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SOUTH AFRICA The Ultimate Guide


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SOUTH AFRICA | THE ULTIMATE GUIDE

Table of Contents

48 A DAY OF WINE & ROSES

SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS

A perfect summer day at a grand South African winery

Pretty in pink at the Mount Nelson Hotel

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108

75

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WORLD-CLASS AND SIMPLY DELICIOUS A mindblowing 11-course dinner at Test Kitchen

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INTO THE WILD, IN SEARCH OF LIFE

REMAINS OF A PERFECT PANNACOTTA

SOMEWHERE I COULD CALL HOME

Close encounters with the Big 5

A sensory overload and the best table at La Colombe

A luxury stay at the stunning La Residence

86 HOTEL WITH A STORY Tickled by the Steenberg Hotel’s intriguing history

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148

THE ART OF GOING LOCAL

EAT AND STAY

The world-famous Tasting Room celebrates local cuisine

The perfect weekend at the charming Le Quartier Francais

DEPARTMENTS FROM THE PUBLISHER Out of the Comfort Zone

TRAVELIFE TEAM

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156 BLOG The best of The Suitcase Tales on Travelife App

188 SPECIAL FEATURE Special stories from our partners

210 LIFESTYLE Style, gadgets and more that make a Travelife

215 TRAVELIFE BIZ A. CARLO VELASCO reports from the ASEAN Tourism Forum & Australia Tourism Exchange


TRAVELIFE TEAM

Everywhere you want to be

CHRISTINE O. CUNANAN Publisher & Editor-in-Chief T R AV E L I F E A P P B Y B E L E B L T D. ADRIAN CARLO VELASCO Editor

MARGIE YAP Graphic Designer

FRANCIS SCHMITT Creative Director

EUNICE LACASTE Graphic Designer

SOLEIL NUGUID Art Director

EDITORIAL CEIA YLAGAN Managing Editor

GABBY MALVAR Domestic Editor-at-Large

BRYAN AREVALO Creative Director

DONDI JOSEPH JEROME VELASCO Contributing Editors

ADRIAN CARLO VELASCO Associate Editor

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RAFE TOTENGCO Global Editor-at-Large

JEAN MANGONON Editorial Assistant


TRAVELIFE TEAM

PRINT PUBLISHING ANGELICA D. BAYONA General Manager

RHODA CADONDON Billing and Collection Officer

IRYNN CONSTANTE Sales Director

ELVIE BACOLONGAN Circulation Officer

MARICEL DIOSANA Finance Officer

KATRINA MALALUAN Executive Assistant

MITOS LUSTERIO CYD PONCE Advertising Managers

JOSE ROSENDO SOLIS Legal Counsel

MARGARET CALIGNER Marketing Coordinator

VICTOR R. SANTOS, JR. Web Developer

T R AV E L I F E T V CHRISTINE CUNANAN Executive Producer ADRIAN CARLO VELASCO Producer & Creative Director WILLY SAW TEKS PABUAYON Directors

CRISTHIAN ESCOLANO WILLY SAW TEKS PABUAYON Videographers JASPER SALIMBANGON WILLY SAW Editors SAMANTHA FELEO Production Designer

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TRAVELIFE TEAM

BOARD OF DIRECTORS KEIICHI MIKI Chairman LUIGI BERNAS MAJA OLIVARES-CO MARIVIC PUYAT-LIMCAOCO JOSEPH MADRID ANDREW MASIGAN JOSE ROSENDO SOLIS Directors

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Published by TRIDEM ASIA PUBLISHING, INC. Suite 201, 2/F Alexander House, 132 Amorsolo Street, Legazpi Village, Makati City, 1229, Philippines. Copyright 2014 by Tridem Asia Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this magazine may be reproduced in any manner without permission of the publisher, who reserves the right to accept or reject editorial or advertising material. Tridem Asia Publishing, Inc. does not authenticate any claim or guarantee offered by advertisers in this magazine. Address all correspondences to Travelife Magazine, Tridem Asia Publishing, Inc. For comments, suggestions, or inquiries, call (632) 813-8400, (632) 892-2620, fax (632) 893-7539, or e-mail travelife@travelife.biz. For new subscriptions, changes of address, or other services related to subscription, call (632) 892-2620. Requests for reprints may not be accommodated, unless the order is for 500 or more copies. Story proposals may be e-mailed to editorial@travelife.biz. Publication of such stories, however, is not guaranteed. Unsolicited manuscripts, photographs, and artworks will not be returned, unless accompanied by self-addressed stamped envelopes.

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P U B L I S H I N G R E P R E S E N TAT I V E S Austria & United Kingdom Lori Taus (43) (650) 722-5452

India Mohammed Ahmedullah (91) (11) 223-75-398

Australia & New Zealand Shirley Wee (61) 403-579-315

Italy Roberta Kedzierski (39) (02) 7012-8679

China Wendy Shao (86) (21) 6417-6999

Japan Kuriko Miki (81) (80) 3457-9505

France Benjamin Bruneau (33) (6) 22-62-18-11

North America Carla Jaramillo (1) (201) 440-0605

Germany Susanne-Angela Kalus de Braganca (49) (172) 815-5966

Singapore Gina Jocson (65) 6348-8675

Hong Kong Jane Parry (852) 2857-9753 Indonesia Zatni Arbi (62) (818) 838-044

Switzerland Markus Hoerl (43) (676) 306-6970 Taiwan Kelly Her (886) (919) 999-422


FROM THE PUBLISHER

WWW.TRAVELIFEMAGAZINE.COM

Out of the Comfort Zone This special Travelife App issue on the joys of the great outdoors is our best yet. Our editors literally went out on a limb, traveling to some of the farthest corners of the earth on some truly amazing adventures. They’ve brought back enthralling stories and wondrous tales of places you’ll certainly want to include when you start planning your own trips.

A SAFARI IN SOUTH AFRICA

I recently spent two weeks in South Africa sampling the best of this beautiful country. One of the highlights of this never-endingly eventful journey was a safari in the Sabi Sabi Game Reserve, a 65,000-hectare property in Greater Kruger National Park. Going “Into the Wild, In Search of Life” is an experience I recommend everyone to try at least once.

MEMORABLE MEALS IN EXOTIC DESTINATIONS

its perfect combination of beautiful scenery, world-class dining, and amazing experiences. Flying into Cape Town straight from a safari in Kruger National Park, the Travelife team rented a car at the airport and spent a week exploring three of the loveliest destinations in this part of the world. We stayed at the most interesting hotels and filled our days with meals in South Africa’s top restaurants – a truly memorable trip that stands out even in a never-endingly eventful Travelife. The result is a series of Cape Town articles unlike any other. We give you perhaps the most comprehensive feature ever done on luxury Cape Town, complete with handpicked and highly recommended choices. Contributing Editor Jerome Velasco deserves special mention for his hefty contributions to this special food issue. He wrote in detail about three of South Africa’s top restaurants that are also considered the best in the world – making copious notes in between exquisite courses paired with excellent local wines. He also shares his favorite finds for street food and local must-try restaurants from a recent trip to Istanbul. In fact, he liked one delicatessen in the old neighborhood of Beyoglu so much that he had breakfast there three days in a row. I hope you enjoy this issue. Just don’t read this on an empty stomach.

Every issue of Travelife Magazine is an enjoyable labor of love, but more so this particular issue on great food and the good life.

THE BEST RESTAURANTS IN SOUTH AFRICA

Complimenting this is a very special feature on the best of Cape Town and its environs, a destination that captured our hearts with

Lunch at Moyo in Johannesburg

CHRISTINE CUNANAN Publisher travelife@travelife.biz


Everywhere you want to be MAGAZINE • ONLINE • TV • EXPERIENCES

Real travelers. Great stories. That’s why we’re # 1. Available at all leading bookstores and magazine outlets Between issues, keep track of our adventures on  www.travelifemagazine.com


INTO THE WILD, IN SEARCH OF LIFE Photos by Christine Cunanan

CHRISTINE CUNANAN gets up close and personal with a lion in South Africa’s Sabi Sands


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t was just after 12 noon when we took off from a hangar in Johannesburg airport on a 70-minute flight to the airstrip of the Sabi Sabi Game Reserve, one of the private estates in the Sabi Sands area of Greater Kruger National Park.

Considered one of the most luxurious safari experiences in South Africa, if not in the world, it’s also well known for the quality of its game drives. The Sabi Sands is home to the Big 5, as well as to hundreds of exotic animal and plant species. Most safari guests stay a minimum of three nights, and this is usually adequate time to see a plethora of wild animals. It’s also certainly enough to get you hooked on the experience of seeing nature at its most pristine.


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This is exactly what happened to me. I did get to see the Big 5 and I also fell in love with the wilderness experience. And before I had even left Sabi Sabi, I was already planning my next safari.

RHINOS BY THE AIRSTRIP

As we approached Sabi Sabi for landing on that very first day, our pilot said: “We’re going to be flying low between Nelspruit and Sabi Sabi, so look out your window for wild animals. Yesterday, we saw some hippos by a river and a couple of rhinos at the end of the airstrip.”

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When he said this, I gazed out the window at the vast expanse of Africa below me, more fascinated by the idea of lands that stretched out way past the horizon, than by the thought of the animals that roamed freely on this soil below me. By then I’d already been in South Africa for three days, but this was the very first time I’d felt the force of this great, complex and often misunderstood continent.


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My fascination for land over animals would change quickly as the passive pursuit of wildlife – the raison d’être for almost everyone on any safari – quickly engulfed me with an unexplainable passion, enabling me to continue spending hours on a jeep each day, under the searing sun and in the biting cold, thrashing through fields and bushes, my eyes straining for even the faintest signs of movement. Neil, our ranger for the first part of our safari, and our lifeline for the next two days as far as animals were concerned, was instrumental in this transformation. His love for animals was evident from the moment he met us at the airstrip, and his enthusiasm for drives was contagious.

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He made Africa come alive by showing us photos he’d captured on his mobile phone, of birds he’d recently seen. You would’ve thought he’d become jaded about nature, after spending so much time in it; but for Neil and Morah, our equally excellent ranger at Sabi Sabi’s Earth Lodge, each sighting was a fresh encounter and an opportunity to regale us with amazing stories. So what might have ever so easily just become another animal sighting in a hundred always turned into a lesson in nature appreciation.


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OMEN OF ANIMALS TO COME

From the airstrip on that first day, in an open safari jeep, it was about a half hour’s drive to Selati Camp, the first of the two lodges we would stay at in Sabi Sabi, and one of four on their property. It was mid-afternoon and we had driven a mere 10 minutes towards the lodge, when we encountered giraffes in an open field, waving their necks in what is apparently a friendly competition of agility and strength.

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The giraffes were simply beautiful, and seeing them in this pristine environment, sans crowds and structures, made me instantly appreciate nature in a way I never had before. I don’t know how I can ever visit a zoo again, after having experienced the option of seeing animals roaming freely in Africa.


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This first giraffe sighting was also an omen of good things to come, I felt. And indeed, we were incredibly lucky. Not everyone on safari gets to tick off everything on their animal sighting bucket list, and more; but by the time we were ready to leave Sabi Sabi and head onwards for Cape Town and our next adventure, we’d seen every animal we’d come to see.

SAFARI 101

Thus began my first adventure into the wildlife of Africa – four days of living happily and extremely comfortably in the bush, with an almost perfect marriage of close encounters with animals and social encounters with fellow travelers. 16

We’d chosen to stay mainly at Selati Camp, a charming and picturesque coterie of simply


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designed houses along a ridge with a nostalgic feel that was vintage Out of Africa. My suite, the Selati Camp’s spacious Ivory Suite at the edge of the property, had an antique four-poster bed and colonial African furniture, as well as beaten leather luggage and vintage brass lamps as accessories. It was exactly how I hoped a safari cottage would be. Selati Camp itself is based on a railway theme from the 19th century, as there really once was a Selati Railway Line that operated through some portion of Sabi Sabi over a hundred years ago.

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It’s a small camp with only eight rooms and two common areas, so guests get acquainted fairly quickly and casually. Everyone strikes up a conversation in minutes with anyone else within


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view, and the nightly communal dinners around a bonfire or on a long table on the terrace are all about comparing animal sightings, observations of Africa, and, yes, even occasionally, sharing one’s reasons for living and existing. This intimacy can make all the difference in one’s safari experience, as it can be very pleasant, if not meaningful, to share each wondrous day with strangers who’ve just seen the same things. You’re also in a setting that encourages conversation. The Internet connection is slow, television is non-existent, and mobile phones don’t always work. But, here, living a Travelife in the bush, these are plus points that enhance rather than detract from the stay.

IN SEARCH OF (WILD) LIFE 18

We began each morning with a sunrise drive through the plains. From what we could see, the 65,000 hectare Sabi Sabi Game Reserve is mostly a flat land interspersed with low hills and


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shallow riverbeds that are ideal for spotting animals. We were happy to see any wildlife, especially as the unhampered movements of the animals in their natural habitat were a truly fascinating sight. I never tired of seeing springbok jumping in the distance or colorful birds flitting from tree to tree. However, the unspoken objects of our efforts on every drive out were mainly the Big Five – everyone on safari wants to see the Big Five – and here, some animals proved more elusive than others. Then the safari portion of our days ended with three-hour afternoon drives and champagne and beef jerky at sunset, right out in the wilderness, with a tablecloth set up on the hood of the jeep. We drove around until the sun disappeared, and then returned to our camp just in time for cocktails and dinner by lamplight with our rangers.

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A LION IN THE DISTANCE

Everything about South Africa is slightly surreal, but perhaps there was no pinch-me moment greater than the night we saw a lion roaming the fields about 300 meters from our safari lodge. The lions are perhaps the most elusive of the Big 5. Until then, we’d been tracking them in vain, and some of us had almost given up on seeing one before returning home. They’d temporarily left the Sabi Sabi property, we were told, and rangers had spotted their fresh tracks along the dirt road into the property of an adjacent lodge. There are no fences in the Sabi Sands or between Kruger National Park proper and the Sabi Sands, which is part of Greater Kruger National Park, for that matter; so animals roam freely throughout the public and private properties of this massive territory, and sightings are very much a matter of luck and coincidence than one property having constant undue advantage over others.

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That evening, we’d all been sitting around the long dinner table eagerly awaiting a dessert of malva pudding, which is a local cake similar to the English fruit cake, when we heard the roar of a


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lion in the distance. “That lion’s about 300 meters away in that direction,” Neil said, pointing behind him, his ears sharp for further clues on the lion’s whereabouts. And then quietly he left the table while we continued with the meal. Before we knew it, Neil was driving his jeep out into the night to try and track the lion. He returned 10 minutes later, face flushed with excitement and a sense of achievement. “If you’d like to see the lion now, let’s go,” he said. “Dessert can be served later. I don’t know how long she’s going to be near us.” We quickly bundled up into the jeep, full of anticipation and not without a little fear. The King of the Jungle was finally so near; and now that the moment was upon us, we were unsure of

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what would happen next in the darkness. We drove through areas I’d already been so many times right by our lodge, but at night everything seemed strange and unfamiliar. Eventually we found the majestic lion whose roar had earlier alerted us to her presence, walking grandly through the short grasses as if she was simply strolling in a park. “Don’t stand or make any sudden movements,” Neil warned us. We were in an open vehicle, after all, and the lion certainly enjoyed all the advantages on a moonless evening, in a field full of the unknown. None of us could speak. And even I stopped taking photos to just gaze at this enigmatic creature only several meters away from me. We followed her wordlessly in the jeep for about half an hour as she continued her promenade. In the distance, we could already hear the warning cries of the impala and the springbok as they sensed a lion in their midst and hastened to sound the siren of danger to their companions. Finally we reluctantly left the lion alone so that she could move unimpeded. She’d apparently left her cubs in a cave and she’d ventured out into the night to hunt for food and search for the other lions in her pride – the same ones that had been tracked earlier that day walking over into the neighboring camp’s property. It was also time she found an impala for dinner, and we did not wish to interrupt or witness this act of nature.

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So instead we returned to our own dinner at Selati Camp, hastily interrupted as well. The lanterns had been refilled with oil and our malva cakes and roobois tea were waiting on the


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table, with African servers standing at attention to pull the chairs for the ladies. This was perhaps exactly how things were in the safaris of old, when the Selati Railway was still running through Sabi Sabi in wonderful and largely unchanged Africa.

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However, today, we can only hazard a guess about how life really was like for colonial settlers and their guests over a hundred years ago, when they ventured into the wilderness on safari. Even the Selati Camp is a recreation of an imagined life, albeit a wonderful one. But of one thing I’m fairly sure: the thrills of the hunt and the flush of the find – that powerful surge of adrenalin in that very moment that you make an eye contact with a lion in the bush – will always overcome any barriers of time. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow. n

SABI SABI PRIVATE GAME RESERVE www.sabisabi.com Tel  +27-11-447-7172 Fax +27-11-442-0728 res@sabisabi.com

SAA flies direct to Johannesburg from Hong Kong. SA 287 departs Hong Kong everyday at 2340 hrs. For more information, contact Aerotel Tel (63)(2) 884 8129-30


About Sabi Sabi

The Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve in the Sabi Sands, is an unspoilt part of Africa, ecologically and geographically integrated with Kruger National Park. It lies 500 km east of Johannesburg and 200 km west of Maputo in Mozambique, on the same latitude as Sao Paulo and Brisbane. Sabi Sabi is renowned for its unforgettable safari experience. Home to the Big 5, as well as to cheetah, wild dogs and hundreds of species of animals, birds, reptiles and plants, it offers close encounters with wildlife via two safari drives everyday on open Land Rovers accompanied by rangers and field guides. Each drive lasts approximately three hours. Sabi Sabi also offers a two-hour walking safari with an armed ranger every morning.


THE BIG 5 The Sabi Sands in Greater Kruger National Park, where Sabi Sabi is located, is one of the world’s richest biodiversity regions. It’s home to what is known as the Big 5: the leopard, lion, elephant, rhino and buffalo. It also hosts cheetah, giraffe, hippo wild dogs, and baboons plus hundreds of other animal and plant species. Sabi Sabi itself boasts of open areas, woodlands, sloping hills, rivers and pans. These diverse habitats make for exceptional game viewing, unveiling extraordinary sightings of animals feeding, hunting, mating and nursing.


THE SABI SABI EXPERIENCE Sabi Sabi offers four award-winning accommodations with specific themes, each with a unique atmosphere. YESTERDAY The Selati Camp has a romantic and old world colonial feel. It’s named after the abandoned Selati Railway Line that once ran through the eastern section of Sabi Sabi, and so it’s decorated with old railway memorabilia and antique furniture. At night, the camp is illuminated by gentle lamplight, while inside the villas, luxurious white linen and draped mosquito nets bring back the safari experience of the 19th century. This is ideal for couples and solo travelers. TODAY The contemporary Bush Lodge is one of South Africa’s top safari lodges, known for its five-star comforts, unique


African accents and warm service. Huge wooden decks and sparkling pools look out over riverbeds and unspoiled wilderness. This is ideal for families and larger groups. Little Bush Camp is an intimate, sixsuite camp with a contemporary and chic atmosphere and very personalized service. It’s ideal for families or small groups who may want to reserve the entire lodge and make it their own home in the bush. TOMORROW The cutting-edge Earth Lodge is sculpted into a slope of the earth. It makes use of texture, space and light to create a futuristic and yet environmentfriendly experience unlike any other in the world. Each suite is spacious and it comes with its own private plunge pool, while intriguing furniture sculptures and artworks provide eye candy for design lovers. This lodge has one of the most comprehensive safari spas in Africa. It is best for couples and solo travelers, and a great favorite of celebrities.


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A DAY AT SABI SABI 5:00 AM:

Wake up call and morning coffee

5:30 AM:

Morning safari

8:30 AM:

Breakfast

10:30 AM:

Walking safari or visit to a local community

1:00 PM:

Lunch

4:00 PM:

Afternoon tea

4:30 PM:

Afternoon safari

7:30 PM:

Return from safari

8:00 PM:

Dinner

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1

WHAT TO BRING ON A SAFARI Informal dress, preferably in

1 neutral colors

or warm jacket 2 Windbreaker for winter and night safaris

3 Comfortable walking shoes 4 Binoculars and camera 5 Sunglasses, sunhats, sunblock 6 Personal medication

2 3

5

4

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6


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THE DIET STARTS TOMORROW Jerome Velasco discusses fine dining in the bush Food remains an essential part of my traveling experience, even on safari in South Africa; and I was pleased no end regarding the proficient level of cooking in the jungle.

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At Sabi Sabi, no detail is overlooked in its quest to provide guests with one of the best safari experiences in the world. You can count on excellent meals throughout the day, including — weather permitting – dinner at a “boma,” which is an enclosed clearing in the bush where guests enjoy a gourmet dinner al fresco around a bonfire.


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SELATI CAMP

At the intimate all-suite Selati Camp, breakfast is on the verandah overlooking a deep ditch and large swaths of jungle and plains. While sipping rooibos tea and munching on a freshly baked muffin, it’s not unlikely you will spot a family of baboons or some predatory beast. Sabi Sabi lays out a buffet that includes various breads, a wide assortment of fruit, and cereal of a range and quality not out of place in a five-star hotel. The spread may strike some as slightly overthe-top, considering the lodge only has eight suites and an average occupancy of only a dozen guests. But, of course, we weren’t complaining.

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Those who like a large breakfast can also order perfectly poached eggs on toast with smoked salmon or a safari version of eggs benedict. Enjoying such fare, I had to keep reminding myself that I was in


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an African jungle. Lunch is relaxed and casual, with everyone’s all-time favorite caesar’s salad available in generous portions and heavy on the anchovies. For a more vigorous workout of the taste buds, there’s always a local dish called peri peri chicken and comfort food like vegetable quiche or a club sandwich. In the evenings, we had well prepared game dishes like kudu (anteloupe), springbok (gazelle), wildebeest and impala served as tartare. I had to have them all, of course; and now kudu steak and springbok are in my culinary vocabulary and list of favorite game. Springbok is tender, with a refined subtle flavor, while kudu is very lean but it’s superb as a medium rare steak. Many locals insist that these are the best tasting game.

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Dinner at Selati Camp is a friendly and social affair. And because this camp represents the “past,”


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there is no electricity to spoil the mood. Lighting is courtesy of rows of flickering paraffin lamps and the southern night sky.

EARTH LODGE

Sabi Sabi’s futuristic Earth Lodge is reportedly South Africa’s most environmentally sensitive game lodge, with accommodations sculpted and hidden against sloping hills. With just 13 suites, dinner takes various forms including a “boma” under the stars, a private dinner in the cellar or – my favorite on a hot summer day – dining in ankle deep water in a private plunge pool. And because this is the “future,” the food is a little more cutting edge than the home-style cooking prevalent at Selati. Breakfast includes the usual bountiful buffet along with hot dishes via an a la carte menu. Everything was delicious, but my memory is stuck with the bobotie, a local comfort dish the chef specially prepared for us, made with spiced minced beef and topped with an egg custard. It was delightfully aromatic, and its mildly piquant, slightly sweet taste lingered on my tongue long after I had spooned up the last morsel. Meanwhile, dinner at Earth Lodge was a five-course affair in a private table outdoors with our ranger. After starters of salad and grilled prawns, the highlight was kingklip, a lovely whitefish with a dense texture that reminded me of monkfish. It was grilled to perfection and served with green beans, tomato relish, and buttery mashed potatoes. The unbelievable standard of food at both lodges was surprising, especially considering where we were. It soon became clear to us that a safari in the middle of the African jungle wasn’t exactly the place to start a diet. At least not at Sabi Sabi. n

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GALLERY


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Getting up close and personal with the elephants at Sabi Sabi


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A safari game drive in Sabi Sabi


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Lunch at Sabi Sabi


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Presidential suite of Sabi Sabi


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On safari in Sabi Sabi


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GALLERY


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A DAY OF WINE & ROSES CHRISTINE CUNANAN visits a 17th century Dutch winery


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T

here are hundreds of wineries to choose from for a day of wine tasting around Cape Town. However, in South Africa last month living a Travelife and short on time, we could only pick a handful and I was insistent that the grand wine estate of Vergelegen be among our three choices.

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Vergelegen was an hour’s drive from where we were staying, in the picture-pretty town of Franschhoek, itself an area well known for wines. Thinking about the two-hour roundtrip drive and passing so many other wineries along the way, my companion wondered aloud why we needed to travel so far for so obviously abundant wine.


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The answer became clear as soon as we passed Vergelegen’s gates. We were immediately transported to a unique world that was both cutting-edge and Old World. Vergelegen, which traces its beginnings back to 1635, is renowned for its colorful history and its immaculately preserved heritage buildings, but it has an edgy fine dining restaurant and a tasting room with a design vibe that would be at home anywhere in Napa Valley. It also boasts of among the loveliest gardens in South Africa – a must-visit for travelers seeking to be impressed by both beauty and history. Many dignitaries visiting Cape Town, including Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, are taken by the South African government to Vergelegen for a pleasant trip back in time, to the Dutch colonial days. These gardens are the pride of the Cape.

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Of course, most visitors also flock here for the award-winning wines. Vergelegen’s wines are said to be among the few from this part of the world that can truly rival those of Bordeaux, and they’ve received over 200 awards over the past 12 years. Two of Vergelegen’s wines have received ratings of 94 or above from the prestigious International Wine Cellar. Wine drinking is an intensely personal experience. But if you must visit only one winery on a trip to South Africa, Vergelegen should be it for this rare and truly delightful winning combination. Sharon Hosking, second-in-command at Vergelegen, met us at their wine tasting center, a very modern facility that was part art museum and part Michelin-starred restaurant in feel. 51

“You’ve picked the perfect day to visit us,” Sharon said, by way of greeting. Indeed, the


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weather was fine and the sun was shining in a way that made even their garden sheds worthy of a photo. We immediately hit it off, and together we walked the estate and toured the most historic buildings, admiring the giant 300-year-old camphor trees and Vergelegen’s famous rose gardens with over 100 species in full bloom along the way. Many visitors flock to Vergelegen just for the roses alone. “This must be a wonderful place to live and work in,” I said to her, as we eventually headed towards their fine dining restaurant for lunch. “It’s not bad,” Sharon replied with a smile. “Life could certainly be worse.” “Camphors at Vergelegen” just opened two weeks before our visit, and we were among the lucky first to sample their final opening menu. Here we enjoyed a three-hour, three-course lunch outdoors, under the restaurant trellis with a view of the gardens, drinking wines that had been specially matched to our meal. And all afternoon, we talked about travel and, in particular, the many amazing destinations in Africa begging to be discovered by first-timers like ourselves.

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I still remember every detail of that lunch, including the velvety flavors of the red wine, the scent of herbs that wafted from a nearby garden, the way the chocolate dessert melted in my mouth, and the general happiness all around the table, prompted by a very good meal and excellent company on one of the best days of summer so far in Cape Town.


A DAY OF WINE AND ROSES

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On a Travelife, one never forgets the breathtaking sunsets, the jaw-dropping views or the palatial hotels. But a memorable trip is also made up of little things like what I’ve just described here -- the simple joys of a Travelife on a day of wine and roses. n

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SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS CHRISTINE CUNANAN walks through history at Cape Town’s Mount Nelson Hotel


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ape Town is perhaps the most visited destination in South Africa. Within this lovely city dotted with quaint Victorian neighborhoods, framed by one of the most majestic mountains in the world, the Mount Nelson is a local institution that holds court as the grand dame of South Africa’s hotels. This was the main reason I chose to stay here, amidst a plethora of options ranging from ultraluxury to cutting edge modern. For a first visit to this city I’d heard so much about, I wanted only the Nellie, as it’s affectionately called by residents, a classic and historic hotel with a colorful past, set amidst sprawling gardens in the center of everything. 56

The grounds of the Mount Nelson are truly special as you are in the center of a pretty built-up


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city and yet completely amidst quiet and beauty. For the locals, it’s an oasis of elegant greenery that’s witnessed so many important milestones in their lives. For the traveler, it’s a welcome refuge after a busy day of sightseeing in modern Cape Town, to return to this Old World atmosphere. I am not alone in choosing the Mount Nelson as my base. Heads of state and world leaders have temporarily called this home over the last century and past decades, including Winston Churchill, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, and Margaret Thatcher. This is also the hotel of choice for celebrities, literary figures, and fashion personalities visiting Cape Town.

PRETTY IN PINK

We arrived on a beautiful summer afternoon when the pink-colored Mount Nelson stood sparkling in the sun, amidst a dramatic backdrop of greenery. The hotel was painted pink in the 1920s to celebrate the end of World War I, thus starting a trend among hotels in Europe. Today, its specific shade of pink – now called the Mount Nelson Pink – is famously and forever linked to this immaculately refurbished Orient-Express hotel. Meanwhile, entering the wood-paneled lobby and making our way to the back where an open door and a garden beckoned, we found many stalwarts of Cape Town society all dressed up and attending to the rituals of living in the kind of elegant venue that only the Mount Nelson can offer.

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It was the hour for high tea, and ladies in pastel summer dresses with little boys in sailor suits


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and little girls with long ribbons in their hair mulled about the tea salon that’s just adjacent to the lobby. Meanwhile, in the garden abloom with roses and tropical flowers, couples and groups sat around tables draped with crisp white linen, sipping cocktails and champagne, some celebrating birthdays or christenings. It was exactly how I imagined the genteel life in South Africa to be.

MEMORIES ARE MADE OF THESE

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Then I was shown my corner room on the top floor of the main building, decorated in pastels and classic furniture. It had a terrace that opened up onto the clearest unobstructed view of Table Mountain I could ever imagine — so there I was standing on my balcony, with the beloved icon of the Cape and one of the most famous mountains in the world right before me.


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After I caught my breath, I realized this was a moment for popping open the bottle of champagne the hotel had thoughtfully provided as a welcome gift, and for relishing the very idea of being in Cape Town and being lucky enough to enjoy such a scene on one of the finest days of the year.

HISTORY ON THE WALLS

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This 19th century hotel, named after Admiral Lord Nelson who died in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, is a veritable museum. Being a keen lover of history, I eschewed the elevator and instead walked up and down the staircase everyday inspecting the paintings and items on display that illustrated not only the hotel’s lineage, but also the history of Britain and South


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Africa, and how these two countries were once intertwined. There’s a portrait of Queen Victoria in the lobby and a large painting of Queen Alexandra on one of the landings, and old watercolor paintings of South Africa and a model replica of the Titanic on another. Meanwhile, in the hotel lounge, there’s an early 18th century grandfather clock that reportedly once chimed so loudly at midnight that it could be heard all over the city. One day, an irate guest hammered six nails into it, causing it to remain silent for 20 years. It was repaired, but happily it chimes at a much lower volume these days.

GREEN AND CLEAN Mount Nelson Hotel offers guests complimentary transfers to Cape Town’s attractions via environment-friendly green Toyota Prius courtesy cars. The rides are on a first-come, first-served basis, but we usually never had problems finding a car to the waterfront or to the cable car terminal for Table Mountain.


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Throughout the hotel are details, artworks and objects from another time that also speak volumes about the intricacies and charms of a very special kind of old-fashioned life. The only exceptions are the edgy and modern Planet Bar and Planet Restaurant, which are clearly more of the 21st century in dĂŠcor and vibe. The Planet Bar has a sputnik chandelier, shiny leather chairs, and futuristic mirrors on the walls. At first glance, the streamlined design and metallic colors seem to clash with the faded elegance and patina of age evident everywhere else; but then I realized that the hotel also needed an atmosphere very much of today, for it to remain a significant part of the lives of Cape Town residents. We had a nightcap here one evening, ordering champagne, oysters and the South African specialty of peri-peri chicken, and staying till late in the bar that was unusually packed for a weekday night. Until way past 10 PM, locals kept walking in for drinks and bar chow.

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SUNSET IN THE WORLD

One day we decided to make our way to the top of Table Mountain at sunset, as this was on our bucket list. Realizing how nice it would be to bring food and drinks to the top of the mountain, we suddenly had the great idea to find a picnic hamper for our excursion. Luckily, the Mount Nelson actually lends out to its guests a beautiful Victorian picnic hamper complete with utensils and wine glasses. We ordered finger sandwiches and salads, and our basket of food was ready for us at the lobby at 5 PM. It was picture-perfect, and we had a feast on the ridge of Table Mountain as the sun was setting over Cape Town. 61


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Of course, our picnic attracted much attention, amidst people with softdrink cans and sandwiches in paper bags. One lady came up to us, disbelief and delight all over her face. “Where did you get such a lovely basket?” She asked. “The Mount Nelson,” we replied. That seemed to answer everything. “Oh, of course,” she said. “Only the Mount Nelson can prepare something as beautiful as that.” And then we returned to our sunset and our afternoon tea. It was a fitting end to a most wonderful stay in South Africa. n

MOUNT NELSON HOTEL www.mountnelson.co.za

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AFTERNOON TEA AT THE NELLIE The afternoon tea at the Mount Nelson is legendary for its sumptuous spread of sweet and savory, accompanied by a selection of fine teas. The antique Windsor Table in the lounge is laden with classics like black forest cake, baumkuchen and fruitcake, as well as fluffy scones served with clotted cream and preserves. There are also finger sandwiches, fritters and roast chicken, for those who prefer salty or spicy. Of course, these are best accompanied by the hotel’s signature Mount Nelson tea, which is a blend of six exotic teas including Kenya tea, Yunnan tea, and rose petals from the garden.


A TOUR OF ROBBENS ISLAND

A visit to Cape Town is not complete without a half-day tour of Robbens Island, South Africa’s notorious island prison where senior members of the African National Congress (ANC) and many of South Africa’s current leaders were once held. The tours, which include a bus ride aroundthe island and a walking tour through the maximum security prison, are led by a former prisoner. See the historic village where jailers and their families lived, the lime quarry, the leper church, and Nelson Mandela’s prison cell. The island is accessible via scheduled hovercraft trips and tours depart regularly from Cape Town’s waterfront.


Terminal at Robbens Island


Our guide was a former prisoner


TABLE MOUNTAIN AT SUNSET

Make sure you’re on top of Table Mountain, one of the new seven wonders of the world and Cape Town’s most famous attraction, at sunset. The easiest way up is via the aerial cableway, which offers a short and scenic ride up. You can purchase tickets online in advance and simply bring the printout to the terminal to avoid the lines. However, the more athletic may wish to take a guided walk up or to explore the mountain by themselves on foot. The hike up takes approximately three to four hours.


Waiting for the sun’s goodbye


A 180 degree view of some of the most spectacular scenery in the world


HISTORY IN THE MAKING 1806

The property where the Mount Nelson now stands is named in honor of British Admiral Lord Nelson, who reportedly visited Cape Town twice.

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1890

Shipping magnate Sir Donald Currie, owner of the Union-Castle shipping line, bought the Mount Nelson to build a hotel for first class passengers of his ships.

1899

The hotel opened to rave reviews of being “even better than its London counterparts.” It was the first hotel in South Africa to offer hot and cold running water.

THE DALAI LAMA’S FAVORITE FOOD

REMEMBERING MR. GREENWOOD

In 1999, the Dalai Lama stayed at the Mount Nelson and lectured on “The Four Noble Truths” as 500 people sat cross-legged in the ballroom. For meals, he only requested crispy fried chicken and ice cream, reportedly his two favorite foods.

Several months before his death, John Lennon stayed at the Mount Nelson under the pseudonym “Mr. Greenwood.” He reportedly made his own bed everyday and meditated on Table Mountain. He spoke to his wife Yoko Ono regularly and planned to bring her to stay at the hotel the following year.

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1988

Orient-Express Hotels purchased the Mount Nelson Hotel.


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WORLD-CLASS AND SIMPLY DELICIOUS

JEROME VELASCO visits the best restaurants in and around Cape Town


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t is a wonderful time for South African cuisine. Over the last few years, many of their chefs have achieved international prominence and recognition, mostly through a confluence of factors.

They have come to discover their “sense of place� or terroir, allowing them the opportunity to appreciate their bountiful harvests and unique game and produce. Their inspiration has also been fostered through travel and international culinary events. Finally, they have learned the importance of working with vineyards, a key point overlooked until recently.


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In South Africa, as everywhere else, food is their lifeblood and it tells their story. Immigrants arrived with little more than basic culinary know-how but they soon adapted their lives to their situation, and with all the diversity their cuisine was born. In some ways, I feel privileged to have visited at this inspiring time in their restaurant scene. There are gustatory gems to be found in every city and every town. The chefs form are a passionate group, too, constantly innovating and focused on breaking new ground on a daily basis. I found upscale South African food to be as good and as exciting as everyone says it is. It is undoubtedly world class, and the best part is that it isn’t heavy on the wallet. The bill won’t break the bank.

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South Africa is a country with a significant “eating out” culture. It has everything from restaurants focusing on traditional South African dishes – or contemporary interpretations there of – to a burgeoning fast food industry with international players and local chains that are available in most urban centers. Cape Town and its immediate environs, which include some famous wine regions in that part of the world, is the gourmet center of South Africa, and this will not disappoint even the pickiest foodie.

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A MIND-BLOWING EXPERIMENT

11 courses dinner and the best table at Test Kitchen in Cape Town Luke Dale Roberts is a brilliant chef who grew an international reputation during his stint at La Colombe. He brought this restaurant to prominence with consistent showings in the S. Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants List. But like many great chefs, the time came when he decided to move on. Test Kitchen is his new outpost. As the name implies, this venue allows him maximum opportunity for innovation as a chef and the flexibility to go in any direction. I’m betting there is also the desire to show he can create a winning restaurant on his own and be the real boss.

ECHOES OF MANHATTAN

So far, so good. In just two short years, he has turned Test Kitchen into a global culinary destination. Located in Woodstock, a trendy, gentrified neighborhood, it evokes the feel of a New York loft and possesses an industrial look with high ceilings, exposed ducts, and a red ladder placed strategically in the center to access local wines stored amidst multiple shelves. I loved best the restaurant’s open kitchen. It was like having the kitchen in the dining room (or the other way around). There is nothing quite like the excitement of a restaurant kitchen, especially when viewed from the best table in the house.

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Test Kitchen is a hot and highly charged atmosphere, with various smells permeating from everywhere; the numerous chefs and assistants were focused on their respective stations and the main man was barking orders, checking plates and making sure the show was running smoothly. The taste experience was made richer alongside this visual affair.


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TASTES OF ASIA

Luke’s food has long been known for its texture and fine but complex flavor, with an Asian influence – or, more accurately, an Asian sensibility. On the evening we dined, the Japanese influence was profound; the menu was peppered with words like chawanmushi, nitsuke, yuzu, green tea and sake. Time Magazine pointed to November 24, 2010, the date Test Kitchen opened, as the date “Woodstock officially became Cape Town’s hottest district.” That alone should tell you how good this place is. To do a proper and complete Luke Dale Roberts experience, I recommend taking on the 11-course gourmand menu. It isn’t as heavy as it sounds, as the portions are actually just right. The highlights of our dinner included a loin of seared marlin cooked over fresh thyme and rosemary, with an unusual partner: red cabbage prepared three ways (fresh, dried and powdered) and served with a horseradish emulsion to add piquancy. A perfectly seasoned apple and onion dressing completed this stunning dish. They also had an excellent lightly cooked trout topped with shaved, dried bonito flakes and an aubergine nitsuke (nitsuke is a Japanese simmering technique that yields a great umami flavor). Like the trout served at La Colombe, this was again sourced from nearby Franschhoek.

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Another memorable dish was the slow-cooked organic sweet potatoes, short rib, roasted bone marrow and compressed Japanese eringi mushrooms. These were served under a glass dome, which made for a grand entrance. The aroma was incredible when the dome was lifted, and the textures were so amazingly varied.


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Midway, a palate cleanser arrived with the intriguing name of “a bitter walk through the citrus gardens.” It was actually a clementine, lemon, and yuzu sorbet served inside the skin, accompanied by Campari and orange jelly. We were even “spritzed” with scented water by the waiter to complete the sensory experience. Dessert included a surprisingly light – I’m not sure how they did this – butternut and orange semifreddo with a chocolate pretzel crumble. But it was everything a great dessert should be: sweet, playful and nostalgic with a contemporary twist.

SEEING DOUBLE

Luke included a very clever trick into our dinner. The amuse bouche was completely identical to the petit fours served at the end of the 11 courses. At first glance, it was like being served the

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same dish twice. However, the former was savory (including some with mushroom fillings) and the latter was sweet (we were served chocolate and salted caramel in a sweet wafer). The dishes at Test Kitchen are not swamped with multiple ingredients. Every single one on the plate has a purpose: the flavors “jump” right at you and the ingredients are expanded to their full potential. This is the most exciting cooking in Cape Town and the must-try restaurant if you have only one meal in South Africa’s fourth largest city. Moreover, prices are reasonable for the quality of the meal. Dinner for two at Test Kitchen cost me less than what I would pay at some neighborhood bistro in Paris. n

THE TEST KITCHEN www.thetestkitchen.co.za

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One of the 13 courses in Test Kitchen’s tasting menu


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Art on a plate at Test Kitchen


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A dish inspired by Japan at Test Kitchen


HOTEL WITH A STORY CHRISTINE CUNANAN recalls the legend of Catharina, first owner of the Steenberg Hotel estate


HOTEL WITH A STORY

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here was a reason I’d insisted on staying two nights in the wine district of Constantia, even if it’s basically considered a suburb of Cape Town only 20 minutes away from the city center. I wanted to experience the Steenberg Hotel, the oldest estate on the Cape and now an impeccably run five-star luxury hotel with rooms and suites spread across circa 17th century farmhouses on the property.

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Voted Africa’s best hotel multiple times over the past years, a stay at the Steenberg has often been described as one of the best travel experiences in the world. This was all the incentive I needed to ensure its inclusion in our two-week itinerary for South Africa.


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SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST

All the rooms at the Steenberg are beautifully furnished either in a classic or modern style, but the crown jewel is the hotel’s set of three uniquely designed heritage suites. Each one is practically a two-storey villa, and they’re housed in buildings as old as 325 years, with spacious public areas and private swimming pools. Some buildings even have National Monument status. I chose the 160-square meter Khoikhoi heritage suite for my stay because it was both modern and African. It was palatial if I continued thinking about it as a room; but when I grew used to regarding it more as a villa, it became an intimate and livable space. It was so nicely furnished that I had to catch my breath when I finally walked into the suite, even if I’d already seen so many photos of it online. Filled with crisp contemporary furniture and African tribal art, it was the kind of casually elegant living room I would have had for myself, if I owned an apartment in New York or London.

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However, I was in the Constantia wine lands; and while a flat with the feel of a major


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cosmopolitan capital initially seems incongruous with exactly where in the world I was, it felt absolutely perfect to me the moment I saw it. We were on the last leg of a trip that had included some of the best hotels in South Africa; and all were very different from each other, each one unique and with a fascinating story to tell.

ONE FOR THE BOOKS

But perhaps the story of the Steenberg is the most intriguing of all. It’s based on a dramatic and feisty heroine named Catharina Ustings who lived through enough colorful events to rival the lives of her five husbands combined. Yes, she had five husbands, and legend has it that she married them in rapid succession, outliving all except one. As a young widow from husband #1 at the very beginning, she reportedly stowed away on board a ship from Germany to Africa to begin a new life. Upon reaching Africa, she purchased the land on which the Steenberg is now situated, and began the lengthy process of establishing herself in her new country. Unfortunately, her life was full of disasters that I can only surmise made her stronger each time. For instance, a lion reportedly killed one of her husbands on their honeymoon night, and Catharina supposedly went out that same evening to hunt the predator down.

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The Steenberg has obviously relished every bit of her amazing tale. The estate’s main avenue and the hotel’s fine dining restaurant are named after Catharina, and her home is still preserved in its original state and very much in use today, albeit in a different form. Catharina’s combined kitchen and living room is now the common room for guests housed in that building.


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The hotel and winery staff, too, take great pride in her story – and understandably so. It was a great feat in 17th century Africa for a woman to dress up as a boy and embark on a long voyage from Europe into the unknown as a stowaway. And then she actually took this one step further by working, saving up and buying her own property instead of marrying a man with one. That’s certainly an admirable tale for any time.

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Catharina’s story kindled our imaginations. In contrast, everything about the surroundings of the Steenberg soothed us into an enjoyable and relaxing complacency so appropriate and much needed before our 18-hour flight back home.


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We felt more like visitors at someone’s well-run farm rather than paying guests of an essentially commercial enterprise. The reception area, for instance, is more like an afterthought in the general scheme. It’s merely a desk in the main house, adjacent to a parlor where guests can relax, read newspapers and browse the Internet. We only went here once to checkout. Within a walk of a few steps is a champagne bar called Gorgeous by Graham Beck and the very popular Catharina’s restaurant. We had dinner at Catharina’s two nights in a row, including on what should have been a lazy Monday, and were happily surprised to find it full both times. It’s a great local favorite for grilled Chalmers steaks and pasta dishes, although the generous servings of salad and the freshly shucked oysters from a nearby bay won my vote hands down.

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THE LOCAL SPECIALTY

Of course, most people come to Constantia to enjoy the wines so we made sure to sample the local tipple. In fact as soon as we had settled in on our first day, we walked right along the vineyards on a one-kilometer route to the Steenberg tasting room, a sleekly- designed ultra-modern venue where guests sit around a counter for small talk and a selection of wines. Arriving with perfect timing at the sunset hour, we claimed two bar stools and soon our attention was divided between the views outside as the sun said good night and the award winning wines inside. “Where are we?” We asked ourselves. Our surroundings were stunning, but we could have been anywhere in the world. Constantia didn’t quite seem like Africa, and the Steenberg was among the most understatedly stylish estates I’d ever stayed in. It transcended borders and barriers. But that’s where its attraction as a great travel experience lies. Not too many places are truly able to merge the concepts of historical and cutting edge contemporary in an authentic and yet easygoing way. The Steenberg never truly does impress you; there’s almost no wow factor here. However, at the end of your generally happy stay, you’ll find that not a few moments left you gently delighted – enough to wistfully want to return. The couple in the next building were staying at the Steenberg for three months, and this was their third year of doing so.

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Nevertheless, I have to admit that out of all the charming features of the Steenberg, it was the lovely Khoikhoi suite that stole my heart. I could have stayed here relaxing all day, if circumstances had allowed. The suite had a full kitchen and dining area on one side and a living room filled with interesting African art on the other. The bedrooms were upstairs,


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tastefully decorated in neutral colors, under ceilings with ancient beams and porthole windows with wooden shutters. This was also where I had my best sleep in weeks, lulled by the sound of the wind at midnight and awakened by the songs of the birds in the mornings. n

THE STEENBERG HOTEL www.steenberghotel.com

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WINE & RIDE

The Steenberg Hotel offers a short guided tour of its vineyards, followed by a gourmet picnic to be set up in your chosen venue, with a bottle of sparkling wine from Steenberg’s own winery thrown in.


“The Khoikhoi heritage suite could have been someone’s beautiful home in London or New York, but with lots of African art and accents.”


STEENBERG’S WINERY

The adjacent Steenberg wine estate offers opportunities for wine tasting in an ultra-modern tasting room with friendly and knowledgeable staff. The winery itself produces a wide range of reds and whites. While you’re here, don’t forget to sample the Steenberg Catharina Red, a full-bodied wine with a complex and elegant structure and stunning character – just like the heroine herself.


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A local favorite, Catharina’s Restaurant was always full when we ate there. We loved the oysters.


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Breakfast buffet at the Steenberg in Constantia


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Breakfast buffet at the Steenberg in Constantia


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Breakfast buffet at the Steenberg in Constantia


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Breakfast buffet at the Steenberg in Constantia


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Breakfast buffet at the Steenberg in Constantia


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Breakfast buffet at the Steenberg in Constantia


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REMAINS OF A PERFECT PANNACOTTA JEROME VELASCO on La Colombe in Constantia


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o say that La Colombe is the most well-loved restaurant in South Africa would be an understatement. Wherever we inquired, people spoke of it with reverence and respect, with not one negative comment. Located in Constantia, an affluent suburb of Cape Town, this French restaurant with unmistakable South African tones – springbok anyone? – is a proponent of uncomplicated clean flavors and the freshest seasonal produce.

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La Colombe offers a gorgeous setting in the middle of Constantia Ulitsig, the most famous vineyard in the area, and we dined on a table that overlooked a secluded courtyard. This is the perfect venue for a special occasion or to impress a date who will likely gush incessantly at the idyllic vines with a mountainside setting. It is simply a super sensory overload.


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OMENS OF THINGS TO COME

We were warmly received even though we arrived early and their doors were not quite open for business just yet. I took this as a very good sign, especially as it is something I cannot say even for some of the top eateries in the world. Two other things are worth mentioning: there is neither signage outside nor any indication that this was voted the12th best restaurant in the world in 2010. La Colombe has a daily chalkboard menu, brought to you complete with vivid descriptions and product provenance from a highly professional waitstaff. A noteworthy signature starter

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was a beautifully light dish of a banging fresh Franschhoek trout cooked sous vide with quail eggs and chopped bits of ham. This was finished off nicely with a lovely, creamy asparagus veloute. And perhaps because we were Travelife — or maybe because they were not quite ready when we walked in – an “extra” appetizer in the form of an earthy, sweet, crunchy beetroot with a mildly tangy goat’s cheese and some crushed walnuts were sent compliments of Chef Scot Kirton.

THE BEST LAMB ON THE TRIP

The highly recommended special was lamb “La Colombe,” which was really a trio of parts from their famous free-range Karoo lamb. This consisted of a superbly seasoned sous vide loin that was tastier and more flavorful than any I had had on this trip, braised neck and then sweetbreads on an onion and garlic puree served with fondant potatoes and a fennel jus. The sweetbreads were slightly crisp on the outside and soft to the bite, while the braised neck – which really tastes better than it sounds – is far superior to a lamb shank simply because it’s a fattier cut of meat. This is really the best way I know for a sacrificial lamb. It will leave you “oohing” and “aahing” long after your plate is cleared.

PERFECTLY SWEET ENDING

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But the highlight of the meal was the rose and coconut pannacotta dessert. My eyes rolled back when I shoved the first forkful. It was light and whimsical, and with great balance, served with an orange blossom yoghurt and a cashew crumble. This was undoubtedly my standout


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dessert on this trip, and a plate worthy of La Colombe’s reputation. It is still a fresh thought in my head, too, which means it is a top contender for the best desserts I have eaten in 2012. The food, the views, the atmosphere, and the fact that we snagged the loveliest table in the house, made my experience at La Colombe seem like a sensory overload. n

LA COLOMBE www.constantia-ulitsig.com

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Third round of sweets after lunch at La Colombe, one of South Africa’s best restaurants


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Out last lunch in South Africa


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Travelife contributing editor Jerome Velasco listens to an explanation of the desserts on offer at La Colombe, one of South Africa’s best restaurants


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The tantalizing array of petit fours at La Colombe, one of South Africa’s best restaurants


SOMEWHERE I COULD CALL HOME CHRISTINE CUNANAN recalls a stay at one of the most luxurious and interesting hotels in the Cape


SOMEWHERE I COULD CALL HOME

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ven in Franschhoek, a small tourist town with only one main street, it took some effort to find La Residence, a beautiful hotel on a sprawling private estate on the outskirts, that has become a destination in itself.

I’d first heard about La Residence from a British designer who’d stayed here on a visit to the Cape winelands. She’d returned to London, just when I happened to be there, and over lunch she’d raved about the over-the-top but perfect mishmash of colors and textures that she’d seen at this hotel. She was now eager to redecorate her own home in this same eclectic style.


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“It’s an art,” she said, almost wistfully, about the interiors of La Residence and the style of its designer, Liz Biden, South Africa’s style guru who also happens to own the hotel. “And I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to adequately capture this joie de vivre. But I can certainly give it a try.” I’d been intrigued enough by this conversation to remember to stay at La Residence when I did find myself in this part of Africa. At that time, Cape Town felt so far in every sense and a trip to South Africa hadn’t even been on the books. But last November, there I was, finally driving to Franschhoek after a very nice lunch at the Vergelegen Winery in nearby Somerset West, on my way to La Residence. We’d booked a weekend stay, and I was looking forward to two days of the exquisite and very personalized pampering that La Residence has become known for.

LOST AND FOUND

However, we had to find our way to La Residence first, logistically and figuratively. Not only were we lost, but even when we finally reached our destination, we still did not know where exactly in the world we were.

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Of course we were in South Africa. But when we eventually drove up to the hotel via a winding driveway and past a paddock of Shetland ponies, we felt we could have been anywhere but Africa. With its stone buildings the color of mandarin oranges mixed with sunshine, and its vineyards and manicured gardens, La Residence could have been a beautiful estate in California, Australia or Provence.


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A WONDERFUL START

At the entrance, we were met with flutes of champagne and big smiles from the staff. The hotel’s welcoming committee immediately knew who we were and nothing as tedious as a registration process was even mentioned. Instead, we were encouraged to indulge in refills of bubbly and to inspect the premises at leisure, on our way to our suites.

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The moment we entered the hotel, we became privy to a world of color and life that simply changed my sense of aesthetics forever. The lobby and public areas were literally crammed with interior items and objet d’art of all persuasions. Every corner was picture-perfect, and they cried out for my attention.


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THE RIGHT TOUCH

In the wrong hands, this hotel could so easily have become a warehouse of things simply picked up on various travels and then carelessly displayed throughout a cavernous lobby the size of a football field. We’ve all bought a vase or a sculpture that has looked perfect amidst the Oriental teak backdrop of a Bangkok shop, for instance, only to realize that it’s hopelessly out of place in the reality of one’s home after the holiday. “Look at these statues,” I whispered, pointing to two life-sized figurines of Greek gods by the doors of the lobby, blinding in their glitter of gold. “I wouldn’t take those even if they were given to me.

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Then we gazed at the row of ornate Indian chandeliers hanging from above, so heavy with crystal and glass that they looked ready to drop at any moment. Ironically, these were attached to a vaulted wooden ceiling that seemed more appropriate for a farmhouse than a luxury hotel. There were also massive Chinese lacquer tables, French rococo side bureaus and modern red armchairs set on a polished black-and-white checkerboard marble floor.

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LOOKING FOR A MATCH

Design is highly personal and a matter of taste. However, even with this premise in mind, in no one’s world can this assortment of clashing styles ever be called an appropriate match. None of the pieces in this special hotel will please everyone either; but here’s the catch. Somehow, at La Residence, everything works together to present a picture of loveliness that I would so happily call home, even temporarily. Under Liz Biden’s deft touch, this bric-a-brac of travels and inspirations has become a truly beautiful and elegant hotel that pleases the eye at every turn. I always considered myself creative; but staying at La Residence showed me just how far this term can really be taken. I paused at every step to take in images of sitting areas or nooks and crannies full of objects that I would never think of combining on my own.

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I would certainly stay here again, even just to bask in a world of abundance that so obviously disregards rules and norms. This was extravagance and opulence as I’d only dared imagine it, with Persian carpets exposed to the elements on open terraces, giant gilt mirrors and equally large paintings used almost in lieu of wallpaper, and an ever so eclectic mix of antiques and contemporary furniture everywhere. Interestingly, Liz Biden made no use of animal skins or anything obviously African. As far as I could see, there were few local items with a Dutch or French colonial heritage either. However, the resulting vibe is decidedly upscale African with a global bent – or perhaps it should just be called uniquely Liz Biden. After all, I know of no other place like this in the world.

A BIT OF INDIA IN AFRICA

La Residence only has eleven suites spread out over two wings in the main building, and each one is unique in décor, color scheme and configuration. I chose suite #11, the corner Maharani suite, which is probably the best in the house. It had a large terrace on both sides that offered endless and breathtaking vistas of the estate’s vineyards and plum orchards, and the dramatic cliffs surrounding Franschhoek. The suite itself is a palatial room of exotic Indian décor, reportedly created at the request of British singer Elton John, who is a friend of Liz Biden. Biden offered to decorate this suite for Elton John, and he had asked for furnishings inspired by a mysterious painting of a maharani that now adorns the study corner of the suite. 124

The result is an elegant room furnished in gold and made even more royal by a king-sized bed


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sitting atop a grand marble base. It has two seating areas and an antique desk for writing letters and postcards, as the atmosphere inevitably inspired me to do. But the crowning glory of this suite is its bathroom-dressing room, which in itself is already larger than most hotel rooms. It has French doors that open onto a terrace with a lovely view of a pond, and an old-fashioned soaking tub right in the middle of the room. I happily spent hours here, getting dressed for dinner amidst soft lighting, plush carpeting and masses of flowers. It was the perfect beginning to a wonderful evening that included dinner at La Residence’s chef ’s table and then rooibos tea by the fireplace. Dinner, for me, should be a complete experience of atmosphere, food and company to rate highly; and this was one of my most enjoyable meals in two weeks of good eating in South Africa.

SOMEWHERE IN TIME

Meanwhile, breakfast the next morning was an experience out of another century. In the large hall that served both as a reception and dining area, ladies in crisply starched uniforms poured tea and took our orders for hot breakfasts as we helped ourselves to a picture-pretty buffet of fruits and cold dishes. “Would you like another cup of tea, my lady?” A waitress asked politely, upon observing that I was in need of a refill. After she’d poured me another cup of tea and left, I’d smiled at my companion and said: “I can get used to this.” 125


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We were due in Cape Town for lunch so a check out was definitely in order in a few hours. But I’d been dragging my heels about packing up and heading back to reality after such a pleasant stay here, in this wondrous world of luxury and beauty. Indeed, La Residence is simply out of this world. n

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BREAKFAST AT LA RESIDENCE

Amidst masses of flowers and intriguing dĂŠcor, we dined on a lavish buffet that included fresh fruits from the garden, smoked salmon and cold cuts arranged beautifully on platters, and breads baked on the premises.


AT YOUR SERVICE

With only 11 rooms, the service at La Residence is personal, warm and full of South African-style good cheer. From the moment we arrived, deputy general manager Nick Solomon and his team offered unobtrusive but flawless service. No detail was forgotten, whether it was a spa appointment, a request made at check-in, or a favorite drink for dinner. When we eventually and reluctantly checked out, Nic was at the driveway with a printed copy of the driving directions to our next destination.


ESPECIALLY FOR US

For dinner at La Residence, we decided to arrange for the Chef’s Table. We walked over to the hotel’s restaurant just after 8 PM and were escorted to a massive wooden dining table just opposite the kitchen proper and in front of a set of ovens. Adorned with crystal candelabras, mismatched antique plates and colorful bouquets of flowers, this had to be one of the most beautiful dining tables I had ever seen, even in a never-endingly eventful Travelife. Executive chef Lennard personally welcomed us to his creative and work space. For the rest of the evening, he was our host and private chef, taking us through a complex world of flavors created with bounties from his own garden and fresh seafood and meats from nearby waters and farms. We enjoyed a wonderful five-course farm-to-table meal that included a memorable beef tongue salad and a delicious stuffed and roasted pigeon that happily made me think a little too early of Christmas. We thoroughly enjoyed this dinner for the food and the ambience, as well as the excellent company. It was certainly a special experience befitting an extraordinary hotel.


“We had a weekend of glamour, elegance, and style, amidst palm trees, lovely artworks and beautiful antiques from all over the world. It changed my sense of aesthetics forever. I would happily call this home in a minute.�

LA RESIDENCE www.laresidence.co.za


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THE ART OF GOING LOCAL JEROME VELASCO on eight delicate courses at The Tasting Room in Franschhoek


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nyone who follows international restaurant surveys will undoubtedly be familiar with The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Francais. This place has been delighting food lovers for years. With Chef Margot Janse at the helm, it has won practically every award in this part of the world.

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Born and raised in the Netherlands, Chef Margot combines uniquely African products with traditional European ingredients in a hugely successful way. She’s constantly challenging her team to do things differently.


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PROUDLY SOUTH AFRICAN

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To me, this place is a celebration of South African flavor from start to finish, and it’s accomplished via intriguing combinations and amazing indigenous produce. There is no question her inspiration is Africa. Foodies come here for a really serious epicurean event where the food and wine come together masterfully; and Chef Margot’s female ascendancy shows in the form of delicate flavors, elegant portions, and plating treated like art. Chef Margot also served us a salad she called a “summer walk through Franschhoek.” Uncannily similar to the legendary “le gargoulliou” of Michel Bras, it contained vegetables from her own garden as well as from nearby Leopard’s Leap. It had baby turnips that tasted just like radish, mustard greens that gave it bitter notes, sweet beets, an emulsion of sorrel, a little olive oil, and various other veggies that she topped off with a butternut crisp. It was just a complete salad, unlike what I have in many places, my home included.

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A beetroot and onion puree sponge ball with spinach at the center (made from juice and gelatin, and probably blast frozen) with buttermilk labne (a type of yogurt) and a dill


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and cucumber granite provided a refreshing start for the real action. It was dusted with that indelible South African stamp of buchu powder. Buchu is a small, local plant with a pungent aroma, by the way. The beetroot sponge dissolved in our mouths. Obviously, preparation is vital as it can melt if plated too early. The granite was cooling and invigorating and the labne was thick, rich and creamy. But the buchu wins this one, with its unmistakably strong scent and flavor dominating in a way that is impossible to avoid. This is a famous dish and was featured prominently in the South African version of Masterchef.

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The jury is still out on whether the piece de resistance was the quail from Paradyskloof in nearby Stellenbosch, with amasi (a popular fermented milk in South Africa that resembles cottage cheese) and sweet corn; or the Farmer Angus (a biodynamic farm) lamb cheek and tongue with aubergine, black garlic, amaranth and millet. I still cannot decide, although the curry-dusted kingklip with yellow dahl cannot not be far behind either. Do not miss out on a highly accomplished eight-course African-inspired surprise menu that uses a range of homegrown and unfamiliar (at least to me) ingredients such as baobab, chakalaka and buchu. It’s also best enjoyed with a unique pairing of mostly local South African wines. What a surprise it truly was. There was no hint of what was coming, and my companion was even getting several dishes that were entirely different from mine. In case you’re wondering how you’re going to remember the food afterwards, don’t worry. You are provided with a menu after the event, when it is time to reminisce the evening’s success.

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COMFORT FOOD RECREATED

The meal starts off with an interesting array of amuse bouche – black rice crackers, foie gras biscuits wrapped in edible silver, squid ink meringue and chakalaka and pap cigars. The last items are creative and delicious interpretations of South African staples. Chakalaka – boy, that’s a fun name – is a spicy tomato, onion and bean dish that’s a required condiment at South African barbecues, while pap is porridge made from ground maize.

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A delicious sweet cornbread baked and served in a red Lucky Star tin can arrived shortly after together with a nutty-flavored brown butter made fresh on the premises, courtesy of Daisy, Chef Margot’s adopted Jersey cow and preferred supplier of butterfat.


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DESSERT, NOT AS WE KNEW IT

The meal ends with a science experiment. A ball that appears to be the size of a dehusked coconut is made to resemble the fruit of a “baobab” (African tree of life); it disintegrates when warm honeybush caramel is poured over, revealing an incredible scoop of coconut ice cream. Nicknamed the “upside-down tree,” the baobab tree looks like it has been planted on its head with its roots sticking up in the air. It is an African super fruit high in antioxidants. Chef Margot’s food is layered with flavors and textures. But she seems to know when to push the boundaries and when to pull back, and this is probably why she commands the respect of her peers and has a loyal clientele that keeps coming back. This was an all-consuming four-hour meal that demanded my full attention. It had an excellent wine pairing from nearby vineyards and I had to stumble back to my room after having had too much. Several weeks later, I still think of her food and I’m still getting a better perspective of what she was trying to accomplish. My personal recommendation is to book months ahead and to really starve yourself before heading off to dinner.

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Having had the opportunity to dine at the three best restaurants in country – The Test Kitchen in Cape Town, La Colombe in Constantia, and The Tasting Room in Franschhoek – was definitely one for the bucket list. This was South Africa. I had never been here before and I did not know what to expect. But this much I took away: none of these restaurants had any stuffiness, nobody lifted their noses with any dish they served. It was all proper fine dining with


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no pretension. People have said that South Africa is near the end of the world. I am in total disagreement. It is actually located at the beginning of the world, a place that has everything and more, and its food is just now at the cusp of discovery and recognition. n

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Chef Margot Janse of The Tasting Room


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EAT AND STAY CHRISTINE CUNANAN recommends checking into the Le Quartier Francais after dinner at the Tasting Room


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o one leaves The Tasting Room in a less than inebriated state, especially if they have come specifically to dine here. Chef Margot Janse’s award winning restaurant was recently named one of South Africa’s top 10 restaurants for 2012 and it’s long been a regular finalist on international lists of the world’s best restaurants. Chef Margot herself was named Chef of the Year, and this alone is enough to encourage foodies from all over the world to make this a necessary stop on a trip to the Cape Town area.

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The biggest dilemma posed by The Tasting Room is eating, drinking and then trying to get back to a hotel somewhere else. The wine pairings offered with the tasting courses are excellent value and wonderful matches of local wines with Chef Margot’s food, so you must do both for a complete experience.


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SO NEAR, SO CONVENIENT

The practical and certainly extremely pleasant solution to having too much good food and wine is to book a room at the charming Le Quartier Francais (LQF) connected to the Tasting Room, which is a hop and a skip across the garden – if you can manage this at all, after an evening at the Tasting Room. A member of the Relais & Chateaux group, which is an assembly of small luxury hotels across the world that offer very personalized service, LQF offers cozy accommodations in bright rooms, a warm welcome, and lots of sweet touches that make it the quintessential Franschhoek experience.

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When I checked in, for instance, a tray of Parmesan cookies and an extremely sweet fruit tonic awaited me on a welcome tray. And after returning from a very long dinner at The Tasting Room, I was pleasantly surprised to find a Post It note on my bathroom mirror wishing me a good night and sweet dreams. You get the picture. You’re encouraged to call LQF home for as long as you’re in Franschhoek.


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ART, EVER SO NATURALLY

Lovers of art and design, too, will surely delight in the touches of the creative evident everywhere, but in a particularly uncontrived way – a testament to the excellent taste of owner Susan Huxter. Lovely local artwork adorn every surface where there’s a wall, and public areas are all about comfort and unusual art candy rather than impressive statement pieces. Coffee table books are carelessly but ever so prettily piled up on tables and bureaus for guests to leaf through. Murals, sculptures and craft items are an integral part of the hotel, which is incidentally painted in strategic areas in the boldest colors, a la Luis Barragan of Mexico. Staying here makes you realize how much you actually want a rainbow in your life. Meanwhile, my room on the second floor of a building that overlooked the swimming pool and the hills of Franschhoek held everything I could want for a pleasurable stay. It had large windows, a proper sitting area and a great bed.

AWARD-WINNING BREAKFAST IN OUR BOOKS

The good food doesn’t end at dinner either. I’m not sure if Chef Margot had a hand in preparing the specialties at the breakfast buffet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she did. Again, everything is arranged so stylishly, as if a magazine photographer is being expected at any moment; but somehow you just know that this is how they serve breakfast everyday, in this little hotel full of art and beauty. 151

This was perhaps the most unique breakfast spread we had in a trip of 14 excellent breakfasts.


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The food was laid out on a large table in a very hip design way, in single servings; and the best part was that they all tasted even better than they looked. I loved my eggs benedict, which was served with an especially sour sauce I’d never had before – and even now I still hanker for it. But the piece de resistance was a sticky bun filled with nuts and a hint of honey and cinnamon that left us speechless with delight. We took a box with us when we checked out of Le Quartier Francais just so we could prolong this bit of foodie happiness a little longer; we knew we would never have a sticky bun like this again. And, yes, that sticky bun alone is definitely worth another visit to Franschhoek and to Le Quartier Francais someday in our never-ending Travelife. n

THE TASTING ROOM & LE QUARTIER FRANCAIS www.lqf.co.za

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We just loved these sticky buns from the breakfast buffet


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Suitcase Tales Exploring the Big Hole in Kimberly, and lunch at the Oleander The other day, in South Africa living a Travelife, I had lunch at a beautiful little boutique hotel in Kimberley, the capital of the Northern Cape. I spent the morning exploring the Big Hole, which is the old diamond mine of De Beers, just outside Kimberley. This is one of the biggest attractions in the Northern Cape, as it’s the source of millions of diamonds, largely mined by the De Beers company. It’s also reportedly the biggest manmade hole in the world.

A TEMPORARY FLIRTATION

This was where I flirted with the idea of buying a diamond for a few very fleeting seconds. We were in the heart of diamond country after all. But it was never a serious thing. Instead I ended up buying a really beautiful artwork made by a local

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artist using brass wires to make a tree. When I saw it, I instantly fell in love with it, imagining how nice it would look on my dining table as a centerpiece.

BRINGING BACK MEMORIES

Then we went to lunch at this boutique hotel called Oleander, which is located on one of the prettiest streets of Kimberley. It used to be a private house, but one day the owners decided to sell it and move to Cape Town.

Last dinner in Dar es Salaa m, Tanzania

My meal here reminded me of another lovely boutique hotel created out of an old house, which I stayed in just a few weeks ago in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I have very nice memories of this stay.

THE PRICE ISN’T RIGHT

Unfortunately, the price they wanted for this lovely house was way above market value for similar houses in the area. They reportedly wanted five million South African rand. This isn’t that unreasonable for lovely homes in many other cities, but it’s pricey for Kimberley.

That’s the manager of the Oleander in Kimberly


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My guide told me: “It’s not just the purchase of the house either. It costs a lot of money to maintain an old house, so prospective buyers needed to take this into consideration as well.”

ALL’S WELL, END’S WELL

In the end, there were no takers for the house, so the owners decided to make it into a very upmarket boutique hotel instead. I reckon it’s the best place to stay in Kimberley, aside from the very historical Kimberley Club. It was love at first sight.

THE NEXT TIME I FALL IN LOVE... The Oleander has the loveliest rooms.

In fact, the next time I visit Northern Cape and drop by Kimberley, I’ve made up my mind to stay in Room #1. Kimberley is the gateway to anywhere in Northern Cape by plane. So you must either land here or at Uppington unless you drive in.

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The next time I visit South Africa, I’d like to do Northern Cape again, and also the Cederberg Mountains. I also want to ride the Blue Train and Rovos Rail.

LUNCH IN A GRACIOUS OLD HOME As for lunch at the Oleander, it was a simple affair.

I had a smoked salmon appetizer, and then a chicken pot pie with a salad, and ice cream to end -- all washed down with a nice pot of rooibos tea, of course. This was all well and good, too. Because from lunch, off I went to the private hangar of Kimberley Airport to board my Pilatus charter plane to the very end of the Northern Cape -- that point where it’s just three minutes across the river by canoe to Namibia. And, yes, I did paddle my way across the Yellow River to Namibia. And one of these days, I’m really going to land in Namibia (visa-vis this illegal alien way of touching Namibian soil for a few minutes, in my bathing suit) and explore this beautiful country.

That’s me, on my way to Na mibia...


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Namibia is at the top of my bucket list.

I’M CO-PILOTING A PILATUS

This wasn’t just any small plane ride either, as the plane was all mine. It was a relatively new state-of-the-art Pilatus with four very comfy seats in the middle, and then two jump seats at the back. As I had it all to myself, I sat next to the pilot in the cockpit for half of the ride. He taught me a thing or two about piloting the plane, as well, since I was technically supposed to land the plane in case something happened to him. All I can say is that it was simple but complicated at the same time. Then, I went to the back and stretched out, enjoying the luxury of privacy and my own jet, on just another afternoon in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife. This is a photo from this morning’s ride from Green Kalahari to Uppington. The pilot flew right inside a long ravine as a surprise for me.

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Suitcase Tales Dinner for South Africa Tonight, in Manila living a Travelife, I was kindly invited by H.E. Agnes Nyamande-Pitso, the Ambassador of South Africa to an intimate and formal dinner she hosted in honor of the Honorable Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim, South Africa’s Deputy Minister for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation. It was a beautifully set rectangular table full of friends of South Africa, and we enjoyed a four-course meal accompanied by South African wines, of course, and lots of entertaining conversation. As the good Ambassador herself said, “Tonight, there was no outside entertainment. We just entertained ourselves.”

A THANK YOU FOR FRIENDS

Although the dinner was in honor of the visiting minister, the Ambassador described tonight’s lovely dinner as a “thank you” to people who had helped promote South Africa’s interests in one way or another. I was very happy to be included, and I’m truly so excited to be visiting South Africa soon.

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A TRAVELIFE BEFORE A TRAVELIFE...

Just today, in fact, I realized that our trip is just a few weeks away. It had always felt like forever -- or at least a long way off -- when we started planning for this trip. And today, while fixing my schedule for October, I realized that we’ll be landing in Johannesburg in just a few weeks’ time. But in those few weeks, there are still a couple of trips in a Travelife, including a visit to Tokyo to eat at a very good restaurant and a weekend in Kyoto at one of Japan’s best ryokan. I even had a trip to Turkey and another to Bali on the table also for October, but I just had to postpone it due to a lack of minutes, hours and days in a month. But how very exciting this is to think about our upcoming South African trip, as South Africa is really so long overdue in a Travelife.

TWO GENTLEMEN AND A TRAVELIFE

There were place settings at the table and I was seated in between two gentlemen: the one on my left provided the interesting conversation, and the one on the right provided the jokes and the laughter. All in all, it was a terribly amusing evening. At the end of the evening, the guy on the right, who is one of the country’s foremost authority on wines, by the way, had put a melon cube into his white wine and he was happily drinking this at the table. Naturally, the main topic of the evening was South Africa. And the Deputy Minister was informed by the embassy that I was headed for South Africa in just a few weeks, and he made special mention of this in his opening remarks before dinner. 162


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INVITATIONS GALORE IN SOUTH AFRICA

Almost everyone at the table had been to South Africa, as well, so I was generously inundated with offers, advice, invitations and tips. I wish I could have accepted tonight everyone’s invitations for vineyards and dinners in South Africa, but as it is, our schedule is pretty full. This friend of mine who is coming along with me -- I call him The Boss -- is in charge of the on-ground schedule and he’s filled our holiday up with so many tours that I don’t even think we have five spare minutes in those two weeks, for anything extra. Even our flight transfers are all cut really close -- but that’s my fault as I chose the flights -- so that we have no time for a stroll between airplanes. But perhaps living on the edge is going to be part of the fun. At least in a never-ending Travelife...

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DINNER IN HONOR OF DEPUTY MINISTER EBRAHIM ISMAIL EBRAHIM OF SOUTH AFRICA

Beetroot Gravlax with a pineapple and sayote salad in a crea my horseradish dressing

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Roa st salm on with brais ed cabbage and root vegetables finis hed with a lemo n butt er and parsley dressing

Espresso tira misu and fresh fruits


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Coffee with a Filipino in Franschhoek, South Africa In South Africa for two weeks last month, living a TRAVELIFE, we visited the picturesque artist town of Franschhoek, which is about an hour’s drive from Cape Town. The main motivations for visiting Franschhoek were to have dinner at Le Quartier Francais (LQF), one of South Africa’s best restaurants, and to stay at two very different but equally lovely hotels: Le Quartier Francais, which is part of the Relais & Chateaux group, and La Residence, which is one of the most amazing private hotels in Africa.

TWO BIRDS WITH ONE STONE

So you might say that we killed two birds with one stone. One of us was -- well, actually, both of us were -- so looking forward to a full-blown eight-course dinner at LQF, and these two hotels in Franschhoek were in my South Africa hotels bucket list. From Cape Town airport, we got a car and drove ourselves to Franschhoek. We’d arranged to rent a very nice German car but the car company had loused up our reservations and they ended up giving us a Lexus instead.

A NAVIGATION SYSTEM THAT NEVER GOT US THERE

This was pretty okay, especially as a Lexus is easy to drive, except that our new car came with the lousiest navigation system in the world. It probably needed a major software upgrade as it almost never took us to the right hotel or restaurant, in that week of driving around the Cape.and they ended up giving us a Lexus instead.


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I often wanted to chuck this navigation system out the window when we found ourselves in some deserted road instead of in front of our hotel, as we were supposed to be -especially as I was in charge of navigating. Fortunately, I can read maps very well, so we never got lost in a major way. And that day we made it to LQF in Franschhoek in good time to relax a bit before dinner.

Dinner at Le Quartier Francais that night. The sunset was just beginning when we sat down to dinner.

That night, we had a truly mindblowing degustation dinner, which you’ll read more about in an upcoming issue of Travelife Magazine.

ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL DAYS IN SOUTH AFRICA The next day was one of the most beautiful days of summer in South Africa.

After breakfast, we walked around town, going into shops and galleries, checking out animal skins, and even looking at real estate listings for properties in South Africa. We passed by this crafts shop in Franschhoek, on our morning walk around the town, and we seriously considered buying one of these animal skins. 166

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reasonable prices were compared to Manila. We were expected at a famous winery for lunch with their managing director, so we didn’t have much time save for a short and quick walk up and down the main street. And just before checking out, we returned to Le Quartier Francais and met up with Lit Cortes, a fellow Filipino and the South Africa-based director of the safari specialists Asia to Africa, for a quick chat and a coffee.

IT’S A REALLY SMALL WORLD

Lit and I had been in touch for some months prior to our South Africa trip; and in the small world of Manila and its one-degree of separation, we had so many common friends, so it was simply a must for us to meet up with him somehow, while we were in Franschhoek. One of my friends said: “You can’t go to Franschhoek and not see Lit.” Among the “Africa junkies” I know (and please note that I use this word in a positive way, as I now count myself among them), Lit’s home in Franschhoek is a necessary stopover for a meal or a bottle of wine, and everyone raves about how beautifully he and his wife Kitty have done up their home. 167


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NEXT TIME...

I wish we had more time so that we could have taken Lit up on his invite for a drink or a nightcap in his home, or a meal together somewhere. In fact, I wish we’d had more time for everything -- but all we had was a half-hour to catch up with him before another lunch in another destination in our never-endingly eventful Travelife. More time just wasn’t possible as every meal on our itinerary was already spoken for. Finally, as we had to go and drive from Franschhoek to Somerset West with an unreliable navigation system, I very reluctantly said: “Next time.”

Lit Cortes lives in Franschhoe k, South Africa

I have a feeling I’ll be back in Africa soon anyway...

TIME WON’T GIVE ME TIME...

Anyway, that morning of that wonderful day, we sat out in the terrace of LQF, under the sun, discussing common friends in Manila and talking about South Africa. “You definitely need more time in South Africa,” Lit had told us, and one of us had shrugged and said: “This was the max

We were fully booked for every lunch and dinner in South Africa, save for an impromptu lunch at Johannesburg airport while waiting for our flight to Cape Town. That club sandwich lunch at the airport, by the way, is still a mong my favorite meals of the trip.


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possible.” Yeah, it had been a real stretch to even get two weeks in our very busy lives, but fortunately everything had worked out nicely. Even before we’d met him, it fascinated us no end that a Filipino would be living in Franschhoek -- and this was one of the first questions I asked him when we finally met up.

LIVING IN PARADISE

Beautiful sunset in Franschhoek

“What’s it like, living over here?” I asked him. It’s undeniably a beautiful place, but I was interested in the aspects of real life in this part of the world, a place so far from reality as we know it.

“We love it here,” Lit said. And obviously, they lead a wonderful and pretty relaxed life. When he isn’t working, Lit’s walking his two dogs along some of the most fantastic scenery in the world, and going on safari. Or sampling wines or heading for Cape Town, where the atmosphere is of course more cosmopolitan. Friends have told me that when they go around Franschhoek with Lit and Kitty, the whole world knows them and it’s literally “Hi Lit,” or “Hi Kitty” everywhere. 169


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I gave Lit also a rundown of all the hotels I’d chosen for this trip, and he seemed to know everyone running the ones in the Cape area, as well.I have a feeling I’ll be back in Africa soon anyway...

SURREAL BUT NICE

Later on, when we’d said goodbye to Lit and were on our way to lunch at Somerset West, in the car we’d talked about how surreal this morning was: there we were, three Filipinos with enough common friends to instantly be real friends, having coffee and rooibos tea in a garden terrace of a lovely hotel in a tiny town like Franschhoek at one end of Africa, which is really almost one end of the world. It felt so comfortable, and yet it was so far from our reality. The garden of Le Quartie r Francai s

WHERE ARE WE?

Later on, when we’d said goodbye to Lit and were on our way to lunch at Somerset West, in the car we’d talked about how surreal this morning was: there we were, three Filipinos with enough common friends to instantly be real friends, having coffee and rooibos tea in a garden terrace of a lovely hotel in a tiny town like Franschhoek at one end of Africa, which is really almost one end of the world. 170


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It felt so comfortable, and yet it was so far from our reality. We didn’t even know where we were. Of course it was South Africa; but it felt like Manila because we three were sitting around talking as if we were in a restaurant or a coffee shop at The Fort or somewhere in Makati. But the scenery could have been anywhere. It was South Africa but it could have been Provence, Napa Valley, or somewhere else beautiful in California. Or even somewhere in Switzerland.

A nice, relax ing, delicious and very liqui d lunch at one of the Cape ’s gran dest wine ries.

Surreal, but nice, as Julia Roberts said in that movie “Notting Hill.” And just another day in our never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.

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Up in a Balloon over South Africa and Breakfast with a Giraffe On our second day in South Africa, living a TRAVELIFE, we did the craziest thing: we decided to add a hot-air balloon ride to an already maddening sightseeing day that took us all the way to Sun City and Pretoria. And then it ended with a fancy dinner at the Saxon Boutique Hotel in Johannesburg, cooked by David Higgs, one of South Africa’s top chefs. This original schedule was supposed to start at 6 AM and end at 10 PM. But with the hot air balloon ride suddenly in the picture, we ended up starting from the hotel at just after 3 AM and coming home at around 11 PM.

That’s really us in our balloon. Someone took this photo from the ground.

NO SIGHTSEEING FATIGUE

Interestingly, I didn’t feel very tired in spite of such a grueling schedule, although our driver, who we contracted for two days of driving around, said that he’d never worked so hard in his life before. But getting up early was worth it. The balloon ride was wonderful, and a great start to an amazing trip around South Africa for two weeks.

Some animals joined us for breakfast....


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AN INSPIRED IDEA

I got the idea to do the balloon ride in South Africa just a few days before leaving Manila for Johannesburg -- one of those nights when I just couldn’t sleep, and I was thinking about whether we’d missed anything significant to see or do (or eat!) in South Africa. I remembered a fantastic balloon ride in Turkey and I’ve been hooked on balloons ever since. Researching on the Internet, I found the Air to Air Africa Hot Air Balloon company, which flew balloons over the Cradle of Mankind which is about 35 kms from Johannesburg. If you’re driving in the early morning -- like us, at 330 AM from The Westcliff in Johannesburg -- then it takes you about 20 to 30 minutes.

That’s the balloon, getting all fired up...

Air to Air Africa has pilots with 30 years or so of experience flying balloons.

SAFETY’S A TOP PRIORITY

What also impressed me was that they were very serious about safety. As soon as we’d booked our ride, we received a packet by email with very detailed instructions regarding safety precautions.

Look at all those contraptions on our balloon..


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Then, when we reached the lodge near the launch site at 430 AM, we got another briefing from the management on what to do and what not to do. We also were asked specifically about our weight and other details, as apparently this is a big factor in balloon safety and trying to ensure balance in the basket.

PEACE AT THE TOP Beautiful views over South Africa... this is the largest manmade dam in the Southern hemisphere, and that’s a 20 meter drop down into Crocodile River.

Finally we were off. It was incredibly peaceful and nice to be seeing South Africa from above. And when the sun finally rose, we were met with a pretty glorious view of the Cradle of Mankind, where

everything in existence began. We spent an hour up in the air, and for most of the time, we were just all looking out at the scenery below us. I remember that I still couldn’t believe I was in South Africa, as we hadn’t even been in South Africa for 24 hours yet.

FINDING OUT THE HARD WAY

Then we landed back on earth. We had to brace in the emergency position, and then the basket got dragged several meters before the team on the ground was able to stop it. But we were already briefed about this at the outset, so I wasn’t too worried when it was happening.


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A SOUTH AFRICAN BREAKFAST

Then we all drove back to the lodge for a hearty breakfast. We weren’t expecting much, frankly, so we were happily surprised to enjoy such an excellent breakfast. On the patio of the lodge, by the swimming pool, we had freshlybaked croissants, delicious sausages and cheeses, and some African stews that we tried for the very first time. These were wonderful.

MY FAVORITE TEA

This was also the first time in South Africa that I had a pot of rooibos tea, which is supposed to be one of the most powerful detoxifying teas in the world. I’d had it before in Sri Lanka, but here in South Africa, where it is a native plant, I was having the real thing.

My first proper breakfast in South Africa

I got hooked on rooibos tea from this very morning onwards, and it became my standard breakfast fare and just-about-anytime drink for the next two weeks. Drunk straight without sugar or milk. I decided to write about this balloon ride today because I just found my balloon ride certificate in my folder of brochures, tickets and trip paraphernalia that I saved for a memory book. Each passenger was given one. And what a nice souvenir of a wonderful memory, being up in the air over Africa, this is.

Champagne (or rather sparkling wine, in South Africa) when it was all over. Then we had rooibos tea with breakfast.


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Revenge served cold and dinner with the Ambassador of South Africa Last night, in Manila living a TRAVELIFE, I attended a pre-Christmas dinner that the Ambassador of South Africa very graciously hosted for some family members visiting from South Africa and an assortment of close friends. It was a very intimate dinner for only 12 persons, and we obviously all enjoyed since we stayed till midnight. The invitation card was for two persons, so my friend D kindly accompanied me. I immediately thought of asking him when I got the verbal and formal invitation because I knew he was interested in visiting South Africa and also going on safari sometime.

LOVE LOST AND THEN FOUND ON FACEBOOK

I already knew most of the ambassador’s guests, so it was a pretty relaxed dinner with lots of banter and laughter. In particular, one lady I happen to know quite well kept us in stitches with stories about a former love from 20 years ago or so. They’d lost touch after he’d given her up for someone else, and recently she’d looked him up on Facebook. They exchanged messages and she’d seen some photos of him and his wife -- the very same woman he’d left her for. 176


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REVENGE SERVED 20 YEARS LATER

Apparently he looks so much older now -- whereas she has certainly kept herself attractive looking and she doesn’t look anywhere near her age at all. “That’s pretty good revenge,” I said out loud, when she recalled how he’d chosen someone else over her, and now both he and the woman he had chosen both looked well beyond their real ages. You know what they say about “revenge being a dish best served cold...” “She looks like she’s gained 40 pounds as well,” the lady added of her former boyfriend’s significant other, and of course we giggled merrily at the idea of this.

A VERY NICE DINNER

So we continued throughout the meal with all kinds of banter, ranging from light and carefree topics like this, to serious things like the constitution and labor laws of South Africa. We also talked about the end of the world, of course, as last night was supposed to be the big night for that; and I think someone even proposed a toast to it. It made for a very interesting evening accompanied by good food that was obviously prepared with lots of warmth. In fact, the Ambassador’s daughter herself had made the soup, which was a creamy butternut soup with a thin slice of cheese on top. This is one of her specialties and it was very good, with a hint of pepper at the end.


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Everything had a slight kick actually -- just like the vivacious Ambassador of South Africa herself, and the vibrant culture of South Africa. My friend D met her for the first time last night, and he was enthralled and entertained by her. “Enjoyed the company,” he messaged me earlier.

SURPRISES AFTER DINNER

For dinner, we had a spicy mango salad to start, and a slightly spicy salmon as a main course, followed by fruits and ice cream for dessert. But the highlight came at the end. Teenee Chan, she and her mother were among the guests and Teenee performs with Repertory Philippines, sang a beautiful song from Oklahama, and then the Ambassador and her brother followed this up with excerpts from South African songs. We all enjoyed these.

A FANTASTIC GIFT FROM SOUTH AFRICA

To say “Merry Christmas,” as well, the Ambassador gave each of us a gift bag -- and inside was a truly lovely handwoven bowl in a myriad of colors from South Africa, and an ostrich egg. We were all very pleased with this surprise, and I was particularly beside myself with joy.


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I’d seen these baskets in South Africa, you see, but somehow I’d never managed to buy even one of them. We’d spent two weeks in South Africa, but our shopping time had been strictly limited to two major shopping binges. So I’d gone home with just a few trinkets and a very large zebra skin. Considering I hadn’t even planned to bring home a zebra skin -- yes, it was an impulse buy -- this counted as a major shopping binge. Of course now I’m so happy I brought home a zebra skin, especially when I see it on my floor by my Christmas tree every day. And now I have this lovely basket to keep reminding me about everything wonderful in South Africa as well. Just another day in my never-ending, and neverendingly eventful Travelife. The beautiful basket and ostrich egg are gifts from the Ambassador of South And that’s my springbok skin, bought right in the Cape of Good Hope Africa. on our very last day in South Africa, living a Travelife.

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Suitcase Tales 20 hours from Cape Town to Manila, dinner at the Cape Grace Hotel, and how I missed the Alain Ducasse dinner the other night

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Good afternoon from Hong Kong, after a pretty pleasant overnight flight. It was 12+ hours from Johannesburg to Hong Kong, and I slept for a good nine hours. I thought I needed the energy as I’m landing in Manila in a few hours, and it’s straight to a party hosted by a luxury car company in an equally luxurious hotel (read more about this tonight). And then I have to do a French exit and head for a wine dinner hosted by an ambassador.

Y esterday at the Cape Grace Hotel, having afternoon tea

As if I needed any more wine, after two weeks in South Africa, living a Travelife.

DINNER AT THE BEAUTIFUL CAPE GRACE IN CAPE TOWN

Last night, there I was in Cape Town, having dinner with a friend at the beautiful Cape Grace Hotel right by the waterfront. We sat in the enclosed terrace with views overlooking a quiet marina and Cape Town’s multi-million dollar apartments, and Table Mountain in all

Delicious wines every night in South Africa, living a Travelife


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its glory.

SO NICE TO SEE YOU AGAIN, TABLE MOUNTAIN It was so nice to see Table Mountain again.

The last time I was in Cape Town, which was exactly a year ago, we’d gone up the mountain at sunset, taking a beautiful Victorian picnic hamper with us. We were the only ones on the mountain with such a hamper. So we got stopped by so many people, wondering where we had gotten such a beautiful basket.

DINNER BY THE MARINA

This time around, I spent sunset by the marina, having a drink and then a very nice dinner cooked by the executive chef of the Cape Grace Hotel.  We then asked Martin, the Cape Grace sommelier, to recommend some wine pairings for us, and these turned out wonderfully.

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I had a dry white wine from nearby Stellenbosch to go with an appetizer of tuna tacos with a Malay sauce. And then I had a very nice Pinotage to go with my pork belly dish.

CAPE GRACE’S FAMOUS CHOCOLATE CAKE For dessert, I just had to have Cape Grace’s famous chocolate cake.

I’d been eyeing it all afternoon, throughout afternoon tea, but I just didn’t have time before my massage yesterday. What a wonderful, enjoyable and delicious evening this was, in Cape Town’s iconic Cape Grace Hotel, living a Travelife.

BACK IN HONG KONG

And now here I am in Hong Kong, enroute back home, to another wine dinner on just another nice evening in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife. 182


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SORRY I MISSED YOU, ALAIN DUCASSE

PS: Speaking of wonderful dinners in Manila, one that I sorely regret missing was the dinner hosted by the Peninsula Manila and Enderun Colleges with Alain Ducasse as guest. My invitation came just before I left for South Africa and I was sorely tempted to cut my trip short by a day to make it for this dinner. Unfortunately, every detail of my trip had already been set.

TWO MEMORABLE DINNERS IN SOUTH AFRICA INSTEAD

The dinner last night at the Cape Grace in Cape Town, and the al fresco dinner in the Kalahari Desert the previous night at the beautiful Tsuwa Game Reserve, certainly made up for this, though. More on these in a later blog entry.

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Suitcase Tales Up close and personal with South Africa, via a bespoke tour for someone else. And are you coming along on a Travelife to South Africa with us this November?

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Last night I skipped a function and deliberately stayed home to finish a bespoke luxury trip to South Africa that I’m helping a reader arrange for her family. In a way, it’s quite fun to do as she left all the decision-making to me. She seems to have a pretty wide berth as far as budgets are concerned, and she wanted best-of-breed experiences. So I could book the experiences, hotels and restaurants I wanted. What a fun time I had, planning a Travelife for someone else, but in a way I would do for myself.

MY OWN SHORTLIST

I booked a lot of the hotels, restaurants and wineries I’d used on my own trip to South Africa last year, as I’d shortlisted those already for my own private holiday. So I knew these were good. So basically, I was planning my own holiday in South Africa all over

One of my favorite hotels in a never-endingly eventful Travelife.


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again. We’d picked all the best restaurants in South Africa for our trip, give or take a few, and so I’d booked this lady as well for these same world-class places.

FOLLOWING FOOTSTEPS

She and her family are eating in almost every restaurant we went to in South Africa, beginning from Day 1 to the last day of our two-week holiday. At La Colombe in South Africa

It was enjoyable to remember this trip all over again. How can you possibly not, when you’re looking at the same photos and even the same routes?

ONLY THE BEST

So I’m even writing down the exact room numbers of the nicer rooms in each of the hotels we stayed in, so they know which to ask for. I’d done the same with the food. 185

This room was called the Armani Suite.


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At some restaurants, I know exactly what to order. So on her itinerary, I’d placed little notes like: “The mussels in lemon grass and coriander are very good here,” or “Don’t miss the sticky buns at breakfast.” I almost wanted to add: “Bring some home for me, please.” Of course, this is almost impossible, although I do remember that we snuck a couple out from the breakfast table at one hotel and held on to our supply of sticky buns in South Africa for four whole days. We finally ate these for breakfast on our way to the airport for a series of flights back home on the last day of our trip to South Africa.

GOT TO GET MORE ROOIBOS TEA

But I will ask her to bring back some organic loose rooibos tea for me -- just in case my supply doesn’t hold out until my next trip. Fortunately, my next trip to South Africa may be sooner rather than later. All this planning for a dream trip to South Africa part 2 -- a trip I would’ve planned for myself, and that I’ve literally slaved on for a couple of days now. for someone else -- has been great. But last night I also realized I’m not going on it.


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TRAVELIFE TO SOUTH AFRICA... HERE WE COME...

I must admit it’s a bittersweet feeling to get so up close and personal with South Africa again, and at the same time, not to be able to re-experience it myself. So I’m now thinking of organizing a group together for a trip to this country I’ve grown to like a lot. It won’t be too over the top, so more people can join us, but it’ll definitely be a pretty nice Travelife kind of trip for about 10 days. Call Meg or Kat at Travelife Magazine, if you wish to get on our mailing list for South Africa, tentatively set for the middle of November. This was the exact time we went last year and the weather was perfect. In fact, come to think of it, almost everything about it was seamless and perfect in a so very never-endingly eventful Travelife way.

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Come up Table Mountain with us, for a most a mazing view...


Agoda.com’s List of

Over the Top Hotels


HOTELS

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sia’s leading hotel booking site and part of Nasdaq-listed Priceline Group (Nasdaq:PCLN), Agoda.com believes that travel should be about new experiences and unique surroundings. There’s no one “right” way to do this, and depending on the person could include anything from leaning up against a coconut tree looking at the ocean, to visiting one of the world’s great cities. But for the annual list of Over the Top hotels, Agoda.com focuses on six properties that embody new experience and unique surroundings on their own, and in the process become destinations in their own right. Again, there is no standard definition for “over the top”. Be it a castle in the middle of the African jungle, a hotel borne out of its owner’s obsession with auto racing, or the former palace of French royalty, an over the top experience is open to interpretation.

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The hotels below were chosen because they provide an experience that is equal parts lush, odd, beautiful, colorful, and charming – an over the top experience in some of Agoda.com’s key destinations.


W Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand There’s no better place for OTT than Bangkok, and the W Hotel skillfully balances the city’s striking mix of noise and flamboyancy. It’s easy to relax in large, colorful rooms that offer high thread-count linens, a pillow menu, and even a pet bed, should a furry friend join a vacation. Visitors waiting in the lobby are bathed in the glow from a wall festooned with 800 varieties of lights from Thailand’s iconic tuk-tuk. Guests can dine in several stylish restaurants, party at the luminous Woobar, and swim at WET, a swimming pool encircled by what looks like a sweeping wave of metallic chocolate mousse. Most OTT feature: Designed by New Yorkbased AvroKO, a spiral staircase encircles a chandelier made from plastic bags, an item commonly used in lieu of soda bottles for Bangkok’s masses. Guests say: “Modern, stylish hotel. Great air con in muggy city. Good bar and food choices. Beautiful large reception area. Helpful staff who spoke excellent English. Well located near BTS station and in central Bangkok for good shopping and nightlife.” – Felicity, United Kingdom


Shangri-La, Paris, France Built in 1896 as the private residence of Prince Roland Bonaparte (Napoleon’s grand-nephew), the Shangri-La was restored & converted into an 81-room hotel in 2010 as the flagship property of the world-renowned Shangri-La brand. Decorated in a regal palette – blue, gold and cream – and restored to its original glory, it’s easy to feel as though Monsieur Bonaparte is still in residence. The property is graced with several exquisite hand-crafted Murano chandeliers, and two of the hotel’s three restaurants have earned Michelin stars. Guests can choose from several styles of suites, all of which are decorated with lush fabrics, natural wood and stylish marquetry. Most OTT feature: Splurge on the La Suite Shangri-La, a 220 sq.m room on the top floor. The 100 sq.m terrace has a panorama of the city’s rooftops and the spire of the Eiffel Tower that’s surely one of the world’s most romantic views. Guests say: “Was perfect, will never forget it. Outstanding view, great service when setting up a romantic evening in the room, staff are friendly & made you feel important and happy.” – Brendan, Australia


V8 Hotel im Meilenwerk, Boblingen, Germany If you’re even remotely interested in automobiles or car racing, a visit to the V8 Hotel should make the top of your bucket list. A former airport hotel, the V8 Hotel has been restored with loving dedication to all things automobile, and boasts an attached Meilenwerk, an open air museum/ garage where collectors store and service their most precious vehicles. Choose a room with a unique theme, like the Gas Station, which evokes a 1950’s-era service facility, or Route 66, done up to reflect the famous, dusty stretch of sun-baked highway in America’s heartland. Every bed is an extra-long 2.1m and each one rests in the hulk of an old car, from a beat up old Mustang to a replica of Herbie the Love Bug. Most OTT feature: Stay in the Tower Suite, a 90 sq.m space on 3 floors of the old airport control tower. It’s more like a private apartment than anything else, and the rooftop terrace gives you great views as you eat breakfast. Guests say: “The hotel is a real attraction for car fans. The theme rooms are spectacular and the standard rooms are simple but modern.” – Christian, Germany


The Palace of the Lost City, Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa Seeing the Palace of the Lost City for the first time is a surreal experience, with domed towers jutting up out of the African jungle. With 388 rooms in a gargantuan building on 60 acres set within an extinct volcano, its very existence is an over the top statement. Guests can play a round on the 18-hole golf course (but watch out for the crocodiles in the water hazards), relax in the opulent lobby looking up at grand paintings of the African savannah, or dine next to a giant elephant water fountain in the cavernous Crystal Court restaurant. Every room is suitably OTT as well, with hand-crafted furniture and an inspiring view of the surrounding jungle. Most OTT feature: It’s hard to pick just one – arrive via helicopter? Get a grape seed body rub at the Gatsby International Health Spa? Head out on a safari? There are plenty of opportunities to take things to the next level. Guests say: “Excellent, I will definitely come again. There’s entertainment, great food, comfort, and romance.” – Zhenwu, China


Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur, India Built in 1746 on an island in Lake Pichola (reportedly by a local prince as a place to bring his dates), the opulent Taj Lake Palace seems to float on the water as you approach by private boat. Once there, guests get OTT treatment in true Indian style, showered with rose petals on arrival and surrounded by 250-year old paintings and decorative artwork throughout the hotel. Each suite has been designed with unique mosaics, antiques, fabrics, and furniture, and several private terraces – including a pontoon that floats on the lake – provide stunning vistas for dinner. Most OTT feature: Take the Gangaur Cruise, an unforgettable private dining experience on an imperial barge accompanied by live music and attendants cooking food on a grill. Bonus: The boat was used in the 1983 James Bond movie Octopussy, which filmed at the Taj Lake Palace. Guests say: “It’s a special place unlike anywhere else. Taj service is at its finest- the word “no” isn’t in their vocabulary and all the staff knew us by name and did everything they could to make our stay exceptional.” – Jayme, United States


Hotel Éclat Beijing, Beijing, China Shooting up out of Beijing’s central business district of Parkview Green, the glass pyramid of Hotel Éclat is a 100-room luxury boutique hotel with a heavy focus on bold colors, dramatic presentation and artistic flair. Every room is planned with a heavy attention to detail, from the furniture designed by Philippe Stark and Timothy Oulton to toiletries supplied by Miller Harris, London’s luxury perfumer. Most notably, the hotel is home to the largest privately owned collection of contemporary art in China, and works by Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Chen Wen Ling and Pierre Matter grace every floor. Most OTT feature: Stay in one of the pool suites, plush, oversized rooms with 55-inch LCD televisions, Jacuzzi tubs in the bathroom and large outdoor terraces with private jet pools. Guests say: “This hotel was an oasis in the very busy city of Beijing. The Terrace room was outstanding, the staff were brilliant, and when there are several pieces of Salvador Dali art in the lobby and lift areas, you know it is going to be a special stay.”


HOTELS

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THE AGODA APP: SMARTER HOTEL BOOKING ON YOUR MOBILE Online hotel bookings have become a staple for most travellers today, from bargain hunters to business travellers looking to make quick, easy and secure bookings. In June 2013, Hotelmarketing.com reported that one in four online travel bookings made in the Asia Pacific come from a mobile device. Enter the Agoda app, an incredibly handy tool for booking hotels on iOS and Android devices. Agoda.com is Asia’s leading hotel booking site that offers lowest rates and a fuss-free booking experience. The site’s intuitive layout translates onto the mobile app, which allows users to securely book their accommodation with the help of some very useful features, such as multiple language support (36 in total), conversion to various currencies, as well as Google Maps integration. Aside from Agoda.com’s full booking functionality being accessible via the App, a little-known perk of using the Agoda App is its “Insider Deals”. “Insider Deals” are special/flash discounts of up to 40% or more, applicable only to bookings made from the app. These deals depend on season and availability, so lucky users browsing at the right time have a good chance of stumbling upon some really fantastic deals as prices are constantly updated. The Agoda app also comes in particularly handy in the face of unexpected changes like a sudden flight cancellation, or a last minute trip extension. The app allows users to conveniently book a hotel in just a few taps regardless of their location, as long as they have access to data. The app is a single stop for all necessary information before making a booking, such as guest reviews, photos, highlights, policies and attractions, all listed within the hotel page. Currently, the app is rated 4.5 stars on Google Play with over 17,000 ratings. It is available for free on both the App Store and Google Play.

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All Roads Lead to MEGAWORLD brings its pioneering ‘LIVE-WORK-PLAY-LEARN’ township concept to Central Visayas


MEGAWORLD

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actan Island in Metro Cebu is looking to be the present darling for investments outside Metro Manila.

Thanks to its robust economy coupled with the cosmopolitan lifestyle of Cebuanos, Metro Cebu is attracting top local and international companies from the real estate and business process outsourcing (BPO) industries looking to expand their businesses in the Philippines.


MEGAWORLD

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Megaworld, the country’s leading real estate developer and biggest BPO landlord, has come to Metro Cebu to build another successful township named The Mactan Newtown. The company has set aside a whopping P20 billion to develop the more than 20-hectare property in the next five to seven years. Patterned after the pioneering Eastwood Ciy, the country’s first IT Park in Libis, Quezon City, The Mactan Newtown is envisioned to see the rise of residential towers, modern offices, luxury hotels, upscale mall, and other retail and commercial establishments. The township will be similarly embracing the revolutionary “Live, Work, Play, Learn” concept of its visionary founder, Dr. Andrew L. Tan. The central idea is for Cebuanos to never have to venture too far from their humble abodes to enjoy the best things that life has to offer.

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SOLD OUT CONDOMINIUMS

The Mactan Newtown has already sold out the four-tower 8 Newtown Boulevard and the three-tower One Pacific Residence. This after only a few months since it was launched in 2012. The first tower of One Manchester Place, the third cluster of condominiums to be developed in The Mactan Newtown, is currently in its pre-selling stage, generating an equally incredible response from the market. “We see a growing demand for residential condominiums in the island so we are aggressively expanding the residential component of our township. During the past year, we have easily sold out our two residential clusters, 8 Newtown Boulevard and One Pacific Residence. This is a clear indication of a strong, vibrant market for residential condominiums in Mactan Island,” says Noli D. Hernandez, president, Megaworld Cebu Properties, Inc. A three-tower condominium cluster, One Manchester Place will have a direct access to an upcoming mall in the township.

THE NEXT BPO HUB

Believing in Cebuanos as world-class talents particularly in the BPO sector, Megaworld has recently announced that it is alloting an estimated 150,000 square meters of office spaces in The Mactan Newtown within the next three to five years.

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“Just like in Metro Manila, Cebu’s BPO industry is seeing significant growth in recent years. And Megaworld wants a piece of the action. In fact, we can actually add up more leasable office spaces if the demand is really high,” says Jericho Go, first vice president, Megaworld.


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“Cheaper labor, abundant manpower, affordable location, and right assistance from the local government make Cebu ripe for BPO businesses.� The high demand for BPO spaces with One World Center, construction for the Two World Center will be completed by the first half of 2014. Go predicts The Mactan Newtown to generate around 40,000 full-time BPO employees by 2018.

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The Mactan Newtown has been getting great interest from top BPO companies to set up their offices in the township since it was launched over a year ago. One such international outsourcing firm is the Results Companies (Results Manila), the leading global provider of customer management and business process outsourcing solutions for over 20 years.


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“Cebu is home to a great pool of talented, educated people with exceptional drive for exceeding customer expectations. We expanded our office in Cebu to allow us to diversify our locations for our clients and internal business continuity planning,” says Kevin Betts, vice president for Facilities Development and Administration, Results Manila.

‘LEARN’ AT THE MACTAN NEWTOWN

Fulfilling its promise to provide an environment that promotes learning, Megaworld has tapped the Lasallian Schools Supervision Office (LASSO) to build a world-class learning facility within The Mactan Newtown. The educational center that will be supervised by LASSO, an implementing arm of the esteemed Lasallian Schools Supervision Services Association, Inc. (LASSSAI), is set to open its doors initially for primary level in the school year 2016 to 2017. “Having a school with reputable brand will not only help build credibility for the township, but more importantly, it will help improve the quality of education provided within the region,” adds Hernandez. To be developed on a 7,000-square-meter piece of land, the school will be a multi-level building complete with state-of-the-art facilities.

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“The school in The Mactan Newtown will primarily have strong Catholic orientation that can teach minds, touch the hearts, and transform lives. It also pays tribute to the region’s history and tradition,” says Br. Ophelia S. Fugoso, AFSC executive director of LASSO.


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The Mactan Newtown is changing the Cebuano lifestyle by bringing the best of business, lifestyle, shopping, entertainment, and residences under one township in the picturesque Mactan Island. n For more inquiries on The Mactan Newtown, email themactannewtown@megaworldcorp.com.

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What to Wear

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Elis Mini Silk Diamond Touch Light, Swarovski

Diamonds may be forever, but pearls define timeless elegance. Sobre clutch with jute flap, Rags2Riches

Amara braided clutch with wooden frame accent and chain strap, Rags2Riches

Hide your essentials in these eco-friendly purses made of scrap materials, designed by Amina Aranaz-Alunan.

WALK HIS WAY Keep comfortable as you travel the world in 2013. This Lewis pair by Fitflop is ideal for the man who works hard and plays hard. Perfect for those business trips-turnedpleasure travels.

This sleek yet luxurious crystal studded watch proves that time is, indeed, gold.

THE SEASON’S

Finest

Standout and shine this season with these bright and bold pieces that define elegance and luxury Bold prints and bright hues in various textures make Rafe Toteco’s bags iconic pieces that add that touch of individuality to your personal style. The charm and glamour of St. Tropez is beautifully reflected in this chic watch that can easily go casual or dressy.

Tina Mixed Media Tech Clutch in Pink/Orange, Rafe

Infinite Summer collection, Charriol

Celia Watersnake Clutch in Yellow Multicolor, Rafe

Tropics rings and choker, Jewelmer


Sister

Ethereal grace The Angel Pendant

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LUSTROUS GIFTS FOR THE SEASON

Best Friend Understated brilliance The Noel Pendant

Shop the Jewelmer Joaillerie Gift Guide The gift of gold glows beautifully all year round. South Sea pearl pendants stay close to the heart for just the right touch of luxe delight.

Yourself

Mother

Vivacious feminity The Via Rosa Pendant

Classic splendor The Madame de Pompadour Pendant www.jewelmer.com


Baggage Check

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Milan, Italy Walking through the fashionable Quadrilatero d’Oro, explore the romantic Piazza del Duomo, or sit back and people-watch over a cup of coffee at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuel II. You’ll fit right into the scene of Italy’s city of style with your sleek tweed shoulder bag and Herringbone backpack. Citysafe 350 GII Herringbone Anti-theft backpack (hers)

Tandem Traveling Journey worry-free to some of the world’s most exotic destinations with these safe and heavy-duty bags from Pacsafe.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Metrosafe 200 GII Tweed Anti-theft shoulder bag (his)

Ultimatesafe 22L Anti-theft backpack (his)

For a hike through South America’s Inca trail or a unique medieval horseback trek, pack your things in a sturdy and easy-to-carry sling bag and backpack that secures your belongings for high passes and steep trails.

Buenos Aires, Argentina Fly all the way to Buenos Aires and get ready for a fun day of polo in Palermo, bird watching at the Reserva Ecologica Constanera Sur, and all-night tango dancing at the Centro Cultural Torquato Tasso. Just bring a safe bag that secures all your belongings so you’ll be worry-free while exploring the cultural capital of Latin America. Venturesafe 350 GII Anti-theft shoulder bag (his)

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Citysafe 200 GII Anti-theft handbag (hers)

Slingsafe 250 GII Anti-theft handbag (hers)


Tech Chic

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INNOVATIVE GADGETS Capture every treasured moment

LIGHT AND MIGHTY Take spectacular photos and capture professional HD videos with the new Canon EOS M. Having the same specifications like a DSLR, Canon EOS M is using a non-reflex operating system making it light and petite in form. The EOS M caters to both professional and experimental photographers with functions such as EOS Scene Analysis, Auto Lighting Optimizer, and High Dynamic Range (HDR) Backlight Control, among others.

www.canon.com.ph

AN EXPERIENCE LIKE NO OTHER Philips, a brand known for its technological

S K C I P ’S R O T I D E

innovations has introduced three new monitors.

“Two thumbs up for Canon

The G-Line Monitor with 2D and 3D features

Powershot D20 which I brought

gives gamers and movie buffs a more exciting

with me to shoot Cebu and Bohol’s

and realistic entertainment experience. The

marine life. It’s a handy point-and-

Blade 2 Monitor is slimmer without jeopardizing

shoot camera that’s waterproof

its performance. The E-Line IPS Monitor lets you

up to 33 feet, shockproof of up to

to view the contents of your mobile device in HD

5 feet, and temperature resistant

while charging—best for saving on energy bills.

from 14°F to 104°F.”

www.philips.com.ph

– Bryan Arevalo, Creative Director


ATE 2013: Travelifing Down Under by ADRIAN CARLO VELASCO


ATE13: SYDNEY

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very year, the Australian Ministry of Tourism and Tourism Australia hold the largest business-to-business travel and tourism convention in the continent nation through the Australian Tourism Exchange (ATE). What better way to celebrate the rapidly massive growth of tourism in Australia than holding ATE 2013, also known as ATE13, in Australia’s tourism and financial megacity, in Sydney, New South Wales. Travelife Magazine was recently there, which coincidentally was the only Southeast Asian publication, to witness the largest travel and tourism event in the Southern hemisphere and to unofficially represent the ASEAN market, the world’s fastest growing. Being closely located to Southeast Asia, Australia is our region’s door to the Western world.


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According to Australian Minister for Tourism Honorable Gary Gray AO MP, there were around “700 travel wholesalers and retailers from 40 different countries, and over 1,300 seller delegates from almost 500 companies” in the biggest ATE to date and the “options for exploring and enjoying this great Southern land continue to grow, so too does our visitor economy.”

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The Travelife Team engaged with various Australian destination organizations and companies targeting ASEAN travelers to visit and experience the Land Down Under, alongside international travel agencies like UK-based Bridge & Wickers. ìI have also come in search of new product, to talk to them about the marketing of new ideas. Also we are especially


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interested in initiatives such as ‘Great Walks’, ‘Great Wines’ and ‘Luxury Lodges,” its director, David Wickers, says. ATE13 also marked as the first ATE to use a paperless system through Travmedia Online. The high-spirited team of Tourism Australia, headed by managing director Mr. Andrew McEvoy, and Destination New South Wales, headed by CEO Ms. Sandra Chipchase, toured us around the dynamic and scenic city of Sydney and opened our eyes to endless lifestyle experiences from local dining to shopping and surfing. ATE13 allowed us to discover its great states and territories including New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia, Northern Territory, and Canberra all under one roof. Travelife Magazine will be there in 2014 to cover another massive ATE 2014 in the tropical city of Cairns in Queensland. n 218

www.tourism.australia.com


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ATE13: PERTH

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Great Western City

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erth is Western Australia’s largest and sunniest city. It might be the most remote large city but it is a city that is worth visiting. The growing bars and restaurants dotted along the city are just few of best reasons why. There are plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from; may it be vintage one or contemporary. 1970, Bobeche, Mrs Brown, Halvetica, Greenhouse,Clarences and The Garden are just some of the most celebrated establishments. The Pert is known for its mining industry since the discovery of gold in the 1980’s. The Perth Mint is where the world’s largest gold bar exhibition can be found. Here, you can watch a live gold pour, engrave your own medallion, or browse the gold store.

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Laos hosts 32nd ASEAN Tourism Forum by ADRIAN CARLO VELASCO


ATF: LAOS

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ach year, we look forward to attending the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) as it is the largest tourism event in Southeast Asia. This time, it’s extra special as Lao DPR hosts the 32nd annual forum and travel trade exchange in the charming capital city of Vientiane. Getting up close to centuries-old Lao customs and visiting French colonial structures in Vientiane have always been in our bucket list, hence it was the perfect time to visit this land-locked nation state in Indochina.

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In line with the region’s goal for the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015, which aims for a single, highly competitive market and production base in Southeast Asia, the ATF strengthens


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itself as a regional effort to promote the ASEAN region as one tourist destination. The ATF Travel Exchange (TRAVEX) coincides with the forum as the longest-running annual ASEAN leisure travel trade event as it showcases the largest contingent of ASEAN sellers. The trade exchange features about 500 exhibition booths and 358 exhibiting companies from ac ross the 10 member-nations – Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. More than 450 of the world’s travel trade buyers with a keen interest in ASEAN and strong purchasing power were also present, and we were honored to be the only Philippine media to cover the much-anticipated event. Hosted by the Lao Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism and the Host Committee of ATF 2013, together with TRAVEX Secretariat TTG Events, the ATF and ATF TRAVEX 2013 were held at the Lao International Trade Exhibition and Convention Center. Lao Tourism Minister Dr. Bosengkham Vongdara headed the contingent of ASEAN tourism

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ministers as they welcomed officials and delegates with the message of this year’s theme, “ASEAN: Hand In Hand, Conquering Our Future.” Minister Vongadara believed that through the ATF, tourism in Southeast Asia will rise drastically. ATF 2013 also hosted the annual meetings between ASEAN tourism ministers and tourism honchos of China, Japan, South Korea and India to formulate ideas and plans for the growth of tourism in neighboring Asian regions. Two days were designated for the appointments of various sellers and buyers from around the world to talk business exchange between ASEAN and the rest of the world, while pre- and post event tours were held to promote Lao’s beautiful destinations in Vientiane, Pakse and Luang Prabang. Just another day in our never-endingly eventful Travelife. n 240

Follow the Travelife blog at www.travelifemagazine.com


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