A Personal Observation on the Rise of Luxury Travel in South America

 

Iguassu Falls, Brazil/Argentine Border

Iguassu Falls, Brazil/Argentine Border

The following was written by Goway Travels Latin America Product and Marketing Manager, Don Forster:

Old-school Overland Buses, camping along the Andes

Old-school Overland Buses, camping along the Andes

As a former overland driver and expedition leader in South and Central America, I’ve witnessed over my lifetime seismic changes in South America, from coup d’etats, revolutions World Cups, the rise and fall of the drug industry of the 80′s, and most strikingly a shift in the quality of travel and accommodation in this wonderful part of the world. I can recall on those overland journeys arriving into many a city where we enjoyed the  “luxury” of checking into a simple, local hotel. Let me define luxury for a traveller who spends three or more months on a bus: hot water, a bed with clean sheets, and electricity. Mind you, we also camped quite a bit – but this was truthfully a way to ensure a certain level on consistent, reliable, decent places to lay our heads at night. During those days, accommodation choices in even major urban centres were often sketchy at best, except for the most exclusive hotels which were known more for their armed-security than for their amenities.

Awasi Atacama, Chile

Awasi Atacama, Chile

Oh how times have changed! I for one as a traveller have changed in my personal preferences and tastes. The world headlines have also changed, the violence and revolutions once typical of this region are gone and forgotten, and the entire region is experiencing years of stability, economic improvement and growth. The type of traveller to South America has also drastically changed. While there are still overland buses rumbling along the Andes, a new type of traveller is on the up-rise, a cultured, globetrotting traveller who’s been around the world and back has now pinpointed Latin America as very much on their bucket list, and as such there have been tremendous changes in the types of accommodation, touring, comfort, cuisine and style of travel here.

I am still an intrepid traveler at heart, so the choice of being “roughty toughty” during the day but relaxing in top notch accommodation at night is now an easy choice. My style now fuses hiking boots and local markets with exquisite cuisine and a private, local guide. I’ve traded the lurching overland bus to spacious air-conditioned vans with cold water and snacks on board… and I haven’t even begun to describe some of the well appointed train cars and rail travel options!

If you can’t already tell, I love all of Latin America, and arranging travel there is my professional pleasure. It’s a destination which still delivers excitement, even for someone like me who’s been there and everywhere, multiple times, and to do so in total comfort. The time is now right, as there has never been a better time to travel here.

The first destinations most globetrotters think of when considering South America are Peru and Ecuador, likely due to two world renowned sites: Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands. To journey here in style is easy, and below Ill provide specific examples.  After that, Ill try and give a quick run-through of the leaders of experiential hotel and travel experiences in Chile, Argentina and Brazil.

In Peru, Belmond Hotels, formerly Orient Express, endeavour to set the benchmark of exclusive accommodation, with properties like the Palacio Nazarenas or the Monasterio in Cusco, historical buildings turned luxurious hotels. They’re so incredible, there’s a compelling case to travel all the way to Cusco just to see them (They’re also next door to each other within a beautiful plaza, you might just have to stay at both!). Competing alongside them are local boutique operations such as the Casa Andina and their Private Collection series, Aranwa Hotels, or Libertador. All of these hotels however are noteworthy not just for their service, their cuisine, historical or modern architecture, but in the locations of the properties themselves, like the Sacred Valley, tree-lined avenues of central Lima, the shores of Lake Titicaca or in the shadows of soaring condors with the Colca Canyon.

As the saying goes, “the journey is more important than the destination”, so considering a phenomenal arrival into Machu Picchu from Cusco aboard the well appointed Hiram Bingham train, famous for it’s top-notch meals within it’s candlelit vintage dining car. Considering dinner, step out of your hotel in Cusco to experience the forefront of Peru’s gastronomic scene at one of many fine restaurants, one of my favourites being the Cicciolina restaurant. One cannot get to Cusco without first visiting Lima, and I’ve been actively encouraging my travellers to consider a private tour of the fascinating Larco Museum followed by a simple but fine dining experience with a Peruvian twist. The words “unique dining experiences” are a dime a dozen in travel marketing lingo, but one such experience I recognize is to journey into the sandy deserts south of Lima (you could visit the Nazca lines, or simply for it’s natural beauty as many are unaware of Peru’s desert coast), where a ‘Bedouin Tent’ of sorts houses a gourmet spread while you daze into a warm fire or the cool star-lit sky.

Grand Odyssey - Galapagos Cruise

Grand Odyssey, a 16 passenger Galapagos ship

Peru is easily a standalone destination, as is Ecuador, but both countries combine perfectly well together, and little Ecuador easily competes with their next-door neighbour in providing exclusive travel experiences. It’s hard not to begin by mentioning the Galapagos, which most of our travellers experience by small cruising vessel (although there are some land-based alternatives). The smallest ships carry 16 passengers, while one of the ‘larger’ ships is the La Pinta (50 passengers), which I suggest for those looking for a bit more space while on-board, which has a library, large deck areas and great chefs.

I’ve actually lost count of how many times I’ve been to Ecuador, but take it from myself as well as my sales-team – you must experience Ecuador’s mainland along with the Galapagos – it’s totally worth the extra couple days, and a lovely contrast to the drastically different islands. Ecuador’s vastly improved their rail network as of late, and while there are a few noteworthy routes, one combines perfectly with the Galapagos, travelling by rail from Guayaquil (where all flights to Galapagos touch-down in) to the capital and international airport of Quito. The high-altitude capital has a vibrant gastronomic scene, and we often send travellers to La Ronda restaurant, which consistently ranks as one of the cities finest. To properly round off the ultimate Ecuadorian travel experience my personal recommendation, having now done the Galapagos, the train from Guayaquil to Quito, would be to visit the cloud forest of Mashpi Lodge, 1-2 hours drive from the capital, where this eco-conscious, award winning hotel has only recently opened, and then finishing in the Otavalo region, home to one of South America’s best open air markets (great for souvenirs, plus decent leather goods too). For accommodation nearby, consider nothing other than the 400 year old Hacienda Pinsaqui, which has unique significance in South Americas history.

Explora Patagonia

Explora Patagonia

Differing noticeably from Ecuador and Peru are the much more European like Chile and Argentina. I’ve already mentioned I do enjoy ‘roughing’ it in the day, so for those like me – you’ve got to experience Patagonia, which can feel like a prehistoric slice of earth. There are a range of accommodation choices in the area which spans both countries borders, but Tierra properties in Chile are a sure-bet, and the architecture and casual-adventure focus greatly impress me. There mountain guides will share a drink with you as you peruse maps and plan your following days experiences, from mountain treks to horse-rides over the Pampas… both great reasons to end up in their excellent Spa. In Chile’s North you’ll find the moon-like Atacama desert, set high amongst the Altiplano, where you might consider the brand new Awasi property, absolutely stunning! Far from Chile’s deserts and mountains, you’ll find one of the most exclusive travel destinations on Earth, the Easter Islands. Recognizable by their famous, stern-faced Moai statues, the terrain is quite interesting, and wild horses roam freely. Truthfully, accommodation choices on the island though are often considered ‘rustic’, but one of South America’s finest hotel chains, Explora, maintain a property here, and discerning travellers should consider this there only option, and totally worth it. One lunch to remember could be a private, picnic lunch beach-side on Easter Island, something we’ve received great feedback from.

Helicopter over Iguassu Falls

Helicopter over Iguassu Falls

Argentina might perhaps need no explanation for it’s quality travel experiences and accommodation, from Parisian like Buenos Aires to the wine lodges and gaucho ranches of Mendoza. Brazil appeals to me more often for it’s jungles – but foodies will know that Rio is home to one of the legendary Cipriani restaurants, set within the cities finest hotel, the Copacabana, where we’ve often arranged for our travellers to dine at the chef’s table. Brazil is one of 3 countries bordering the roaring Iguassu Falls where mere steps from the falls you’ll find the Das Cataratas, an oasis of luxury amongst thick, inhospitable jungle.

If you can’t tell – I could go on and on. With such advances in travel experiences in South America, I’ve simply chosen the most striking, stand-out experiences to list here. When you’re ready to experience South America, rest easy (no pun intended) in the knowledge of the rise of so many luxury travel experiences which I can promise you, were well worth the wait. If you’ve saved Latin America at the bottom of your bucket list, or hold it at the top, there has never been a better time to explore this phenomenal continent!

Peru meditation

Posted in Latin America, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Goway First to Offer Luxury Inca Trail Hiking

Peru Luxury Inca Trail LIT lunch tent

Peru Inca Trail_160384967The Inca Trail hike is at the top of the bucket list for any adventurous globetrotting trekker. It is an ultimate experience most relatively fit travellers can enjoy, and if you have the time, anyone who has done it will tell you it is the only way to get to Machu Picchu.

To step back for a second, there are a few ways to get to Machu Picchu, in Peru. You’ll have to visit the colonial town of Cusco, where we advise at least a few days to explore, and acclimatise to the altitude. Then, to get to Machu Picchu, choose one of the following 4 options:

1. By Train – There’s a few levels of train, the best being the Belmond operated (formerly Orient Express) train, the Hiram Bingham, passing through the sacred valley to arrive mid-morning. The train passes through the Sacred Valley of the Incas, a beautiful stretch of land you have to experience.

2. Trekking for 4-5 Days – This is the famous Inca Trail trek in it’s purest form. You can shorten it slightly, but it gives you less time in the ruins. Heavy bags are carried by professional porters, while trekkers carry a day bag. Simple tents, and simple but hearty food. There are few travel experiences which can rival the exhilaration of the final stage of the trek, where passing through a stone ‘Sun Gate’, the Lost city of the Incas is revealed, often enshrouded by mist.

3. The ‘Baby’ Inca Trail – A relatively new way to arrive, this trek involves being dropped off at trail which intercepts the main Inca trail, allowing trekkers to spend 1 night in tents before the climatic final leg of the trail arrives into Machu Picchu.

4. The ‘Luxury’ Inca Trail – This is the best of both worlds: The full Inca Trail trek, as it’s existed for centuries, with modern comforts, like hot showers! Trekking doesn’t mean you have to totally rough it. Tents are larger (Bedouin style) and include 2 ‘army-style’ cots (beds), meals are in spacious dining tents with candles, silverware, and crystal glasses, prepared by a skilled chef. A portable ‘tent-shower’ allows you to start or end night fresh and clean. And the best part is, on request, a professional masseuse can soothe sore muscles each night.

The Massage Tent, Luxury Inca Trail, Peru

The Massage Tent, Luxury Inca Trail, Peru

Make no mistake, the Luxury Inca Trail is a chance to physically challenge yourself, as you take on sections like Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest section (at 4200m). The days however aren’t just monotonous trekking, there are several smaller ruin complexes you’ll have the chance to explore. We feel though that the amenities of the luxury trek can allow for the evenings to be as memorable as the days. This is all about pushing yourself during the day, and rewarding yourself at night.

Peru Luxury Inca Trail LIT tent01Travel is, as the saying goes, about the journey, not the destination. This journey is one that will never be forgotten.

Below are some images of the equipment and facilities available to all of our Luxury Inca Trail trekkers

Posted in Latin America | Leave a comment

Luxurious Latin American Beach & Island Getaways

In dreaming of top beach and tropical holidays, some think of the Caribbean or South Pacific, why is it so many North Americans are unaware of the beaches of Belize, Costa Rica and the Brazilian coast lines? Stunning sandy beaches, interesting culture and cuisine, and unique resort experience differentiate this region from the mass-tourism of the Caribbean.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Belize is home to the 2nd largest coral reef in the world, the Belize Barrier Reef, and it’s coastline is peppered with cayes (sandy islands, pronounced “keys”), where one resort claims Latin America’s only (Tahitian style) over-water bungalows, at Cayo Espanto. There are 7 private villas, and by offering private butlers to each villa, Cayo Espanto redefined luxury accommodation across the Caribbean. Meanwhile, the most ‘famous’ beach area of Belize would be Ambergris Caye, and Portofino Beach Resort can claim to be it’s finest. The perfect mix of barefoot luxury, this property is accessible by boat only along pristine, unspoilt sandy coastline, with only 17 rooms, you’ll feel like the only one here.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Brazilian coastline is world-famous for its beaches, but 354 km (220 miles) off the coast lies the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha which consists of twenty-one islands and islets. This island is jaw-drop beautiful, but even more shocking is the fact that it formerly served as a penal island, and discovering that history can provide a fun back story to an incredible beach getaway.

Fernando de Noronha, off the coast of Brazil

Fernando de Noronha, off the coast of Brazil

Far more conveniently located is Buzios, which is the perfect add-on to a Rio De Janiero stay. A 2.5 hour drive from Rio, this small and sophisticated paradise was once a sleepy fishing village, it’s now famous for its blend of rustic charm, architecture, stylish boutiques accommodation and restaurants, not to mention the celebrities and paparazzi. Staying at the Rio Buzios Beach Hotel, steps from  Joao Fernandes beach, Buzios is where to escape the bustle and crowds of Rio’s beaches.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Costa Rica is famous for its rainforests, jungles and legendary beaches on both it’s Caribbean and Pacific side.  An eco-luxury resort on the gorgeous peninsula of Punta Quepos, Hotel Parador Resort & Spa is top-notch, standing out from a plethora of top beach hotels. Meanwhile the small boutique hotel and island, Punta Islita was developed in synergy with its neighbouring community, and is a world-class getaway featuring the charm, culture, and bewildering natural diversity of Costa Rica. Perfect for family vacations, couples, or just escapes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Manuel Antonio is considered the most beautiful coastline in Costa Rica. And no wonder. It’s as if Mother Nature herself sculpted the rocky coves and picturesque beaches. Discreetly integrated into this tropical paradise is Si Como No. Proudly occupying the most idyllic hilltop in Manuel Antonio, this award-winning eco-designed resort and spa provides its own signature version of barefoot luxury to all its guests.

Costa Rica Si Como No room 2

Tango Mar Beach Resort, located on a 150-acre private beachfront reserve along the Nicoya Peninsula on the Pacific Coast, offers the intimate exclusivity of a small, deluxe beach resort on a vast site where it is easy to find a space to call your own. Top experiences include relaxing at the two private beaches, taking in a 40-foot waterfall as it bursts through a cliff into the natural ocean pool below, or just improving your tennis game.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As you expand your horizons of where to take your next beach holiday, Central America and Brazil await you.

Tango del Mar, CR

Tango del Mar, CR

Posted in Latin America | Leave a comment

I discovered an unexpected peace in the middle of the Middle East

Petra's famous treasury, Jordan

Petra’s famous treasury, Jordan

This was originally published in the Globe & Mail newspaper in conjunction with Jordan Tourism, written by Heather Cleland. You can visit the original Globe article here, or visit Heather’s blog here for more stories. We’ve worked closely with Jordan for over a decade, and feel this message still strongly applies to this beautiful country.

A light breeze rustles my tent’s heavy canvas walls and I can tell, even in here, that the moon outside is full and brilliant. Crickets chirp just like they do back home. A few Bedouin men chat nearby in Arabic – a robust, tumbling language that, when you can’t make out the words, sounds more like a hummed, sombre lullaby than a conversation. If I ignored the news, I’d have no idea that I am in the middle of a country nearly surrounded by war and upheaval.

The Dead Sea continues to draw visitors for its health benefits and intrigue

The Dead Sea continues to draw visitors for its health benefits and intrigue

“The biggest problem Jordan has,” my guide Kamel al-Jayusi told us two days before, as we pulled out of Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, “is being in the middle of the Middle East.” He likens the country to a quiet house in a noisy neighbourhood. While Syria, Israel and Iraq – all of which share borders with Jordan – struggle through civil wars and political uprisings, Jordan has stayed relatively quiet, welcoming refugees from Syria at an astounding rate, and for the most part minding its own business.

Tourism in Jordan has waned in recent years in light of the surrounding tensions, but the country’s major attractions such as Petra and the Dead Sea still draw crowds (albeit smaller than they have been in the past). Despite my own hesitations about heading to the Middle East at a time like this, I wanted to see these wonders for myself. As it turns out, it was a quieter, more remote part of the country that revealed a peacefulness I had not expected to find in this part of the world.

After a couple nights in Amman, I head into the Jordanian wilderness to the Rummana Campsite in the heart of the Dana Biosphere Reserve, which spans 308 square kilometres of varied landscape, from rugged limestone and sandstone ranges to desert plains. The seasonal camp of 20 large canvas tents sits on a small plateau overlooking the Rift Valley.

The next morning, a bus drops my group 45 minutes from the campsite, beside a switchback road just outside the village of Mansoura. Eighteen kilometres away and 500 metres down, our next stop, Feynan Ecolodge, awaits. Our guide, Mohammed Daifallah, points out across a vast expanse of sandstone mountains that look like heaps of dried-up brown sugar, dusty and crumbling under a brilliant blue sky. That’s where we’re going, he tells us.

The bus takes off in the direction it came. It’s barely 9 a.m. and already the sun is daring us to do this.

We trek down the road until the pavement ends and the hills tower above us. Bushes of bright pink oleanders line the edges of the pebbled valley floor – two signs that the little stream that trickles down the middle has a feisty side. Rain, usually between January and March, can trigger flash floods that might raise water levels up to nine metres for a day.

This is Wadi Ghwayr (wadi is the Arabic word for valley and the country is full of them). We crisscross the stream and hop over boulders, and pretty soon the mountain walls close in on us as the stream leads us into a towering sandstone slot canyon. Walls up to 300 metre high block out the sun, bulging here and there, flowing around bends laced with swirls of oxidized sediment. At times, the stream pools and we trek through knee-deep murky blue water.

A couple hours in, we reach an impasse. The stream seeps under boulders that leave us at a 2.5-m ledge overlooking a three-metre-deep pool. A massive rock sits wedged between the walls of the canyon 30 metres above. The only way forward is to jump and then swim. Three local boys are already there and one assures me it’s deep enough, though his smile reads more like a dare than a promise. I hesitate, but take the plunge into frigid water. My toes don’t touch the bottom, but after a few strokes my knees brush rocks and I stand up again.

Just beyond the pool, the canyon widens again and palm trees reach down from above. The stream persists despite the widening wadi that now lets the sun in, but not for long. When the stream peters out as we leave the valley, we carry on without it. I trek along behind Mohammed until he points up a crevasse that juts into the hillside. It’s the continuation of the trail, but I would never have known it without him. I shrink into a patch of shade and douse myself in water. Mohammed clearly knows the lay of this land – he was born in a cave not far from here. He wanders off to the side, positions himself toward Mecca and prays as we wait for the others, so they don’t miss the exit.

It’s pushing 3 p.m., but it feels as if the sun has lingered at its noon-time height just to see if we’ll make it. We do, and just over the hill, just as Mohammed promised, we can see Feynan at the end of a dusty track.

Jordan Sunset Desert Wadi Rum Africa Middle East_173161586The lodge is seven kilometres from the nearest paved road, so most people don’t cruise by in their own car, but few arrive by way of Wadi Ghwayr. Most drive as far as the village of Qurayqura, where lodge staff transfer them the remaining seven kilometres on a dirt road through the desert. (I’ll go back that way in the morning.)

The 26-room lodge has little electricity – only in the bathrooms, at the front desk and a bit in the kitchen, and all of it is solar generated.

At night, Feynan is lit by candles made at the on-site candle workshop. Almost all of the 25 staff members are part of the local Bedouin community.

That night, on the rooftop terrace, we can hear a call to prayer echo off the surrounding desert hills. Once darkness falls, one of the staff sets up the lodge’s new high-powered telescope. We take turns peering through at what looks like a glow-in-the-dark sticker of Saturn, rings and all. We joke about how it can’t be real, it seems so cartoon-like.

Three-hundred kilometres away, Syria is fighting itself inside out as tensions leak out the north into Turkey and refugees spill out the south into Jordan. There’s unease to the northeast in Iraq and to the west in Israel. But here, in the middle of Jordan, in the middle of the Middle East, I stare up at Saturn and marvel about how something so far away, so abstract, can look so perfect close up.

Jordan Wadi Rum Africa Middle East_170064083

jordan-tourism

IF YOU GO

Royal Jordanian flies direct to Amman from Montreal, Chicago, Detroit and New York (JFK).

Staying safe: The Government of Canada advises travellers to Jordan to exercise a high degree of caution, especially in areas close to Jordan’s borders with Syria, Israel and Iraq. For more information or to register your trip to Jordan with Foreign Affairs, visit travel.gc.ca.

Where to stay:

Feynan Ecolodge: Recently selected as one of the top 25 ecolodges in the world by National Geographic Traveler. Rooms start at about $90, including breakfast. Lunch and dinner can be arranged, as can hiking and transport options.

Rummana Campsite: Managed by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), and is open from March 1 to Oct. 31. The site is equipped with a kitchen (meals available with prior arrangements), showers and toilets.

What to do: Hiking in the Dana Biosphere Reserve can be arranged through the RSCN. Guests of Feynan can arrange guides and trips through the lodge. Some routes require guides, while others can be self-guided.

All Travel Ideas to Jordan

Posted in Africa & the Middle East | Leave a comment

The Poacher who became a Pastry Chef

 

Peter Andrew, Poacher turned Pastry Chef

Peter Andrew, Poacher turned Pastry Chef

This story was first published as ‘The Story of Peter Andrew

Sitting poolside at Singita Faru Faru Lodge at tea time, in the dappled shade of the acacia trees, our guests are treated to a feast of sweet and savoury delights before their afternoon game drive. It is a wonderfully indulgent spread; all manner of cakes, candies and confections are on offer, all washed down with homemade lemonade, iced coffee and exotic teas. It might be very hard to imagine that the hands of the pastry chef responsible for these heavenly morsels were also once those of a poacher.

Poolside, Singita Faru Faru Lodge, Tanzania

Poolside, Singita Faru Faru Lodge, Tanzania

Peter Andrew was born in a small village on the outskirts of Singita Grumeti in Tanzania. At the age of 15, with no apparent employment alternatives available to him, he started poaching. He was a skilled huntsman and extremely fast on his feet, which made it easier to escape from conservation officers. This deadly combination made Peter a force to be reckoned with but it wasn’t an easy or ethical way to make a living.

 

Singita AfricaIn 2003, Peter was approached by Brian Harris, former Wildlife and Community Development Manager of Singita Grumeti, who wanted him to stop poaching in exchange for a job at one of the lodges. He was hesitant initially due to his lack of education, but after further prompting from his grandmother, Peter was eventually persuaded and started off helping with the construction of Singita Sasakwa Lodge. The following year, he was accepted as an apprentice in the kitchen at Singita Sabora Tented Camp, where he excelled in his position. Peter also took it upon himself to specialise in pastry and learn English so that he could improve his situation further. He developed so quickly in fact, that in 2005, Peter was promoted to Commis Chef and then moved to Singita Faru Faru Lodge in 2011 as a full-time Pastry Chef, where he remains a vital part of the kitchen team.

Peter’s achievements are numerous: he turned his back on poaching, found himself a wonderful new profession, worked hard to overcome his circumstances and changed his life for the better. He is rightly proud of himself, and he is an invaluable member of the Singita family.

Peter at work

Peter at work

Watch this short video as Peter talks about his story:

Stay of Distinction: Singita Sabora

 

Posted in Africa & the Middle East | Leave a comment

Tom Hanks in Egypt

Tom Hanks on SetTom Hanks has finished shooting scenes for “A Hologram for the King “in Egypt’s Red Sea resort city of Hurghada. He left Egypt July 21, 2014. The film, based on the novel by Dave Eggers, is about a struggling U.S. businessman who travels to Saudi Arabia in a desperate attempt to secure an I.T. equipment contract with the King Abdullah Economic City being built near Jeddah.

Carvings on Columns, Luxor, Egypt

Carvings on Columns, Luxor, Egypt

Kamal Abdel Aziz, president of the Egypt’s National Film Center as well as a director of photography, confirmed that everything went well and that shoot had used underwater cameras in the Red Sea, a popular diving resort that has seen its international visitors number decline in recent years following Egypt’s 2011 revolution.

“We need to show that shooting film in Egypt is easy for foreign productions,” said Abdel Aziz. “We want to welcome international films to shoot by the Pyramids, the Nile, the Red Sea, the desert, Alexandria. We have a variety of locations.”

In addition to Hanks’ shoot, Egypt recently welcomed a team from Ridley Scott’s upcoming biblical epic “Exodus: Gods and Kings” to film in Luxor.

Posted in Africa & the Middle East | Leave a comment

Recipe: Moroccan Red Lentil Soup

Moroccan soup

From the book Art of the Slow Cooker by Andrew Schloss

  • Serves 6 to 8
  • Prep time – 10 minutes
  • Total time – 4 hours

Forget your “same old, same old” lentil soup and take a deep breath. Can you smell the cumin, the coriander, the whiff of cinnamon? Open your eyes and take in the burnt-orange glow of turmeric burnished with tomatoes and sweet paprika. Lentil soups may come and go, but this concoction will stick in your memory, not just for its heady aromas and hearty texture, but also for its ease and versatility.

Unlike dried beans, red lentils don’t need to be soaked before they’re cooked. You can substitute 2 cups small dried white beans, soaked overnight, for the lentils. For a meaty soup, sauté 1 pound boneless, skinless dark chicken meat or leg of lamb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, until browned; add the onion and proceed with the rest of the recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large onions, cut into medium dice (see Note)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin, preferably ground from whole seeds toasted in a dry skillet
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric
  • ½ tsp. sweet paprika
  • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1½ tsp. kosher salt
  • ½ tsp. ground black pepper
  • 7 cups vegetable broth (see Note)
  • 1 can (about 20 ounces) crushed tomatoes (see Note)
  • 2 cups dried red lentils, picked over, washed, and rinsed
  • ~ Pinch of red-pepper flakes
  • ~ Juice of 1 lemon (see Note)
  • 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

Steps:
1. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, coriander, cumin, turmeric, paprika, cinnamon, salt, and pepper, and cook for another minute. Add the broth and tomatoes and heat to boiling.
2. Pour the mixture into a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker. Stir in the lentils, cover the cooker, and cook for 4 to 5 hours on high, or 8 to 10 hours on low, until the lentils are tender.
3. Stir in the pepper flakes, lemon juice, parsley, and cilantro, cover, and cook on high for 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Posted in Africa & the Middle East | Leave a comment

5 Unique Dining Experiences in Africa for Globetrotters

 

The dining car aboard the Royal Livingstone Express

The dining car aboard the Royal Livingstone Express

For the true Globetrotter, travelling is about so much more than ticking off the ‘must-see’ places. It’s about discovering hidden gems off the beaten track, meeting the locals, trying out new experiences that take you out of your comfort zone, and it’s about tasting the food of the country, often in unusual and exceptional places. Here our Africa team share 5 special culinary experiences which will, as they say, not only tickle your taste buds, but all your senses!

1. Royal Livingstone Express (Livingstone, Zambia)
The Royal Livingstone Express offers discerning guests the ultimate fine dining experience going back in time to the age of steam train travel. This beautifully restored steam train (restored by Rohan Vos of Rovos Rail fame), consists of 5 air-conditioned carriages, 2 dining cars, a club/kitchen car, lounge car, and an observation car. Travel through the picturesque Zambezi Valley and the Musi oa Tunya National Park where guests may catch glimpses of white rhino, buffalo and other wildlife.

The gourmet dinner is beautifully presented and meticulously prepared, offering guests no fewer than five set courses (special dietary requests can be catered to with advance notice). Dress code is “smart casual.” No shorts are allowed

This unique dining experience is offered three times a week, it includes the 6-course dinner, wine, beer and soft drinks. The luxurious train leaves the station at 17h45 and dinner is served at 19h00. Guests will be returned to the Royal Livingstone Hotel at 22h00.

A Boma's Smiling Chefs

A Boma’s Smiling Chefs

2. The Boma (Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe)
When you’re planning the itinerary for your Victoria Falls holiday be sure to include an advance reservation at the often fully-booked restaurant, The Boma – Place of Eating (which we can certainly help you with!). Described as an unforgettable African experience infused with Zimbabwean cuisine, spirited performances and traditional African storytelling, The Boma has firmly established itself as a Victoria Falls highlight.

Partially open to the African skies, The Boma specialises in a superb selection of Zimbabwean dishes served on cast iron plates. The main course buffet offers mouth-watering grilled ostrich, buffalo curry, suckling pig on the spit, guinea fowl, game stew, kudu steak and even warthog fillet! There are also good vegetarian options and the adventurous are enticed with local delicacies, such as mopani worms.

Diners are treated to outstanding performances by traditional singers and dancers, and thrilled by a dramatic medicine man who will throw bones for you and tell your fortune. There is also a traditional storyteller who entertains guests with folklore tale. The acclaimed Zambezi Drumbeat provides a wonderful interactive drumming experience, encouraging all diners to take part in the evening’s festivities.

Chef Bruce Robertson's work

Chef Bruce Robertson’s work

3. Dine with Chef Bruce Robertson at the Flagship. (Cape Town, South Africa)

Chef Bruce Robertson at home

Chef Bruce Robertson at home

Chef Bruce Robertson is a legendary Cape Town character who is as known for his enormous personality as much as he is for his seafood. Robertson cooks a five-course gourmet lunch most days at his house, The Flagship. He only takes 16 people and you really are inviting yourself into his home for bubbly and conversation and a celebration of seafood. Everything is sourced from within 10 kilometers. For people who love seafood, wine and engaging with others, this is the place. Each course is meticulously prepared, paired with exceptional wine and hosted by Bruce. This is not a meal for those in a hurry, traveling with kids (they are not accepted) or seeking a traditional experience. It is, however, a meal you will remember. To see our prices and details of arranging a meal with Chef Bruce, check out our Boathouse Experience webpage
For a glimpse of the type of menu you can expect, see the following:

4. The Carnivore (Nairobi, Kenya)
Referred to as the ultimate ‘Beast of a Feast’, the Carnivore Restaurant serves a variety of meat including ostrich, crocodile and camel, roasted over charcoal and carved at your table. Since its inception the Carnivore has played host to over 2 million customers from across the globe including numerous celebrities. In fact the Carnivore visitors book reads like a global who is who! Whole joints of meat – legs of lamb and pork, ostrich, rumps of beef, sirloins, racks of lamb, spare ribs, sausages, chicken wings, skewered kidneys, even crocodile, and other tasty morsels – are roasted on traditional Maasai swords over a huge, spectacular charcoal pit that dominates the entrance of the restaurant.

The Carnivore doesn’t conform to the familiar restaurant traditions of passing out menus and waiting for people to order. Diners simply take their seats on the Zebra striped chairs and the movable feast begins. First comes the soup of the day then a sizzling cast-iron plate is placed in front of each guest along with a plate of home baked brown bread and butter. An army of carvers wearing zebra striped aprons and straw hats then move from table to table carrying the Masai swords laden with different prime meats deliberately carving unlimited amounts onto the sizzling, cast iron plates in front of each guest. Accompanying the meat feast is a wide selection of salads and vegetable side dishes, and also a variety of exotic sauces made from the Carnivore’s own recipes and stacked on to a double storey-revolving tray in the center of the table.

The feeding frenzy doesn’t stop until defeat is declared by the over-fed guests who signal that enough is enough by lowering of a white paper flag perched atop the central tray. This is followed by dessert and coffee. The full meal including a soup course is at a set price. A vegetarian menu is also offered!

5. Ricks Café (Casablanca, Morocco).
The spirit of the movie Casablanca is alive and well in downtown Casablanca. Rick’s Café is the fruition of a 2-year tourism project by Kathy Kriger, or Madam Rick, an American woman who has lived in Morocco since 1998. The interior of the multilevel former medina residence has been restored to resemble the era depicted in the movie, and is dominated by the central courtyard with its authentic 1930s Pleyel piano, where local pianist Issam Chabaa re-creates the ’40s and ’50s Tuesday to Sunday night; the Sunday night jam session regularly hosts international jazz musicians. If you’ve never seen the movie, it’s screened nightly in an upstairs dining room that’s decked out in movie memorabilia. The cafe is also Wi-Fi connected.

Lunch offerings include Moroccan standards such as lamb tagine, as well as chili con carne and even a good old-fashioned hamburger. A separate dinner menu is printed daily — and is encouraged to be kept as a souvenir — where six plats du jour accompany regular dishes that include a goat’s cheese, arugula (rocket), and fig salad; filet mignon with pepper sauce and sautéed potatoes; and the gloriously sweet Rick’s cheesecake. Saturday night is Oyster Night, which sees the oyster supplier’s son, resplendent in nautical attire, shucking out the fleshy meat for each guest. The bar is easygoing and satisfies every thirst, from the local Casablanca beer to French champagne. There’s also a rooftop pergola bar during the warmer months, offering sweeping views of the port. Note: Rick’s requires appropriate attire, with no shorts or flip flops.

Posted in Africa & the Middle East | Leave a comment

Flying Saucer?  No way…it’s a Tourism NZ dronie

NZ Drone ImageAny globetrotter planning a visit to New Zealand in the near future should keep an eye on the sky and lookout for a pretty cool way of taking a ‘selfie’… with  NZ Dronies!   This is an innovative new trend where selfies are shot using flying drones to create personal videos – will be hitting New Zealand’s mountain ranges this winter (the North American Summer – right now!). Tourism New Zealand’s drone begins by recording a close up portrait of the subject, then quickly pans out while flying up and away to show New Zealand’s breathtaking scenery, creating a short film about eight seconds long.    The resulting video can then be shared with friends on all social channels via #NZdronie.

The NZdronie will be travelling around key South Island destinations during July and August, hitting the ski slopes of Coronet Peak, Cardrona, Mount Hutt and Mount Cook ski areas. NZdronie will be available in both Queenstown and Lake Tekapo.  General manager of Tourism New Zealand in Australia, Tony Saunders said the drones will “add another dimension to the way people share their holiday memories”.

“New Zealand’s scenery is unparalleled so we wanted to give visitors the opportunity to show their spectacular surrounding to friends via social media, blowing a traditional selfie out of the water.

“If a picture says a thousand words imagine what a dronie can do.”

More information about where NZdronies can be found and a videos of them in action are available on the 100% Pure New Zealand Facebook (facebook.com/purenewzealand) and Instagram (instagram.com/purenewzealand), or Youtube pages, or check this promotion out below:

 

Posted in Australia & the South Pacific | Leave a comment

Recipe: Gluten-Free Hazelnut Cupcakes – Radisson Blu Hotel Sydney

Radisson High TeaWe are happy to share a prized recipe from one of our favorite hotels in Sydney, the Radisson Blu Hotel.  This is offered as part of the hotels famous High Tea which is available daily from 10am to 4pm.

We thought we would share our top 5 reasons to stay at this wonderful hotel, but just visiting for high tea would be worth it too!

  1. Incredibly central and convenient location to Sydney’s iconic attractions and shopping areas – in the centre of everything!
  2. It’s actually a stunning heritage listed building
  3. Top 10 5 star hotel on Tripadvisor for Sydney
  4. Known for their exceptional customer service (and backed by the hotels 100% Guest satisfaction Guarantee)
  5. We left the BEST for last and that is …… FREE in-room wifi!

Enjoy the cupcakes, let us know how yours turnout!

The Radisson Blu, Sydney

The Radisson Blu, Sydney

Gluten Free Hazelnut Cup Cakes

Ingredients                              Quantity

  • Butter                                      120 gms (4oz)
  • Sugar                                       200 gms (7oz)
  • Whole Eggs                             200 gms (7oz)
  • Hazelnut meal                        500 gms (17oz)
  • Vanilla Essence                       a few drops (careful!)

Method:

  • Using an egg beater cream the butter until smooth, separate the egg yolks and add to the butter, continue beating till the egg yolks have blended with the butter, and the sugar and continue till the mixture has a smooth texture and the sugar has dissolved.
  • Mix in the Hazelnut meal and vanilla essence.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, fold the meringue into the hazelnut mixture gently.
  • Line a cup cake mould with paper cups and carefully pour in the mix until the cups are ¾ full.
  • Bake at 180 degrees centigrade (350F) in a pre-heated oven for 40 minutes.
  • Once baked, insert a wooden pick and it should come out clean.
  • Allow to rest for 10 minutes. Then remove and allow to cool on a wire rack before garnishing.
  • You can cover the tops with a variety of coverings, Chocolate, white fondant or flavored frosting.
  • This recipes makes approximately 25 pieces of 40 gms each

Tips:

  • Always pre- heat the oven to the set temperature before any preparation for a baked product, this maintains a proper even temperature.
  • Always use a dry cool bowl to mix ingredients.
  • All ingredients should be at room temperature.
  • The hazelnut meal should be as fine ground as you can find as this replaces flour and will not clump easily.
  • The cupcakes will not rise as much as a normal recipe with flour and baking powder due to the density of the meal.
Posted in Australia & the South Pacific, Uncategorized | Leave a comment