a ringing phone would sound frankly aggressive, if not downright rude to the poor old  hippos singing in the river outside. So if, let’s say, your phone sadly “fell overboard” on the way to the lodge, you’d have the perfect excuse for not chatting to your family

Now- we wouldn’t guarantee that if you climbed a tree and held your phone at precisely the right angle, you wouldn’t get a flash of reception at some of these lodges, but you’d have to work pretty hard indeed. And a holiday’s not really about work is it?

My latest crush: Montusi Mountain Lodge

If you have a temper tantrum because you have to leave your lodge, it’s got to be pretty good right? To be fair, my sulks on leaving Montusi were between me, the grasses and the birds,  but I couldn’t help resenting the long drive and the perfectly blameless hire car that were to break me and Montusi apart. Why couldn’t the irritatingly efficient machine break down and leave me stranded, just for a day or two?

Night time at Montusi Mountain Lodge

Starlight at Montusi Mountain Lodge

My most recent trip to South Africa had got off to something of a rocky start, with unseasonal storms in almost every place I visited.  After a long drive through rural KwaZulu Natal  Montusi welcomed me with a cosy fire and vast windows that framed the lightening crackling along the top of the Drakensberg.

Opening my eyes the next morning to glorious sunshine and the sort of view you have to photograph (just so you can show off about it later) I headed for the peak of Mount Montusi. Hiking through meadows that smelled of wild mint and listening to the clanking cowbells only cemented my love for Montusi. Sadly, it seemed as if I had just a few brief stolen moments to admire the view and the bushman rock art (in the UK it’d be behind glass and a velvet rope, here it’s on an open cave wall), and then I had to leave.

Au Revoir Montusi, I’ll be back!

Where would you go if you were flying to Africa tonight? Or, holidays worth going to work for.

A few years ago I used to work in a large office of safari experts, all passionate Africa lovers. Our favourite game on a quiet Friday afternoon was to plan our fantasy African adventure. We discussed the safaris that we’d sell our souls to get to, the remote beaches that our bones ached for, and the game reserves we lost afternoons dreaming of. We talked about lodges, camps, and game reserves that made coming to work worthwhile, if only because it meant each paycheque brought us closer to another African adventure.

Time and again, the same names came up, the places that were so magical we all adored them.  And here they are, our ultimate African experiences.