The view from the Jungfraujoch observation deck is, quite simply, spectacular. Tucked in the saddle between two of Switzerland’s highest mountains, the highest railway station in Europe offers spectacular Alpine vistas of glaciers and snowy peaks. All of Switzerland lies to the north, as Italy tumbles away to the south.
Well, that’s what our glossy postcards show, at least.
The only tumbling we’re doing is back indoors, as an unseasonal storm system dumps half-a-metre of snow in our path. Out on the exposed observation deck, flying ice is hurled against our eyelashes by gale force winds, and all I can make out is the thermometer reading minus-something-or-other. Sunshine and views are in short supply and we look for all the world like tourists inside a shaken snow globe. Which, in a way, I guess we are.
But even without the views the trip up the Jungfraujoch ranks as one of the greatest railway journeys in Europe, offering picturesque valleys, spectacular engineering and enough bucolic Swiss scenes to grace a lifetime of chocolate boxes.
From the town of Interlaken the impressive cogwheel railway climbs past emerald pastures, snowy fields and through the very heart of the Eiger to reach the underground station and observatory over 3500-metres above sea level.
Even more incredible, is that the railway was built just a few years after the Wright brothers took their first flight. While plans for a train to the summit of the Jungfraujoch were first mooted in 1893, it was another 15 years before the tracks finally reached the top.
“The railway celebrates its centenary in 2012,” says our guide Josef Erni with just a touch of pride, as we chug past the impossibly pretty village of Lauter Brunnen. Waterfalls cascade from nearly ever cliff, but all eyes are squinting towards the towering Staubbach Falls; a popular drop-zone for BASE-jumpers
A retired engineer, Josef has lived in the area for nearly 40 years and is a wealth of information as we make our way heavenwards. Past the village of Wengen, with its popular ski resorts and kilometres of piste, eyes turn towards the distant peaks. Or, rather, the cloud where we’re assured the peaks are usually to be found.
“The peaks Mönch and Jungfrau refer to the monks and nuns that grazed their herds on the high pastures in summer,” explains Josef. “A peak for the men, a peak for the women! On the left is the Eiger, one of the most challenging rock climbs in the world. It was only in 1938 that someone managed to climb the famous North Face.”
The sheer rock of the North Face looms above us as the train pauses at Eigergleischer station – the train stops three times en route to allow travellers to admire the view and adjust to the thin air of 2320m.
And it’s only up from here as the train follows a track tunnelled into the very bedrock of the Eiger, stopping only for occasional glimpses out of viewpoints cut from the rock face. It’s a remarkable feat of engineering that’s worth the journey on its own.
Which is just as well, when the views don’t play ball.
All the more reason to savour the journey back to Interlaken; our route wending through pastoral valleys of wooden chalets and tinkling cowbells. The village of Grindelwald appears lifted from the pages of a Heidi storybook, while patches of wildflowers speckle the hillsides. It’s a soft, welcoming landscape that’s impossible not to love.
Nearly all roads and railways in this area lead to Interlaken, and while the trip to the Jungfraujoch is the area’s most popular attraction, the town is a scenic, sedate spot in itself.
A wander along the historic Höheweg reveals chocolate and watch shops aplenty, while further towards Lake Brienz a tranquil Japanese garden offers reflective koi ponds and quiet pathways. Both are in stark contrast to the backdrop of gothic gargoyles and rough-hewn walls of the historic Schlosskirche beyond.
The ‘Castle Church’ of Interlaken was built in the 1300s, when “its lofty chancel was the most stately example of High Gothic architecture in the canton of Bern,” reads the church record. It wasn’t all power and glory though: in 1528 the church was closed and used as a granary and wine cellar, only to reopen in 1909. Today, it’s a peaceful escape from the hordes of Asian tourists, and worth a visit for its impressive stained glass windows.
Perhaps fittingly for Switzerland, my itinerary was timed to the second and there was sadly little time to linger in Interlaken. No time for a boat cruise on Lake Thun, or a stroll to the swimming beach at Neuhaus. No space for a trip up the cableway to Harder Kulm: the dramatic views of Lake Thun and Lake Brienz would have to wait. The annual yodelling festival was just a few days off, but Swiss clocks – and trains – wait for no man. The Golden Pass Line was waiting.
Switzerland is famous for its commuter railways, but it’s also surprisingly good at combining transport with tourism, and a number of scenic railways criss-cross the Alpine foothills. A circuitous route would lead me back to international departures at Zurich airport the same evening, but why not see some scenery en route, I reasoned?
And with the Golden Pass Line it’s all about the scenery. First class carriages (it’s worth paying the little extra) boast bulbous windows that cover most of the roof, offering panoramic views as the line links the Vaud Riviera to Lake Lucerne.
Skirting the shores of Lake Brienz, the deepest in Switzerland, the showering Giessbach Falls immediately has cameras clicking. Past Brienz, the line climbs over high pastures towards the Brünig pass; a scenic cutting surrounded by more chocolate-box scenery. Down into the valley below and Lake Lungern gives way to Sarnen, Alpnach and – far too soon - Lake Lucerne. A night or two in Lucerne is ideal to soak up this 14th century town, but if – like me – you have barely an hour, it’s handy that the city’s most famous sight is right on the station’s doorstep.
The gorgeous Chapel Bridge straddles the Reuss River, and dates back nearly 700 years. Well, it did until a discarded cigarette burnt most of it to the ground in 1993. Still, the 204-metre bridge has been meticulously restored and retains all the flower-boxed, wood-carved romance of historic Switzerland.
Photos taken and paddling swans admired, the Pre-Alpine Express was our last stretch on the rails to Zurich. A far cry from the dramatic Alpine valleys, the surprisingly sedate Express travels through rolling hills and broad lakes to show off the softer side of Switzerland. The lakes lose their glacial blue, and birds of prey soar between tracts of deep-green woodland. It’s countryside less jagged Toblerone, and more seductive Lindt.
You could ride the Express all the way to gorgeous Lake Constance, but I have a plane to catch and my boat across Zürichsee is waiting. At the charming lakeside town of Rapperswil it’s just a few steps to the ferries that ply the forty-kilometres of water lapping against the capital’s footsteps, and make a fantastic way to quietly soak up your last hours in Switzerland.
Stepping onto the pier in Zurich you half expect to see bankers counting gold on every street corner, but it’s a city that wears its wealth conservatively. An embellished bank building here, a row of luxury vehicles there… trams still trundle through the streets and laid-back pavement cafes spill onto discreet squares.
It’s also a city of two halves.
While the old money banks dominate the left shore of the Limmat River, most tourists head straight for the designer boutiques and trendy eateries of the right bank. It’s here you’ll find the real magic of Zurich; the cobbled streets of the Altstadt (Old Town), and the high tower of the gothic Grossmünster.
There’s stunning décor and design at Innenarchitektur on Spiegergaße, and wonderful art at the AHA gallery. There are Impressionist collections to admire at Kunsthaus art museum, or a cheesy raclette to tuck into at the traditional Swiss eateries.
It’s a city that wears old and new comfortably together, preserving its history and embracing the modern. It’s a city I’ll come back to in a heartbeat. And – if I can time the trains just right – perhaps I’ll forgive the Jungfrau and give the nun’s mountain another chance to show off her splendid views.
• Getting there: Swiss International Air Lines boasts a revamped Business Class cabin, and flies daily from Johannesburg to Zurich. Visit www.swiss.com, or call 0860 04 05 06.
• Getting around: From Zurich airport the excellent Swiss railway system is your best way to travel around. If you plan on doing a lot of travelling a Swiss Pass, also valid on buses and ferries, is your best bet. Visit www.sbb.ch.
• Plan your trip: www.myswitzerland.com is the offical website of the Swiss National Tourist Office.
First published in Garden&Home Magazine
The diminutive Asterix may have been from an indomitable village in Gaul, but – on a cold night in Switzerland – I find it hard not to think of the moustachioed hero as I dunk my skewer of yeasty rye bread into the fondue pot of bubbling cheese at Restaurant Laterne.
When Asterix and the ever-faithful Obelix ‘visited’ Switzerland they were quickly warned about the strict rules of fondue: “Everyone got it? If you lose your piece of bread in the fondue, you pay a forfeit! The first time it’s five of the best with a stick; the second time you get twenty lashes with a whip; the third time you get thrown into the lake with weights tied to your feet!”
Given that we were enjoying our fondue in the Alpine town of Interlaken – ‘between lakes’ – there was no shortage of water if I lost my third piece of rye. The glacial waters of Lake Brienz, just down the road, are the deepest in Switzerland and I was in no mood for a dip. So, despite the warm welcome we’d received, was another glass of schnapps really a good idea, I wondered?
“But you must have the schnapps with it!” exclaimed our host Daniela. “The alcohol of the schnapps cuts through the heavy cheese and makes you feel light inside. You just dip the bread – quickly – into the apple schnapps, then into the cheese, then pop it in your mouth.”
As a glass of fiery schnapps found a home in front of me it was hard to refuse. Platters of raclette – grilled cheese served simply with a bag of steaming new potatoes – arrived to fill the gaps left behind by the cheese fondue, with plates of rosti in hot pursuit. Done the traditional way potato and onion are roughly chopped and fried, then served with bacon, sausages, and a creamy mushroom sauce.
It’s this hearty Swiss food cooked in the time-honoured way that brings adventurous tourists away from Interlaken’s main drag and through the heavy wooden doors of this cosy eatery. Locals bustled in and out, tucking into cheesy fondue and farm bread, washed down with a glass or three of Rugenbräu; a crisp local beer that’s as good as schnapps for lightening the load.
This is no place for travellers on a diet, but after a long chilly day in the Alps the dishes of rib-sticking fondue and raclette were just what my stomach was grumbling for.
And it is, after all, days of high-altitude adventure that bring most visitors to this part of the world. Just a few hours from Zurich on Switzerland’s ridiculously good rail network, Interlaken is the gateway to the world-famous Jungfrau railway that is – apart from the fondue – the highlight of any trip to this corner of the Swiss Alps. It’s usually only ski visitors and alpine climbers that get to enjoy the best of Switzerland’s lofty peaks, but the Jungfrau railway whisks day-trippers up to what is officially – and constantly – hailed as the highest station in Europe.
And at 3500-metres above sea level, it doesn’t take long for your lungs to realise that something is amiss. Oxygen. But that shortness of breath could also be due to the gasps of delight as the Swiss mountain scenery unfolds alongside the cogwheel track. A track where, even in summer, snow can blanket the mountainside below the three high peaks – Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau – that tower over Interlaken.
While the railway is an incredible feat of engineering, it is the dramatic scenery that entrances all but the most anorak-clad of train-spotters. Dozens of cascades around the village of Lauter Brunnen cover the cliffs in spray, while the ski runs of Wengen are quiet out of season. Hiking is a popular activity for the months when the hills are green and alive with spring flowers.
The railway then burrows through the solid rock of the Eiger’s infamous north face to emerge at the dramatic Jungfrau observation deck, clinging to a rocky outcrop atop the Eiger glacier. If the weather plays ball, the ice-covered valleys fall away on all sides as the craggy peaks of the Alps guard the border with Italy.
It might be the roof of Europe, but there’s no hardship for Jungfrau travellers. Even on the summit a range of restaurants cater for the 650 000 annual visitors, with Restaurant Crystal’s selection of Swiss specialities certainly your best bet.
Railways and ski lifts criss-cross the lower slopes of the Jungfrau, so we take a circuitous route back to Interlaken, meandering sleepily down through the villages of Brandegg and Grindelwald. Outside chalets that seem lifted from the pages of a Heidi cartoon the woodpiles are stacked to dry before winter. Cows graze lazily in the fields, their bells sending a deep tinkle across the valleys. As we descend, the glaciers turn into powdery snowfields that melt into rivers, rushing down to fill the deep lakes that surround Interlaken.
By the time we stroll out of Interlaken station, my stomach is rumbling long before we’re due for dinner. Nothing a quick meander into the backstreets behind my hotel can’t solve, as I unearth the delightful Reinle Bäckerei with its baskets of knotted bread and bountiful confectionery counter. This is the German-speaking corner of Switzerland, so I wander out munching happily on a tart apfel strudel.
The strudel keeps me company as I walk past pavement cafés on the pedestrian-friendly lanes off the main drag. Interlaken has a love affair with package tourists and the main Höheweg throngs with Asian visitors who keep the multitude of watch and chocolate shops in business. There’s even a chocolate shop called ‘Tourist’, in case its clientele was ever in doubt.
But wander away from the crowds and Interlaken shows off its charming corners. Locals gather for a coffee and cake at the tiny Bäckerei am Markplatz, where cocoa-dusted truffles and beautiful chocolate cakes line the shelves.
I take a few truffles for the road and wander along the tree-lined riverfront, where the fishermen won’t let a little drizzle keep them from their rods. An historic weir funnels the River Aare as it flows into Lake Thun. The cableway to Harder Kulm offers wonderful valley views on sunnier days, but in the strengthening drizzle I head for the shelter of the 700-year-old Schlosskirche with its leery gargoyles and rough-hewn walls.
The Schlosskirche offers some of the finest High Gothic architecture in the canton of Bern, but this brooding church has also seen humble days as a granary and wine cellar. Whether you’re escaping the rain or the tour-buses, it’s a refuge worth a visit for its impressive stained glass windows alone.
I hurry back to our hotel, a high-rise beast that does the local skyline no favours, but offers great mountain views from its fine-dining restaurant ‘Top o’Met’. The German influence tramps cross the menu with the likes of rosti, sauerkraut and asparagus gratin. It’s a spot where floor-to-ceiling views trump charm, but is worth a visit for at least an evening drink before dinner at the lovely Laterne.
There is plenty more to see in and around Interlaken, but – as always – I’m running out of time. The next day, two scenic trains whisk me back to Zurich while – in an impressive display of Swiss efficiency – my luggage is checked in at the railway station to meet me back in Johannesburg.
The Golden Pass Line whisks us past Lake Brienz and on to Luzerne, for a fleeting look at the historic Chapel Bridge. A warm pretzel covered in crunchy salt takes care of the railway munchies as the Pre-Alpine Express – our last stretch on the rails to Zurich – rolls through the gentle landscape of Appenzellerland. The lakes lose their glacial blue, and the deep sing-song of the conductors lulls me to sleep as they “Guten tag… karte” their way down the carriage.
A boat across Zurichsee is the last leg of our journey home, with the deep waters sloshing against the bow as the dome of Grossmunster emerges from the mist. I’ve made my usual mistake of not leaving enough time to explore the financial heart of Switzerland properly, but the wealthy streets flanking the Limmat River will be here for next time. It’s a mistake I can live with. I’m just glad that I didn’t drop any bread in the fondue.
• Getting there: Swiss International Air Lines, boasting a revamped Business Class cabin, flies daily from Johannesburg to Zurich. Visit www.swiss.com, or call 0860 04 05 06.
• Getting around: From Zurich airport the excellent Swiss railways system is your best way to get around. If you plan on doing a lot of travelling a Swiss Pass will save you money. Visit www.sbb.ch. For more on the Jungfrau railway, visit www.jungfrau.ch.
• Plan your trip: www.myswitzerland.com is the offical website of the Swiss National Tourist Office.
First published in Food&Home
Flying around the storm clouds of recession, natural disasters and oil price hikes, airlines have had a turbulent time over the past few years; with the insidious post-recession slump in lucrative corporate travel hitting the airline industry hardest.
But, according to industry experts, seats are once again filling up at the sharp end of the plane. According to the latest (April 2011) figures from the International Air Traffic Association – which monitors traffic across its 200-odd member airlines – premium travel within Africa saw an 8% in increase over the previous year. Air travel to Asia grew by 13%, and the important commercial routes between Europe and Africa rose by 6% over the same period.
“On our key routes, such as Nigeria and South Africa, our premium cabins are operating at very good load factors,” confirmed Stephen Forbes, spokesperson for British Airways in South Africa. “North African routes, such as Egypt and Tunisia have obviously been affected by the political situation in those countries and all travel has declined.”
“Even during the economic crisis corporate travel within Africa remained strong, and we found that the business owner will continue to fly,” reports Jean-Luc Grillet, Emirates’ Senior Vice-President of Commercial Operations for Africa. “You can’t stop your business simply because the oil price goes up!”
But while the market may be growing, passenger numbers are still some way off pre-recession highs. So with supply of First and Business Class seats often exceeding demand, airlines have to fight ever harder to entice corporate travellers – such as yourself – to stump up for a seat at the sharp-end of the plane.
“The aftermath of the recession means that value-for-money is still a key factor,” suggests Mr Forbes. “To some extent on-board products that provide the ability to work, relax or sleep comfortably are a given, so corporate travellers and travel buyers want the whole package. That means a good network with all the concomitant benefits, such as regular convenient connections to key destinations and easy transfers.”
Connectivity is certainly an important factor for corporate travellers, and British Airways currently flies to over a dozen destinations across Africa with easy connections to nearly 600 worldwide destinations via its hub at London Heathrow Terminal 5.
On the continent, the relatively unknown Ethiopian Airlines surprisingly offers one of the most extensive route networks in Africa.
“Ethiopian Airlines serves 63 international and 17 domestic destinations,” says Melisia LaCock, Sales Manager for South Africa: “We have just received new Boeing 777-Long Range aircraft with state-of-the-art business class facilities. These are currently on our Beijing and Washington routes. Our Cloud Nine product out of South Africa is also doing well and is mainly booked by the corporate traveller.”
“Airlines are also working harder at offering more value-for-money through frequent flyer benefits, as well as concentrating on customer service,” suggests Rosemary Adogo, Area Manager Southern Africa for Kenya Airways, which is set to open a new premium-class lounge at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi.
It’s definitely about the whole package, agrees Mr Grillet. “It’s about more than the journey, but also the value-adds that an airline offers. On Emirates we have dedicated lounges at our airports, streamlined airport security, limousine transfer service on arrival as well as Internet access on board. All of these save the corporate traveller time, and allow you to continue working while you travel.”
Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways offers a similar suite of value-adds, explains Chief Commercial Officer Peter Baumgartner: “In South Africa specifically, Etihad offers free visa and hotel services for all premium guests travelling through Abu Dhabi and having a transit stay of more than eight hours. In the air, our guests can experience our award winning flatbed seats in Pearl Business Class. Our new Diamond First class suite features a luxurious Poltrona Frau Leather seat that converts to a fully-flat bed.”
Perhaps Axel Simon, Director Southern Africa for Lufthansa German Airlines and Swiss International Air Lines sums it up most succinctly: “Passengers pay more for premium class, and expect more.”
With this in mind, airlines are using new aircraft and enhanced cabin features to entice travellers into the pricier premium cabins. British Airways is just one airline that has used the dip in demand as an opportunity to revamp its premium product.
“We’ve invested £100-million in our new First cabin and it has now been fitted to well over half of our selected fleet of Boeing 747 and 777s,” explained Mr Forbes, adding that British Airways is also the only airline to offer a First Class product on direct flights between Cape Town and London.
It seems that First Class is to be the new battleground for premium travellers; with Lufthansa and Emirates also using their new A380 ‘superjumbo’ cabins to push the boundaries of premium luxury.
In addition to individual suites with a sliding door for privacy and ‘dine-on-demand’ bells and whistles, Emirates’ fleet of double-decker A380s are the first in the world to offer on-board showers. Sadly, while the First Class Private Suites are currently available on a range of aircraft servicing African routes, Emirates has yet to bring the superjumbo to the continent.
“If we bring the A380 to African routes the priority will obviously be Johannesburg,” says Mr Grillet. “There is also potential in Egypt and Nigeria, but those destinations are not possible at the moment due to inadequate airport infrastructure.”
Lufthansa, which operates 107 weekly flights to 15 countries in Africa, is one of the few European carriers to bring its superjumbo south of the equator. The A380 flies daily to Johannesburg, and the airline recently named its latest double-decker in honour of the city of gold.
Although the Lufthansa A380 doesn’t yet offer lie-flat seats in Business Class, the spacious First Class seats convert into fully flat beds nearly a metre wide and over two metres long. And for once, you won’t have to endure aeroplane yoga to change into your suit in the morning: the First Class bathrooms are a spacious modern affair with separate washing and changing areas.
While there might not be showers on board Lufthansa just yet, when 10 747-400s are overhauled later this year they will be the first airline to offer a dedicated bed in First Class. By halving the number of seats in the First Class cabin to just eight, each passenger will enjoy a private seat as well as a full-length bed. With no joints, seat buckles or remotes to contend with, business travellers flying to Europe might just enjoy a full night’s sleep at last.
Page 2: Air France brings premium economy
Read more... [Up at the sharp end]
It's Brighton, by George!
It’s all thanks to George.
Not just any George, mind you, but King George IV. Or, to be more precise, George before he became George. When he was just the Prince of Wales, the Prince Regent; before he took the throne on the death of his mad father.
For while most of Britain’s south coast is filled with retirement villages better known for their blue rinse than blue seas, Brighton has always revelled in its offbeat pleasure-seeking charm.
And thanks to old George, who made the town his escape from the stuffy Royal Court in London, it’s long been a seaside town with a taste for the hedonistic. More is always more in Brighton, it seems. From the flamboyant bars of gay-friendly Kemp Town to the indie shops that line hidden corners in the winding Lanes, there’s an energetic anything goes feel about this Sussex town.
Even the famous pier – one of England’s finest – has a jaunty feel about it, its flags flapping in the distance as I wander along Brighton’s lengthy seafront promenade. My bags have been dropped at the hotel and it’s time to blow away some long-haul cobwebs.
The town’s famous promenade is lined with beachfront cafés, but most are deserted on this blustery grey day and I find only a few day-trippers sipping tea behind the double-glazing of The Bandstand Bistro. I pull my jacket collar up around my neck and keep walking: past the merry-go-round doing its best to be cheerful against leaden skies, and beyond the boules court; France lies just over the horizon, after all. Grand squares of Regency architecture gaze out over the pebble beach that tumbles down to grey seas; a mirror of the clouds on this overcast Tuesday.
My stomach is rumbling like the rolling pebbles when I finally reach what I’ve been looking for: the humble, but famous, Brighton Smokehouse. I have just one night on the coast before heading back to London, and it seems like any good visit to Brighton should commence with some crustacean.
Jack and Linda Mills have been smoking fresh fish and crab here for 14 years, and it’s far and away the best place in town to enjoy a traditional crab sandwich. A small deli and kitchen crouches in an alcove under the promenade, while the wooden smokehouse sits proudly right on the edge of the beach.
“My parents had a smokehouse in town in the ‘30s, but that burnt down,” Jack tells me, as he cuts thick slices from a bloomer loaf.
After years as a fisherman, he decided it was time for terra firma and opened the rejuvenated Smokehouse: “We get all our fish and crabs from the local boats; either next door at Newhaven, or just down the coast at Shoreham. It all goes into the small smokehouse out there, and we only use the traditional oak and apple shavings.”
Jack whips together a crab sandwich – the filling a deep brown from the flavoursome shell meat – and I take a seat on a small bench outside. There’s a weak sun trying to break through the clouds, but it’s still a quiet day on the beach; just a few flapping deckchairs to keep me company.
The rich smoky sandwich (a steal at £3.20) disappears in a few bites, and with last morsels licked and napkin thrown away it seems only fitting to take a turn inside the Brighton Fishing Museum next door. Pay a little homage to the men who brought that crab from seafloor to my sandwich, I think to myself.
For Brighton has long been a town where life revolves around the sea.
The village that grew into Brighton is first recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Brighthelmstone, and was for centuries just a humble fishing village.
That, however, was before the previously unheard-of fashion for ‘sea-bathing’ took off in the mid-1700s.
By the middle of the century canopied ‘bathing machines’ appeared on the beach, ready to be wheeled into the water to protect the modesty of bathers. Before long, fisherfolk were spending more time helping day-trippers into the sea than helping the fish out of it.
The age of seaside tourism had begun, and when the Prince Regent – yes, there’s George IV again – expressed his pleasure at ‘sea bathing’ the resort future of Brighton was assured.
It’s a chilly old day today though, and there’s not much chance of a dip in the sea for me, but on hot summer weekends this is a popular day out for overheated Londoners. I spend another hour or so browsing the collection of faded photographs and fishy exhibits before strolling off down to the pier.
For the pleasures of salt-water dipping could only entertain visitors for so long, and by the Victorian age the era of grand seaside piers was in full swing.
Brighton’s Palace Pier – to give it its proper name – officially opened in 1899, nearly 70 years after the Prince Regent’s death, but I’m sure he would have approved of its pleasure halls.
While stormy seas grab at the pier’s cast-iron feet, the flashing ‘amusements’ that are the hallmark of all British piers are a popular attraction here. The ‘Tin Pan Alley’ of sideshow games is filled with strutting teenage boys and smiling girlfriends clutching stuffed whales, while the echo of a bingo announcer wafts out of the main amusement hall. At the back, the Galaxia and Horror Hotel rides rumble around and around.
There’s nothing understated about the Pier, and only the ornate iron railings and fluttering Union Jacks still hint at the elegance that made this and other English piers famous around the world in the Victorian age of empire.
But when it comes to over-the-top architecture, nothing in Brighton – or much of England, for that matter – can top the Regent’s Palace.
The Prince was rather fond of his wine, women and song, and the Regent’s Palace was his ostentatious temple to pleasure in all its guises.
Built for the Prince Regent in fits and starts between 1787 and 1823, it’s the 1822 design by John Nash that astounds visitors today. Ornate Indian domes sit plump on top of the main building, while Islamic minarets tower above the quaint English garden that surrounds Brighton’s most popular museum.
Through the front doors (entrance is £9.80), the richly decorated interior has splashes of both Chinese and Mughal influence. George IV was a passionate music lover and the plush Music Room hosted the king’s own band, as well as musical greats like the Italian composer Rossini, who performed here in 1823. Throughout the elaborate Banqueting Room and royal reception rooms the décor is a riot of Asian-inspired murals, tapestry and artworks that couldn’t possibly seem more out of place on the edge of the English Channel. And that’s precisely what makes it so loveably eccentric.
After the blaze of colours and textures I give my eyes a rest with a gentle wander up to my favourite corner of Brighton.
The cobbled Lanes that meander down from Brighton station (itself a landmark of the town’s history, opening in 1840) were once a maze of fishermen’s cottages and merchants, and are today perhaps the city’s most charming neighbourhood.
In the upper Lanes, I find myself drawn into the indie clothing outlets and knick-knack boutiques; antique warrens and bo-ho jewellery shops. Closer to the Palace, and the worthwhile Brighton Museum, the feel goes distinctly upmarket with Dolce & Gabbana, The White Company and boutique chocolatiers lining the Lanes.
Despite the price tags The Lanes retain all the character of old Brighthelmstone, and around almost any corner there’s an underground record store, bohemian coffee shop or cosy pub to discover.
It’s early evening by the time I stumble upon the Seven Stars; a pub that – like Brighton – is endearing in a suitably schizophrenic way. There is English bitter on tap and Victorian pressed ceilings above, but the music is ‘70s soul and a queue quickly forms for the Wii console in the corner.
It’s a pub for all ages, with a menu for anyone who likes their food farm-reared and local. Here the eggs are free-range, and the beef come from nearby fields.
I savour a pint of Young’s Special Bitter – “We’ve got the best bitter in Sussex,” the bartender promises me – over a steak and ale pie, and debate another for a nightcap. Why not, I think, as I wave the waiter over. Old George would probably be proud.
SIDEBOX: TRAVEL TIPS
• Where to stay: There is no shortage of accommodation in Brighton, from family-run B&Bs to boutique hotels. As a rule, the closer you are to the seafront and the Regent’s Palace the more you’ll pay. The historic Lansdowne Place Hotel & Spa is a well-priced option, some 10 minutes’ walk from the Pier. Visit www.lansdowneplace.co.uk.
• Getting there: British Airways flies daily from Cape Town and Johannesburg to London Heathrow. From Heathrow, take the Underground to London Victoria for regular train services to Brighton, about an hour away. Visit www.ba.com and www.nationalrail.co.uk.
• Web: Plan your trip at www.visitbritain.com or www.visitbrighton.com.
In Prague, it pays to get up with the sun. To leave your hotel when the night porter is still snoozing behind his desk, and the bakery vans are rumbling down quiet cobbled streets. Walking shoes on your feet and a bag with a guidebook and water are about all you’ll need. Summer in the heart of continental Europe is filled with balmy days and blue skies, and the byways of Bohemia are beckoning.
There are few tourists sharing my view from beneath the walls of Prague Castle this spring morning, and it feels like I have the city of 'City of 100 Spires’ all to myself. I start counting the stone towers poking out of the morning mists, and quickly realise I’ll need over 500 fingers to tally them all.
Modern-day Prague is actually made up of four distinct – and previously separate – towns that were united in 1784. Dominating the skyline above the Vltava River is Hradčany, the famed castle district where I find myself gazing out over the slumbering city. From here, the lanes of this historic corner wander down to Malá Strana; the Lesser District which hugs the left bank of the sinuous river.
Linking the two banks of the Vltava are 12 bridges, including the impressive 14th century Charles Bridge… but more on that later. The sun is just beginning to burn away the mist, revealing the winding lanes of ancient Staré Město and wide boulevards of the Nové Město, the New Town; a whippersnapper at a mere 600 years old.
The day is warming up and the lines of tourists are starting to wind their way up the steep cobbles of Nerudova Street, so I shoulder my bag and wander up to the ticket office of Prague Castle; far and away the city’s most popular attraction. There are ‘long’ and ‘short’ visit tickets (R140/R100), but I’m a little short on time so opt for cheaper access to just a few of the highlights.
And as highlights go, the Gothic spires of St. Vitus Cathedral – the heart of Prague Castle – are jaw-droppingly, neck-craningly impressive. Without even stepping through the cathedral’s striking doors, it’s impossible not to be awed by the intricate stonework, imposing columns and threatening gargoyles. There has been a church on this spot for over 1000 years, and the six centuries of cathedral construction only finished up in 1929. Just in time, it seems, to start the restoration work that is a permanent feature of historic sights in Europe.
Scaffolding aside, the lines are quickly forming outside the Cathedral so I leave the tour-groups behind and wander into the other corners of the historic castle precinct: St. George’s Basilica is another 1000-year old church worth a visit for its stunning murals, the Royal Palace was once home to the Bohemian kings that ruled here, the Vladislav Hall is the largest ever built in the Flamboyant Gothic style, and a walk down the Golden Lane is a wander back through time to when these colourful cottages were filled with goldsmiths and artists. The writer Franz Kafka – one of Prague’s most famous sons, who was born across the river in the Old Town – once lived at #22.
The castle is bordered to the north by wonderful parkland, but I meander through the streets of Malá Strana to one of the city’s best viewpoints: Petrin Hill.
Most tourists come here for a trip up the oh-so-cheesy observation tower that’s an Eiffel look-alike, but the real beauty of Petrin is the shady walkways that criss-cross this pleasant network of parks.
The paths of Petrin are a welcome respite from the tourist-laden stone streets, and a quiet bench delivers lovely vistas of the old town and the river. If you’re in the mood for a morning jog, this is the place to come.
A day of pounding the pavements is likely to be more than enough exercise though, and Prague is certainly a city made for walking. Public squares abound, traffic is relatively light and the distances so short it’s simply not worth taking the trams that rattle their way along narrow streets.
A funicular railway runs from Petrin Hill down to Ujezd, and then it’s a short walk back into the maze of medieval lanes along the river. The Museum Kampa art gallery has an excellent collection of Central European modern art, and there’s always a worthwhile temporary exhibition on the go.
But you’ll find art almost everywhere you look in Prague. Public art adorns city rooftops and the Vltava River, small galleries abound and intricate stone carvings decorate the grandiose skyline that makes Prague so irresistible to architecture buffs.
And perhaps nowhere in the city is the devotion to public art as dramatic as the famous Charles Bridge. Built in the 14th century, its character has evolved through the ages as power changed hands, but this UNESCO World Heritage Site still ranks as one of the world’s most romantic spots. Just try and get there early, or out of season, to avoid the thronging crowds.
Thirty statues line both sides of the Bridge, and although the controversial restoration work that obscures some of them is set to continue until 2020 it’s not hard to admire the mix of religious and regal statues towering above. Don’t miss the bronze of St. John Nepomuk that you’ll find slap-bang in the middle of the bridge. The statue marks the exact spot where John was thrown into the river to his death for disagreeing with King Wenceslas IV… descendant of the presumably-kinder ‘good king’ Wenceslas of the Christmas carol.
There’s remarkable detail to be discovered in each of the 30 statues, but the bridge is equally splendid from afar, and the benches on the eastern riverbank are the best place to admire it from.
After giving my feet another rest (those cobbles can be hard work on the ankles) it’s headlong back into the happy throng of early-summer tourists. Narrow Karlova street leads from the Bridge straight into the heart and soul of Prague: the dramatic Old Town Square. Or Staromĕstské Námestí if you feel like practising your Slavic.
But it won’t just be Czech that you’ll hear in the (overpriced, I’m warning you) pavement cafés that crowd the edges of the square. The layer cake of European architecture that characterises one of Europe’s greatest town squares makes this tourist central, and from daunting Gothic to florid baroque and playful rococo this is perhaps the only place in Europe where you can skim through architectural time as you circumnavigate the square.
Touristey though it may be, keep an eye on your watch for the changing of the hour. This is your cue to congregate at the impressive Astronomical Clock that dominates the southern side of the square. Cogs and dials mark the movement of the planets and hours, while a tableau of apostles dance with death in a moving pantomime. Dating back over 600 years, it’s a feat of engineering so wondrous it's said that the craftsman who built it was blinded after completing the clock, so that he could never build a replica.
Macabre make-believe, perhaps, but amidst the Gothic alleys of old Prague it feels like the city’s chequered history is alive and well.
And it’s a history easily explored in the city’s excellent museums. There are museums to Art Nouveau painters and, of course, Franz Kafka, but if you visit only one make sure it is the moving Jewish Museum in the Old Town.
Ironically, the museum’s massive collection of Jewish art and literature was assembled by the Nazis, pillaged from displaced communities and assembled in 1942 as the ‘Museum of the Extinguished Race’. Today, this complex of four ornate synagogues celebrates the rich Jewish culture of Eastern Europe, and is perhaps proof that ill intentions can be turned to good. On your way out, take a stroll through the haunting Jewish cemetery, with its jumble of 12 000 tombstones lying askew.
All that walking is bound to make you hungry, but avoid the expensive cafés on the Old Town Square and head into the New Town to eat with the locals. For a light bite, kavárny (coffee shops) are ideal for a quick coffee and pastry, or stop in at the affordable jídelna self-service cafeterias.
For a true Czech experience though, you can’t miss a meal at U Medvídků, a 600-year-old traditional beer-hall in the heart of Nové Město. Over the years the wood-panelled room has been a brewery, beer-hall and even the first cabaret in Prague.
Today though, it is simply an authentic Bohemian restaurant and beer-hall that draws crowds of locals and tourists each day for its pints of Czech Budweiser (a far cry from the American copy-cat) and well-priced local dishes. Czech cuisine is heavy on the pork and potatoes, but you’ll quickly burn it all off walking the streets!
Fortified with a plate of traditional prazská hovezí pecene (Prague stuffed roast beef) and a glass of Pilsn, the rest of the city awaits.
Upmarket shopping in Paris Street, or admiring the bullet-pocked walls of the National Museum? Embrace your inner-tourist with a knock-off classical concert in one of the city’s churches, or wander up tree-lined Wenceslas Square? Or perhaps just relax in the peaceful gardens of Church of Our Lady of Snows?
Whichever you choose, Prague has shufffled off its grey overcoat of Communism, and is welcoming tourists with open arms. But with so much to fill your days you’d do well, as I say, to rise with the sun in Prague.
- There are no direct flights from South Africa to Prague, but the city is easily accessible via hubs such as London Heathrow or Frankfurt, served daily from SA by British Airways and Lufthansa.
- Spring and early summer are the best times to visit Prague, before the tourist-hordes descend in August or the snows blanket the city in winter.
- South African passport-holders require a Schengen visa to visit the Czech Republic. Contact the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Pretoria on 012-4312380, or visit www.mzv.cz/pretoria. Visit www.czechtourism.com to plan your visit.
“You’re doing what?” my friends would ask incredulously – usually accompanied by a look reserved for the slow-witted – when I told them I was going surfing in England. “Better take an extra wetsuit,” they’d chortle, not helping my mental image of a surfer entombed in frost like prehistoric leftovers from the last Ice Age.
And who can blame them, I suppose. In a country more famous for drizzly days whiled away in cosy pubs, the thought of spending hours in the sea is not high on the to-do list for most people visiting the United Kingdom.
Perhaps they were right, I wondered, as my First Great Western train pulled into Newquay Station on a gloomy Sunday afternoon. It looked ‘distinctly autumnal’, as the forecasters on the Beeb seemed to be fond of saying. Five hours out of London, and about 20 from my front door in Cape Town, I’d finally made it to what is widely regarded as the home of English surfing.
Facing the full brunt of swells rolling in off the Atlantic, the myriad coves and dozens of beaches in and around Newquay offer a surf spot for almost all conditions. It may not have the legendary point-break of J-Bay or the warm tropical waters of Indonesia, but when the swell plays ball the breaks at Fistral Beach can fire.
Well, at least that’s what I was told.
Looking down on the beach from my room in the Carnmarth Hotel all I can see is a choppy mess dotted with day-trippers determined to spend the drizzly day on the beach. With a full day of surfing ahead of me the next day, I decide to stay on dry land and take a wander into town.
Like so many English seaside towns, Newquay has a split personality. On the high street it’s all flashing amusement arcades and discount stores touting 2-for-£1 specials. Low on charm but easy on the budget, it’s no wonder the town has gained an unwelcome reputation as a post-school party-spot. The Plettenberg Bay of Cornwall.
But wander beyond the high street and you’ll find that Newquay, like most of England’s towns, quietly guards its quaint corners. It began life as a fishing village, and so the harbour is a good place to start exploring.
Small fishing boats lie tied up along the quayside, where lobster nets are piled high until the spring tides subside. At low tide, the boats are marooned on the harbour sands and you can walk across the edge of the bay to the excellent seaside restaurant at Tolcarne Beach.
On the cliffs above the harbour, The Fort Inn is a great place to enjoy a pint of Cornish-brewed St. Austell’s ale; the terrace offering fine views out over the Bay. Down a few cobbled streets, the cosy Red Lion is also worth a visit; a low-ceilinged local hang-out where the TV in the corner plays surf movies on a loop.
Wandering up Headland Road it’s hard to ignore the huge granite cross at the top of the hill. An all-too-common sight in English towns, the cross is a memorial to locals killed in battle since World War I. With over 100 names listed for the Great War, it’s hard to imagine how the loss of young men must have devastated the small town nearly a century ago.
Down the hill towards Towan Head I notice two whitewashed stone buildings. Known as the Huer’s Huts, the oldest dates back to medieval times and were home to fish-spotters who’d scan the waters of Newquay Bay and alert the local fishermen when shoals of pilchard came close inshore. It’s a system that works just as well for the ‘trek fishermen’ of the Cape.
Another white building on the Head is home to the old lifeboat station. With its treacherous shore you’ll find lifeboats dotted all along the Cornish coastline. Perched on a cliff above Newquay Bay, the Towan Head station was once infamous for having the steepest slipway in all of the British Isles.
The steep cliffs that wrecked countless ships have been put to more playful use in recent years though, with the advent of ‘coasteering’. Clambering along rocky shorelines, swimming across calm inlets and leaping off high cliffs is all part of the fun in what has become a popular activity in sea-obsessed Newquay.
I’d rather be on the cliff than leaping off it though, so I stick to the gravelly path leading back towards Fistral. Off to my left, the historic Headland Hotel rises out of the grassy hills, almost unchanged since it was first built in 1897 at the height of the Victorian love-affair with ‘taking the air’ at the seaside.
It’s here that I meet Ben Ridding and Gemma Harris the next morning. From a cosy office in a corner of The Headland they run what has to be the happiest surf outfit in Cornwall; Surfing is Therapy.
Both experienced lifeguards and surfers, Surfing is Therapy sprang to life on a surf-trip to Costa Rica when it dawned on the couple that they could turn their passion into a profession.
And their enthusiasm for the sport, and the region, is infectious. Despite the patchy ceiling of grey cloud we’re wetsuited up and raring to go in no time. From the hotel it’s a two-minute walk down to Fistral Beach, where the wind has died and the swell is dishing up some reasonable two-foot breakers; a little sloppy, but certainly a wave or two on offer.
There are only two of us braving the water today, but even in the high season Surfing is Therapy pride themselves on not being a sausage-machine surf school.
“We only take small groups for surf lessons, with no more than 10 people at a time,” says Gemma. “Otherwise you just can’t give people enough attention to get them up and surfing.”
Private lessons are also available, along with our full-day ‘surfari’ exploring the area’s best breaks. After two hours in the water, and with the tide dropping, we decide to hit the road. From up on the hillside the view is spectacular, with coves and headlands giving the coastline the serrated edge of a postage stamp.
“Some of the bays can have nasty rips, especially on low-to-mid tides,” warns Gemma as we drive through Newquay to our next stop. “If you’re surfing on your own it’s a good idea to ask the locals or the lifeguards about any currents.”
There were no currents at our next stop, Mawgan Porth – ‘porth’ is Cornish for ‘beach’ – but the waves were breaking heavily as we stood and weighed up our options. With a mischievous smile and extreme (misplaced?) faith in my surfing abilities Gemma jogged confidently into the breakers. With my street-cred at stake there nothing I could do, but follow.
In retrospect, perhaps not one of my best judgement calls.
While the Cornish beach breaks are usually kind to beginners, when they’re dumping like Mawgan Porth only experienced surfers need apply. I ran, I paddled, I got dragged along the bottom like a tin can behind a car of randy newly-weds. To cut a long story short, the final score was Wave 1 – Richard 0.
When the late-afternoon waves rolled back into the sunset we decided to call it a day… time for a pint at one of Newquay’s beachfront bars, perhaps followed by dinner at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant ‘Fifteen’. Salty, sandy and shattered... just another perfect day on the surf breaks of Cornwall.
- British Airways flies daily from Johannesburg and Cape Town to London. Visit www.ba.com.
- First Great Western railways operate a number of daily high-speed services from London Paddington to Cornwall. Visit www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk.
- For more information on Cornwall and Newquay go to www.visitcornwall.co.uk.
- You can book surf lessons, surf tours, accommodation and a range of other activities through Surfing is Therapy. Call 0944 1637 851517 or visit www.surfingistherapy.com. Half- and full-day ‘surfaris’ £30 & £50pp.
First published in the Sunday Times, May 2011
For a minute, I thought the cheetah had lost. Outpaced by a lion, and soon to beon the receiving end of a few millennia of evolutionary envy.
We’d been watching three lions – two sturdy females and a majestic male, whose role seemed to consist primarily of sleeping – hunt a herd of Red Hartebeest. Or perhaps they were after the lone zebra hidden among them; his dazzling stripes no help among the dusty copper coats of the ‘harties’.
It was a blustery, overcast day, but the herd seemed relaxed on the grassy plains between the thickets. On the opposite hillside we noticed a small yellow splodge. Binoculars went up and the radio crackled to life: “Young male cheetah on northern ridge. He’s spotted the lion.”
Cheetah and lion are sworn enemies, although the malevolence is firmly on the side of panthera leo. Even a fully-grown cheetah stands no chance against the stronger and heavier lion. Speed is its only option.
Creeping closer for a better look, the cheetah – wisely – chose discretion over valour and padded away. We all went back to watching the Hartebeest. All, that is, except the lions.
Seeing their ancient enemy alone and exposed, the lionesses decided rivalry trumped rump and trotted off in pursuit. A trot turned into a jog, a jog dialled up to a sprint and in the game vehicle our minds quietly raced: “Why the hell is that cheetah not running?”
Padding away at a leisurely pace, it wasn’t until the lions were thirty metres off –their long, bounding leaps threatening to close the distance in seconds – that the cheetah turned. An explosion of speed sent it off between the euphorbias, a dust cloud billowing as it bobbed and weaved away through the thickets.
Our game vehicle raced down the gravel road in pursuit, catching up with the thwarted lions as they searched for the cheetah’s scent. Foiled, this time. My heart returned from my throat to its rightful place.
But this incredible safari scene wasn’t played out on the grassy billiard table of the Masai Mara, the steamy bushveld of Botswana or the sandy tracks in Kruger. This ancient drama was performed on the scrubby hillsides of Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, in the heart of the Eastern Cape.
Billed as ‘Frontier Country’ for the Anglo-Xhosa wars that racked these hills in the mid-1800s, the stretch of countryside between Port Elizabeth and East London has fast become South Africa’s new frontier for Big Five safaris; malaria-free, mild and the perfect bookend to the popular Garden Route.
There are close on a dozen, mostly private, reserves offering wildlife experiences in the area, but you’d do well to remember that not all safaris are created equal. When it comes to Eastern Cape reserves, size certainly does matter and on the smaller reserves there’s a fair chance your game viewing will have a backdrop of traffic and tar. Not quite ‘Out of Africa’.
But not so on Kwandwe, where you’ll mostly enjoy a 360° view of untouched wilderness. Like many of the private reserves in the area, Kwandwe’s 22 000 hectares were once marginal farmland, but the power lines, houses and fences that scarred the horizon have long since been bundled away, and the land rejuvenated.
Named for the Blue Crane – known as kwa-indwe in the local isiXhosa – the endangered national bird of South Africa is just one of dozens of species that now call this restored landscape home. Elephant enjoy the lush riverine grasses, black rhino stick to the thickets and the Great Fish River flows languidly through the property, harbouring hippo in the deep pools and drawing a menagerie of wildlife in the hot summer months.
The sub-tropical thicket that coats much of Kwandwe’s hills may not support the vast herds of game to be seen further north, but in my handful of game drives we were privileged to enjoy an array of breathtakingly unique sightings: lions ferrying a warthog kill to their cubs, the shy nocturnal aardwolf hunting in broad daylight and, of course, a close call for a lucky cheetah.
On these private reserves you’re just about guaranteed four of the Big Five (darn those shy leopard), but in this corner of the country it seems less is definitely more.
While Kwandwe keeps a low profile, Shamwari is the big, brash reserve that has been beating the drum of Eastern Cape Big Five safaris for over a decade. One of the first to reintroduce big game to its 25 000 hectares, Shamwari is also host to a dubious honour: in 1856 the last free-roaming lion in the Eastern Cape was shot here.
The notion of restoring the indigenous wildlife to its rightful place is precisely what inspired local businessmen Adrian Gardiner to create Shamwari over 20 years ago, buying up parcels of abused farmland that were crying out for restoration. That renewal is still very much a work in progress though, with wide-open plains of grass separating the hilltops of indigenous thicket.
It’s a slight distraction from the Big Five on offer, but it’s not the end of the world. Days at Shamwari follow a similar pattern to most private lodges, with morning and evening game drives crisscrossing the reserve. While the grassy plains of Shamwari support fairly large herds of antelope, again it’s the smaller sightings that you’ll remember: the shy Black Rhino, cheetahs sheltering from a blustery spring wind and the rumble of a lion’s contact call echoing across your hilltop sundowners.
While Shamwari has something for everyone, Gorah Elephant Camp is unashamedly, gloriously, romantic. Set on a private concession within the Addo Elephant National Park, the tented suites of Gorah fan out away from the historic homestead.
In the late-1800s Gorah was once one of the wealthiest farms in the district thanks to the boom in ostrich feathers, and the manor house today reflects the comfortable opulence of the time. Deep leather armchairs, high ceilings and thick walls, magnificent iron fireplaces and a deep stoep overlooking a waterhole make for a loveably old world safari escape.
As with Shamwari, the scars of farming are all too obvious in the flat fields of grass stretching away from Gorah, but it does have the significant benefit of panoramic views across the plains and up into the shrub-covered hills. Addo Elephant National Park has been a haven for elephants since it was proclaimed in 1931, and you’re almost guaranteed some wonderful elephant sightings during your time at Gorah.
Game drives here can traverse the park’s 24 000 hectare main section, but it’s the quiet tracks and off-road routes on the private concession that are the highlight here. Unlike Addo’s self-drive visitors, the beauty of a private safari escape is the sheer gluttony of having a small stretch of African bush all to yourself.
It’s a pleasure that visitors to the Kruger bushveld have long enjoyed, and now the Eastern Cape is slowly muscling in on the act. Bush aficionados will tell you there is nothing like a Lowveld safari, and they’re right.
But when it comes to exquisite lodges and unique sightings these smaller, leaner Eastern Cape reserves are showing they may just be one step ahead of their big brawny bushveld cousins. A little like the cheetah that got away.
Kwandwe Private Game Reserve offers two lodges and two family-friendly exclusive-use villas, but our firm favourite is the sleek modern Ecca Lodge. Just six oh-so-secluded suites stretch out along the hillside, with svelte sliding doors opening onto private decks and panoramic views. This is Norwegian cool meets funky African farmhouse. Low-slung beds and glassed-in rain-showers, rough gabion walls and settler-chic tin roofs. Private plunge pools and outside showers make short work of hot summer days. Room #1 is tucked away and private. Visit www.andbeyond.com or call 011 809 4300
Bayethe Tented Camp is one of seven lodges on Shamwari, and escapes the grassland views by being hidden away in a bird-filled valley. The riverside tents are spacious and tick all the five-star boxes, but could do with a little TLC. This sleek safari lady is showing her age and needs a nip/tuck and a few new frocks. However, the feel is more casual than at other lodges so there’s no need to dress for dinner, as meals are a casual fireside affair.
Visit www.shamwari.com or call 041 407 1000
Gorah Tented Camp is pure Out of Africa romance. Formal dinners – Gorah is a member of the gourmet Chaîne des Rôtisseurs – in the historic homestead are all crystal and candlelight, but the suites are the real highlight. White canvas tents belie the homely luxury within, where four-poster beds and cosy armchairs cry out for afternoon naps and quality time with a good book. And the best bit? It’s canvas, so the rustle of furry critters outside the tent adds a shiver of excitement in the dead of night. Ask for tent #10 to ensure uninterrupted views of the plains.
Visit www.hunterhotels.com or call 044 401 1111
First published in Indwe magazine, February 2011