Luxury bush accommodation Gauteng – Kwa Maritane

Exciting news! We’re flying to Gauteng next month to check out Kwa Maritane, a luxury bush lodge in the Pilanesberg National Park. We’ve never been on a family ‘bush break’ holiday, so I’m really excited to check it out. The boys have never been on a professional game drive either, and I’m so excited to experience it with them! They have a Junior Rangers program for the kids, and a gorgeous looking Spa where Graeme and I will be spending some time too! I’m especially excited about the Game Drives and the Bush Braai Boma. You can view all their activities here > Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge Activities.

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The lodge is located on the slopes of an ancient volcano, in a malaria-free area. They’re situated 2 hours from Johannesburg, 3km from the local airport and 10 minutes from Sun City. We do a lot of exploring around Cape Town, so we’re all really excited about this trip and to see what Kwa Maritane is all about. We fly out on the 14th of August and we’ll spend 3 days exploring the lodge and its facilities. In the meantime, here’s a sneak-peek of what we’ll be up to. All images supplied by Legacy Hotels, Kwa Maritane.

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My Paris itinerary for September

Two weeks ago, I booked and paid my flights to Paris. This week, I collected my visa! I’m putting a lot of effort in to the planning, and a lot of muscle behind the excitement. Things that I love in life include travel, research, organizing, making list and schedules. So this is like the best time of my life right now, you understand? Other things that I love is heritage, art, art history, literature, writing and poetry. DO YOU UNDERSTAND. I have incredible friends who have given me the best “Paris” advice, like Vanessa and Keri and even complete strangers and acquaintances like Rebecca have gone out of their way to get in touch and share some info with me.  I am so grateful and treasure every little bit of advice. This trip is costing me quite a bit, so I don’t want to waste entire DAYS doing things or getting stuck somewhere that I don’t actually want to be.

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I am going alone. Graeme went to Cannes a few years ago (although it was a work trip) and logistically it makes sense for him to stay with the boys for this trip as they are still very little. Although we have my mom that would love to have them for a few days, and Graeme COULD come with, Paris is not a destination that he’s super passionate about at all. In his words, he said he’d rather go somewhere remote like (his actual words) Antarctica or climb Kilimanjaro. How our marriage has survived this long, I just don’t know.

To be honest, I want to go alone. Some people find that horrifying, but I absolutely love being on my own. Being alone is my comfort blanket. My actual sanctuary. I know that my boys will miss me (and I will miss them like mad), but they just spent 4 days with my mom and apparently only missed or mentioned me once or twice. While I’m away, the boys will be at school and super busy with extra murals. I’ve got little plans to leave a present and letter for them to unwrap every day while I’m gone. I’ve also scheduled my flights so that I leave on a Sunday night and get back on a Saturday afternoon, so I’ll still have the weekends with my little family. In reality, the person who will probably feel my absence the most is Jack. I think the boys will really enjoy their ‘daddy’ time and I’m sure that Graeme will spoil them with special dates and activities. The thought of going as a family on our first trip is just a bad idea. I mean, we can’t even go to Cavendish together.

Another point to mention is that when I’m in Paris, is that I don’t want to eat at a single restaurant. At all. I’m not a foodie, and mostly view food as a necessity – sustenance. I get a buffet breakfast at my hotel every morning and I’m not a big eater, really. I’m happy to grab fruit and cheese at a local market and shove it in to my bag to snack on throughout the day. Food doesn’t interest me. Another thing is that I don’t want to do any shopping or go to any shopping centers. Sure I love clothes, but I am not big on shopping. I am not going to Paris to eat or shop, because that’s just not me. I am going to Paris to see art, write, paint, walk, learn, grow and explore. So these are the things that I’m keen on.

A lot of the pictures are shared from Love Made Visible’s Paris blog posts. Their travel pictures are phenomenal – go read her Paris posts! The other pictures are from the official websites linked below. Do you have more suggestions on where to go? Or did you find any of these to be a total waste of time? I am getting mixed ‘reviews’ on Versailles. Is it worth the trip? Here’s my must-list!

Musee D’orsay (image by lovemadevisible)

I can’t explain how excited and overwhelmed I feel. I can’t believe that I’m going to see some of my favourite artworks in real life. From Degas, Monet and Renoir. I’ve read at least 17 articles in search of tips and tricks, like to start at the top and work your way down. To go AT opening time. To pre-book tickets. I really want to buy some art prints and stationery, and I’ve already browsed their online shop and created a budget for it.

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For obvious reasons. I know that people suggest NOT going as the queues are intense and it gets super crowded (and the Mona Lisa is small) but I’m going to pre-book my ticket and have it sent to the hotel. Again, gonna try go super early. On Thursdays the museum is open at night, so I might do a night visit too. I AM SO EXCITED.

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Musee de’l’orangerie

I am only going to see the Water Lilies. They’re in Tuileries Gardens, so maybe I can ride my bicycle around there and try find that funfair that’s around there, if it’s still around. The museum has exhibitions going all the time, so hopefully I’ll discover some new work! I’m really excited about this tiny little baby museum.

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Montmartre City Tour  (image by lovemadevisible)

Rebecca told me about this free tour and sent me the site! It says > Hidden in the North of Paris, Montmartre joined the city year 1860 and became the place for bohemians, artists and courtisans including Van Gogh, Picasso, Renoir & Degas. I’m staying in Montmartre in a sweet little hotel, so I’m dead keen on this tour!

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Paris Bus Tour

Obviously I am doing this! I might buy a 2 day ticket and use it to get around and spread the trip over a few days. I don’t know, but I sure as heck want to be a tourist and learn all about Paris. The tour also covers all the main sights that I don’t really, really want to spend time at, like the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame and Grand Palais. Maybe I’ll do this on my first day so it will help me gather my bearings. I am awful at directions!

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Funfair next to the Tuileries gardens (image by lovemadevisible)
I don’t know if this will still be here, but I’m keen to cycle around here and take a few photos. I might pack a picnic in my backpack for the day and just spend the entire day cycling and having little picnics with my notebook all over the place. Or I might be super hung over and sit under a tree all day, people-watching. Who knows?
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Montmartre – Place du Terte – a square full of artists

I want to get my portrait sketched or painted by one of these guys. Maybe they’ll have a nice piece that I can buy? I’ve purposely saved loads of wall space in my office for art. Graeme doesn’t like the impressionists as much, so I have full reign over the office (I am assuming)

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Seine – paint something.

I haven’t painted in years and I’ve really been itching to. Even if it’s awful, I can always say “I painted this in Paris”, you know? Any suggestions on where I can pick up some acrylics and brushes or am I allowed to take that kind of stuff in my luggage?

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Shakespeare Bookshop – write something (image by lovemadevisible)

I really want to write a few short stories. I have some ideas in my head and want to spend a lot of time just fleshing out a few adventures. I found the perfect notebook and pen for this – the pen is so important, right? I want to spend most of my time cycling around Paris with brushes, notebooks and my camera. Maybe a sneaky bottle of wine and some cheese, or buy some treats from local vendors. I am emotional as I type this.

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Seine boat at night 

A girlfriend of mine is going to be in Paris on my arrival day, so I’m looking for something fun to do. I’ve seen some pictures of the Seine cruise and seeing Paris by night, so I’m really hyped about this. Apparently they do dinner and a show too, but I don’t really want that part. I’m looking for other boat companies that just do standard night time river cruises. It’s going to be the end of summer / beginning of autumn.

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Crazy Horse Cabaret

Again, I’ve heard such mixed things about the Moulin Rouge and so many blogs have said that this is a super cool alternative. More authentic Paris cabaret. There won’t be any ballet on while I’m there, and I love theater… so Crazy Horse it is! Apparently it’s incredible.

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Belleville – Cafe Aux Folies

I’ve always wanted to see Belleville, and apparently this cafe was an Edith Piaf favourite. I’ve been reading up on most of the places I want to go to to see if there’s a bit of history or emotional connection there. Any other great cafe’s you could recommend in Paris?

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Le Marais (image by lovemadevisible)

I don’t really know if I want to visit here, to be honest. Everyone says it’s super amazing and beautiful, but I don’t know if it’s worth spending an afternoon here? I imagine sitting in this cafe with a few glasses of wine and people-watching for a few hours with my notebook. Anything else I should see in Le Marais?

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Sundowners – les Ombres

Okay so I found the holy grail of great restaurants and hotel bars that all have an excellent view of the Eiffel Tower. I don’t want to go UP the tower, but I wouldn’t mind having a few cocktails while looking at it, you know? Apparently I’ll see a lot of great cafe’s in the area, but I’ve made a list for back-ups!

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Rent a bicycle in Paris

Maybe this is something I can do while exploring le Marais? Maybe I can ride around Luxembourg gardens? Or around Canal st Martin? I’ve been looking for pretty places to cycle around and also I’ll need a backpack! And a map.

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I’m going to have a ‘general’ plan for while I’m there, but I’ll probably end up missing one or two things. Please add any travel or Paris advice. I’m super keen to learn from you guys, and to make my first trip as awesome as possible. Again, not keen on malls or restaurants because it’s just not my personal vibe. Any websites you found helpful would also be great! If you have any suggestions, I would love any and all advice. An interesting Parisian to follow on Instagram? A useful website? A great tour or a way to skip the queue at museums? A nice place to hire a bicycle? A great online booking resource for museums? Really anything is so appreciated. Where do the artists hang out? Where can I buy certified art prints? Is the Crazy Horse really better than the Moulin Rouge? I am a huge art lover, but I really don’t want to see the Dali, Picasso or Rodin museums just based on personal preference. I want to go wine tasting, but don’t know where. Please let me know if you want to add to this list! Please please.

 

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The Cellars-Hohenort. Luxury travel in Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town Hotel

Last weekend we went to visit and spend two nights at the beautiful Cellars-Hohenhort. I’d heard so much about this beautiful hotel and estate, and it lived up to every expectation we had. The Cellars-Hohenort was originally established as a refreshment point for ships traversing the oceans to gather spice imports from Asia.

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The Cellars buildings is located on nine acres of beautifully maintained land in the Constantia Valley of Cape Town. Their gardens are award winning, and won the Relais & Châteaux Garden Award in 2010. The boys had such fun running around the gardens, chasing squirrels, feeding the geese and ducks and playing a few games of casual tennis. <sidebar> there will be no tennis champions in this family, but they had a lot of fun.

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Originally known as Klaasenbosch Farm, this property first belonged to the chief surgeon of the Dutch East India Company, Hendrik ten Damme, in 1693. In 1991, Liz McGrath purchased the Cellars building to restore its historical beauty, transforming it from a simple country guesthouse. In 1993, McGrath began an extensive renovation that saw the hotel reopen its doors. How beautiful? Liz McGrath passed away earlier this year, and her heritage and vision lives on here. We felt so honored to spend time here.

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We stayed in inter-leading rooms in the main building, with the boys occupying a Double Room and we had a Suite. There’s a door to close off and lock the passage, so you have your own mini house with a kitchenette, 2 bathrooms, 2 bedrooms and living room all to yourselves. Both rooms opened up to a patio / verandah with little tables and chairs and direct access to the lawns and pool area. It was incredibly private, so we didn’t have to worry about the kids being noisy or anything like that. We felt so relaxed and the kids were occupied and entertained the whole time. Amazing.

Cape Town Constantia hotel and spa

Double Rooms at The Cellars-Hohenort each offer either a view over the garden or open onto a terrace overlooking the lawns.

The room fee(R3850) includes:

  • A welcome bottle of wine
  • A fruit platter
  • Slippers and bathroom amenities
  • Romantic turndowns, with sparkling wine, for honeymooners
  • Tea and coffee making facilities in the room
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi
  • A bottle of water at turndown
  • Hot water bottles placed in beds at turndown in winter
  • A complimentary newspaper

They have three resident cats who will stop by and pay you a little visit. The boys called this one “socks” and there was a ginger one that they played with in the lounge while we were finishing off our dinner. The kids were highly amused that neighboring geese popped by for swims in the pool, much to the caretaker’s distress, I’m sure. We felt right at home.

The Cellars South Africa

We need to talk about the food, because you’ll be excited to see what Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef Peter Tempelhoff gets up to in the kitchen. We had dinner on the first night and every dish was absolutely incredible. They’re running a great Winter Special in the Conservatory at the moment: 3 courses for R210 pp. If you want to treat your husband / girlfriend / mother / wife / father to a delicious meal in an exquisite setting: Go here! They’re situated on 93 Brommersvlei Rd, Constantia and you’ll love the Fern Bar, Martini Bar and Conservatory. NOTE: The Greenhouse is currently undergoing renovations.

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Cellars Hohenort

And then we really need to talk about breakfast. If you’re looking to seriously impress someone or treat a loved one, then you absolutely need to to bring them to The Cellars-Hohenort for breakfast. I have never in my life seen such a gorgeous room and setting. I love how the outdoors carry through to the indoors with loads of botanicals and inspiration from nature in all the decor. You really feel like you’re dining in a greenhouse.

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The Cellars-Hohenort also has a gorgeous Wellness Center and Spa on the grounds, including a hairdresser and even a few boutique and jewellery shops. I had a 90 minute Dermatologica facial and felt a bit ‘hollywood’ when I walked out of there. The spa is gorgeous and the treatment rooms have stunning, private views of the gardens too.

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We had a really great time as a family, and there were loads of local couples and international holiday makers there too. For locals, I’d say this is the perfect spot for a romantic anniversary celebration. There’s a Martini Bar with luxurious lounges and a huge wall to wall fireplace. Go for a picnic on the lawns, play tennis, go for massages and ask for the ‘romantic turn down’ at night, with bubbly and rose petals. You’ll enjoy the quiet and tranquility, as well as the luxurious finishes at The Cellars. Find more information here > The Cellars-Hohenort.

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 11.51.45 AMPlease note that all pictures and views are my own, and not those of The Cellars-Hohenort or The Liz McGrath group.

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It’s that time of year again. Hellooooo Knysna!

In this Parenting Life, “July” means several things. School holidays. Flat panic. Winter = entertaining kids indoors. Extra expenses for nannies, camps, holiday care fees, additional extra murals, activities and all-round moaning from children nationwide. It also means a break from packing lunches and lifts (if kids aren’t in holiday school) but for most of us, it doesn’t. Because my office is at home, and I’m mostly away teaching workshops or in meetings and training; child entertainment is KEY. Every year I try find cool things for the boys to do, hire ALL the movies, organize play dates and try get them out the house when I can. Schools close this Friday for us, and I’m pretty darn afraid to be honest.

For the past two years, I’ve been writing about the Knysna Oyster Festival (3 – 12 July). The first year was with one of my (now) besties Keri, and we did we adventure side of things. Think zip lining, township tours, elephant sanctuaries, boat rides in the RAIN and bungee jumping. And also many wine and oyster hangovers which you could pool with ‘adventure’ if you really think about it. Survival skills? It was FUN and crazy. Many an evening wobbling back to our hotel and snuggling at the fireplace with Charlie, Knysna Hollow’s resident cat. I remember the night before our bungee jump, we’d got back to the hotel pretty late from events. We sat on the porch and shared a bottle of wine while calling our dads for pep talks on the big ‘jump’. Sitting in the dark, in the quiet and giggling loudly ’til the late hours with Keri is one of my favourite memories. It really was an epic week!

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The following year I joined the oyster festival as a runner! Total contrast as it meant much less wine, earlier nights and a lot of pressure leading up to race day. Graeme came along for support and I ran my very first half marathon. Honestly, one of my proudest achievements to date. I had never been fitter, healthier or felt stronger. So last year I was there for the sporting side, which was absolutely incredible. The Knysna Hollow Pasta Party is such a vibe! All the athletes go there the night before the race with their families and heap plates of delicious pastas. There’s live music and the bar is crammed with holiday makers and nervous runners! I really enjoyed experiencing the festival from the sporting angle. After I completed the 21km Graeme fed me coke, energade, rehydrate and valoids (so. much. nausea) I had the longest afternoon nap of my life, and had never felt so proud of myself. Ever.

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I have great memories from the Oyster Festival and Knysna Hollow, so this year Graeme and I decided to go again and take the kids! I won’t be writing about the festival this year, so it’s strictly leisure. The festival grounds are flooded with kids and kids activities. Obstacle courses, bouncy castles, cooking, tents, baking, events, shows and not to mention all the family hikes, forest walks, cycle events and dozens of child friendly restaurants along the waterfront. Graeme promised that he’s gonna bungee jump this year too! And we’re taking the boys paragliding. We’re crazy excited.

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So this year, we’re doing the July holidays RIGHT. Graeme has taken a few days leave from work, I’ve cleared my schedule and we’re off to the Oyster Festival and Knysna Hollow again! I can’t wait to go back, because every year that I do, I feel so changed. Like re-entering the same lobby as a different person each time. And anyway, their rates are great and Graeme agreed to do the drive, so I am ready to pack and get going. Just two more weeks of school trips, lunch boxes and deadlines to get through. Knysna (home) Hollow, we’ll see you again soon!

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A Cape Town Steakhouse

We recently went for supper at The Butcher Shop and Grill in Mouille Point, Cape Town’s favourite Steakhouse. Their Sandton branch has been going for over 20 years, and they only opened in Cape Town about a year ago and already the place is packed almost every night – even Mondays. Desperate to satisfy Graeme’s steak cravings, we decided to try somewhere new and to see if The Butcher Shop is even family friendly at all. We put some smart shirts on the boys and drove to the seaside to see what all the fuss is about.

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Firstly, The Butcher Shop is super fancy. The decor, the plush finishes and modern twists on everything makes your eyes wander in every direction. I was suddenly worried that the boys and their child-like ways might not be welcome in such a sophisticated atmosphere, but I was so wrong. Everyone was really friendly, and there were one or two other kids in the restaurant too. Without a designated play area, we were a bit nervous about how the boys would behave, but you know – without a play area, they spent all their time at the grown up table and we had such a good time connecting with them. They sat at the table and chatted with us like little mini adults the whole time, and we really enjoyed that! It’s not often these days that we can all sit together and catch up without the television, toys, games, computer, dogs and a dozen other household distractions. It was also really nice to treat them to some proper and delicious food and great service. They were such little gentlemen the whole evening. While I want the kids to run and play and be free and joyful and a little crazy most of the time, it was really sweet to see them ‘clean up’ like that and realize that they can have fun without colouring-in pages and running up and down the aisles of a restaurant with a balloon the whole night. It was so special to watch them be such good (and civilized) little boys.

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The food. Was. Delicious. Graeme and I tucked in to the wine, and the appetizers (sausage, gravy and bread) arrived almost as we sat down. That kept the boys busy, cause kids love bread and dippy sauce, am I right? I ordered a few Oysters and Graeme had the Grilled Baby Calamari (with a lemon butter sauce). Their Oysters are locally sourced, ocean-fresh and plump. Every lemony, salty bite was just incredible. I’m a huge fan of oysters, and there’s nothing worse than overly creamy, cultivated ones. If you’re in to this delicacy, you’ll love theirs. Graeme said that the calamari was delicious but very, well – safe. Then again, so is Graeme. He always orders the same things, so when it came to mains – he chatted to the Master Butcher to make a recommendation. I have watched Graeme order the same meals at restaurants over and over again with a bleeding heart for 8 years, so it was great to have the in-house butchery right there to encourage his adventurous ordering side, you know?

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For mains, Noah ordered the Falafel Burger (vegetarian burger topped with a portabello mushroom, fresh tomato and tangy rocket), and Ben had the Shepard’s Pie (lamb mince with creamy mash). They do have a designated kids menu, but you can also split portions between kids, order from the starters or keep those left overs for the lunch box. The boys loved their food and it was good to see them eating something other than Mac n Cheese / Pizza / Fish Fingers at a restaurant. I can’t get over how much fun it was to watch them be mini grown ups. I want to take them FINE DINING now. Get them ties! Okay, no we won’t do ties. I mean, they even tucked their napkins in to their shirts. My heart!

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Graeme had the Kobe-style Wagyu Beef without any sauce. He wanted to keep it all natural and beefy. He said that the meat was really marbled inside (I don’t know what this means) and that it was super juicy and tender. And, like everyone else says > it really was the best he’s ever had. The Butcher Shop is obviously very famous for their meat. This from their site > Our meat hangs in carcass for three days. Then our rump, sirloin, fillet, ribeye, T-bone and prime rib are aged for 21-40 days, at which point we invite you to take a walk, stand at the counter and make your choice of a specific cut. Get it on or off the bone; grass or grain-fed. Also, did you know that SA beef is leaner in natural fat (11%) than beef from the USA (33%) and Europe (23%)

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I had the Line Fish, which was Dorado. I also opted to have it ‘clean’ with a horseradish sauce which I feel accentuates flavours rather than messing with the product. Graeme warned me about ordering fish at a steakhouse, but their seafood selection is extensive. I always want my fish to flake and break at the touch, and I got exactly that: Fresh, buttery and steamy Dorado was exactly what I wanted. Nothing was plated in a super fancy way and the presentation wasn’t exaggerated. You get what you order, in big portions with great quality and solid flavour. Traditional, uncomplicated and honest dishes have sent The Butcher Shop Group soaring for over 20 years. Their emphasis is on quality and service, and you’ll go back over and over again for more.

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Keen to go? Find them on Beach Road in Mouille Point (opposite the lighthouse) and call them on +2721 434 0813 to make a booking. You can also mail them to book: enquiries@thebutchershop.co.za. Want to see what you’re in for? View their menu here. Note that they are family friendly, and if you’re looking for an upmarket dining experience, you’ll find it here.

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Family travel memories – mine and yours!

When I was a kid, our family had our favourite holiday spots. We traveled a LOT as kids. My parents were / are huge outdoorsy adventurers. We went on holiday to so many places that I can’t even remember them all. We went camping throughout Mozambique for 3 weeks and saw the most incredible, untouched things. We drove for days, discovered new paths, dodged land mines, had near drowning incidents (raises hand) and honestly, had the greatest experience of my life. My parents did Botswana and the Okavango by Landrover, sleeping in their roof-rack tent. My parents used to own a bush camp / lodge / game reserve in Hluhluwe and I’d help my dad ‘hunt’ poachers and find snares on weekends. I have had some of the most unreal, African experiences of my life – mostly fuelled by my dad’s love and hunger for the bush.

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We stayed in manor houses and rode horses and canoed and got trapped by baboon spiders (raises hand again) Honestly, I can’t even remember where all these places were, but I remember the fun. The togetherness. The thrill of discovering new places, towns, houses, camps, oceans, rivers and mountains together, as a family. We roughed it sometimes. We stayed in 5 star hotels sometimes. Man, we really did everything. I am so grateful to my parents for giving us such an exciting and memorable childhood.

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Anyway. The one place we went to a couple of times was this resort called San Lameer. I’d love to go back there some day. I don’t even know where it is or if it still exists, but I have the very best memories there. I remember that place like it was right now. We must have gone there dozens of times, and it was packed with fun. I remember neon sunblock and holiday programs, a giant lizard, endless open space, villas with secret path ways in between. Swimming and sunburn and sand stuck in your cozzy. And that is what Grootbos is to my kids – and to us. Grootbos has become our family holiday spot, and we’ve gone once a year for the past 3 years now. It’s something that they will always, always remember.

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You know, before we left last for the last trip, I told Noah “We’re going to Grootbos” he didn’t remember the name, but I said “The place with the horses and the game room and pool” and his face lit up like a starry African sky. He drew a picture of a horse and said “This is Sparkles. I’m taking this picture for him.” I had no idea who Sparkles was, but eventually discovered that it was the pony he rode on the last time we were there. He remembered some of the staff, he remembered our room and every single little thing that we did. The boys were both DILLY excited about the trip. We’ve been there three times and we still haven’t done everything.

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You get a list of possible activities to do when you arrive, and over a cocktail the family sits together in the lounge and decide together what everyone would like to do. A must this year was their eco-farm where they grow all their own veggies and where their FREE range hens live and play all day. The nature safari was breathtaking and the guide was beyond what ee’d expected. I was on the phone to my dad every ten minutes telling him about the sugar birds and that they have over 750 species of fynbos and he fed me questions to ask the guide and it was just so incredible. The boys learned so much about nature. They were permanently outdoors. On horseback, in a jeep, on the beach, at a farm, in the nursery, in the fynbos, petting zoo or up a tree. The Grootbos magic is real, and I’ll be telling you more about it on their blog real soon. In the meantime: here are some of my favourite pictures from our last stay. As the boys get older, I’m getting quite emotional about all the memories they’re clutching on to. I can see it all being saved and stored, and I know that these experiences will feed and guide them throughout their lives. Being an earth-conscious child is something that I’ve always wanted for them. Read more about Grootbos’ responsible tourism initiatives. They’re situated just a 2 hour drive from Cape Town and just 30 minutes from Hermanus. View their rates and packages and take the family to experience it for yourself!

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Matjiesfontein and the Lord Milner Hotel – Karoo

Lorn Milner Hotel Matjiesfontein

I was recently invited by the Mc Grath group to spend an evening in Matjiesfontein, at the Lord Milner Hotel. I LOVE the Karoo, so I was super excited to explore this little village, rich in history and heritage. Firstly, I thought that Matjiesfontein was a town, then they said it was a village and when we got there, I realized it was really only one little strip of road. Matjiesfontein is TINY, friends. I was so charmed by this little community – population 320. There is one hotel, one motel, a bar, a coffee shop and well, that’s pretty much it. Some of the original buildings like the post office and the little bank had been converted to museums some time ago. The entire village is a national monument. Why?

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This tiny village, on the fringe of the Great Karoo, was founded in 1884 by legendary railway man, James Douglas Logan. Immerse yourself in living history; life here is a tribute to the early Karoo, the Anglo-Boer War and Queen Victoria’s England. Wikipedia says: Originally, Matjiesfontein was only a small depot and farm, however a Scotsman by the name of James Douglas Logan, who was superintendent of this stretch of railway, bought land at Matjiesfontein, moved there because of his weak chest, and opened a refreshment station for the passing trains. This was so successful that the business soon formed the nucleus of a growing village. Logan was unintentionally very influential in South African history as he had secured the catering contract for the railways through his friend in parliament, James Sivewright, and discovery of the corruption involved led to the fall of the first government of Prime Minister Cecil Rhodes in 1893

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The double-storey Milner Hotel was built in 1899 by James Logan, in the early stages of The South African War. The hotel was used as a military hospital during the conflict with British forces and the hotel turret was then used as a lookout post. Some 10 000 troops were camped around the village during this time. James Logan, founder of Matjiesfontein, died in 1920 and is buried in a little cemetery 10 kilometres from Matjiesfontein. His tomb is located next to the grave of George Lohmann, a famous English cricketer who spent the last years of his life in the Karoo.

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In 1968, David Rawdon, hotelier par excellence whose claim to fame includes establishing Rawdons Hotel at Nottingham Road, the well-known Lanzerac Hotel set in the Stellenbosch vineyards, the Marine Hotel Hermanus, and The Drostdy Hotel in Graaff-Reinet, purchased Matjiesfontein Village. After performing extensive renovations and utilising the wealth of antiques gathered during his world travels, David reopened the hotel in 1970, renaming it The Lord Milner Hotel.

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The extravagant Royal Lounge portrays the life of James Logan and other famous Victorian personalities who occupied or visited the village over the last century. The grandeur of Matjiesfontein stretches back to a heyday when the village was a fashionable health spa that attracted visitors from all over the world, including Lord Randolph Churchill (father of Winston), Cecil John Rhodes, Rudyard Kipling and of course, Olive Schreiner.

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And you know what? You will completely understand why so many literary greats and artists were so attracted to this village, and why you will be too. It’s a popular wedding venue (because you can literally hire the entire town) and I’m definitely going back with the kids. They will LOVE the transport museum, old courthouse, the lush gardens, pools, open space, fresh air and the museum. We did a night tour of it, and I was scared near to death. Not to mention all the ghost stories. Do yourself a favour and google “most haunted building in South Africa.” Yeah, they only told me that part on the bus. I was legit terrified you guys.

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Please visit this quaint little community. You will absolutely love it. Be sure to take the old London bus tour for the shortest tour in the history of mankind, and a completely hilarious experience. Johan Dippenaar (hotel manager, fire chief, police captain, museum curator and I forget what else) is an incredible host and you simply must spend some time with him and hear all the insanely cool stories. You feel special just being there, and you’ll never forget it.

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Spier, Cape Town

A few weekends ago, and after literally hundreds of recommendations over the years – we finally went to visit Spier. My mom is from Cape Town and says that she used to take us there as kids too. In fact, Spier was first established in 1692 and boasts the oldest wine cellar in the Western Cape. You have to take a quick look at the Heritage Timeline to fully comprehend the history of this pristine and luxurious estate.

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I want to quickly tell you that Spier has EVERYTHING. Everything. They have the hotel, restaurants, farm, swimming pools, kids play area (and babysitter / childminders) tasting room, picnic areas, dam, river, spa, art galleries, vineyard sedgeway tours, craft market, Eagle encounters, conference facilities and deli. For guests there are also bicycles and golf carts available to get to and fro with ease. The staff is incredible and very welcoming. The rooms are spacious, private, cozy and luxurious. Every little detail is covered, including little toy boxes for the kids!

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Spier is super child friendly! Not once did we feel that our boys were being too loud or busy. In truth, they probably were but there is so much space at Spier that they could just take off, run around and be totally free while having insane amounts of fun. They loved the kids activity / play room which is kitted with very sweet child minders, cartoons, toys, games, books, puzzles and loads of lawn to run on. They spent an hour or so here while we were settling in and having a quick look around. You can also let your littles play here while you do ‘boring grown up’ things like wine tasting or chocolate pairing – or even a long lunch! The kids can order meals and drinks to the kids room, which is super convenient!

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We spent day one riding around on the bicycles and exploring the estate. We went to a chocolate pairing (while the boys had a grape juice tasting – SO CUTE) They even bring treats, colouring pages and crayons to your table if you have restless little feet with you. The boys got really in to the grape juice tasting! They quite enjoyed being all grown up with mom and dad. We walked around a bit more, looking at all the dams, picnic areas, veggie gardens and the manor house.

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For dinner, the estate had arranged an in-room babysitter so that Graeme and I could have a romantic little dinner at the gorgeous “Eight” restaurant. They boys played in the play area some more, then went back to their room for an early dinner picnic. Have a look at Spier’s Kids Facilities and Daily Program for Kids. Eight is so. incredibly. beautiful. The food was among the best we’ve ever tasted. The menu is served tapas style and I was blown away by the selection, the flavours and freshness of every little mini meal. We had a very special time. I loved getting all dressed up and getting some one-on-one time with Graeme. I can never stay away from the boys for too long, so I ensured that we were back in time to tuck them in.

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On Sunday morning we headed straight to the hotel’s buffet breakfast, which we ate outdoors to the melody of the pianist. There’s something so romantic about someone playing the piano amongst muffled breakfast chatter, shuffling cutlery and taps of crockery. We had a solid night’s sleep and a huge appetite. Such a beautiful setting for a lazy, hungry breakfast!

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We were super eager to get to the Eagle Encounters, which we’d heard so much about. You need to go, and you need to take your children with you! They will be completely transfixed by the dancing owls, the bird show, the eagles, the petting farm and the friendliest of all the porcupines. You will love all of it too, of course. There are play areas and you can take your own picnic (or they will pack one for you) and settle along the dam, under a giant oak tree. Now, when entering the owl enclosures: I have to warn you that they are VERY friendly. Like sit-on-your-head friendly. One owl particularly took to Ben’s head, which gave him a huge fright. You’ll see in the photos below that he quickly recovers and laughs it off. The photo is, however, being printed and mounted on canvas for our home. Also… spot Noah covering his head! You have been warned. You will have fun.

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Spier’s entrance is opposite a train station, and on Sundays the vintage train makes its way down that route. Give Spier a call and I’m sure they’ll be able to help you with all the details. You can spend the entire day on the Spier Estate and not see all of it. There is so much to do! If you’re afraid of missing something, they’ve got it all planned for you.

This was one of the best weekends of our family life. If you’re going to splurge on a weekend away – you should come stay here. If you’re from Joburg or Durban and you’re looking to visit and stay in the wine route – stay here. We had an incredible and memorable time on this gorgeous property that none of us will ever forget. I hope that you’ll go through and create your own memories too!

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For Cape Town residents and Easter Holiday Makers:  Do NOT miss this deal:

SPEND EASTER WEEKEND AT THE SPIER HOTEL

Spoil the family with a weekend breakaway and experience the farm life at Spier. The experience includes:

  • Accommodation in a Signature room for two nights
  • Wine tasting for two adults with a grape juice tasting for the children
  • Farm-style dinner for the family at the Spier Hotel restaurant
  • A picnic for the family
  • Eagle Encounters day pass
  • Ice cream at Eight-to-go for each child (max 2 children)
  • Kids’ art kit

From only R 2498 per room per night for a family of four (children under 12 years of age). *Minimum of a two night stay for a family of four. Terms and conditions apply. Children under 12 stay free when sharing with 2 adults (max 2 children)

Spier easter web-27 Wine Pairing - Easter picture LR

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