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

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.

Safari properties that offered exercise facilities among favorites

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

In Franschhoek, La Residence offered luxury accommodations and superlative service

In Franschhoek, La Residence offered luxury accommodations and superlative service

Article and photos by E. del Valle

La Residence common areas

The main building at La Residence

The manager of the hotel

I had breakfast with Edward Morton, general manager of the hotel

I spent my final day in South Africa at La Residence, a serene, elegant and stylish farm estate in the village of Franschhoek, one of my preferred wine and gourmet areas of the country. The property and the setting were as pretty as I remembered from previous visits (see La Residence Hotel and Villas and La Residence).

Vineyard suite from the garden side

Vineyard Suite 3 seen from the garden

I stayed in Vineyard Suite 3, a 40 square meter room with a private garden that faced the vineyards and mountain in the family section of the 30 acre estate with 85 employees. That part of the property, built in 2010, had five Family Suites. The farm grew grapes, olives, plums, quinces, black and green figs, pomegranates and lemons.

The interior of the vineyard suite

The interior of my room, Vineyard Suite 3

The bath featured a claw foot tub

There was a bathtub in the center of the bathroom 

The room, the smallest of the Family Suites, was lovingly decorated with fine fabrics, a large and beautiful fresh flower arrangement, original oil paintings, and comfortable and colorful furnishings. The four poster bed, with crisp white linen sheets embroidered with the brand initials and fluffy feather pillows, was so far off the ground there were three rung wood ladders on either side of the bed to climb up, not a favorite.

The hotel is situated in the middle of a vineyard

The hotel, situated in the middle of a vineyard, had pretty mountain views

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 Randall looked after me with warmth and attention to detail

A high ceiling and three chandeliers added to the sense of space. Throw rugs atop the stone flooring made it homey as did the ample closet space. The sunlit bathroom too was spacious and inviting, housing an oversize door-less shower, separate bathtub, a room for the toilet, and twin sinks, one on either side of the bathroom.

I especially enjoyed breakfast, a combination of a cold buffet, including skim and full cream milk, freshly harvested honey comb, seasonal fruit, locally sourced cheeses and homemade muesli, and made to order hot dishes. I also liked that staff were attentive and guest oriented. Randall, who looked after me, was friendly, helpful, and clearly knew the area well. He reconfirmed my airport transfer and my rental car pickup, and handled the check-in for my domestic flight with ease and efficiency. 

Sparkling wine and flowers on arrival

I found chilled sparkling wine, fresh fruit, and flowers on arrival in my room

The owner and designer of La Residence, Liz Biden

Liz Biden, co-owner and designer of La Residence, part of The Royal Portfolio

There were many complimentary amenities such as laundry, transfers within the village, a well stocked minibar, quality snacks and WiFi. Although I was able to go online, I was unable to send emails or connect to a VPN. There were some minor signs my room was due for a soft renovation. I appreciate the property's elegant yet welcoming ambiance, farm setting with mountain views, comfortable and stylish decor, Villa Suites, and noteworthy service. La Residence (La Residence, Elandskloof Private Road, Elandskloof Farm, Franschhoek 7690, +27 21 876 4100, fax +27 21 876 2030,  www.laresidence.co.za, info@laresidence.co.za, reservations@trp.travel), part of The Royal Portfolio owned by Liz and Phil Biden, remains among my favorite Franschhoek properties.

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

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.

Maine Sebago Lake lakefront lodge outstanding for quiet fall getaway

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox



The master bedroom featured a screened balcony.

The balcony in the master bedroom in Firefly

We arrived at Migis Lodge on Sebago Lake, a property on the shores of Lake Sebago in Maine, a bit stressed following a week of tourist activities and a frustrating longer than necessary drive from Portland. The relaxed atmosphere at reception, the serenity of the wooded setting in the early stages of fall foliage color changes, and our comfortable three bedroom two bathroom suite in a stand alone wood building went a long went toward helping us unwind.

Fall colors were just reaching the shore of the lake.

Fall colors were just reaching the shore of the lake when we visited Migis Lodge (click to enlarge)

It was especially soothing to look out onto the lake from the front porch or living room of our suite without any particular plans, activities or commitments. Knowing all our meals were included in the American Plan allowed us to relax and took the decision making out of our stay. Should the weather worsen, as the forecast indicated, dinner was steps away from our building. If it improved we had the option of exploring the region in search of the brightest and best autumn trails.

Firefly cabin at Migis.

Firefly cabin at Migis

Five days later when we drove away, we were re-energized and ready to discover another part of Maine. Migis struck me as a wonderful place to reconnect with personal priorities, spend time with family and friends, for an artist retreat or a romantic getaway.