By Tilly Smith Dix
Our recent visit to the land of my blood and Andrew’s home of so many years, proved not only an eye-opener but a reminder of how affordable it is for visitors from abroad to savour the luxury and beauty of South Africa. I try not to let politics spoil my travels and I am delighted to report the ousting of a corrupt president and a new dawn, in which hope springs, made for a memorable as well as nostalgic journey.
After the long flights, which were smooth and superbly catered for on Singapore Airlines, we arrived at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo Airport, from where we travelled to Sandton on the fast and secure Gautrain, which took a mere 15 minutes. A short walk across the road from the station and we were in our preferred car hire office to drive to Clico Boutique Hotel in Rosebank.
Urban chic at Clico
The secure parking at Clico, exceptionally warm welcome and service at this chic gem only 10 minutes from bustling Sandton, turned the long flights from Melbourne into a distant memory. Having stayed in Room 9 before, with its generous view of the gardens and sparkling pool, it was a welcome respite from an aeroplane seat and my, did that firm and inviting king-size bed beckon after a leisurely soak in the tub! However, as we always try to get into the new time-zone from day one, we soon felt refreshed and ready for a light lunch in the restaurant.
This was our first dining experience in the chic Clico Restaurant, now firmly established as a preferred dining destination according to TripAdvisor. The bijou hotel, now in its twelfth year, is ideally located within minutes from the Rosebank business, shopping, Rosebank Gautrain and entertainment precinct, yet, stylishly tucked in the surrounds of its private urban garden tranquillity, complete with birdlife, with just a distant hum of the bustling road on its doorstep.
The mild summer’s day following welcome gentle rain earlier proved ideal for the staff to open the stacked glass doors to offer that effortless garden and home ambience, where the indoors blend seamlessly with the garden spaces, and guests are easily tempted to dine in romantic, private spaces.
Judging from the other diners’ chatter and body language, they were as relaxed in this spacious yet intimate restaurant as we were. I noticed a lunch meeting in a quiet corner and a group of first-time visitors to the restaurant surveying the interior and surrounding gardens, nodding their approval. They became even more convivial when the service and cuisine exceeded their expectations.
I opted for a quiche and green salad of the day and Andrew selected a substantial biltong (succulently moist dried beef), and goats cheese salad, and a glass, or two, of South African brut bubbles for me. That long trek from Aussie was soon forgotten! The freshly baked, feather-light rolls were irresistible to Andrew, who savoured every morsel. Not bad for a guy who claimed not to be hungry.
The menu offered delectable choices, such as confit quail and mushroom ravioli but as we’d had way too much food served on our flights, we simply could not do justice to the fine-dining menu and were happy to have the choice of a lighter menu choice for lunch. Dietaries are catered for by arrangement too, no problem. Another tick in the box.
Owner Jeanette Schwegman, GM Sabine Seeger and their stellar team’s efforts result in this hotel and restaurant constantly ranking among the top-ten on TripAdvisor and I am not in the least surprised.
Refreshed by morning, we were ready to take on the rest of our journey after a breakfast fit for royals. Andrew’s poached eggs were perfect and my light cheese omelette was served with a smile. The choices of fresh fruits, artisan breads, cold cuts and hot breakfast combinations will satisfy any traveller and we were reluctant to leave this luxuriously cosy haven – www.clicohotel.co.za
Magical safari at Tau
After spending some quality time with some of our dearest friends and family, whom we do miss enormously in our new far-away land of choice, our next stop was Tau Game Lodge in the Madikwe Reserve, bordering Botswana, which is just over four hours’ drive from Johannesburg.
Listening to LM Radio brought back memories of my youth, with hits by evergreen artists such as The Beatles and Santana, which made the journey seem so much shorter.
I suggest visitors use the toll roads as the secondary roads are not always ideal. Most of the road is in good condition, and during our visit there were some road works in progress to enhance and improve the journey for future travellers. The short dirt road to Tau once entering the Madikwe Reserve was easy to traverse.
This Groot (great) Marico region, offers many yarns and historical tales of settlers of long ago, making for fascinating campfire conversations. Now home to the fourth largest nature reserve in southern Africa, the welcome sight of the Tshwene-Tshwene hills and the dramatic ridge of the Dwarsberg Mountains, exposing rocks of up to 2,630 million years old, with artefacts of the Stone and Iron Ages still evident in the dust, was a sight for sore eyes.
Our expectations were exceeded many times over during this visit. The rains had come early and the malaria-free region was clad in picture-perfect shades of green. The spectacle of myriad game at the waterhole, which is visible from all room and hospitality decks, proved highly addictive.
The newly enhanced Reception, Lounge, Dining Room, leisure decks, Bar, Boma and two pools, of which one is an infinity design, is the stuff leisurely safari dreams are made of.
On arrival in our Room 4, a Luxury Room, one glimpse of the waterhole from our private deck convinced us this would be the place to relax our travel-weary bodies after lunch. We were captivated by the pecking order right up to twilight, when reflections in the water of game parading at cocktail hour made for magical photographic memories.
The lodge is enclosed within the reserve, resulting in the humans being subtly fenced in, while the abundance of game, prolific birdlife and several crocodiles, roam free in this safari haven.
Dinner in the boma on our first night made for warm conviviality, complemented by wholesome South African food, including chicken curry, eland steak, succulent lamb chops, pap (firm African porridge) with chakalaka (chef’s special recipe of tomato and onion gravy). As for dessert, my hot favourite, baked ginger pudding with fresh cream, hit the spot. Dietaries are catered for on request too.
After a gloriously deep and satisfying sleep, it was time to arise for the 5,30am game drive. What a thrill!
Ernie, our game ranger, knows his turf and not only did his knowledge of the game, their proximity and habits impress us, but also his respect for the bush in allowing the creatures of the wild their space. Within minutes, we were photographing aged bull elephants, delicately foraging and breakfasting on new green flora after the rains, then white rhino and their young.
Ernie parked in a spot known as Ernie’s Golf Course, from where we could observe further game while savouring Amarula coffee and delicious buttermilk rusks. The scent of the African bush holds its own allure and never leaves your blood.
On our return to the lodge for breakfast, we came across two young lion, sleeping in the road. A concerned German guest whispered, “are they dead?” Our vehicle came to a quiet halt, where another Tau safari group was already parked alongside to observe this early morning catnap.
The two boys in their late-teens finally showed signs of life, rolling over, looking kittenish in the morning sun, before sitting up, sniffing the air and looking regal. As we drove further down the track, we saw some wildebeest with their calves and realised those two boys had sniffed breakfast.
Breakfast for the humans was a jolly affair on the modern Out of Africa- designed dining deck as guests were on a high after the wealth of game sightings on their morning safari. Here, again, we lingered as vistas of game at the waterhole proved mesmerising for all.
Watching the pecking order around the waters, where smaller game arrive, all with their own group activities and agendas, such as blue wildebeest trying to drive off an overly zealous bull, guarding their young, which were frolicking like happy kids, to zebra, often referred to as the clowns of the bush, galloping and playing, including myriad foal. Then there was a reminder why the magnificent waterbuck indeed ended up with such a name, complete with the white round circle, which we Africans refer to as the prettiest loo seat, wade into the water to dine on a buffet of water plants. I was a tad nervous about the crocs wanting to sample this perfect specimen but as the crocs are youngsters and feasting on fish and waterbirds at present, all was well in the drink, for now.
Birds nesting at the water’s edge at this time including the elegant blue heron, spoonbill, and comical Egyptian geese, to mention but a few. The smaller waterbirds, including those silly coots, did complain bitterly when a young crocodile, currently feeding on fish and small water birds, was circling for swim-through breakfast.
Back at our room, while freshening up for dinner, I managed to snap some images of elephants arriving outside our room deck at twilight for their own sundowners. This is wildlife photographic heaven, I kid you not. All you have to do is sit around and it happens right there at the waterhole, where the glorious creatures of the wild come to you. This, after all, is their domain. You are safely ensconced on higher ground and behind a fence low enough not to spoil your vision but strong enough, with just enough electrical current, to warn off the creatures of the bush.
Of course, the little creatures roam freely between the lodge and the reserve and we took delight in the playful interaction of the cute ground squirrels, which reminded me why they have always played a big role in children’s animated movies. Speaking of cute, the vervet monkeys and their offspring were up to their usual antics of affirmative dining, and staff had their hands full in chasing these impish thieves off the dining deck, where they would even nick the sugar sachets, with the smarts to tear and pour the contents down their throats. Andrew went to the cloak room and while I was taking pictures, a blue-bottomed male got away with half a cheese sandwich within seconds! Crafty little critters, so, don’t leave your room or deck doors open – word is they love bling and your smartphone could end up ringing from a tree.
Lodge Manager Tumi Senne and his team make it their business to memorise every guest’s name, to the delight of my husband, who was surprised when he was addressed by his name when served at mealtimes or when addressing a staff member for information.
Tumi knows this lodge and region like the back of his hand and extended a welcome of such warmth and efficiency, I fear he has ruined us for other safari destinations. He started work here years ago on Reception, working and undergoing training from grass-roots level, resulting in his now highly respected position as GM. He employs people with a passion for the job, trains and empowers them with dedication, resulting in an unforgettable experience for locals and visitors from all corners of the globe.
Chef John Karelse worked at Tau for several years, went off to the Cape for a while but missed this special place. As it happens, his job was available again and he stepped back in as head of the kitchen, this time with an accomplished sous-chef, who knows how to spruce things up for a special occasion. Here, it is about teamwork and therein lies much of the success of Tau, where the pride works as one.
On Valentines morning, the day of our departure, we were indulged further, with delicious chocolates, bubbles and orange juice to celebrate romance in the bush. Eggs to order, from fried to omelettes with fillings of your choice, sausages of many flavours, fresh fruits, breads and sweet cakes of delectable descriptions, my favourite being the mini-Danish. After a mochaccino and further sublime views of game at the waterhole, the time had come to tear ourselves away to hit the road as duty called and we had people and places to see. Of course, a new group of guests had arrived to savour a Valentines safari of the highest order.
The Tau Cubz Club, Tau Spa Oasis and Tau Conference Centre make this an ideal destination for family, leisure as well as corporate travel.
Tau Game Lodge opened its 5-star safari doors in 1995 and offers 30 rooms, from Standard to Luxury to Family Suites – www.taugamelodge.co.za
Glamorous fun at Fairlawns
The next day I had a lunch meeting with close colleagues who had become special friends over the years and this reunion was celebrated at the sensational Fairlawns Boutique Hotel & Spa in Morningside.
Since our last visit, the garden hotel was rejuvenated into a trendy hub, offering cocktail and dining choices to entice anyone, from corporate to leisure guests, to indulge in a feast not only for the designer eye but also the refined eye on service, good taste and fabulous vibes.
MD Michael Kewley has captained this delicious urban ship for some years and his vision has paid off. The reception is elegant and welcoming, and my first stop was to be served a glass of bubbles in the newly launched Muse Champagne Room, presented in collaboration with Perrier-Jouet. This oasis also has a charming atrium, making for a sumptuous mix of elegance and contemporary, where the service matches the trendy ambience, and exotic cocktails are a speciality.
My lunch guests were blown away by this transformation too and it took us a little longer to vacate this glamorous bar to be seated in the semi-private Manor House Bistro, which spills out onto the lavish Terrace overlooking the magical gardens and pool. Wisely, we were advised to dine in this location as Amuse-Bouche, the hotel’s flagship restaurant, was busy and we’d enjoy quality time for our group in the bistro.
What a lunch, what a gathering, what a venue, what service, what a menu. In two words: scrumptiously divine.
My starter of prawn tartare was perfectly portioned, the delicate flavours harmonising with the bubbles. My choice of main proved one of the most succulently seared salmon steaks I’ve ever savoured, served with another favourite, avocado. Perfection on plate and palate. I was not going to succumb to dessert but, pressure from my guests, who threatened not to have any unless I joined them, made for a delectable surprise, Amarula panna cotta. Wow, my second Amarula experience during this trip and my, oh my, did this sweet perfection hit the spot. Judging from the murmurs, grins, smacking of lips of my mates, their menu choices did not disappoint either. I know Twitter, Instagram, TripAdvisor and Facebook got busy but who could blame us? Sharing is caring and they are media buddies, after all.
Hats off to Fairlawns, its MD and stellar team – you’ve hit the jackpot and we will ALL be back. Thank you for making my day with you yet another amazing memory during this brief visit to Johannesburg and the beautiful country of my blood – www.fairlawns.co.za
6 thoughts on “Nostalgia and magic in South Africa”
Oh Tilly. Your writing is so eloquent and I can taste and feel Africa, the beautiful hotels and food all conjured up visions that made me want to book a trip immediately!
Thanks Angie, forever in our hearts.
Thankyou ,Tilly,for your super blog— made me hanker for the sun and the warmth from a very cold and snowy Wales!xx
Perhaps time for you to visit Lulu again? Thank you, dear Joan xx
Hallo Tilly !
What a fabulous read
(soos net jy kan )
Thanks, Karin xx