Luxury Travel Review

Why we liked seaside town on Florida west coast for quiet getaway

By Elena del Valle

Photos by Gary Cox

Dunedin mural on a wall

Dunedin mural on a wall

A skip and a jump (25 miles west) from Tampa, Florida we found Dunedin (Done-ee-den), a 28.2 square mile town with a population of just over 35,000 people. It had the unexpected small town feel of another place and time with unique shops and restaurants, picnic movies on the lawn on Friday nights, and a host of special events year round. The weekend we visited there were two street events, the American Classic Car Show Dunedin and Brewery Oktobeerfest.

The downtown strip of Dunedin

The beginning of Main Street in Dunedin

The stage downtown hosted family movie night while we were there

The stage downtown hosted family movie night while we were there

The downtown core, half mile long, was six blocks of 15 restaurants and 53 shops on Main Street. The most salient feature on Main Street was the absence of block chain stores, restaurants and franchises. We stayed at the lovingly maintained Meranova Guest Inn and dined at The Black Pearl fine dining restaurant, both in the popular downtown section. Although 60 percent of the downtown buildings date back to circa 1900, construction peppered Main Street, promising fast approaching growth.

Decorated dolphins dotted the area

Decorated dolphins dotted Main Street

Bon Appetite restaurant faces the water at the end of main street

Bon Appetit restaurant faces the water at the end of main street

“Dunedin is very proud of the fact that 100 percent of the down town businesses are Mom and Pop owned,” said Bob Ironsmith, director, Economic and Housing Development, City of Dunedin. “This is the very reason that Dunedin maintains the quaint charming life style enjoyed by residents and guests.”

We took a boat from Honeymoon Island to Caladesi Island

Once an hour boats ran from Honeymoon Island to Caladesi Island and back

A walkway to the beach

A walkway to the beach

The beach on Caladesi State Park

The beach in Caladesi State Park

More than half of the Pinellas County town, 17.8 square miles, is water and 10.4 square miles is land. Dunedin's most celebrated ecotourism attractions were Caladesi Island State Park, a popular beach destination, and the undeveloped Honeymoon Island State Park, the state’s most visited park, offering bird watching, walking, biking and kayaking opportunities to residents and visitors. We visited both. It was necessary to take a boat from Honeymoon Island to Caladesi Island.

Inactive nests were visible all over Honeymoon Island

Inactive Osprey nests were visible all over Honeymoon Island

The head ranger at Honeymoon Island

Peter H. Krulder, park manager, Honeymoon Island Administration, showed us around the island

Honeymoon Island averaged between 20 and 25 osprey nests and one eagle nest a year. Caladesi Island often had a few osprey nests and great horned owls a year. Domestic animals on a six foot hand held leash were welcome in the parks and only on one small section of the beach. They were not allowed in food service areas. Access to Caladesi Island was via two 45 foot long boats, one per hour, which took 20 minutes from Honeymoon Island to Caladesi Island.

The South Beach Pavilliion Cafe on Honeymoon Island

We had lunch at the South Beach Pavilion Cafe on Honeymoon Island

The view from the pavillion

The view from the pavilion

Honeymoon Island had four and a half miles of beach accessible to land visitors, 1,300 acres of uplands and 1,500 submerged acres. Caladesi Island had three miles of beach accessible to land visitors. Each island had hiking trails three mile long. It was no wonder the island parks were popular. More than one million people visit Honeymoon Island annually and 300,000 visit Caladesi Island. The parks are looked after by 12 fields staff and five administrative staff at Honeymoon Island plus five field staff at Caladesi Island.

Fresh fish and a view of the ocean

We liked the fresh fish and a view of the ocean from the cafe

Although the surf was too choppy to swim it was fun walking around and exploring the long Caladesi Island beach. On our return from Caladesi Island a fresh fish lunch with a view of the beach on Honeymoon Island from the deck of the South Beach Pavilion Cafe (1 Causeway Boulevard, Dunedin, Florida 34698, https://www.romantichoneymoonisland.com/, +1 727 260-5503) was a treat. We enjoyed our visit to Dunedin (http://www.dunedingov.com) Main Street and both islands and would return for an event oriented or relaxing weekend getaway.

Boutique bed and breakfast offered intimate ambiance, creature comforts in central Franschhoek location

Article and photos by Elena del Valle

The outer gate at The Last Word Franschhoek

The outer gate at The Last Word Franschhoek

During a recent visit to the beautiful Franschhoek Valley in South Africa's well known Winelands, I spent one night at The Last Word Franschhoek (68 Huguenot Street, Franschhoek 7690, South Africa, +27 021 876 4723, http://www.thelastword.co.za/en/home/, franschhoek@thelastword.co.za), a boutique bed and breakfast in the heart of the village of Franschhoek. Franklin Menloor, assistant manager, welcomed me on arrival and showed me around the 10-room boutique property owned by Peter Fleck and Nicky Coenen.

There was a 350 year old tree by the door

There was a 350 year old tree by the door

 Franklin Menloor, assistant manager, showed me around the 10-room boutique property

Franklin Menloor, assistant manager, showed me around the 10-room boutique property

I liked my homey second floor 35-square meter Superior Double Room facing the rear of the property and decorated in earth tones. Although I could hear neighborhood and street noises, considering its central location in the heart of the village it was relatively quiet. It had WiFi, comfortable and pretty cloth furniture, double curtains, a large Samsung flat screen television, and wall to wall carpeting. The temperature could be adjusted via underfloor heating and a remote controlled ceiling air conditioning and heating unit.

My 35 square meter room had sitting area

Room 7, my 35 square meter room with a sitting area

Room 7 was in the property's new section built following a flood nine months prior to my visit. The modern room was on the second floor of the former private house facing the rear of the property parking area and a residential street. It was the first room at the top of the stairs that led from the living and dining areas of the bed and breakfast. It was adjacent to an open terrace that faced the intimate ground floor pool area. While it was too chilly to spend time poolside I loved the expansive view of the verdant surrounding mountains from the terrace.

My bathroom

My spacious and sunlit bathroom was spotless

Amenities included a slice of cream pie on arrival, a well stocked mini refrigerator and mini bar including a bottle of South African red wine, two red apples, snacks, and a hot beverages drawer with coffee pot, hot water pitcher, coffee and tea. Also included in the room rate were turn down sweets, like a small cup of crème brulee, and breakfast.

Creme brule for turndown

The creme brulee turn down snack

I liked the Healing Earth toiletries

I liked the healing Earth toiletries

The large bathroom had: oversize door-less shower, water closet, separate bathtub, stool, twin sinks, and a built-in closet. During my stay, I tried Healing Earth South African made toiletries for the first time. In the light filled bathroom, there were 200 milliliter bottles of pleasantly scented shampoo, shower gel, conditioner, bath salts, and one small bar of soap. Fresh flowers and a handful of rose petals added a romantic touch.

The breakfast buffet

The breakfast buffet

At breakfast there was a small buffet of pastries, jams, nuts, dried fruit, fruit in syrup, cereals, fruit juice, deli meats, cheese, crackers, salmon and avocado. It was also possible to order a hot made to order breakfast, which consisted of mostly egg options and pancakes. Sides for the egg dishes were sausage, bacon, mushrooms, tomato, and toast.

Pretoria Italian themed boutique property ideal for night before boarding The Blue Train

Article and photos by Elena del Valle

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The Castello di Monte from the backyard

During my trip to South Africa I rode The Blue Train, a modern luxury vessel that journeyed several times a month between Pretoria and Cape Town and back. My train departed from Pretoria early in the morning (the luxury rail company boarding instructions indicated I should be at the Pretoria train station at 7:30 a.m.) which meant I would need to spend the previous night nearby or risk missing the train. At the same time, I knew traffic in the Gauteng region, where Johannesburg and Pretoria, two of the country's major cities, are located, would be heavy at rush hour.

A view of my room on the left, the swimming pool and backyard in the foreground and Pretoria in the background

A view of my room on the left, the swimming pool and backyard in the foreground and Pretoria in the background

I wanted to spend the night before my departure close enough to reach the Pretoria station easily in the morning. At the same time, I sought a safe abode away from the busy and noisy central area of the Pretoria train station, and ideally somewhere I could have a pleasant dinner the evening before my rail adventure.

My biltong salad was delicious

My biltong salad was delicious

Johannesburg had many fine options. The down side of staying there was that I would have to brave the congested morning traffic between the two cities. Plus, because of the distance to avoid a late arrival I would have to leave my hotel extra early. Pretoria, while much closer to the train station, had far fewer hotel possibilities than its larger sister Gauteng city. I was delighted when a colleague recommended the Castello di Monte, a Five Star Bed and Breakfast owned by Tilla and Pieter van Zyl and managed by their daughter Madeleen Jacobs. Established in 2004 the 3,300 square meter house had nine rooms ranging between 30 and 60 square meters in size within a single building, and employed 18 staff.

Portions were generous and the food appetizing at Castello di Monte

Portions at dinner were generous and the food appetizing at Castello di Monte

As soon as I visited the hotel website I knew it would be my first choice. Although the bed and breakfast was slightly further from the station than some of the chain hotels, the Castello di Monte offered a transfer to the train station for The Blue Train guests and the drive promised to be pleasant and relatively short (especially compared to the one from Johannesburg).

The sleeping area of my expansive suite

The sleeping area of my expansive Presidential suite

When I arrived at the Italian themed property I discovered it was much nicer than I had anticipated. An added bonus was that I had a chance to stay in the 158 square meter Presidential Room. One story up from reception via a pretty spiral staircase or a small elevator, it was unexpectedly large and well appointed. In addition to the bedroom, it had two large and complete bathrooms, one with a door-less shower and the other with a bathtub. It had a walk-in closet, window views of Pretoria and a small private porch with a view of the lawn. It also had high ceilings, a minibar, a large flat screen TV, and an oversize bed.

One of two spacious bathrooms with a large bathtub

One of two spacious bathrooms with a large bathtub

The staff members I met, such as Pam at reception and Evans, one of the servers, were friendly and service oriented. Dinner, a tasty lovingly prepared meal, was served on an open terrace with expansive views of Pretoria. My satisfying three-course set menu dinner consisted of a Biltong (a South African dried beef) salad starter and a Steak with blue cheese and mushroom sauce, mashed potatoes, and steamed vegetables main course. For dessert there was Creme brulee served with a fig cracker.

It was too chilly to swim in the pool

It was too chilly to swim in the pool

Although the Roman style charcoal granite pool looked inviting it was too cool outdoors to venture into the chilly water. Several guests relaxed poolside, but like me none went for a swim. From the rooftop the hotel had splendid views of the surrounding residential area and the city below.

Outdoor chess with a view at Castello di Monte

Outdoor chess with a view at Castello di Monte

I spent the night like an Italian queen, sleeping on the comfortable four poster bed and waking up rested when my alarm call rang. After a brief continental breakfast (a hot breakfast was available, but given the 15 minutes between the breakfast service opening and departure time I opted for a light meal) I climbed aboard the transfer van with four Americans also traveling on The Blue Train to Cape Town.

The central marble staircase

The central marble staircase

Should I return to Pretoria on a leisure visit the Castello di Monte (402 Arles Street, Waterkloof Ridge, Pretoria, 0181, South Africa, +27 012 346 6984, www.castello.co.za, info@castello.co.za) will be at the top of my list. I was pleased with my experience there I already recommended the bed and breakfast property to fellow travelers aboard the train as well as some I met in Cape Town.

A book for lovers of birds in Rift Valley, Kenya

Birds of Kenya

Birds of Kenya

Photo: Princeton Press

The thousands of flamingos on Lake Nakuru may be perhaps the most famous of bird sightings in Kenya's Rift Valley. There are many bird other species in that area, which includes four national parks: Lake Nakuru, Lake Bogoria, Mount Longonot, and Hell's Gate. Birds of Kenya’s Rift Valley (Princeton University Press, $29.95), a 256-page softcover book by Adam Scott Kennedy published in 2014, features the 320 bird species he believes travelers are most likely to encounter on safari in the region, which runs from Lake Baringo in the north to Lake Magadi in the south.

In the book, there are 500 color photos, most by the author, as well as non technical information on the ecology of the area and bird behaviors by species. It is divided into seven sections: Birds of Lake and Marsh; Up In the Air; Birds of Prey, Birds of Grassland and Open Areas; Birds of Wood, Scrub and Garden; and Night Birds.

Scott Kennedy has served as principal leader on birding holidays in Africa, South America, Europe, and New Zealand. He and his wife, Vicki, operate as private safari guides, specializing in photographic and wildlife safaris in East Africa. He is the author of Birds of the Masai Mara (see New Masai Mara bird book available).


Birds of Kenya

Click to buy Birds of Kenya's Rift Valley (WILDGuides)


Bespoke Constantia wine tour an unexpected way to discover wines in Cape Town suburb

Article and photos by Elena del Valle

Blake Gowar at the hilltop

Blake Gowar at the Eagle's Nest hilltop

During a recent stay in Constantia, a wine producing suburb of Cape Town, South Africa, I went on a 4.5 hour Private Half Day Wine Tour recommended by the owners of the Glen Avon Lodge where I was staying. At 12 noon sharp, Blake Gowar, owner of The Constantia Wine Tour (11 Midhurst Way, Constantia, Cape Town, 7806, South Africa, +27 021 794 4873, +27 082 377 5233, www.theconstantiawinetour.co.za, Blake@theconstantiawinetour.co.za), picked me up at my hotel in his company branded sports utility vehicle.

One of the historic buildings of the estate

One of the historic buildings of the Klein Constantia Estate

During the short drive to Klein Constantia (Klein Constantia Estate, PO Box 375, Constantia, 7848, South Africa, +27 021 794 5188, kleinconstantia.com, info@kleinconstantia.com), the first of three wineries on the tour, we had a chance to chat as I was the only guest on the tour the chilly winter day. Blake explained his was the first and only company dedicated exclusively to half and full day tours of Constantia wineries.

Janine Dodds, our host

Janine Dodds, our friendly host at Klein Constantia

After passing through the security gate we entered the Klein Constantia Estate. Dating to 1685 the property was built among ancient trees on the upper foothills of the Constantiaberg Mountains. It had a view across the city to False Bay. Although it was in the midst of extensive renovations the tasting room was unaffected. Janine Dodds, a well informed and friendly representative, greeted us and recommended wines for me to taste. We were the only visitors at that moment. Thanks to the quiet off season ambiance I had her undivided attention during the wine tasting. The property was best known for its chardonnay and sauvignon blanc wines. It also had the best stocked gift shop I visited on the tour. There were branded cycling shirts and a variety of foodie and wine items on sale.

The vineyards at Klein Constantia

The vineyards at Klein Constantia

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The garden seen through a glass of rose wine at the Eagle's Nest

A handful of people had arrived before us at the Eagle's Nest (Old Constantia Main Road, Constantia, 7848, South Africa, +27 21 794 4095, eaglesnestwines.com, info@eaglesnestwines.com, orders@eaglesnestwines.com) where we received a warm welcome from Kaylee Morrick and Kathleen McNulty. There were still left plenty of table choices in the verdant garden. Following the staff's recommendation I picked a spot where I tasted a rose and couple of the white wines while Blake went to swap his sports utility vehicle for a four wheel drive. Thanks to a family friendship with one of the owners of the Eagle's Nest Blake had exclusive permission to use the property owner's Land Rover and drive up the winery's mountain for tours.

Although it was chilly I was drawn to the lush garden

Although it was chilly I was drawn to the lush garden at the Eagle's Nest

The Eagle's Nest was in a secluded valley high up on the slopes of the historic Constantia mountain range, part of the Table Mountain area. One of the five small boutique wineries of Constantia it was home to some of the steepest gradient vineyards in the country, Blake explained. The winery was known for its dry rose, viognier and award winning shiraz. The weather worn vehicle climbed the single lane dirt road with the ease of a goat, if slightly less grace. We stopped along the way for some photos and a close up glimpse at flowers.

Flowers growing by the side of the road

Flowers growing by the side of the road

By the time we reached the high point on the farm the wind had picked up and I was chilled despite my fleece and windbreaker. The panoramic views of the farm, followed by Constantia in the foreground and greater Cape Town beyond reached all the way to the ocean. The breathtaking scenery from the top made the detour worthwhile.

Bird's eye views of Cape Town at Eagle's Nest

Bird's eye views of Cape Town from the hilltop at the Eagle's Nest

On our return to the Eagle's Nest tasting room, we sat indoors near the crackling flames of the fireplace. The glass walls afforded us a view of the garden during the second half of the wine tasting. I especially enjoyed their three lovely reds.

The Silvermist

Our third winery was Silvermist

All that wine tasting had made me hungry. By the time we arrived at Silvermist (Constantia Nek, 7806 Cape Town, South Africa, +27 21 794 7601 silvermistmountainlodge.co.za, silvermistvineyards@gmail.com, silvermisteatery@gmail.com), on the forested slopes of Table Mountain and within the Table Mountain National Park, I was ready for a late lunch and a tasting of the farm produced white. The rustic 120 acre estate that borders the Constantia Wine Route was, I was told, the only organic vineyard in Constantia. It was best known for its sauvignon blanc. Candace Louw, one of the owners, welcomed us warmly when we arrived.

The Silvermist Sauvignon Blanc

The Silvermist Sauvignon Blanc

The views of Table Mountain National Park at Silvermist

The views of Table Mountain National Park at Silvermist

We ate in the Green Vine Eatery, one of two dining venues within Silvermist, where Blake ordered the special of the day, a tasty pizza, and I had a well prepared hamburger with potato wedges. While we waited for lunch we stepped out briefly to enjoy the beautiful views of the environs and Table Mountain. Dessert of chocolate muffins was to go.

Lunch at the Green Vine Eatery

The pizza special for lunch at the Green Vine Eatery

 Candace Louw, one of the owners

Candace Louw, one of the owners of Silvermist

As my tour guide and I parted company, I realized how much I had enjoyed the pleasant pace of the private half day tour, the wine tastings, lunch, and Blake's company. Although I had visited Constantia before, I had never been to any of the wineries on our tour that day. I appreciated having someone else drive all afternoon. It meant I could taste as many wines as I wanted without worrying about driving. And, I didn't have to find the wineries with my rental car's not always trustworthy GPS directions. Plus, it was fun to discover new estates. Blake's selection of the wineries was spot on in terms of the setting and the wines themselves. The unique opportunity to climb to the high point of the Eagle's Nest farm was an unexpected bonus.

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