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Africa

Africa

10 things to learn while you travel

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Experiential travel is the best kind – and what better way to get under a destination’s skin than by learning a new skill under the guidance of local experts? From cooking and dancing to surfing and diving, via a multitude of handicrafts, here are some suggestions for educational, practical activities to try out on your next trip.

Make a hammock in Belize

In Punta Gorda, in Belize’s quiet district of Toledo, barefoot children chase chickens in the yard of an unassuming farmhouse. Stepping over its threshold, you’ll meet a Maya family who make their living weaving baskets, fans and hammocks.

You’re put to work in the garden, collecting freshly harvested henequen plants, then the tutorial begins. It’s intricate, absorbing work, stripping down the plants’ strands and spinning them into a thin thread. Each hammock can take weeks to weave and complete by hand – miss one loop, and everything has to be unwound. You’ll be surprised at the skill and speed of the children lending you a hand – this is the family trade for many Belizean Maya, and they start young.

Tranquility Bay Resort, Ambergris Caye

Cook ceviche in Peru

Ask any Peruvian what their national dish is, and they will say ceviche. Learning how to make this plate of fish delicately marinated in citrus juices and spices is a great way to see one of the best elements of Peruvian cities – the markets. A half-day cookery class typically begins among the market stalls, prodding and assessing the local produce, sampling tropical fruit, and visiting the fishmongers – you need the freshest catch for a good ceviche. It’s a vibrant, noisy, delicious alternative to going to a supermarket.

The shopping expedition over, a top chef will school small groups of students in how to prepare ceviche, before you all sit down to a collectively prepared gourmet lunch.

Ceviche is a typical fish dish

Scuba dive in Koh Tao, Thailand

The little-developed island of Koh Tao is an excellent place for first-time divers – the currents are gentle and the marine life is varied and accessible. On a ‘Try Dive’, an instructor will teach you safety checks and other basic diving skills, before you embark on a shallow dive up to 32 feet (10m) deep. Even at this depth, there’s much to see. Look out for eels, groupers, barracudas, turtles, nudibranchs and neon yellow boxfish.

There’s an added bonus to diving here too. Since so many visitors are busy exploring the underwater riches of the island’s waters, the beaches remain relatively quiet – ideal for relaxing post-dive.

Scuba diving in Koh Tao

Take a pastry-making class in Morocco

Set in a former almond warehouse in the heart of Essaouira, l’Atelier Madada offers oriental pastry workshops in a relaxed, informal setting. Here, you’ll learn how to make traditional delicacies such as almond-based gazelle horns and orange blossom biscuits. These pastries are found throughout Morocco and are primarily served to welcome guests and celebrate special occasions.

You’ll watch as the cook prepares the various ingredients, before putting the ingredients together yourself and working the dough into the correct shapes. The distinctive gazelle horn is particularly tricky to master. While they’re cooking in the oven you can sip a customary mint tea, before taking your creations home.

Moroccan gazelle horns and biscuits

Explore fabric printing near Jaipur, India

Bagru, a village about 19 miles (32km) from Jaipur, has a thriving hand-printed cloth industry. Its simple designs use uncomplicated techniques and earthy shades of natural dye. Textile enthusiasts can learn about the printing, washing and boiling processes before heading to the Chippa Mohalla (printers’ quarter) to see all these methods in action. Here, you’ll observe block printers at work as they hand-block fabrics, and make natural dyes and printing inks.

While the finished fabrics dry in the sun, you can breakfast and drink tea with the artisans, before creating and printing your own patterns under their guidance.

Tie die process in Araveli

Milk cows in Sri Lanka

Jim’s Farm, in Sri Lanka’s central province, is a working farm with three villas dotted amongst palm tree and pepper plantations. During your stay you can take a tour of the farm and learn traditional farming techniques. Each afternoon at milking time, there’s even the chance to try your hand at milking one of the farm’s cows.

Perched on a rickety stool right behind the cow, one of the farm staff will show you the technique. It takes a few pulls before you get anywhere, but luckily you’re not expected to fill a whole bucket.

Jim's Farm in Pallepola

Cook, craft and dance at Araveli Cottages & Tented Camp, ME to WE, Rajasthan, India

Staying at Araveli, a Free the Children sustainable development project, equates to an almost total immersion in Rajastani handicrafts, food, and dance.

There are lessons in the art of tie-dyeing, block printing and painting. For the more gastronomically inclined, the camp’s head chef leads classes in how to make the much-loved local afternoon snack of samosas and masala chai. Munch on them while taking in a Bollywood-style dance show. The energy and dexterity of the dancers is a joy to watch, but be warned: after the performance is over, you may be asked to join in with the encore.

Bollywood style dance show at Araveli

Make necklaces and help farmers at Minga Lodge, ME to WE, Ecuadorian Amazon

From morning nature walks to water-based birdwatching aboard wooden canoes, Minga Lodge is a place for those who love activity. The women’s group in Mondaña Town will teach you how to make ornaments and trinkets using local natural objects. Some are beaded designs, but you’ll also learn how to make necklaces out of dried vegetation. These are then sold at local markets, providing an alternative income for the women.

Across the river in Bellavista Village, you can help a local farmer harvest his rice. It’s strenuous work, involving a lot of thwacking movements. Then it’s time to assist cacao producers in pruning their organic trees. With the help of the local shaman, you’ll try and spear a cacao pod with a blow-pipe.

Grls of San Miguel training to craft necklaces

Cook Cajun cuisine in New Orleans, USA

The city of New Orleans is a melting pot of different cultures, and this is demonstrated in the city’s cuisine. French, Spanish, Cuban and Mexican influences are all thrown into the mix, creating the dishes the city is known for: jambalaya, Cajun chicken and the hearty po’boy sandwiches.

The best way to experience Cajun food is with a hands-on cooking class. The New Orleans School of Cooking, a family-owned business, aims to acquaint visitors with the styles, methods and ingredients used in traditional Louisiana cooking.

In a full demonstration and cooking class, you’ll be shown how to make a meal from scratch. Specialties include gumbo, chicken creole and pralines, and classes are led by chefs with a maximum of ten participants. You’ll eat what you cook, washing it down with an Abita – a locally brewed beer – or Deep South lemonade.

French Quater of New Orleans in the USA

Surf on Bondi Beach, Australia

Wide white sands and foaming swells have made Bondi Beach hallowed in surfing lore, but it’s not just a place for experienced wave riders. The instructors here are specialists in helping beginners get going, too.

With a local Bondi surf dude as your teacher, you’ll don your wetsuit and head down to the beach to master basic surfing techniques on dry land. Once you know the simple movements, you’ll paddle out and start catching waves. Your instructor stays with you, and if you’re struggling to catch a wave by paddling alone, your tutor will help propel you into the crest of the wave. No matter your reservations or ability, you’re likely to be able to stand up on the board – not bad for your first ever surf lesson.

Bondi Beach in New South Wales in Australia

Craig Burkinshaw is Founder of Audley Travel.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Africa

Top 5 private plunge pools in East Africa

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There is nothing better than heading back to camp for a quick dip in your private plunge pool after a long morning game drive. Plunge pools are hard to come by on safari in East Africa, but there are a select few properties that are home to arguably some of the best private plunge pools on the continent!

1. Singita Sasakwa

This property is certainly a contender for one of the most luxurious properties in Tanzania. Set on the exclusive Grumeti Reserve and owned and run by Singita, the lodge is nothing short of spectacular! On top of the incredible game viewing and luxurious manor accommodation, each room also has its own private plunge pool overlooking the entire western corridor of the Serengeti. When it comes to plunge pools, Singita Sasakwa is without doubt my pick of the properties in East Africa!

Singita

2. Ol Donyo Lodge

Ol Donyo Lodge is situated in Kenya, in the exclusive Chyulu Hills. Founded by Richard Bonham, who is well known for his role in wildlife conservation, the lodge is now owned and run by Great Plains Conservation. For those looking to experience the bush in luxury, this is the place to stay – each room is rustic in style and many have private plunge pools. Another bonus to staying at this camp is that each room provides the opportunity for guests to sleep under the stars in an incredible four-poster bed!

Ol Donyo

3. Sasaab

Sasaab is located in Samburu, in the private Westgate Community Conservancy. The lodge itself is styled in a Swahili–Moroccan theme and each room boasts its own private plunge pool overlooking the Ewaso Nyiro River, which is the bloodline to the wildlife in the area. It is not uncommon to see elephant browsing the riverbanks. If that doesn’t impress you, the Spa will! SpaSaab offers a range of treatments for guests to enjoy in the uniquely designed spa room, which includes an incredible private pool. In terms of luxury, Sasaab would be my pick of the finest lodges in the Samburu region!

Sasaab

4. Kuria Hills Lodge

If you are heading to Tanzania and looking for something sumptuous, look no further than Kuria Hills. Owned and run by Lemala, this tented lodge has incredible rooms, with glass fronts boasting uninterrupted views of the northern Serengeti. Each room also has its own deck and private plunge pool. There is no better place to relax in between game drives than the lavish and great-value Kuria Hills!

Kuria27

5. Sala’s Camp

News travels quickly in Africa – Sala’s Camp’s recent make-over has already received rave reviews and is well worth checking out! Owned and run by The Safari Collection, Sala’s Camp has one of the best locations in the Maasai Mara National Reserve. This camp is certainly the place to be at the start of the wildebeest Great Migration, when the herds begin to congregate towards the central plains of the Maasai Mara. For those looking for a stylish camp from which to watch the herds go by, Sala’s is perfect for you!

salas

Julian Carter-Manning is a Co-founder and MD at Yellow Zebra Safaris.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Africa

5 reasons to stay on the rim at Ngorongoro Crater

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Ngorongoro Crater is a top-choice destination for those visiting northern Tanzania. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to the world’s largest, inactive volcanic caldera and its small size and large animal concentration are a great formula for a productive day on safari.   To truly take advantage of all the Ngorongoro Crater has to offer, a stay on the rim overlooking the crater the night before you descend has a few advantages.

Unparalleled views during your sundowner

The most obvious advantage by staying on the rim is that you will get to enjoy the spectacular views right from your lodge.

Ngorongoro Crater

Staying in one of the few lodges on the eastern rim allows for one of the best locations to enjoy sundowners as the sunsets behind the western ridge at the end of your day.  A refreshing dip in an infinity pool overlooking the wildlife below is not an activity you will soon forget.

Spectacular sunrise shots

A huge advantage of staying right on the Crater rim is that, at around 5am, when you’re awaiting a wake up call and coffee, you can meander out on your balcony and get some incredible pre-sunrise shots.

Ngorongoro sunrise

Sunrises and sunsets go quickly at the equator, so time is of the essence. If you’re into photography, you’ll want to ensure you’ve one morning here.

Stretch your legs with a hike along the rim

If you plan your day right and arrive to your lodge earlier in the afternoon, you can set off for a short hike along the rim.

Hiking in Ngorongoro Crater

As these walks traverse some of the surrounding jungle, your tour guide will arrange for an armed ranger from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area to accompany you.  You can stretch your legs for 2-3 hours along the rim and learn about the flora in the region up close.

Be one of the first in the Crater

Staying on the crater rim means you will have quick and easy access into the crater first thing in the morning.  The crater can get busy once the caravans and tours from Karatu and Arusha make it to the area for day trips.

Zebras in Ngorongoro Crater

Staying on the rim the night before allows you to be among the first to enter, while the others are still an hour or two away. Descending early gives you the feel like the park is there just for your own private safari. The early morning light in the Crater floor is also conducive to great photography. As the sun rises higher in the sky, you’ll notice the effect it has on the soda lakes and surrounding landscapes.

Beat the crowds out in the afternoon

Another advantage to staying on the rim is, due to the time saved with your early start, you have the option to head out earlier in the day.

Skulls Ngorongoro Crater

The Crater can often get crowded in the afternoon and, since there is limited routes for the vehicles to use, you can even encounter some ‘traffic jams’ during peak season.  You can depart at a reasonable hour and still have time to head to a new destination in the Serengeti, or Lake Manyara perhaps, without feeling that you rushed or are missing something.

Ngorongoro Crater is a must-see for anyone considering a safari in northern Tanzania, and is recommended at any time of the year.  The advantages of staying right on the rim make staying at one of the prime-priced lodges worth the little extra indulgence.

Javier Luque is a Co-Founder and Director of Your African Safari.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Africa

6 glorious things to do on Lake Malawi

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Nearly the size of Belgium, Lake Malawi is the third-largest lake on the African continent and the ninth-largest in the world. For your next relaxing escape, here are the do not miss activities in which to partake during your stay in this unique and truly African freshwater paradise.

Soak in the Malawian warmth

Malawi is known as “the warm heart of Africa.” Not only because the sun shines throughout the year, but because its people are gentle, kind and friendly. The attentiveness of staff and genuine appreciation of the locals make a stay as a tourist feel genuine.

kaya mawa door

Although infrastructure is poor in areas, Malawi has a very low crime rate, no history of civil war and is one of the safest nations for foreign travel on the continent.

Snorkel and scuba

The crowning jewel of Lake Malawi is its world famous tropical fish. “Cichlids” are known for their bright, unusual color patterns and the diversity within their species. You can choose to snorkel along the lake shore to see these dazzling creatures or you can also fresh water scuba dive! Lake Malawi even has several shipwrecks and islands that offer rare opportunities for fresh water scuba!

Watersports

If your relaxing holiday includes athletic activities, all resorts offer plentiful kayak, paddle boarding, sailing and water skiing for every level.

Kayak Lake Malawi

Most parts of the lake are quite calm and serve as the ideal spot for perfecting these skills.

Spend a few nights on Kaya Mawa Resort on Likoma Island

Nuanced and gentle, calm and attentive… Kaya Mawa is in remote in location but one is never truly alone. Instead, you’ll be in the company of baobab trees, perfectly ripe mangos and cheery cichlids (small tropical fish). You’ll swoon in the world-class candle lit beach dinners and the divine tropical waters.

Kaya Mawa bedroom

And, at night, you can unwind in pure luxury and tranquility while enjoying a glass of Malawi gin (see number six).

Chat with locals and explore the villages

Nearly all resorts and luxury locations work to directly support a partner community in which they are located. This gives the traveler an opportunity to either tour the surrounding villages with a local guide or venture out on your own. Women wash their clothes in the lake, fisherman depend on the waters for their livelihood and the children are always willing to give an impromptu Chichewa language lesson.

Volunteer Cape Mac

It is impossible to ignore the deep spirit of the Malawian people and it is truly special to know that your stay is making a positive impact on the greater community.

Drink Malawi gin

Malawi is not known for it’s local agriculture or selection of local brews. However, there is one drink you must have before your departure. Malawian gin flows plentifully and is by far the most affordable alcoholic beverage. All others bevvies are imported (mostly via South Africa) but this sweet, fresh gin- paired with tonic, lime and the bright orange African sunset will solidify your never-ending love for this small, friendly and resilient nation.

With world-class resorts speckled along its coastline and islands, little-known Lake Malawi makes the ideal post-safari relaxation escape. Each with unique cultural differences, the lake has many special spots to explore. Although travel around the lake can be a mission for the luxury traveler, there are private airlines that can often take you directly to your destination from any of the surrounding cities or larger game reserves.
That is, of course, if the bit on Malawi gin didn’t already win you over!

Javier Luque is a Co-Founder and Director of Your African Safari.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Africa

Luxury safaris – ahead of the rest

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A recent Twitter chat discussed ‘What today’s travellers want from 5 star resorts’. Initially I thought safaris would be found wanting. Camps and lodges are in the middle of nowhere; logistics are difficult, and African bureaucracy is renowned for making things harder than they need to be. However I was pleasantly surprised. The things we take for granted in a luxury safari camp are what this group of high end travellers want from the places they stay.

Best thing a hotel has ever done for you?

The first answer to this question was ‘chilled facecloths by the pool’; something most safari goers have come to expect on return from a game drive. It was swiftly followed by ‘welcome drink’, ‘hot water bottle on a cold night’ and ‘knowing our names on arrival’. I’m confident every good safari camp will do these as standard.

Morukuru arrival with drinks and cold facecloths

And safari camps do things most high end travellers haven’t even thought of. Few hotels bring you tea and coffee to your room in the morning as standard – safari properties do. Safari camps also include drinks in their rates so you can enjoy that nightcap by the fire safe in the knowledge it won’t cost you an arm and a leg.

And where else do they ensure you’re somewhere beautiful with a glass in your hand as the sun goes down? They will on safari, and they even have a special term for it: ‘sundowners’.

Olivers Camp, Tarangire, Tanzania - sundowners

Three things hotels do that you hate?

In 1997 Tony Blair repeated the word ‘education’ three times when stating his priorities for government. In 2016 it seems ‘not paying for wifi’ is as important to visitors to luxury properties and many repeated it three times in answer to the above question. Wifi isn’t always available in safari camps. This can be a pleasure in itself for many people whose spouse or children finally look up from a screen and interact with their surroundings.

No iPad needed with Elewana in Kenya

When it is available, WiFi can be infuriatingly slow, although even in remote areas it’s now getting good enough to make your friends at home jealous with a Facebook update or two. And it’s not charged for in safari camps, so we can tick that one off the holiday hates list.

Waiting for check-in or checking-out also got the thumbs down. Checking-in to a safari camp is generally very civilised. Arriving guests get a drink and a comfortable chair while the camp manager checks dietary requirements and runs through the choice of activities for the first afternoon.

With all-inclusive rates in safari camps checking-out is something visitors are unlikely to even need to do. More likely are hugs and tearful farewells, with promises to come back soon.

What more could hotels do?

Top end safari camps don’t rest on their laurels. They’re close enough to their guests to get the kind of detailed feedback hotels only ever read on their Tripadvisor pages if at all.

Marataba Trails Camp in South Africa

In many cases camp managers will stay in guest rooms while they are empty, to spot any problems in layout or broken facilities. Living in a room gives you an insight not possible in any other way. Chefs or food and beverage managers will join guests at afternoon tea, and guides will sit with people for supper if invited.

These relaxed chats mean they pick up on the best things about their properties and the niggles too, ensuring the best become better, and the majority continue to exceed their clients’ expectations.

Singita Lebombo - refurbished and upgaded

If you’ve been put off safari by the thought it’d be rough and ready, you couldn’t be more wrong. Not only are many safari camps incredibly sophisticated and architecturally stunning, but the quality of service leaves plenty of 5* hotels in their wake.

Richard Smith is Operations Director at Aardvark Safaris.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Africa

Wellness breaks – top 3 choices for a luxury spa experience

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Looking after ourselves isn’t often easy with the pressures of every-day life, so it’s not surprising that many view their one-two week holiday as a chance for some well- deserved R&R! Hotels and resorts have not only vastly improved their offering over the years from the standard swimming pool to now, a much more holistic experience which include the latest innovations in treatments and products, bespoke healthy eating programmes, and state of the art training facilities with expert staff on hand to help you achieve your personal goals.

If you’re looking for a week or two to help combat the stresses from the other 50 weeks in the year be sure to make it a worthwhile trip by staying in one of our top three choices for a luxury spa experience:

Zemi Beach House, Anguilla

The Zemi Beach House opened its doors earlier this year and provides an exciting development on the island of Anguilla as the first hotel to be built on the island for six years. Already a heavenly destination with its powdery white sands, crystal clear Caribbean waters and year round tropical sunshine, this high end luxury property is a haven of tranquillity. The jewel in its crown includes Zemi Thai House Spa, a sanctuary of private spa suites within an authentic 300 year old Thai House.

Zemi Spa

Its team of trained therapists provide a range of holistic treatments from rejuvenating facials, tropical scrubs to signature treatments mirroring the inhabitants’ Taino therapeutic rituals of layering the body with herbs, fruits and muds and salts.

For those who enjoy a more active holiday, the resort’s 24-hour state of the art Fitness Centre is home to the latest fitness equipment as well as a variety of classes, an outdoor yoga deck and beach boot camp with personal trainers also available, ready to assist guests. In addition the resort’s round the clock concierge can organise activities from snorkelling, paddle boarding and glass bottom kayaks and other non-motorised water sports at Zemi’s Shoal Bay Beach Club.

Royal Mansour, Morocco

The Royal Mansour in Morrocco offers privacy and exclusivity from which to enjoy the opulent style and comfort of Marrakesh and indulge in a true holiday for the senses. The property is owned by royalty and takes its inspiration from the traditional architecture and arts of the Moorish culture. Each private riad residence offers attentive service whilst catering for every modern desire.

Royal Mansour riad

The world-renowned Royal Mansour Marrakesh Spa provides personalised programmes to meet each guest’s individual needs, providing guidance in nutrition, exercise, stress management and general wellbeing. Exceptional treatments are available including a choice of three signature Hammam treatments for a deep cleansing full body scrub and traditional Morrocan purification ritual for deep relaxation and rejuventation as well as physical and emotional detox properties.

Kamalaya, Thailand

Those wishing to travel further afield can enjoy the experience of the award-winning Kamalaya in Thailand. Overlooking the coast of Koh-Samui, this self-contained village within a forest-like setting is focussed on providing a life-enriching healthy holiday. The design of the resort encircles a centuries old cave once used by Buddhist monks as a place for meditation and spiritual retreat and gives the resort a particularly calming energy.

Kamalaya Spa Retreat

Its wellness programmes and full trained team will work with individual guests to create their own healthy programme involving an extensive range of holistic medicine, spa and healing therapies to combat detox, stress and burnout to simply enjoying a healthy lifestyle and yoga.

Diana Cherry is Director of Operations at Oxford Private Travel.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Africa

4 incredible luxury wildlife experiences

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If you’re fascinated by wildlife, yet also have a taste for luxury and the finer things in life, there are several experiences that should be on your bucket list. There’s nothing better than seeing wild animals in their natural environment, while also being able to enjoy some of the loveliest accommodations and cuisine that money can buy. Without further ado, here are my top picks for wildlife experiences combined with luxury resorts and lodges:

1. Giant Aldabra tortoises at Fregate Island Private, Seychelles

One of the largest tortoises in the world, with an up to 4 feet long shell and an average weight of 550 pounds, they have also been dubbed the “ninjas” of tortoises, for their sometimes precarious acrobatic stance rising on their hind legs to reach low tree branches for food. Aldabra tortoises are also among the longest lived animals on earth, with some living over 200 years.

Fregate Island Private-460-385

Fregate Island Private is a dream come true for guests: just 16 beautiful residences, each with its own private pool and jacuzzi as well as personal buggy to use to explore the island’s 7 gorgeous beaches. Take a nature walk with one of the resident Conservationists, go scuba diving with the PADI certified dive team, get your adrenalin rush windsurfing or water skiing, or try your hand at deep sea fishing–your catch will be transformed into delectable sashimi or grilled fish for dinner.

2. Elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos at Singita Boulders

Think of incredible wildlife and a luxury experience and luxury safari lodges in Africa comes to mind. For many, a safari is a once in a lifetime experience, so I highly recommend splurging on an exceptional lodge such as Singita Boulders. The luxury lodge features a swimming pool, spa, gym, and just 12 guest suites, two of them family suites, each with a fireplace and private viewing deck with heated plunge pool.

Most importantly, Singita Boulders, as a small luxury lodge set in Singita’s privately owned reserve within the 45,000 acres of Sabi Sand game reserve, offers a far more private game viewing experience than many other luxury lodges in Africa. Whereas on many other safaris you might frequently see other vehicles and guests while out on game drives, you typically see no one else on your twice a day game drives in Singita’s high end Land Rovers. Singita is also incredibly selective in the guides and trackers they employ, and rigorously train their staff to exactingly high standards. This level of quality and service and delivering a highly personalized experience obviously comes at a price premium to other lodges, but it’s worth it, particularly for a special honeymoon, anniversary celebration or unique family safari.

3. Manta on Call at Four Seasons Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru

If you’ve never snorkeled with an abundance of graceful manta rays, the Four Seasons Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru‘s Manta on Call experience is one you should put at the top of your bucket list. You’ll be given a phone to carry with you as you enjoy the resort, whether it’s relaxing on the powdery white sand beach, exploring the marine life and conservation efforts at the Marine Discovery Centre, sipping a fresh young coconut, or enjoy a complimentary yoga or aqua yoga class.

Manta on Call-Four Seasons Maldives Landaa Giraavaru-460-385

Once manta rays are sighted, your phone will ring and you’ll be whisked by speedboat to where the Manta rays are feeding, so you can snorkel with them. Some of my clients have even seen 70 huge mantas at one time! Especially good viewing times tend to be in late June, July, August, September and October.

This unique program is only offered by Four Seasons Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru, which also is exceptional, even among Maldives luxury resorts. It offers the best beach of the 5 Maldivian resorts I’ve been to, and its water villas and suites, some of them private pools, are airy and secluded, with spectacular views. Service is also at a higher standard than other Maldivian resorts I’ve been to, which stands to reason, since the Four Seasons has a unique recruiting and training program for new employees, and cherry picks the best to retain as full-time staff.

4. Baby kiwis at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand

Even most New Zealanders have never seen their national bird, the endangered kiwi, in the wild, so The Farm at Cape Kidnappers‘ Kiwi Discovery Walk is truly a special experience. The Farm at Cape Kidnappers is set on 6000 acres and includes a working sheep and cattle farm, but also extensive forests that are a nature reserve. The owners, Julian Robertson and adjoining land owners, constructed a predator-proof fence and used traps to rid the property of ferrets and stoats, the main predators that kill kiwis.

Young kiwi chicks are transferred to the property to be creched in this safe environment and radio tagged, so that they can be tracked and regularly checked on and weighed. When you go on your walk, you’ll meet your guide and drive close to the part of the forest the kiwi is likely to be in, then use the radio transmitter, which emits louder beeps the closer you get to the kiwi, to find the kiwi chick. Kiwis are nocturnal and sleep during the day in burrows, so once you’re right by the burrow the kiwi is sleeping in, your guide will reach in to retrieve the baby kiwi, calm him or her in a dark bag and weigh the kiwi, then allow you to hold the kiwi while providing some grubs or other protein for extra nourishment. It’s amazing to hold and see in person these rare and endangered birds, which have only a 5% survival rate as chicks in areas with predators but a 90% survival rate at the Farm at Cape Kidnappers, thanks to eliminating virtually all predators. Adult kiwis are among the longest lived birds, and can live to over 50 years of age.

The Lodge at the Farm at Cape Kidnappers is itself a treat, with gorgeous views of the surrounding land and the Pacific Ocean, and just 22 guest suites plus a four bedroom Owner’s Cottage making for an intimate, boutique resort stay. The property is Relais & Chateaux, and the included daily breakfast, pre-dinner drinks in the cozy drawing room and library, and multi-course tasting dinner nightly are perfect for food and wine connoisseurs. Golfers will also be thrilled to play the Tom Doak course, one of the top courses in the world, with stunning views that are worth driving a golf cart around the back 9, even if you’re not a golfer.

Hilary Stockton is the CEO at TravelSort.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Africa

An African bushveld breakaway: Ke Monate!

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Feeling like getting away from it all, but doing it in comfort and style? Look no further than the Monate Game Lodge, a luxurious, yet tranquil African bushveld break-away near Nylstroom in the Limpopo province of South Africa. Ke Monate means ‘It is nice!’ in one of the indigenous South African languages. What a fitting name, because Monate Game Lodge can cater for all your leisure time wishes and needs. This spot, ideal for a weekend escape, honeymoon, or corporate event, is situated just two hours from OR Tambo International Airport, near Johannesburg, in a malaria-free location.

Wildlife in the bush

This highly recommended 4* game lodge is a hide-away in the typical and unique African bushveld with water holes, endemic bush, grassland, rocky outcrops and caves.

Monate Game Lodge protects the endangered rhino

Monate’s nature sanctuary hosts a surprising number of wildlife: zebra, jackal, crocodile, warthog, giraffe, hyena, lion, hippo, a variety of antelope, as well as many bird species. Three of the Big Five also roam freely in Ke Monate: the endangered rhino, the bulky buffalo and the shy leopard. Nature lovers, remember your cameras and binoculars, and leave those cell phones switched off! Experienced and enthusiastic rangers will guide you towards the diverse ecology during early morning and late afternoon game drives. The ultimate experience is a helicopter flight providing a bird’s eye view of the Africa’s majestic beauty.

Monate Game Lodge: helicopter flight

Aerial view of Monate Game Lodge

Wildlife amongst the chalets

In the manicured gardens around the lodge, rock rabbit or dassies bask in the sun, vervet monkeys play around in the indigenous trees and tame nyala antelope often forage among the chalets. Other outdoor activities include clay pigeon shooting, viewing ancient rock art, bird watching and stargazing, all to be booked and escorted by knowledgeable guides.

Zebra creating patterns in the grass st Monate Game Lodge

Sophistication in the wild

Competitive conference packages include use of the conference facilities and equipment, accommodation, all meals and tea breaks as well as a game drive. Team-building activities and other entertainment can be arranged on request.

Lounge and boma gathering places at Monate Game Lodge

Monate also caters for group occasions, such as special birthdays, anniversary celebrations or wedding receptions, all done by experienced and enthusiastic event co-ordinators. Options for a wedding ceremony include a spectacular wedding tree with decorated seating, a romantic natural cave, or a more traditional chapel. The conference room is transformed to a reception hall. The outdoor bushveld boma is a more relaxed option for a daytime wedding. A variety of luxurious accommodation options includes the special Skukuza lodge for the bridal pair.

Lovely pool and wild viewing landrovers at Monate Game Lodge

A few rocky steps upwards from the boma bring you to the spectacular cave where traditional and special potjiekos sit-down dinners by lamplight can be arranged as the ultimate highlight of your bushveld visit.

Nightlife in the wild

When the sun sets, the magic of the African nightlife awakes. Enjoy the unique evening ambience around a boma camp fire with the unimaginable starry skies above. Be quiet and listen to the far-away animal sounds – the snort of an antelope, the bellow of a hippopotamus, the howling of a jackal on the prowl. See a shooting star and make a wish…!

Afterwards guests retire to relax in luxurious, tastefully equipped en suite rooms, chalets or suites, all decorated in authentic Out of Africa style.

Comfortable en suite bedroom at Monate Game Lodge

What are you waiting for? Go on, book a flight, pack a bag and escape to this sanctuary to experience the unique sights and sounds of the African wildlife.

Celine Renaud is Head of Sales for Leo Trippi.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Africa

5 top tips to find your secret Tanzania

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Tanzania has some of the most iconic safari destinations. The Rift Valley, Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti are all on the so-called Northern Safari Circuit and enjoy many thousands of visitors. So is it really possible to holiday here in quiet areas away from the crowds? If you follow some simple rules, it is.

1. Don’t follow the herds

The wildebeest migration follows an annual cycle seeking out the best grazing. They head to the north of the Serengeti between June and October and to the south from December to March.

Elephants in Northern Serengeti from Lamai Camp

The Serengeti has fantastic resident wildlife even when the herds are elsewhere. So head north in our Winter and south in our Summer. You’ll see a rich diversity of animals and few other people – game viewing at its finest.

2. Stay on the east of the rim

The Ngorongoro Crater is both scenically beautiful and a wildlife haven. Its open plains make game viewing relatively easy and the variety of species make it a rewarding experience. Most visitors descend into the Crater in the morning down the western ‘descent road’. They stay for the day and then exit on the southern ‘ascent road’ in the afternoon.

Lemala vehicle with zebra in Ngorongoro Crater

The smarter safari goer stays on the east of the Crater rim and follows a traditional safari day with a morning and afternoon game drive. Not only do you start and finish your drives in an area with fewer visitors, but your timings mean you avoid the busier times of day.

3. Visit the south of Lake Manyara National Park

Lake Manyara National Park offers visitors a variety of habitats with forests, open grasslands, rocky cliffs and lake frontage. In turn these mean a rich diversity of animals and birdlife. For most a visit here is a short one, crammed into a day’s drive between Arusha and the Ngorongoro Crater. That only allows a brief game drive in the north of the park and misses out many of the interesting sectors.

Lake Manyara Tree Lodge bedroom and verandah

The astute will stay in the south of the park, or in a nearby lodge that allows an entry via the southern gate.

4. Stay south, way south

Access to the northern wildlife reserves is easy. A road runs between Arusha and the Serengeti, and in fact onward to Lake Victoria. This means easier access for more people.

Selous Reserve Tanzania boating on Rufiji River

In contrast the reserves of the south, Selous and Ruaha, are typically fly-in destinations only. While the wildlife is excellent and more safari activities, such as walking and boats, are possible, visitor numbers are way lower.

5. Mainland coast, not Zanzibar

With fine white sandy beaches, clear blue seas, an evocative name, and historical links to Freddie Mercury, what’s not to like about Zanzibar. There’s lots to like, but the well informed head north or south from Dar Es Salaam to Tanzania’s mainland coast. Typically mainland properties sit on their own, offering miles and miles of beach with no need to share with anyone else.

Tanzania beach from Tides Lodge

A safari in Tanzania won’t disappoint, but if you get it right it’s likely to be ‘the best holiday ever’. Take one or more of these tips and you’ll see Tanzania away from the crowds and get a sense of satisfaction a standard tour just won’t provide.

Richard Smith is Operations Director at Aardvark Safaris.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Africa

5 vineyard villas ideal for wine lovers

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While some enjoy spending their holidays in the quietness of the mountains and others prefer hearing the waves breaking on the beach, to wine lovers there is no better place for a retreat than in the middle of rolling hills and beautiful vineyards. From Spain to South Africa, through Italy and France, some very impressive properties offer the opportunity to those seeking a top-notch wine related experience to enjoy the vacation of a lifetime.

Villa La Verriere, Provence, France

Nestled in a quiet corner of Provence, Villa La Verriere is a sunning private estate immersed in a lush forest. The medieval priory has been turned into a picture perfect residence and has been restored to offer the highest standards of luxury and comfort. Guests can play tennis, explore the beautiful surroundings by bike or simply relax by the pool: everything about this property invites to rest and relax. Guests will also be treated to wine tastings and oenology experiences – a real plus for those who enjoy good French wines.

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Lothian Estate, Cape Town, South Africa

Ideally located on the banks of the Palmiet River near Cape Town, this unique estate can boast its own private lake with beautiful views of the Elgin Valley. Surrounded by beautiful manicured gardens, fruit orchards and vineyards, the villa is spacious and designed with comfort in mind, while the outdoors area is perfect for having fun: from jet skis to ski boats to paddle boards there is something for everyone. And then, of course, guests can also have fun in the beautiful wine cellar, where they can taste and learn to appreciate the best local wines.

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La Tavernaccia, Tuscany, Italy

A classic Renaissance style villa, La Tavernaccia is located in a beautiful estate, 23 acres of which are planted with vineyards and olive groves. Close enough to Florence to be easily accessible, this villa’s tower offers beautiful views of the Tuscan countryside that range from Fiesole to Volterra: on clear days you can even expect to see Giotto’s bell tower and Brunelleshi’s dome. Of course, since this area is famous for its delicious Chianti, super Tuscan and Brunello, this villa is an ideal destination for those who want to taste only the best wines Tuscany has to offer, along side some great local recipes.

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Villa Capodilista, Veneto, Italy

This handsome villa, perched on the Montecchia hill, sits in the middle of the Regional Park of the Euganians Hills and is a haven of beauty and tranquility. Deigned as a hunting lodge in 1568, today the villa offers all modern comforts while retaining a unique historical atmosphere. The property is surrounded by well-manicured gardens lined with bushes and roses, perfect for strolling and enjoying some fresh air. The estate also produces several top notch wines which have won prestigious awards: guests can participate to wine tastings in the villa’s cellars and the can also visit the vineyards and learn about wine production.

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Villa Cugo Gran, Menorca, Spain

A brand new villa, Cugo Gran has opened its doors in 2015 and offers stunning views of the Mediterranean from its privileged location on Menorca.  The villa staff works hard at delivering the best Spanish island experience to the villa’s guests, who can enjoy a variety of activities, from lounging by the swimming pool to tasting some of the best Mediterranean cuisine. Grapes coming from the Cugo Gran vineyard are used to produce some delicious wines at nearby Sa Forana Estate, a real treat for those who love Spanish wines.

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Paolo Macchiaroli is CEO of My Private Villas..

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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