Cape Town-based travel writer Richard Holmes fancies himself as a bit of a hedonist; rarely one to opt for the low-road when the air-con 4x4 will do just as nicely, thank you very much.
So when it came to seeking out some of the planet’s best luxury hideaways for this issue he handpicked his favourite four from his little black book of ‘to-die-for’ escapes…
Xaranna Tented Camp; Botswana
The Okavango Delta may have been formed by a river that’s lost its way, but once I (well, my porter actually) put down my bag at Xaranna I know I’d ended up at exactly the right place.
As wilderness experiences go, the Okavango Delta is the proverbial ‘once in a lifetime’ destination. And at Xaranna Tented Camp you feel the Delta at every turn. The channels gurgle away just metres from the lodge, and on the twice-daily game excursions – via speed boat or poled gently along in a dug-out mokoro – Red Lechwe splash away through the reeds that hide iridescent frogs. Fish Eagles stand sentry on barren tree-tops, elephants rumble past your door at night, squacco herons splash about in the shallows, and cheerful hippos ho-ho-ho to themselves at sunset.
‘But a Tented Camp?’ I hear you ask?
Now before you start worrying about guylines and wooden pegs, an &Beyond tent is the canvas dream to end any camping nightmares, with beds as wide and white as the Kgalagadi to look forward to. With a secluded sala and private pool at each so-called tent, along with delightfully quirky décor at the main lodge, this is certainly a camp for the style-conscious traveller.
It’s not cheap, but then special places never are. And with just a handful of other guests to share your 25 000ha of wilderness, it’s worth every cent.
Tell me more: Visit www.andbeyond.com or call +27 11 809 4300. The Okavango Delta is a malaria-area; so consult your doctor three weeks before departure for appropriate prophylactics. South African passport-holders do not require a visa to visit Botswana on holiday.
Medjumbe Private Island, Mozambique
Now tell me honestly… are there two better words to be neighbours than “private” and “island”?
Deserted beaches, the whisper of sea on sand to lull you to sleep, and a dinner table groaning with fresh seafood where you can wiggle your toes into the beach… who wouldn’t choose a private island as their ultimate escape? But if – like me – your bank balance doesn’t quite stretch to owning your own, happily there are still places like Medjumbe.
The Quirimbas are my favourite corner of Mozambique; an archipelago of paradise islands all waving palms and blinding white sands. Turquoise seas and coral reefs mark out the patchwork of islands as my light aircraft bumps down to land on Medjumbe’s impossibly short runway. Nobody said getting to paradise was easy, now did they?
A slender sand-spit lying like a giant comma in Mozambique’s clear-blue waters, just 13 rooms dot the northern edge of Medjumbe, gazing towards Tanzania a few hundred kilometres away. Palm-thatched cabins and private plunge pools make for an idyllic retreat at the end of a day of diving, snorkelling and general sun worshipping. Ideally with a good book to hand.
And that’s pretty much what a Quirimbas time-out is all about – a slice of ‘me-time’ in paradise. Whether you’re blowing bubbles underwater or enjoying a glass of bubbly surrounded by it, a visit to the Quirimbas is my ultimate island escape.
Tell me more: Visit www.raniresorts.com or call +27 11 463 6313.
Bateleur Camp, Kenya
If it’s good enough for Karen Blixen it’s good enough for me. Well, it was Meryl Streep more than Blixen herself, but either way Kenya’s Oloololo escarpment is a rather fabulous spot to indulge your Out of Africa fantasies. Here, where the final scenes of the iconic film were shot, is where I enjoy sundowners on my first night in the Masai Mara.
Below me lies over a thousand square kilometres of wilderness; a billiard table of emerald green with smudges of black at suitably irregular intervals. Those smudges are, of course, some of the hundreds of thousands of animals that call the Mara home, and make it one of the world’s most famous safari destinations.
And in the forest at our feet hides Bateleur Camp, the welcome echo of an old-school safari. Situated on a private concession bordering the national reserve, it’s a prime example of the way tourism can work hand-in-hand with the local community.
The eighteen luxury safari tents are spread across two camps, connected by wooden walkways wandering through the indigenous forest. Each private safari tent is a masterpiece of canvas luxury, with a four-poster bed and suitably decadent bathroom.
A bell jar of sweets and bedtime stories with the nightly hot-water bottle add that magical personal touch. Twice-daily game drives explore the legendary Masai Mara National Reserve, but I could just as easily sink into the leather armchairs on my private deck and soak up the panoramic Mara views. It’s Hemingway without the guns and ‘Out of Africa’ without the angst. I think Karen would be rather proud.
Tell me more: Visit www.andbeyond.com or call +27 11 809 4300. The Masai Mara is a low-risk malaria-area; but consult your travel doctor before departure.
Taj Lake Palace; India
Rose petals. They had me at the rose petals. Cascading from above as the handsome Rajasthani doorman wafted us into the Taj Lake Palace, the smile on my wife’s face was worth every airline meal on the long flight to Udaipur.
The city of Udai. Jewel of Rajasthan. Venice of the East. Whatever you choose to call it, Udaipur is pretty impressive. Life revolves around Lake Pichola, from the City Palace to the women in colourful saris washing at the stone ghats. We can see it all from the rooftop restaurant of what is perhaps the world’s most romantic hotel.
Built in 1746 by Maharana Jagat Singh II, the 62nd successor to the royal dynasty of Mewar would use the manicured courtyards and rooftop terraces for summer shindigs for his royal court. An island palace proved to be the ideal hideaway and even today the hotel can only reached by boat, making our escape to luxury a physical break from the reality of India.
Through the cascade of petals, and marble corridors lead us to our opulent Palace Suite, where lake views flowed in from every direction. Plush velvet and crisp linen abound… evidently the maharajahs never went for the “less is more” look. But like a new maharajah I’m hungry to soak up the pleasures of my palace. Well, mine for a night or two, at least.
The hotel’s renowned Jiva spa rings up to ask if I’ll be having my massage on land or water… the dedicated ‘spa boat’ sets sail on the lake to offer couples a little alone time. Life revolves around the Lake, so water it is.
And so too for dinner: a private pontoon, moored in the lake and aglow with lanterns, is our table for the night. Fireworks explode above the City Palace, and Lake Pichola shines happily in the sparkle. Behind us the Lake Palace shimmers in the moonlight, a white marble jewel giving the Taj Mahal a run for its money in the romance stakes.
Tell me more: Visit www.tajhotels.com or call 00 800 4 588 1 825 (toll-free).
Published in Longevity magazine; December 2010