CHAMPAGNE OCCASIONS & HONEYMOONS

There is something so delicious about this time of year!  Apart from the turkey and trimmings….. it’s a thing called love and family and sweet beginnings. Many a canny mother or dad seem to know to keep a special bottle of champagne hidden away for that “unexpected” occasion.  Champagne

We are going to the New Year’s Eve celebration of the NC Symphony again this year and I hope we are treated once more to another romantic evening.  Last time as we gathered for the second half of the concert the young girl sitting next to me, a total stranger, turned to me in sweet joy to show off her brand new engagement ring!  Her boyfriend had proposed to her during the interval and she was beside herself with delight!! A whole row of unassociated persons united for a few short minutes rejoicing, laughing and exclaiming with the happy young couple.

Yup, it’s the time of love, family and sweet beginnings.  Planning a wedding can be stressful and a somewhat daunting undertaking – but planning the honeymoon afterwards can be the easiest part if you turn to experts for help!  We have that expertise in romantic destinations.

This is the perfect time to try an exotic trip to Africa.  It’s surprisingly affordable.  Combine the elegance of the Cape winelands and the stunning scenery of the Peninsula with the thrill of a photographic safari in the bush.  Makoro canoeOr travel to the golden sands and pounding surf of the Indian Ocean and on to Big Five Wildlife in Zululand.  Glide on makoro canoes through the Okavango Delta, watch elephants splash and play in Botswana, marvel at the magnificent Victoria Falls and end your journey sipping sundowners as you watch the sun set from the top of ancient granite boulders. Marriage is a big adventure and what better way to celebrate than starting out with your own African adventure?

Do you dream of the sun-bathed islands of the Caribbean and see the two of you relaxing on white sand beaches, toes in warm aqua oceans while sipping something tropically colorful?  There are so many wonderful resorts to choose from on a bewildering array of islands, each with their own particular charm.  It makes all the difference to have expert assistance in picking out the one just right for you.

Perhaps it’s the time-drenched cultures of Europe that appeal.  A rambling wander through countryside dotted with castles, vineyards, olive groves or lavender fields.  Castle ChateauxJourney down a river on an elegant cruise, ride bikes or hike mountain trails, take a fast train or test drive a new Mercedes, focus on food or beer or art.  There are so many ways to make memories in Europe and what a special way to begin your life together!

Planning honeymoons and destination weddings are some of our most favorite trips.  It’s such a wonderful way to begin and as we celebrate our 33rd year of marriage – we think we know what we are talking about!  We’re looking forward to hearing from you in 2014 and beginning those plans.

Lion stories

The meals in the hotels, lodges and camps of South Africa generally come as something of a revelation to our American visitors.  They are fresh, healthy, colorful and simply delicious.  What is more surprising to them, and many are world travelers, is that they are delightfully “normal” looking to their western eyes.  Of course this is not always the case and one should always be prepared to be more adventurous in culinary pursuits when visiting new cultures and lands.

Ngomo SL buffet stretchSuch was the case recently when I was leading  a Corporate Group in South Africa.  A carefully selected meal of hot and cold canapés of South African delicacies crafted to appeal to the North American palate had been prepared.  And this had been thoughtfully paired with the appropriate world-class South African wine.  It was a charming evening and perfect introduction to the delights that lay before them as they traveled exotic South Africa.

As hostess I did the rounds talking to the guests and enquired after their comfort and enjoyment.  I was greeted enthusiastically by several of the groups as they raved over their experiences thus far.  One group told me how delicious the food was, however “they didn’t care much for the lion!”  I laughed and replied that they must be mistaken as there was certainly no lion on the menu.  They assured me that was what they had eaten.  Thinking perhaps too much good SA wine had been enjoyed, I smiled and moved on, only to be told at the next table as they too raved about the delicious spread, that they had “loved the lion”!  More than puzzled, I decided I had better find this particular hors d’oeuvre and try it for myself in order to clear up this misunderstanding.  It was clearly small bites of something meaty.  As every delicacy was thoughtfully labeled, I leant over to peer at this label in the somewhat dim cocktail lighting, to see

“SPRINGBOK LION CRUSTED WITH COFFEE AND CUMIN WITH SWEET POTATO FONDANT”

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The next day, I was at pains to point out that my guests were not to go back to America and tell wild stories about their gourmet African experience and eating lion all because of some dyslexic typist!  That Lion they thought they were eating was really Springbok Loin –  and yes, I had to agree it was truly delicious!

A ‘disgusted’ male lion strides into the sunset and away from any mention of Springbok and Lion in the same sentence!

INDABA 2013: Africa’s top travel show

INDABA 2013 meetingsTrip Report by Keith Holshausen, Lazy Lizard Travel LLC

Even though I grew up in Southern Africa, every visit ‘home’ is filled with excitement from the moment I step onto the South African Airways flight in JFK, to the first sight of the rising sun and that unforgettable orange glow as we wing southwards.  SAA is an award winning airline with three South African airports ranked the best in Africa which are also currently rated higher than any American airport (Skytrax survey).

INDABA is owned by SA Tourism and attracts some 13,000 delegates with 750 exhibitors.  At INDABA you can discover all the latest travel products available and window-shop for travel opportunities, as well as network in an industry that thrives on connections. I squeezed in 38 meetings in three days not to count the various ‘sundowners’ and cocktail events that go with the territory.  Show organization is top notch and the service and efficiency is undoubtedly ‘first world’ but with a delightful flavor of Africa.  May is a perfect time to be in South Africa as you get to experience Autumn at its best.

Numerous African countries are represented, including the hearty Southern African contingent of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique (not forgetting the host country, South Africa) to the East Africa clan of Tanzania and Kenya with a special contribution from the Indian Ocean islands of Madagascar, Seychelles, Mauritius and Reunion.

The South African Minister of Tourism was also visiting INDABA as tourism is a leading earner of foreign currency, even overtaking gold exports.  They say that one job is created for every 12 foreign arrivals in South Africa.

No visit to INDABA would be complete without a few ‘site inspections’ and the travel industry is always ready to showcase their splendors.  I traditionally visit the game reserves in the Kruger National Park area and my sightings of leopard at Mala Mala this year were breathtaking to say the least.  I then dropped in at Kapama Private Game Reserve which stretches over 30,000 acres and has four sophisticated bush camps.  In Cape Town the Table Bay Hotel on the waterfront boasts stunning views of Table Mountain and you are also pampered with exceptional service.  The scenic Cape Winelands have been described by many overseas wine experts as the most beautiful in the world.  The Cape wine industry dates back to the 17th century with the Dutch settlers and French Huguenots.  My wife’s ancestors were wine farmers and settled their Paarl estate ‘Den Soeten Inval’ as far back as 1688.

So next time you are looking at your ‘bucket list’, I strongly suggest you write in Africa and perhaps even write it in twice.

Hamba kahle….travel well.

Fall in Franschoek

There were originally two very distinctive European influences on this most southern tip of Africa, the Cape, both brought through the Dutch East India Company.  The sailing ships trading exotic spices and Cape winelands Boschendaalgoods brought from the Far East and India needed a safe harbor and fresh food and water on their long journey to and fro Europe and brought Dutch farmers and settlers to the then uninhabited Cape.  At the same time the persecution of French Huguenots had forced many of these people out of their native France and into Flanders and Holland.  A business deal was struck between these displaced French and The Company (as it became known) bringing many of these Protestant families to settle and farm in the Cape.

“Wheat before wine” was the mantra but it was soon proven while water went stale, wine remained palatable even after many months at sea, and so more and more vineyards were planted.  The French settled predominantly in Franschoek (French Corner).  Long after the French language and accent has disappeared many of the names in that region still give testimony to their heritage today.  As do the restaurants and wines of this region.Avenue to Boschendaal

It is vaguely reminiscent of Sonoma Wine country in California but the mountains are bigger, greyer and somehow more forbidding.  We stopped at Boschendaal along the way – it is a magnificent estate and enormous.  Here it is possible to enjoy wine-tasting, picnics and distinctive gift shopping as well as history.  They have a gorgeous old French Huguenot Manor House preserved and available to self-tour which is easy to do as it is only five rooms!  Fascinating and well worth the $2 fee to get in.

 

Once again the gardens surrounding the manor are beautiful and in this perfect weather an outside amble is just compulsory.  The little gardener responded to my greeting with a toothless grin and some word that sounded like “Oily” and indicated the old oak tree that he was sitting under.  I looked up to see this gorgeous owl just sitting there as calm as can be and patiently observing me as if he was waiting for acknowledgement!  Wonderful!

 

We explored the little town of Franschoek and a special place called the La Quartier Francais which is world renowned for its food and accommodation – and it was impressive – and then I did a side trip to the Huguenot museum.  Most interesting and I just wish I had written down the names of those Huguenot ancestors that we have from the 1700’s.  I learnt a lot in a short time.

At Le Quartier Francais

It was getting late then and we still hadn’t had lunch so we decided to put lunch and dinner together and we drove out of Franschoek up the mountain to a beautiful vineyard with fantastic restaurant called La Petit Ferme.  The view from the restaurant was expansive back over the villages and towards the southwest and watching the light change over the valleys as we lingered over late lunch brought back some long-forgotten memories of our time in the Cape while at university.

 

I enjoyed the most mouth-watering lamb wrapped in aubergine on rosemary potato gratin with yogurt sauce drizzled over all …. it was melt-in the mouth tender and SOOO delicious!  La Petit Ferme grow most of their wines to sell in their restaurant and so it’s almost the only place you can enjoy their wine – had the most refreshing and delicious Sauvignon Blanc Fume full of green grass and melons!  My sommelier daughter would be proud of me!

View from restaurant

Fall in the Wine Lands

From Cape Town city it is a 30 – 40min drive to the little university town of Stellenbosch, nestled at the foot of the Simonsberg.  These harsh grey mountains provided the first barrier to the pioneers trekking inland all those centuries ago.  As they persevered they discovered little protected valleys and slopes perfect for the growing of fruit and vines.  Many settled and today there are still some vineyards and farms that remain in family hands from the late 1600’s.  It is an outstanding wine growing region with some distinctive vintages and flavors completely South African. 
While in the Winelands we chose the River Manor Lodge in the heart of Stellenbosch and stayed in large comfortable bedrooms with gorgeous old claw-tub bathrooms. It is a beautiful old historic house with much care and attention given to both the indoor and outdoor decor.  Of old affluent farmhouse style – inviting and very welcoming! 
But it is the gardens and the trees that I love!  Masses of white iceberg roses under-planted with delicate Santa Barbara daisies, lavender and rosemary, green lawns, old oaks and the heady smell of ripe guavas everywhere from gnarled old guava trees lining the terrace.  Love that smell!  It takes me back to our childhood and the unsprayed guavas that mum insisted on picking and stewing up for dad, complete with all the uninvited organic “guests”! 

Cape Wine and Leisure Tours picked us up the next morning and took us off on a Wine Tour after first discussing our specific taste in wine (our palate!) and what, if anything, we would specifically like to see or taste. 
They operate a highly personalized and outstanding service which I found to be both most informative and informal enough to be loads of fun.   We drove up the magnificent mountain pass high above the little village of Stellenbosch to make a start on our wine journey at a modern tasting room at a company owned vineyard, Tokara.  The wine tasting was complimented by stunning views over the vineyards through the large plate glass window. 
 Through the day we wound our way around the Stellenbosch area through dozens of wines both red and white, table and dessert, through five other vineyards both small and large, family and corporate owned – old to ancient complete with cobwebs – and all the time aware of the breath-taking mountains and the scenic beauty of this region laid out before you like a feast!  We ended up with a light lunch at Delheim, one of a select number of vineyards that have restaurants on their property a long with tasting rooms.   Biltong salad and home-made fresh squeezed lemonade for me!!
That evening, as darkness fell, we walked from River Manor into the main street of Stellenbosch and wandered around looking at several restaurants before settling on a little Bistro which offered what we felt like eating. We had delicious butternut soup with fresh baked bread and skipped the wine!  Over dinner we decided that the next day we would venture over that same fantastic mountain pass to the quaint village of Franschoek. 
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