WORDS BY GILLIAN MCLAREN
AQUA MEKONG, AQUA EXPEDITIONS
Melting snow on the highlands of Tibet is the source of the Mekong River that pours through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, then Cambodia and Vietnam, where it spills into the South China Sea. Explore this exotic region from Saigon in Vietnam to Siem Reap in Cambodia from aboard the intimate Aqua Mekong cruise ship.
From the moment you board the Aqua Mekong, you are welcomed and pampered by professional, caring staff. You are sure to have a “Wow” response to the spacious cabin that is to be your home and base while getting to know the mighty Mekong River and surrounding delta. Journey to thriving cities, agrarian villages with Chinesestyle pagodas and Buddhist temples, floating villages such as Kompong Luong and busy floating markets, in satisfying luxury.
More than just a cruise ship, the Aqua Mekong is a floating five-star boutique hotel, with only 20 cabins and a generous staff to guest ratio. From your king-sized bed, resplendent with crisp white linen, enjoy gazing at the water of this fascinating working river, the variety of vessels that use her for transport and the tropical vegetation of her banks. Choose a cabin with a balcony – housing a day bed and table with chairs – so you can be outside to watch the sand dredgers as they haul sand to be exported, sea-going ships, container vessels and fishing boats of many kinds. Spot coconuts or water hyacinth drifting past, brahminy kites plunging kamikazestyle into the water to catch a fish, pied kingfishers on the branches of tropical trees, and a white-bellied sea eagle soaring above the wake.
Your bathroom has twin basins, a strong shower, soft white towels, a large window with permanent shutters, as well as a charming porthole with one-way glass, to peep out at villages with bamboo homes on stilts, or gentle sunsets reflected in the waves. Unpacking your clothes into an ample wardrobe is so civilized, compared to living out of a suitcase. Each morning your laundry is whisked away and appears clean and folded in the evening.
After each excursion staff graciously take your shoes and clean them for you. Your preferences are all carefully noted and remembered. This is service excellence that is discreet and sensitive, never intrusive. You are free to enjoy meals on your own or to join guests you have befriended, in the dining room with a view, situated aft. Styled by Consultant Chef David Thompson, gourmet Asian and Western food is unfailingly delicious and prettily presented. One night a feast is offered on the foredeck, alongside the infinity swimming pool, when you can get to know fellow passengers and the hosts of the cruise. Antony Zoupas, one such host, is so enthusiastic and obliging that he shares his great photographs with guests and even does some
shopping for a lady who wishes to remain on board.
It is not easy to leave the comfort and elegance of Aqua Mekong, but try not to miss too many of the on- and offshore excursions. Four private tenders motor to selected remote villages where you learn about crafts that have been practised there for millennia. It is possible to buy wares ranging from silverware to pottery, silk garments, stoneware and carvings. In each village local people demonstrate how the items are made. Few tourists get to visit these authentic working villages to see the keen pupils in the little schools, receive blessings from a monk in the local temple, bicycle on simple tracks to the music of sweet hellos from smiling children, or taste delectable fruit shared by generous families. This is a photographer’s nirvana, so make sure to pack a camera or two.
Excursions in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, are particularly interesting, but heart-breaking. Both The Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum require courage to take in. They are memorable, sobering and help one to understand the torrid history of this nation. Our first-class guide tells of the impact of the tyrannical regime of the Khmer Rouge and how it affected the whole country, including his own family.
Arriving back after excursions you are met by staff with iced and scented hand-towels, then escorted to one of the lounge areas for a specially concocted drink. Free until lunchtime, you may do as you please. Some enjoy resting in their cabin or browsing in the library. Others watch a movie in the ship’s theatre or exercise in the onboard gym. A favourite pursuit is lying on sunloungers to survey the passing scene, sipping a Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic with a slice of lime.
Romantic sunsets viewed from your cabin, twin massages in the onboard Spa, delectable food styled by the Michelin-starred chef and intriguing excursions – an Aqua Mekong cruise will be an exceptional start to your married life. You will never forget the reflection of the moon broken into shards of light by the gently flowing south-east Asian Mekong River.
In Premier Economy Class, a cut above the usual economy class, I appreciated a wider seat, plenty of leg room, quality food served with steel cutlery and dedicated cabin crew.
011 064 1100
The Cambodian specialists, they can help you set up your holiday or honeymoon, including accommodation and tours, in Cambodia. ABOUTasia Travel will personalise your trip itinerary, with sensible advice that only local people would think to give.
Recommended hotels in Cambodia
In Phnom Penh: The Plantation Urban Resort, a colonial-style hotel situated behind the Royal Palace in the historical centre of this vibrant city, features a long swimming pool surrounded by palm trees. www.theplantation.asia
In Kep: Knai Bang Chat on the seafront of the Gulf of Thailand, near the bustling crab market, has bold modern architecture with an infinity pool and excellent restaurant.
In Siem Riep: Amansara – Aman Resorts. Find Zen perfection with immaculate suites, gourmet food and a sublime Spa.
Shinta ManiClub is set in a quiet, verdant area, yet near the Old Market and bustling bars and restaurants. This tranquil boutique hotel offers a warm welcome to chic minimalistic rooms, looking down onto a feng shui space with a swimming pool.
TEA TRAILS, SRI LANKA
WORDS BY GILLIAN MCLAREN
Explore an exquisitely beautiful area of the tea plantations of Sri Lanka, from the perfect base of one of Tea Trails’ elegantly furbished bungalows, a remnant of the colonial era.
With a mere touch on the bell next to your canopied king-sized bed, in a super-spacious room with high ceilings, you summon your butler for your morning tray of the finest Ceylon tea. He opens your curtains to reveal splendid views of manicured gardens, rolling hills or a vast lake with mountain peaks, depending on which room you have been allocated in one of the four authentic planter’s bungalows you have chosen for your exotic honeymoon. If you are ready for a bath, he will run one for you.
The roomy en suite bathrooms all have modern equipment, and most include a capacious shower and a bath, with twin handbasins. Oversized white towels are warmed on the towel rail. Handmade green tea soap sits in a delicate container of palm leaf. No attention to detail is spared.
Each original bungalow is set in a different spot in the tea plantations and has several bedrooms that are tastefully furnished with antique pieces from the colonial period. You can relax in comfortable lounge areas, on open verandahs, next to the swimming pool or in a covered garden folly, all with spectacular outlooks. Many of the rooms open out onto a private garden area with table and chairs, where you can enjoy your tea or any of your meals, or simply gaze at the flowers and birds.
Although all four bungalows have attractive features and expansive views, my personal favourite is Summerville, which looks out onto the vast waters of the lake edged by tall trees. To reach Castlereagh, which also has an awe-inspiring lake vista, you paddle across the water in a kayak.
Meals in this hotel are an elegant, leisurely affair, at the time that pleases you and at the bungalow of your choice. The weather at these mountainous altitudes is relatively cool for Sri Lanka, so linger in bed as long as the fancy takes you, and go for a walk after breakfast. Both European- and Sri Lankan-style foods are on offer, so you may order an array of mild or spicy curries or an English breakfast. The Sri Lankan way is to serve small bowls of individual kinds of curry, like prawn, banana flower, ladyfinger, dahl and aubergine, with rice or string hoppers (a popular kind of rice noodles) in the morning. You may, like Sri Lankan people, eat with your hands if you wish, to experience the marvellous textures of the food.
For lunch and dinner you choose a spot in either your or another bungalow’s surrounds, tell your chef what you would like to eat, and he organises it for you. Predictably, in a Relais & Châteaux hotel, the food is outstanding with gourmet Western fare or Sri Lankan delicacies. A small but pleasant choice of wines is available, as well as a range of drinks including the traditional tipple of the tropics: Tanqueray Gin and tonic.
A highlight is the high tea, presented on tiered platters in the afternoon. The traditional English scones, cream and jam are delicious. The cake is irresistible, with different favourites daily like Mountbatten cake, sponge cake, banana bread, Swiss roll or carrot cake and a crustless cucumber sandwich. All this is, of course, served with the Ceylon tea of your choice, from a substantial menu which explains the different types.
Walking trails that each take an hour or two have been laid out between the bungalows through the tea plantations, allowing you to explore the landscape in private and at leisure.
With their dexterous and nimble fingers, women are said to be the best tea pickers. The early tea planters brought in Tamil people from Southern India to work on the plantations, and their female descendants work hard to pick the 16 kg minimum ‘bud and two leaves’ units per day. Dressed in brightly coloured saris they carry a basket on their back which has a strap on the forehead. Tea pickers and their families live and work on the tea plantations, so as you walk or cycle through their small villages you pass by ornately decorated Hindu temples, small, gaily painted houses set in lush vegetation and tiny shops with fascinating-looking vegetables and fruit.
Not to be missed is the visit to the tea factory, with information given by raconteur and tea expert Andrew Taylor. This delightful Sri Lankan man communicates his passion for tea as he regales you with stories of the history of tea planting in Sri Lanka and methods of tea production. Tasting and grading tea is an art, and Andrew guides you through the ritual of tasting two different kinds. Much like with wine, you have to slurp noisily to draw air into your mouth, swirl the tea around the mouth to allow flavour and tannins to be detected, then spit it out or swallow.
Sri Lanka is a wonderful country to visit, its vital people consistently kind and warm. With spectacular scenery, unique accommodation set in a working tea plantation, great food and impeccable service, Tea Trails is a once in a lifetime place to celebrate your marriage.
Sri Lanka in Style is skilled at organising bespoke trips for discerning travellers who want excellent service in well-run boutique properties. www.srilankainstyle.com
Other recommended places to stay:
Casa Colombo: A quirky hotel in Colombo, with zany décor and outstanding food, where you have a personal butler. www.casacolombo.com
Wallawwa: Close to the international airport, with a long swimming pool in a verdant garden and an excellent restaurant. www.thewallawwa.com
Why House: Near Galle Fort and the beach, this is a haven with beautiful furnishings, manicured gardens and kind staff. www.whyhousesrilanka.com
Bougainvillea: Set in Victoria Golf and Country Resort, Rajawella, Kandy, with a magnificent view of a river and the foothills of Knuckles mountain range.
Elephant Stables: Perfectly sited in Kandy with lush gardens drawing birds and great views of the hills beyond. www.elephantstables.com
Ulagalla: Beautiful private villas with pools surrounded by jungle-type vegetation for nature walks, trips to fascinating ancient Anuradhapura, plus delectable dining. www.ugaescapes.com/ulagalla
Leopard Safaris: Stay in this comfortable safari-tented camp close to Yala National Park – with its high density of the Sri Lankan leopard and wide variety of Asian game and birds – to enjoy being pampered in a customised vehicle with a well-informed naturalist. www.leopardsafaris.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
CONSTANCE MOOFUSHI, MALDIVES
WORDS BY GILLIAN MCLAREN
Situated on the South Ari Atoll in the Maldives, Constance Moofushi encapsulates the best of an island fantasy, with exquisitely beautiful views from luxury villas, abundant fresh food, plus astounding snorkelling and diving.
After an absorbing 35-minute flight from Malé International Airport over glorious Indian Ocean – dotted with islands and ring-shaped coral reefs – the seaplane lands gently and trails a wake on the azure sea. You step onto Moofushi Island and are enfolded by bright light, warmth and the ozone-tinged scent on the breeze.
The water is so pristine, so clear that you can see tropical fish and a nursery of black-tipped reef sharks as you stroll to reception. It is beautiful beyond comprehension, almost too marvellous for words, with colours in a palette of blues that can’t be accurately captured even by the best camera. A shimmer and sparkle on the surface of the almost still sea is mesmerising and draws you into its embrace.
Escorted to your villa you walk on paths in the shade of island vegetation, with views of the pure white sand. On stilts in the ocean, the Water Villas – well worth the extra cost – have an idyllic honeymoon setting with relative privacy and unimpeded views out to the Indian Ocean that will surely make you gasp. Fling on your bathing costume and you can climb down a few steps from your personal wooden deck to float in the sea or snorkel right there, where sea creatures abound. You could even spot a turtle.
When the inevitable tropical languor overtakes you, you can rest in the cool of your air-conditioned villa on an enormous bed made up with the finest linens, or on a sun-lounger in the shade on your deck. You have the choice of an indoor or outdoor shower.
As you amble around this small island to select a romantic sunset spot, either outside or at one of three bars, look out for fascinating variable lizards, with long tails and a crest of spines on their head and back, which scuttle along the wooden decks or up coconut palm trees. A cocktail or drink of your choice will be brought to you, where you can linger until ready to dine. The Crystal Package includes all food and drinks available on the island, as well as everything in the well-stocked mini-bar, which feels super-luxurious and decadent. Such a pleasure not to have to think about cost, but simply to order whatever takes your fancy, to be free to experiment with anything from fresh coconut water to French wine.
Manta, the main restaurant with a sandy floor, serves internationally themed buffets all made with fresh ingredients. The Indian and Sri Lankan food is particularly tasty and the desserts are irresistible, especially the homemade ice cream. Positioned beside the sea is Alisee Restaurant, where you can watch the changing hues as you savour à la carte grilled dishes including shellfish or linefish withwine selected by a knowledgeable sommelier. At dusk pale ghost crabs scurry along the sand at great speed as they scavenge for food. A favourite spot for lunch is under palm trees near to the outdoors Totem Bar.
Although Moofushi can take 200 guests, it never feels full, and you rarely see more than a few people together in any one of the venues. The total flexibility of mealtimes and activities is a big plus at this resort. When you need them, kind staff are there to advise you or serve you efficiently.
Snorkelling or diving on the house reef is outstanding, and you can see lionfish, harlequin shrimp and juvenile angelfish amongst other species. Private catamarans can take you further out to sea, should you wish to snorkel there. The diving is awe-inspiring and conditions are perfect, with 25m or more visibility, gentle or no currents, plus the protected waters teem with life. You are likely to find delicately decorated nudibranch, curious batfish, manta ray, whip-tailed stingray and huge Napoleon wrasse. Swimming with thousands of red-tooth trigger fish, hundreds of yellow-backed fusiliers and even grey shark is unforgettable!
If you have never dived, then this is an ideal place to learn. If you are experienced, it is a convenient location to do an advanced course or qualify for your Nitrox certification. All dives on the spacious Viking-style boats are uncrowded and well organised with excellent equipment, fluffy towels and delicious post-dive snacks and drinks.
The over-water Spa de Constance has a clever design, with its massage tables positioned over glass. You can glimpse schools of brightly coloured reef fish swimming to and fro beneath you as you are given a relaxing body massage with exotic oils.
It is hard to fault Constance Moofushi, where man and nature have joined forces to produce an environment of supreme beauty, with a sense of timelessness. If you have dreamed of an island honeymoon, consider choosing this idyll in the Maldives.
Constance Moofushi Maldives
Book with your preferred travel agent or tour operator to find the best deals.
Fly Emirates Airline from Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) to Malé International Airport (MLE) via Dubai. This is a comfortable journey where pleasant food is served and over 400 movies are available on your personal screen.
Photographs on page 156
Tara Turkington, Flow Communications, www.flowsa.com
The Indian Ocean is home to some of the most exquisite paradise islands in the world, and Constance Hotels and Resorts has selected the most beautiful, remote and unique among them to pioneer a new generation of deluxe hotels, each in total harmony with its environment, and with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Constance Hotels and Resorts’ excellent reputation is based on the success of its luxury resorts, which are located on the islands of Mauritius (Constance Le Prince
Maurice and Constance Belle Mare Plage), Seychelles (Constance Lãmuria Resort and Constance Ephãlia Resort, Praslin), Maldives (Constance Halaveli Resort and Constance Moofushi Resort) and Madagascar (Constance Lodge Tsarabanjina). Two of the elements that are consistent in their excellence throughout all of the Constance Hotels resorts are exceptional food and fine wines and Constance prides itself on having some of the best international chefs and sommeliers, while each resort has a number of themed restaurants and bars to
Wellness, relaxation and luxury pampering are also part of the Constance philosophy, and each resort boasts Le Spa de Constance with a range of massage and beauty treatments. Golfers have two 18-hole championship golf courses to choose from in Mauritius. ‘The Legend’ and ‘Links’ Golf Courses are situated at Constance Belle Mare Plage, and both have hosted international golfing events including the Annual MCB Tour Championship. Besides golf, all Constance Hotels and Resorts offer myriad leisure and recreation facilities, and watersports par excellence.
In addition, all Constance Hotels and Resorts have facilities that accommodate children, making them perfect as family destinations.
The unsurpassed service at Constance Hotels and Resorts is discreet. The needs and desires of guests are anticipated, and preplanned for, making for a holiday unlike any other.
Begin the U-experiance: call (230) 402 2772/73
or visit us at www.constancehotels.com
Being the Art Director for My Wedding Day magazine, I have a passion for the finer things in life, and could not wait to go and explore Hong Kong and Bali at their best – and to tell our readers all about it. As this was my first time flying with Cathay Pacific (directly from Johannesburg to Hong Kong), I was very impressed and felt like a VIP from the start. Being in Premium Economy class, I was welcomed with a glass of chilled champagne and later enjoyed a fantastic variety of Asian and Western cuisine. Before the flight commenced I already felt as if I was in a different country! Seeing that this was quite a long flight, the comfortable, retractable seat and soft Asian music playing in the background transported me to an Asian atmosphere and put me in a holiday mood ready to have the time of my life.
Hong Kong – Langham Place
On arrival a Mercedes limousine was scheduled to take me below the ocean towards the city, since the airport is on an island of its own (Hong Kong being made up of three islands). Here I stayed at the Langham Place Hotel in Mongkok, which for the shoppers among you is connected by a bridge to Langham Place Shopping Mall with 300 international shops, restaurants and a multiplex cinema. This is an incredibly luxurious hotel and probably the best I have ever stayed in. The focus is on service and hospitality; the staff will do everything in their power to make sure that you are well looked after and made to feel incredibly special. For example, every night they leave you a little gift on your bed. The first night I received a lovely little sheep, the perfect souvenir to remember this wonderful experience once back home. This five-star hotel is decorated inside by sculptures and art worth millions from the lobby on up. On level 42, perched on the top of the hotel, is their 20 m outdoor heated swimming pool; you can relax up here in poolside deck chairs. They have fibre-optics and underwater music for that extravagant touch, and exquisite cabanas for drinks and massages.
A modern extended gymnasium equipped with a range of the latest in fitness equipment is perfect for those who want to stay fit. They also have a lounging area called Club L which offers Continental breakfast, afternoon tea, evening cocktails and canapés, while enjoying the magnificent views. If you are thinking of a destination wedding, Langham Place Hotel will give you the wedding of your dreams. There is an extensive range of conference and banqueting options, five spectacular venues, including the Langham Place Ballroom (level 7) with its 7m ceiling, signature roof-top Star Room (level 42) with a spectacular view over Hong Kong, and for smaller groups the Shanghai Room and Shantung Room (both level 8), and Ming Court Private Rooms (level 6). They can provide sumptuous Oriental and Western menus and have the latest audiovisual equipment. I had the honour of being invited for lunch at Ming Court, which blends exquisite Cantonese cuisine with innovative wine pairing. Ming Court has been continuously awarded two stars by the world’s most prestigious restaurant guide – Michelin. Two stars indicate: ‘Excellent cuisine, worth a detour. Skilfully and carefully crafted dishes of outstanding quality’. Here I enjoyed an incredible six-course meal. One of the courses, the gold award-winning ‘Dragon quartet’, included scallop, prawn, sea urchin, black caviar, Pu-Er smoked Mandarin fish, Osmanth-scented foie gras and lotus root, while the Signature Dim Sum Deluxe included Alaskan King Crab meat and Shanghainese pork. This course was paired with a wine from France by their own in-house wine connoisseur, Zach Yu, who told me he loves South African wines. They have many more facilities for entertainment, food and drink, but now to the indulging. Perched on the 41st and 42nd floors, Chuan Spa is a haven of luxurious, oriental pampering and well-being. Guided by the pillars of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Chuan Spa provides not only conventional treatments, but a holistic, regenerating journey that nurtures, heals and restores. Chuan Spa’s treatments are guided by the TCM pillars of Wu Xing (the Five Elements), Yin and Yang, and Jing Luo (the Meridian System). “At Chuan Spa our guests experience not only a single treatment, but a sojourn that triggers the rebirth and rebalancing of the being. Assisting our guests in the journey to restore balance and harmony in life is an essential part of any Chuan Spa experience”, says Shaun Campbell, General Manager of Langham Place Hotel.
The journey begins as you step through the Moon Gate on the 41st floor sanctuary. As a prelude, you can enjoy the delights of a sauna, steam and oriental hot tub before descending along a candle-lined staircase to the exquisite private treatment room. A therapist will then take you through a five elements questionnaire to determine which element is out of balance. You can select from over 60 treatments or have a treatment tailor-made to suit your individual requirements. With all these facilities and activities you’ll be sure to attain balance and wellness in body, mind and soul. Hong Kong is a great destination, whether for your wedding and honeymoon or as a stop-over on the way there or back. It is ideal for sight-seeing, exploring the city, taking in the buildings and ships, and hopping on boat trips on the many waterways from island to island, or a stop at the Jumbo Floating restaurant.
Langham Place, Mongkok, Hong Kong
Address: 555 Shanghai Street, Mongkok,
Kowloon, Hong Kong
Telephone: (852) 3552 3388;
Fax: (852) 3552 3322
To book flights with Cathay Pacific
Call Centre: 011 700 8900
Words by Gillian McLaren
Alongside an ancient baobab in Northern Botswana, close to the Chobe National Park, stands an unfenced lodge where game roams freely. It is a strong contender for having the best view in the Caprivi Strip area.
From the ridge where each of the eight thatched suites is situated, the view is spectacular. It is an expansive panorama down to the perennial Chobe River running through the vast Caprivi flood plain, where elephants, hundreds of migrating zebra and buffalo as well as impala gather and graze. It is mesmerisingly beautiful, a constantly changing scene enhanced by the play of different light during the day. At night the river is a silver ribbon in the moonlight.
As the lodge was built next to game paths and is unfenced, there is a stream of game passing right past the rooms. Lazing on your king-sized bed or sitting in your private sanctuary area, which includes a patio with plunge pool and outdoor shower, you can see anything from thirsty elephants thundering down to the river to a slender mongoose. Giant ground geckos laze on the rocks. Guests have even seen lions drinking from their pool. The suites have been placed to ensure total privacy, with a pathway behind, so no one ever encroaches on your space. Staff sound a gong before bringing you anything to your room.
Suites are spacious and comfortable, with a combined lounge and bedroom area backed by an open bathroom. Colours are neutral with natural finishes and touches of earth tones. Décor is ethnic and rustic with some humorous elements, like beaded warthoghead wall lamps. A pleasant feature is the glass and wood windows from floor to ceiling across the entire front, which open widely but have to be closed at night (because of the presence of game), when you can use the quiet air-conditioning.
A guard escorts you to and from your suite at night, and it is not unusual to be delayed mby elephants browsing on the greenery around the lodge precincts. This is a remote wilderness experience.
A 500-year-old baobab presides over the central area of Ngoma Safari Lodge, like a sentinel. Its branches are full of Buffaloweavers’ nests. Raptors use its branches as a vantage point to scour the area for prey.
This space is appealing and has a special atmosphere. I found myself kicking off my shoes and spending much time there on the pool deck with its plunge pool and rocky water feature, or on the game viewing deck. The area has clever architecture with decks on several levels, all leading to one another, including the bar, covered dining area and sitting room. This area sports chandeliers with alternating beaded Sable and Kudu over each globe, giving the effect of an African carousel. Photos of rosy-hued Chobe baobabs hang on the back wall.
Sunset from the central deck is splendid. Double-banded Sand Grouse pass by on their journey from the river to their roosting spots. Groups of guests chat animatedly about what they have seen on their game drives or river cruise in the nearby Chobe National Park. Many linger until dinner is served. Lanterns are dotted around the deck and a fire is lit in an old plough disc moulded onto a concrete base, adding to the enchanting ambiance. Tables in the covered dining space or on the open deck are set with white tablecloths, each decorated with a wire baobab tree. Small salt and pepper cellars are adorned with beads. You may gaze at game drinking at the floodlit waterhole as a tasty three-course meal is served. Seating is individual or in small groups, according to preference.
The staff are exceptionally friendly and warm, a unified and contented group, who care about your comfort and well-being. They are all from the local communities, which have part-ownership in the lodge and share the profits. Each guest contributes to a Community Fund.
After a fulfilling breakfast (a cold buffet presented in Penzo ceramic crockery, followed by cooked fare), game vehicles drive into Chobe National Park. Informed and enthusiastic guides delight in finding breeding herds of elephants with hairy babies that can’t quite use their trunks yet, majestic Sable and Roan antelope or large aggregations of giraffe. Lion and leopard sightings never fail to thrill. The bird life is phenomenal, and even seasoned birders are likely to tick off many lifers on their list. Red-billed Spurfowl, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater and African Marsh Harrier are frequently sighted.
River cruises are a unique way to watch intimate animal behaviour. You are likely to see hippo snorting, yellow-skinned crocodiles so close up you can see blood on their teeth and baboons cavorting at the water’s edge. Puku – a pretty antelope – is endemic to the area. If you enjoy photography it is the ideal spot to take iconic African sunset shots of elephants against a red sun or buffalo with their reflections in pink water. Waterbirds are prolific, and you can enjoy Fish Eagles, many species of egrets, herons and iridescent Malachite Kingfisher.
The longer your stay, the better at Ngoma Safari Lodge, as it has such a congenial atmosphere – plus a magnificent view. After rewarding game and birding activities it is the ideal place to relax to enjoy one another, after the exertions of your wedding. Share in the romance of gazing at the silhouette of a baobab, raising its branches into the softly fading light.
Flame of Africa
To visit several lodges in the Chobe area you may have to crisscross borders between Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, which all meet here. Let Flame of Africa smooth the transitions and transport you in comfort.
Words by Gillian McLaren
Set high on a hill overlooking the magnificent Chobe River and edging Chobe National Park in Botswana, this ultra-luxurious bush lodge with its personalised services is perfect for both adventure and relaxation.
Pampering has been raised to an art form at Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero Lodge. The welcome is enthusiastic and personal as you are led through exquisitely carved wooden doors down to the verandah edging the front of the communal area. A panoramic view of the Chobe River and flood plain, right across into Namibia, is overwhelmingly beautiful. My reluctance to tear myself away from the spectacle was noticed by the sensitive and attentive manageress, Basadi Ramhitshana, who immediately asked whether I would like to linger and enjoy my meal right there, demonstrating a flexibility that typifies the level of individual attention here.
The introduction to the lodge, its facilities and activities included a request as to what I would like in the bar fridge in my cottage. No random cluster of small bottles here: drinks are customised to your preferences, and even my throwaway comment about chocolates was taken seriously.
Fifteen thatched cottages are set among indigenous trees like the African ebony, where you can spot banded mongoose, the endemic Chobe bushbuck, baboon and scores of birds. I watched an orange-breasted shrike in full flight, as well as Meyer’s parrots and longbilled crombec, from my private terrace.
The décor is modern, with hues of cream, white and touches of black. Set into niches are carefully chosen pieces of African art. Rooms are air-conditioned, but there are windows protected by screens should you prefer the ambient temperature and fresh air.
A freestanding bath is positioned so you can look out of a wall-sized plate glass window onto your concealed garden area, which is simply decorated with a few African stone statues. As a honeymoon couple you could return to your cottage after dining to find a hot bubble bath, with champagne on ice and your room lovingly decorated with lit candles, flowers and creatively folded towels. An abundance of Africology products are provided, as well as scented bath salts and oil. Laundered clothes are left in fawn tissue paper tied with raffia.
An indoor shower has a door opening onto your secret garden, where there is also an outdoor shower under an African sky, where the stars seem to be brighter and more abundant than in the city.
At Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero the food is consistently excellent. Chef Phinias Kuchicha and his sous chefs use fresh ingredients and prepare meals from scratch, presenting them artistically and serving them with grace. Small details – such as the pewter butter dishes, with small animals sculpted on the lid – add a personal touch to the pleasingly set tables. Both continental and cooked breakfasts are excellent, and sophisticated three-course meals are served for lunch and dinner, where several choices are available including a vegetarian option.
The soups are particularly tasty, with unusual combinations like parsnip and pear or garden pea and baby onion. A signature meat dish is grilled impala with port wine, and I was surprised to find fresh fish including tuna and salmon on the menu. Good South African wines are freely available to accompany meals and chilled Fleur du Cap unwooded Chardonnay complemented my lightly seared tuna. The chefs love to please and will deviate from the menu should you have any special requests.
Some of the meals are fun, like the lunch where you make your own selection from an array of toppings, spooning them onto a handmade pizza, which is oven-baked as you watch. An evening braai is enjoyable, as huge fires are lit and a range of meats is cooked for you, with a cornucopia of traditional salads and vegetables provided. A choir from a local school comes to sing and dance before the braai, during pre-dinner drinks in the lounge area. Their energy and musicality get many of the guests up and dancing. If you wish to dine in the privacy of your room or on the verandah of your cottage, it is quietly set up during your afternoon activity.
The fully equipped spa is an experience not to be missed, with its hydrotherapy room and a treehouse overlooking the bush to the Chobe River. My full body massage was memorable and left me with the lingering scent of ylang ylang and feeling deliciously relaxed. Adjacent to the spa is an immaculately kept, split-level swimming pool, where I stood with binoculars in hand to watch elephants browsing next to the lodge’s fence. Big herds of these gentle creatures move down to the river each day to drink and bathe. Here you will see the biggest concentration of elephants in Africa.
A special way to watch the elephants up close and personal is from the safety of a boat on a Morning or Sunset River Cruise. You are likely to see herds of buffalo, impala, hippo, basking crocodile and – if you are privileged – a lion or leopard at the water’s edge. A moving sight for me was when 11 shy sable antelope slaked their thirst, then quickly moved back up into the forested area. There are so many bird species frequenting this magnificent river that even the most ardent of bird watchers is sure to find a kind they have not seen before.
Chobe Chilwero’s characteristic attention to detail is extended to the drinks and snacks provided on the river cruises.
Besides spotting game, a good reason to go on a morning game drive into the adjacent Chobe National Park is the fine tea which is set up for you in the bush. It is a thrill to be in the wilderness of Botswana and to alight from baked muffins. Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero is able to provide honeymooners with a private vehicle or motorised cruise boat subject to availability and at an additional cost.
Each evening you will find a note giving you the weather report for the following day. Pampering continues throughout your stay, with several treats and surprises. This level of luxury and excellence is guaranteed to give you the precious memories you hope for on your honeymoon.
Fly AIRLINK daily from Johannesburg to
Kasane. Kasane International Airport is 10
minutes away by road.
For bookings contact the SAA Call Centre on
011 978 1111 or visit www.flyairlink.com
Words by Gillian McLaren
Situated on Zambia’s Katambura Island in the Zambezi River, this elegant lodge is an ideal base from which to explore the river with its rapids, islands and nearby Victoria Falls – if you can bear to leave your suite.
The outdoor bath is positioned on the wooden deck in front of your villa, which is above a rushing river. Foliage of tall trees ensures total privacy. Sizeable white candles on the ledge above the bubble bath flicker in the gentle breeze. The deck has been festooned with candles in brown paper bags, which cast a warm glow. An array of Tabrar Earle products, with an orange and sandalwood scent, has been left for your pleasure.
With only four spacious suites, Royal Chundu Island Lodge is exclusive in the extreme. The bedroom, lounge and bathroom areas of each suite are side-by-side, facing the river, with views of ancient African ebony and baobab trees.
As the entire front of the suite is made up of concertinaed panels of wood and glass, it can be as open or closed as you prefer, allowing you to enjoy your twin shower either indoors or outdoors, as you please. Although each is totally private, Villa 4 has the most remote feel as it is furthest away from the main area, on its own pretty pathway.
For intimate dinners in your lounge area or on your deck a table is set bearing tall silver candelabra with long white candles, designer cutlery and crockery on quality linen, with some quirky elements like a diamante frog containing toothpicks. The effect of this careful styling is supreme elegance. Relais & Chateaux standards of food are impeccably maintained at each meal.
Each suite has a unique butler system, where anything you order is discreetly left in your private hatch, then a mellow gong sound alerts you that a delivery has been made. Properly brewed coffee or tea of your choice is served in this fine manner, any time in the morning or during the day.
From the vantage point of the lounger on your deck you might be treated to a sighting of the extremely rare and beautiful green Shalow’s Turaco. Bird life is prolific on the island and you are likely to see Collared Sunbird, Half-collared Malachite and Giant Kingfisher as well as friendly Greenbuls. Otters are sometimes seen swimming past the suites. The waterway is totally private, so you will never see a boat pass your villa.
For a spa treatment the therapist sets up a portable bed in your lounge or on the deck. It is dreamy to experience an open-air massage to the sound of swirling river water, calling Scrub-Robin and swaying leaves.
Beneath a canopy of mature trees, next to the infinity pool of the communal area of the lodge, tables are set where lunch is served. Tributaries from either side of the island meet in front of this space. The presence of a variety of species of butterflies adds to the beauty of this tranquil spot. Meals are unhurried and exquisitely presented, so guests tend to delay leaving to prolong the contentment. As some guests have a private luncheon in their villa or enjoy a day trip to Victoria Falls, you may have the entire place to yourself.
Staff are available, but discreet. Further inducement to linger is the excellent selection of coffee table books, including volumes about African flora and fauna, and field guides, as well as an interesting collection of African artefacts housed in the lounge and indoor dining room.
Shooting the white water of the nearby rapids is great fun, with the experienced guides doing the paddling as they know the area well and are able to negotiate an exciting but safe passage. On the more sedate stretches of the Zambezi there is time to do some bird-watching from the canoes, including trying to find the much sought after Rock Pratincole, which lays its eggs on rock surfaces of any size that protrude from the water.
Cruises are offered in comfortable, covered motorboats, ideal for viewing the birds, game and spectacular trees of this region. On the Sunset Cruise gourmet snacks are served with iced drinks of your choice as you revel in the iconic beauty of a vermillion sky reflected in the waters of the Zambezi. The boat edges the nearby Matetsi Game Reserve, where abundant game come down to the water’s edge to drink.
It is a thrill to spot a majestic kudu bull, scampering baboon or even a big cat. Hippos and crocodiles are often seen, as are many waterbirds, including several species of heron, egret and kingfisher. African skimmers are a special sight, with their lower beak much longer than the top one for skimming along the water’s surface for food.
This area of the Zambezi is famed for its tigerfish. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced fisher, you could try to hook one of these striped beauties with tackle provided by the lodge. The catch and release policy is in line with their ecoconscious philosophy.
A stroll around the island with one of the well-educated guides is most informative. It is fascinating to hear snippets about the trees, butterflies and ecology.
Victoria Falls is close enough for a pleasurable day trip, but as the lodge and surrounding area are so magnificent I would suggest a separate stay at the falls if that is possible, to maximise your time at Royal Chundu. Even if you only have a few hours at the falls, a helicopter ride is a memorable experience. Tucked away beneath indigenous trees at the entrance to the falls is a surprise:
Rainforest Café, a chic restaurant serving artistically presented meals with fresh produce as well as superb coffee. Apparently growing vegetables and herbs is a challenge in Victoria Falls, as elephants invade the gardens. They step delicately over the lettuce and make for the coriander and rocket. This stylish eatery manages to overcome these sorts of obstacles to serve food good enough to rival any boutique hotel.
Royal Chundu Island Lodge, with its alfresco bath on the deck, clouds of butterflies and unique position to explore this remote wilderness location, is a sublime destination for a honeymoon.
Royal Chundu Island Lodge
Flame of Africa
Words by Gillian McLaren
Combining the best of a tropical beach experience, exotic wildlife viewing and Relais & Chateaux fine cuisine, this unique hotel is arguably the finest in Madagascar.
“I love romance, you know,” says Cedric, the owner-manager of Anjajavy l’Hotel in northwestern Madagascar, in his charming French accent. “When honeymooners visit here, I invite them to plant a baobab tree together, in a special ceremony. Baobabs can live for thousands of years, so it signifies undying love.” Cedric is also passionate about the wildlife of this special island and is involved in reforestation projects and conservation education, which includes employing local Malagasy people who live in the nearby fishing village.
Anjajavy is exceptional, as it is surrounded by 550 hectares of private reserve with a dry deciduous forest of Palissandre trees, ebony and splendid grey baobabs, as well as an extensive mangrove system. Here you will see endearing lemur species, captivating chameleons, fascinating endemic birds and outlandish butterflies. As 90% of Madagascar’s wildlife is endemic, you are guaranteed to see scores of new species of intriguing animals and plants found nowhere else on the planet.
As Anjajavy is so remote it is accessible only by air, in a private charter plane from Antananarivo, which takes about 90 minutes. The flight is interesting as it allows you to see the deforested areas where rice paddies have been created, as well as the barren central grassland. Rosewood Villas line the soft sands of the beach, so have a beautiful view.
Each palm-thatched unit has a queen-sized bed (with mosquito netting) in a bedroom/lounge area, a bathroom with separate toilet and bidet, plus table and chairs. Bottled water is placed in the bar fridge daily. A spacious covered terrace sports a hammock, table and deckchairs. For your comfort there is a footbath where you may wash off the beach sand before entering your air-conditioned villa.
Each meal is a feast and prettily presented in different locations. The central public area is constructed of rosewood, with a cool terrace where you can enjoy breakfast as you are entertained by a show of striking birds like Grey-headed lovebirds, Sickle-billedVanga or the Crested Drongo. Black and white butterflies the size of small birds swoop past. From the reception area with its relaxed lounge and small boutique you can view the infinity swimming pool, which seems to merge with the ocean and sky.
As a honeymoon couple, you can enjoy an intimate silver service dinner, alone on the beach at a table set with white linen. With your feet in the fine sand and a glass of wine in your hand, you may feel that the spectacular sunset is just for you. A threecourse meal is served with two choices per course; these are French-inspired but with local ingredients and Malagasy touches.
As there are several concealed beaches an easy walking distance from Anjajavy, you may have the idyllic experience of being served a picnic lunch on the beach of your choice, then being left completely alone. This is no ordinary picnic, but I shall not reveal details, so it will be a wonderful surprise! A dip in the aquamarine ocean or some easy snorkeling to spot tropical fish adds to the pleasure of this Robinson Crusoe fantasy.
Anjajavy also has an Oasis area with papyrus reeds, tree ferns, palm trees and climbing plants next to a water feature. Each afternoon at 5 o’clock a formal tea is served with freshly squeezed juices, a choice of teas and home-baked biscuits and cakes.
As they have not been harassed in any way the lemurs are wild but relaxed about being near humans. Common brown lemurs also attend the tea party, but seem more reticent and run along the ground on all fours with their bushy tails up in the air. For a memorable evening you may have a private dinner in the Oasis, where you can hear the sound of insects and calls of animals as you watch the fading light of day transformed into moonlight.
Although it is tempting to linger in your air-conditioned villa or daydream in your deckchairs, there are lots of exciting activities at Anjajavy. Free water-based activities include catamaran sailing, snorkeling, windsurfing and kayaking in the sea or mangrove area. You pay to go fishing or for a boat excursion to Moramba Bay, to see wondrous scenery of eroded islands with endemic red baobabs. A romantic experience is the guided sunset cruise through the protected mangroves, where you watch birds as you sip cocktails while the sun sets.
Visits to the Anjajavy village are possible, to see the simple Malagasy homes, meet villagers and shop for carefully made handicrafts. A memorable venture is the night walk in the forest, where a well-informed guide takes a maximum of three people bearing torches to search for nocturnal creatures. You may see fat-tailed dwarf lemur and Milne Edwards sportive lemur. Surprisingly large hairy crabs, which are nocturnal foragers, may startle you as they scuttle through fallen leaves. Nocturnal gecko species, with their large eyes and vertical pupils, lie still in wait for insects to eat. Guests brave enough to venture into a cave can see an extinct fossil giant lemur as well as stalagmites and stalactites.
A couple’s massage in the spa on the beach with a view of the waves lapping on the shore is a sublime experience. The technique is quite different from a conventional massage, and is so relaxing it is soporific. If you do plant an endemic baobab tree together, Cedric will give you the exact GPS co-ordinates so that you or generations to come
may return for an anniversary to see the growth of your special tree.
The elegance and tropical splendour of Anjajavy l’Hotel and its surrounds, together with the amazing animal life, make this a wonderful honeymoon adventure.
Madagascar National Tourism Board