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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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

What I learnt in a week in Natal

1. Cape Town is very far away from South Africa.

I felt the same in Joburg that I feel in Kzn, Cape Town is a European cosmopolitan pocket in SA. The real South Africa is up country.

2. There are only two months of cold weather here. 

Which is why we’re considering moving here. Year long summer? No other reason needed to convince me.

3. The difference between a black and a white rhino.

Although I didn’t see a black rhino, I think I could tell them apart now. And actually, both are such beautiful animals – why would anyone want to kill them?

4. The value of a rhino horn. 

Which would explain why someone would want to kill one. It’s still painful to think of, and while I’ve never actually been that into wildlife related things – having seen rhinos now, I feel much stronger about about supporting anti-poaching as much as we can. 

5. The origin of the term ‘white’ rhino. 

It has nothing to do with colour.

6. The difference between a brown and a spotted hyena track. 

Although both, as well as leopard and lion tracks, are so light that there’s little chance I’d have picked it up without our trusty field guides.

7. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Unhappiness or dissatisfaction with something should be addressed in order to be rectified. You shouldn’t wait till the end of your holiday or stay to complain or provide feedback. 

8. I’m a boutique hotel girl

This is something I actually knew already. 

9 pools, 7 restaurants, a million and 5 rooms – we found ourselves at the smaller Zimbali lodge for our whole stay. Mauritius meets the OVC in Phnom Penh. Colonial decor, quiet and serene and with attentive staff. I’ll never book a big hotel again. 

Except when we go on that cruise. The one on Marks bucketlist.

10.  Alarm calls vs rutting noises.

Of Impalas. And both make me giggle.

11. That a chev sonic actually has some power.

But it clearly is only a rental car as I’ve never seen it before.

12. Game drives and a bush holiday is more exhausting than anticipated.

Early starts and constantly processing whether it’s a rock or a lion as you drive a long call for serious afternoon naps.

13. That tourists really are that stupid in Africa.

A scot feeding a monkey on a bush stop. An Asian out of his car to take a photo of an elephant.

Really. That stupid. 

14. That leopards are like unicorns. They don’t actually exist.

They just are spoken of to draw us in and encourage us onto night drives. 

15. That life is really a series of lessons. Mistakes are made, hard times are encountered – You learn, you grow, you share the lesson with friends. Everyone is working on their relationships – with friends, parents, spouses. And working at it is the only way to have happiness. 

The question about luxury.

What does luxury mean to you?

Sounds like a campaign pay-off line for an asset management firm or investment bank, doesn’t it? But it’s not. it’s just me, thinking. Thinking about our recent stays at establishments that use the word ‘luxury’ in their branding.

Luxury, or five stars, aren’t necessarily the same thing in terms of official gradings, but understanding what is meant and what you’re expect helps.

Luxuries are the comforts that make your holiday stay better than staying at home. Now, if you’re a stay at home mom, with five screaming little ones under the age of 4 (unlikely In today’s world), then luxury could simply be having a nanny for five consecutive days and your own king sized bed(room). Some peace and quiet – that’s a universal definition for luxury I suppose.

Luxury for me is the comforts of my home that I adore, with the extra and attentive service and thoughtfulness offered in being away from it. King sized beds, cotton sheets (obviously!), bathrobes (I love a robe!) and (quality) showergels and creams. Earbuds, cotton wool and bottles of water, remembering by day 3 what my evening drink of choice is, or how I take my morning coffee. Pool side service (if there’s a pool) and a discreet but caring attitude of staff that makes me feel like royalty, even though we all know I’m not. That, is luxury.

From guesthouse to hotel, a five star or ‘luxury’ brand tag, should have this. It’s in the quality of what is delivered. It’s the service.

We were recently at a guesthouse that sported five stars on their golden plaque outside their front gate, the price tag for the stay in line with those five neatly lined up icons. However, after sunning ourselves alongside the pool for a few hours with passing staff and no offer for refreshments, after which we were asked to bring in the sun loungers ourselves, I can safely assume the 5 stars and ‘luxury’ definition on their website were dished out by marketing individuals alone.

So, what exactly is the universal standard of luxury? Is there even such a thing? And how can we trust that it’ll meet our expectations? Using hotel collections or reviewing travel awards (don’t get me started on the truth behind these things, I worked for a company, I’m in the know of their authenticity!) – would this give us enough information? Even tripadvisor – real people, staying in the same place you plan to. But even these are subjective in terms of whether your expectation will be met or exceeded.

How do we really know before we travel the truth about the luxury tag an establishment has?