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.


Glastonbury. Search for the Holy Grail

April 22, 2019 in UK | Comments (0)

Like a ghost from the past, I found a very old website of mine devoted to my poetry and creative writing – I thought it was long gone. This is one of entries


Among the green hills of Somerset lies Glastonbury. A magnet for pilgrims and travellers, searching back through early Christian myths to Celtic roots and Druid and goddess magic…

Pilgrims have been coming to Glastonbury for centuries, Christian pilgrims. Now its also a New Age ‘Mecca’. Travellers come in search of the Holy Grail, King Arthur and Celtic roots, crystal healing, goddess mysteries and New Age festivals, with the Tor and Chalice Well as the most holy of the visible icons.

The Tor broods over Glastonbury, a rather bleak and strange conical hill with its stone tower and windswept grassy slopes. But any time of the day or night there is someone here – new age tourists in rainbow colours, druids in robes and leafy crowns, Celtic inspired refugees from city slickness in rough cottons and woven capes, drummers, pipers, partymakers, trippers and hangers on and thieves.

Gill Dwyer in search of the magic cauldron and Holy Grail

The hill is said to be manmade and honeycombed with a maze of tunnels from which legend has King Arthur descend to Annwn to bring back the cauldron of regeneration. At the foot of the Tor is a narrow lane with a stone wall from which spouts the clearest spring water. Behind the wall is a garden and the Chalice well. In the summer shuttle buses from the town bring tourists and pilgrims to the Tor and the well. The other big attraction is the ruined Abbey, built over the first Christian church.

The Abbey is also part of Arthurian legend. Arthur and Guinevere’s tombs were found in the Abbey in the reign of Henry II, with a cross proclaiming: Here lies buried the island of Avalonia, the renowned King Arthur.

The town itself celebrates a long and fascinating history coloured with Christian, Arthurian and pagan legend. Its a mix of old stone, Gothic arches, Saxon turrets, Celtic crosses, and cosy cafes along with a good variety of shops bearing witness to New Age dawning. Glastonbury shopwindows show a fair number of ‘plastic Davids’, vulgar sculptures of cult figures entwined in an overflow of plastic flowers. But not enough to obscure its charm lying so happily with its monuments to history under the starkly simple Tor.

In a sunny square just off the high street, I noted these shop names offering books, crystals, essential oils and therapy:

THE GODDESS AND THE GREEN MAN

HEALING CENTER

THE SPIRIT OF THE CELT

STONE AGE TO PROMOTE THE PRACTICAL USE OF CRYSTALS FOR HEALING AND REGENERATION

Two women who had not seen one another a while burst into delighted conversation outside the crystal shop:

“How are you? How are the kids?” “Fine…waiting at home” and then as if this was the real explanation of how she had been since the last meeting she said:

“It was the day of my solar return – my moon was in my sun – Neptune and Pluto were hitting my personal planets – it crept in and retreated again…”.

She looked very sensible and down to earth. This is everyday conversation in Glastonbury.

In the streets you notice Celtic hippies and earth people, rainbow hippies with rainbow hair and rainbow clothes. Plenty of grey haired men with long hair and peasant cloaks.

Leaflets placed out in a vegetarian cafe advertise Goddess workshops and other alternatives to male dominated and dry intellectual religion.

In the bookshops you find much on Arthurian legend, Celtic tradition and art, flying saucers, tantric orgasm, aliens – a mix of intellectual and ‘fluffier’ new age spiritualism (divorced from the need to check sources, theories built on others’ intuitions can sometimes reach for the sky like the Tower of Babel).

Following leads picked up browsing we went searching for the magic of Mort d’Arthur. One source suggested that the river down on the flats once made Glastonbury an island – Isle of Avalon. This was where Arthur’s sword was thrown and the hand came out ‘mystic, wonderful’. Passing a car where two lovers were making out we walked along the muddy bank and thought how slimy that mystic arm would be.

Still, contrary to what might sound like cynicism Glastonbury is ‘amazing’. Despite the plastic fairies and giddy aliens it does feel real, deep and quivering with mystery somewhere in Christian, pagan and archetypal roots.

Joseph of Arimithea is said to have built the first Christian church in Glastonbury. This later became the Abbey, destroyed during the reformation but for centuries a focus of pilgrims and still a tourist attraction. One myth goes that Joseph of Arimithea brought Jesus to Glastonbury. Another is that Arimithea brought two vessels, one containing the sweat and the other the blood of Christ. A window in St John’s Church depicts Joseph bringing the two cruets to Glastonbury.

Legend has this container of Precious blood as the Holy Grail, blood collected in the cup of the last supper when Longinus pierced Christ’s side with the holy lance (A demoted Christian relic once in the Vatican)

The very same Grail is later shown to King Arthur. It disappears and so he goes in quest of the Holy Grail. As did Parzifal, and metaphorically speaking pilgrims and travellers still do in Glastonbury.

The biggest event of the year is the Glastonbury Festival at the summer solstice, held a distance from the town. Tens of thousands of people come for a range of music from rock to techno, healing and magic in the ‘Green Fields’ in the hills, drumming in the stone circle, and stands selling crystals, handmade jewellery and chai. It is also much talked about for its food stalls inspired by cuisine from all over the world.

Pilgrims and the Holy Grail

Browsing in the Celtic and New Age bookshops of Glastonbury I found two books that inspired the following outline on the ‘pilgrim instinct’ and the deep psychological relevance of the myth of the quest for the Holy Grail.

The embers of the pilgrim instinct lie deep within us all….¨

To find ourselves we make an outer journey that reflects the inner journey.

The Search for the Holy Grail is the most powerful Christian legend embracing such a journey. The mystic symbol leads knights to leave complacent and ailing society and risk all to materialize it – at the inner level seeking integration of heart, body and soul, ‘divine purpose’, the meaning of existence.

In one version the grail is the cup of the last supper, in which Joseph of Arimithea caught the blood of Christ. Joseph was imprisoned for 40 years and crossed the seas to Cornwall bearing the Grail. He eventually settled in Glastonbury and built the first Christian church in Britain. Centuries later the Grail was brought to King Arthur at his Round Table by two angels. It disappeared and Merlin inspired Arthur to go looking for it.

The Grail stories which sprung up suddenly at the beginning of the 12th century became the most popular in Christian Europe but never got the complete approval of Rome. They are believed to have Celtic roots and were spread all over France and Britain by troubadours. Pagan myths of cauldrons and other magic vessels were transformed into the Christian grail and incorporated a new dimension – the search for self knowledge.

Among 12th century literary works that immortalized these legends were: Contes del Graal by Chretien de Troye and Parzifal by Wolfram von Esenbach.

In Parzifal ‘s quest and growth to manhood he meets archetypal characters and symbols that reflect his inner development from a lethargic youth through an ambitious upstart to someone with self-awareness, uniting heart, body and spirit. You find such symbols as Mother, Arthur and the Round Table, The Red Knight, The Wasteland – the condition of the self when development is misdirected towards base ends, The Grail King /the unconscious guide/ the suffering Fisher King, the Grail Castle – a glimpse at his own spiritual potential, The Sword- the ability to cut though prevarication and pretence, the Lance – symbol of inexhaustible spiritual power, The Loathly Damsel – ugly woman who is a reflection of the state of his own soul and who makes him realize he should search for the Holy Grail with his brother who is black and white – Feirifiz, Gawain, who uses his heart…and the Grail, divine power at work in the depths of our psyche.

“A pilgrim is not seeking to discover something new but is seeking to remember what the Soul has always known. And in this search it helps to stand amid the sacred groves and stones in order that this archaic memory might be triggered.”

Yes, I think Glastonbury can do that….

Not the end of a pilgrimage maybe, but a beginning.

Gill Dwyer

© 1999

Literature

Michael Bagent (preface) and authors Ean & Deike Begg, In Search of the Holy Grail and the Precious Blood: a Traveller’s Guide (Thorsons, 1995)

Ian Forrester Roberts, Symbols of the Grail Quest (Spirit of Celtia, 1990)


Magical must-do in Egypt

February 20, 2019 in EGYPT | Comments (0)

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When in Hurghada – this is it – ancient wonders in a daytrip!.

Luxor & Karnak

The magic of ancient symbols in gigantic ancient columns

The “day” trip to Luxor was a rewarding experience, though a very long and tiring day – 17 hours on the go with 4 hours per way on the road. We were up at 4 am to have the early breakfast which the hotel thoughtfully provides.

Fortunately, we did not know about the terror attack that had just occurred – or we might have given up the day and missed its treasures. I might also have been more  worried about the sudden emergence of a woman in burka from behind a curtain at the back of our bus who stumbled past us at a stop on the way.

The bus actually had amenities – like toilet – and an electronic display about the temperatures. The seats laid back beautifully and my family slept.

I fortunately awoke for the magic of dawn in the desert mountains. To see the light emerge on sand spilling down the mountain to the road edge. To see the extraordinary sky dotted with different cloud. Small army outposts were the only spots where green sprouted – albeit desolately – the desert itself seemed rich with texture, colour and harmony

Finally we lumbered into the Nile Valley …. Travelling parallel to the great river (though it was out of sight) we saw canals or tributaries, palm trees and green fields, as well as shambolic towns bristling with mosques and old fashioned life, far removed from the familiar clichés of our western world. Traffic was full of scruffy old vans and adorable donkey carts, and traditional dress was the norm.

Carrying important cargo and leading his all important horse against the hooting traffic in Luxor – no doubt preferring to see the dangers than have them come from behind

Karnak temple was, more than expected, magnificent. The stony face of our teen  (who felt bullied needing to face culture rather than the fun life of the resort) softened as she seemed to grasp this was something worth seeing.

Little humans under the vast presence of the past

The columns (which have featured in movie thrillers) are breathtaking, for their immensity, solidity and 3d feeling with a deep hue of magic, perhaps due to the engraved symbols (like the powerful ank) catching light and shadow and with it intrigue and a sense of the past lurking tantalizingly just out of sight.

Why do sphinxes always lose their noses?

The day included lunch buffet in a small café (nice despite the cappuccino being a cup of hot water and a roll of powder); a taxi ride to the Nile and a boat ride over to the other side – the western sunset side where the Egyptians buried their dead. Behind was the East Bank, a skyline where mosques bristled like the back of a sow – the world of the living. Ahead the West Bank and a rim of mountains that hid the world of the dead. Valley of the Kings.

Looking back at the East Bank bristling with mosques and minarets
Looking over to the West Bank – ancient world of the dead.

We walked into a couple of tombs with murals amazingly still so colourful. One proposed tomb was too deep for me as a claustrophobic soul – so I sat and stared at the mountains, the haunting mountains where they burrowed so deep by oil light.

Our next stop Hatshepsut temple was backed by those same strange and brittle mountains. Impressive. She was a rather wicked lady who loved power (they all seemed to drink it like mother’s milk) …. And put the next heir to the throne Thuthmosis on the front for 30 years where he luckily survived.  Her temple was the only one built by a woman we were told by our pleasant (Egyptian Swedish speaking) tour guide  – and to be allowed to build one she had to persuade herself and others she was really a man.

Hatshepsut temple

Wiki says:

Hatshepsut was the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt. She was the second historically-confirmed female pharaoh, the first being Sobekneferu. Hatshepsut came to the throne of Egypt in 1478 BC.

Ancient Egypt online: She initially ruled as regent for her step-son Thuthmosis III but promoted herself to the role of pharaoh instead of passing power to him when he came of age. After her death Thuthmosis III and Akhenaten both intentionally damaged the monument. The former directed his attacks at Hatshepsut herself, either replacing her image with his own or simply obliterating references to her, the later damaged her temple because of the frequent references to the god Amun.

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Winter by the Red Sea….

February 19, 2019 in EGYPT | Comments (0)

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Yes, we escaped the snow and ice, and the sun shone every day. We snorkelled over coral, and wandered dazzled among flowers.

We marvelled at the treasures of Luxor and Karnak – and crossed the legendary Nile by boat.

Camel on the beach

We also had a camel on our hotel beach

It was a very pleasant and exciting holiday, but I wouldn’t go back in mid-winter. Though our days rose to 22/24 degrees C, the nights sunk to 10 or 12 – with chilly winds seemingly blowing off the Alps and over the Mediterranean. We were very grateful that we had left such a cold Sweden and thus taken down jackets with us, cosy in the damp chill of evenings in the open air.

Our new year’s dinner was a triumph, a show of colour and extravagance. All included – because everything was included in terms of food and drink.

The translucent brilliant turquoise waters of the Red Sea were swimmable, but not really warm; and even though I hired a wetsuit I was dismayed by feeling chilly water ooze into my ears and gave up – though my two beloveds snorkelled in their wetsuits with rewarding results. My son even had a school of dolphins jetting towards him and crossing under him at speed.

A frame of his underwater video clip as dolphins passed under him

Hurghada all-inclusive

Our hotel – Desert Rose

Mid winter flowers / not roses, but subtropical blooms

The hotel property stretches down to the Red Sea with its own pier, shallow lagoon ringed by rough sand beach, and a verdant garden festooned with bougainvillea and golden trumpet flowers, dotted with seemingly endless pools, bars, and restaurants. Along with all that is a rather nice spa, and a very active beauty salon where a nice young man mangled my feet during a pedicure with the painful insistence of a hygienist, to make them baby soft.

Pools and flowers

Desert Rose itself claims five stars but its guests rightfully vote four. Some of course vote less. All-inclusive is a good option when you have young teens and tweens as you don’t have to worry if they eat their food and waste your money. They love the freedom of choosing just what they want and actually start eating healthier despite the overkill of puddings and cakes – maybe because of that supersweet shock.

An entire wall of cakes and puddings

They love the adult feeling of wandering into “bars” at night to have a mocktail in what was a very pleasant unboozy astmosphere. There were no hordes of drunks making over-use of the all inclusive. Since you get drinks by the glass (bottled is extra) it could be they water drinks down when you show signs of inebriation. Maybe I looked in need of a pickup – I got the opposite sometimes – my cocktails hit me with a hammer – I wasn’t sure whether it was laced with some local spirits and fruit cordial  rather than the prescribed liqueurs.

Cafe betweeen lagoon and sea / coffee and pancakes all inclusive

The hotel had some 4 restaurants and 5 bars – they seemed to spread all over the place. Rose Bar was a pleasant and popular place for wifi and coffee or drink – with a smart contemporary décor and relaxed ambience. Our favourite was a café between the lagoon and the sea, with its own beach covered by beanbags, where you could have your coffee, cocktail or pancakes, sheltered from the wind.

We managed to book the a la carte Italian restaurant one lunchtime – too popular to get an evening booking. It was nice, if rather rich fare.

The buffets in the main restaurant were vast – am I exaggerating when I say a football field size hall with two wings divided into smaller dining rooms; and tables stretching many metres down the middle and sides loaded with food. Meat and fish were excellent (I don’t eat meat – I refer to the choice and the look). Breakfasts were piled with fruit and oh joy grapefruit and pomelo.  And joy for the tweens and teens: pancake station.  

A wall of breads

The New Year’s dinner was a triumph of colour and variety. One whole wall of the vast tent had a trestle table piled with cakes of every hue, ending with a celebration of fruit piled lusciously into mountains. Even the bread wall boasted pinks and reds. All sorts of salads and savoury mixtures lined another wall where food towers (sculptures?)  had been created to dramatize the festivity of the occasion. A disco was going and a band playing covers with gusto. We had heard them practicing all week. They put their heart and soul in it.

Winter snorkelling in the Red Sea

Our teen or tween was longing to snorkel but equally longing just to hang at the hotel with its sense of activity and promise, its bars and coffee bars where everything just flowed. But one day of filling yourself with sweet bubbly drinks and you are ready for adventure out there in the famously turquoise red sea.

So we let one of the touts that patrol the beach area sell us a snorkel tour that left from our pier. He sold us the advantages of his tour: in particular that you didn’t have to take a transfer to Hurghada marina or even further.  Its hard to know if you are paying the right amount – they refuse at first to tell you the price as they fish around to see how much they can charge while you try to bargain it down a bit. The snorkel tour we did later, booked via a tour operator in Sweden  – undeniably with higher quality facilities on board the  boat – cost 450 sek per person, quite a bit more than the hotel’s boat tour.

There was something slightly third world about our whole boat tour from Desert Rose, but with it came lots of charm and stunning beauty  – I wouldn’t have missed it for anything, even though the toilet floors of the boat Atena were disconcertingly wetly washed.

The trip was to so-called Paradise Island – a desert island, with a pale luminescence of dry sandstone which crumbles off to become golden beach, washed by sublimely turquoise water – luminously crystal clear. Simply gorgeous.

To get from the dive boat to the island we had to get onto a small boat – and as it rocked I got thrown with my back against a sharp edge.  Then they filled the small boat to overflowing as our ebullient tour leader light-heartedly commanded that younger ones crowd up onto the prow – finally the entire contingent of snorkellers was seated or standing as we laughed about being boat refugees.

When we arrived at the beach they placed a small ladder beside the prow. When I stepped onto it, the boat took a leap sideways and whacked and scratched my calf. Our leader then took us to a patch of beach where we were commanded to sit or swim (not wander off on the island). I was happy to sit staring at the dreamy beach, soothed by these radiant pastel seas.

But suddenly I saw a red dog nosing at me. Hello I said, what do you want? He showed me by lifting his leg and peeing on me.

My family roared with laughter.

They were very pleased with the snorkelling from Atena – among Napoleon fish and manta rays (I had given up because of the cold).

Frame from the film by Atena cameraman showing my son diving down
The water is irresistible / until you get into it (so at this moment I am on the boat

Here is the film the tour company made – my darlings feature for a short spell.

Our second snorkel tour to Dolphin House El Gouna was smoother and more professional – the boat less crowded – and the toilets a little less iffy.  The lunch too was better.  There was boring time given to hotel pickups along the road to El Gouna (10km?).

We tied up to a buoy at the reef called Dolphin House and as they (almost) promise, we saw passing Dolphins threading in and out of the water. At this protected spot no swimming is allowed so as not to harass the dolphins. Good show Egypt! They explained rightly or wrongly that dolphins sleep on one side of the brain and were sleeping as they passed us while the other side controlled their swimming. They did have a mesmerizing pace.

Later we tied to a different buoy where you are allowed to swim and you could see clouds of fish through the clear water from the boat. Afterwards the cold swimmers and warm me ate lunch. Suddenly a school of dolphins were seen heading towards us, and my son had the magnificent good fortune or quick reflexes to jump into the water with movie camera and catch dolphins heading right at him, diving under him, and then heading off into the free sea.

frame from his video clip

El Gouna is a millionaire stronghold, with expensive villas built along canals and golf course. Most are simply holiday homes for Europeans, Germans in particular. We sat in a cute café with Arabic mood and liked it.

On a sand bank a short swim from reefs – private glassbottom boat tour from the pier

The third snorkelling tour was a short private tour on our last day. Hoping to see turtles – but not succeeding. It was a glass bottom boat tour and the thrill there was that my son chose to free dive under the boat so we could see him under water through the glass bottom among the fishes.

Hotel review Desert Rose

Palms and a glimpse inland to the arid jagged mountains
Laden with natural gold

I felt trepidation before arrival, thinking of over 800 rooms and crowds in peak season. Actually it never felt crowded as the rooms with only 3 storeys were spaced out through the beautiful garden, and there were no queues at meals. The staff were numerous and full of easy friendliness. There were little machines where you could report your feelings about your stay and the service and recommend staff. A little odd but maybe it works.

We enjoyed ourselves in this bright and carefree environment on the verge of the dazzling Red Sea despite what comes next. The faults.

Shelter from the chilly winds on the beach of our favourite cafe after a pancake and cappuccino

The room: neat, modest size with a lovely pool view – but since the balcony remained shady we did not use it. We had no hot water in our marble bathroom despite its generous toiletry amenities. The water was tepid. I am a hot water maniac so I missed that. We finally got round to complaining and a technician tinkered around so it became gently warm, not hot.

The food: As I said earlier very generous on meat and fresh caught fish. There were plenty of salads and some hot vegetarian options too – though not a lot of choice. The breads were astounding – a big choice but…. how could a baker that produces such nice Arabic breads produce such floury Western style breads? The cheese was a challenge. Was there any resemblance to cheddar in the so-called cheddar offered or was it just the colour? Feta worked though. Finally the desserts. A massive choice but a bit oozy and sweet – no problem for sweet toothed souls.

The Desert Rose cocktail in one of its manifestations – all included

The drinks: I liked the Desert Rose cocktail the first time I tried it – but different bars mixed it differently till it became a pungent knockout or a fizzy cool drink. I also tried a margarita which came from a barman’s impulse rather than a recipe book. The coffee likewise. They had proper Illy machines. I think you were meant to pay for Illy but sometimes the barmen got kind and you got a gorgeous Illy cappuccino.  Other times they seemed to use a cappuccino powder mix – as our café did in Luxor.

Incident: I decided to tip the cleaner having being intimidated by Americans’ instructions on the internet about leaving an envelope every day. After I tipped him half way through the scene disintegrated. He took my transparent zipped bag and made off with my digestive biscuits and chips for the return journey and my sugar free bars that I keep for emergency. We reported it and the hotel took it seriously, if a little angrily – wanting to look in the safe to see if my bars were there. In the end I asked simply for a 2 euro credit to buy new biscuits at their shop. Since I would not be able to replace my bars at the hotel there was no point in giving me money for them.

Best part of our trip – the dolphins, the desert island and most of all – Luxor & Karnak…

The magic of ancient symbols in gigantic ancient columns

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Discreet, hidden, close to it all in Palma

February 5, 2019 in MALLORCA | Comments (0)

The fourth in my series on the OTHER Mallorca, Sant Francesc Hotel Singular is a jewel of a hideaway – peaceful, soothing and discreet – with some unexpected pleasures.

Sant Francesc Hotel Singular… rooftop views

Telescopic view from the rooftop pool deck of the Cathedral

Here, in its stone-carved city setting, the hotel offers a magical rooftop pool and bar. The poolside view has the haunting charm of terracotta tiled roofs, the age worn Sant Francesc basilica and the rearing form of the Cathedral.

Facing the quiet square of Sant Francesc, this little charmer occupies a former aristocratic residence in the maze of narrow streets that make up the old medina of Palma, a short winding walk to the Cathedral and the shopping honeypots.

Sofa, deck chairs and sunbeds offer lounging in the sun or the magical sunset and cooler evening. This is the spot for tapas in summer, cool Red Sangria or perhaps “Holy Water” surely pure heaven at 15 euro – gin, chartreuse, lavender syrup, green apple, lime.

Feeling at home
Service at the hotel is friendly and helpful. You feel at home in this old century mansion which has been renovated with understated elegance, contemporary flair and respect for the original building.

From the demure entrance step into the lobby and over a stone courtyard, which opens into a sleek bar, a spot to have a serene drink and check your mail.

Wifi, drinks and quiet


In the former stables, the tiny Quadrat restaurant rewards you with a pleasing buffet breakfast including home made items and eggs to order. You should pre-book for dinner here as it is popular with outsiders.

Home made pastries adds to the luxury feel / if luxury is comfort, seclusion and caring


Rooms at Sant Francesc are spacious and decorated in warm yet demure and soothing colours like palest grey with delicate touches of dusty pink.

Gracious, demure rooms

Many rooms do not have balconies so you may want to upgrade if that is important to you.


Privilege twin
Rooms to covet include San Francesc junior suite with frescoes and a balcony overlooking the square. There are two special suites of 60 sqm: La Torre with its additional 30 sqm rooftop terrace and San Francesc suite with a frescoed ceiling and private balcony with views of Sant Francesc Square.

The corridors enhance a contemporary feel with an interesting collection of photographs.

Looking back
The building of Hotel Sant Francesc once belonged to the Alomar Femenia family. This Spanish historic landmark is an architectural treasure built in the neoclassical style of the 19th century.

Surrounded by ageing terracotta rooftops like a sea of charm

The hotel is situated in one of Palma’s oldest quarters, which dates to the Arabian Medina Mayurqa settlement. After James (Jaime) I of Aragon was crowned King in 1229, many of the Muslim lands were deeded over to religious orders. Under his son, King Jaime II, Franciscan monks erected the Sant Francesc Basilica and Monastery after which the square and hotel are named.

A meander through austere narrow medieval streets to other narrow streets alive with colour / Palma is great for shopping
Palma Cathedral, 10 mins walk from Sant Francesc
Relics of saints in the must visit Palma cathedral…




Quick facts
No. of rooms: 42
Distance from airport: 15 mins
Distance from nearest town/shops/restaurants: Situated in the old city close to restaurants and about 7-15 mins walk from the Cathedral or main shopping street.
Why stay: Quiet, classy hotel with central position in the old city.
Car hire: You need a special permit to enter this heritage area and there is a c. 30 eur per day parking cost paid via the hotel.
Beaches & Beach Clubs: You walk some 10 mins to Anima Beach club placed right on the sea on Palma’s boards walk. Portals Nous has a pleasant beach next to Puerto Portals yacht marina – nice area for shopping, restaurants and amazing yachts. 20 mins by car. Es Trenc – often called the best beach on Mallorca – is a natural beach with a rustic bar and no hotels – 45 mins drive from Palma.

Summary
Stylish, understated and serene hotel with attentive service in a converted mansion on the quiet square of Sant Francesc in the old medina, only 10 mins walk from the Cathedral and main shopping areas. Enjoy a pleasant rooftop pool and bar with views of the Basilica of Sant Francesc. Upgrade to be sure of a private balcony with view of the square.
Last word – romance

With its charm, calm understated elegance and perfect position, Sant Francesc is not just for intellectuals, shoppers and foodies. It is also for romance. One of my friends was popped the question on a weekend visit to San Francesc. So the weekend turned into their engagement and the perfect time for Sangria de Cava.

Images by Sant Francesc and Per-Olov Broddeson. Words by Gillian Stanbridge, Select Collection


Sixties glamour & Palma views

February 3, 2019 in MALLORCA | Comments (0)

The third in my series on the other Mallorca, the legendary Castillo Hotel Son Vida brings us closer to Palma…

Castle with a history of medieval kings and sixties movie queens

Palma. the Cathedral and the bay as the sun goes down – telescopic view from the hotel



Moments of magic on the terraces at Castillo Hotel Son Vida as the sun sets over Palma

Glamour and distinction


Away from the tourist masses, the classic hotel has stunning views of the city and bay from its vast terraces. Celebrities and dignitaries have sipped cocktails and partied here since the Sixties and the hotel still has an aura of glamour and distinction.

Inside, the castle is packed with antiques, paintings and historical features that give it an authentic Mallorcan character, while outside you feel the island’s natural ease.

💕

Palma is only some 10 to 20 mins drive, depending where you want to go – but golf is literally next door and your tee times and transfers are taken care of.

If history adds a romantic twist to your sense of place, this castle is a good spot to honeymoon or get married. Various members of the deceased Royal family adorn the walls in gigantic oil paintings to show you are in elevated company, and frescoes distinguish a room that is suggested for wedding ceremonies.


A room wrapped in history – used for special events

Galleries or ante rooms are lined with antique items and velvet sofas where you imagine dowagers sat in the Sixties heyday when the hotel opened with a trumpeting of fashion reporting. More about that later…

In a less worldly frame of mind, the dome or cupola is an amazing art work worth gazing up at from the lobby and higher floors.

Otherworldy dome depicting the musings of Raimundus


The cupola was produced by a German artist Nils Burwitz in stained glass based on the philosophical musings of a Mallorcan writer, philosopher, mystic Ramon Llull (1232-1316). In “Ars Brevis” Llull (also known as RAIMUNDUS) is seeking a way to calculate universal truth.

The corridors between the rooms are adorned with lighter Mallorcan paintings, water colours washed with pastels and Mediterranean joie d’vivre.

More than 60 newly renovated rooms in the Classic category have picked up that light hearted mood, with tropical lagoon coloured curtains in lightweight almost transparent fabric.

The renovated Classic room has gone aquamarine and pale grey…

Hotel inspection – self with zebra look or something


The higher room categories remain embedded in the old sense of quality with carved and darkly lustrous hardwood furniture. If you really want a bit of the past, try a suite in the Tower….

Round desk to match the round tower and style to match grand tradition
A medieval peep at the view through the castle turrets

Or perhaps a Grand Deluxe room peeping between a froth of palms to the sea? And palms and sea from your balcony

Where to dine?

There are two well respected restaurants at the hotel, both with windows where you can admire the view. We had a splendid buffet breakfast in Es Castell with everything we could dream of.

But in the evening early we began a transfixing sojourn on the terrace that changed our dinner plans.


The mesmerizing terrace



We felt rooted to the magical spot as the sunset glow tinged the pale buildings of Palma and the sea.


Having discovered the world’s most amenable barman, who remade my margarita three times to get it perfect, we felt this was the place to eat Mallorcan tapas.

The tapas bars of Palma are a short ride away but it would be hard to beat the fare and the ambience at Castillo Son Vida that evening.

If in the mood to hang all day at Castello Son Vida, you can enjoy the spa, pools and terraces but if you want a beach not far away, a good suggestion is Portals Nous (15 mins), which has nice diversions like posh restaurants and designer shopping.

You can also indulge in some shopping at the hotel. In keeping with the glamour of the establishment we found some high quality shopping downstairs – a jewellery boutique with items up to over 40 000 euro – priced the same as their sister outlet in Palma. Most choices will be tailor made.


There was a sweet little piece for c. 2500 euro

(which I should have bought?)

Looking back

The deeper history of Castillo son Vida began in 1229 when King James of Aragon conquered Mallorca and gave this cherry-on-the-top piece of land to a loyal combatant. In 1900 the buildings were combined into a castle with inner splendor to match.

The days of news flashes and glamour began on 23 June 1961 when Steve Kusak launched the noble residence as a luxury hotel. Within a week the world’s most talked about celebs started arriving and Prince Rainer and Princess Grace hosted an extravagant society party. The festivity bubbled over with people like Veuve Cliquot magnate Crovetto and filmstar David Niven. Prince Rainier and Onassis held a picnic in the grounds that afternoon while Princess Grace walked around photographing guests!

Later Rainer was the first person to try out the new Son Vida Golf. Royals were also frequent visitors, including the Spanish Royal family, Belgian and Thai.

The A to Z of visiting celebrities, magnates and world leaders includes a long list from Arafat to Zamin, via Brigitte Bardot, Baron Rothschild, Christian Barnard, Sting and the 13 most important shipowners in the world.

The final Z goes to Zsa Zsa Gabor who attracted curious publicity when she made an eccentric exit without paying.

QUICK FACTS

No. of rooms: 164
Distance from airport: 15 mins
Distance from nearest town/shops/restaurants: 10-20 mins from Palma depending which area
Dining: Es Vi modern tapas, Es Castell int. and Spanish cuisine with fine view, Pool restaurant/bar Snacks and drinks, Indoor bar serving the beautiful terrace.
Facilities: 3 outdoor pools. Spa: sauna, steam bath, indoor heated pool. Kids club for 3-12. Gym, 3 18-hole golf courses.
Reason to stay

Golf, history, art and beautiful terraces overlooking Palma – easy access to the city

Hanging with the Royals


Golf, spa and so on as younger companions enjoy the kid’s club


Gourmet hideaway

February 1, 2019 in MALLORCA | Comments (0)

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More about Hidden Mallorca – Castell Son Claret is a refined hideaway with a two-Michelin star restaurant – Mallorca’s only…

Towering amidst lovely gardens

People make the pilgrimage all the way from Palma to Zaranda just for the evening or overnight to taste their way through the long menu from two-Michelin star executive chef Fernando Arellano. Other guests stay longer at Castell Son Claret to combine good food, exercise and quiet relaxation.

A sublime cocktail worth crossing the world to sip again with a wildflower float and a wildflower syrup along with the rest

Tranquility surrounds Castell Son Claret – you can almost hear the silence between birds and crickets calling. Wrapped In beautiful landscaped gardens at the end of a palm lined driveway in the foothills of the Tramuntana range, this small castle became a private boutique hotel in 2013.


Between mealtimes guests can be seen sunbathing silently by the sparkling garden pool, but most seem to disappear for spa treatments, hammam rituals, self-drive touring – or sporty activities.

Apart from Zaranda, the hotel offers restaurant Olivera, also mentioned in the Michelin guide, where you can dine in a winter garden or out on a charming stone terrace graced by olive trees and lavender.

Mediterranean ambience. Lovely spot for breakfast with bread and cakes from their own bakery plus lots of healthy items

Exercise is a very important drawcard at Castell Son Claret. There are two rambling trails on the estate totaling some 7 km. We saw a couple striding back from their circuit with Nordic walking sticks – not surprising since the quiet and tasteful hotel has a strong appeal for Northern Europeans.

You can walk the trails alone or with a guide, or keep on walking into the mountains. Cycling is a very important sport on Mallorca – and Castell Son Claret is well sited for a scenic road trip to Valldemossa along the astoundingly beautiful northern shoreline and back through the mountains…

Historical Valdemossa


Stunning views from the northern coastal drive


View from Es Grau, a popular pitstop for cyclists on the picturesque north coast

If the hills sound intimidating, you can get help in the form of an e-bike set to your capabilities – book at least a week in advance. Another sport is tennis on site.

In tune with its country setting, the décor at Castell Son Claret is a contemporary interpretation of old Spanish country style. Earthy and soothing elegance featuring oak panels, leather headboards and wooden beams.


Our room, a deluxe room, looked out over a Juliet balcony to the white garden paths and the impressive driveway.

But our hotel inspection had us hankering after a very appealing room with a vast terrace (if you want to book, ask us for the magic number)…

For those who at all costs must have a big balcony we also recommend one of the Tower Suites.

Then again – for those who love gardens there are demi-suites with exuberant flower filled garden terraces, set away from the main building. Or for more space and private pool – consider a pool suite.

Come evening it’s time to gravitate towards the bar – a gentleman’s club feel under centuries old Gothic arches. Here we had some of the most delicious cocktails ever…

We simply had to flash the iPhone at our Tramuntana cocktail (the cocktail image above) that looks good, tastes amazing and reflects the environment – a perfect suggestion before an environmentally friendly (and curious) tasting dinner at Zaranda.

Tramuntana cocktail: Local liquor palo containing herbs, fresh lemon juice, mint, home made syrup of the estate’s flowers topped with ginger beer.
A delightful gastronomic Olive Daiquiri. Their Sollers Orange Mojito
was another masterpiece.

Soller orange mojito – still struggling iwth new version of WordPress

To dine at Zaranda needs forethought – booking months ahead. Otherwise Olivera offers tastes from the same master. Some examples:
Pesca del dorado, 30 eur – delicious fish with bulgar and carrot creme, well presented. But try to sip your wine as you wait instead of eating too much of the”pan y apretivon” (dangerously delicious fresh made farm bread and virgin olive oil and dip).

The outside entrance to chef Fernando Arellano’s creative domain – in the restaurant castle-style slots see through to the magic kitchen

Zaranda’s locally made table ware.

It is like the thrill of hearing the orchestra tuning up as you wait for the two-Michelin star masterpieces from the kitchen. This is surely worth it. Zaranda’s 5 course meal with wine pairing 190 eur, 10 course with wine pairing 215 eur. items included waygu beef brisket and suckling pig – along with adventurous sea urchin, cuttle fish, congereel canelloni, artichoke with black truffle and foie gras roasted pigeon breast. Many other wonders of the earth may be on the menu

Another option is local dining in the village Es Capdella which is only 1,6 km – quite walkable. We ate well at Bar Nou (it’s popular and should be booked ahead). Other local dining options are Rocamar and Flanigan.

Those hankering for a swim in the ocean and a beachy relaxed mood can enjoy a recommended beach club some 20 minutes away.

Quick facts
No. of rooms: 38
Distance from airport: 40 mins
Distance from nearest town/shops/restaurants: 1.6 km to village Es Capdella
Dining: 2 restaurants & bar, incl. 2 star Michelin restaurant
Facilities: Outdoor and indoor pools, spa, gym, hammam, tennis court, 2 hiking trails on the estate, tai chi, yoga, cycling guides and trainers.
Who to stay
Foodies, seekers of peace and quiet, and those who would like some nature-blessed exercise. There are a few accommodations for families but it’s so blissfully quiet that it would be better to stay only with older children who want to join in a cycle tour and keep a low profile in adult company.

Summary
A tranquil boutique country retreat with the island’s only 2-Michelin star chef. A spot for superb cocktails, walking, cycling, tennis, hammam rituals and spa treatments, and resting by the quiet pool or in the beautiful garden. The small castle has been decorated in a contemporary interpretation of old Spanish country style. Earthy and soothing, fresh and new.
The driveway to Castell Son Claret and Zaranda

Note: this was written as a continuation of the series on Hidden Mallorca – not published till now


Urban beach & the black box

January 25, 2019 in DUBAI | Comments (0)

A sweet incident from the past  – not published then. 

Retracing our steps in Four Beaches and Five Animals, a trip via Dubai to South Africa and Mozambique. Beach one, Dubai.

This is the beach at the Ritz-Carlton, an area where lots of little cafes and restaurants make it a very urban beach. You can hardly be more urban than Dubai, and yet beachy…

Dubai was just a short stopover, baked into the Emirates plane ticket. With some 12 hours in Dubai wedged between arrival and departure, we tried to retrieve as much time as possible for sleep at the Ritz Carlton. That means we ordered Ahlan & Marhaba VIP services to get us through the airport fast.

Like magic on arrival you mosey off to a lounge to sit a short while with a drink while your Ahlan agent rushes off with your passports. Then you are lead quickly through the passport control and through the airport via a currency exchange of sorts (the real one was too far away). They refused our SEK. Outside we were handed to another agent who handed over to a competent driver.

Indeed competent. We asked our driver to change our departure time from the Ritz Carlton, pinning our faith on our VIP service to gain an hour of sleep. And he did, allowing departure from the hotel at 8am. We really needed it…

It was somewhere in the middle of the night when we were shown to our room, which turned out to be much more than a room thanks to upgrade  – a wonderful suite with a curved balcony viewing the pool, the palms, and the glint of water between the beach and that phenomenal man made island, The Palm.

The porter had offered to show us the lights. This  usually has the form of you trying to scrabble in your handbag looking for a suitable note for a tip while the porter finds  yet another light switch to impress you with- We had no dirhams.

So we said no thanks – we are tired.

We would be far more tired before the switching out of the lights it turned out. They are controlled by a little flat electronic tablet we did not notice. No switches work.

We tried pulling out the door key, and sure enough the lights went out, but a deep thick curtain began to groan as it closed, and we were in utter pitch darkness.

Luckily we had a torch ready for our visit to the bush later on. So we were able to make our way back and insert the door key. Work out how to phone reception, and then try to solve the problem. In the end they had to come up and show us where the black computer was…

Next problem was how to switch on the loo light  for a late night visit. There was no way to do this simply in the middle of the night. You would have to switch on the main lights to see the computer controls, and a spotlight would gaze blindingly into your eyes from the ceiling above your bed.

So we had to leave the loo light on all night.

This was a small incident.

The suite was gorgeous. Loads of room for entertaining if we wanted to do more than sleep through our stopover. Lovely decor. Lovely bathroom and dressing room. Wonderful bed and bedding. And a lovely balcony, curved with a view of palms and water. I just had my iPhone which was not up to the scenery at night.

But I took this picture down below on the way to breakfast through the tropical green morning.

Breakfast was a lavish tropical feast, adorablly delicious. We love you Ritz-Carlton…

I am trying to rescue Orbitwithgillian which has been hit by sorrow, loss of my webmaster my beloved daughter, time loss through work pressures and the loss of plugins from WordPress. 


Deia, art & olive groves

in MALLORCA | Comments (1)

Picture 1 of 16

Flowers and lemons, olives and mountains seen from La Residencia

Long before mass tourism, artists, writers and composers hid away on Mallorca to create masterpieces. But it became one of those “‘suburbs” of northern climes where you were more likely to meet a sweetheart than in your own home town, so you didn’t miss a chance, partied till dawn and lay limply uncovered in the sun.

Now it is back as a first class destination. We never once made the beach, and found a beautiful island full of mountains, stone villages and hidden corners, overflowing with cultural interest. We had no time for sunchairs, even by the pool though we had the privilege to stay in four luxury hotels, hidden from the crowds.
The first lies in a picturesque mountain village with a good number of expat artists. The second takes you to the foothills for a 2-Michelin star restaurant and a quiet stay devoted to spa and exercise – perhaps e-biking. The third overlooks Palma with sublime terraces, historical paintings and a vivid retrohistory of celebrities. The fourth is right in Palma, but gently hidden.

1. Deia

Deia, an enchanting village at the foot of the massive rocky Tramuntana mountains  has been home of artist’s since the sixties.

Here lies Belmond La Residencia, occupying the land and buildings of a 16th century finca or farm. Stepped up the slope in the same honey coloured stone as the village, it blends in harmoniously, surrounded by lush gardens erupting with gigantic roses, lemon, orange and olive trees. I had seen pictures but was unprepared for how gigantic the mountains are, looming up into the sky.

At sunset something amazing happens. It’s as if they catch alight for a short intense moment. Guests and those in the know sit on the terraces of Miro cafe waiting for the transformation. Preferably with a Miro cocktail. And I did the same, in the company of the ravishing Eva, svelte Kate and others.

Art is a passion at Belmond La Residencia. The hotel has three resident artists, the gorgeous grounds contain a sculpture garden, and the walls are hung with 800 curated artworks – including an impressive collection of 33 originals by Miró in place until September 2017.

Belmond La Residencia’s resident sculptor, Juan Waelder, knew the artist personally. Juan runs one of the hotel’s art workshops (which I joined that weekend). You can also join art walks with a guide to meet the village artists – more about that later.

The loving touch

The hotel welcomed us warmly. The farm mansions have been converted artfully into guest rooms of every size and shape, all enlivened by original paintings and antiques, and a refined rustic style with terracotta tiles and wooden beams. I had a junor suite superior, which enclosed me sweetly in an earthy mood, and gave visions through the glass doors into a small garden that had a sunbed round the corner and a table, from which you could see the incredible mountains
The hotel’s caring touch extends up the mountain through its own centuries-old olive groves. La Residencia spends a considerable budget on restoring the archaic stone walls that terrace the steep slope, and in removing unwanted plants for the sake of the precious olives and the beauty of the surroundings.

As allies in this effort they keep donkeys that nibble away between the olive trees. These beasts of burden add colour and authenticity to what is already a hotel full of Mallorcan atmosphere. They also encourage guests to adopt olive trees for a price.

Sharing their passion for their environment with guests is in itself a passion for hotel management and staff. Once a week they organize a walk up the slope with donkeys carrying your drinking water to a stone shed high up with views of Deia and the sea. There you sit down at a rustic table to hear about local ways and eat rustic food – a range of Mallorcan sausages and “pa amb oli” with fresh made bread, which you rub with wild tasting Mallorcan tomatoes, various salt mixes, and olive oil of various local varieties.

Towards the beginning of the stiff walk we saw a new platform with stunning sea view – destined for romantic private dining. The velvet blue of the sea peeps between the gnarled trunks of olives.
The hotel ,in reviving its large olive plantations, is grafting fresh olive plants onto the old rootstock of well adapted Mallorcan olives. The higher we walked, the more sea we saw

Sea and mountains You can see the sea way below but it’s not so far away. It’s a mere 5 mins drive or some 20 to 30 mins walk down a rustic path to Cala Deia. We arrived at a rocky cove with sparkling seawater and a small beach strewn with kelp and pebbles. We chose one of two tapas bars, to sit in the sun sipping gin with hibiscus tonic – a drink that our party were now wondering how to get back home.
In the slide show you see a  rustic bar at Cala Deia with Kate from the Belmond team

In the summer the hotel offers boat trips along the coast to other sights and beaches. Or for hikers, you can stride for some 2 hours over mountain passes to Port Soller to enjoy its beach and bars, feeling you really deserve it.

Back at the hotel swimming goes on from spring to autumn. The main pool is heated, and there are two more pools including a spa pool, where one of our party trained before breakfast.
Deia and the Tramuntana mountains add enchantment beyond the heated pool

Tapas and village culture

With their stunning backdrop of towering mountains and gardens simply erupting with flowers, the hotel terraces are sublime spots for breakfast, lunch and cocktails – and of course for tapas.

Both Miro restaurant and El Olivo are worthy F&B destinations with guests coming from far afield. In the picturesque village there are 8 restaurants so that creates a bit of competition which helps to keep a high standard all round.

Other boasting points in Deia are a museum and a lovely church with the churchyard where the English poet and writer Robert Graves was buried. He lived here for decades from 1929 until his death in 1985 and his home can be visited.

Intimately part of Deia, La Residencia gives easy access to village life. You can buy Mallorcan gins and olive oil, browse in a few arty shops, and interact with local artists in their studios (most of them simply homes stacked with art for viewing and for sale). No artists will hassle you to buy (however happy they will be if you do). They will tell you why they painted x or y, revealing their dreams or their loves and disillusions.

On our art walk with one of La Residencia’s art gurus:

Some artworks by David Templeton outside his home – which is packed with paintings and collages from floor to ceiling, lounge to kitchen

Arturo drifted in to Deia on his travels round the world – and stayed decades. No pose of arrogant intellectual mystique – he will tell you a story behind every painting – true if you want or pure fantasy. Vermeer’s lady with the pearl earring pops up in various paintings – here she has the background of Cala Deia.Behind is Blind Date – based on a failed date of his own – which lead to the next painting….
Women bear a huge burden of romance – his amusing perhaps sardonic explanation for the flowery lady bearing Cupid on her breast.

In the gardens at the hotel at least once a week you find local art on display. One of the managers told us about a big party in the summer to which the hotel invites the villagers – another high point of interaction with the locals. The band is very likely to contain a few of the expat artists who discovered Deia decades ago.

A place of your own At Belmond La Residencia most rooms have views of mountains soaring heavenward, the lush gardens or the stone village.

The building lowest down – virtually in the village – is the oldest mansion (16th century) and some rooms have a more medieval feel ladled with nostalgia. Next tier, the Son Fony wing is where we stayed in an 18th century mansion above the main pool area. Finally, perched high on the slope, is the new Tramuntana wing – recreating the old style but with stunning open views and a number of plunge pools. I liked the Son Fony wing best for its balance of old and newish.

In June 2017, there were six new rooms high up in the Tramuntana section, with a special attraction for extended families. On two levels you have the possibility to book three interleading suites as two Exclusive suites (each with plunge pool and separate lounge) interlink and interconnect with a Junior Suite Deluxe on each level.

in a nutshell – worth your bucket list In short, Belmond La Residencia is a hotel with soul, with refined and cultured atmosphere yet warm and relaxing. It radiates the authentic feel of old stone, original art and antiques – and is wrapped in beauty with tall mountains and exuberant scented gardens, within easy reach of the sea. Hotel arranges activities to put you in tune with Mallorca, its olive groves, artists, and tapas…or just head off on your own.

Post from 2017 that somehow escaped publication…