THE FOUR COUNTRIES
South Africa is the most developed of the quartet and has by far the largest economy--larger than all of the sub-Saharan African countries combined. It has three capitals: Pretoria, Bloemfontein, and Cape Town.
Zimbabwe, formerly the British colony of Rhodesia, is the region's second most developed country. It officially became independent in 1980. The capital is Harare.
Botswana is an anomaly in Africa, a vast country (just smaller than Texas) with a small population (1.5 million). Its currency, the pula, is the region's strongest because of the country's diamond deposits. The capital is Gaborone.
Namibia, formerly South-West Africa, is the most remote of the four and has spectacular desert landscapes. The capital is Windhoek.
Time Six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
Currency The weakness of the rand as well as the Zimbabwean and Namibian dollar against the U.S. dollar makes all three countries cheap for Americans right now.
COUNTRY / CURRENCY
South Africa / Rand (R)
Zimbabwe / Zimbabwe Dollar (Z$)
Botswana / Pula (P)
Namibia / Namibian Dollar (N$)
Getting There South African Airways flies to Johannesburg from New York (14.5 hours), and to Cape Town from Miami (14 hours). Flights depart in the early evening and arrive in South Africa midafternoon. The other route to southern Africa is via Europe, then on to Johannesburg or Harare. Both cities are served by the major European flag carriers. Flights leave in the evening and take 10 to 11 hours.
The Seasons The entire region lies south of the equator, so the seasons are reversed. The dead of winter in Cape Town is July and August; January and February are high summer. Spring (October and November) is the best time to visit Cape Town.
Out in the bush, however, there are only two seasons, wet (October through March) and dry (April through September). The best time for game viewing is at the end of the dry season. Here's why.
When it rains, southern Africa's bush springs to life. Vegetation thickens, water holes form; this allows game to range over a large area. That means there are fewer animals in any given place.
With the onset of the dry season, the reverse happens. The bush increasingly thins out, so animals are easier to spot; also, food gets scarcer and water holes dry up. The last two factors cause animals to congregate at year-round sources of water, which likewise makes them easier to view. The downside: At the end of the dry season temperatures, especially in Botswana and Zimbabwe, are in the 90s and 100s. Owing to the heat, the best overall month for game viewing is August. The problem is that the best time for seeing wildlife is the worst time to be in Cape Town, and vice versa. Best compromise: Do the game lodges in late September and Cape Town in early October.
Getting to the Game Lodges Most lodges pick up guests at the nearest commercial airport. Transfers are not always included in the price; inquire when you book. Most of the lodges offer charter air service from the nearest commercial airstrip for an additional charge. Some lodges--those on Lake Kariba and in the Okavango Delta, for instance--can be reached only by small charter plane. Note that on these flights luggage limits are strictly enforced.
Game Lodge Evaluations We've lavished praise where due and levied constructive criticism when warranted. We believe the lodges highlighted in this issue are the region's best. Caveats notwithstanding, they are all worth visiting.
A word, however, should be said about some of the newer lodges/reserves, which are often on land formerly devoted to hunting. Naturally, the game viewing at these properties won't be as good as it is at more established places. The point to remember, though, is that these lodges are conservation projects worthy of support. If no one patronizes them during the start-up period, they will never reach maturity. Moreover, these properties, being newer, are often more luxurious than older lodges.
Game Lodge Prices Per day, double occupancy during high season. Prices are valid at least through this October.
Game Lodge Routine At most game lodges you rise at 5:30 a.m., have a light breakfast, then set off on the morning game drive, which lasts until 9 or 10. A full breakfast is served upon return. From then until 3:30 you're free to relax, swim, or go on a game walk with a ranger. (You can't leave camp unescorted.) At 3:30 tea is served; the game drive departs at 4 p.m. and lasts until 8 or 9. After the drive dinner is served outdoors in the boma, a fenced-in corral, or in the lodge dining room.
Game Lodge Tipping Per day per person for the guide and tracker, $10-$20; per day per person for house staff, $5-$10. Tip in rand in South Africa, in local currency or U.S. dollars elsewhere.
By Alexander Lobrano and Gary Walther
South Africa's largest city is the jumping-off point for most trips to the region. It is also, sad to say, a very unsafe place. Even the South African Tourist Board officially recommends that visitors avoid the city center, especially at night. The three hotels below, all in the suburbs, are good places to spend a day or two recuperating from the long flight from North America, or your last night before flying home.
THE MICHELANGELO Architecture is the hallmark of this, the city's newest luxury hotel. The main lobby is a pleasing six-story colonnade of double- and single-height arches topped with a glass roof. The hotel is attached to the upscale end of the Sandton Square Shopping Centre in Sandown, long the suburb where travelers overnighted after arriving in Johannesburg. The 242 rooms have a dark-wood, clubby feel. Fourth-floor rooms have balconies, and "De Luxe" (as the hotel spells it) rooms have a raised sleeping area and an arched ceiling. The hotel health club is small, but the pool is dramatic?it's round and set in a rotunda (another allusion to the hotel's namesake). I found the staff professional and competent, the concierges particularly so: Faxes were delivered, dry cleaning came back when promised, flights were reconfirmed, taxis arranged. The Michelangelo is about 25 minutes from the airport by cab. $224-$814. Sandton Square, West Street, Sandown; 27-11-2827000; fax 27-11-2827171.?G.W.
THE WESTCLIFF Fountains spatter in garden courtyards, blazes of bougainvillea tumble over trellises, and pots of lavender grace the balconies at this, the newest Orient Express property. It's all designed to make you feel you're in a peaceful, sun-dappled Mediterranean hamlet?and in fact this was originally a private, gated community, not a hotel. Still, it's a nice illusion, especially given the crime-ridden reality that is Johannesburg today. The 120-room Westcliff is a world away from all that?three spacious, coral-pink, two-story buildings cascading down a hillside in the tony suburb of Saxonwold. (There are electric golf carts to whiz you around the property if you're too jet-lagged to manage the slope.) Room decor is cushy?English chintz and dark wood, or neo-Biedermeier with Wedgwood blue or olive furnishings?and high-tech has been nicely folded into this traditional tableau. At the touch of a switch the TV rises from a cabinet at the foot of the bed. The brown marble baths have double sinks and separate tub and shower. Best rooms: the junior suites with terraces, and room 105, which has its own plunge pool. The public areas are first-rate: There is a horizon pool with a fine view (and a second pool as well), a tennis court, and a spa. The hotel serves a lavish tea in the Polo Bar and Lounge, and its main restaurant (Mediterranean cuisine) has become one of the town's top tables. All that's missing here is Africa, but if you're spending two days resting up before heading into the bush, it doesn't matter: You have plenty of that before you. $258-$893. 67 Jan Smuts Avenue, Westcliff; 800-237-1236; fax 212-758-7367.?A.L.
THE GRACE IN ROSEBANK The architecture of this new hotel?a 10-story red brick and limestone building garnished with columns, cornices, and pediments?brings to mind a Chippendale high- boy. The guestrooms, which occupy the top six floors, share the same understated elegance. The tone is set by the handsome lobby-level library, furnished with urns of lilies and Brazilian mahogany shelves stacked with books on Africa. (Inside of every one is a frontispiece inviting you to take the book along and return it when you're done?in the stamped self-addressed envelope provided.) The Grace is in the stylish northern suburb of Rosebank, and one of the many pleasures of staying here is that you can leave the hotel to see a film or shop at the neighboring mall without having the front-desk staff blanch. Tenth-floor penthouse suites with terrace have the best view. They're decorated in a soothing scheme of celadon and cream, which sets off the dark wood and Oriental carpets, and have spacious baths with separate tub and shower. (Doubles are also spacious.) Minibars contain a nice touch of hospitality?a small pitcher of fresh milk in case you want to make a cup of tea (canisters of cookies are provided too). $196-$387. 54 Bath Avenue, Rosebank; 27-11-2807200; fax 27-11-2807474.?A.L.
The following Fine Hotels & Resorts appear in this area:
MOUNT NELSON HOTEL
ELLERMAN HOUSE It is rare that a proprietor says this: "Making a profit is not exactly critical. The idea was to open a hotel at the bottom of Africa that was like an English gentleman's residence in the south of France." But that, according to Peter Bayly, is the ethos of this, the city's most exclusive small hotel (11 rooms), opened in 1992. It occupies a 1912 mansion along "Millionaires Mile" in Bantry Bay, and from the outside the hotel is self-effacement itself. That's because most of the building and the manicured grounds, which do remind one of being in someplace like Eze, are built into a steep hillside invisible from the entrance. The living room reflects Ellerman House's ambition?to be an un-hotel, a house with a staff at your disposal who are quite up to booking a helicopter or a yacht, as well as handling the mundane chores of international travel. (I deliberately put a wrong number on a fax and was impressed to find that it had been corrected and sent off.) Rooms are very comfortable. Number 10 is a peach-painted, split-level with breath-taking views of the sea, a private porch, and a plethora of comforts?mohair blankets on extra-long beds and a heated slate bathroom floor. All the rooms but number six (some 50 percent less in price) have good sea views. The hotel art collection is superb (all South African painters), and should you covet a work by one of these artists the hotel will refer you to its unofficial house curator, Rose Korber. (The hotel collection is not for sale.) And in a city with an array of excellent restaurants, the dining room holds its own; the menu changes daily, but the crayfish bisque and grilled line-fish are excellent. Fifteen-minute cab ride to center. Annual closing: June 15-July 15. No children under 18. $347-$794. 180 Kloof Road, Bantry Bay; 27-21-4399182; fax 27-21-4347257.
MOUNT NELSON HOTEL The guard at the gate of the Pink Lady still wears a pith helmet and still salutes every car coming in, and the public spaces play their part, too, in making you feel you've stepped into colonial Africa. Service is prompt, and the staff is surprisingly friendly for such an established hotel. The trick here is getting the right room. The best views of Table Mountain are from the Luxury rooms (410-415), and the three floors of Superior rooms (141-148, 241-248, and 341-348). Accommodations in the new Palm Avenue wing (where Vice President Gore stayed) are large, sunny, and have big marble bathrooms but no views, while the Executive rooms?some overlook the gorgeous nine-acre garden?are a bit frumpy and have small baths. Your pick. Our choice: Don't worry about the view and settle into one of the six Large Luxury Suites, like 231, which have bay windows and large living room and bedroom. Big pluses: two beautiful pools, the excellent Cape Colony Restaurant, great breakfast buffet in the Oasis Restaurant that includes do-it-yourself steak tartare, and the best high tea in South Africa (for $10), plus an easy walk into town for sightseeing. $437-$1,160. 76 Orange Street; 27-21-231000; fax 27-21-247472.
STEENBERG COUNTRY HOTEL Twenty minutes from downtown and bliss for golfers?the course is by South Africa's leading golf-course architect, Peter Matkovich?this bucolic hotel stands in the middle of one of the oldest wine farms in the Cape Peninsula. The spacious, traditionally furnished rooms are in whitewashed, thatched, Cape Dutch-style houses that are spread over a lush park setting. The views of the surrounding vineyards and mountains are truly spectacular, and the pool is perfect for whiling away an afternoon. The farm's Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 1997 will be served to individuals traveling first-class on South African Airways starting this August, and the Steenberg Motif Rosé makes good drinking in hot weather. $228-$387. Corner of Steenberg & Tokai Road, Steenberg Estate, Constantia Valley; 27-21-7132222; fax 27-21-7132221.
THE BAY HOTEL This set of white-painted, Malibu-style pavilions is a fashion-shoot and film-crew favorite. It's on Camps Bay Beach, one of the city's prettiest, but you should know two things: Rooms are comfortable, but their decor feels upmarket motel to us, and the ocean across the street is frigid year round (be content with the large but unheated pool). Fifteen minutes by cab from the center. $202-$913. Victoria Road, Camps Bay; 27-21-4384444; fax 27-21-4384433/55.
THE TABLE BAY HOTEL A palm-lined walkway, large carriage lamps, opulent public spaces, huge vases of orchids: the twin notes at this new hotel are flash and glamour. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, but somewhat lacking in personality. Big pluses: state-of-the-art health club and spa, probably the best in Cape Town, and The Atlantic Grill Room (one of two restaurants at the hotel)?excellent and very much on the local power circuit. Located on the far side of the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront (and thus not as convenient to the center). $296-$2,182. Table Bay Quay 6, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront; 27-21-4065000; fax 27-21-4065686.
CAPE GRACE HOTEL The small pile of books on African themes in each room reflects the calling card of this 18-month-old hotel?good taste and cultivated sensibility. It occupies a new building on the calmer side of the trendy Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. The spacious rooms (all have views of the port or Table Mountain) are done in a blend of classic Cape and European styles, with thick carpeting, original framed prints and maps, cherrywood furniture, and relaxing color schemes of celadon, Wedgwood blue, and Bordeaux. A large pool and first-rate 24-hour room service round out the picture. Nice touch: electric kettles, little pitchers of fresh milk, and tins of homemade cookies in guestrooms. And you're welcome to take one of those books and return it by post (the staff will provide an addressed envelope). $298-$992. West Quay, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront; 27-21-4107100; fax 27-21-4197622.
CONSTANTIA UITSIG One of Cape Town's best restaurants also has one of its prettiest settings?a beautifully tended farm in Constantia, 20 minutes from the city center, with its own vineyards and horses in lush paddocks. The worldly menu here draws from Italy (pastas, such as linguine in tomato-arugula sauce, are delicious), France, and Asia as well as South Africa. Try local "crayfish" (rock lobster) in beurre blanc with a salad and fine-cut pommes frites. Best dessert: Malva pudding, a baked sponge pudding in a butterscotch sauce, a true Cape creation. No lunch on Monday. $40. Constantia Uitsig Farm, Spaanschemat River Road; 27-21-7944480.
NOVELLI AT THE CELLARS Frenchman Jean-Christophe Novelli has recently put this dining room, in The Cellars-Hohenort hotel, on the map for serious gourmets. Novelli oversees the kitchen from Maison Novelli in London, having installed his former sous-chef, George Jardine, here. Working with local produce, Jardine does excellent starters like a silky salmon tartare or a cassoulet terrine with white bean and green garlic dressing. Main courses are robust: an earthy pig's trotter or kingklip (a meaty white fish that resembles halibut) garnished with slices of spicy sausage, olives, and tomatoes. Dessert pick: The splendid pineapple tart. Philippe Buttin, the French sommelier, smoothly works one of the largest wine lists in Cape Town. If only the service weren't so stiff. (Note that only the restaurant, not the hotel, is recommended.) $60. The Cellars-Hohenort hotel, 93 Brommersvlei Road, Constantia; 27-21-7942137; fax 27-21-7942149.
THREE TOP ETHNIC RESTAURANTS
RESTAURANT BUKHARA serves better northern Indian food than many of the top-flight Indian places in London. Be sure you don't miss the butter chicken. Closed Sunday. $36. 33 Church Street; 27-21-240000.
YINDEE'S offers up the most delicious Thai food in an attractive, 200-year-old bungalow. Closed Sunday. $26. 22 Camp Street, Gardens; 27-21-221012; fax 27-21-221014.
BIESMIELLAH RESTAURANT & DELICATESSEN, in the heart of Bo-Kaap, the city's Cape Malay Quarter, has delectable Malaysian-Indian cooking. Biesmiellah is better for lunch than dinner, since it serves no liquor and the atmosphere is more luncheonette than restaurant. $20. Corner of Wale and Pentz Streets; 27-21-230850; fax 27-21-249765.
RUSTICA Splendid views of Table Mountain from the rooftop terrace and an excellent hybrid Italian-French menu (best bets: grilled lamb sausage with polenta and seafood linguine) make this stylish, casual restaurant a great lunch spot on weekdays. $26. 70 New Church Street. Entrance on Buitengracht Street; 27-21-235474.
BLUES This is the city's perennially trendy "California- cuisine" restaurant. The local consensus is that the food here isn't as good as it once was, but the airy dining room overlooking Camps Bay remains high-voltage?an attractive crowd garnished by Absolutely Fabulous-style fashion types (hence, the annoying chirping of portable phones). Order the impeccably fresh seafood?but have it cooked as simply as possible?or straightforward dishes like the beef fillet in porcini and oyster mushroom sauce. Best time: Sunday lunch. $80. Victoria Road, Camps Bay; 27-21-4382040/2041.
BUITENVERWACHTING The name means "beyond expectation" in Afrikaans, and this restaurant, on a wine estate in the fashionable country suburb of Constantia, lives up to it. German chef Markus Koessler turns out a light, inventive haute-contemporary cuisine. If you are bold, try kudu carpaccio, gemsbok in wine, wild duck breast with pawpaw chutney, or loin of springbok. If you don't hear the call of the wild, there are tamer dishes, such as loin of Karoo lamb. Buitenverwachting is one of the rare South African restaurants that offer a good cheese tray, and it has one of the country's best wine lists. Our picks: Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc, and the 1993 Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon. The ambiance is genteel?ocher walls, generously spaced candlelit tables, and contemporary art on the walls. The only drawback is the fussy English country-house-style service?regrettably common in South Africa. Closed Sunday and Monday. $72. Klein Constantia Road; 27-21-7943522.
ROZENHOF Just a few steps from The Company's Garden, in the center of Cape Town, and thus a fine lunch spot during a day's sightseeing. The restaurant occupies an 1852 Cape Georgian house. Brass chandeliers and sconces highlight the contemporary paintings (which are for sale) and the striped Oregon pine floors. The Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef draws inspiration from Europe and Asia, with appealing starters like cheese soufflé with an herb and mustard cream sauce or baked ricotta on a salad of mixed leaves garnished with caramelized walnuts and main courses like kingklip topped with a fennel crust and a Pernod butter sauce. Friendly professional service and a very good wine list. Lunch and dinner. Closed Sunday. $45. 18 Kloof Street, Gardens; 27-21-241968.
LA COLOMBE The popular second restaurant of Constantia Uitsig Farm is a showcase for the excellent French cooking of chef Franck Dangereux. He demonstrates his vivid Gallic talent with dishes like braised lettuce Bordelaise-style (butter lettuce in red-wine sauce with bone marrow) and a luscious red Roman fish baked in a wood-burning oven with fennel seeds and served with anise butter. Finish your meal with the yogurt sorbet with sour-cherry sauce. Closed Tuesday; lunch only on Sunday. $48. Constantia Uitsig Farm, Spaanschemat River Road; 27-21-7942390.
ENRICA'S Cape Town's finest Italian restaurant?an intimate dining room of ocher walls, graceful wrought-iron chandeliers, ceiling plastered with wine labels, candles guttering in Chianti bottles?is presided over by a Venetian countess, Enrica Rocca. The lavish help-yourself antipasto buffet includes not only standards such as vitello tonnato, but unusual dishes like swiss chard in a bacon-cream sauce. There is a set menu (although entrées change daily), with a choice of two pastas (such as a linguine with a sauce of four cheeses) or mains like roasted veal with garlic, rosemary, and white wine sauce. Rocca, passionate about wine, offers excellent South African bottles at reasonable prices (for example, Backsberg Cabernet Sauvignon for $10). $40. Dinner only on Saturday; closed Sunday. 19 Wolfe Street, Wynberg; 27-21-7623855. (There's also an Enrica's downtown at 11 Buiten Street; 27-21-243200).
Cabaret - PIETER-DIRK UYS A hilarious example of the rapidly evolving mores of the new South Africa is the country's best-known satirist, a cross-dressing Afrikaner who's based in the tiny dairy town of Darling, about 40 miles north of Cape Town. Uys turned the town's former railroad station into a cabaret. The high point of his one-man show is the appearance of Evita Bezuidenhout, his most famous character?an iron-spined Afrikaner "auntie" who, Uys says, is "a combination Margaret Thatcher, Eva Braun, Alexis Carrington Colby, Imelda Marcos. She's powerful and an enormous hypocrite and liar." Bezuidenhout is an icon of all that was reprehensible about Afrikaner society during the apartheid years. Uys however, turns the material into a carefully honed and maliciously funny monologue. He doesn't play Cape Town proper anymore, but it is well worth the trip to Darling to see him. Call 27-22-413145 for performance information, or check out his Web site: www.millennia.co.za/evita.
Jazz - ABDULLAH IBRAHIM His 1976 single, "Manenberg," became an anthem of the Soweto uprising, and one of the most recognized South African jazz pieces of all time. Ibrahim has played at Carnegie Hall and the Village Vanguard, among other venues, mainly during the 14 years he spent in self-imposed political exile to protest apartheid, and today he is one of the most respected musicians and composers on Cape Town's thriving jazz scene. He cites Duke Ellington as a mentor, specifically his "ability to unify the many strands of African-American popular music into visionary jazz compositions both for orchestra and for small groups." If Abdullah Ibrahim happens to be playing while you're in town, don't miss him.
SOUTH AFRICAN MUSEUM Though controversy still simmers over the presence of ethnographic exhibits at what is essentially a museum of natural history and anthropology?many feel this conveys an apartheid-era message that tribal peoples are part of the animal world?this museum is not to be missed. The life-size dioramas of the San hunter-gatherer people, the original inhabitants of the Cape and now almost completely vanished, are striking because the figures were cast in the late 19th and early 20th centuries from actual San people. The exhibits of the traditional material culture of other African tribes are also superb (but what are those photographs of modern Africans hanging on the cases supposed to mean?). The prize pieces here are the Lydenburg Heads, seven terra-cotta heads found near Lydenburg in the Transvaal. They show the aesthetic refinement and complexity African culture and ritual had already achieved more than a thousand years before Europeans arrived. Open daily; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. 25 Queen Victoria Street; 27-21-243330.
KOTTLERS OF CAPE TOWN This century-old-plus purveyor of upscale Africana is the best spot in town for watch straps, belts, wallets, handbags, briefcases, and men's shoes that are fashioned from ostrich and other unusual skins. (We recommend that prior to your purchase you check that the skin of the item you are buying is legal to bring back to the United States by contacting the Office of Management Authority, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior: 800-358-2104). 106 Adderley Street; 27-21-237677; fax 27-21-241062; Web site: www.kottlersafrica.co.za.
AFRICAN IMAGE This funky, cluttered emporium is a great place to shop for miscellaneous Africana?objects made from flattened soda tins (more attractive than you'd think), soap dishes, baskets of twisted wire, ingenious toys, and more serious work like a to-scale, hand-carved wooden bicycle or vivid statuettes of contemporary Africans. Corner of Church and Burg Streets. (Other location: Hotel Mall, Victoria Wharf, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront; 27-21-4190382; same fax). Web site: www.africa-image.co.za.
VICTORIA & ALFRED WATERFRONT For the most part this is all mall shopping. The big exceptions here:
? The Waterfront Craft Market, which carries work by indigenous peoples. Best bets: hand-painted tablecloths at the Omega Workshop (stall 40, in the blue shed); handmade leather goods, especially the attractive and well-crafted leather carry-on and duffel bags at Shand Leather (stall 55, also in the blue shed). Next to The Two Oceans Aquarium.
? The Cape Union Mart for authentic, rugged safari gear. Victoria Wharf Shopping Centre, stall 142; 27-21-4190019.
? Vaughan Johnson's Wine & Cigar Shop, whose owner is the Cape's ultimate wine expert. His current picks: the 1994 Meerlust Estate Rubicon and the 1997 Thelema Mountain Vineyards Chardonnay.
BEATRICE WOLFART Seek out this German jeweler, who does contemporary pieces using local minerals and semiprecious stones. The essence of her style: playing off richness of material against simplicity of form. By appointment only. Evolution, 51c Meulenhof, Newport Street, Tamboerskloof; 27-21-233966; cell phone 27-82-8865628.
MEAGAN LAMPE This 27-year-old South African is one of the upcoming jewelry designers at Winhall & Holmes, a manufacturer-retailer known for fostering young talent. Lampé draws inspiration from various geometric shapes and patterns characteristic of African tribal clothing, as well as from the elephant-hair jewelry worn by many of the locals. Winhall & Holmes, 10 Cavendish Street, Claremont; 27-21-613815/619518; fax 27-21-6833648.
JULIAN ADLER ANTIQUES & AFRICANA The crowded galleries of this antiques shop constitute a catalog of furniture styles during the glory days of the British Empire: for instance, a bowfronted Regency mahogany corner cupboard ($2,877) or a George III mahogany tilt-top tea table ($2,183). Plus classic Cape Dutch furniture?such as stinkwood chairs with Riempieseats ($2,183 for set of six). Cash only. Corner of Loop and Church Streets; 27-21-221901; fax 27-21-221930.
BYGONES ANTIQUES Personable Sheila Boardman, one of Cape Town's top antiques dealers, has the most attractive shop on the Cape, a renovated, thatched, former wine-cellar in the Constantia vineyard country. (In fact, the lush, lavender-scented gardens out front nearly merit the trip alone.) Inside you'll come across surprising and reasonably priced finds such as an English Victorian silver fish-serving set (fork and knife) for $69 or a magnificent ca. 1830 American Empire mahogany serpentine-fronted sideboard for $5,655. Although local Cape Dutch-style furniture is difficult to find (according to Boardman it rarely passes out of family hands), the shop occasionally has the simpler Cape Cottage pieces. "Quality almost always undersells in South Africa," she says. Plan to stop here if you are lunching at Constantia Uitsig. International shipping?sea or air?is available. 8 Augusta's Way, Constantia; 27-21-7945489; fax 27-21-7944819.
PETER VISSER ANTIQUES Visser is the dealer to see for antique Cape Dutch furniture. His superb recent offerings included an 18th-century Tulbagh chair with cane seat and back ($2,380). Up the fantastic cast-iron spiral staircase of his shop you'll find an outstanding selection of prints, engravings, and maps, such as a 1732 view of Cape Town. 117 Long Street; 27-21-237870; fax 27-21-237485.
THE COLLECTOR In a city awash in African art of debatable pedigree and provenance, this small downtown gallery, run by the amiable Colin Sayers, is highly respected for the rarity and authenticity of its diverse merchandise. Some collectibles found: a bronze bracelet from the Kapsiki people of Cameroon; a ceremonial knife from the Konda people of Zaire/Congo; 19th-century gunpowder flasks from the Yombe people of the Congo; a Ntwana fertility doll made by the Eastern Sotho people of the Transvaal, South Africa; Zulu earplug from Zululand, South Africa; and a fetish figure from the Lunda people of Angola. The stock changes constantly. 48 Church Street; 27-21-231483; same fax.
SOUTH AFRICAN NATIONAL GALLERY Director Marilyn Martin made this small museum in The Company's Garden controversial by pushing contemporary South African work to the forefront and by consciously blurring the traditional distinction between art and indigenous craft. (Who needs to see Sir Joshua Reynolds-style portraits here anyway?) "We are in the first place a showcase for South African art, but rather than relegate any works or traditions to the 'wings' (literally or figuratively), we attempt to reconcile our histories by increasingly showing works together." It all adds up to a provocative and insightful view of the country through its best contemporary artists. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; closed Monday. Government Avenue, Gardens; 27-21-451628.
WIEBKE VON BISMARCK "I am drawn to the earthiness of African style, to the colors, shapes, and geometric designs of African ceramics," says von Bismarck, standing beside a kiln filled with smoldering sawdust and newspapers. She is fire-glazing several vases, which will leave them with a random pattern of black blaze marks. "This is a traditional African method of firing; it's interesting because you can't control the outcome," she cheerfully observes. She has lived in South Africa for 30 years and has been an award-winning potter for the last two decades. The shape of her pieces shows a keen appreciation of traditional African ceramics, particularly Zulu; the colors come from the various oxides she uses. Von Bismarck also does traditional majolica and stoneware, including a magnificent birdbath ringed with tiny ceramic birds for $79. The artist's work can be found on display at the Cape Gallery on Church Street in Cape Town, at The Dorp Street Gallery in Stellenbosch, and by appointment at her studio. 25 Kenmore Road, Tamboerskloof; 27-21-237864.
WILLIE BESTER He grew up in the townships outside of Cape Town, and now vividly expresses the joy and horror of life there in collages that are, according to his dealer, Rose Korber, somewhat akin to the 1960s work of Robert Rauschenberg. Bester's work is in the permanent collection of the South African National Gallery.
ROSE KORBER "The world boycott of South Africa was good for the country's art," says Rose Korber, an art consultant and dealer who has the surest and most insightful perspective on the nation's contemporary art scene. "It forced local artists to examine much more closely where they came from, rather than to look to mainstream European and American art for inspiration and content." Korber is your passport into an art world that has gone almost completely unnoticed in the United States, although one of her artists, William Kentridge, is on the brink of international renown. You can see a changing selection of Korber's artists in the foyer of the Nico Theatre Centre; at Korber's annual show, The Art Salon at The Bay, which runs for two weeks during the months of November and December at The Bay Hotel; and also in the permanent collection of the Ellerman House hotel in Bantry Bay. Rose Korber Art Consultant, 48 Sedgemoor Road, Camps Bay; 27-21-4389152/4389998; fax 27-21-4386262.
KIRSTENBOSCH NATIONAL BOTANICAL GARDEN Horticulturally speaking, the Cape Peninsula is one of the richest places in the world: It has more indigenous plants than the British Isles. Some 6,000 of them, including the Protea neriifolia, are on display in this 1,000-plus-acre garden created in 1913 from land bequeathed to the nation by Cecil John Rhodes. The camphor and fig trees he planted still survive, as do portions of the hedge that Jan van Riebeeck planted here in 1660 to keep cattle out of surrounding farmland. Splendid setting, too, as the garden is situated on the eastern slope of Table Mountain. Open daily year round. September-March, 8 a.m.-7 p.m.; April-August, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Rhodes Drive, Bishopscourt; 27-21-7621166.
The best place to watch whales near Cape Town is Hermanus, from June to November. Peak season: September and October.
ROD SEED Cape Town covers a lot of ground, and people drive on the wrong side of the road. Make life easy on yourself: Hire knowledgeable Rod Seed and his air-conditioned, nonsmoking, seven-seater microbus. Rates depend upon your itinerary, but a day in and around town usually runs about $200, which you can charge to your hotel account. Cash only. Seaside Touring; 27-21-7853912; same fax; cell phone 27-82-5546509.
DAY OUT: CAPE OF GOOD HOPE Drive via Simon's Town?a picturesque time capsule. See the stubby jackass penguins on Boulders Beach, then have lunch at the Black Marlin ($32) outside of town: Good seafood, excellent wine list, but get there early, before the tour buses arrive. At Cape Point walk up to the overlook. Drive back via Chapman's Peak Drive, reminiscent of Route 1 along California's coast.
ONE CITY TOURS This company runs the best half-day tour to the sprawling black townships near Cape Town. A chilling encounter with the reality of apartheid. Cash only. $21 per person. Reservations: 27-21-3875351; fax 27-21-3871338.
By Alexander Lobrano
GRAND ROCHE The Grande Roche is usually touted as the finest hotel in the wine country. It certainly thinks so, and we agree up to a point. The hotel itself?a meticulously renovated Cape Dutch-style wine farm, as vineyard estates are known in South Africa?looks superb. The guestrooms, spread through traditional farm outbuildings and several other recent Cape Dutch-style annexes, are very comfortable. Most have spacious sitting areas and large double-sinked baths with separate tub and shower. And the view?a sea of vineyards running off to the Drakenstein Mountains in the distance?is divine.
For all of the country chic however, there is a certain inflexible Germanic tone that keeps getting in the way of the joie de vivre. Check-in time is 3 p.m., not a moment sooner. The service in the restaurant is a bit stiff and precious at times, and the room itself is beautiful (but you feel it could be softer, more romantic). Yet this is the place to try exotic game dishes such as ostrich, kudu, and eland. And though there are two pools, both are quite modest in size.
What best explains the mismatch here is that the management is striving for four-star city elegance at the same time that its well-heeled European and North American clientele are seeking four-star country elegance. Still, the flaws are not damning, and a perfectly cooked English breakfast on your own private porch with a view of those mountains is magic. $262-$502. Plantasie Street, Paarl; 27-21-8632727; fax 27-21-8632220.
AUBERGE DU QUARTIER FRANÇAIS This pretty little town is the Hamptons of the Cape, attracting a well-to-do, four-wheel-drive crowd every weekend. It was founded by French Huguenots around 1688, which explains the name of Auberge du Quartier Français. The 15 large Luxury rooms overlook an enclosed English garden and swimming pool. The decor consists of cheerful fabrics and country furniture; the duvets are thick and the fireplaces working. The excellent room service breakfast is a splendid way to start the day, especially if you're in one of the two suites, which are especially spacious. (They also flank each other and thus are ideal for two couples traveling together.)
If you're up in the wine country for only the day, then put the restaurant on your itinerary. The food is first-rate. Chef Margot Janse does a delectable Cape Provençal cuisine: The spiced lamb with mint and pumpkin-seed pesto and pastrami-cured salmon trout are sublime. Wine pick: the 1997 Pinot Noir from the neighboring Cabrière Estate vineyard. Dinner: $40. Le Quartier Français restaurant, 16 Huguenot Road. Rooms: $177-$476. Auberge du Quartier Français, corner of Berg and Wilhelmina Streets, Franschhoek; 27-21-8762151; fax 27-21-8763105.
LANZERAC MANOR & WINERY This, a compound of gabled, whitewashed Cape Dutch buildings surrounded by vineyards and with mountains in the distance is the place to stay in Stellenbosch. The reception building, which dates to 1692, has a delightful bar with a big fireplace and cowhide-latticed chairs, while the main lounge is furnished with a full flush of quality antiques, including a gorgeous stinkwood library table. Too bad the authentic colonial elegance doesn't carry over to the rooms, most of which are in a cottage complex surrounding a swimming pool. Still, they're spacious and comfortable. The dining room is handsome too, but it's eyes-only here. The food is mediocre and the atmosphere stuffy. Our advice: Dine out. $250-$742. Lanzerac Road, Stellenbosch; 27-21-8871132; fax 27-21-8872310.
BOSCHENDAL We usually avoid buffet lunches, but the one served at Boschendal, a magnificent wine estate midway between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, is the exception that proves the rule. It is a lavish spread of delicious, French-influenced, Cape country classics, including curried mussels, pâté of smoked snoek (a full-flavored local fish), venison casserole, and kingklip stroganoff, and is served in an old farm building. Of course there are several roasts, usually lamb and beef, all carved to order, plus outstanding desserts like chocolate cake with whiskey-soaked raisins. The house wines are the only wines, and the whites are more abundant than the reds. Don't leave without visiting the manor house, which has a superb collection of Cape antiques. Lunch: $37. Pniel Road, Stellenbosch; 27-21-8704274; fax 27-21-8742137.
96 WINERY ROAD This is exactly the kind of restaurant you'd hope to find in wine country?warm and friendly, with an intelligent, mostly French menu. A large fireplace dominates the beamed, butternut-painted dining room, which is furnished country-style with bare wooden tables and chairs. It's an ideal light-lunch spot?the restaurant does great salads?after a morning of tasting, and it's also perfect for a casual dinner. A stylish crowd then comes to sample dishes like duck spring rolls with black bean chili sauce and sweet-and-sour plum sauce and Moroccan fish soup. But our choice would be the excellent well-aged beef or guinea hen coq au vin with one of the big local reds?a 1993 Meerlust Estate Rubicon, for instance. $36. 96 Winery Road, Zandberg Farm (off R44 between Stellenbosch and Somerset West); 27-21-8422020; fax 27-21-8422050.
DAVID READE David Reade, South Africa's foremost glass artist, works in a renovated 1790 barn in this quiet town on the other side of the Drakenstein Mountains from the Cape winelands. His work is spontaneous, vibrant, and elegant to the degree that today he works almost exclusively on commission. A sensitive and charming man, he actually likes clients to visit him, by appointment, at his studio. He draws his inspiration through discussions of what they say they want and through his perception of their personalities, and?amazing, this?he is happy to allow his clients the final judgment: If a client doesn't like the work, Reade keeps it, no questions asked. (This has happened only once in 21 years.) His work is in the collections of most major South African museums, and as one Cape Town interior designer notes, "You couldn't touch his level of talent in the U.S. or Europe for the prices he charges. He's extraordinarily talented." Reade also has a gallery in which he displays bowls, paperweights, perfume flasks, and other glass objects. The drive here from Paarl is one of the most dramatic in the Western Cape?if you take Route 101. The Barn, 170 Church Street, Worcester; 27-231-28136; fax 27-231-22340.
HOUT STREET GALLERY One of the best places in the Western Cape to shop for contemporary South African art and objets. Look for: Carol Boyes' palm-tree-motif pewter salad servers, sold here for $55, about half of what they go for in Cape Town; sumptuous angora sweaters ($98); glass pieces by David Reade. Shipping is available at modest prices. 270 Main Street, Paarl; 27-21-8725030; fax 27-21-8727133.
Top 10 Wines by Richard Nalley
Here are 10 "new guard" South African wines, all from the Cape Wine Country, to seek out on restaurant menus when there or to buy when you return home, where you may have an easier time of finding them, such is the international demand. Prices are U.S. suggested retail.
Brampton 1997 Chardonnay, Stellenbosch ($14). Rich, creamy, and a ringer for a cooler-climate California reserve Chardonnay. But the flavor spectrum is old-world pear-apple.
Buitenverwachting 1997 Sauvignon Blanc, Constantia ($17). Silky-textured, with clear-as-a-bell varietal herb and berry character and a refreshing crisp edge, all deftly tempered.
Glen Carlou 1997 Chardonnay, Paarl ($15). Full of vanilla-inflected harmonies imparted by expensive French oak. But the ripe, high-quality fruit absorbs it gracefully.
Mulderbosch Vineyards 1997 Sauvignon Blanc, Stellenbosch ($19). Perhaps South Africa's most highly praised white wine. The 1997 shows an intense, unoaked, varietal perfume of herb and gooseberry. Powerful and concentrated.
Haute Cabrière 1996 Pinot Noir, Franschhoek ($32). Pricey, but worth it. Classic Pinot nose of smoke, tart strawberry and blueberry, and clove. Plus a touch-of-velvet texture.
Kanonkop Estate 1993 "Paul Sauer," Stellenbosch ($26). A big-league Cabernet Sauvignon-Cabernet Franc-Merlot blend with a robust aroma of newly rasped vanillin oak and classic Bordeaux plum-and-cassis.
Kanonkop Estate 1995 Pinotage, Stellenbosch ($32). Pinotage is a South African original, a Pinot Noir-Cinsault hybrid. This wine is a mini-powerhouse?semi-exotic and spicy, with notes of black plum and blackberry.
Meerlust Estate 1992 Rubicon, Stellenbosch ($22). Want a layered, seductive, super-juicy wine to enjoy tonight? Check out this glove-soft, shamelessly easy drinker.
Swartland Wine Cellar 1997 Pinotage, Swartland ($9). An upgraded picnic wine?bright, soft, medium-weight, Rhône-like?well-mannered enough to sit at a formally set table.
Thelema Mountain Vineyards 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch ($28). Probably the most sought-after South African wine. A fruit?not oak?oriented wine, very round and silky, with classic plum-and-cassis flavors and mint-eucalyptus and olive grace notes. New-world ripeness, Bordeaux-like weight and feel.?R.N.
By Alexander Lobrano
This is the name given to a 93-mile stretch of coast and hinterland that extends from Mossel Bay, 248 miles east of Cape Town, to Plettenberg Bay and Storms River. The name derives from the mild climate and generous rainfall and sunshine that combine to produce a lush green landscape fronting the sea. The main highway, the N2, runs along the Indian Ocean coast for much of its route, and the drive can be broken up with stops at various nature reserves and beaches along the way. This is not a must-do itinerary, but rather a two- or three-day trip to make if you have any time left over after seeing Cape Town. The drive from Cape Town to Plettenberg Bay takes about five hours.
THE PLETTENBERG This little town, the traditional endpoint of the Garden Route, is also one of the most fashionable resorts in South Africa. That being said, it is no St.-Tropez, but rather a modest little beach town. We suggest arriving late afternoon, staying the night, enjoying a leisurely morning, then setting off again. The best hotel in town is The Plettenberg, set on a rise overlooking the ocean. This is a property with a lot of unrealized potential. Book a suite in the new Blue Wing, much preferable to rooms in the original building, which have a dowdy fifties feel and institutional bathrooms. The dining room has a wonderful view, but the food, inexplicably, is for the most part ordinary. (It's also the only game in town.) Our suggestion: Stick with the fresh seafood or the delicious karoo lamb cooked as simply as possible. $258$595. 40 Church Street, Look Out Rocks, Plettenberg Bay; 27-4457-32030; fax 27-4457-32074.
FANCOURT HOTEL AND COUNTRY CLUB ESTATE The region's largest city is nondescript, but a few miles west of town is the superb Fancourt Hotel and Country Club Estate. Many consider the two 18-hole, Gary Player golf courses the country's best; in addition the resort offers tennis, lawn bowling, croquet, squash, two outdoor swimming pools, a splendid health spa (indoor Roman bath, Jacuzzi, plunge pool, sauna, and first-rate beauty and massage treatments). Service is instant but unobtrusive: No sooner are you settled by the pool than an attendant offers extra towels and takes your drink order. And the setting?acres of immaculately tended gardens with a soaring mountain backdrop?is spectacular. Our only caveat: The food in the four restaurants isn't up to the rest of the hotel (but is by no means bad). Best room: Deluxe Hotel Suite with mountain view. Day out: Drive up the Outeniqua Pass for splendid mountain views. $208$583. Montagu Street, Blanco, George; 27-4487-08282; fax 27-4487-07605.
KLIPPE RIVIER COUNTRY HOUSE This, the third oldest white settlement in South Africa, lies about halfway between Cape Town and Mossel Bay. If you get a late start on the trip out to the Garden Route or back to Cape Town, Klippe Rivier Country House, a ca. 1820 Cape Dutch country farmstead, is the perfect place to break the journey. It lies in the midst of a sweeping landscape of rolling plains and fields at the foot of the Langeberg Mountains. Book one of the three downstairs bedrooms in the converted stables?spacious suites with huge old beams, ceiling fans and antiques, gleaming stinkwood floors covered with Oriental rugs and animal skins, working fireplaces. Cocktail hour is announced by a bell, after which you're ushered into the small dining rooms. Given the de rigueur conviviality, it's too bad that the food isn't outstanding, the wine list is so brief, and the hospitality is a tad taut. Still, the gorgeous setting?particularly dining outside?and rusticity of the rooms outweigh the drawbacks. $179. Off Route N2, Swellendam; 27-291-43341; fax 27-291-43337. Touring tip: Arrive early enough to visit the Drostdy Complex (on Swellengrebel Street), a museum of Cape architecture, history, and decorative arts. Open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-4:45 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m.-3:45 p.m.
By Andrew Powell and Gary Walther
The Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve and two other conservation areas, the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve and the Greater Makalali Conservancy, are the country's premier game-viewing and luxury game-lodge areas. All are near Kruger National Park.
Private Game Reserve & Vicinity
LONDOLOZI PRIVATE GAME RESERVE This lodge is famous for its leopard. The landscape?tangled vegetation and, along the Sand River, weathered boulders?is the Bel Air, the Park Avenue, of leopard habitat. So much so that a coffee-table book and a few films on the secretive cat have been done at this 27-year-old lodge, the flagship property of the Conservation Corporation Africa and the first lodge to become a member of Relais & Châteaux.
Londolozi consists of three self-contained camps: Tree, Bush, and Main. For years this was also the luxury hierarchy, but that all changed in 1997, when Main Camp was radically upgraded. Ten rooms have been transformed into eight chalets, each with a plunge pool, private deck, separate bath and shower, twin sinks, and air-conditioning. In addition, the camp added two new Granite Suites, which are built out to the edge of a sheet of granite rock and so have a panorama of the river (and often good game viewing from the deck), as well as lavish touches like an outdoor shower?all for just $100 more per person, per day. Unchanged is the Main Camp veranda.
Tree Camp was also renovated in 1997, and right now I'd say it's a toss-up between it and Main Camp. Tree Camp is slightly smaller (six rooms), slightly more luxurious, all rooms have outdoor showers and a dining sala with plunge pool, and claims to provide a more personalized level of service, which was certainly true when I stayed here several years ago. It's also more expensive?$1,100 per day versus $900 at Main Camp.
As for Bush Camp, it has not been renovated (no plunge pools), but the rooms are still attractive and are more African in feeling. (It will be renovated by the end of this year.) Many people consider it the most charming camp, and it certainly has the best overall location?overlooking gentle rapids and a series of flat rocks in the Sand River, where elephant, buffalo, and occasionally the local lion pride come down to drink. It also has the prettiest outdoor dining area.
The upshot: You can't go wrong here. Main Camp: Chalets, $900; Granite Suites, $1,100. Tree Camp: $1,100. Bush Camp: $1,000. Conservation Corporation Africa, Private Bag X27, Benmore, 2010, South Africa; 27-11-7847077; fax 27-11-7847667; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.?A.P.
SAVANNA TENTED SAFARI LODGE The brainchild of Waynne McLintock, formerly of Conservation Corporation Africa, the company chiefly responsible for redefining the modern luxury safari camp. Savanna has the atmosphere of a small, traditional camp, but at the same time it provides a very high level of contemporary comfort.
From a distance the accommodations at Savanna look like huge green tents, but as you get closer you see that beneath each spreading canvas roof there is a permanent structure. Interiors are spacious, light, air-conditioned, and all have bathrooms that would be no disgrace to a five-star hotel (bath, separate shower, twin sinks, and acres of white tile). This is an environment not merely for sleeping but one in which you can happily spend the heat of the day reading, relaxing, and bringing some order to your bird list.
Savanna's position is unusual. Being at the extreme western edge of the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve, it looks out across an open landscape toward distant villages and farmland. I found this to be a pleasant change from being buried deep in the bush. The camp's only real drawback is that it doesn't have very much land of its own; thus game drives are obliged to "traverse" three or four other properties. During my stay I experienced a greater concentration of vehicles at wildlife sightings?generally four, each carrying eight people?than anywhere else in Sabi Sand. But the game viewing here is just as good as it is in other parts of the reserve. $792-$1,030. Box 3619, White River, 1240, South Africa; 27-13-7512205; fax 27-13-7512204.?A.P.
ULUSABA PRIVATE GAME RESERVE Rock Lodge is unique in at least one respect. Built at the top of a dramatic outcrop, it has a stupendous view across mile upon mile of bush veld to the Drakensberg Mountains. It is the only place in Sabi Sand where you experience a sense of African space and scale.
When I visited in February the lodge was on the verge of reconstruction; hence, there was no way to evaluate it. (But on a trip three years ago the lodge was pleasant, the cooking excellent, the game drives very good.) Plans call for rooms to be enlarged, private decks added, and the Bateleur Suite, the lodge's most luxurious (the King of Sweden recently stayed here), to gain its own plunge pool.
UluSaba's Safari Lodge is utterly different in atmosphere and style. Less lavish than Rock Lodge, it consists of a series of comfortable but basic wooden chalets, which are connected by walkways, strung along the bank of the Mabrak watercourse. Here you are deep in the bush, deprived of a view but closer to the animals. I spent a delightful afternoon on my veranda, watching a pair of elephants less than 75 yards away.
However, here you may also feel that there is almost nothing between you and the other guests, as the rooms are very close to each other. They have ceiling fans (no air-conditioning) and small bathrooms (single sink, shower, no bath). The best room at Safari Lodge, according to the staff, is number 10, though I was perfectly happy in number six, which was both private and tranquil.
Although Safari Lodge is less expensive than Rock Lodge, choosing between them is more a matter of taste than of money. If you want a full range of creature comforts and an atmosphere that is essentially that of a hotel, then Rock Lodge is the place to go. If you prefer a stronger sense of immersion in the natural world, and are prepared to do without some amenities, then Safari Lodge is for you.
The game viewing at UluSaba is just as fine as it is in the rest of Sabi Sand. (I had very good close-up views of rhino and elephant.) The one wrinkle is that UluSaba, like a number of smaller properties that make up the western sector of Sabi Sand, doesn't have enough land of its own for game drives. Thus these wildlife lodges have negotiated "traversing rights" with each other, which means you tend to see more vehicles than you do at Sabi Sand's larger reserves, like Mala Mala. Rock Lodge: $773-$967; Safari Lodge: $655. Box 239, Lonehill, 2062, South Africa; 27-11-4654240; fax 27-11-4656649; e-mail: email@example.com.?A.P.
NGALA PRIVATE GAME RESERVE Ngala means "lion" in Shangaan, and indeed on my very first morning here we came across 13 of them, all flopped down beside each other in the shade of a tree, sides heaving gently, ears flicking sharply to shoo the mopane bees. This 21-unit lodge in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, is a 1970s-vintage camp renovated by Conservation Corporation Africa in 1992. Thus it is comfortable?units are air-conditioned?but basic: no in-room phones, director's chairs to sit on, and only a small pool (which gets more sun now since elephants demolished two nearby trees). And for the money?$929 per day versus $900-$1,100 for Londolozi?Ngala's simplicity comes at a somewhat steep price. The chief caveats?this from rangers I interviewed?are that the road system near Ngala is spread out so you have to drive farther to see animals, and that there's relatively little water, which limits the game the land can support. In my two days here, though, the game viewing was marvelous: six giraffes, with one steepled down scratching his belly on a tree trunk; eight elephants, including two babies; a trio of rhino; and a wonderful tableau of impala, wildebeest, and warthog in a clearing carpeted with knee-high grasses. Best amenity: free laundry. Best room: the Safari Suite, which has a working fireplace, substantial furniture, and a good-size pool (which baboons use as a water hole). The suite comes with its own Land Rover and game ranger/driver. $929-$1,651. Conservation Corporation Africa, Private Bag X27, Benmore, 2010, South Africa; 27-11-7847077; fax 27-11-7847667; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.?G.W.
MALA MALA?MAIN CAMP Mala Mala Game Reserve is an institution, the first commercial safari lodge in the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve. Today the lodge proclaims itself the "top safari lodge in the world." That's not quite true; however, the good things about Mala Mala are very good indeed. Guests have exclusive access to 45,000 acres of Sabi Sand, by far the largest block. It includes 22 miles of Sand River frontage, a plus for wildlife viewing and certainly one reason why there is nowhere else in southern Africa where you are more likely to have close encounters with the Big Five (especially in August and September, when the bush thins out).
Main Camp is the largest of Mala Mala's three camps?it sleeps 50?and the least atmospheric. It is strung out along a rise overlooking the Sand River, and if you're in a unit facing the watercourse you sometimes see game from your room, particularly waterbuck, which take refuge on the grounds at night. The accommodations are mostly rondavels?round, masonry buildings with thatch roofs. They're comfortable, with ceiling fans, air-conditioning, international in-room direct-dial telephones, and two bathrooms; but they are also '60s time capsules, decorated without the slightest pretension to style. The rooms are all quite similar, but number 19, The Lions Den, is the best suite. Numbers four and five have connecting doors and so are good for families.
The food at Main Camp is good, if unexceptional; the grounds are manicured; there's a large swimming pool and gymnasium; and in general the operation is run with almost military precision. The lodge tends to appeal to an older clientele with conservative tastes. That may be why the staff seemed to me so excessively deferential, their manner reflecting an age, now mercifully defunct, of rigid social stratification. However, guides are also very attentive to guests, both on game drives and at meals, where they sit with you and your Land Rover mates.
The oddest thing about Mala Mala is the almost palpable paranoia about having been superseded by newer resorts, such as the Singita and Londolozi private game reserves. Even though both are fairly close by, the staff here affects not to know them. Perhaps that's why the walls at Mala Mala are dripping with awards and testimonials. It protests a tad too much, methinks. $1,071-$1,290. Box 2575, Randburg, 2125, South Africa; 27-11-7892677; fax 27-11-8864382; e-mail: email@example.com. For further information: Tim Farrell & Associates; 203-845-0304; fax 203-845-0448.?A.P.
KINGS CAMP Kings Camp, situated in Timbavati?a private reserve that is part of the greater Kruger National Park?is essentially a small hotel in the bush. It has neatly trimmed lawns, a swimming pool, and an atmosphere of calm and safety. The air-conditioned accommodations (five rooms and four suites) are enclaves of old-fashioned comfort, with writing desks; large, fully equipped bathrooms; and, in the suites, sofas. The food is conservative and sustaining: lots of roast chicken, filet mignon, and venison.
The camp is shortly to be refurbished and, I am told, redesigned to give guests a feeling of being "closer to nature." This seems to me rather counterproductive, as Kings Camp is for those who prefer wild Africa to be kept firmly in its place?on the other side of a high-voltage electric fence.
The wildlife viewing here is exceptional. On my first evening game drive I saw, in addition to numerous antelope species, a pride of seven lions, two leopard cubs, and a pack of eight wild dogs, which are rare in southern Africa. We also had a close encounter with an enormous (and affable) bull elephant. In most respects the topography of Timbavati is similar to that of Sabi Sand, 100 miles to the south. However, the Drakensberg Mountains give the landscape here a sense of grandeur and space lacking there. $575-$675. The Nature Workshop, Box 2993, Rivonia, 2128, South Africa; 27-11-8077669; fax 27-11-8077295; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.?A.P.
MALA MALA?KIRKMAN'S KAMP Kirkman's Kamp will never win an award for luxurious accommodations. Its rooms are in detached units that resemble bunkhouses; the room lights consist of lanterns with bulbs in them; the furniture is hand-me-down; and if you change the air-conditioner setting the fuses blow. (At least the rooms now have full showers.) But I liked this camp for its size (only 28 guests); the location, a rise above the Sand River; the architecture, single-story, colonial-style buildings; and the atmosphere of campfires and old-time farming in the bush. The public areas have an authentic bush look people spend a fortune trying to create. $635. Box 2575, Randburg, 2125, South Africa; 27-11-7892677; fax 27-11-8864382; e-mail: email@example.com. For further information: Tim Farrell & Associates; 203-845-0304; fax 203-845-0448.?G.W.
GARONGA SAFARI CAMP The New Age safari is upon us. At Garonga, opened only last year, there is no preoccupation with ticking off species. Rather the camp offers, in the language of the brochure, "a safari for the soul" and a "holistic wildlife experience" in an "organic flowing space that spreads harmony around it." Fortunately, there is more to the place than this gobbledygook suggests.
Located in the 34,000-acre Makalali Conservancy, an isolated pocket of gameland about 50 miles from the edge of Kruger National Park, Garonga is a 12-bed tented camp, although that hardly does it justice. The accommodations are "tents" insofar as they have beige canvas roofs. However, they're constructed with permanent walls of cement, riversand, and oxide that are more Taos than Transvaal, and they're furnished with a king-size bed swathed in mosquito netting, both an indoor and outdoor shower, twin sinks, and a private deck. But what makes the tents simply stunning (and I am not easily impressed) is how spacious, light, tranquil, and stylishly decorated they are?in short, wonderful places to hang out, relax, and read. In fact, this is an ideal lodge for acclimatizing yourself before heading off somewhere more rigorous, or for unwinding when the adventure is over.
The public areas of the camp share the same unusual and imaginative design: Marrakech meets New Mexico, with a dash of Mali, in the form of West African sculptures and artifacts. There is a horizon pool and an outdoor bath, both of which have a view over the surrounding bush. The food is more "city restaurant" than safari camp standard. (I enjoyed a dinner of impala carpaccio with flakes of parmesan, beef fillet with juniper berry jus, and tarte au citron.) Garonga also has that most modish of safari camp accessories, an air-conditioned wine cellar, to which guests are invited for tastings.
In addition to "solitude walks," "sleep-out excursions," and an "aromatherapy sala," Garonga does provide regular game drives. However, the wildlife viewing is not as good as at Timbavati and Sabi Sand, mainly because both have been established much longer and are many times larger. I saw only antelope, though elephant are sighted frequently. Cats, however, are scarce. But that's okay if you come knowing that Garonga is preeminently a stylish place to chill out in the bush. $456. Pulse Africa, Box 2417, Parklands, 2121, South Africa; 27-11-3270161; fax 27-11-3270162; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.?A.P.
MAKALALI PRIVATE GAME RESERVE High design?imagine Gaudí and Water World?and so-so game viewing are the hallmarks of this new lodge in the Northern Province, part of a game reintroduction project. Makalali consists of four camps (six units each) strung out along the Makhutswi River. The architect, an Italian, ransacked Africa for motifs. Thus the tiered thatching is Tanzanian, the domed bathrooms Moroccan, the masks Central African. Units have large verandas with sapling fenceposts that give them a treehouse feel and separate dining salas. The entire front wall consists of two retractable wooden shutters, so during the day the room can be completely opened up. (But don't leave without closing up or the resident vervet monkey troupe will filch your belongings.) An enormous stone chimney and fireplace and a 10- to 12-foot-high sheet steel divider, with designs cut into it paper-doll-style, dominate the bedroom. The bathroom sink is a metal cone, the tap a curved pipe rising from the floor, like a cobra. (Given the high design, you would expect air-conditioning, too, but only camp four has it. The other three camps have ceiling fans.) The food is excellent and more in tune with current dietary trends than at most lodges. At one lunch I had cucumber salad with feta cheese, kidney-bean spread, grilled duck, braised cabbage, and couscous. As for the game, it was a bit thin (but this is a conservation project in progress) and proved skittish, doubtless because hunting went on here as recently as five years ago. Still there were some wonderful sightings?a civet cat that had just killed a cobra, four rhino (including a four-month-old) staring bleary-eyed at the Land Rover, and fine examples of male kudu. Given some time the game situation will mature. Right now I would come here to relax after I had been at one of the mainstream lodges in Sabi Sand. $786. Box 785156, Sandton, 2146, South Africa; 27-11-8835786; fax 27-11-8834956; e-mail: email@example.com.?G.W.
SABI SABI?SELATI LODGE The smallest, newest, and most upscale of the three lodges on the 13,590-acre Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, Selati Lodge is an exercise in deliberate nostalgia. The eight suites have no electricity, the idea being to re-create the atmosphere of an earlier, arguably more romantic era. There are no phones, and there's no air-conditioning either, and the only light comes from oil and paraffin lamps. (Hot water is generated by gas.)
Whether or not this will succeed is hard to say. It is certainly bucking the trend, as most new safari camps nowadays are ever more luxurious. Not that Selati Lodge is exactly slumming it. The accommodations themselves are decorated with antique furniture, some pieces from as far afield as the former Governor's House in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The sepia photographs were unearthed in the archives of the National Parks Board, and assorted artifacts have been retrieved from the old Selati Railway, which ran through the property a century ago on its way to Lourenço Marques in Mozambique. All the suites are extremely spacious, with large, lavishly equipped bathrooms and outside showers. (The most opulent is the Ivory Suite.) There is also a small but very attractive swimming pool.
For me, the best thing about Selati Lodge is not its rather self-conscious decoration, but the strong feeling I had of being on a small island of civilization that was surrounded by wilderness. Few of South Africa's lodges so intimately involve their guests with nature.
As we walked through the property at lunchtime, the operations director of Sabi Sabi pointed to the side of a suite where some plaster and a patch of paint were missing. "That was a kudu," he explained. "Two nights ago it was chased through the camp by a leopard and ran straight into the wall here. The guests inside got quite a shock." So I would imagine. $1,032-$1,230. Box 52665, Saxonwold, 2132, South Africa; 27-11-4833939; fax 27-11-4833799; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Web site: www.sabisabi.com.?A.P.
TANDA TULA BUSH CAMP This is a tented camp for people who like creature comforts. The eight traditional safari tents have electricity and large bathrooms (three have a tub as well as a shower, the rest have showers only), yet still retain the atmosphere of the bush. If that's not enough, there's also a private camp, Tandala, originally designed for the owner, with a spacious living and dining area, double bedroom and large bathroom, private pool, and its own ranger, tracker, and chef.
The landscape around Tanda Tula is bush veld, and the game viewing excellent. I saw the Big Five without even trying (including a herd of 300 buffalo), plus wild dog. Alan McSmith, Tanda Tula's manager, tries to get guests out of the usual game-drive routine. He lobbies for bush walks and in the future plans to take guests out for a night sleeping under the South African stars. $629. Tandala private camp: $1,190. Box 32, Constantia, 7848, South Africa; 27-21-7946500; fax 27-21-7947605; e-mail: email@example.com; Web site: www.tandatula.co.za.?A.P.
SABI SABI?BUSH AND RIVER LODGES These are both large camps?sleeping 54 and 44 guests, respectively. Both were redecorated in the past two years, which is good because they needed it. The rattan furniture has been replaced with dark wood pieces, and other upscale touches have been added throughout. Overall the rooms are functional, with ceiling fans, air-conditioning, and in most, small terraces. I would give the edge to River Lodge for its location?along the Sabi River, the only perennial river in the reserve, which means that game congregate here late in the dry season. Best room: the Mandleve Treehouse Suite, at the far end of camp. It sleeps four, has a large living room with a fireplace, a wraparound deck, tile floors, an outside shower, and bedrooms with floor-to-ceiling windows. Bush Lodge and River Lodge: $952-$1,270. Box 52665, Saxonwold, 2132, South Africa; 27-11-4833939; fax 27-11-4833799; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Web site: www.sabisabi.com.?G.W.
By Andrew Powell
One of the most scenic areas of South Africa, the Mpumalanga Drakensberg region lies about 45 minutes west of the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve. You may have already seen the region without realizing it: The final scene of the 1980 hit movie The Gods Must Be Crazy was filmed here at the appropriately named God's Window. The mountains average 3,000 feet in height, and the most scenic drive is the R40, and adjacent roads, in particular the stretch near the Blyde River Canyon. This is not a game-viewing area, but rather the place where South Africans from Johannesburg and Pretoria come for a weekend away. The two hotels reviewed below are the best in the area and a good place to spend a night or two after your stint in the reserve.
CYBELE FOREST LODGE There are days in Mpumalanga when the weather is as perfect as weather can be. It was on one such day?hot but not too hot; the sky cloudless and cornflower blue; the humidity nonexistent?that I had lunch in the garden of Cybele Forest Lodge, under a large white umbrella, surrounded by flowering shrubs, and in the company of three extremely amiable boxer dogs. Finishing my niçoise salad, I took a sip of chilled wine, glanced around at the old white farmhouse, the newly mown lawns, the glossy horses nuzzling the paddock railing, and concluded that I was in the best of all possible worlds.
It's 19 years since Barbara and Rupert Jeffries, who hail from England, took over a rundown coffee estate and began turning it into this, one of South Africa's best-known and most firmly established country hotels. Like nearby Blue Mountain Lodge (approximately 25 minutes away by car), Cybele is an ideal place to recuperate at the end of a safari. But where Blue Mountain is glossy and luxurious, with spreading views over the surrounding countryside, Cybele is slightly eccentric and much more intimate?it's almost entirely surrounded by forest. In the public rooms, newly upholstered pieces of furniture rub shoulders amiably with nicely worn-in ones. It seemed perfectly in character to find a Scrabble game on the table.
The important thing to bear in mind about Cybele is that it has been developed ad hoc over the years. Thus it has widely differing types of accommodation. The best rooms are the Paddock Suites (10, 11, 12, and 14, each of which has a spacious bedroom, sleeping loft, double-height living room, and private pool) and the Private Garden Suite. On the other hand, Studio 9 is tiny?but with a sizable private garden.
In two or three days you can ride or walk around the property, fly-fish for some notably gullible rainbow trout, or go on helicopter trips into the surrounding hills. Nearest commercial airport: Nelspruit, 50 minutes away and served frequently by flights from Johannesburg (60 minutes). $236-$694. Box 346, White River, 1240, Mpumalanga; 27-13-7641823; fax 27-13-7641810; e-mail: email@example.com.
BLUE MOUNTAIN LODGE This hotel could step right into the pages of a shelter magazine. The very good taste of the owners?Hepplewhite-style sofa, French garden doors, fireplace with a frieze of a lion above it?is everywhere on display, but pleasingly so (although at times you feel you're in a tableau). The atmosphere is one of deep and settled calm, and the accommodations, scattered around the grounds, look out across mature gardens to a dark-green patchwork of coffee plantations and avocado trees. The eight Victorian Suites, all individually decorated and with fireplaces and private verandas, would be my preference. The Ballentine Suite is the most African of them. However, there are also the new Manor Houses (two of the 15 planned are completed), which are the most opulent accommodations here. They have two large bedrooms, a study, dining room, and sizable swimming pool that overlooks a lake, home to a small pod of hippo. Housekeeping staff and cook are optional.
At the main house chef Gary Opperman prepares mostly light New World food, taking advantage of fruit and vegetables grown locally or on the estate. The night I arrived I had Mozambique scallops served with a vegetable ragout, fillet of ostrich, and crème catalan. Quality, presentation, and service were all impeccable. If you want to immerse yourself in European-style luxury after your time in the bush at Sabi Sand, there's no better way than staying here. $230-$1,290. Box 101, Kiepersol, 1241, Mpumalanga; 27-11-7844144; fax 27-11-7844127; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Andrew Powell
PHINDA LODGES Phinda, a game reintroduction project, is a demonstration of how much can be achieved in a remarkably short time. It began back in 1990 with the purchase of 18,500 acres of derelict farmland, 150 miles north of Durban in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. There was some game on the property, but large species such as lion, cheetah, elephant, rhino, and giraffe were all reintroduced. Today Phinda is a 42,000-acre working wildlife reserve with four contrasting lodges, all owned and managed by the Conservation Corporation Africa. Nowadays the property feels so settled and established, it's hard to believe human intervention ever took place. Originally, the reserve had to be extensively restocked.
The landscape is one of marshy clearings, forested hills, and dramatic rocky outcrops. Despite dense vegetation, the game viewing is excellent: Lion and elephant sightings are commonplace, and there's a good chance of seeing rhino.
In southern Africa it is now generally accepted that 12?and certainly no more than 16?is the ideal number of guests for an upscale safari lodge. This not only ensures personal attention and a tranquil environment, but means that there are no more than two vehicles at a wildlife sighting. Thus the two newest?and the top-of-the-line?accommodations at Phinda, Vlei Lodge and Rock Lodge, both have only six suites, all with their own plunge pools. Forest Lodge, which opened back in 1993, still provides exceptional accommodations in breathtaking glass-walled chalets. However, it is more than twice the size of the two new lodges and has to an extent been superseded by them. Phinda's original Mountain Lodge is increasingly used for conferences.
Rock Lodge and Vlei Lodge complement one another. Rock is situated high on a hillside, with a spectacular view, while Vlei is down in the forest, looking out across a clearing where antelope graze and lion and cheetah come to prey on them.
I stayed at Rock Lodge and spent two days trying to decide if Suite Number One rated as my favorite hotel room in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. (I decided it did.)
The design, decoration, and position?looking across a deep valley to craggy Leopard Rock?are all stunning, indeed virtually unimprovable. All the suites at Rock Lodge are more or less the same, but Number One is built on three different levels and hence has the most interesting architecture. It also boasts the world's best outdoor shower: on a kind of natural balcony, enclosed on three sides by vegetation, with a view down to an elephant trail, 300 feet below.
One of the best things about Phinda is that there is a lot to do. As well as game viewing from a vehicle, it is possible to walk in the bush, and there are daily boat trips on the nearby Mzinene River; those at dusk are particularly good for birding. (You'll see squadrons of white-faced duck.) The lodge will also fly you down to the Indian Ocean coast?the transfer takes 10 minutes?where you can stroll along the beach, climb 600-foot-high dunes, or scuba dive.
To reach Phinda, fly from Johannesburg to Richard's Bay (75 minutes). The transfer to the lodge takes 20 minutes in the reserve's 15-seat Cessna Caravan or 90 minutes by van. $860-$1,000. Conservation Corporation Africa, Private Bag X27, Benmore, 2010, South Africa; 27-11-7847077; fax 27-11-7847667; e-mail: email@example.com.
By Alexander Lorano
Hotels and Lodges
IMBA MATOMBO LODGE Except for the flowering trees and the thatch roof of the Main House, you would hardly know you were in Africa here. This Relais & Châteaux property, in the exceedingly genteel Umwinsidale Valley, just outside the city, consists of 10 freestanding lodges surrounding a mammoth, whitewashed Main House. It's the closest thing we found to an African country house hotel. The best rooms are Stone Lodge, a roundel, and Pool Lodge, so-called because it's near the pool, not because it has one. Warning: The lime-green, deep-blue color scheme might not suit you. The veranda suites make up most of the rooms. They're narrow (the bedroom is just big enough for a double bed) and have a small dressing area and bathroom. The color scheme is bright reds and blues with bold print fabrics, almost a child's palette, but certainly not unpleasant. Our pick: Guinea Fowl or Hornbill. The hotel has a tennis court, an 82-foot-long pool, and a gym (with cheesecake pictures of Christy Turlington, among other models). The owner, John Ford, knows about craftspeople in the area. It's worth devoting a morning to the shopping route he's devised. The hotel can also obtain tee times at Royal Harare Country Club?one of the city's best golf courses. $220-$320. 3 Albert Glen Close, Glen Lorne, Highlands; 263-4-499013; fax 263-4-499071.
MEIKLES HOTEL Rather like Raffles in Singapore, this oft-celebrated hotel has metamorphosed beyond recognition from its origin as a British colonial lodging. Today Meikles consists of two modern towers rising out of a shopping complex at Africa Unity Square, the heart of the city. Pluses: best in-city hotel; fully air-conditioned; excellent service, including same-day laundry; comfortable rooms, most of them with good views. Minuses: modern, sterile ambiance; dowdy decor (brown carpeting, brown-varnished wooden furniture). Locals consider Bagatelle?one of the hotel's five restaurants?the best table in the country. It's not: The French-inspired food here is just decent. Our advice: soup starter, then a steak (Zimbabwe beef is excellent). The main wine list offers a superb run of South African vintages. $215-$555. Corner of Third Street and Jason Moyo Avenue; 263-4-795655; fax 263-4-707753/4.
BARKERS LODGE The eight rooms and one suite of this hotel, ensconced in the lush gardens of a suburb, are tastefully furnished with sleeper-wood furniture, beds with beautiful wooden frames, and local textiles. Rooms are small, but all have private verandas with views of the grounds. (The big drawback is the lack of air-conditioning; and only the suite has an in-room minibar.) There's also a small pool and one tennis court.
Where the hotel shines is at table: It has Harare's best restaurant. Chef/owner Duncan Barker sends out delicious dishes like minced shrimp on toast and fillet of smoked salmon, all beautifully served on the open-air veranda or in the grandly furnished dining room. (Even if you don't stay at Barkers, plan a meal here.) Service in the hotel and restaurant is good, but inexplicably impersonal (almost chilly at times), and the piped-in Muzak is a bizarre touch. "Wichita Lineman" added nothing to my excellent poolside lunch. Cash only. $200-$250. 1 Masasa Lane, Kambanji; 263-4-499076; fax 263-4-499065; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
VICTORIA TWENTY-TWO Occupying an attractively restored 1930s house in the lush suburb of Highlands, this two-year-old Italian restaurant is not only one of the top three tables in town, but also a place that could hold its own in cities where fresh seafood and a complete range of Italian ingredients are easier to come by. The set-price dinner ($30 per person) includes an excellent assorted antipasti platter, followed by a choice of two pasta dishes (if the gnocchi Bolognese is offered, order it) and three main courses, plus dessert and a complimentary grappa. Red wine pick: Villiera Merlot. Cash only. 22 Victoria Drive, Highlands; 263-4-776429.
PIERRE GALLERY A superb range of contemporary sculpture is displayed in the well-tended gardens of gallery owner Olivier Sultan, a Frenchman who's been instrumental in organizing very successful Paris museum shows for his artists. Among them is Henry Munyaradzi?known for his stylized abstract faces carved into stone?and Colleen Madamombe, perhaps the country's best-known female sculptor. Just don't call them "Shona sculptors," or you'll incur Sultan's ire. "When remarkable individual talents like Nicholas Mukomberanwa, Tapfuma Gutsa, Henry Munyaradzi, and Bernard Takawira are described collectively as Shona sculptors, or African artists, it's as ridiculous as describing Picasso, Matisse, and Monet as French artists," Sultan says. "Their work is completely individual." 14 Maasdorp Avenue, Alexandra Park; 263-4-745555.
SPRINGSTONE GALLERY One of the best galleries for Shona sculpture, with pieces displayed in a lush, attractive garden. Ask for curator Tony Mhonda, who has studied in both the United States and Britain and happily escorts visitors around the gallery's grounds, explaining what it is that makes this work so powerful?its connection to nature. "In 1998, in the West," he says, "the leaf of a plant is no longer considered an appropriate subject?so much Western art today is based on themes of anguish and alienation?whereas in Zimbabwe we've never separated ourselves from nature." Cash only. 5 Idlehurst Way, Avondale; tel/fax 263-4-735178.
LEOPARD ROCK HOTEL "There is nowhere more beautiful in Africa," said the Queen Mother after visiting the Leopard Rock Hotel in 1953, a judgment that is probably still true. Leopard Rock's original hotel building dates from the 1940s, but the best rooms today are in the annex, 207-211 and 307-311. The service is precise and extremely professional; and astonishingly, the food in the cavernous main dining room is on par too. There's also a casino with a brassy Atlantic City atmosphere. There are two things that alone make Leopard Rock worth the three-and-a-half-hour journey: The scenery here is spectacular?at sunset the surrounding Vumba Mountains go purple and the acacia trees on the immaculately maintained grounds stand silhouetted in the amber twilight. And Leopard Rock's golf course just may be the best in Africa. (Gary Player rated it as a true championship course.) Note, too, that the Vumba Botanical Gardens, only five minutes from the hotel, are considered the best in Africa after Kirstenbosch in Cape Town. This is a great place to unwind for two or three days after your safari. Mutare. $240-$400. 263-20-60177; fax 263-20-61165.
The Top Shops
THE SHOP Come here for artisanal ceramics by Ros Byrne; exquisite handscreened, cotton-muslin cloth from Kudhinda fabrics; and handsome wicker furniture from The Central African Wicker Chair Co. Kudhinda fabrics are hand-printed from designs cut into the flat side of a half potato. Cash only. Doon Estate, 1 Harrow Road, Msasa; 263-4-487103.
THE WORKS is Harare's hippest emporium. Best items: wild-orange-and-basil bath salts and bottle-cap carrier baskets. Cash only. Doon Estate, Harrow Road, Msasa; 263-4-755851; fax 263-4-755726.
GALLERY DELTA displays the latest textile art, paintings, and ceramics from local artists. 110 Livingstone Avenue, Greenwood Park; 263-4-792135.
VALLEY FORGE specializes in furniture of wrought iron and teak (the latter old railway ties), and pieces made from Tonga Doors, carved house doors made by the Tonga people of the Zambezi Valley. The owners have been collecting them for 25 years. Cash only. Box CH 153, Chisipite, Harare; 263-4-883951.
ELIZABETH NUGENT?a truly delightful Irishwoman and former Aer Lingus hostess?has lived in Zimbabwe for 25 years. She's the person you want waiting for you at the Harare airport. Friendly, energetic, and prodigiously well informed, she's your entrée to the best shopping in the capital, especially for works of art. Nugent takes guests on city tours in an air-conditioned Mercedes-Benz. Be sure to reserve well in advance. Full day: $60; half day: $30. Cash only. Box HG 614, Highlands; tel/fax 263-4-496237.
By Andrew Powell
THE BEST VIEW OF VICTORIA FALLS It's from Livingstone Island, which is owned by Tongabezi, a small resort in Zambia just over the border from the town of Victoria Falls (30 minutes by car). Tongabezi guests can go to the island for lunch, sitting at a table within 15 feet of the cataract edge. The resort itself has four large safari tents as well as four suites, each furnished with sunken baths and four-poster beds. The suites open directly onto the river, which is wide, serene, and majestic at this point. Three of them?Tree, Bird, and Honeymoon House?are impossibly romantic. Dog House, on the other hand, is just that. Tongabezi has a swimming pool, excellent food, and an ineffably tranquil atmosphere. $536-$676. 260-3-323235; fax 260-3-323224; e-mail: email@example.com.
Hotel and Safari Camp
VICTORIA FALLS HOTEL One legacy of colonialism is a clutch of storied hotels, places like Raffles in Singapore, the Mamounia in Marrakech, and the Peninsula in Hong Kong. Along with the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town, The Victoria Falls Hotel, which opened in 1904, is the premier example of the species in sub-Saharan Africa. A recent top-to-bottom renovation has renewed the property. The public rooms could serve for a Merchant Ivory film on Edwardian Rhodesia, and the guestrooms?all now air-conditioned?have handsome colonial decor too: dark wood accents, framed etchings, chintz wallcoverings, and old-fashioned brass bathroom fittings. The hotel is long on atmosphere (a cup of tea on the terrace in late afternoon while watching the clouds of spray sent up by the falls is utterly memorable); a little shorter on service (though the overall level is good); and very short on food. Iodine-tasting shrimp in salad at lunch and canned asparagus at dinner (this in a country that exports fresh stalks to Europe) are unacceptable. Our advice: Feast on the first-rate afternoon tea, eat lightly at dinner, and devote yourself to dancing to the accomplished band that plays in the evening. Two other things to note: Specify a full-length bed when you book (some rooms have beds that are a bit short for six-footers); and don't expect to see the falls from your room. They're not visible from the hotel proper. Most romantic room: Batoka, an executive suite with perfectly framed views of Victoria Falls Rail Bridge and the gorges. $446-$884. 263-13-4751; fax 263-13-4762.
MATETSI SAFARI CAMP This luxurious new Conservation Corporation Africa camp has a most unusual problem: You can sometimes see more game from the bath or pool than you can on a game drive. That's because Matetsi Safari Camp is strung out on a low rise overlooking an expansive vlei, an Afrikaner word meaning a natural clearing in a woodland. A stream traverses the vlei (plus the camp has created a water hole), so on any given morning or evening animals naturally congregate here. (During my stay I saw a herd of some 300 buffalo parade by the property.) On the other hand, until recently this block of land was a hunting area, which means that when the animals see or hear a Land Rover they get skittish. (The fact that hunting still occurs on adjacent blocks of land doesn't help.) The camp is part of a vast unfenced ecosystem that includes both Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe and Chobe National Park in Botswana, so in the long run the game will be plentiful. When I was there though, it seemed a bit thin on the ground.
Still Matetsi Safari Camp has much to recommend it. The 12 spacious air-conditioned guestrooms are "tented chalets,"?they have peaked canvas roofs and masonry walls. The understated, handsome interiors are done in teak, and the bedspreads and fabrics in traditional Shona designs. The units here are identical, except for the view, numbers 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, and 12 being the best in this respect. The public areas are just as stylish, with African artifacts and ceramics, open fires, elegant wooden furniture, and acres of teak decking.
Game drives are done in top-of-the-line eight-cylinder Land Rovers, which are very smooth and quiet. It's too bad night game drives are prohibited in Zimbabwe, because the tangled woodland around the camp is well suited for it.
Keep in mind: Seasonal migrations of game make July through September the best months here, especially for buffalo and elephant. Approximately 45 minutes from Victoria Falls. $700. 27-11-7847077; fax 27-11-7847667.
By Gary Walther
Hotels and Lodges
KATETE SAFARI LODGE I wasn't able to get into this four-year-old lodge, but from the looks of it I think it is certainly worth trying. Contemporary and more luxurious than Bumi Hills, Katete crowns a hill, 600-700 feet above the lake. From the pool there is a vast panorama of water and shore, where scores of animals graze?an African Peaceable Kingdom. The 17 rooms are in round, thatch-roof buildings furnished in wicker and mukwa (a dark wood that resembles teak). They have double vanities, old-style claw-foot tubs, and balconies with a fabulous view of the lakefront. The lodge has a 30-square-mile concession that it shares with Bumi Hills. One tip: Come in September, when the lake is low. The grass uncovered by the receding water is what draws the game. $646-$969. Zimbabwe Sun Hotels; 27-11-8862130; fax 27-11-8863432.
KIPLING'S LODGE This two-year-old lodge pulls off the hat trick: unusual location, stylish accommodation, good game viewing?and by boat, no less. The 10 guestrooms, each a reference to a Kipling poem, are rondavel-like, but with the front cut away so you have an expansive view of the bush. The downside: no air-conditioning, but the roof is high and the ceiling fan powerful. There are lots of pleasing design touches?four-poster timber-frame bed, private deck, lots of closet space, and a bath/shower area nicely disguised by a curved wall that doubles as a backdrop for the bed. The resort crowns a small hill right on the lake, which was created by damming the Zambezi River (thus the scores of dead trees protruding from the water). Skip the game drives: They traverse monotonous bush that until recently has been hunted (the adjoining property still is), so the game is skittish. But by all means take the boat ride. Scores of animals come down to the grassy shore of the lake to graze: We cruised right up on a pair of elephants who completely ignored us. Make sure to have the driver take you up the lake past Bumi Hills and Katete, where particularly large quantities of game congregate on the shore. (The lodge tends to stick to the lakeshore directly opposite.) The other must-take excursion is to the bird rookery down the lake: At dusk, cormorant, egret, and sacred and glossy ibis come back to roost. When they're all perched silhouetted by the sun, the effect is breathtaking. $530. Shearwater Adventures/Wild Africa Safaris; 263-4-757831; fax 263-4-757836.
BUMI HILLS I wasn't able to stay at this vintage property because it was booked up, but I was impressed by my inspection tour. This is a hotel, not a game lodge, even though it offers game drives. It sits on a bluff overlooking Lake Kariba. Guestrooms are smallish, but nicely done?wicker furniture, pleasing fabrics, lots of wardrobe space. The rooms to get are those in the Lake Wing with a lake view. You can sit on the deck with binoculars and watch scores of animals down by the grassy lakeshore, including bathing herds of elephant. $646. Zimbabwe Sun Hotels; 27-11-8862130; fax 27-11-8863432.
By Andrew Powell and Gary Walther
The Best Delta Camps
The Okavango Delta is a singular ecosystem, a 150-mile-wide wilderness of channels, islands, and reed beds. There are numerous camps here, all offering accommodation in large safari tents (no air-conditioning), with shower and toilet usually in a thatch-roof annex. They fall into two categories: water camps, where activities revolve around rides in a mokoro (the traditional dugout canoe of the delta) and birdwatching (not game viewing) is the draw; and safari camps, on or near enough land to offer game drives. The best months for visiting are June to September. Here are thumbnail sketches of eight top camps.
ABU CAMP It is the only delta camp offering game viewing on elephant-back. Luxurious accommodation, but a steep price: $5,500 per person for a six-day/five-night stay. Owner Randall Moore has a reputation for being difficult?he refused to let us come over and look at the camp?but many people nonetheless love his place for its novel approach and luxury standard. One caveat: However novel elephant riding may be, you may see more game from a Land Rover. Reservations: 267-661260; fax 267-661005.
CHITABE CAMP Good game viewing at a new and stylish camp. (See The Ultimate Southern African Safari for details.)
JEDIBE ISLAND CAMP A classic water camp deep in the delta. Rich birdlife. (See The Ultimate Southern African Safari for details.)
MACHABA CAMP Small safari camp (eight tents) near Moremi Game Reserve, the heart of the delta. Tents look out on the Khwai River; elephant, impala, and hippo can be seen from the porch. Well run, if on the basic side; good game viewing. $850. Ker & Downey; 800-423-4236; fax 713-917-0123
MOMBO CAMP Hands-down the best place in the delta?and one of the best in southern Africa?for game viewing, especially leopard and cheetah. (See The Ultimate Southern African Safari for details.)
SAVUTI CAMP Small camp (five tents) with a wonderful location, the Savuti Channel. Wildlife viewing is fabulous, second only to Mombo, and sometimes effortless, thanks to the water hole in front of the camp. More than 40 individual lions have been identified in the area, plus two rare antelope: roan and sable. Tents are comfortable, but not in the class of Chitabe. $750. Wilderness Safaris; 27-11-8830747; fax 27-11-8830911.
SHINDE CAMP A water camp with a beautiful location, right on a lagoon. Lots of polish: The long dinner table is beautifully set at night, the food varied and better than the run for such camps, and the dining area is now an elevated pavilion looking out on the lagoon. Don't miss the dusk birdwatching foray to Gadwike Island heron rookery. Caveats: Game drives started late when we were there?7:30 a.m. instead of 6:30, missing the best hour of the day; rangers were inarticulate. And there weren't enough rods and reels on hand to satisfy the demand for tigerfishing?odd since it's a camp specialty. Things may have changed. $850. Ker & Downey; 800-423-4236; fax 713-917-0123.
VUMBURA CAMP One of the best combination camps, meaning game drives and mokoro rides. The eight tents are on raised teak decks, have plunge pools and a high standard of furnishings. Scenic area; good, not great, wildlife viewing. $690. Wilderness Safaris; 27-11-8830747; fax 27-11-8830911.
By Andrew Powell and Gary Walther
KINGS POOL CAMP A cold towel and a cold drink upon arrival; an imposing, thatched-roof, open-air lodge with a gorgeous vista over an oxbow lake; and even a small swimming pool and sundeck: Kings Pool Camp strikes a brilliant balance between creature comforts and creatures.
That's immediately apparent in the 10 guest units, a clever hybrid of tented and thatched-roof accommodation. Each one consists of a large fly tent, within which is a smaller tent that contains the actual living area, and an attached bathroom in a thatch-roof building. The whole is mounted on an elevated deck, which is not only conducive to cooling breezes but gives the rooms the feel of a tree house or bungalow. The spacious area at the front of the deck, shaded by the fly tent, is a fine place to while away the middle of the day reading, hippo-watching, or armchair birding. This two-year-old camp, located near the Linyanti River on the Botswana-Namibia border, has a 250,000-acre concession. ("The last twenty minutes of your flight was over our area," concession manager Angus Scholto-Douglas told me.) The presence of so much water makes for rich game viewing and birdwatching. Large herds of elephant come down to the river in the evening; there is a resident pride of lion (we saw them at dusk, still sacked out under a tree); and two hippo pods live in the oxbow lake (and bicker all through the night).
Scholto-Douglas was the manager of South Africa's Mala Mala when that lodge was voted Africa's best hotel. Kings Pool Camp has the same efficiency and conviviality. $750. Wilderness Safaris; 27-11-8830747; fax 27-11-8830911; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.?G.W.
CHOBE NATIONAL PARK There is nowhere else in southern Africa where you can get as close to elephant as here. In the dry season (May-October) there are some 75,000 elephants, probably the largest congregation in Africa, in the general vicinity of the Chobe riverfront. The problem is that the park is one of the few places in Botswana that have succumbed to crass, unregulated mass tourism. Thus the game drives are a waste of time?a case of charging around a circuit with dozens of other Land Rovers.
So here's what to do. Hire a boat and go elephant viewing on the Chobe River. On the water it is possible to get absurdly close?20 feet in some cases?to large tuskers as they graze, wallow, and bathe. And they look a lot bigger from ground level.
As for accommodation, I suggest Chobe Chilwero Lodge, although it is the best of a bad lot. When I visited in fall 1997 I found it to be stale, old-fashioned, and badly in need of a shake-up. However, as we went to press we learned that the lodge was likely to be acquired by Abercrombie & Kent. That may portend abrupt improvement; however, it may also mean that the lodge is open only to A&K tour participants. At presstime plans had not been finalized. The lodge itself is in a good location, and it accommodates only 16 guests. For rates and reservations, contact Abercrombie & Kent: 800-323-7308.?A.P.
By Andrew Powell
Camps and Lodges
DAMARALAND CAMP One of the more memorably surreal sights in southern Africa is that of a herd of elephants striding across the bright-red sand dunes of Damaraland. These are Namibia's so-called desert-adapted elephants, which have learned to survive chiefly on moisture obtained from their food. There are other similarly adapted species here?springbok, kudu, oryx, and around 300 elusive black rhino?but elephants are the reason most people make the difficult trip to Damaraland Camp, even though there's no guarantee you'll see them. (I was lucky and did.)
You fly in a light aircraft from Windhoek (75 minutes) to a short, rough, landing strip in the middle of absolutely nowhere. The camp itself is extremely comfortable, with eight large tents, each with its own shower and toilet. Life under canvas doesn't get much more agreeable. The food is good, and in general the organization is commendably slick.
The chief virtues of Damaraland are a sense of immense space, a therapeutic silence, and otherworldly views. On moonless nights the stargazing is astonishing. The downside is the sterility. There are few birds, almost no flowers, and the animals are thinly spread; but all are desert-adapted species found almost nowhere else. Damaraland is an extraordinary place; however, you have to be keen on elephants and not averse to a moderate degree of discomfort. Go in October, but be prepared for extremes. When I was camping at Damaraland the temperature rose to 105 just after lunch, and at sunset fell 40 degrees in a matter of minutes. $400. Damaraland. Wilderness Safaris, Johannesburg, South Africa; 27-11-8841458; fax 27-11-8836255; e-mail: email@example.com.
ONGAVA LODGE This 7,700-square-mile reserve in northern Namibia is one of southern Africa's great national parks. Despite the spectacularly bleak landscape, the area contains an amazing number of species. These are obliged to congregate at water holes (most of them man-made), where the interaction between predators and prey can make the game viewing particularly dramatic. Over the years the spectacle has provided high-adrenaline footage for countless wildlife documentaries. The best way to see the national park is to stay at Ongava, a small lodge set on a hillside overlooking its own 86,000-acre private reserve. The wildlife viewing at Ongava is good, and the landscape is more wooded and forgiving than out on the immensity of the pans. An intermittent game reintroduction program is in progress, but there is already a range of species established here, including lion and elephant. I also saw the property's only white rhino. Ongava being private land, it is possible to drive off-road and also to walk in the bush accompanied by a guide. And as Etosha is just a 15-minute drive away, guests have the best of both worlds.
The lodge's 10 thatched chalets are spacious, tranquil, and contain all the amenities of a hotel bedroom. Each has its own deck, from which there is a magnificent panorama of wild Africa, a view also shared by the lodge's swimming pool. As with most safari lodges, meals are taken communally and the food is from a buffet.
A single-engine, six-seat Cessna Centurion brings guests in from Namibia's capital, Windhoek, a 90-minute flight across superbly hostile and dramatic terrain. The best time to visit: September and October. $440. Etosha National Park. Wilderness Safaris, Johannesburg, South Africa; 27-11-8841458; fax 27-11-8836255; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
JEWELLER H. KNOP German-trained goldsmith Horst Knop has lived in Namibia for more than 30 years. He collects African art and has a fondness for raffia design (small cloths featuring geometric patterns made in Zaire). That's clearly evident in his work: for instance, this hand-knitted silver necklace with a pendant handcrafted in 18-karat yellow and white gold ($3,671). The pendant's center stone?a blue-green tourmaline?is offset by two trilliant-cut (rounded triangular-shape) diamonds. "Triangles are prevalent in raffia design," he says. "Africans have a great sense of geometry, and geometric shapes are often combined in African art with organic forms." Kaiserkrone Centre, 11 Post Street Mall, Windhoek; 264-61-228657; fax 264-61-249123.?Capucine Irato
About this Guide
Prices In U.S. dollars.
Hotel and safari camp/lodge prices are for double occupancy during high season and range from the cheapest double to the most expensive suite.
Meal prices are for dinner for two, excluding wine and service, unless otherwise noted.
Menu Items Cited Current at the time of the review, but may well have changed by the time you dine at the restaurant.
Telephone numbers The country code for South Africa is 27, Zimbabwe is 263, Botswana 267 and Namibia is 264.
Cape Town telephone numbers The telephone numbers listed were accurate at the time of publication. However, we learned that telephone numbers beginning with 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, and 26 will soon have a 4 before them. Thus, 21 will become 421, and so forth. We suggest you check with telephone directory assistance to confirm your number.
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For assistance, call 800-443-7672. From abroad, call 602-492-5000 collect.
Member of Fine Hotels, Resorts & Spas.
Disclaimer: the information in this story was accurate at the time of publication in July 1998, but we suggest you confirm all details with the service establishments before making travel plans.