Luxury Travel Review

Versatile tasting menu at Turks and Caicos boutique hotel restaurant

Article and photos by Elena del Valle

Cristian Rebolledo, chef, Kitchen218, and Francisco Hodge, manager, Food and Beverage Beach House Turks and Caicos

Cristian Rebolledo, executive chef, Kitchen218, and Francisco Hodge, manager, Food and Beverage at the Beach House in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

kitchen218 across the pool

View of Kitchen218 from across the pool 

During my three night stay at the Beach House Turks and Caicos in Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands of the British West Indies, owned and managed by Waterloo Hotel Management, I had an opportunity to sample the food at Kitchen218, the property restaurant with seating for 80 guests and 20 staff. In 2014, the company renovated and rebranded the restaurant with Contemporary Caribbean decor in a poolside setting.

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The first course was Veggie pickle cebiche and mushrooms

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Beef carpaccio

I had breakfast thrice, lunch and dinner once each. For breakfast there was a small buffet option as well as a la carte choices. The delicately fried fresh snapper served whole with tasty and savory vegetables was a favorite. For my friends who enjoy conch I would recommend the slightly sweet conch salad, a house specialty.

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Tuna tartare with sesame seed lemsay dressing

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The Conch chowder was a favorite

It was at dinner that the chef's contemporary fusion culinary talents shone brightest. The night I dined there I asked Cristian Rebolledo, executive chef of the restaurant, for a suggestion that emphasized local fresh products. After debating several options he recommended his seven course tasting menu and I agreed provided it was free of hot spices. He obliged. The tasting menu cost $110 and with a wine pairing it was $155.

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Sea bass Coin textures and veggies

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The Zen-Noh Waygu in dark sauce with veggies and figs was outstanding

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Chocolate Fantasy

His well prepared and well presented meal with wine pairing was one of the highlights of my visit to Providenciales. It consisted of: Veggie pickle cebiche and mushrooms served with 2014 Danzante pinot grigio from Italy, Tuna tartare (a favorite) with sesame seed lemsay dressing served with Matua non vintage pinot noir from New Zealand, Beef carpaccio served with 2013 Byron pinot noir from California, Conch chowder (a favorite) served with 2013 Muga Rioja from Spain, Sea bass Coin textures and veggies (not a favorite) served with 2013 JJ Vincent Bourgne Blanc from France, Zen-Noh Waygu in dark sauce with veggies and figs served with a 2014 Josh cellar cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley (USA), and Chocolate Fantasy served with a non vintage Deviation late harvest from California (not a favorite). It was the perfect menu for a special occasion. Kitchen218 (Beach House Turk and Caicos, Lower Bight, Grace Bay, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, +1.649.9465377218, www.beachhousetci.com, contact@beachhousetci.com) and the chef's tasting menu will be at the top of my list of dining venues on any return trip to Providenciales.

Turks and Caicos overcrowded, hot, and slow airport departure process sucked joy from trip memories

Article and photos by Elena del Valle

The crowd waiting for security at the Turks and Caicos airport

The crowd waiting for security at the Turks and Caicos airport from where I stood in line

It is a shame that the most salient memory I have of my recent trip to Providenciales in the tiny island nation of the Turks and Caicos some 573 miles from Miami, Florida is the unpleasant and frustrating departure. Given the upscale island's high standards compared to other similar sized nations in the region and the number of wealthy foreign property owners I was taken aback by the conditions and process. Although I checked in online, had no wait at the airline counter, and arrived at the airport more than two hours in advance (the airline recommended passengers arrive two hours early as did the staff at my hotel) they called my flight for boarding while I was still in the security line.

Turks and Caicos airport

The airport in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

I and dozens upon dozens of other travelers stood in a snaking queue that spanned five short lines in front of the entrance to the international departures immigration entrance and an additional line that ran back past the domestic airline counters beyond sight. The line was so thick a security guard insisted waiting passengers step away from the domestic airline counters so departing passengers for those flights could reach their counters. Although most passengers in the line, including families with small children, were patient and quiet, judging by appearances and overheard conversations, many were hot and sweaty (only the final portion of the line was within the air conditioned international departures area), surprised by the length of the line and long wait, and annoyed.

One uniformed staff woman in the main hall urged passengers to move forward in the line. Her military demeanor and biting tone did little to alleviate people's stress and anxiety over possibly missing flights. Another uniformed staff woman guarded the entrance to the international departures area. While her tone was less strident than her colleague's she was no more helpful. Two passengers near me in the queue were called by security over the loudspeakers while we were standing in line within the international departures area. When they tried to respond she insisted they remain in their place in line, dismissing their concerns. As they moved forward another staff person checked their documents and chided them for not responding to the security announcement. He rushed them to the head of the line.

View of the beach just after takeoff

View of the coast just after takeoff

Representatives from two airlines came out to search for passengers for their departing flights. Once they found them, they too were rushed to the head of the line ahead of everyone else, delaying our processing. We watched as a family of passengers paid hundreds of dollars for expedited service. They too were bumped ahead of everyone else in the queue. I heard fellow passengers around me complain repeatedly, saying that such a situation was the equivalent of extortion.

At the end of the line only one of two passenger metal detectors was working, causing further delays as two lines merged into a single one. It did not help that everyone (as a foreign nation Turks and Caicos did not recognize the United States Transportation Security and Administration Precheck Program) was required to remove shoes and extract electronics from their carry on bag. To add to joy of the experience the staff looked tired and unhappy. They had little patience and were just shy of rude to passengers at the slightest question.

By the time I finished the process and I arrived at the single overcrowded shared departure hall the airline had called my flight for boarding three times. I rushed to my gate, wondering if all the passengers had made it on board as I had not seen any airport personnel searching for passengers for our flight in the line behind me. My departure from the Turks and Caicos was the slowest and least pleasant departure I recall having from an island in a long time, perhaps ever. While I had a good stay in Providenciales once aboard the plane I asked myself if I enjoyed my visit enough to counter the unpleasant departure process. I am still wondering.

Why we liked Botswana, Namibia safari circuit

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

Leopard in a tree near Camp Moremi

A leopard in a tree near Camp Moremi

On our most recent safari trip to Southern Africa we stayed at six Desert & Delta Safari properties, five in Botswana and one in the Caprivi Strip of Namibia. Traveling to properties within the same company offered advantages. The management similarities provided us an idea of what to expect before arriving at each subsequent property. For example, they all had eco-friendly policies; offered us moist refresher towels on arrival and when we returned from game drives as well as welcome back staff greetings when we returned from our activities; with only one exception, they all served buffet meals of similar styles at shared communal tables; the camps that depended on generators for electricity had battery operated lights for times when the generators were off at night; and most were run by a four-person management team, many of whom were friendly and helpful when asked.

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Our pilot bids us farewell after our arrival at Leroo La Tau from Maun to start the adventure

Safari Air had several comfortable Caravan aircraft

Safari Air had several comfortable Caravan aircraft

Another advantage of traveling to Desert & Delta Safaris properties was their shared charter air service. Since Chobe Holdings Limited owned Desert & Delta Safaris and Safari Air (Desert & Delta Safaris, Private bag 310, Maun, Botswana, +267 6861243, http://www.desertdelta.com, info@desertdelta.com), a non scheduled charter safari airline founded in 1992 and based out of Maun, they coordinated our transfers between the Desert & Delta Safaris properties and between our international arrival and departure airports. The company owned five GA8 Airvan, three Cessna Caravan and one Quest Kodiak. We appreciated the convenience of the well organized and on time service.

The heat drove many to poolside in the afternoons

The heat drove many poolside in the afternoons

Our stay was hampered in part by a regional heat wave that stretched all the way to South Africa. Four of the six properties ran on generators. Because the rooms remained sealed most of the day they became over hot around the clock. More than once we or our fellow travelers became ill from the heat and dehydration. Thankfully, the game viewing vehicles had partial shade. In addition, wet face cloths and pool dips were helpful in reducing our body temperature.

The wildlife was centered around the river

The wildlife was centered around the Boteti River banks near Leroo LaTau

Leroo LaTau, on the edge of the Makgadikgadi National Park, was our favorite for game viewing and views of the Boteti River from our rooms and the common areas. This was in part because Slade, our guide, was one of the most passionate and engaged of the guides we spent time with on that three country multi week itinerary. We enjoyed seeing a bit of the regional zebra migration and predators such as lions and wild dogs as well as brilliant sunsets over the shallow waters of the river.

Sunset over the delta near Camp Moremi

Sunset over the Okavango Delta

Time for a drink before dinner at Xugana

Time for a drink before dinner at Xugana Island Lodge

In Camp Moremi (see Tented camp offered good game viewing, creature comforts on edge of Okavango Delta) we liked the expansive views from the elevated deck. At Xugana Island Lodge, we delighted in the birding within the island, the sense of remoteness within the famous Okavango Delta, and pretty water setting as well as many boat outings and occasional hippo sightings. Savute Safari Lodge had the prettiest rooms and some of the tastiest and most abundant meals. We especially liked the views of the man made waterholes from the dining area and our tented rooms.

Breakfast at the Chobe Game Lodge with a view of the river

Breakfast at the Chobe Game Lodge with a view of the Chobe River

At the Chobe Savanna Lodge and Chobe Game Lodge, situated on opposite sides of the Chobe River and in separate countries, we were thankful for the air conditioned rooms. Although the border crossing from Botswana to Chobe Savanna Lodge on the Namibia side of the Chobe River was time consuming, hot and tedious we enjoyed the shady leisurely river rides on the pontoon boat. We particularly liked it when our boat was one of few on the river and we were alone with our local guide. The flat river water and quiet when the motor was off were particularly appealing. At the Chobe Game Lodge, we appreciated the three daily game viewing activities, and luxury amenities such as plated meals at private tables, in-room phones, WiFi internet access, work out room, spa room and its innovative electric safari vehicle.

A hyena in the Moremi park

A hyena in the Chobe Game Reserve

Elephants sharing a waterhole at Savute

Elephants sharing a waterhole near Savute Safari Lodge in Chobe

Overall we had a fun trip and numerous bird and wildlife sightings of common species such as zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, impala, red lechwe (at Xugana), including elephant, buffalo, leopard and lion from the coveted Big Five. We saw beautiful birds, including the elusive paradise flycatchers, fish eagles multiple times, and particularly remember pairs of fish eagles relatively close to our boat at the Chobe Savanna Lodge. During the trip, we had extraordinary sightings such as wild dogs at Leroo La tau, crocodiles hunting, interactions between lions and elephants and numerous striking landscape and waterscape moments that will linger in our memories for years to come, and draw us back to Botswana and Africa in the future.

Tented camp offered good game viewing, creature comforts on edge of Okavango Delta

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

Welcome to Moremi

Camp Moremi, a luxury tented camp in Botswana, Southern Africa

One of the Coalition

Our greeting committee was a coalition of lions.

During a recent multi-country safari itinerary we spent three nights at Camp Moremi (Desert & Delta Safaris, Private bag 310, Maun, Botswana, +267 6861243 and +267 6861418, Fax +267 6861791, http://www.desertdelta.com, camp.moremi@dds.co.bw), a luxury tented camp within Botswana's Chobe Game Reserve in Southern Africa. To reach the property we flew on a small plane from Lerro LaTau, its sister Desert & Delta Safaris property on the Boteti River adjacent to the Makgadikgadi Pans. Our first impression driving from the landing strip through a mopane forest was of the vegetation and color contrast from the dry straw colored patches and scrawny plants of the Kalahari area to the south and the bushier greener area near camp.

Wildebeast

A wildebeest watched us briefly before running off into the bush

Wattled Crane

A wattled crane

Arriving at the camp's central lawn we heard the cacophony cries of dozens of Burchell's starlings calling in the midday heat in the tree canopy above us. The game viewing property overlooked the Xakanaka Lagoon to the west and the inland mopane forest and open grasslands to the east. During our twice daily game drives in the reserve on partly open vehicles we saw three of the Big Five and many birds, as well as a number of other fauna. Our guide also identified some flora. Since visits to the park were limited to daytime hours, in the mornings, we entered the park immediately after sunrise and in the afternoons we exited right before sunset. At night, we had to be escorted by a staff member from our tents to dinner and back in case we encountered animals within the camp.

Breakfast cold buffet

Our breakfast included a cold buffet.

Camp Moremi was established in 1984 and completely renovated in 2012. It had 12 luxury tents on a five hectare generator powered camp with 32 Setswana staff. Bruce Petty was the general manager. While we were there Thuso, Frank, Lydia, and Lettie shared management duties. The property, which had Ecotourism status from the Botswana Tourism Organisation, received a TripAdvisor 2015 Certificate of Excellence.

Thuso, Frank, Lydia, and Lettie

Thuso, Frank, Lydia, and Lettie managed Camp Moremi

Our accommodations consisted of 5 meter by 5 meter tents atop wood platforms set slightly above the bush. Each of our tents had four distinct areas: a spacious entry foyer with a writing desk and mirror; a bathroom with a walk in shower with hot and cold running water, and a flush toilet; a bedroom; and a covered bush facing deck.

The entry area in the tent

The entry sitting space with mirror, desk and chair.

At a previous Desert and Delta Safaris property the staff provided a metal container for each of us to fill up with bottled water from a common area cooler. This method was designed to cut back on the number of plastic bottles discarded. Because of the high temperatures (reaching 45 Celsius while we were there) the water in that container heated up soon after filling it up. Our ice buckets were replenished once a day in the morning, but the ice melted within minutes. Refilling our bottles also required queuing up at the single water cooler when everyone was preparing for departure and time was limited. The water chilled from the cooler became warm within minutes. Also, carrying the bottles from our rooms to refill them in the main building was inconvenient, especially during the rest period between activities when it was hot and uncomfortable everywhere and we sought water to lower our body temperature and became thirsty. Although we liked the conservation minded concept behind the refillable non thermos metallic bottles, in practice the idea did not work well at all.

The beds has mosquito netting

At night, the staff spread mosquito netting around the two single beds set next to each.

The bathroom in the tent

The bathroom in the tent had a bush view.

Meals and game drives were included in the nightly rates. Tent amenities included: two cotton bathrobes, Charlotte Rhys Refillable toiletries (conditioning shampoo, shower gel and body lotion), two umbrellas, insect repellent, insect spray, flashlight, and shower caps. There was no soap (only shower gel). There was a dining area with a bar and a library corner that included a popular computer for guest use with a very slow (1 megabyte, 1-100 kilobytes per second) connection, a curio shop, an elevated viewing deck facing the lagoon, and an outdoor pool.

Our only leopard sighting in Botswana

Our best leopard sighting in Botswana

During our summer visit, the 1.5 meter deep plunge pool deck was the most comfortable place in the property in the middle hours of the day between brunch and tea time. The pool area had eight cushioned lounge chairs with rolled up towels on every chair and two large umbrellas. The pool floor was slick, requiring care to avoid slipping. There was also a cooler with bottled beverages although it had no ice so the beverages were almost at ambient temperature.

The pool was the place to get relief from the heat.

The pool was the place to find relief from the blistering heat

Our guide Osman

Our guide Osman in front of our safari vehicle

Our very bumpy game drives were aboard a canvas topped Toyota Landcruiser with three rows that could accommodate two passengers in each of the front rows and three in the rear row. Osman, our Setswana guide, had three years of experience. In his company we saw Kalahari apple-leaf, baobab, jackal-berry, leadwood, marula, sausage trees, blue water lily flowers and papyrus as well as baboon, bushbuck, elephants, giraffe, hippopotamus, brown hyena, lechwe, leopard, lion, banded mongoose, Selous mongoose, vervet monkey, reedbuck, sitatunga, South African ground squirrel, tsessebe, waterbuck warthog, wildebeest, and zebra. We also saw Nile crocodile, Nile monitor and Okavango hinged terrapin. He pointed out hippo tracks and mole rat holes.

Mother lion and cub

A mother lion and her cub

Sunset over our tent

The entrance to our tents was lit at night.

Birds we saw or heard included: arrow-marked babbler, black-collared barbet, crested barbet, bateleur, Southern carmine bee-eater, swamp boubou, reed cormorant, wattled crane, African darter, fork-tailed drongo, white-faced duck, yellow-billed duck, cattle egret, great egret, little egret, slaty egret, African fish-eagle, go-away-bird, Egyptian goose, spur-winged goose, Southern ground-hornbill, grey heron, purple heron, squacco heron, red-billed hoopoe, African hoopoe, African grey hornbill, red-billed hornbill, glossy hornbill, pied kingfisher, woodland kingfisher, yellow-billed kite, blacksmith lapwing, crowned lapwing, Meyer's parrot, Kittlitz's plover, broad-billed roller, brown snake-eagle, red-billed spurfowl, Burchell's starling, Cape glossy starling, black-winged stilt, African stonechat, saddle-billed stork, yellow-billed stork, barn swallow, water thick-knee, hammerkop, wattled crane and golden-tailed woodpecker.

Random foodie books from South Africa


Market Food: South Africa

Market Food: South Africa

Following the explosion of local markets and the emergence of talented foodie entrepreneurs, Dianne Stewart and her two daughters, Lissa Stewart and Jessica Cairns, felt driven to travel around South Africa in search of the best market food. Two years later, in 2015, they published Market Food: South Africa (Bookstorm), a 167-page softcover book for tourists and locals. The book is divided into six sections: Find Your Local Market, Market Tastes, Market Meals, A Little Extra, Sweet Sensations, and Thirst Quenchers.

"Having experienced numerous food markets abroad, we knew that the world-class South African food markets were worth promoting," Jessica Cairns said via email. "We visited markets nationally, in search of markets with their own unique personality and we sort after talented food vendors who were producing creative food of a very high quality. Market Food includes a directory of markets that we visited around the country and a diverse assortment of great market food recipes accompanied by the foodie entrepreneur’s unique stories. The book aims to promote the food markets and these talented vendors."

Authors Market Food: South Africa

Dianne Stewart, Lissa Stewart and Jessica Cairns, authors, Market Food

Their favorite part of the project Cairns said by email was, "Eating our way around the markets! Sampling the delicious food, chatting to the vendors to get the background to their food and how they ended up at the markets. Dianne and Jessica collated the vendors recipes and retold the vendor’s personal stories while Lissa had the task of capturing the market atmosphere and the delicious food through the photographic lens."

The biggest surprise? "The depth of the talent at these markets and the diverse personalities of each market- some tucked away in bustling harbour precincts, others on lush wine estates, in parks or inner-city warehouses," Cairns said.

The three continue the promotion of food markets and talented food vendors on their website and social media channels (marketscoop.co.za) where they feature an updated national market directory (each market has its own page with photographs, maps and opening times), scoops of what is happening at markets around the country and the personal stories of some of the vendors they meet at the markets. Dianne Stewart is author of 30 books, Jessica Cairns is a former international banker, and Lissa Stewart is a food photographer.

Lettuce and a Lady's Breast

Lettuce and a Lady's Breast

In Lettuce and a Lady's Breast Looking back over 50 years of cooking Billy Gallagher (Billy Gallagher and Associates) outlines the highlights of his culinary life from his roots in the United Kingdom to South Africa. He shares insights from his personal life, his life as a chef as well as his work with the South African Chefs Association (SACA) and the World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS). The 330-page softcover book, published in 2015, is divided chronologically. It is peppered liberally with black and white and color images and photos.

Babel Cookbook

Babel Cookbook

Babel (Babylonstoren) by Maranda Engelbrecht is a 237-page softcover oversize book published in 2013. The visually appealing book has full color photos of the produce and meals from Babel, its namesake restaurant located within Babylonstoren, a relatively new produce farm lovingly established and nurtured in a former cattle farm, in South Africa's Winelands region near Cape Town.

Maranda Engelbrecht

Maranda Engelbrecht, author, Babel

The self described food stylist's affection for presentation is evident in the page size photos of plants and dishes served at the restaurant as well as the restaurant itself. Many of items on the restaurant menu are routinely made from products grown on the farm and its environs. The book is available for sale at a large shop on the farm.

Photos courtesy of Dianne Stewart, Lissa Stewart, Jessica Cairns and Babel
Market Food: South Africa Lettuce and a Lady's Breast
Click to buy Market Food: South Africa and Lettuce and a Lady's Breast

Safari properties that offered exercise facilities among favorites

  Leopard in a tree

A leopard in a tree during a game drive at Rattray’s on MalaMala

The pool at Ratttrays

The pool at Ratttray’s had a view of the dry river bed

When on safari the repetitive cycle of daily game drives and copious meals can leave us tired without the healthful benefits of exercise. On our most recent itinerary featuring safari properties in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa two lodges stood out for their fitness and pool features. Both lodges, within the Sabi Sand Reserve, a private reserve adjacent to South Africa’s Kruger National Park, had private plunge pools in the rooms as well as a main area swimming pool large enough to swim short laps.

Exercise room at Rattrays

The exercise room at Rattray’s

White rhino

A white rhino during a game drive at Rattray’s

In the Mala Mala Reserve, Rattray’s on MalaMala had a dedicated fitness room for guests with exercise equipment and a few weights. Next to the fitness room there was a sauna. In front of the fitness room there was a swimming pool. Both had expansive views of the lawn and dry river bed. In addition, there were private plunge pools on the river facing deck of each spacious room.

Pool at Chitwa Chitwa

 The main pool at Chitwa Chitwa Private Game Lodge faced a dam

Game was visible from the pool all day

From the pool deck we observed elephants visiting the dam

Chitwa Chitwa Private Game Lodge, in the northern end of Sabi Sand Reserve, also had a dedicated workout room with electric exercise machines. The art filled sunlit room with glass walls was adjacent to the property’s dedicated spa treatment room. Guest rooms had private decks with bush and dam views as well as plunge pools. In the main area, there was a rimless swimming pool facing the property dam.

The exercise room at Chitwa Chitwa

The exercise room at Chitwa Chitwa

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A lion seen during a game drive at Chitwa Chitwa

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