Commendable Activities around Provence (Part 1)

As part-time residents in one of the most beautiful towns in the South of France, and with many years’ experience in leading friends and visitors on international adventures, we love to share with others all the things we have experienced and appreciate about our travels. There are so many choices of things to see and do when planning a trip to Provence! We recently compiled a list of recommended activities for close friends that were coming to visit, and thought it was a great list to share with those who may one day visit the region.Please enjoy these commendable activities around Provence from the base of our home, Chez Vous in Uzès.

*We’ve decided to split this post into multiple posts, starting from Uzès and moving outwards. Enjoy!

Uzès Markets 

The Uzès outdoor market is famed all over France. The larger and more diverse Provencal market is every Saturday morning, and sprawls throughout the town from the Place aux Herbes (Uzès’ main square), through alleys and neighboring streets. Don’t miss it for the best of French local produce, homemade jams, charcuterie, local tapenades, spices, cheeses, as well as a variety of goods, clothing, soaps, housewares, and much more. On Wednesdays, the market is more focused on produce and regional foods, with an array of colorful and fragrant fresh flowers. There is also a Sunday antique market which is exceptional.

Tip: The town tends to be crowded on market days, so allow extra time if you are driving out of the town on those days. For those staying at Chez Vous, it is a few minutes walk, which is great for buying fresh groceries or dropping off the treasures you’ll find.

Duchy of Uzes

Duchy of Uzès 

In the center of Uzès is one of the best preserved buildings in the town center, with much history attached spanning from the Feudal days. With traces left of various periods in which the castle was built, the Middle-Ages, Renaissance, 17th century, and modern times can be seen in the architecture. The family of the current Duke of Uzès has owned this impressive property for a thousand years, and parts of it can be visited with a guide, including the Tower, where you will have magnificent views over Uzès and the countryside.

Tip: Estimate half an hour to an hour for the whole tour, with time to take photos. Every year in July, there is a music festival in Uzès, with some of the concerts held at night in the courtyard of the Duchy.

Hiking in the Valley of the Eure

A cool respite for warmer days, head down into the valley from Uzès town center, for a splendid hike among shaded trails and along the river. The river takes you to the source of drinking water in Uzès, as well as the spring once used by ancient Romans to deliver water to Nîmes via the Pont du Gard aqueduct. An incredible hike, you will come across the remnants of the Roman aqueduct, abandoned buildings, and enjoy the pleasant natural surroundings with many wildlife throughout.

Tip: Estimate an hour for the circuit. There are many trails you can hike through the park and valley

Pont du Gard

Pont du Gard

An obvious follow-up to the Valley of the Eure, and one of the most visited monuments in France, is the Pont du Gard, 15 minutes from Uzès by car. A must-see, the Pont du Gard is the famed intact portion of a 2000 year old Roman aqueduct that once brought water from Uzès to the city of Nîmes, a distance of over 50 kilometers and over the River Gard. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and displays great genius by the ancient Romans.

Tip: Enhance your visit to this grand site by cycling through the countryside or renting a kayak or canoe for an exciting trip down the river!

St. Siffret

St. Siffret is a tiny and charming hill-side hamlet a few kilometres from Uzès. Many of the homes have been beautifully preserved, and carefully restored. There are a few small shops, a cafe, a bar, and a restaurant. It is a pleasure to stroll its historic streets and walk to its neighbouring villages. 10-15 minutes from Uzès by car.

St. Quentin La Poterie

As can be derived from its name, St. Quentin La Poterie has a heritage of pottery and craftsmen. With narrow streets and colorful Provencal homes and medieval doors, the village also has several workshops and stores catered to its crafts. 10-15 minutes northeast from Uzès by car.

To be continued..

Uzès, one of the most beautiful towns in Provence

 


A Commendable Tour – Africa’s Gems 2015

Africa’s Gems – 2015

 A Commendable Tour
Led by Adrian & Susan Doull

14 February – 15 March 2015

Southern Africa in Three Parts,
with a Distinct
“Diamond Sparkle”

This is an unequaled opportunity to explore the history, the cultures, the ecology of southern Africa, and thereby to understand modern Southern Africa, and the factors influencing it geologically, politically and economically. At the same time enjoy stunning landscapes, wondrous wildlife, and world class hospitality in the two most democratic countries on the continent – South Africa and Botswana.

*Participate in any or all of the Three Parts; though we recommend at least two for the broad experience

Brief Outline of the Trip

Part A includes Johannesburg, the business and financial capital of South Africa, for museums, art, and theatre. Then, we take you to what is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful parts of South Africa, the Province of Kwa Zulu-Natal. Touching on the Anglo-Boer War, the coastal World Heritage sites, and a unique Game Reserve with its distinctive ecological environments, and ending at the multicultural city of Durban – South Africa’s most important domestic tourist destination and the largest port in Africa. Jump to more about Part A

Part B takes you to the eastern part of the famous “Garden Route” of the Cape Province, with its exceptional beauty and diverse flora and fauna of the Titsikama Forest, Plettenberg Bay, Knysna, Wilderness and the Little Karoo, followed by the stunningly beautiful surrounds of the “Mother City”, Cape Town, and ending in Kimberley, where the African diamond industry began, where we will stay at the historic Kimberley Club. Jump to more about Part B

Part C begins with a visit to Africa’s greatest natural wonder, the Victoria Falls, followed by a safari through Botswana’s remarkable land, (today the largest producer of gem diamonds in the world) including the extraordinary Okavango Delta, the largest inland delta in the world. Based always in the absolutely unique environments of luxury lodges and tents at beautiful properties, and ending with a celebratory dinner in JohannesburgJump to more about Part C


A Little Bit About the Countries

South Africa has seldom been out of the headlines in our lifetimes. This complex country (with 11 official languages) is a First, Second and Third World Country rolled into one. It has a mix of races, tribes, religions and cultures matched by few other countries. The arrival of the dominant European culture in 1652 was to set the stage for cultural conflict for the following 350 years, not all of it based on colour, however. The Boer/Brit struggles were as significant to the history as was the Zulu domination of large numbers of black tribes. The discovery of diamonds and then gold on a scale unknown before in history was the catalyst for large scale white immigration, the beginnings of industrialization, and the clash between British imperial avarice and the frontier independence of the Boers.

The White/Black cultural clash was more notable primarily because the numbers involved were greater, and the cultural gap was wider. The absurd impracticability of the apartheid policy was a reflection of the desperation felt by the dominant white culture in attempting to find a solution that did not involve their domination by the culture of the majority black population. Extraordinarily, cometh the hour, cometh the men. The change in political control required not only a generosity of spirit, exemplified by Nelson Mandela, but a courageous repudiation of pseudo-religious dogma among the Afrikaner people by Frederick de Klerk.

South Africa today faces enormous problems, but there is a spirit in the land that perhaps reflects that the people have been to the precipice, and have turned back from it to the broad uplands of hope. We want you to experience this ambiance, but above all we want you to understand this land better, so that your brief sojourn in it will in turn make this country, with all of its problems and challenges, better understood in the world.

Botswana is undoubtedly the most successful of the great number of African countries that attained their independence from colonial rule in the 1950s and 1960s. This is most likely due to a relatively homogenous and small population, a far-seeing and able first President, Sir Seretse Khama, and considerable mineral wealth, especially diamonds. Today it is the largest gem diamond producer in the world.

An arid land, originally home to the hunter/gatherer Koi and San peoples (sometimes known as Bushmen), who were overwhelmed by both white men from the south and black men from the north, it is landlocked and surrounded by Namibia on the west, Zimbabwe in the north, and South Africa in the east and south. It has a remarkable and unique exception to the general aridity – the largest inland Delta in the world – the Okavango. Created a British Protectorate in 1885 at the initiation of Cecil Rhodes, the people lobbied hard and successfully in London to avoid becoming part of the territory under the control of Rhodes’ British South Africa Company. Botswana has been independent since 1966.


About the Organisers

Adrian & Susan Doull are respectively South African and American. They have lived in many countries and have travelled extensively. They have considerable experience in tourism, having created a château hotel in France and participated in numerous French Government tourist delegations around the world. Susan founded Commendable Rentals LLC, a vacation rental marketing business some 9 years ago. Adrian, who spent 20 years with the Anglo American Corporation/De Beers group, including a couple of years as personal assistant to Chairman Happy Oppenheimer, has made 40 trips to Southern Africa since being transferred from South Africa to North America by the Anglo American Corporation/De Beers group in the 1970’s.




THE PROGRAM

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PART A – “Bantus, Boers & Brits”

Johannesburg & Pretoria (province of Gauteng)

Union Buildings, Pretoria

The natural landscape around Johannesburg gives no hint as to why the most important business centre on the African continent should be here. It is only the "mine dumps", the residue of deep underground mining, that gives the game away. The richest gold deposits in the world were the reason for the existence of Johannesburg, and while today gold is far less important in the economic life of South Africa, its legacy lives on in this thriving metropolis that remains the commercial capital of the country. As an essential element to understanding the foundation and the challenges of today’s South Africa, we have organized a three night program.

Day 1. You should plan on arriving in Johannesburg on or before the 14th of February. As most of you will have come a long distance, we view that first day as one of relaxation and recovery from your travels. For those not wishing to sleep, swim or play tennis, we will happily arrange a brief tour of the city. There will be a casual supper at the hotel. We will be staying at the The Residence, a boutique Hotel set in gardens in Houghton, the area of Johannesburg represented in parliament for 36 years by the redoubtable Helen Suzman.

Day 2. The next day we will visit the capital city, Pretoria, seeing the Voortrekker Monument, the Union Buildings (the seat of Government) and the Cullinan Diamond Mine, the source of the largest gem diamond in the world as well as a number of the other diamonds in the British Crown Jewels. That evening we will have a dinner with some notable South Africans, most likely including some with involvement in De Beers.

Day 3. The following day we will visit the Brenthurst Library, created by Harry Oppenheimer to house, inter alia, his collection of “Africana”, and will visit the remarkable gardens as well. After lunch, we will visit the Apartheid Museum, and/or the Hector Peterson Museum in Soweto. For those who have already visited these places in earlier travels with us, there will be a separate tour to the new “Museum Africa”, and to the “Credo Mutwa” Cultural Village and the Oppenheimer Tower in Soweto. The evening may include a play at the historic “Market Theatre”.


Kwa Zulu-Natal

Day 4. Called “The Garden Province” for its extensive flora, this is certainly one of the most scenic parts of South Africa. We will drive there through the flat farmlands of the Gauteng and Free State highveld until the northern reaches of the Drakensberg mountains come into view. We will have lunch at Ladysmith, famous for its siege during the Second Anglo-Boer War, and take advantage of visiting the local museum.

After that we will go to the Three Trees Lodge at Spioenkop for two nights. Owned by Simon and Cheryl Blackburn who have many years of experience in lodge and wildlife management, this is a small lodge that captures the ambiance of the Victorian era that was of such significance to the history of the area.

Day 5. The next day, we can go Rhino Tracking on foot in the adjacent Reserve or visit the Spioenkop Anglo-Boer War Battlefield with Simon, or just go for walks on the farm or use the mountain bikes. If their schedule permits, we may go to attend a concert of the famous Drakensberg Boys Choir.

Gandhi in Boer War

Day 6. We can spend this morning horse-riding or hiking or bird-watching on the property, have a light lunch at the lodge and then go to Ladysmith to take a private aircraft to the northern coastal reaches of the Province, to a landing strip in Northern Zululand from which we will be transported in 4 wheel drive vehicles to Kosi Forest Lodge, a past favourite. The five interlocking lakes of the Kosi Bay area represent an unique and fascinating ecological site. Our accommodation in separate huts, complete with exterior shower and tub, will remind you that you are in Africa! That evening we will dine under the stars, and hope to catch a glimpse of an adorable bush baby in the trees, and enjoy some local entertainment.

 

"…FIVE INTERLOCKING LAKES

                   OF THE KOSI BAY…"

Kosi Lake Hippos

      AMONG
                             AFRICAN
                                                        WILDLIFE

Day 7. After a hearty breakfast the next morning, we will head off to the nearest lake and take a shallow-bottomed covered boat through the lake system as far as time allows, taking a close look at the Raffia forest, wallowing hippos and soaring Fish Eagles, and marveling at the ancient fishing traps still used by local fisherman. We might have to get into the crystal clear water to lessen the draught, to allow the boat to pass over the sometimes shallow crossings between the lakes. We will take a picnic lunch with us to enjoy this idyll as long as possible. The following morning we might do a little canoeing or a stroll through the amazing Raffia forest before lunch, and after lunch, we will once again get into 4-wheel drive vehicles and head off for the real wildlife!

An Aggressive Elephant


You will awake around 5 am on Day 8 for the morning game drive, returning for breakfast. Afterwards, there is total relaxation around the pool, or elsewhere, until a light lunch. The afternoon game drive starts around 5h30 pm, and lasts approximately 3 hours, which includes “Sundowners” in the bush as the sun is setting. Returning to the lodge, dinner is taken either at the lodge or in the “Boma”, the traditional outdoor dining around a camp fire in a structure protected from wild animals. 

Days 8, 9, & 10. For the next three days, we will luxuriate among the best of Africa’s wildlife, either at the Phinda Reserve (AndBeyond’s first property) or at the Amakhosi Reserve. These two reserves are not too far apart, and both provide a fabulous wildlife experience. Once inside the reserve all movement is by Land Rover, or on foot accompanied by an armed ranger. This is one of the finest wildlife places in the country.

Cheetah Roadblock

Day 11. We depart our Game Lodge after breakfast and drive to Durban, past sugar cane fields and sub-tropical vegetation. We will stop en-route for a lunch before arriving at Umhlanga Rocks, just north of Durban, where we will be staying at The Oyster Box, a famous Five Star hotel overlooking the Indian Ocean. After a stroll along the beach, a fresh seafood dinner will be the perfect topper.

Day 12. The next day we will visit the City of Durban in the morning – the sea front, the port, possibly the Shark Research Institute, and the Bird Sanctuary before having lunch at the Durban Country Club, the site of more South African Open Golf Tournaments than any other location. In the afternoon, we may visit the Indian community’s Phoenix Settlement, created by Mahatma Ghandi. That evening there will be a dinner with invited guests so that you can learn more about the Province of Kwa Zulu-Natal.

Durban’s "Golden Mile"

Day 13. We will take a morning flight to George, in the east of the Western Cape Province. Any guests departing for international destinations will fly to Johannesburg in the afternoon for their return international flights.

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PART B – “The Cape and Kimberlite”

“The Garden Route”

Day 13 – cont’d. On this Thursday, we will arrive in the morning at George, Western Cape, joined by any new guests arriving from Johannesburg. We drive through the magnificent coastal scenery to Lunch at Kurland Country House, our home for the next three days. This lovely old estate has the enticing patina of a different era, but with all of the comforts of today. Owned by Peter Behr and his family, which has owned it for more than a century, it is only 20 km from Plettenberg Bay, and close to the Tsitsikama Forest National Park. That first afternoon, we will take a walk around the estate and visit the polo grounds.

Kurland Polo Clubhouse


Day 14. The next morning, it’s animals and birds: the world’s largest single dome free flight bird aviary, is a dramatic environment to see an amazing bird collection. The aviary is open for us to roam around, without guides!


PRIMATE PARK

Nearby is the primate park of more than 500 apes and lemurs, seen up close in their forest environment; you can expect to see a variety of primates, including the Gibbons of Asia and the Lemurs of Madagascar. The knowledgeable rangers will tell you about these fascinating mammals as you encounter them roaming free in the forest.

Not Your Average Ape


After all of this fauna, we will head to Lunch at the farm of an artisanal cheese producer. After lunch, we will visit the Tsitsikama Forest – forest walk for the animal and bird lovers, and bungee jumping for the adventurous (at the World’s Highest Commercial Bungy Jump – a whopping 216m)! 

After returning to Kurland, we will drive to dinner at an exceptional location near Plettenberg Bay – Zinzi restaurant at the architecturally stunning Tsala Country House, before returning to Kurland for the night.

Day 15. The morning will be devoted to exploring Plettenberg Bay and its beaches and shops. Lunch at The Outlook restaurant overlooking the Indian Ocean will convey the beauty of the coast. After lunch, we anticipate spending time watching a Polo Match at Kurland, where we will enjoy a final dinner.

Day 16. We will drive the 45 minutes to Knysna, one of the jewels of the Garden Route and the “Oyster Capital of the World” with its beautiful lagoon, and dramatic headlands. We will be based on the lagoon and free to take a boat ride, stroll around the shops and galleries of the waterfront of Knysna, or play golf at the renowned Pezula Golf Course with its dramatic views over the lagoon and the Indian Ocean. Staying at a curious small converted power station – The Turbine – at dinner we may sample the local oysters and other delicious seafood. The oysters are famous and might be the largest and sweetest in the world.

"The Heads" at Knysna

Day 17. Our final day on the Garden Route will take us through dramatic scenery to Outschoorn – the “Ostrich Capital of the world” where we will visit an ostrich farm, and some of the glorious scenery of the area. We will have dinner at, and spend the night at, the Rosenhof Country House Hotel.


“The Fairest Cape in all the World”

                                           -Sir Francis Drake, 1580

Day 18. On Tuesday, we will take a flight from George to Cape Town around lunchtime, where we will be conveyed to the lovely “Last Word” boutique hotel in the beautiful surrounds of Constantia. For those interested, in the afternoon we will visit the impressive National Gardens at Kirstenbosch, including the new “treetop walkway”. We will have dinner at the hotel after our return.

Robben Island, from Table Mountain

Day 19. The following day, we have the choice among visiting the stunning Cape Peninsular, or taking the cable car up Table Mountain, or taking a boat to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for so many years, and whichever option, will try to include a visit to the Rhodes Memorial (Cecil Rhodes was the founder of De Beers Consolidated Mines). Dinner at Bistro 1682 on the Steenberg Estate, or a theatre or concert, if available

Day 20. This morning is time for experiencing both some of the best wines in South Africa and the historic vineyards where they have been produced for more than four centuries. These will include some of Groot Constantia, Klein Constantia, or Buitenverwachting. After lunch at a vineyard, we will visit the city centre to see the Parliament, the Gold Museum, and/or the Old Biscuit Mill (the renovated eclectic fashion centre of Cape Town). Dinner will be at “La Colombe” in Constantia, one of Cape Town’s best restaurants.

Experience the wine estate, Groot Constantia

Day 21. The next morning is available for more visits before we leave, with much reluctance, the “Mother City,” and fly in the early afternoon to Kimberley. Kimberley is in the middle of the country, where diamonds were discovered in 1870 on the farm of Mr. de Beer, creating a diamond rush and sparking avarice in the minds of British imperialists. The town has had a tempestuous history, including being besieged during the Anglo-Boer War. We will stay at the historic Kimberley Club of which Cecil Rhodes was one of the founders. We hope to have a senior De Beers manager join us for dinner.

Day 22. On Saturday, we will visit the Famous “Big Hole” and the Kimberley Mine and Museum in the morning and, f time permits, visit the Anglo Boer War monuments and Battlefield, before flying to Johannesburg where we will stay overnight at the Intercontinental Hotel at the airport

The Kimberley "Big Hole" Being Created

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PART C – “Botswana’s Gems”

The Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, and the Okavanga Delta, Botswana

Victoria Falls

Day 23. We leave Johannesburg in the morning to fly to one of the world’s most dramatic sights – the legendary Victoria Falls on the Zambesi River. We will be met upon arrival at the Victoria Falls Airport, in Zimbabwe, for transfer to the River Lodge Hotel, and spend the afternoon viewing the extraordinary phenomenon that is "The Falls".

Days 24, 25, & 26. The following day, the Okavanga Delta beckons! A maze of lazy lagoons, meandering channels and overgrown islands teeming with wildlife, Botswana’s Okavango Delta lies like a sparkling jewel at the heart of the Kalahari Desert. Known as “the river that never finds the sea”, its crystal clear channels spread over the thirsty lands of the Kalahari with their papyrus-fringed banks and fertile floating islands. Adapted for a life in and out of water, the elegant antelopes – the red lechwe and shy sitatunga – are found in this watery wilderness. Lion, cheetah, leopard and African wild dog share the floodplains with large herds of elephant and buffalo. Hippo inhabit the deeper channels and lagoons, while honey badgers can be seen in broad daylight. Tall termite mounds are homes for families of dwarf and banded mongoose. Glide through the glistening waterways in a mokoro (dugout canoe), where iridescent dragonflies, frogs of every colour and jewel-like kingfishers live in the papyrus-lined banks. 593 species of birds exist in Botswana; you will see quite a few of them!

We will fly to the airstrip with the delightful name of “Pom Pom” in the middle of the Delta, where we will be picked up by the team from the AndBeyond Xaranna Okavango Delta Camp. "And Beyond" is one of the world’s foremost tourism conservation organisations; catering to the luxury market, it has done invaluable work in many countries in Africa and Asia. We will have 3 nights in a safari tent with en-suite bathroom, sala and private plunge pool. Your days will be devoted to seeing wild animals by land and by water, while falling under the friendly spell of the attentive and well–trained staff.

Xaranna Dock (Photo from AndBeyond)

Days 27, 28, & 29. Positioned within an exclusive 25,000 hectare wilderness concession, &Beyond Xaranna Okavango Delta Camp boasts breath-taking views out over a permanent channel of the Okavango Delta. The overall atmosphere of the Camp is light and airy in keeping with this pristine setting. The nine en-suite safari tents are organic in design with a combination of canvas and bleached timber, delicately decorated in shades of fatigue (khaki) and soft lily pink. Each tent boasts a romantic sala, private plunge pool, indoor bathtub and al fresco shower. The guest areas are all positioned carefully to maximise the sweeping views out across the channels. The intimate guest sitting area boasts a spacious reading area, perfect for afternoon relaxation. The elevated dining area features shady verandas with mesmerising views leading out onto an open air “boma”, where exotic candlelit dinners are served under the stars. A fully-stocked Safari Shop offers chic safari gear, African art and jewellery.

After three nights at Xaranna, we will return to “Pom Pom” and fly for just 15 minutes to the Chitabi airstrip to obtain a different perspective on this amazing area at the just completely rebuilt AndBeyond Sandibe Safari Lodge, an earthy yet glamorous safari lodge situated on a permanent channel of the Okavango Delta, adjacent to the Moremi Game Reserve.

 

ALWAYS A


WARM


WELCOME

Arriving at Xaranna Camp


Drawing its inspiration from nature, the lodge blends into the landscape, providing an experience that is serene, earthy and organic. Secluded plunge pools and outdoor showers in each of the fifteen suites allow guests to feel part of the forest, while private fireplaces warm the African nights once the sun goes down. Cleverly constructed indoor and outdoor lounging places create cosy nooks ideal for private dining beneath the stars. An interactive kitchen and interpretive naturalist library encourage guests to become one with the surroundings and to enjoy every aspect of the Delta experience.&Beyond Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge has exclusive traversing rights over 270 km2 of wilderness in a private concession, the site having been specifically chosen for its extraordinary beauty and proximity to the game-rich grassy plains. &Beyond Sandibe’s raised guest areas and suites look out onto the Santantadibe Channel, providing spectacular Okavango Delta views.

Wet Elephants (Photo from AndBeyond)

Day 30. We will fly from the Chitaba airstrip to Maun, in the centre of the country, where we will join a commercial flight to Johannesburg, There, we will doff our safari clothes, shake off the dust and burrs of the bush, and in the lovely surroundings of the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel & Spa, have a Farewell Dinner celebrating the extraordinary and unique experiences of Africa that we will have enjoyed.

The formal part of the trip ends after a hearty breakfast the next day. Most guests will be departing that evening for their international destinations.

Note that the group will consist of between 8 and 12 people, including the Doulls. We reserve the right to alter some of the above schedule where we consider it appropriate.

Unforgettable African Sunsets

For further information and pricing, please contact Adrian at: adrian@commendablerentals.com.


Note: If there is interest in a trip to Namibia following the above, we would be happy to organize that too.

Keep an eye out for or inquire further for the following future trips!

10 days in Provence – September 2015

10-14 days in Namibia – February 2016

10-14 days in Colombia (Cartagena, a National Park, Bogota, and a boat on the Amazon) – March 2016

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Namibia

   A Commendable Tour

of Namibia     

1 – 14 March, 2014


 

      Learn about this extraordinary land, its people, its flora, its fauna.

 

 

Namibia is an awesome land, rough and desolate, but incredibly beautiful, in its vast, moon-like landscapes and endless horizons. It is a photographer’s dreamland, a land of contrasts and earthy colours. It is not the place for those who like bustling beaches and the social whirl, but for those who are drawn to nature, stillness, the romance of the grandiose landscape, and vast expanses. Namibia, is one of the least populated countries on earth for good reason. Survival is difficult for plants and animals; for man and beast. Survival is for the fittest and depends on adaptation to this arid environment, to all the tricks that nature can throw. Because of its barren coastline, Namibia was one of the last parts of Africa to be colonized by Europeans. In 1883 a German merchant and adventurer, Adolf Luederitz from Bremen, bought the Bay of Angra Pequeña from Nama Chief Joseph Fredericks from Bethanien. He also bought the area in a 20 mile radius around the bay. 

_________

The trip starts and ends in Windhoek, the Capital. Most international access to Namibia is via Johannesburg, although Air Namibia flies to and from Frankfurt. Our first event is a Welcome dinner on 1 March, followed by a good night’s sleep in preparation for the trip to come. After Windhoek we will visit:

  • the major wildlife area at Etosha National Park
  • the remote north east of the country along the border with Angola
  • the fabled Skeleton Coast
  • the NamibRand desert area with its amazing Dunes

Windhoek

With 250,000 inhabitants, Namibia’s capital is the largest city in the country and sits at an altitude of 1650 meters in a beautiful valley. Once there, we will be staying at the Olive Grove, a small boutique hotel.  We may have the opportunity to visit the sights of Windhoek before dinner. Much of the town’s interesting architecture dates back to German colonial rule. Places to visit include the “Tintenpalast” (“Ink Palace”), which houses Namibia’s parliament, the Christuskirche (Christ Church) of the Lutheran parish from the year 1896, the “Reiterdenkmal” from 1912 and the “Alte Feste” (Old Fort); former headquarters of the Schutztruppe and today, Namibia’s National Museum. Since 1997, the monumental Supreme Court building has overshadowed the historical buildings of Windhoek.

 

Giraffes on the Etosha Pan

 

 Etosha

On 2 March we will board a private aircraft for a 1½ hour flight to the area of the Etosha National Park, one of Southern Africa’s finest and most important Game Reserves. Etosha Game Park, covers an area of 22 270 square km, and was declared a National Park in 1907. If you like either statistics or animals, it is home to 114 mammal species, 340 bird species, 110 reptile species, 16 amphibian species and, as is much quoted “only one species of fish”, which no one seems to be able to identify.

We will spend three nights here, staying at the Mushara Outpost, 10 km from the gate of the Park, and one of a number of lodges on the property owned by Marc and Mariza Pampe, and managed exceptionally well by an all-female team. The
accommodation was designed and constructed with a unique combination of canvas, wood and glass. Each room has large glass windows and the doors slide open onto a private deck, offering superb views of the surrounding bush. The en-suite bathroom includes a shower with glass walls from floor to ceiling. A room with a view, bringing the outdoors inside!

Mushara Outpost, Etosha

 “Etosha”, meaning “Great White Place”, is dominated by a massive mineral pan. The Etosha Pan covers around 25% of the National Park and was originally a lake fed by the Kunene River. The course of the river changed thousands of years ago and the lake dried up so that the pan now is a large dusty depression of salt and dusty clay, filling only if the rains are heavy and even then holding water for a short time. The crystallized salt left behind from the waters shimmers in the sun and gives it it’s famous, eerie beauty. Temporary water in the Pans attracts thousands of wading birds, including impressive flocks of pink flamingos, while the perennial springs along the edges of the Etosha Pan may draw large concentrations of wildlife, including zebra, elephants, giraffe, as well as birds.Visitors to Etosha Game Reserve can expect to see many species of birds, plus buck, elephant, giraffe, rhino and lions. Fortunate visitors will also see leopard and cheetah. Our time will be spent on early morning and late afternoon game drives, and otherwise on bush walks or lazing around the pool.

 

The Far Northwest

 

Serra Cafema – dine overlooking the Kunene River

After 3 nights at Etosha, we move to the extreme north-west of Namibia on the banks of the Kunene River. Undoubtedly amongst the most remote camps in Southern Africa, Serra Cafema is only reachable by light aircraft. The Kunene River creates a lush oasis along its banks – a winding band of green surrounded by the lunar like landscape of the Namib Desert. Rapids just below camp provide a calming ambiance after a day exploring one of the driest, starkly beautiful regions in the world.

Accommodation at Serra Cafema consists of 8 riverside Meru-style canvas and thatched villas on spacious, elevated decks blended smoothly into the picturesque surroundings. The Serra Cafema Ozonganda, or main area, comprises indoor and outdoor dining areas, sunken lounge, library, curio shop and swimming pool, all sharing views of the Kunene River.

Activities at Serra Cafema revolve around the exploration of surrounding Namib Desert sands and the lush oases along the river, a journey of contrasts. Informative nature drives and carefully guided quad bike excursions through the fragile dunes allow guests to experience the true Namib in its unbridled glory. The utmost care is taken to tread lightly on the dunes and preserve the unique and delicate habitats of this landscape. Boating on the Kunene River provides guests with the opportunity to venture through the lush riverside oases. Crocodiles and waterbirds seem out of place in this surreal, lunar-like landscape. Walking in the remote mountain and river valleys is also a highlight, as is a visit to a Himba settlement – one of the last true nomadic people in Africa.

The Skeleton Coast

Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp

GIraffes – Skeleton Coast National Park

We then fly to the Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, which is located on the Hoanib River in the northern part of the private Palmwag Concession. Its location thus straddles the Palmwag area and Skeleton Coast National Park, in one of the most remote areas of the Kaokoveld. A land of rugged scenery, the area has a historic coastline, mountains, vast plains, and dry riverbeds inhabited by incredible desert-adapted plant and animal life. Despite the arid environs, one of the greatest concentrations of desert-adapted elephant and lion can be found within this extraordinary area – along with sightings of giraffe, antelope, black rhino, leopard and cheetah.

Exclusivity is taken a step further as the camp comprises only seven twin-bedded tents and one family unit. The camp looks out over the stunning rugged scenery and offers guests all the luxuries and amenities needed for an unforgettable stay.

In this bewitching and splendid part of the planet, guests can unravel the enigmatic history of the original Strandlopers (Beachcombers), their stone circles lying in hidden valleys, studying the ancient Welwitschia plant, stalking the great herds, or savouring the endless landscapes unfolding – untouched – for hundreds of kilometres. Activities include nature walks, game drives, dune drives, use of hides, exploratory day excursions with picnic lunches and coastal visits exposing the astonishing desert-adapted wildlife, plants and birdlife of the area.

Namibrand Nature Reserve

Sossusvlei Desert Lodge

Sossusvlei Sand Dunes


On 9 March we will fly to the remarkable Sossusvlei Desert Lodge for two nights, owned and operated by the “&Beyond” Group. Thanks to conservation efforts, the NamibRand spans 180 000 hectares (445000 acres) of pristine desert wilderness, and is the largest private nature reserve in Southern Africa. In the language of the Nama people of Namibia, the word ‘Sossus’ means a place where water collects. The word ‘vlei’ is an Afrikaans word meaning a depression where water collects. Loosely translated, Sossusvlei means ‘the place where water collects’.


The Namib – known as ‘The Living Desert’ – is a world of vast space, endless horizons of red sand , dramatic desert-scapes and jagged mountain heights. Led by Sossusvlei’s expert rangers and naturalists, we explore the desert by quadbikes (allterrain four-wheeled motorcycles) or open 4×4 vehicles. An all day excursion to the famous Sossusvlei sand dunes, the highest in the world, and Sesriem Canyon will add to this unforgettable desert-safari experience…


This is sophistication in the Namib Desert: The lodge is renowned for its luxurious 10 spacious air-conditioned villas set at the foot of a mountain overlooking the stark, yet beautiful Namib Desert. Designed to capture the splendour and solitude of the desert, each stone and glass desert villa is set along the curve of the escarpment, affording absolute privacy. Each villa features a shaded private veranda, split-level bedroom and living room with fireplace, fully-stocked personal bar, compact spotting scope and a service-intercom to the main lodge. 

The split-level main lodge features a fire-lit bar, comfortable sitting room, mezzanine library with CD and book collection, swimming pool, wraparound verandas and African gift shop. The pool is fed by water from an underground spring. At sunset, animals are drawn to a nearby waterhole, providing added enjoyment to a sundowner drink.

Sossusvlei Desert Lodge

 

Wolwedans Dunes Lodge

 The Dunes Lodge is perched on top of a dune plateau, overlooking panoramic vistas in all directions and capturing the beauty of the desert in a most memorable way.

Our final 3 nights will be spent at this remarkable lodge perched on top of a dune plateau, overlooking panoramic vistas in all directions and capturing the beauty of the desert in a most memorable way.

This spectacular location comes with all the creature comforts including crisp white sheets, warm down duvets for those chilly desert nights and solar-heated hot showers after a long drive in the great beyond. The camp was constructed using poles, elevated wooden decks and roll-up canvas walls and are driven solely by solar power – ensuring a very light environmental footprint on the pristine desert ecology.

The building style is a combination of wooden structures and canvas blinds, opening up to the desert beyond. The lodge reflects the ambience of a tented camp, but provides the comfort and protection of a permanent building. Each of the nine spacious chalets with en-suite bathrooms has a private verandah, which connects you to vast stretches of untouched sand. Sleeping with your canvas blinds open is just like sleeping under the stars. The main complex consists of two lounges, a number of sundowner decks, a fireplace, a tea deck, a library, the wine cellar and two dining rooms. The lodge also has a swimming pool, which is suspended above the sand. All communal areas of the lodge open out onto decks with superb views.

Sundowner drives are approximately 1-2 hours long, traveling about 10 km into the dunes, where evening drinks will be served while you enjoy the magnificent desert sunset. The return drive to the camp/lodge takes place in the dark, where our desert chefs have prepared a sumptuous four-course dinner for you. Dinners involve elegant table settings, candlelight and exuberant menu announcements in the local Nama language, wholesome and sophisticated ‘bush-cuisine’, prepared lovingly with homegrown organic fresh produce and paired with excellent local and South African wines.

Morning or afternoon drives cover a distance of about 40-50 km and take 3-4 hours. Afternoon scenic drives are often combined with sundowners in the dunes.

On the 14 March, sadly we will have to leave this last of our fascinating Namibian sojourns. Our plane will take us in the morning to Windhoek to enable connections to our international destinations.

Wolwedans provides the perfect base from which to explore vast stretches of undisturbed nature. Informative scenic drives in open Land rovers reveal the wonders of the wilderness.

 

 

 


Zanzibar!

  Zanzibar! 

Greetings from highest Africa! That is, from a jet; we are returning from Zanzibar to Johannesburg, flying over Mozambique mountains that peak through clouds, large lakes, and meandering rivers (probably filled with crocs). It looks like fertile exploration ground for a future trip. But for now we are excited about Zanzibar where we have just spent a few beautiful days, exploring Stone Town, the countryside and it’s paradisiac seaside with some of the most beautiful beaches and azure waters anywhere. We were inspecting boutique hotels and lodges for the Commendable Collection and putting together a program for a small group for February 2013, as well as for independent travellers seeking our aid. Zanzibar is a spectacular and lush tropical island set in pale aqua waters, but that is not all. Unlike so many islands designed only for lazing, this one is fascinating. Its history is intertwined with the Sultans of Oman, harems, Arab Princesses, merchants from India, colonisers from Portugal, Germany and England, greedy Slave Traders, English explorers, like Stanley and Livingstone, and the Spice trade, all making a spicy mix indeed. Zanzibar was already a thriving commercial centre in the middle ages and flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Seyyid Said bin Sultan, the 19th-century sultan of Oman, made Zanzibar his home and the capital of the Omani Empire in the early 1800’s He built magnificent palaces in and outside Stone Town and instilled Muslim traditions, while the clove, ivory, and slave trades made Zanzibar rich. 

Stone Town, as the Capital city and also an Unesco World Heritage site, is definitely worth a visit. Its architecture dates back to before middle ages (it s earliest visitors came in 150 AD), when its Swahili civilisation  merged with visiting traders and pirates from India, Arabia, Persia and China, criss-crossing the Indian Ocean, bringing metal tools, weapons, and jewellery, and departing with heart-breaking quantities of ivory tusks, tortoise shell, and captured human cargo to be sold as slaves. Zanzibar’s name is derived from the Arab Zinj el Barr, or “Land of Black People”. The African people of the coast intermixed with the visitors creating a distinct Swahili society of language arts, and culture. Swahili is today’s official language.

Stone Town reflects this mixture of cultures. Stroll its rather chaotic streets, and see coral and stone houses, with intricately carved wooden doors with script from the Quran, and others studded with pointed brass from India, historically used to fend off elephants. Internal courtyards, and high balconies were part of the Arab tradition.

In Stone Town we received a wonderfully warm welcome at Jafferji House, a recently restored boutique hotel that is deliciously romantic, yet luxurious, taking us back to the 1001 Arabian nights, with antique Sultan’s beds, sensual reds, oranges, and earth colours on its plastered walls, mahogany carvings, brass lanterns internal courtyards, and exotic bathrooms with large sunken tubs. The owner, Javid Jafferji, is a famous photographer and his photographs offer an artistic and anthropologic lesson. We stayed in the bedroom named for Princess Salme, the daughter of Seyyis Said, which delighted us, as we had just finished reading an excellent account of the history of Zanzibar, The Sultan’s Shadow by Christiane Bird, in which her fascinating and somewhat tragic story featured significantly. If you want an authentic Zanzibar experience, this is the place. 
Then we were spoiled royally at three magnificent beach-side resorts, Breezes, Bazara and The Palms, all part of the "Zanzibar Collection". Our time was spent strolling indolently along beaches of fine white powdered sand, and enjoying spas suitable for Sultans. We also visited a local village, its children, and its schools, a , mangrove swamp, and a rare habitat of red Colobus Monkeys who delighted us at close range. 

On arrival at Breezes we were offered a fresh coconut to sip with a straw, and were led to see the beach, which is beautiful indeed, but so was the surprise that awaited us. Under a palm frond canopied table set for lunch just some meters from the sea, we sat with our feet in the sand and feasted on fresh grilled fish and lobster and perfectly chilled white wine.

Zanzibar Cuisine: Throughout our stay, we were delighted by the abundant seafood and fresh local fruits, blended with the pungent perfumes of Zanzibar’s famed spices, amongst them clove, ginger, cardamom, lemon-grass, punctuated with the flavour of fresh coconut milk and curry. Lobster in Zanzibar is plentiful and served grilled in the company of prawns and local fish, but we were treated to a cooking lesson by Chef Alan of the Bazara Lodge and learned his recipe for Bahari Lobster, i.e. Zanzibar style. After we watched, we lunched by the sea on this local lobster sautéed with cumin, ginger, julienne of courgette, and blended with fresh coriander and coconut milk. It was served with spicy Zanzibar rice and accompanied by crisp South African Sauvignon Blanc. This was definitely a 10 out of 10 experience.

 More about The Palms and Zanzibar will be coming soon. For immediate information contact: susan@commendablerentals.com at Commendablerentals.com

Susan Doull, 22 May 2012

 

 

 

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