Just Back from Southern Africa

Tswalu Private Game Reserve



It is said that “You can leave Africa, but Africa will never leave you.” Its majesty captures your eye and your soul, starting in the cosmopolitan cities and extending to the vast wild of the bush. Upon arrival on my favorite continent, I checked into the posh and contemporary One&Only Cape Town. Situated on a small private island, its spa is my private heaven. My jet lag was quickly vanquished by two vitality pools with submerged, air massage recliners and I was ready for my adventure in Africa. 

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Tswalu Private Game Reserve
Tswalu Private Game Reserve’s main building has eight suites built from local stone.

After a good night’s sleep, my travel companions and I—we call ourselves Friends that FAM—made the 20-minute drive to The Cellars-Hohenort in Constantia Valley. The quaint and charming atmosphere of this hotel perfectly accents its location on the foothills of the Winelands. The Cellars-Hohenort is a Relais & Châteaux and is part of The Collection by Liz McGrath. You can feel her touch everywhere, even in the scent of the roses in the expansive garden named for her. The Greenhouse restaurant (South Africa’s No. 1 restaurant) and The Conservatory (known for cooking with produce from its own garden) graced our stay with delicious dining. “Ms. Martha” took the time out to teach us how to make our own samosas, and we enjoyed our creations and other appetizers in the kitchen. Afterward, we savored a Cape Malay dinner, complete with traditional South African dishes based in curry which should not be missed when visiting this country. Later we retired to one of the 52 individually decorated rooms and suites that are spread out between three buildings in the premises. 

The next day we made our way to Ellerman House and Villa. We drove along the coastline of Cape Town, getting brief but glorious peeks at the Atlantic Ocean between the beautiful homes that flank the rocky cliffs. We pulled into a discreet driveway that I would have passed a thousand times without a driver. As we made our way into the main house, the first thing I noticed was the extensive collection of pieces by local South African artists. There is no front desk, so we were personally greeted for a tour of the hotel. The surroundings took our breath away—a grassy lawn and a panoramic view of the Atlantic coastline, Cape Town and Robben Island. Ellerman House is a small hotel with impeccable style and grace. Its three acres encompass only 9 rooms, two suites, two dining rooms, pool, spa, and a whiskey bar. Despite its intimate size, do not be fooled. They do everything big. The hotel boasts a contemporary art gallery which houses works from emerging South African artists, a cellar showcasing 7,500 bottles of South Africa’s finest wines, and then there is the impressive Ellerman Villa. The Ellerman Villa has three suites (with the option of two additional bedrooms in the adjacent spa) and operates independently from the house. Between the personal chef and butler and the breezes off the ocean, everything about the space is open, tranquil and inspiring. Each meal was superb and the wine pairing was spectacular. 

Cellars-Hohenort’s quaint atmosphere accents its location in the Winelands.

After two amazing nights at the Ellerman Villa, we flew to Singita Pamushana Lodge in the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in Zimbabwe. We arrived at the tiny airport, Buffalo Range, and were met by our guide Fortune to take us through “customs,” which consisted of one lady behind a very small window, no computer and using carbon paper to write down our details for the Zimbabwe visa. It took all of three minutes—if only every airport was this simple! 

Singita Pamushana spans through 105,000 acres of private wilderness, and its six suites and one private home overlook the Malilangwe Dam and Sandstone Hills. Pamushana means “a place in the sun,” which was particularly appropriate during the spectacular sunset. We were lucky to stay in the five-bedroom private retreat, which was pristinely decorated in a variety of beautiful African textiles. Singita Pamushana is completely in a league of its own with its sense of serenity, genuine friendliness of the staff and supreme intimacy of the lodge. We were lucky to be paired with Fortune, who was known as the Leopard Spotting Specialist. True to his name, our first sighting was a leopard asleep in a bush that none of us noticed until we were right on top of it. We experienced ancient bushman rock art that dated back centuries, curious baby lion cubs, one of the largest and oldest Balboa trees, a boat safari, and a standoff between a group of hippos and an elephant from our deck at the lodge. We had the pleasure of visiting Singita, a local community school and hospital that feeds up to 20,000 children daily. Their commitment to improving their community is inspiring. 

After three glorious nights of pampering at Singita Pamushana, we made our flight back to Johannesburg for an overnight stay at The Westcliff. The Westcliff is an Orient-Express hotel that overlooks the Johannesburg Zoo. It is a traditional setting that has spacious rooms and is the perfect place to relax on a layover between safari lodges. We were hosted to a molecular drink-making class and an indulgent multicourse dinner. Afterward, we relaxed in the Polo Lounge and reminisced about our amazing trip thus far. 

Singita School in Zimbabwe
The Singita School in Zimbabwe feeds up to 20,000 children daily.

In the afternoon we were transferred to the Anglo American Hangar at Johannesburg airport for our charter flight to Tswalu Kalahari, a luxury private game reserve. We boarded a Learjet to the lodge, and it took approximately 45 minutes to reach the private landing strip. Tswalu Game Reserve is a semiarid grassland with almost 400 square miles of wide open savannas, owned by the Oppenheimer family. The main property, which they call Motse, is home to only eight suites built from local stone. Our guide Cameron Pearce was truly extraordinary, but we came to realize that at Tswalu this was the rule—not the exception. They have some of the most educated and knowledgeable guides in the industry. When on drives with Cameron, we never felt as if he was going through the motions. It was like he was exploring the Kalahari with us, and we were on an adventure to explore what the reserve had to offer. The two top experiences we had at Tswalu were visiting a colony of people-friendly meerkats and tracking a giant rhino on foot. Man has had virtually no impact on the land, and Tswalu has conservation at the heart of all that they do on and off the reserve. Tswalu is luxury safari at its finest.

It is always difficult to leave Africa—a place so dear to my heart and essential to my soul. Yet, I know that returning to “real life” means that I get to create these experiences for my clients as they make their own memories—and that is what makes this career so worthwhile.

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