Saturday, December 6, 2008

South African Sojourns

First off, my apologies for overpromising that The EliteTravelGal would publish daily while on the road in South Africa for two weeks. In many cases, we simply did not have speedy internet access and in others, we were too busy enjoying the sights and sounds from scenic Cape Town to the Winelands of Franschoek and Stellenbosch, down to Cape Point and up through the beach towns and nature preserves in Hermanus and Nysna and of course, sealing the adventure with not one, not two, but three very different safari experiences. Of the three, I had two favorites...and for very different reasons. At Tintswalo Safari Lodge (sister property to Tintswalo Atlantic), in the Manyeleti Game Reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park, we loved the explorer-themed suites with their plunge pool-outfitted decks, luxurious furnishings, and spacious baths. The staff was incredible, especially Andrew the guest relations manager and Patrick, our wonderful safari guide who steered us carefully off-road in our open-air Land Crusier to view elephant, giraffe, cheetah, lions, buffalo, rhino, impala, zebra, leopards and more. Safari drives were made even more special with surprise stops for sundowners (cocktails) under the stars and breakfasts in the bush. The separate five-bedroom Manor House is perfect for families, as they will enjoy the benefits of their own private chef, butler and safari guide in a comfortable and spacious setting (NB: kids are catered to and welcomed on safari drives!).
A very special experience was also had at Royal Madike Luxury Safari Residence, a private 6-suite residence in the malaria-free Madikwe Reserve (an hour by scheduled charter to J-berg). Much about the exclusive-use residence (meaning it can only be booked by one party of four to 12 people at any one time) reminded me of Necker Island in the BVIs. From the high-ceiling, open-style, beautifully decorated floor plan (see photo of the main lodge interior) to the incredible food (as a gluten-free freak, the chef won me over with his wheat-free versions of everything served to the rest of the group!). I loved the colors used throughout (lots of purples, greens, pinks, oranges--all which blended beautifully with the dark wood floors, unique seating areas) and especially loved the two-bedroom Presidential Suite with its full kitchen, upstairs TV room and lounge, full dining room, and huge outdoor deck with private plunge pool, vintage-style bath tub and outdoor shower. Royal Madikwe is ideal for a family, a group of friends or several couples. The staff, especially Gillian, Dean, Godfrey, Valencia and Eva took such incredible care of us...the girls not only waited on us hand and foot, but they have also both been trained as masseuses and will bring the table to your suite (or beneath a shaded tree beside the pool, if you prefer). Spoiled by all the game we saw at Tintswalo, we weren't as interested in more of the same at Madikwe and preferred to relax and enjoy our private paradise. But that said, we did see five herds of elephant (including many babies!) gathering at the same watering hole one afternoon which was made all the more interesting by the mating act performed in front of our eyes!
With the dollar to rand exchange rate about 10 to 1, NOW is the time to get to South Africa. Tintswalo is sweetening the pot with its "Pay for 6, Stay 7" promotion (it can be combined among its three properties at the beach, in the bush, and just outside J-berg) and to us, Royal Madikwe is a steal at$3,000/night (based on 4 people) for use of the ENTIRE 6-suite residence, with all meals, drinks and game drives included (additional adults beyond four will pay about $580/night). Contact us to find out more, and remember, when you book through Elite Travel International, VIP treatment is guaranteed at these properties (both of which now make my list of favorites!).