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South Africa Photo Diary

When I reflect on my trip to South Africa, I am filled with feelings of being grateful and incredibly happy. The country of South Africa, which too frequently is associated with being overly dangerous, is filled with so many exceptionally
generous and friendly people.

After flying in to Johannesburg, we travelled to Nelspruit and spent three days in Kruger National Park. We were advised that three days in the park would feel like three weeks of relaxation, but truly it took me until the last day to fully understand. Kruger National Park is magical.


Our days were spent waking up and heading out for a morning safari, relaxing in the early afternoon while observing hippos at a nearby watering hole, and then leaving again for an evening safari. The safaris were planned around the time the animals were most active, so the morning safaris started around 6:30am and the evening safaris concluded by 9:00pm. One of the most fascinating parts was watching how our guides interacted with the wildlife; not only were they incredibly respectful, but they were able to read the animals’ behavior in order to determine how close we could get.


In a total contrast to the brown hues and relaxed atmosphere of Kruger National Park, Cape Town was a vibrant and energetic city. Filled with stunning landscapes, spectacular hiking, and inspiring art, there was never a dull moment.
Some activities to note: Chapman’s Peak Drive, hiking Lions Head, watching the sunset from atop Signal Hill, visiting the stunning Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, having afternoon tea at the Silo Hotel, and –of course- hiking Table Mountain.


In addition, Cape Town is a foodies delight. From the abundance of varying restaurants to the incredible Saturday market at the Old Biscuit Mill, we were constantly enthralled. (For anyone visiting Cape Town, I strongly recommend
visiting The Old Biscuit Mill market on a Saturday, as the extraordinary food options will not disappoint).

Overall, I am so incredibly grateful for my trip to South Africa. In a country where experiences are prioritized over material goods, and wildlife is nurtured and respected, I was reminded of the beauty of our world.

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Africa Journal

Embracing Travel Through #DameTraveler

I’ve always loved to travel, which is part of the reason I chose a high mobility career in international humanitarian work. But ironically, as my travel for work has increased over the past few years, I stopped making time to explore the places to which I traveled – both new and familiar. Part of this can be chalked up to workloads and jetlag, but laziness was definitely a factor. In an effort to re-engage with my sense of place while traveling, I set myself the goal of posting at least one photo to Instagram from every location I visited in 2017.


As someone who suffers from social media illiteracy, this was a bit of an odd choice. It wasn’t always easy to make time (full disclosure, there are a few missing) but my resolution did help me to rediscover the fun of being a “dame traveler”. Instead of settling into my computer screen during my down-time, I would make the effort to trek to a scenic park after work or plan weekend hiking and riding adventures.

People often say that you have to put your camera down in order to fully enjoy a moment, but for me (someone who rarely remembers to take photos at all), I’ve found the opposite to be true. Pulling out my phone to capture moments of fairy-tale scenery or good food with friends made me pause to think about how lucky I was to have these experiences to commit to memory in the first place.

Although the public nature of Instagram kept me accountable to my goal, it ultimately turned out to be a very personal pursuit. I found a lot of inspiration from the #dametraveler movement along the way. I love the focus on images that capture a feeling of connection between people and their environment – not just a stock landscape or a well-rehearsed pose against a backdrop. By restricting the individual to a diminished scale, the photos keep the existential experience of global travel in perspective – we are all small souls in an incomprehensibly huge universe!

In one of my last trips of the year, I took time to enjoy the summertime winds (and wine!) after a horse ride at Boschendal winery in Franschhoek Valley outside of Cape Town, which is pictured here. With the year almost over, I’ve decided to extend at least some aspects of this project into the coming year. Throughout 2017, I’ve been inspired to explore new places that I’ve always wanted to go, outside of my usual work trajectories. I’m looking forward to seeing what 2018 will bring!

 

 

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Africa Food

A Complete Guide of the Wineries of South Africa

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Wine tasting is one of my favorite things to do – it’s indulgent, transformative and unique, and strongly  connected to the earth. From the innovative winemakers designing new blends and those grooming their terroir to create better tasting wine, to the established producers continuing their legacy varietals, the wine world has allowed for an endless expression of creativity and personal style. Through a deep understanding of what is organically presented to us year after year, since the beginning of time, winemakers and producers are our beloved artists of the vines.

From the first glance admiring the pour, contemplating the color, to sensing the notes and touches of where the grape has been and what it has endured, to alas, the taste where the ultimate judgement is made, the pleasure of tasting wine is undoubtedly a multi-sensory experience that is different every time.

As far as international wine production is concerned, Italy leads with 19.1% of the total, France is second with 16.3%, Spain third with 14.7% and South Africa seventh with 3.9%.  I lived in Italy for several years and did my fair share of tasting throughout Europe. And I can tell you, there’s wine tasting in the world’s most popular European regions, and then there’s wine tasting in South Africa.

The South African wine lands encompass nearly 30 diverse districts with nearly triple the amount of wards in total; all together the region is like another country in and of itself. With stunning nature, an endless stream of exquisite wine, unique tastings and pairings, a journey through the wine regions of South Africa is like experiencing a slice of heaven. Holding back is not an option, as the South African Rand is ~13:1 in comparison to the American dollar, so tastings net out to about $4 for 6-8 glasses (and no skimpy pours) which feels like a steal. You will find small batch wineries, established estates and trendy outposts throughout the regions; each one is truly unique which I love. Bonus points (always) if I’m surrounded by interesting art, a killer restaurant, incredible accommodations, or dare I say – a spa to boot. Well, South African wine estates have all of these things and more. But let me begin with the wine…

While I visited about 30 venues in total across several most notable districts; the following districts and wineries are the ones worth exploring the most:

CONSTANTIA

One of the nicest districts closest to the city, the Constantia valley within the Cape Town region is a 15-20 minute drive outside the city center. It’s on the southern slopes of the Table Mountain (officially, within the Cape Peninsula district) and became famous throughout Europe during the 18th century. While close to urban life, you feel completely distant from it all – you’re surrounded by mountains and massive trees amongst rolling green hills. White wines – Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon – are popular here, where the tradition of producing remarkable wines since 1685 continues on. Lourensford estate is a well established property that offers a nice chocolate and wine paring (my favorite being the Chardonnay with the orange chocolate and the Shiraz with chili chocolate!). One of the more popular estates, Klein Constantia also sits in this territory and is not to miss. There are also sprinkles of smaller wineries such as Constantia Glen, and Beau Constantia and that also offer both traditional and modern settings respectively, to sit and sip.

Must see:

Klein Constantia –  Home to the legendary Vin de Constance dessert wine, this venue has been famous for millennia. Both Napoleon Bonaparte and Fredrick the Great adored this Vin; Napoleon himself requested a bottle of on his death bed. I’d say that justifies a quick trip over to taste this delicious dessert wine. It was just the right amount of sweetness, a beautiful golden honey color, and is simply heavenly.

Must taste: Vin de Constance

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STELLENBOSCH

This is the mother-wine-land of South Africa. The historical town of Stellenbosch (aka the ‘town of oaks’’ meaning good folk), features some of the finest examples of Cape Dutch architecture, and boasts a winemaking tradition which stretches back to the end of the 17th-century. The area is is also committed to academia that promotes the wealth of it’s indigenous assets: Stellenbosch University is the only university in South Africa which offers a degree in viticulture and oenology, and also is home to The Elsenburg School of Agriculture. The viticulture of the area is simply phenomenal – from the plentiful mountainous terrain, typical rainfall, and diversity of terroirs. Here you will find the most variety in venue style and wine making as the district is home to over 200 producers. The area is only about 40 minutes away from Cape Town, and is a lovely place to also live full time for many Capetownians. Stellenbosch was, to be quite frank, my very happy place.

Must see:

Delaire Graff Hands down the most luxurious estate I have ever been to. “Dealire” means “from heaven”, while Graff is the surname of the present owner, diamond and jewelry trader Laurence Graff. After his purchase of the estate in 2003 and armed with his wealth of experience in the luxury sector, he quickly turned his vision into reality with the development of property, which has also been called the jewel of the Cape Winelands. In 1974, Mr. Graff acquired the Star of Bombay, a 47.39-carat yellow stone that marked the beginning of his diamond legacy. Then in 2009, there was the discovery of a yellow diamond in the rough weighing 221.81 carats which was cut and polished to yielded the largest Fancy Vivid Yellow Square emerald cut diamond in the world at 118.08 carats! I saw a replica in the foyer of the estate and felt true love. Mr. Graff named the diamond the Delaire Sunrise, inspired by the glow of the sun across the valley. The wine estate’s top sparkling varietals are also named in honor of the diamonds; the yellow diamond representing love, prosperity, and joy.  The estate is fully accommodating from lodges, spa, and two applauded restaurants, boutiques and more.

Must taste: Coastal Cuvée, Cabernet Franc Rosé, Sunrise Brut MCC

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Spier  This winery is so fabulous in so many ways. I first fell in love after their chocolate and wine pairing, then realized they are conservation and social impact champions which made me love them more. They are one of the WWF Conservation Champion Wine Estates, which is an accolade reserved only for the winemakers that are:

    • Committed to the conservation of the Cape Floral Kingdom’s unique biodiversity (home to over 9,500 different plant species, 70% of which occur nowhere else in the world).
    • Pursue long term conservation commitments and spearhead innovations in water and energy efficiency.
    • Welcoming and transparent in allowing tourists to experience the land first hand through activities in nature.

I love their commitment to social impact and the environment, which is clearly evidenced by a variety of programs they have spearheaded into development in the past years. Spier installed a wastewater treatment plant in 2007 that recycles 100% their wastewater; the cleaned water is then used to irrigate the garden and grounds. They also initiated a tree-preneurs program to empower people from some of the Cape’s poorest communities, whereby they are taught how to care for indigenous trees and plants, given seedlings to nurture. Once these have reached nearly a foot, they can be exchanged for vouchers for food, clothing, agricultural goods, tools, bicycles and educational support. Spier is also big on the arts, and there are so many more lovely, applaudable things they do. I’m certain they are continually innovating ways of not only bettering sustainable winemaking practices but doing their part to create a better world for mankind.

Must taste: The Chocolate and Wine pairing is the most delightful wine and food tasting I’ve ever had. Think white peppered plum chocolate paired with a rosé, white cardamom and passion fruit chocolate paired with a classic red; I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. But don’t miss their Pinotage, it’s a crazy good drinkable red!

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Tokara – This was my first South Africa wine venue and wow was it phenomenal. Tokara is incredibly peaceful, there are swooping smooth hills surrounding the property in addition to mountains just hugging the space. They have a fantastic art gallery with modern and traditional pieces, a beautiful restaurant with outdoor space encompassed by glass walls so you wont miss a second of the insane scenery. I had an inspiring affair with adjectives to describe the notes of their gorgeous rosé and chardonnay with one of the staffers, who was either impressed or scared by my overwhelming admiration for their wine. They have a “deli” and garden adorned with sculptures adjacent to the main tasting room and restaurant. Walking there through the vines we were surprised with peacocks meandering about. I rest my case with having stated that I found my happy place in Stellenbosch.

Must taste: Grenache Rosé, 2015 Chardonnay

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Lanzerac – My visit to Lanzerac was akin to seeing a mirage. I desperately needed a place to enjoy a nice coffee and do a bit of work after being on the road. I tucked in here to find a lovely cafe adjoined to the main tasting room – so I could do coffee and emails before I start sipping 😉 in a cozy chic wood cabin ambiance. I ate the best scones of my life, with cream, jam, and butter and cheese and to my massive delight found a spa also conveniently positioned a walk away from the tasting room. Game on. Lanzerac is the perfect place to do it all – it boasts a luxury hotel, famed restaurants, a deli and the spa quarters which are extremely accommodating – with a hot tub that looks out to the mountains, beds where you lay in to have your pedicure as you gaze out to the gorgeous mountains a stones throw away, a very sizable pool with breathtaking views of nature, and decor that is spa-perfect and should be featured in Elle Decor. The shower facilities in the spa even have bespoke products by Theravine named after the varietals, so you can shampoo your tresses post tasting and massage with a Sauvignon Blanc shampoo and Chardonnay conditioner. Next level.

Must taste: Chardonnay in the spa, of course!

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Waterkloof – This property is another outstanding creation of sustainable winemaking at it’s finest. The winemaker and owner searched for a piece of land where he could cultivate a farm that is truly alive and in tune with its natural environment. The property is tucked away about a miles off the main road, and feels like a little oasis as you approach the distinct glass cube jutting out into the sky, where the restaurant and tasting area is. The visionary owner, Paul Boutinot, made the strategic decision to farm bio-dynamically after observing the development of vineyards and wines belonging to other biodynamic producers throughout the world, over a period of decades. The reason being that this methodology will best enable them to achieve the goal of producing wines of vitality, which have a truly defining sense of origin. Waterkloof achieved Biodiversity Champion status in 2008, which compliments and integrates many of the key principles of biodynamic farming. 50% of the farm is set aside for conservation purposes, meaning, land will remain untouched until it is ripe again for producing grape to achieve vitality status. I also love that they developed their own earthworm farm using old wine barrels, and use horses instead of tractors to plow (reducing carbon emissions). The overall aesthetic is nothing short of stunning – it’s as if the top floor of Manhattan’s hottest high-rise had been chopped off with a samurai sword and perfectly positioned at the most idyllic outlook where you have the sea, mountains, and greenery wink at you and raise a glass.

Must taste: Circle of Life white blend (the name of this wine is Waterkloof’s message in a bottle), Circumstance Rosé (I adore this name for this line; the wine is directly and so shamelessly influenced by the terroir).

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Babylonstoren – I regrettably did not make it to this place so I can’t give my full review, but if I were you I would go! It is a historic Cape Dutch farm with a magnificent garden that is laid out over 8 acres, boasting a variety of fruits and veggies, bees for pollinating, indigenous plants, and livestock. They have a Farm Hotel & Spa, shop and bakery – and lovely greenhouse to enjoy. A real ecosystem of pure bliss.

FRANSCHHOEK

Regarded as the ‘culinary capital’ of the Cape, Franschhoek is a member of The Délice Network of Good Food Cities of the World. The Franschhoek valley is enclosed on three sides by towering mountains: the Groot Drakenstein and Franschhoek mountains which meet at the top of the valley and the Klein Drakenstein and Simonsberg mountains. While I did not frequent many wineries here, driving past the scenery was beautiful, with higher peaks that converge to the Berg River. The area is a “mini” Stellenbosch with less of the tourist and wine route crowd with a similar quality of experience.

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Terminology:

1. Biodynamic farming is an imperfect, natural agricultural process of cultivation based on the “sensitive intelligence” of an interconnected natural world. Biodynamic farmers work to create a diverse, balanced ecosystem that generates health and fertility as much as possible from within the farm itself. It’s important in winemaking because conventional farming methods (using chemical pesticides and fertilizers), combined with modern/standardized winemaking techniques (using aromatic yeasts to create an aroma profile in a given wine), breakdown subtle differences between various vineyards and wine growing areas. This results in an increased homogenization of the character of wines made from one place to another, evidenced over the past 30 years. That’s no fun. And it’s not healthy for the planet.

2. Biodiversity is the sum of all living things on earth, from genes to entire ecosystems. Therefore, in order to conserve biodiversity, we need to look after all its components. These include functioning natural habitats, the species that occur in these habitats, and the ecological interactions between species and their environments.

3. Ward – an area with a distinctive soil type or climate and is roughly equivalent to a European appellation.

To summarize:

The South African Rand is ~13:1 in comparison to the American dollar, so tastings net out to about $4 for 6-8 glasses (and no skimpy pours) which feels like steal. This is the best value you will get for wine tasting in the world’s most celebrated regions.

The closest winery is only 15 minutes drive from the center of Cape Town, and Stellenbosch is about 40 minutes. While there are a variety of wine tours, I’d recommend you consider what type of winemaker and estate you are excited to visit to cover the best to your liking (trending, classic, biodynamic, etc.).

Tasting wine in South Africa feels like a privilege, yet it is one of the more welcoming, friendly and delightful places I have ever been to enjoy the flavors of a region. Taking a trip and doing “the wine thing” is not a next-level treat reserved for adventurous vinophiles; all you need is a plane ticket to Cape Town and a desire to have your mind blown by the tastes of things and the endless beauty of nature. It’s a dream for those that love to be well and enjoy the simple things in life, in expertly crafted and curated South African havens.

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Africa Hotels Luxury Reviews

Hotels We Love: La Mamounia Marrakech, Morocco

It’s safe to say that La Mamounia Marrakech has officially reached #InstaFamous status but this hotel has been a classic long before Instagram ever existed. Designed by interior designer, Jacques Garcia, every tiny to grand detail in this zellij filled hotel will drive you into sensory overload.

Photo collab with Fanny of @peacefulmonkey

The royal experience began with a timely pick up from the airport one of the hotel’s Daimler Jaguar sedans, taking just 10 minutes door to door. Immediately upon entering the hotel, your bags are taken care of and your whisked away to a quiet area for check in, complete with plush seats and the most delicious citrus almond milk you’ll ever taste waiting for you.


Rooms
Our suite overlooking the gardens of La Mamounia is officially one of my favorite rooms I’ve ever stayed in. With its detailed, colorful mosaics, massive marble bathroom, stunning moldings and doors, every inch of the place almost made me forget that there was a whole city waiting for me to explore outside of my hotel room.




The balcony spanned across both rooms and offered comfortable chairs accompanied by gorgeous colors and the sound of birds singing.
Restaurants
La Mamounia offers four restaurants to choose from: Le Français, Le Pavillon de la Piscine, L’Italien and Le Marocain which is where we dined.

We loved the setting of Le Marocain located outside within the hotel’s gardens where you’re surrounded by a fountain, lanterns, red velvet sofas and Moroccan aromas.

Spa
The spa is every spa lover’s ultimate dream featuring 2 traditional Hammams, Balneotherapy, an outdoor pool and of course, the hotel’s super #instafamous pool.

Gardens
And if the spa isn’t really your thing, the hotel’s gardens fully equipped with its impressive 700 orange trees, 5,000 rose bushes, 21 cactus species, 6 palm trees species and 200 olive trees are enough to provide you with all of the therapeutic energy you need.



Photo collab with Fanny of @peacefulmonkey

Photo diary





All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site.

I was invited as guest by La Mamounia Marrakech. As always, all opinions are my own.

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Africa Photography

The Raw Beauty of Tanzania: A Photo Diary

When I think of my trip to Tanzania, I get an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia and pure contentment. When you leave home and travel 8,900 miles to a foreign place, the experience can put everything you know into perspective.

A place like Tanzania can reveal so much about our Western world. Its raw beauty uncovers the truth about how consumed our lives are with insignificant, frivolous things. From our rat race, to our consumerism, to our disconnection from the natural world, these are factors that are foreign to most Tanzanians.

During the first week in Tanzania, our group trekked up the Machame Route, with the goal of reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro, “the roof of Africa”. After five long days of hiking, we all proudly made it to the summit! They always say: the beginning of something new is always the toughest. This was definitely the case on our first day of hiking through the rain forest on the lower slopes of the mountain. The forest was wet and cold. It was hard to adjust to life on the mountain, knowing that we had five more days to go. After making it past day one, every other day got a little easier, except for summit night.

The night before summiting, our group went to bed at 7pm, and rose 3 hours later to start the trek to the top. We hiked with headlamps through the darkness, only to be accompanied by thousands of shooting stars. I have never in my personal life experienced a night sky like the one on Kilimanjaro. It was magical! We were near the top of the mountain around 6 am and took a break to watch the sunrise. The air was thin, but the beautiful view made up for the lack of oxygen. I have never pushed myself so hard physically, even though I would consider myself quite fit. Things look a little different when you are walking parallel to airplanes. I had a lot in common with a sloth at that point. Slow but steady, we kept on hiking to the top. Around 8 am, we made it to 19,341 feet, the top of Africa!

The last part of our trip was much more relaxing. After the two-day descent from Kilimanjaro, we hit the road. First, we visited the Manyara Lake National Park, where we spotted an array of wildlife. From elephants, to fields of monkeys, all of Africa’s wildlife assembled in a small area to benefit from Manyara Lake. The lake is the main source of water for this diverse community of animals. (Remember the Jungle Book, where all of the animals congregated near a small body of water during the drought for a water truce? Well… imagine that in real life, it was incredible!)

Our last stop was the Serengeti National Park, which is the home of the fictional Pride Rock featured in the Lion King. Smack in the middle of the park, we set up camp and listened to the lions roar at night. Pulling the sheets over my head, I prayed that no lion would enter the tent. What a thrill! The Serengeti spread for miles, extending from Tanzania to Kenya, with animals hidden in pockets of forest around a few water holes or in the grasslands. It was spectacular to witness these wild beasts in their purest state, in their natural habitat. A zoo cannot compare. The Serengeti was wild and raw. I felt as though I broke into these animals’ private homes and violated their privacy. To my surprise, none of the animals were bothered by us watching them, nor were they afraid of us. They minded their own business and went about their lives. I will never forget how free these creatures seemed and how they could all co-exist in one place.

Tanzania’s untouched wilderness captivated me. From rain forests, to mountains to serene prairies, the landscapes were beautiful. Most of the world’s countries are so over-developed and commercialized. It was refreshing to see that part of the world, relatively untouched by western development. Tanzania is filled with pure nature. This bucket list destination reminded me to appreciate Mother Earth and that this world has so much to offer; all I have to do is to help protect it.

This country has reserved a special place in my heart. The people, the natural landscape, and everything else in between, serves as a reminder to take a step back from my little world and truly appreciate what I have. This place reminded me to practice gratitude, remember my fortune and recognize that there is so much the world has to offer. We just need to learn, help protect and explore!

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