A night at the Light House Boutique Suites

My sister works in luxury travel. Shame.

She also has impeccable taste. So when she decided on a beautiful boutique hotel over my house for her 40th birthday party – it wasn’t so much of a surprise. I mean, I aim to make my house nice and all – but a guesthouse will always win. In December last year, we celebrated her big birthday and spent the night in one of the most beautiful boutique hotels I’ve ever been in.

The Light House Boutique Suites, contrary to its name, is in Paarl and nowhere near a lighthouse. It’s a beautiful guesthouse that reminds me of the Hamptons – had I ever visited the Hamptons. The house was renovated and tastefully decorated with special attention given to absolutely every last detail. It rivals the pages of a decor magazine and has the warmth of a loving home thanks to its hosts. It is a peaceful, luxurious sanctuary with immaculate gardens and a beautiful pool, thoughtfully and uniquely decorated rooms (yes, I spied them all) and opulent finishes throughout the sitting, reading and lounging spots in the house.

We stayed in the Mayfair room – ornate and luxuriously decorated, it boasted a giant king size bed (or just a normal king sized bed, but its such a luxury I have to say giant), a small settee, arm chairs and beautiful views. We could’ve just hung out in our room all day. At 16 weeks pregnant, I was very tempted.

Every detail is thoughtfully chosen and paired to make the room unique and gorgeous with no costs spared on ensuring the finishes are to a high standard. 

Even the towels come wrapped like a present!

I love a turndown! In fact, I actually get excited by my turndown (and disappointed when there isn’t one. Honestly, I’ve been known to judge – silently – when there isn’t a turndown). The Light House has set the bar so high on the turndown experience for us – their turn down is hardly just a mint on the pillow and dimmed lights. Along with the standard, and the not standard turndown items –  the highlight is a whole box dedicated especially to you! Filled with special treats, and tastefully presented. The thought that goes into every part of your experience in a stay here is exceptional.

We were there for a party – and while what a party it was (sober and all) – the day after (hangover free and all) delivered one of the most delicious breakfasts a girl could ask for when she can’t ask for eggs Benedict (those damn raw eggs).

Served outdoors beneath giant umbrellas, by the warmest hosts, we drank champagne (well…. you know), had platters of fruits and then a cooked-to-perfection hot breakfast.

While I could’ve stayed all day, or all weekend really with no intention of leaving, we sadly had to bid farewell to the most gorgeous guesthouse (and hosts) in Paarl with promises to return in the future for a longer stay. While some may say that holidaying local shouldn’t require 5 star overnights in towns an hour’s drive from your own, I really beg to differ. I’d also recommend booking in to the Light House with no intention to leave all weekend. Not to wine taste. Not to eat. Just stay here in this little oasis of luxury and soak it all in. It is… that good.

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Time out at the Ginkgo Petite Spa at The Andros

The scent in a spa is probably what I love most and as I step into the Ginkgo Spa at the Andros Boutique Hotel, I’m instantly relaxed.

This massage is long overdue. I’m in the final month of my maternity leave now and it’s a little treat for myself I’ve been craving.

I found this little spa, aptly named a Petite spa as it is just that, via the Entertainer. That little app has been a miracle at introducing me to new places and also at getting my toes done at half the price during unpaid maternity leave days. On a corner in Claremont, the Andros Hotel is home to the spa. Unfortunately I didn’t get to trawl or even spy the hotel facilities as the spa is really separate, with its own parking and entrance, which is a pity as I looooove a bit of luxury – even if I’m just walking through the foyer and lusting over the decor.

I booked via email – always a win in my books as although I may love to talk, and love to socialise, I have a problem picking up the phone. My sister would be surprised at this statement as apparently I jeopardised many a relationship in our youth as I hogged the phone deterring her potential boyfriends. Times have changed, and thank heavens for whatsapp, email and twitter now. Any arrangements I can make via these channels trumps.

I was welcomed with a chai tea and biscotti, and that heavenly spa scent. The one that even though I’ve bought every oil at Rain and Body Shop, I just can’t recreate in my own home.

I was shown to my treatment room, just off the reception room, which was also… petite. So petite in fact I didn’t quite know where to put my things. There’s no dressing room locker with gown and those awkward spa slippers here. Unfortunately this petite spa seemed to be a little less day spa than I had imagined for my self-awarded treat. But it didn’t disappoint.

While I may not have had a gown, I’m always pleased when the towels to ‘cover yourself with this towel’ are new, soft, and luxurious which gratefully the Ginkgo was. It is beyond me how some places think stiff, faded and fraying towels are acceptable.

My therapist didnt ask me what pressure I was after but got straight to work and it was perfect. I had opted for the Elixir massage over the Swedish for no reason other than I never understand what exactly a Swedish massage is supposed to be. She explained afterwards that Swedish is more flowing, and the Elixir was more focussed and tailored. *I cast my mind back to Egypt and my first ‘Swedish massage’ and shudder. Another story for another day perhaps*

Music sets the tone for everything in life and so it sometimes surprises me the music that spas and therapists opt for, especially those that don’t play the standard spa tink-alink (you know what I mean) music. Sometimes it’s the same three songs, on repeat. Sometimes it’s famous movie soundtracks, by panpipes. Today was one of those days where I wondered if they bought this cd on a 3 for 2 special. Luckily the massage was really good and distracted me, and in fairness I’d rather have lyrics than the same three songs on repeat.

As the spa is small and the treatment rooms are off the reception room, it also means there’s no chill out room for your tea or water afterwards – a luxury which is exactly that, like the gown, but at least I was still offered water afterwards which is more than some other places.

The experience was restful and the massage fantastic. While I could have happily whiled away my day (or at least another hour) in a spa wearing a gown and slippers, the Petite Gingko isn’t really that kind of place. But what it lacks in spa-ness it really does make up for in polite and well trained therapists and excellent treatments, if my massage was anything to go by, and the overall feeling of being very welcome.

Plus. There’s that whole book by email thing.

4 star lodge vs… 4 star lodge

4 star lodges

Karen wasn’t the first person to ask me this. And I’m still not entirely sure how to answer it.

On our recent (and amazing) holiday to the KZN bush, we stayed at two lodges for two days each. Mostly because I wanted to book the one, and Mark wanted to book the other. So instead of three days at one, we opted for 2 days at each.
Both are graded 4 stars, and both use the word ‘luxury‘ on their home page of their websites.
But Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge and Leopard Mountain Game Lodge couldn’t be further apart in experiences.

Meals, game drives and accommodation. A 4 star rating isn’t enough to choose a lodge when two lodges can be so uniquely different and can vastly appeal to different people. I still don’t know the answer for Karen. But… here’s a summary of both.

Part 1, is about two nights at Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge and Part 2, is about our stay (and not seeing a leopard but other cool stuff) at Leopard Mountain Game Lodge.

2 nights at Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge

Rhino Ridge is based in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, and as the name describes, the first ‘private’ lodge overlooks a ridge within the 96000ha reserve, where the first rhino’s were (re)discovered after they thought extinct (pretty cool fact). To be fair, the lodge itself was built on bordering farm land that was bought from the community. The park’s borders were extended to engulf the lodge, and the community were offered jobs and own 50% of the lodge (that % fact should really be confirmed). The lodge is brand spanking new. In fact, when we booked – there were only artist impressions to go off. But the reality didn’t disappoint.

Rhino Ridge

4 room types are on offer, and we opted for the Luxury Bush Villa over the Safari Room, for the price difference (R5900 and R4280 per night respectively according to website) I think it was worth it. The Honeymoon Villa (of which there are two) have their own private plunge pools, and if we were on honeymoon perhaps would’ve been worth it.
We had Villa 10, which was set a little back from the ridge, which disappointingly didn’t have the view – it proved a welcome thing when the biggest storm they’ve had in years hit us on night 2. If I could choose, however, I’d say Villa 5 is the best. All the villas are rather close together, and without a lot of vegetation grown back yet between villas, there’s not as much privacy as you’d like.

Rhino Ridge Villa Bed IMG_1439

Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge Balcony Rhino Ridge Villa

The villas are beautifully and tastefully decorated (ala Weylandts, and resembling how I hope my lounge will one day appear), the floors adorned with many nguni hides (slight sadness to think that those nguni’s were probably the true land owners before they lodge was built). The freestanding bath (surrounded by windows that unfortunately allow passerby’s, if there are any, to sneak a peak – grow back dear vegetation!!) and an open shower with a door onto the deck (which I couldn’t quite see the point of, but kind of cool all the same). The double-sided fireplace, that we put to use only because we could and there was a storm going on (and not because it was cold. At all) sat neatly between the ‘lounge’ area of the suite and the bathroom (with a hide a bath mat. yes really).

Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge Bathroom

Arrival at Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge (after a hell-raising hill, potholes included, in a rented car) is like finding that little oasis in the dry desert. One that has refreshing facecloths and a cold drink as well. We handed our keys over and the team ensured our bags reached our room and our car was parked safely away for the two days we were there. Lunch was a feast (I’m always sceptical of buffets) but the food was fresh and interesting. And most divinely, different to day 2’s lunch).

Rhino Ridge Lunch

Due to an extended but amazing nap (post all-night party the previous night), we skipped our first game but popped down to the bar for a drink and to advise what time we wanted to be collected for dinner as there’s no phone in your room,  and in true ‘bush lodge’ style you aren’t ‘allowed’ to walk between lodge and villa alone (although I’m never sure exactly what a guy with a torch is going to do if we were to come across a big cat or similar). Later we joined everyone at the bar (where we were grateful to not overhear any stories of wild dog, hyena or cat sightings) and briefly chatted to our game ranger (known as field guides these days) named Lindi. Different from the only other ‘private game lodge’ experience we had where the guides rotated, Lindi was assigned to us for the duration of the stay. Also different to other lodge experiences, was the awkward moment the following morning when we returned from our game drive where there were two tables set up for breakfast – one for 5 and one for two (There were 6 of us on the drive, in pairs of two). I think Lindi was supposed to join two couples, but it all went a bit pear-shaped and we landed up dining with another couple. Which was weird. But hey.

Hluhluwe is public reserve with ‘private’ vehicles (which meant the opposite of what I thought it did). Gratefully we were in a landrover (or equivalent) as I never knew an African pothole until I ventured through Hluhluwe-Imfolozi park in a rental car. In 96 000ha, the game viewing experience is hugely different from a private game reserve, where every vehicle is from a lodge, has a radio, and spotting is a collective effort.

Private vehicles on our tail – they think we know something. We don’t (as there are very few lodge vehicles and they don’t work together as they do in a private reserve). It’s like a self-drive bush break, with no off-roading allowed and the same chance of seeing something, with the bonus of not having to decide left or right, being a little bit higher up and some knowledge being shared from the lady in khaki.

We were in luck on our first drive. 4 out of 5! Thanks for coming. Granted the lion were so far in the thick of the woods that it was like looking at one of those weird 3D posters and claiming “I see it!” when in actual fact – you only sort of had maybe a little outline of something. The kill however, a baby giraffe, was very clearly visible from the road, and while its the circle of life – seeing his mom walking around looking for him was a bit heart breaking.

An elephant herd, drinking at the almost dry river. A chilled buffalo herd, that renewed any misconceptions I had of them, and two white rhinos en route back to our lodge. Not a bad start I have to admit.

elephantrhino

As you do on bush holidays in KZN, hours between the feast of breakfast, the feast of lunch and the evening game drive (which is really an afternoon drive as noone is allowed in the park at night – its a poaching thing) you catch a tan.

While the pool faces the direction of the view, its in the opposite direction of the sunshine – but not standing in the way of this capetonian’s quest for a tan some maneouvering later and I was well positioned to catch a few rays before we headed out again.

IMG_1500

I always find night time drives a bit of a let down. (don’t shoot me all you bush loving crazies. Wait till I tell you about how much I like birds). I don’t have much night vision, and the most exciting part of the evening (besides the bark spider) was the storm clouds and the impending lightning. And oh, that storm.

To say I’ve been looking forward to lightning storm is an understatement. I just always thought I’d find it in Joburg. But when we woke up that day, we knew it was approaching and that we were in for a treat. The lodge itself, probably wasn’t ready for it. Remember when I said I was grateful that we were up on the hill? That was mostly because we avoided the landslide of mud that 80mm of rain in one evening caused, that flowed under the doors and into the rooms closer to the edge. 8cm in ONE night. This is a lot. (They tell me. I have no idea what a lot of rain is). It was exhilarating and exciting and wild (in the true ‘bush’ sense of the word). I considered the animals out there, and if for one night those little springbuck knew they’d be safe from the hunt.

Dinner (pre-storm, post-bark spider) was fantastic again. Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge, while the prices may feel high per night, the prices of drinks are completely reasonable. And better still, they don’t charge corkage. Hello bottle of Spier 21 Gables Chenin we’d been saving for.. you know, saving (need to do less of that, and more the actual drinking the wines in the winerack).

Rhino Ridge dinner

All the food at Rhino Ridge was special and carefully designed and presented. The service is a bit of a mishmash. Polite, presentable and courteous, but not experienced to know how a G&T is made (the lemon! don’t forget the lemon!) due to the team being, quite literally, straight from the bush. Its exciting to know that this lodge is supporting them, and equipping this truly local community with skills that will afford them more opportunities in the future.

Lowlights: inexperienced bartenders and waitresses take some patience, G&T’s without lemon on game drives (ewww), lack of vegetation (resulting mudslides or neighbours seeing me in the shower). Everything is teething issues, so in 6 months to a year, it should be an amazing visit.
Highlights: Arriving back at the lodge to refreshing towels, the excellent food, the beautiful decor and open plan bathroom. The goodie bag on departure.

Rhino Ridge treat

What I learnt: Baby everything is amazing in the bush. Baby Rhino’s can run SUPER fast. I also learnt a lot of other things too. But this picture was too cute not to include.

rhinorunning

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?