There’s no mistaking the chief perk of my job: exploring the world’s most far-flung corners while indulging at one extraordinary hotel after another. So when choosing my next destination—this trip with my boyfriend, Nathan, I was faced with a decision most would kill for—where in the world should we go? Should we make ourselves disappear in Patagonian paradise? Let our bellies lead the way on a culinary journey in Japan? Recharge in the sultry streets of Rio? Kick back in Bali? All were tempting, but we decided on South Africa and Mozambique. If swapping out our tiny NYC apartment for Africa’s most exquisite lodges, replacing our walks to the subway with strolls on turquoise coastlines, and trading in an ordinary day at the office for an exhilarating face-off with a hungry lion isn’t what travel is all about, then what is?
After Dark at Singita Lebombo
Of all the safari lodges I’ve had the privilege of staying in, Singita Lebombo has climbed to the top of my list. It was the unusual combination of a superb location, breathtaking suites, incredible game, and sincere staff. Perched high upon a cliff overlooking the N’wantetsi and Sweni Rivers, our glass suite invited the outdoors inside, allowing surprising wildlife encounters at any time. (Seriously—our neighbors spotted a lion wrestling with a crocodile while getting ready for breakfast one morning!).
But however breathtaking our cliff-hanging pad in Kruger was, it was an evening game drive that stuck with us. It was drizzling outside, and while all other guests turned back to the lodge for their cocktail and drawn bath, our guide, Ian, and tracker, Daniel, convinced us to stick it out. Reluctantly we heeded their advice. While sitting patiently in the back of the Land Rover (certain the wildlife had abandoned us in the rain) Ian turned on the headlights to find a pride of 22 lions staring back at us as. Chills! That evening we tagged along with them on their hunt—keeping up with every dash, every impala cry, and the footsteps from each chase. And of course Singita thinks of everything, including spiked hot chocolates waiting for us upon our return to the lodge; the perfect nightcap over which we reminisced about our wild night.
Room with a View
There are no fences at Makanyane Safari Lodge and the wildlife knows no boundaries—clearly! I loved topping of a perfect African day by sitting in bed listening to the hippos in the river below us calling to each other throughout the evening—quite a different tune from the honking horns I am used to! Makanyane Safari Lodge is located in the malaria-free Madikwe Game Reserve, a wonderful place to appreciate how incredible the natural world is bu safari, foot, or even from your suite!
Woodstock, South Africa?
Rewind a few decades and Woodstock was far from being on the tourist circuit, known primarily for dilapidated buildings, empty warehouses, and crime. Things have changed. When I asked our South Africa expert and Cape Town local, Daniela Bonanno, what was missing from my Cape Town itinerary she responded immediately: “WOODSTOCK!” Off we went. I’m happy to report that Woodstock is back and has transformed into one of Cape Town’s most in vogue neighborhoods. Artisanal producers and developers have breathed new life into its rundown streets and Victorian shells while preserving its enduring charm (think DUMBO, Brooklyn with an African twist—it even has the views). And while we were a bit heartbroken to miss Saturday morning at the restored Old Biscuit Mill, where well-to-do locals and clued-in tourists rub elbows taste testing the region’s local, organic, and seasonal products, looking back that was probably a good thing. It allowed us to save room for our 8-course tasting menu at Luke Dale Roberts’s superb restaurant, The Test Kitchen. You have to book months ahead, but experiencing Luke’s inventive and colorful menu is a must for any foodie. If only I could replicate that tomato and mozzarella with gooseberry, vanilla and pepper syrup!
Salt of the Earth: Babylonstoren
We went for the wine, we’ll go back for Babylonstoren—the unexpected Cape Winelands standout. Although the sprawling farm dates back to the 17th century, the estate has just recently been put on the map for its traditional landhuises —in my opinion the region’s most alluring place to stay. Think white-washed cottages with vintage beds, claw foot tubs, crisp white walls and a cozy fireplace to snuggle up next to at the end of the day. Simple and striking design details all thanks to the owner, Karen Roos, former Elle Décor editor. Immediately upon arriving, Nathan and I threw on our gardening hats and strolled over to Babylonstoren’s heart and soul—its garden. Eight carefully designed acres of verdant life surrounded us, just waiting to be plucked and savored later on at Babylonstoren’s ridiculously good farm-to-table restaurant, Babel.
On a path paved with peach pits, we wandered from the vineyards to the olive orchard, past the weeping sage, through the prickly pear maze, stopped to pick some fresh lemon verbena and peppermint for our evening tea, and strolled right over to the honeybee hangout. Even the watering system was impressive, as gravity shot water into waterways from a local stream into the garden as it was done for 300 years. We knew we were in a very special place. Oh what I would do to take a wander there with my grandmother, whose garden was such a source of love throughout her life! Three days there gave me a wonderful appreciation for people who work the earth—people who get their hands dirty, who are in touch with the soil, who crave the rain, who welcome the sunshine, who understand the purpose of each season—the salt of the earth. I think we both left Babylonstoren feeling a little more grounded.
Helicopter ride to Azura
Before departing on our journey we were asked to choose between boat and helicopter to transport us from Vilanculos to the luxury eco-boutique resort of Azura on Benguerra Island off Mozambique. Our pick? Helicopter, of course! The minute we buzzed off on our aerial ride over the Bazaruto Archipelago, we knew we had made the right choice. We coasted over killer 360-degree views of the island paradise awaiting our arrival. The aerial vantage point couldn’t have gotten us more pumped for our island stay, complete with days of superb snorkeling, sunset dhow boat rides, hour after hour of soaking up the sunshine, and Tshuva…
Just trust me, Tshuva (pronounced shoo-va) a game crafted out of a piece of wood and dime-sized seashells is one of the most addictive ways to pass the time in Mozambique and an excellent way to get to know the locals. Every evening before dinner we would pull up our seats to the bar, order a cocktail, and challenge the bartenders or local kids to a game. I like to think that I am still the reigning champ!
I hope you enjoyed a taste of our adventure! Check out the rest of my photographs on our Facebook page.