Thursday, April 16, 2015

WE HAVE JUST BEEN ON SAFARI

An amazing African journey. Laila Ånestad leaves the chilly winds of Stavanger for the red deserts and enchanting waterways of Namibia and Botswana. Her tour includes bush camping among herds of elephant and the luxuries of lodges deep in the wilds.  

She experiences the newly renovated AndBeyond Sandibe lodge, ideal for land drives and big game, and then flies on to Xaranna, right on the delta - where you do safaris by boat amid the splashing of hippos.

The adventure starts early in the morning with a flight from Windhoek airport to Sossusvlei Desert Lodge. "It felt like sitting in an old car, in the smallest aircraft I have ever been in. The flight was very bumpy because of the wind and heat, so be prepared to get sick!" writes Laila....




Sossusvlei Desert Lodge 

The ”airstrip” was on a big, open savannah surrounded by rugged mountains 1-2 km from the lodge. Upon arrival, we were met by two wonderful ladies who served fresh lemonade and cold wipes. The lodge is located by the foot of the mountains, with wonderful view over the landscape. There are 10 separate desert villas and it is one of the newest lodges in the area. The colours and the interior are in white and beige with nice lamps, cushions, wooden rugs and African pottery and wall decoration.
Normally the lodge has internet connection, but they had technical problems during our stay.

The staff was wonderful, and they gave you very personal attention. You will have your own butler and driver who takes care of you every day, and they know a lot about the nature. Be prepared to change your sleeping routines, as most of the activities starts in the morning around 05:00!
Around this lodge, you can see oryx, zebra, ostriches, jackals and springbok.  But it is the location and ultimate escape from everything that makes it unforgettable.

You are close to the Sossusvlei Nature Reserve, among the biggest National parks in Africa actually. The red sand dunes are amazing, especially when you go early in the morning to see the contrasts when the sun is rising. We climbed the biggest sand dune, Big Daddy – which is 300 meters high! It was a hard trip and took us around 50 minutes!

Our driver went together with us to the top – they are not allowed to leave anybody by themselves in the desert. When we returned to the vehicle, the butler had prepared a delicious breakfast under a big tree, with scrambled eggs, bacon, mushrooms and grilled tomatoes! We even got cold musli youghurt and different juices!

Food – They have a very good chef and can serve dinner in the main building or in your ”villa” or in the wine cellar (lit by lots of candles - it was very romantic) or under the stars.



We had a beautiful, scenic sunset drive one of the evenings which ended up as a surprise with a fantastic 3-course dinner out in the desert together with a young, German couple. White tablecloth, a selection of wines, candles in the sand!



Another activity you can do in the lodge is to fly with a balloon over the desert dunes. We got up early in the morning around 04:45 to be up in the air before the sunrise. 800 meter was the maximum height, but we also flew low. Amazing experience!

Breakfast was served on the savannah when we landed!

Yesterday we had an afternoon trip with quad-bikes. The bikes are made in China, and according to our husbands, the engines do not have the expected power. To me, it was ok!



The lodge also has a small, round infinity pool from where you can watch the zebras and Oryx not far away. There is a waterhole 150-200 meters away, and sometimes they come up to the pool to drink though they are shy. As the Namibian desert is one of the 3 darkest spots in the world, the lodge had a fantastic stargazing observatory. Unfortunately it was half moon while we were there.

Savute under canvas 

Be prepared for a wildlife experience not like anything else! Stay in a tent in an unfenced campsite in the middle of the Chobe National park in Botswana. The biggest elephant herd in the world and they might visit your tent!



The camp is reached from Maun airport by a small plane, flying time around 30-40 minutes and then a 30 min drive to the lodge. The tents are quite big, with a good double bed, paraffin lamps, a bucket shower in which they heat the water over the fire at night. You also have a flush toilet in your tent, as it is strictly forbidden to open or leave the tent after dark and without the guide. There is no electricity and no air-conditioning, so be prepared for a hot experience when you are resting during the day.



If you stay 2 nights, there could be time for 4 game drives. Get up in the morning at 05 and have a light breakfast before watching the wildlife around the park. Get home around 11:30 for brunch, then rest in the tent until afternoon tea is served at 16.00. After the tea-time, there is another excursion before dark.

All the sounds at night are amazing, and you sit around the bonfire with a leopard behind your back and lions or hippos just behind the bushes in the darkness. This is just not unusual luck, it really happens often, and it did to us!!






Regarding the food – the chef can make the most delicious dishes you can imagine. Always 3 courses which starts with a pre-dinner drink. The driver/guide has a lot of knowledge about all animals and also the country, and we could ask him about anything. He also managed to make us calm even when the lions were resting in the shadow of our open vehicle! But with the leopard 20 m behind our backs in the darkness, I was scared to death, and had to be followed by 2 men into the tent - which felt safer.



2 nights (4 game drives) is enough time in Savute, and we are looking forward to Sandibe tomorrow.

Sandibe 

From the airstrip there was a 45 min drive to the lodge, which also lies in the middle of the bush. We were met by a singing welcoming staff who served us homemade lemonade and fresh, cold wipes. The main building was a mixture of Scandinavian and African – massive, wooden beams and floor with African home decoration around. The lodge was re-opened in September 2014 after a big refurbishment and they are fully booked (80%) up to the end of Oct 2015!

There are 6 huts (all are the same) on each side of the restaurant, each built on poles with private plunge pool and 2 fantastic terraces overlooking nature. Your neighbour cannot see you on the terrace, so you can feel free to wear clothes or not! Laundry included in room rate. Hut nr 6 and 7 are connected with a bridge so that families can stay together. The age limit is officially 12 but the managers can allow younger children.

The food is fantastic! You are served coffee/tea or beverage of your own choice by the butler in the morning when he wakes you before the game drive. Then it’s time for a continental breakfast (which is much more than you ever can expect) and then the game drive starts about 06-06:30.
The lunch is from 12:30 – 15:00 but they are flexible. The afternoon tea/high tea at 16:00, then evening game drive, and then dinner at 19-20:00. On the trips in the bush, they always serve tea/coffee and something small to eat, so there is never time to be hungry






The lodge has a small gym, a shop and a SPA as well. You will see a lot of animals here, and the rangers/guide has good knowledge of everything.

Sandibe had better cars than Savute under canvas, and a better system for reporting to each other if they saw animals, but still we liked Savute because of the staff there.

In Sandibe all the huts have air-conditioning. November/December is a good time for travelling here, all animals have just got ”children” and that is nice to see. It is also very green at this time of the year, but that makes is difficult to see lions and leopards who hide in the high, yellow grass.

The Delta however, is dry - the rainy season starts in December. The rangers are allowed to drive off-road (which was not allowed in Chobe) and that makes it very exiting sometimes.
The staff are wonderful. Xaranna tomorrow!



Xaranna 

Xaranna is in the north of Botswana and in the middle of the Okavango Delta, and here they could offer river-safaris which was a different experience from what we already had done. The camp is not new like Sandibe, but the atmosphere and involvement from the managers was amazing. In November it was still the dry season, and we had no difficulties to go by car. In the rainy season, you will be picked by boat from the airstrip!







There were hippos and crocs in the river, and I was far outside my comfort zone on this afternoon excursion!


Interested in doing this amazing itinerary?

It can be booked through Select Collection - for our web page CLICK HERE.

Images by Laila and Select Collction in informal blog style. Picnic at Sossusvlei, sunset dining at Sandibe (below) and  image at Xaranna (above) by AndBeyond


Sunset dining at Sandibe

Monday, April 13, 2015

HOTEL CHECK NEW YORK, The Carlyle

Our inveterate weekend traveller Ann Jurk enjoys The Carlyle and its peaceful surroundings with her family. New York and class all the way....

The location of this family-friendly hotel is perfect for an educational and recreational visit to the Big Apple. The Hotel is located on Manhattan's Upper East Side (76th street on Madison Avenue) and is only 5 minutes walk to Central Park. 




Lobby

Five star family friendliness

This hotel is absolutely 5 star with lots of individuality and a nice welcome for families. Its 188 accommodations are all differently decorated. I was lucky to see the Roger Federer Suite, unique and very different. The only thing in common to all the room categories is the spaciousness. Lovely Christina Lamoureux and her team had prepared a Superior Suite for us. A charming room with a lot of space. Two bathrooms, one with bathtub and amenities from Kiehl's.


Roger Federer Suite


A room at The Carlyle

The Deluxe suite

The Hotel was built in 1930 and has a long history with famous people living here. I was lucky to stay here at the same time as George Clooney. We didn't meet so I could not offer him a Nespresso or anything like that...

Dining in and around

Surrounding this hotel is a peaceful area with lots of nice restaurants. Just ask the friendly staff in the concierge for recommendations. In the hotel itself we enjoyed an amazing breakfast together with Christina Lamoureux before our hotel inspection.. Even if the breakfast at the Carlyle is expensive I can thoroughly recommend it. Another suggestion is to just cross the street and have breakfast at restaurant “3 Guys”. It is a simple restaurant but you can choose whatever you want for breakfast and don’t forget that the portions are big!

The Carlyle offers 4 food and beverage options;

The Carlyle Restaurant – We had lunch here twice and it is a very elegant but cosy restaurant. High quality of both service and food.
The Gallery for afternoon tea – Unfortunately very busy so we did never try the afternoon Tea, but it looked really tasty.
Bemelmans Bar – Every afternoon we went here for a drink and some small bites to eat. This too is very busy and it can be difficult to find a table. In the bar you can listen to live music.
Café Carlyle – I just took a look. Famous for its cabaret.

The Carlyle hotel also features Sense Spa (kids are allowed to do treatments). Nice, but I would have appreciated a sauna or a small Jacuzzi. You also find a full service hair salon and a fitness studio.

 How to get to the Carlyle

Flying with United Airlines to Newark Liberty is a nonstop flight from Stockholm. Good service and really nice food in business class, and the flatbeds were nice and comfortable. I had pre-booked transfer and we were picked up in a gorgeous SUV. The drive took 45 minutes to The Carlyle. The driver gave us a nice introduction to New York.

Ann Jurk

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A FAIRYTALE IN MARRAKECH

Guest blogger Jacita Bengts writes about a magical hotel in Marrakech. Royal Palm is a rather new and full-on charmer in the exotic rose-tinted city...

“Like a fairytale”



That was my comment when I posted my first picture from Hotel Royal Palm, Marrakech. The iPhone snapshot was of the terrace of our Senior Suite - 126 sqm of pure sophistication - our home away from home during our prolonged weekend getaway.

The colors, the materials, the scenery, the scented air – I felt like I had been transported to a completely different world – and time. During the first hour or so, we walked around in awe, touching the furniture and wood, admiring the little details and breathing in the cool but fresh air on our terrace.


We took dozens of pictures of our beautiful suite; each corner of it to be exact, wanting to capture it all before we moved anything out of its place.






My friend had visited Marrakech before, and told me that on a clear day we would have a fantastic view of the Atlas Mountains, which at that moment were still shrouded in heavy mist. Our view was onto the beautifully designed pool area and landscaped garden filled with ancient olive trees and further away, the ideally located golf courts which already have a reputation of being Morocco’s finest.





During the coming days, we set out to explore the hotel facilities on our own, admiring, above all, the majestic architecture and local designs, which were always present – but never overwhelming. A statement piece here; another there. Just like the very pleasant scent in the air of the main building. I never was able to figure out what it was, and perhaps that adds to the magic. It just felt, like everything else, simply perfect.




In addition we were treated to a thorough site inspection, allowing us to see all types of suites, as well as getting a glimpse of the spacious and inviting villas, with their own pool area surrounded by a small garden, outdoor grill and even your own private hammam. What more could one wish for? 







Still, there was more – the exquisite Spa by Clarins – all light and airy, with luxurious materials, heated and cool pools, a hammam and sauna. With more time on our hands, some of it would definitely have been spent here - the well-equipped gym on two levels, offering personalized training sessions; a heated semi-Olympic pool; and an AMAZING kids club with clever details from small chefs outfits for cooking classes, life-size wooden sheep covered with white or black sheepskin, to miniature live turtles in the garden from which you can access miniature tennis courts and a soccer field.



Shopping and exploring

During our second day we opted for an afternoon in the city, and found the hotel shuttle a really convenient and comfortable option. We departed at noon, were dropped off by the famous Koutoubia Mosque – the perfect landmark also for the return pick-up.




We visited numerous small shops in the area of the main market square, Djmaa El-Fna, relaxed over drinks in the lush garden of legendary La Mamounia, and returned to the Royal Palm some five hours later, happy to find it such a tranquil oasis after the captivating but incredibly busy city. 




If you have no desire – or time - to leave the premises during your stay, the main building houses several nice shops with local specialties and beautiful Royal Palm-products.

Dining




Le Caravane gourmet restaurant – and the main restaurant of Royal Palm Marrakech - deserves its own paragraph. We were so impressed by our dining experience on our first evening that we chose to dine here every single night. The international menu was varied with enough options even for a longer stay, the dishes were served beautifully and the food tasted divine. As did the Moroccan wine we chose to enjoy with our meals. Still what impressed us the most, was the level of service. It is difficult to explain exactly what makes La Caravane dining unforgettable, but I will give it a try: the warm welcome at the entrance, ensuring we were seated exactly according to our wishes, the offering of a separate small table for our purses, finalizing the dishes table-side, constant but unobtrusive attention from start to end, and all this in a magical setting, with Moroccan lamps and lanterns flickering in the dark night outside the large, 4 metre high windows – can you visualize this?






Needless to say, the breakfast enjoyed in the same restaurant also left nothing to desire. I feasted on fresh fruits and dates and crisp bread and cheeses and capers and small Moroccan pancakes served with a delicious honey syrup. There were in fact so many choices that we never got as far as to taste the hot dishes. 


On our third and last full day, the day felt warm enough for relaxing poolside with a good read and music, and enjoying a delicious fresh lunch salad at the L’Olivier, offering an excellent view of the pool area, gardens and Atlas Mountains.



Winning combination

Hotel Royal Palm has set out to be the ultimate luxury resort of Marrakech. From what I could see and experience during our short stay, they are well on their way with a winning combination of contemporary and traditional.