Friday, December 27, 2013

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO SOUTH AFRICA & MOZAMBIQUE

Safari and Beach.

A perfect Southern African holiday. This December we tried a new combination of safari and beach: Phinda, a fascinating game reserve with seven eco zones was combined with two resorts on WILD beaches washed by the warm Indian Ocean. 

Beach holiday: pristine sands stretching forever
Animal wonders: adorable baby warthogs gambolling by our
private pool at Vlei Lodge Phinda
AndBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve is home to the Big Five, myriads of other game and seven ecosystems from sand forest to palm veld – a treasure in the caring hands of our major partner in South Africa - AndBeyond
A lazy moment for the lion king, oblivious to our
 open safari vehicle
We saw all the Big Five over several safari tours with the blissful luxury of our very own game ranger Nick. And stayed in three of the six beautiful and very different lodges in Phinda game reserve.


Forest Lodge: our glass walled cabin
hidden in Sand Forest, private spot
for watching forest animals. 
Mountain Lodge, with our own plunge
pool lazily viewing rolling green hills.

And our favourite, the romantic Vlei Lodge...  


...with our own sparkling pool
where elephants often come up to drink


... and an open Serengeti feel.

We also visited oh-so-Colonial Zuka Lodge, 


Perfect for 3G families who take it for sole use
Our inspection of Homestead lodge was cancelled, as it just been visited by a frustrated bull elephant who objected to his own reflection in the windows. More about Phinda and its inhabitants later…

Now for a taste of the different beach experiences ...
Over the border, some 3 or 4 hours drive from Phnda to White Pearl, Mozambique ...
The beach shared with turtles in the Southern summer, and a
sea alive with whales in the Southern winter -
great snorkling by boat, and usually much sunnier than this

"Pearl" is a perfect word to describe this luxury resort, nestled into gigantic sand dunes with views of the endless golden beach swept clean by surging green-glinting waves. 

Suite number 6 at White Pearl  - perfectly private paradise
Our private sunbeds and private access to our beachfront
suite through the wild fringe of dune forest

We shared the endless beach with a handful of guests and turtles coming in to lay their eggs at night. For unforgettable, pampered privacy, we dined on our pool deck watching the waves, as part of the all-inclusive…

With our athletic butler Abu organizing it all. 

Also all.inclusive, but much more rustic and trembling with the feel of the wild, Rocktail Beach Camp, by Wilderness Safaris...


African chic, chandeliers of driftwood, raw wood beams
This friendly, rustic camp of canvas cabins lies in a stunning world heritage area on the northern KZN coastline of South Africa. Rocktail Beach Camp feels very very far away, hidden deep in the dune forests, though only 90 minutes or so drive from Phinda further south or the Mozambique border further north. African chic style. No phones in the rooms just foghorns   more about that later…

Now for a glimpse of the stunning beach...and waters that often get voted into the world's top ten dive sites.
A quick ride or 20 mins walk from Rocktail Beach Camp.
The beach stretches 35 km - also turtle territory

Actually there were two other beaches on this safari holiday combi. The first was rather less wild. Flying with Emirates to Durban, we had a stopover in Dubai at the Ritz-Carlton, right on the beach … in a fabulous suite with a view of palms and pool ….

Al fresco dining at the Ritz-Carlton, by pool and beach

And this is the pool in the famous lobby...

Exquisite Oriental lobby


Arrival and departure assistance at Dubai airport with the Ahlan and Marhaba services gave us more time to enjoy our hotel in Dubai before continuing to Durban, missing all the airport hassles.

The next beach was in front of an urban five star hotel at Umhlanga Rocks, a South African gem called The Oyster Box.

Our room was so close to the beach you heard the waves crashing like the thunder of a gigantic washing machine...

Ocean front room at the Oyster Box




More about our fantastic trip in the blogs to follow this...

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

HOTEL CHECK MALDIVES, Soneva Fushi

Still on his trip through paradise, Neil Bedford finds a resort that evokes all the romance of a Crusoe island without the inconveniences. He calls it: 

“The Original Desert Island Hideaway”


We arrived at Soneva Fushi in one of those thunderstorms that you can only experience in the tropics, the rain hitting the ocean so hard that it must have given the fish a headache. The beach was empty, palm trees were almost being lifted out of the sand, the sound of the storm overpowering our Mr Friday’s introduction and our clothes immediately soaked through after exiting the boat. This preamble is our excuse for spending the first day of our stay at Soneva Fushi enjoying the spa J.

The Six Senses spa focuses on natural and alternative treatments, with a focus on traditional Asia remedies and techniques. Nestled in the beachfront jungle you can choose to enjoy your treatment in open air pavilions beside the ocean or spacious duo rooms in the jungle, some of which boast sauna, steam room and plunge pool. Operated by Six Senses, the quality of treatment from the small team of outstanding therapists is all but guaranteed and guest practitioners from all over the world give more unique options.

Our own sunbeds viewing the
translucent waters

Villa on a coral island

As good as the spa is, it was a wonderful sight to open the blinds on day 2 and be dazzled by the sun. Our villa, a Soneva Fushi Villa, had an ideal location in the middle of the beach on the sunrise side of the island. From our bed and private beach garden we looked straight out over the coral waters to the endless blue sea, the horizon broken only by the hint of a beach from other distant islands. 

Just been snorkellng off the beach...

Soneva Fushi’s coral reef encircles the island and can be snorkeled from all points, quite a rarity in the Maldives, so wherever your villa lies you can quickly kit up with mask and fins and be straight in amongst the coral. The quality of reef is outstanding, with turtles and reef sharks regular sightings but the coral and smaller fish mesmerizing enough even without these.

Gearing up for snorkelling, just steps from the villa


All of the 55 villas are located within metres of the beach and are cocooned in thick vegetation that means they can hardly been seen from land or water. The exceptions to this are the private residences which at 500 - 1200 sq metres are slightly harder to hide. These residences are one of the main drawcards for families and groups travelling together as they are such a rarity in the Maldives and even though they do come at a price tag are excellent value for what you get. 

Currently under construction and one of the most anticipated accommodation options in the Indian Ocean for a number of Select Collection clients is Villa 11, an 8 bedroom beachfront private residence that is expected to be complete in early 2014. With capacity for up to 17, it will be the ideal option for a special getaway with your family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues, people you meet on the train…


Natural as can be...

Kunfunadhoo Island is one of the Maldives’ largest at 1400 metres long and almost 400 metres wide. In typical Soneva style, the jungle interior is more dense than any other island, the beach is more natural and the permanent structures are purposefully kept as hidden and natural as possible. The network of sand ‘roads’ (a feature of most Maldivian islands) follow no discernible route and you have to keep your wits about you while on your bike to watch out as the road suddenly splits in two to make way for giant mangrove or palm trees. If this gives the impression that your comfort is secondary to that of the island’s…well you are probably right but that is not to diminish the level of luxury that is still prevalent. 

Cocktail party  on the sand bank

Magical - straight out of legend

Indulgence & dining

At Cinema Paradiso you can enjoy a private screening of you and your loved one’s favourite film to watch under the stars with a bowl of popcorn; at the Maldives’ only observatory take a guided tour of the galaxy; go on a wine tasting journey around the world as you take your pick from over 5000 bottles in the hidden wine cellar; over-indulge in the delicious (and complimentary) chocolate room and ice-cream parlour; try just about any watersport in the warm blue waters of the Indian Ocean; or if this all sounds too much, visit  bar(a) bara overwater sunset bar and enjoy a classic cocktail with eagle rays and dolphins as your companions.

A reason for the amazing food. Our Mr Friday
shows me the organic garden
There are three main choices for dining – “anything you like” with your feet in the sand at Mihiree Mitha, organic food served in the trees at Fresh in the Garden, and Japanese and Korean inspired tapas by the beach at By the Beach. The focus is always on super fresh produce whether it is your ceviche, sashimi and sushi coming straight from the sea that day or fruits and roots plus well-fed chickens from local island farmers. To supplement this the extremely well cared for organic herb and vegetable garden gives the talented chefs the best choices for healthy salads.

Treats from the chocolate room
Voluptuous dessert room

And why you should ...

Book with us. Select Collection have an incredible long-standing relationship with Soneva Fushi (and sister property Soneva Kiri in Thailand) and will always be able to offer you and your travel companions the most up to date advice for your stay requirements as well as the best price. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

HOTEL CHECK THAILAND, Rayavadee

Ann Jurk reports on a hotel blessed with the most wonderful scenery that Thailand can offer. Just like the movies...

Rayavadee Krabi. Infinity pool and views you dream of ...

Transfer to the hotel was by car and boat and finally a truck, on huge wheels gliding over the sand bottom due to the low tide, taking guests to the hotel where we were well received in the reception with cool towels and a cocktail.
Lovely reception area - lovely greeting

Lush tropical surroundings...

The hotel is set amidst luscious vegetation and surrounded by fantastic limestone cliffs, bordered by three beaches. Monkeys and other various animals were popping up everywhere!

We stayed in a Terrace pavilion, two storey buildings with a living room downstairs and a bedroom upstairs. Here you have a big bathroom with separate bathtub and shower. The houses are well hidden in the vegetation, which makes a nice setting that harmonizes with nature.

The terrace of our Pavilion

Bathroom in the 3-bedroom villa

In a 3-bedroom villa


The Villas are amazing. I can also recommend the pavilions with hydra pool.

What one does need to know is that there are no private beaches in Thailand. Beaches can be a bit noisy and crowded. The best beach is Raily beach which is located in the same area as the pool.

Another view of the infinity pool
near the best beach

Smiling!

The service level was good and the staff always had a smile on their faces! All restaurants keep up high standard, but the favorite was Krua Phranang (Thai restaurant). We also ate at The Grotto (cozy eating in a cave) and Raya (more fine dining) and  had lunch every day at Raitalay terrace. They were all really nice but the Thai restaurant became the favorite. Everyday at 16:00 afternoon tea was served in the main restaurant, Raya dining; this is free of charge for all guests.

You can also go out from the resort to have dinner at local restaurants and browse around some small shops.

I also booked a private boat to Phi Phi. It was high quality throughout, nice boat, amazing picnic and the guide (Suwan) was outstanding. He could really sense what a client needed.  I could easily say that this private trip was one of the best that I have ever experienced.

Our boat to Phi Phi island

You can also play tennis or squash, make the most of free watersports such as kayaking, snorkeling, windsurfing, laser boarding. And a picnic on the beach is something not to miss...

Picnic on the beach

Rayavadee Special 

The Spa was just amazing and the treatment I had (Rayavadee Special 75 min) was a really blissful experience!


The beautiful spa

At Rayavadee its  five star status is particularly visible in relation to the food, service and pool area - which is stunning. When it comes to accommodation,  I recommend you book a villa, or pavilion with the Hydra Pool.

Thai Business 

We flew with Thai in Business. Thai has a new business class with high quality and high comfort. Champagne is served when you enter the plane and you also receive an a al carte menu. You have three different set menus to choose between and a lot of different wines. You get flat beds with a big pillow and a large and soft blanket. It doesn’t feel as if you spent more than 10 hours on the plane.






Monday, November 18, 2013

HOTEL CHECK MALDIVES, Four Seasons at Landaa Giraavaru

Neil Bedford continues on a journey through paradise. Now it is Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru that captures his heart…



This hotel has everything you can ask of your dream island – exotic jungle greenery, immaculate white beaches and the turquoise water of a coral encircled lagoon. On the island you will find a collection of 102 luxurious villas (both overwater and beachfront), one of the finest spas in the Indian Ocean and a wealth of dining choices – everything you need to make you wish your time in paradise never comes to an end.

White beaches lapped by turquoise water


On the Beach

Our place...

We stayed in a Beach Villa with Pool giving 130 sq metres of indoor space, plus a large private pool, outdoor pool bale and even our own tree house complete with day bed and hammock looking out to the ocean. 
Our pool


A sand floored open-air living and dining pavilion means those who enjoy their villa comforts needn’t leave, while a narrow sand path led....

...through the bushes to our own
private stretch of beach with sun loungers
and snorkeling gear all ready just for us


Other accommodation options include Beach Bungalows with Pool (the same set up but a little smaller) and a collection of stilted Overwater Villas which differ in sunrise or sunset view and whether or not you have your own terrace pool. While all rooms can accommodation 2 adults and 2 children up to 12 yrs, there are more spacious options.

Sunset 2-bedroom water suite

Two-bedroom Family Beach Bungalows (with pool) have an additional twin bedroom linked by a short corridor to the master. A separate bathroom and outdoor shower make these especially suitable for families with older children and teenagers. The Family Beach Villas (with pool) have an attached study including a single bed with pullout underneath, a desk, wardrobe, TV and adjacent shower room - ideal for families with younger children.

New to paradise

The amazing Estate

NEW to the property, and welcoming its first guests the day we departed, is the amazing 3 bedroom Landaa Estate which is one of the finest villas in the country. This two-storey estate (513 sqm with maximum occupancy for 11 using extra beds) features a private 80 metre beach with coral reef in front, two pools (one on the upper floor with a waterfall down to the beachfront pool), a stargazing lounge, vast al fresco living space, fully equipped kitchen and even a nanny’s room.


Manta magic

Located in the Baa Atoll, the resort is reached by 30 minute seaplane taxi from Male and the atoll is Maldives' only UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Baa atoll is particularly famed for Hannifaru Bay, where from June to October you have the chance to snorkel with mass gatherings of manta rays and whale sharks. Unfortunately the timings of our visit meant the season was just coming to an end and the chances of sightings of either of these majestic sea creatures were looking slim. But Four Seasons do everything they can to give you the very best chance, including their fantastic manta-on-call programme.

When you sign up for this service, you'll be given a mobile phone in a waterproof bag to keep on you everyday and are contacted immediately when manta rays are sighted. Once you get the call, it’s all systems go as you race to the dive centre and hop on a speedboat to embark on an unforgettable experience. We were lucky enough to snorkel with six giant manta rays as a result of this programme and the experience will live with us forever.


Ayurveda over water


Back on the island, and a more relaxing activity….spa time. 

One of the most beautiful spas ever....

The spa at Landaa Giraavaru is one of the most beautiful you can imagine, 10 vast open-air treatment pavilions – including three dedicated to ayurveda – are nestled in their own lush tropical gardens or on stilts over the turquoise lagoon. The overwater pavilions boast an open front with sensational sea views as well as sections of glass floor under the massage table. Hidden in the herb garden, the Ayurvedic Retreat focuses on treating illness, preventing disease and enhancing physical, mental and spiritual well-being, A complimentary 30 minute Ayuverda consultation is offered to all guests.

Yoga pavilion

Early learning in paradise

Bright and happy kids club
Children staying at the resort can join the ‘Passport to Adventure’, a booklet presenting a series of island challenges where they get a stamp when they complete each challenge. Seven or more stamps earn a prize while if they collect all 14 they earn ice cream sundaes for the whole family! In addition to this there are up to eight daily activities such as coral reefscaping, lizard spotting, herb hunts and mocktail making. There’s also kayaking, cycling, cookie and pizza making, while children who are confident snorkelers can also go out on turtle snorkel safaris or even the manta-on-call.

The resort has its own Teen Centre, a hangout where they can shoot some pool, chill with movies, catch up on Facebook or play Wii. All this plus a large variety of watersports such as catamaran, jet ski and banana boat. Unique to Landaa Giraavaru, children over 8 can become a PADI Seal Team Member by carrying out  AquaMissions in the safe, sheltered lagoon coral gardens (rather than swimming pool environment which is offered at several other resorts). Here they can master the basics and then progress to specialty scuba missions such as navigation, night, and search and recovery.



Dining divinely

Dining options include Asian, Middle Eastern and Italian plus the freshest selection of grilled seafood. 

Catch of the Day

Blu Italian restaurant

For something extra special you can sail enjoy several unique dining experiences: sail to a floating platform in the sparkling lagoon where you are left alone to await the arrival of your dinner by boat while you are surrounded by the lagoon’s natural sea life, perhaps you might even spot a dorsal fin or two….; be whisked away by speedboat to your own deserted sandbank where you can enjoy a succulent barbecue dinner produced by your private chefs at a sand-carved candle-lit table beneath a blanket of stars.

Dancing for joy, upside down
- champagne in the sunset


After a superb dinner, make your way over the short sea walk to one of the most relaxed decks in the Maldives, Seabar. Here you can laze on cozy day beds and overwater net hammocks as you sip a cocktail and track the distinctive dark shapes of lemon sharks and rays in the illuminated turquoise waters below.