Go Big or Go Home?

I’d rather go home.

Its not what you think. As much as you may think I’m about to talk about hitting the festive season hard, dancing on a table and consuming bottles of champagne – I’m not. I am talking the holidays.. just not like that.

If I could choose between this:

and this:

I’d always choose the latter. In fact, I did. We honeymooned 7 years ago at Paradise Cove (the second pic) – a 67 room Boutique Hotel in Mauritius.

Earlier this year, we had booked to stay here (Zimbali Resort)Zimbali resort

And due to a Presidential son’s wedding, and a few words with management, we landed up spending some time here (Zimbali Lodge)

zimbali lodge

which actually suited us way better. Less people, more personal service.

Boutique. Or Home in this instance.

I assumed everyone liked small and intimate, staff who recognise you, greet you by name and recall your evening tipple of choice and no schedule of daily activities like aqua yoga, or traditional dancers or tour buses of visitors arriving and departing daily.

I was apparently wrong. A good friend of mine and his wife seek out the Big. The hotel that offers yoga in the morning, evening entertainment, daily excursions, volleyball tournaments and an entertainment committee. I actually shudder at the idea. No really.

We are the complete opposite.

I am currently in the Maldives. After 7 years of wanting and dreaming of this destination – we took the plunge, said sod it to our bank balance, saved like mad, and booked it.

We’ve spent 4 nights at the 37 villa’d island of Makunudu. And currently spending 7 nights at the recently refurbished all-inclusive resort by Atmosphere – Oblu Helengeli.

Home, and Big. As I like to refer to them as.

I can’t be certain how we landed up with the large all inclusive resort, it seems really un-us… but, of course I actually do know. There was a really good deal on that put us in an over water bungalow during peak season at probably the same cost (no, at the same cost) as the beach bungalow. And actually, it’s only classed as a medium-sized  resort with 116 villas, but still has the yoga and water aerobics schedule!

So big, or home? I think I still prefer the intimacy of a boutique resort, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work the system at the large resort to get the same sort of service. Mark has made friends with the barman, after lending him his iPhone for the day (which largely improved the music in the bar, so we actually won in this) and the result is great. Being served quickly plus drinks brought out to the beach for us etc. Our first lunch we were lucky enough to meet and chat to the chef, who now greets us personally every time he sees us. So too after making conversation with a couple of the ‘live action station’ chefs, means I also get to make up my own dishes (mostly without the chilli and cooked to well done – the joys of the impending motherhood).

While I think I’ll always choose the smaller guesthouse or hotel over the larger ones, I think it doesn’t only boil down to the size of the resort, but instead what the resort believes in that results in the experience you have. Oblu is brand new and while providing an ‘intro offer’ to get people to the island, they’re doing their very best to ensure their service makes it a memorable experience. The same can’t be said for every large hotel with an entertainment schedule, but its nice to know (and I’ll admit) that the larger ones aren’t as crappy as I originally thought they would be.

Exceptional experiences come from the people working at the resort or hotel and the service they offer you.

Plus the bathroom amenities. Cotton wool. Just give me some damn cotton wool.

 

 

 

 

 

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Meandering in the Midlands some more

The second day of our five-star holiday and our meander through the Midlands.

After a cosy night in our amazing suite (the underfloor heating goes a long way in 7 degree temperature), we started our day with what became our favourite spot of the Meander: Blueberry Hill. Lounging in the big leather chairs, the gorgeous 360 degree view of the rolling hills of the Midlands in front of us we indulged in their speciality Blueberry Cheesecake. Sitting next to the fire, blankets over our knees we read our books for an hour or so. Blissful holiday mode. A quick browse through the gift store next door (no space in our luggage or on our credit cards to buy anything) and we were off to the next little stop!

Blueberry Hill cheesecake

We popped into Lavender Trout farm, a farmstall filled with old and new odds and ends. The type that look great in shops, but rarely would suit anything when you take it home: Old Ouma rusk tins, ribbons, old tin cups and sauces. A bicycle attached to a wall, a couple of chickens running around (as cold as we were). There’s even a dam stocked with trout for days when the temperature isn’t in single digits, much to Mark’s delight (and dismay as there was little chance of me hanging around in the frost while he fished).

Quaint

As there wasn’t much activity going on we hopped over to Nottingham Road Brewery for a bit of a beer tasting. Fascinatingly the pub was empty (where was everyone?) which unfortunately made for a rather sad and lonely beer tasting. But taste we did!

Beer tasting at Nottingham Road Brewery

Lunch! Aah, the highlight of the midlands, and my personal must-see of the trip. It’s the spot I’d been waiting to visit since I’d first heard of it back in London. Granny Mouse’s Country House. Mostly where people get married when they “get married in Midlands”. It’s this gorgeous lodge that is cosy, comfortable and oozes with charm. It’s picture perfect from an old bed-time story – Hanzel and Gretel type cottages, pretty rose gardens and autmumn-coloured upholstered furniture. Warmly welcomed after our squizz at the chapel (yes, perhaps a reenactment of a walk down the aisle, it never grows old) we were shown around the lodge including the cellar and fine dining room. Not bad at all! A quiet day and with no other tables in their bistro restaurant they offered to serve us lunch in the lounge. Next to the fire. Perfection! A glass of red in hand (I have a suspicion it was Uva Mira – but it has been a while) I ordered the Grilled Local Trout, served on braised leek risotto topped with rocket and red onion salad (R80) and Mark had the Ribs and chips (R80). Amazing!

The picture doesn’t do the dish justice
Pose much?

Full, satisfied and oh so cosied up, we spent the evening in our suite. With its underfloor heating. Ordering room service. Five star holiday. This is what it’s about.

A meander in the midlands

I’d heard of it. People got married there, mostly people from Natal, but some natalians married Stormers, I mean people from Cape Town and so their friends (also from Cape Town) travelled there for said weddings. But I really didn’t know too much about the Midlands, or the Meander until dinner with (Natalian) friends when they were visiting Cape Town. They sold me on the idea of quaint decor shops, antiques, the outdoors and coffee stops. I really love a coffee stop.

Funny, they never mentioned the freezing cold nor mist. But anyway.

Dinner, talk of the Drakensberg and coffee shops, an obessession with visiting a 5 star (but malaria free) game reserve found us spontaneously booking a trip to KZN.

After a night in Umhlanga visiting the beautiful Oyster Box for a drink, the Shark tank for the necessary rugby and kuier (except they wouldn’t call it that there… as Afrikaans isn’t a language understood by many) we were off to do the Midlands Meander. Our first stop, Piggly Wiggly. Like a child in a candy store, I was an adult in a farmstall/deli… too many delights too oooh and aah at, but first a much-needed spot of (no, not coffee) lunch rather.

Piggly wiggly Jam
All the goodies at Piggly Wiggly

Being a Saturday it was full with kids and oldies. Being April (which makes it completely unexpected) it wasn’t long after we finished lunch that the skies opened up and the rain came down. Rain isn’t really something worth mentioning at the best of times, but the lightning storm that accompanied it was! Cracks of bright light filled the sky as we took cover at Sterlings Wrought Iron. After a good old chat with the owner, we drifted between dry spells to the linen, book, clothing and decor shops. Possibly everything you could wish for in one stop on the Meander. Naturally, I spent a fair few warm moments marvelling the wines on offer at Meander Fine Wines (a surprisingly good selection – glad to see the Natalians choose good wine) before visiting Hides of Africa, Mark’s stepbrother’s shop and deciding that yep, a hide will be purchased in our near future (it still hasn’t been bought.)

Makes for a pretty picture!

After a look around the antique store filled with old Ouma Rusks tins and similar goodies that look great in a shop, but would probably look more like junk and not as cool in my kitchen, the temperature started to dip and we got back into that whole meandering vibe. Swissland Cheese was our next stop. A long, wet and muddy road took us straight into deepest Switzerland, well – you know what I mean. Welcomed by a queue of goats about to be milked, and an electricity cut we were in for a cosy cheese tasting.  Our very own Heidi cheese assistant spoke with a soft German accent and treated us to all that was available. Cheese, cheese and more cheese as the generator kicked in to milk the goats and we craved a glass of red.

Somewhere between Swissland Cheese and Nottingham Road, I actually thought we had stepped into Wales. Green lush fields surrounded us. Stately homes (ok, more Surrey than Wales). Grey skies. And let’s not forget that 7 degree temperature. I was starting to freeze and it was time to get to the first of our five-star establishments that would make up our 5 star holiday!

Mark and I often talk about ‘that grand entrance’ – the term first used when we were looking for a wedding venue and obsessed that the entrance to the venue needed to be spectacular (not sure for what?). Well, Fordoun Hotel & Spa  has that Grand Entrance. Autumn colours lined the drive with a hazy mist setting in. Spectacular! And as we were warmly greeted by smiling staff, we knew our stay would be a comfortable one. Our suite was divine, with underfloor heating throughout. I only mention the heating because by now I’m pretty sure it was about 4 degrees and the coldest I had been in years. A view out of the lawn, and down to a dam far beyond. Just gorgeous really. Gorgeous, fresh and just a little chilly.

Autumn Colours and a Grand Entrance of Fordoun Hotel & Spa

Cozying up next to the fireplace in the lounge we settled in to our books with a cup of coffee to relax. Ok, let’s be honest. I was just trying to defrost. The mist settled in as well and when it came to pop out for dinner, we couldn’t see our hand in front of our eyes. A pizza at the first spot we could find and back to the coziness of our room for our first night in the Midlands.

Isn’t that cosy?