Seven safari camps: 7 of the best in the greater Kruger National Park

May 28, 2019 in SOUTH AFRICA | Comments (0)

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Big Cat with full tummy on the sands of the Sand River

This is a quick look at top lodges to help potential travellers decide where to safari. None are cheap – all are excellent…with rustic chic charm, wholesome food (seemingly endless mountains of it with some 6 or 7 meals and mini meals included in the rate from before sunrise to after sunset), along with expert rangers who will 99% sure be able to show you the Big Five due to their networks of rangers who report sightings to one another.

But each lodge has a different “flavour” I will try to capture….

(Six are my personal experience – one the report of a colleague and ultimate safari buff.)

Gillian Stanbridge

LONDOLOZI TREE CAMP

1 To die for. Breathtaking designer chic with fresh living feel of Africa. Vast suites with pools sparkling like jewels are wrapped in the spirit of the bush. Famous for leopard sightings, food (Relais & Chateaux) and elevated views of the Sand River. The common lounge areas are designer perfect juxtaposing animal inspired patterns and textures and the service is just perfect.

Our plunge pool at Tree Camp seen from the bath through wide glass windows
Arty, inviting, full of safari flavour and clutter – a lounge at Londolozi
Magical nights on a giant bed draped in netting – Londolozi Tree Camp

I walked round and round our suite lost in admiration – from the giant bed wrapped in netting, to the lounge with generous bar and walls decorated with animal skins, to its veranda and pool deck looking out over acacias, and a bath and shower (indoor and outdoor) with a bushy view – plus a sala where you could get lost in silence and the sound of crickets and birds.

Some look over the Sand River.

LONDOLOZI TREE CAMP

Adult camp: no kids under 16 unless taken for sole use. 6 suites 71 sqm, boma, freeform pool, chic elevated dining and lounging under the trees. Use of main camp Varty facilities – spa, massive gym etc.

Other Londolozi camps

The camps stretch out in a line alongside the Sand River in this order Tree Camp, Varty, Granite, Founders, Pioneer and you can wander along a shady path between them for a  good stroll passing the odd nyala, monkey or tortoise. Most exclusive are Granite private suites (adults only)  – with vast accommodations, stunning pools nested in the riverside granite and outdoor bathtubs viewing the river (Relais & Chateaux/R&C). No other camps may visit Granite.

A private pool for the truly fortunate at Granite Camp

Same starting price/standard as Tree Camp is Pioneer Camp (3 suites) with nostalgic images, memorabilia and chic feel, not quite as breathtaking as Tree but also noted for food – R&C. Children accepted – two of the suites connect by glass walkway.  Camp popular for sole use.

Varty and Founders have lower starting prices and are not R&C – they are family friendly and welcome children over 6. Varty has 10 suites, including 2 superior suites (interleading) and very chic dining and bar area used by all the camps. Gym, spa, kids club, meandering pool, photography studio serving all the camps. Founders has 10 chalets – 3 suites with a room convertible for children. Camp common areas display lots of nostalgic photographs (not R&C) and has a peaceful tuned-in elevated yoga platform with reclining Buddha, arching trees – yoga included for all camps with or without animal visitors.

MALA MALA RATTRAYS

2 Classy colonial elegance, suiting very private individuals in vast suites (the size of houses) with two complete his and her bathrooms with own dressing rooms. I felt I never wanted to share a bathroom ever again in the solitary joy of ablutions and dressing. There is a gracious symmetry and sense of solid history in the cottages at Rattrays with classy hardwood furniture and expensive satiny textiles. Each has a private pool facing the Sand River – though ours was somewhat mossy it was great to watch elephants file by as you cooled down.

Gracious elegance in our traditional cottage at Rattray’s

There is fabulous game viewing here with educated ranger hosts who also dine with you and keep your wine glass full. The camp is fenced so you can walk home from dinner without a guard – but you may hear the lions roaring just outside. At night a banging on your traditional tin roof might mean monkeys are playing.

This leopard looked up at me as he slunk past our Landrover on safari from Rattray’s
Hunting lions came like ghostly shapes out of the dark as we returned to our camp at Rattray’s

FACTS.: 8 river view suites. Simple spa, pool, gym, access to Mala Mala main camp facilities (though Mala Mala main camp guests not welcome here). No bush dinners – but bush breakfasts round a fire in winter. Civilized feature: can skip early rising for game drives in winter and head out at 10am if you choose.

COMMENT: Service quite bush happy – African staff seemed to be new, or not well trained. Our ranger (white Afrikaner) filled in the gaps. Our elite table companion at a special dinner was exasperated by their lack of style in removing and placing plates and sighed and shrugged (the lady grew up in a house “bigger than Downton Abbey” explained her husband humerously). 

As at every other safari lodge the staff perform with singing and dancing 
at a special dinner every two nights or so and huge energy was emitted
from this enthusiastic bunch of staff.

TENGILE RIVER LODGE

3 Brand new lodge by AndBeyond – and the very best in South Africa.*
It has an artful safari style decor and cosy relaxing ambience but offers all the essential five star luxuries from beautiful spa to a (small) gym, and excellent food. The bars and lounges are SOCIABLE in the spirit of its party-loving sister/neighbor AndBeyond Kirkmans (see below), with the rangers taking a personal interest and joining you at the bar. The whole mood at Tengile is of a Big Happy Family, AndBeyond at its best. Safari guides are top quality as at all AndBeyond lodges and the views at Tengile are brilliant, down to the Sand River, which is like a highway for animals along its pool dotted sands that sometimes surge and gurgle to life after rain.

  • The above is the irreproachable opinion of the most knowledgeable safari enthusiast I know, who spends every holiday taking Scandinavian friends around the South African wilds and winelands. He calls it AndBeyond’s answer to Singita, due to its chic safari style and quality. He is nevertheless aware it may not be the answer for safari novices looking for a fancy five star hotel where they can make a dazzling entrance, and see and be seen in high heels or the like – it is saturated in the safari experience.
  • I quote him instead of myself – though I have stayed at all the other lodges I have not yet seen the final Tengile.

Note: no guests under 12.

KIRKMANS CAMP

4 Like being a guest in a beautiful Colonial home with original family items  – and a party every night. Kirkmans is warm, sociable, child-friendly – and has views down to the Sand River from charming traditional cottages, best views from numbers 10 to 14.

Elephant visitor at a rainy breakfast – seen from a sheltered veranda. The marula trees were the reason for the visit – and were shaken mightily to create a rain of ripe fruit. Not true the elephants get drunk said our rangers.

Great game viewing with AndBeyond rangers and Jan-Mar visits by elephants to eat marula fruit while you lunch/breakfast on the veranda. There is a youthful feel at Kirkmans with younger guests and a few families, and cut glass decanters of whisky stand around on help-yourself basis while the gun used by the pioneer owner Harry Kirkman decorates the wall and oozes atmosphere (he used the gun to shoot lions that ate his livestock before he gave up farming and embraced safari) .

Your ranger is likely to herd his guests together as the host of a fun evening, with story swapping. The pool lies tucked away with bushveldt view by the spa.

A truly decadent afternoon tea on the veranda at Kirkmans
Lion with kill by the road at Kirkman’s. No said the ranger, they had not given the lion free meat.

FACTS: 18 rooms in cottages with traditional iron roofs and verandas.  Spa, pool, gracious lounges and bar, dining room, veranda and deck dining. Open camp. Guards see you to the room at night along an unpaved (sometimes muddy) path. 2 interlead for families.

REMARKS: Trad farm cottage feel. Room large enough but felt small after Rattrays, and we missed the dressing rooms and 2 bathrooms. The veranda was a lovely place to lounge and we saw the Sand River increase its flow after a day of rain when no guests could arrive or leave over the causeway. No kettle/tea and coffee making – but I persuaded our butler Simon to bring me the wherewithal.

Meat was apparently tender and grilled to perfection. There was a new chef who produced a raw vegetarian dish for me and was stricken over my discovery of a piece of thin wire used for wrapping vegetables in my stew.

NGALA SAFARI LODGE

5 A charming AndBeyond makeover, fresh and chic with 22 suites spaced out in beautiful wild bush joined by graceful curving walkways. Afternoon tea is a succulent and interesting experience on the terrace by a waterhole frequented by warthogs and other game.

Comfortable outdoor lounging with view of a waterhole at Ngala Safari Camp

Dinner had a romantic feel with candlelight and small tables (though a recent report from a colleague found the food lacking something). The lodge lays on lots of treats for honeymooners, who enjoy the sparkling pool with a view over the bush; its also also great for children with 2 kids pools and kids 6+ allowed on safari.

Pool flowing into the bush at Ngala Safari Lodge. Sparkling clean as there is a lower trough for passing elephants so they don’t mess up the water – a honeymoon couple mooned about here – pools at safari lodges are usually deserted as everyone is out on safari, eating or recovering from early early mornings.
Some Colonial nostalgia in the self standing suite at Ngala Safari Lodge
Ngala Safari Lodge. The room with its elegant furniture seems somwhat crowded – the place to relax is the veranda with a view of all sorts of animals and birds doing their thing
On Safari at Ngala

22 rooms of which 6 interleading, 1 triple, family suite with 2 bedrooms, dining room & pool. Snappily decorated lounge, outdoor lounging area by a waterhole which attacts wild life. Spa with view, attractive pool with drinking trough for elephants (to reduce elephant dirt) and 2 kid’s pools adjoining, nice lounging area by pool. Lantern lit dining courtyard with magical mood. 

NGALA TENTED CAMP

6 Intimate and friendly bush hideaway. Only 9 tents, in earthy colours, but smartly equipped. Dining and lounging areas in dark wood are raised in the bush facing the sandy Timbavati River.  It’s all about the bush and expert guiding – and pool recreation under the trees “peopled” with monkeys and the occasional elephant treating the pool as a roadside bar.

Naughty visitors at Ngala Tented Camp

We enjoyed the sight of naughty monkeys – mother and child – raiding a tea tray and dipping their hands in the sugar bowl. Meals were sociable group experiences with rangers and other guests, but the lounging area was not conducive to lingering. As it is an open camp we were escorted up the path to our tent by a guard and communed with the night on our veranda – as usual in safari country, tired because of so many early risings.

Tent at Ngala equipped like a hotel room – from double vanities to bath

9 tents, pool, spa. No kids under 12. Magical pamperings for honeymooners  – when we were there a lantern lit riverside table was set up for a man who planned to propose.

ITS POPULAR TO COMBINE THESE TWO CAMPS FOR A DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE. You have a nice long safari transfer between them through Ngala Game Reserve

ROYAL MALEWANE

7 Upper crust & celeb clientele gravitate here to enjoy eclectic arty décor, attentive staff, good food. Perfect if one of the party prefers to skip safaris for an appealing spa, gym and 25m lap pool, or hide away in an artful thatched cottage with plunge pool and gazebo.  Despite all the art and antiques Royal Malewane is quite laid back – you feel very relaxed.

Food was excellent. At breakfast we were given our own private smorgåsbord on a tray. Staff were very attentive – in one case possibly a bit too chatty, and let on he had looked after many celebrities.

Our ranger was great on animal behaviour and knew many of the territorial predators intimately (lions and leopards) knowing which were friends with who and who were good mothers or not… Cheetahs and elephants are not territorial and come and go from the vast Kruger Park.

A lazy leopard at Royal Malewane
The gracious artful clutter in the spacious 2 bedroom suite at Royal Malewane
Bright, cheerful, artfully eclectic bedroom at Africa House

6 luxury pool suites, 2 two-bedroom pool suites with massive arty lounges and sole-use safari vehicle, Africa House with vast art studded lounges, 3 artful bedrooms with extravagant bathrooms, big pool with view into the bush, and sole use vehicle. Now a new lodge (opening date June 2019) 12 mins drive away called The Farmstead.

We saw gentle, gracious signs of age in the main lodge but now it is newly renovated.

There is also: Attractive spa with 3 treatment rooms (1 for couples), cabanas, gym, 25m lap pool. Magnificent bush dinners with large tent and civilized WC with all the accompanying toiletries and towels behind a bamboo structure.

REMARK: We were told that Royal Malewane find themselves competing with Singita in the top bracket but find that clients who stay at both like either Singita or Royal Malewane, never both. Singita, goes their analysis, pleases hotel fetishists with its perfection and contemporary style but others prefer the warmth and colour of traditional style.


Home in the bush

January 6, 2014 in SOUTH AFRICA | Comments (9)

Vlei Lodge

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Our private pool to share with the animals

AndBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve has six intimate Lodges, each very different, making the most of the variety in natural vegetation and topograpy. We stayed in three Lodges and enjoyed three very different experiences. From high on a hill at Mountain Lodge in southern Phinda, to Forest Lodge hidden under the canopy of Sand Forest, to the ultimate luxury of a cottage at six roomed Vlei Lodge, with its views of herds of animals from our private pool. Though Vlei was definitely our favourite I can recommend moving just to get the different moods and different eco zones – to the tune of at least 2 nights at Vlei following 2 nights elsewhere.

Click through the gallery at the top to see more pictures of Vlei Lodge…

Mountain Lodge

Mountain Lodge lies in southern Phinda in an area of tall hills and thick acacia veld or savannah. We had room/suite (chalet) number 12, the one most loved at Phinda Mountain Lodge, as it faces the most stunning views.

The chalets are very chic with thick clean golden thatch as roof and ceiling, a spacious lounge area, lovely bathroom with long double vanities, Feng shui bath in the centre with morning views over green hills, and two showers, one out there on the extensive deck. Stepping outside on our first sunny day in South Africa, we saw the joy of golden sun spread over the green early morning hills, and play on the surface of our plunge pool.

There are 25 chalets at Mountain Lodge which means 50 guests. The public areas are placed way up for the views, and the pool is a perfect place to be if you didn’t have your own pool too. It also has a conference centre.

Click through the gallery at the top to see more pictures of Mountain Lodge…

Forest Lodge

Here at this somehow simpler but very special camp, there are 16 glass walled chalets deep in the sand forest, way under the canopy. You meander down past the tall trunks and curving branches in the leaf filtered light over a sand path, in meditational quietness to get to your room. Built on stilts over the sand, the chalets can be relocated easily to spare this precious rare coastal rainforest that remains thanks to conservation efforts.

forest lodge view out

People who live in glass houses, have the dreamiest views

In the room you see all around you into the forest underworld. We saw red duiker through our glass walls and heard the cry of bush babies and red chested cuckoos the locals call Piet Mij Vrouw. Like the European cuckoo it repeats itself, in this case saying piet mij vrouw or Whip Poor Will.

The veranda has a sofa and 3 large candles as well as a complimentary minibar to go with the all inclusive. This is a magical place to recline and let the sounds of the night enchant you. The chance of a leopard slinking by is not non existent. One was seen in the camp the next night when we had moved on to Vlei Lodge. My daughter who lay there for hours wished she had seen it.

At night they draw the curtains for you, for a sense of privacy in your glass house, though each glass cabin stands hidden in the bush reached by a side path. Come morning, you cannot wait to see out into the secrets of the forest milieu. One way to enjoy the view is standing in the shower. The door open wide… and from the bath too you have forest views.

The public area areas at Forest Lodge are charming. Wooden platorms with sofas and dining tables, overlooking parkland.

The hands on of management was remarkable: we felt we were just 2 there, not 32. The head chef Stuart met us to discuss our special needs with happy enjoyment at the challenge and Phindas organic garden and juice machine came into good employ.
The boma, a typical feature of any self respecting game lodge, does need good weather. And we were so lucky that the rain had cleared that day, allowing us to dine there in the light of fires, with the caterwauling of bush babies, and the flicker of warm light.
No private plunge pools at Forest Lodge but a very attractive round common pool – quite deserted actually. You are either on safari, eating or sleeping – very little time to swim. And no wifi in the rooms.

Click through the gallery at the top to see more pictures of Forest Lodge…

Vlei Lodge

We loved all the lodges. But exclusive six room Vlei Lodge is undoubtedly our favourite, certainly a place of bliss if you stay in chalet number 6.
In the cooler hours nyala, impala, warthogs and more come right in to graze off the acacias or the grass on the open area. This is safari as you dream of…if you prefer serenity to activity, floating in your jewel of a pool, lying on your sunbed, and seeing these animals in their wild freedom. You can even view them from your net draped bed through the wide glass doors, or from the shower or the feng shui bath tub.
In the heat of day they move off into the shadows under the trees, but now is a time to catch up on your wifi or just catch up on your sleep after all the hectic game watching by 4WD. I suggest you will cry your eyes out if you don’t book at least 3 nights here, or 2 here and 2 at another lodge. A problem Is that people seldom leave enough time to enjoy their gorgeous accommodation properly at the Select game reserves.

The head chef at Vlei  is aptly called Happiness and was very typically happy  to get personal instructions from Stuart at Forest Lodge, regarding how to create delicious fare even for vegetarians and vegans. We were so touched at this caring invovlement by Stuart in a special visit to instruct Happiness. And we enjoyed also the greeting at the gate by British manager Sara. Generally the hands on feel at Vlei and Forest lodges is wonderful, warm, silken…

Click through the gallery at the top to see more pictures of Vlei Lodge…

Sole use lodges

Zuka is nestled into a parkland area, oh so colonially thatched and spreading with old style verandas under cover. With only 4 bedrooms, it is the most delightful place to rent if you have an extended family, along with your own safari vehicle, ranger, tracker, cook and butler. If you occupy 3 bedrooms they do not wedge in another couple, but leave the bedroom empty. Six is a good number as you will all fit on the safari vehicle together. The modern feature is an open kitchen – but you don’t have to work in it as you have your private chef to watch at work instead.

Homestead is a manor house also perfect for sole use – the one we missed seeing due to the elephant visitor.
A site inspection was scheduled for around noon. But when we met our ranger on the deck at Forest Lodge he told us the hot news.
An elephant bull in musk had ‘trashed’ Homestead. He put his tusks through the windows, threw a chair and attacked the planks of the deck. Our tracker suggested that he had seen his own reflection in the windows and thought it was competition for the cows he was desiring. Now no guests were to approach the area…hence our site inspection was cancelled.
The bull had escaped from neighbouring Mkuze game reserve and made its way into Phinda. The last we heard of him was that he had come upon the big herd of Phinda elephants and was traipsing along behind them, hoping to get a lookin at some of the cows. Nick told us they were waiting hoping that Mkuze would come to fetch him (no easy task).

 

Rock Lodge is on a clifftop with sight of birds wheeling. Also exclusive with only 6 self standing suites.


Safari & Beach

January 5, 2014 in SOUTH AFRICA | Comments (0)

Click for bigger images and through the gallery

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Slinking beauty

SAFARI AT PHINDA

Continuing our safari and beach holiday in Southern Africa, amidst fascinating biodiversity and different landscapes.

Flight direct to Durban from Dubai on Emirates, then all travel done by car and 4WD, driven with silken courtesy and perfect safety by And Beyond and Town&Country Tours.

Now the wild joys of safari…

On safari you are hunting, with your camera and with your eyes. Since the best sightings are at the hours between day and night, including sunrise and sunset, you are woken early, in summer at a startling 5am, and given rusks and tea before setting out to see the dawn break over Africa. Breakfast is around 9am after the hunt, and dinner again late in the black and usually starry night, after the evening drive. Yes you are on the go…

There is an intimacy about your safari-ing.
You are given your own game ranger and tracker, usually sharing him with 5 other people. But we had the good fortune to have our game ranger Nick and our tracker Tom all to ourselves. It is certainly worth the extra money to try to book your own vehicle and ranger. It becomes your own hunt…

Nick took upon himself the earnest duty of finding all the big five just for us. Guided by the camp’s radio transmissions, we would head towards a spot where game had been sighted, watching for tracks over the sand roads. The tracker Tom could tell you just by looking how many hours ago a buffalo or elephant passed.

They are very careful not to disturb the game, or the beautiful terrain. No more than 2 vehicles are allowed at a sighting. Because of rain we were not allowed to drive offroad, as in the mud the beautiful bushlands can be carved up and ruined. But there are many intimate tracks that take you deep into the stirring romance of the bushveld.
Phinda has seven eco zones, so part of the adventure is finding yourself in very different scenery. Rocky mountain tops, then down onto the wetlands which were lush green spiky grasslands, fringed by lala veld (rich in lala palms), then into the sandforest with its tight canopy creating a hidden world, and out into open parklands with trees dotted over grassveld, finally deep into thorn thickets….

And of course the look of everything changes as darkness turns to dawn blushing on the sky, then blazing sun or silver rain. Again, the afternoon light dimming into a sky blooming with sunset and finally night. Perhaps most exciting of all, with Tom spotlighting left and right watching with his eagle eyes.

The Big Five

The Big Five are not necessarily the biggest – they are the ones the first hunters considered the most dangerous.

Our first of the Big Five came without trying. A bunch of young rouge buffalo lying in a mud puddle. ‘Stand up very slowly,’  said Nick who felt we could get better pictures above the long grass. ‘If they stand up sit down. It means they are about to charge.’ Buffalo are not called one of the Big Five for nothing,

Number 2 was the lion king on our second evening, Lying on sandy ground near a dam. Lording it out with two ladies, we saw him turned down for his amorous advances, whereupon he just gave up to lie in the sun and sleep. They are so used to vehicles we seemed invisible to them

Number 3 was a herd of 40 elephants, on the glistening marshland, in a frieze against the sunset. Gradually they dispersed, heading towards acacias silhouetted against the reddest sky. Not before some of the elders approached us giving signal that we should move off.

That elephant are one of the Big Five was dramatized for us the next day when we had a rendezvous with Nick to see one of the elegant lodges especially suitable for 3G travel. The visit is off! A bull elephant in musk has trashed the place.
The next night we came close to cheetah, not considered as Big Five. But splendid big cats and a thrill to see three beauties each staring in a different direction to cover the panorama of the wetlands. Then driving the sand roads we spotted two lionesses just by the roadside and shouted Stop. Tom was exposed on the front of our vehicle so they had to drive forwards to allow Tom to get off the tracker’s seat and back into our open vehicle. They stared with their powerful yellow eyes, as if to pounce…but finally our ranger and tracker noted their behavior was calm enough for us to reverse. We adored our lions…

Now night was falling and we began the most exciting hunt of all — for our fourth of the Big Five – leopard.

Tracks showed that the oldest and biggest leopard had crossed into a block of dense bush. Tom predicted where he would emerge, and sure enough he came out of the darkness walking towards us along the road and right by the jeep.

His muscles rippled and his spotted coat seemed alive and glowing… It was the most exciting moment of meeting the other kingdom.

Then he headed off down the road, with us following, and I got this little proof…

Next morning early we were up at 5 to do our last hunting. Nick was devoted to this triumph . and so we got to see Number 5, a white rhino. They looked very peaceful, almost bovine. Hard to imagine that they are dangerous….

The most dangerous animal

It is of course man, not the Big Five who are dangerous, in 2013 year 964 rhinos have been killed in South Africa by unscrupulous moneymaking poachers. The North Koreans are the main villains Nick told us and they employ Mozambicans to do their dirty work. Number one villain is the president of that monster regime

As DH Lawrence wrote
‘MAN THE ONLY ANIMAL ON EARTH TO FEAR’

Nick told us it is possible they will lift the ban on rhino horn and devalue the absurdly high rhino horn price by flooding the market. They will farm rhino for the horns; if you cut off the horn it grows again. The reason poachers kill the animals is for their own safety… rhinos are after all one of the Big Five.

Next blog will cover the lodges at Phinda

 

 


Four beaches and Five Big animals

December 29, 2013 in DUBAI,MOZAMBIQUE,SOUTH AFRICA | Comments (1)

FOUR BEACHES AND FIVE BIG ANIMALS.

We combined the South African bush and a “hunt” for the Big Five with two beach resorts and two luxurious urban hotels on the beach, hence my title. Just a little sunshine broke months of rain…but we escaped the swelter of 30 to 35 degrees C that usually marks summers in these subtopical areas of the northern South African coastline and southern Mozambique…

2 windows

Sun filters through the canopy of sand forest at Forest Lodge Phinda, where our glass walled cabin number 14 is embedded with intriguing views.  This night a leapard was spotted in the camp – we had already moved on to Vlei Lodge …

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And sun glances on the refreshing water of our own pool at Vlei Lodge Phinda – hot enough to swim. Plenty of game to be seen from this cottage number 6, and elephants often come to drink from this pool

Who cries for the sun when the nights are magical? Lantern lit private dinners on our deck. The sounds of the deep sand forest, including the cry of tiny primates called Bush Babies. And perhaps most magical of all a boma dinner, in a walled area safe for outdoor dining in the unfenced camp, lit by fire. A bush baby came down to steal Danish Blue Cheese…

boma dinner video

More to follow.

A little glimpse of what is coming. A preview of the beaches…

DSC00284 beach rocktail stretching 35 km

A beach that stretches from a world heritage area in South Africa up to Santa Maria in Mozambique – at least 35 km

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Rustic steps down to a wild beach where 7 turtles laid eggs last night, and 2 were seen browsing on a reef by a diver we met at R ocktail Beach Camp

And the animals…

elephants with baby

And the exciting places to stay …

DSC00114 rocktail our veranda

And then two more beaches as bonus. With a stopover in Dubai, our first urban resort on the beach was the Ritz-Carlton Dubai…

ritz carlton al fresco

Breakfast alfresco – with the beach over there somewhere, no time to visit it on our overnight stop

In Umhlanga near Durban, the delightful Oyster Box revealed the second beach of our trip; we had a room with a view of the red golden sands and the thunder of waves on the beach.

oyster box sea v ideo


Franschhoek: rustic luxury

March 17, 2013 in SOUTH AFRICA | Comments (0)

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Franschhoek Country Villas

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Sunbaked fountains

Franschhoek Country House & Villas: 24 Rooms, no private pools, 2 public pools, garden, 2 restaurants, 4 lounges

Kind of charmingly faded and somehow laid back, but some nice features. Number one it is very close to the village of Franschhoek (2 km or 2 minutes from South Africa’s best gourmet dining at Reubens and Le Quartier Francais for example), reached by free shuttle.

The rambling buildings have a sun-kissed country air that appeals, with plenty of warmth and individuality, and there are some very nicely renovated Villa Suites that reflect an old fashioned elegance with trendy cottagey touches.

Old fountains gush, a little stained by time, and the gardens are not tip top, just very quaint, and relaxed. There are four lounges spread out here and there, and terraces with mountain views.

“We are like a French country estate,” said one of the public relations staff. Indeed rustic.
I looked over a duplex garden cottage suite. The bedroom opened into a walled (shared) garden with running water and was quite pleasant, though the garden would not appeal to those with order and clipping mania. Upstairs was a small lounge that opened to a balcony.

Villa suite
The Villa suite was much nicer – very spacious and renovated with taste and warmth, harking back to olden days in a trendy way (painted and scratched). Woven “ye olde worlde” chair covers. The bedroom was huge and the lounge fine. Bathrooms all nice.

Two pools
The resort lies in a flat part of Franschhoek Valley where the mountains seem further off and the setting less dramatic, but still very appealing. You are only 1 km from the beginning of Franschhoek Village. They do not like the guests to walk on the main road and have a free shuttle.
There are two small swimming pools.
Points
• Quick shuttle to Franschhoek Village

• Pleasant laid back atmosphere, rustic and rambling

• Roomy attractive villa suites feel luxurious


The one and the only?

February 10, 2013 in SOUTH AFRICA | Comments (6)

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View from the lobby bar

PLEASE USE FIREFOX – having problems with EXPLORER

One&Only Cape Town: 91 Marina rooms & suites, 40 Island rooms & suites, 5 bars, grills & restaurants, spa, hairdresser.

I first saw the One&Only brand’s entry into Cape Town as a new building in a remote corner of the Waterfront. Now on an overnight stay I felt it vibrantly lived in, and a destination in itself with lots going on, albeit some 10 minutes walk or so to the rest of the Waterfront happenings.

Capetonians come in to enjoy the dazzling international Nobu, and the beloved Reubens restaurant, which has spread here from its fame in Franschhoek. Or the lobby bar with its iconic views. It was here I met an old friend Madi…she joined me on hotel inspection and tea…

The main wing towers up by the yacht marina with one side facing Table Mountain, and the hotel’s own island. A canal meanders in and around the island bearing boats and adding a lush watery view. Here you get the low rise island rooms, the real resort style lagoon pool frequented by families and bikini girls, a spa, the great hairdresser (Wayne). And a casual restaurant offering pool views

Pool restaurant Isola O&O

The best views though are not from the island but from the Marina wing restaurants and accommodations.

Tables spill out from the restaurants onto a terrace by the canal which bakes in summer sun. On these hot terraces (or cooler inside a great wall of glass) you can view the canal, the palms and the flat top of the iconic mountain. The lobby is a great meeting place to sink into deep sofas and sip a drink, enjoy the delicate pastries of afternoon tea (145 zar), or enjoy a reasonable meal with a fabulous view. (I had a light and delicious tempura with dips for 85 zar)

All rooms are spacious (from 63sqm) and all have balconies…which is pretty unusual for Cape Town. Sol Kerzner One&Only set out to build the most luxurious hotel in Cape Town and has created suave and spacious interiors and lovely smooth contemporary lines. I preferred the Marina rooms (which are lower priced anyway).

Rooms in style

I had the lowest category room – a Marina Harbour View – and loved it. It is big – some 63 sqm, with spacious balcony high above the aquarium and yacht harbour.

Marina harbour view balcony

Sleek stylish rooms

The other side of the Marina wing has the iconic Table Mountain View over the canal for which you pay a tad extra. Some of the rooms have a huge king bed, and others two queens (suiting families).

Marina mountain view room looks over the canal and island – iconic views

Marina double queen room takes 2 adults and 2 kids:

Then there are one-bedroom Marina suites which have in addition lounge dining areas upping their size to double the normal rooms, or even more space (Marina Grand suites).

The island accommodation provides spacious rooms and one and two three bedroom suites – priced over the Marina rooms of similar category, though to my way of thinking the Marina rooms are nicer because of their views and layout. They feel more open.

All rooms have balconies… Every item is perfect, sexy contemporary design and quality. All have nespresso machines. The welcome amenities follow up on what the website promises combining international best with local – for here you get mebos (rolled dried fruit) and biltong (raw dried meat cured with salt)….along with delicious wine and fruit.

Fabulous, high standard all round,  though lacking the intimate quality of Cape Grace.

Kids

There is a small but colourful kids club (free of charge), with a bleak outside play area – perhaps they think kids don’t want to play outside in the heat but then why not grow some trees. The slides and swings are very rudimentary compared with Scandinavian standards.

To quote O&O – the advantages for kids

  • Extensive selection of inter-leading rooms
  • Family friendly dining venues at Reuben’s and Isola
  • Complimentary use of KidsOnly Club facilities: Nintendo Wii, PS3 and a selection of board games
  • Daily programme of supervised activities for 4-11 year olds at the KidsOnly ClubBabysitting facilities (upon reservation)
  • Complimentary use of: Baby cot / high chair / bottle warmer / steriliser
  • 50% discount in all restaurants for children under twelve.

Tradition

Afternoon tea with high class confectionary

At O&O you get more sophisticated variety, like a high class delicatessen rather than a kid’s party.

In a nutshell

• A destination in itself with range of top restaurants incl Nobu & Reubens, great spa, top hairdresser etc

• Nice views from Marina building and rooms with more open feel

• Stylish, clean and contemporary

• Plenty space to dine and breakast al fresco at the hotel

• Big lagoon pool with lush tropical atmosphere

• Nice destination for families

Note: a little further away from the Waterfront Centre


Mount Nelson: historical & now

February 2, 2013 in SOUTH AFRICA | Comments (11)

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The grand driveway

Mount Nelson: 209 rooms & suites, 3 restaurants, spa, 2 tennis courts, 2 swimming pools including one for adults only, large gardens with sculptures, lawns, trees  & flowers.

Beloved Mount Nelson – a landmark in the “mother city” for a century.  At the top of an impressive palm lined drive, its various buildings (in 6 different wings) ramble through a lush garden in quite an eye-bashing pink.  This was the very pink mixed to cheer people up in England after the second world war and was exported to Cape Town,  inseparable from the memories of Mount Nelson’s regal history.

The hotel was built by the Union Castle Line – which brought the mail and all the important travellers to Cape Town. There was no democracy then and all the rooms were very class conscious – great rooms for first class passengers and other tiny rooms for steerage…  (surviving these days as cute single rooms).

Since those early days they have incorporated more elite accommodations taking over a doctor’s residence, a couple of whole streets of authentic Cape terrace houses and the old Helmsley Hotel, with its ostentatiously large suites. Only this Helmsley wing of the hotel is not pink – it is dunnish beige – again part of history as being 100 years old it is a monument that cannot change its skin. I was upgraded to a huge old fashioned (“junior”) suite in this wing, and saw some bright newly renovated junior suites in the Oasis Wing. Altogether 30 brand new rooms with modern feel and a touch of nostalgia. The real old Mount Nelson dowagers might not like that decor.

This hotel is history and perfect for those that appreciate the old ways, even while it is a popular meeting place for the new South Africans. It feels “real” …. .

Table Mountain looms up above the hotel. The “table cloth” feels close and dramatic as the clouds lying flat on the top waterfall wispily down the rocky sides rearing 1000 metres up. There is a complimentary shuttle to the cable station for rides up to the top. And those with a sea-lust can make use of a shuttle to Camps Bay (on demand / when available…). Camps Bay is perhaps 8-10 minutes’ drive from Mt Nelson taking the stunning pass over “Kloof Nek”.

A landmark resort in the city…

Mount Nelson is more than a city hotel, it is very much a resort. Two pools include a shady romantic pool for adults only. A whole street of the old Cape Town has been incorporated into the spa. There are also two tennis courts somewhere out of sight on the large lush property – you see the odd tennis ball bashing guest dash past. Then there are three restaurants.

The gracious old Cape Town is reached down the grandiose avenue past stately parks, museums and government buildings. It’s also a mere 50 metres from the start of trendy upper  Cape Town emerging in Kloof Street and Long Street, with low key relaxed restaurants and boutiques, crafts and businesses. This is where the actors, writers and IT people hang out. I heard them talking business, company image, and the like, dressed in shorts and sandals.

It makes you realize that Cape Town is not just a holiday destination; it is a relaxed and functioning city – with a spirit of optimism and fantasy. Though of course I really don’t know what it feels like for the millions out there on the Cape flats.

Rooms and more

The British have been loyal customers of Mount Nelson since way back and have not all rushed off to the Waterfront. Only recently, the Americans have discovered it and their numbers are increasing fast…

I remember yellowwood antiques from my last hotel inspection here in 1998 or so. Now the luxury rooms I was shown and the Junior Suites had been renovated. They danced a way between the neutral tones that have dominated five star décor in recent years and silver that added brightness without declaring war. Many suites still more traditional.

I was upgraded to one of the Helmsely suites. My suite was very traditional in style and no views to speak of  (my dayroom on the other hand, a single room in main wing had fab views of palms and mountain and was lovable).

I wandered around my larger suite not knowing what to do with all this space. I had 5 doors to the outside including a security alarmed terrace. The wind (a south-wester that had been uprooting trees for a few days) was making metallic bashing sounds into the night….and I wondered whether to tell housekeeping I had no tea and coffee making in my antique cabinet, or to watch the TV that rose with a groan out of a treasure chest when I pressed a switch, and played a loop of gorgeous Orient Express promotions that had no superstitious shadows behind the perfection…

Mountain facing rooms in the main wing and the Green Park wing have the iconic views. A wing of Classic Suites looked nice from the outside … at least the roomy garden terraces.

But if I could choose I would stay in the Garden Cottage wing, which is a former street called Sydenham (?). That’s for lovers of the old Cape Town – one and two bedroom cottages in authentic style, just over way from the adults only pool.

As mentioned above – 30 fresh and sparkling rooms have just become available with the reopening of the Oasis wing. They are uplifted by views of the swimming pool and Signal Hill – and original art from nearby Michaelis art school.

Locals to high tea and other culinary things

In the new South Africa the colonial days are still honoured especially at afternoon tea time – high tea. For 185 rand – a large sum by local people’s budgets – you get to eat as much as you like from a long table of sandwiches and cakes, and I noticed the guests were mostly local in all colours of the rainbow, though of course there were tourists too.

The tourists were casually dressed but the locals were smart modern people, putting Stockholm youth in the shade when it comes to worldliness. I overheard this conversation:

“She has only 200 friends on Facebook. She will never get a job. You need to have 2000 friends. You don’t have to know them. But you need to network. Everyone is their own brand these days…!”

The afternoon tea was almost the same price as the marvellous breakfast at the Oasis restaurant – which consisted of a buffet of granolas, seeds, yoghurts, fruits and an extensive choice of hot items (price 195 zar) but the afternoon tea had very little savoury choices, and those there seem to have been included without any heart and soul (and no fear of sugar or love of herbs and cheese).

By the way the pastry chef at Mount Nelson has won a prize, so – don’t listen to me…

Still, my lunch at lobby veranda restaurant was much nicer I thought for only 140 zar – a vegetarian curry with the freshest taste of newly toasted spices, served with the lightest most mouth pleasing samoosas …

I also had a very generous starter of smoked trout at reasonable price which served as a meal at that pleasing restaurant on the veranda – with view of the park and a big tropical flower as reminder that I was far from the snows of Stockholm. It was 30 deg and you have to love the heat to sit on the veranda.

I did not try the other destination for locals – the Planet restaurant. I looked over it empty in daylight, which is perhaps not fair, for in daylight the balls depicting planets hanging from the ceiling look a little plastic instead of hauntingly mysterious.  The carpet is an expensive custom-made rendering of the heavens with a real star chart.

I tried the pleasant Oasis Restaurant at breakfast – but it promises to be tantalizing for other meals too – its old buffet concept has made way for a la carte Mediterranean inspired menu with some local classics like Cape Malay chicken curry.

In a nutshell

•    Orient Express hotel
•    Historical, beloved by the British and now Americans. Dining here trendy with young local professionals
•    Resort with lovely views, 3 restaurants, big green gardens,  tennis, 2 pools (1 for adults only), spa
•    30 newly renovated rooms in Oasis wing (junior suites and deluxe rooms)
•    Quaint historical garden cottages and some very roomy older suites
•    Close to Kloof Street & Long Street and lots of choice of reasonable dining
•    Afternoon tea generous (albeit not so sophisticated) but fabulous cheesecake
•    Historical Cape  Town with Parliament and museums and oak-shady parks, easy walk (advisable only in daytime)

Note
1.    Rambling and spread out
2.    Hemsely Wing has no views and is high quality old style
3.    Verandah and garden  hot in summer  even in the shade – (misses the seabreezes of the waterfront)    (it was 30 degrees)

How to get to Mount Nelson

30 minutes by car from Cape Town International Airport


Cape Grace: home on the Waterfront

January 26, 2013 in SOUTH AFRICA | Comments (0)

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Reflections as night falls - seen from bed

Cape Grace: 120 rooms & suites, 4 bars and restaurants (including a space devoted to eats and beverages in the library, a pool bar and the famous Bascule bar), spa.

A charmer. Homely and yet classy in an arty and low key way, with a reputation for warm and discreet service. Placed right on the marina with water on both sides.
The lobby is large and sort of rambling with some funky touches like a pile of pink suitcases. Funky design is Very Cape Town, reflecting the fun spirit of the gorgeously liveable “mother city”.

Rooms

The lead-in room type is a luxury room 35 sqm. And indeed though not especially large and in demure low key beiges and grey, my luxury room felt bright and welcoming. French windows can be left open for the salty breezes and the views over the marina to Signal Hill or Table Mountain.

I sat in bed for hours just watching the last rays of sun on Signal Hill and sunset reflections glancing on the water…as the lights of the city and the yachts came on mellow gold. Signal Hill is where they used to signal the sailing ships with cannon shots.

This lead-in luxury room category offers tea and coffee making (but not espresso machines), dressing room and bath and separate shower. Décor pleasant and trendy in neutral sand and beige with painted (artistically aged) furniture. It feels pleasantly lived in, not brand new.

For a balcony, upgrade to rooftop luxury rooms which are the same size. Rooftop terrace rooms (also 35 sqm) have a bigger balcony (10sqm). Superior rooms also have a balcony, are more spacious and suit families (50 sqm room area) with a sofa providing extra beds. The apartment suites are from 90 to 200 sqm with 1 to 3 bedrooms. For a discerning couple who likes outdoor living, go for the Penthouse suite with a spacous 45 sqm terrace with dining area and Jacuzzi from which to admire the fab views, and a large bedroom (80 sqm) with sitting and dining area.

Dining at Cape Grace

Cape Grace is also a “destination” for Capetonians looking to dine at the Signal Restaurant  or revel at Bascule whiskey bar. In fact we were invited to the Bascule Bar to celebrate a birthday by a Cape Town resident

The atmosphere is fabulous, with the fresh smell of the marina, the sunset behind Table Mountain, and jazz playing to set a mellow tone and keep at bay raucous young adults. For 100 zar my friends got to taste 3 glasses of expensive whisky (I guess a half tot in each). I took a strawberry daquirie that was a bit too sugared. But the eats were well worth it, only 50 zar for two tapas – each a sizable potato rosti topped with an ample circle of rainbow smoked salmon and horseradish sauce.

I liked them so much that I ate salmon tapas the next night too, when the poplar Bascule Bar was full, ordering from upstairs at the Cape Grace poolside bar.

The Signal restaurant makes the most of the fact that Cape Town is surrounded by clean seas rich in life and a warm Med hinterland perfect for fruit and vegetables: cusiine to reflect the heritage of the tip of Africa, where Dutch and British colonists, African, Malaysian and other Asian peoples have left their mark. South African “inventions” like butternut bobotie should be tried …

The library is another spot to hang out and enjoy atmosphere, cream teas (scones and cream) and teas and infusions where the leaves can be admired in a glass teapot. Red gold is roobos herbal tea from high on the Cedarberg mountains.

Who to stay

Discerning couples, and small families, who love trendy harmonious décor and views…right in the Waterfront

Why to stay

•    Individual, personal, peaceful, arty, trendy
•    Beautifully situated in the marina (a few minutes from the shopping for what that is worth)
•    Bascule whisky bar and Signal restaurant make it a destination in itself – Bascule is one of the” in” places by the marina with Table Mountain sunset view
Note
Bascule Bar is very popular so you have to get there early  (but you can order its eats in the pool bar)
•    Pool area is clean and functional with casual restaurant
•    Small bathrooms, in old fashioned luxury style
•    No espresso machine in luxury room and no balcony. Note: Luxury rooms do not have balconies unless entitled luxury rooftop or luxury terrace


Mont Rochelle: peace, views & winelands

January 20, 2013 in SOUTH AFRICA | Comments (2)

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View from my Cape Classique suite

Mont Rochelle: 16 rooms and 6 suites, spa, Mange Tout restaurant, bar

A quiet boutique property that is partly new, rebuilt after a fire, with some authentically retro, quality hardwood furniture. It offers a peaceful, sleepy air and pleasant views down onto the Franschhoek valley, reached by the first turn to the right as you enter the Franschhoek village from Stellenbosch.

Its main attraction is probably the Mange Tout restaurant, which is excellent and rated among the top 10 in Franschhoek. Apart from very reasonable and delicious food, it is a round room affording an almost circular view. Very romantic to watch the night fall over the jagged blue Franschhoek mountains as you wait to start a 5 course degustation menu at 350 zar (excluding the paired wines). Down below on another wine estate we could see traditional Cape style architecture and a mauve jacaranda in full bloom looking as if it could lift and float.

Breakfasts are very South African in the best sense. Enough food for an entire day of jogging, cycling, surfing or mountain climbing. The buffet, silhouetted on tiered plates against the stunning view, includes the usual things like lots of yoghurt types, fresh baked loaves inviting eating, and blueberry muffins. But it’s the hot menu which bubbles over with imagination including rosti breakfast with potato pancake, egg and “stricky” bacon; beef sausage; South African omelette with biltong (traditional South African dried meat with salt and herbs); Franschhoek scrambled egg with trout, chives and farm bread; and poached egg Florentine. We are actually not so far from Florence here, in the sense of the Mediterranean climate and vineyards, but we are closer to France of course, as it is the Huguenots (French Protestants who fled Catholic persecution) that founded it and gave a rocket launch to the wine industry.

While there was good service at Mange Tout, Mt Rochelle was not very proactive in the hotel as a whole …. but the smiles of staff were sunny and genuine. I guess they feel if you wanted something you would ask – quite down to earth, and part of the charm.  Smalmy they were definitely not…

I thought the spa pretty and cute, but very small. As to the wine tasting room in the hotel, it was even smaller. But the winery is probably where you are meant to do the tasting.

Rooms

In conversation, my guide round Mont Rochelle rated his property somewhere between Delaire Graff and Franschhoek Country House & Villas. Mont Rochelle does have some ostentatiously large suites – like my Cap Classique (rack was 9900 zar at peak) – larger than the Villa Suites at FCH, but Mont Rochelle does not give that trendy tweak to the old fashioned look, as you get at FCH in the villa suites (next blog).

My Cap Classique suite was huge and opened out through both lounge and bedroom onto a grassy terrace overlooking a rural scene and mountains. In fact a tractor trundled by to emphasize the charmingly rural atmosphere. The lounge could have seated 8, comfortably. There were two sunbeds and a small plunge pool, a Jacuzzi bath, inside and two desks (or perhaps that extra one was a make-up table, if so the double vanities had place for one vainer person preparing to outdo the other at the degustation dinner).

The leadin room types are small in the old building: Shiraz, Cabernet and Merlot rooms, some with balcony. I saw a neat Pinotage room in the new wing, small but atmospheric with thatched ceiling and beams, small balcony, small lounge.

Who to stay

People who want to be close to Franschhoek and all the gourmet delights and wine tasting, looking for a  peaceful boutique property with a  sense of place…

Why to stay

  • Views
  • Peaceful
  • Boutique
  • Mange Tout restaurant
  • Massive suites
  • A quick ride to the centre of Franschhoek village

Note

Rooms might be considered a bit dated if you don’t admire genuine quality retro. Service warm but not proactive. I am left with memories of a great restaurant, stunning views, a roomy suite, and a kind and gentle laissez faire….


Delaire Graff: art, vines & pools

January 13, 2013 in SOUTH AFRICA | Comments (0)

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My pool and the vineyards

Delaire Graff Lodges & Spa: 10 lodges (villas) with private pools, 2 restaurants, spa, gym, winery, designer boutiques

This is the most exclusive property in the Winelands. A totally exquisite hotel with only 10 lodges featuring glass walls that open to private pools and sunny verandahs. Pampering level high with as many staff as guests, in perfect setting of vineyards and mountains, offering two good restaurants, spa, winerr –  and art, perfectly chosen, perfectly hung…

It has a stunning setting above the Hellshoogte Pass between historical Stellenbosch and the gourmet haven of Franschhoek. There is a free shuttle down to Stellenbosch (5 to 10 minutes) and it is a 25 minutes drive to Franschhoek village.

With its peace, beauty and privacy Delaire Graff is perfect for couples in love. Set one day aside just for chilling here by your heated pool. On arrival guests often cancel all tours planned, just to luxuriate in their own perfect space…

For honeymooners I would suggest a longer stay here – the lodges  are so romantic and there is so much to enjoy in the winelands in terms of wine, food, views, villages, boutiques….and the atmosphere is so much more peaceful and relaxing than Cape Town’s Waterfront.

Breakfast at Delaire Graff is the best ever if you like healthy food and a bit of indulgence. In addition to a hot menu you get your own private buffet on your table. Apart from the essential fresh orange juice and café latte variants, my private buffet included  three bowls of cereals with all kinds of nuts strewn in abundance among toasted grains; delectable small croissants and bakery items; fresh tropical fruits;  selection of cold meats and more. Most people have this morning repast in the their lodges, by the pool…

I had a great lunch at the lunch restaurant, choosing a modestly priced genuine fish and chips  – in fact, better than genuine. Light and puffy batter affectionaltey embraced the freshly caught  kingklip, and the lightest chips you ever tasted – they could almost fly. With this came a typical Franschoek view of the rocky fold mountains that rumple up all over the Winelands, framed by old oaks. They began planting oaks over 300 years ago when the Dutch still ruled the Cape.

In the evening I ate at the gourmet restauarant, treated to a taster, main course  dressy salmon trout, a dessert with a coconut cream and an ice cream cone full of very lemony sorbet.

The spa treatment was good and the spa pleasant.  There is a small but sophisticated air-conditioned gym, a shop of designer clothes and a glittering  diamond jewellery boutique. Laurence Graff made his money from diamond jewellery….

He has spent so much on creating the perfection of Delaire Graff that I don’t see how he can get it back with only 10 rooms – at least not for a long time. All his perfection feels somehow like a gift…