Eden on the Lagoon – Knysna and the Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa

Two years ago, the worst wildfire disaster in South African history befell the Garden Route, so named for its lush and ecologically diverse vegetation, lagoons, and lakes. A combination of drought, powerful winds, and abundant fuel in the form of hardwood forests and indigenous scrub lead to the stoking of a “mega-fire” that killed seven people, consumed more than a thousand homes, and razed hectare upon hectare of verdant coastal landscape to the ground.

Two years on, driving into the picturesque emerald town of Knysna, sitting pretty on its glittering throne of turquoise lagoon, it’s difficult to fathom the tragedy that occurred here. The vegetation has rallied, the people have rebuilt, and, as ever, this neck of the woods remains an utterly gorgeous holiday paradise for visitors from all over the country and world. And for two indulgent days, we would be calling it our home.

Nice, ne?

Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa

www.turbinehotel.co.za, +27 (0)44 302 5746

Our home away from home for our stay was the Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa, a fabulously quirky five-star hotel located on Knysna’s Thesen Island, a multi-award winning marina development in the scenic Knysna estuary. The hotel – one of Knysna’s most unusual – used to be a wood-fired turbine that powered the town, as well as neighbouring Sedgefield and Plettenberg Bay. Today, of course, its massive industrial machinery has been retired, artfully strewn about the hotel, and given a colourful coat of paint. What is an indelible part of the establishment’s history is now also, through décor, an indelible part of its present and future.

Turbine Hotel Knysna

A little too early for check-in, we dropped our bags off in the lobby, scuttled off to a miniature quay a stone’s throw away, and boarded a motorised pontoon barge for Featherbed Nature Reserve with a stop en route to admire the Knysna Headlands or “Heads” as they have become affectionately termed. The steep sandstone cliff faces, which serve as the gateway to the Knysna Lagoon, protect the estuary from the unbridled fury of the thundering Indian Ocean beyond, transforming it into a watery wonderland for boating and kayaking. It’s also created a favourable environment for the endangered Knysna seahorse to thrive in, as well as a plethora of beautiful birdlife, from African spoonbills, grey herons, and black oystercatchers to pied kingfishers, little egrets, and that most iconic of our country’s birds: the African fish eagle.

Featherbed Nature Reserve

www.knysnafeatherbed.com, +27 (0)44 382-1693

Featherbed Nature Reserve has long served as one of Knysna’s top attractions, offering visitors nature trails, hiking, birdwatching, unparalleled views of the area, and a decent lunch. Tragically, the nature reserve succumbed to the 2017 fire, losing a staggering 98% of its vegetation. But, in a heroic real-life demonstration of the phoenix rising from the ashes, the team at Featherbed Nature Reserve used the opportunity to weed out all of the alien vegetation and replant only indigenous trees and plants. Today, the reserve is carpeted with new growth of indigenous fynbos and coastal forest, and the towering trees they thought would never recover, came back from the dead.

The new, wholly reimagined offering (opened since December 2018) is elevated several storeys above its predecessor. The new restaurant, which boasts a bar, wedding venue, and conference facilities, is a gorgeous affair; riddled with botanical and nautical-inspired décor and masterfully crafted indigenous wood tables by a local artist.

The reserve also offers affordable tour packages, such as the Eco Tour, which includes a return ferry trip on the Knysna Lagoon; a 4 x 4 drive up the headland onto the reserve, stopping at spectacular viewpoints and to hear the specialist guide talk about the history, fauna, and flora; an optional guided 2,2 km walk through coastal forest and fynbos into ancient sea caves; and concludes with an outdoor buffet lunch of such epic proportions, you’d do well to starve yourself beforehand. All of this for only R700 per person, and they also have South African resident rates for winter, which never hurt anyone’s wallet.

A visit to Featherbed Nature Reserve is a pilgrimage that all visitors to Knysna should make, or so I thought as we putted back to Thesen Island on the still waters of the lagoon.

Turbine Hotel Knysna

Settling in and spa treatment

Back at Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa, we finally checked in to our rooms, many of which had balconies overlooking the spectacularly beautiful surrounding canals and waterborne suburbia. Each of the establishment’s 26 rooms has a unique name and theme (mine was the botanical room) and, of course, the hotel’s history is honoured with industrial elements like painted pipework and wall-mounted panels containing gauges and buttons. Yes, you are welcome to fiddle with them.

Turbine Hotel Knysna

After settling in, which included a hot chocolate, a quick nap in soft white sheets, and a restorative shower, I luxuriated under the sure, strong hands of my lovely masseuse at the Turbine Spa – is there any better way to dissolve the tensions of travel than with a spa treatment? A laid-back supper at the hotel’s Gastro Pub (with cocktails) doesn’t hurt, either.

Turbine Hotel Knysna
Turbine Hotel Knysna

Breakfast and bicycle ride

Breakfast is served in the hotel’s Island Café, which also serves a decent lunch and dinner. And after accosting the continental breakfast buffet, we grabbed a bicycle from the Turbine Hotel’s very own adventure centre, the Turbine Water Club – offers lagoon cruises, ferries to Featherbed Nature Reserve, kayaking, bicycle hire, and more – and struck out on two wheels to explore the estuary all the way up to the headlands. I don’t think I’ve ever sat down to a more deserved lunch and glass of rosé!

Dinner that night was taken at the Island Café – an exceptional, fall-off-the-bone lamb shank with vegetables and potato purée, which I washed down with a glass of Hartenberg Estate’s Alchemy Rhone Style Red 2017. One thing I greatly enjoyed about the Turbine Hotel is the fact that, in spite of its boutique status and compact lunch and dinner menus, it maintains a generous wine list, featuring beautiful picks from wine routes all over the Cape.

Turbine Hotel Knysna

Ancient Knysna Forest Walk

On our final morning, after another plunder of the hotel’s breakfast buffet table, we struck out for the Knysna Forest, the largest in South Africa, and went on a 9 km hike in the deep, cool shade of 900-year-old yellowwood trees. The tap-tap-tapping of woodpeckers, the liquid melody of orioles, and the harsh barking of Knysna loeries were the soundtrack to our adventure; that and the burbling of the streams that cut their way through the ancient thick tangle of vegetation and towering trees. One could scarcely imagine a more tranquil and deeply restorative place on Earth, and if you ever find yourself on the Garden Route, I urge you to visit the Knysna Forests and relinquish yourself to its verdant embrace.

Luxury base with a personality

Birdwatching, outdoor adventure, charming shops, a thrumming restaurant scene, and raw nature… Knysna is a unique and heart-achingly beautiful town that leaves a lasting impression. The Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa, a luxury accommodation with a personality (and with convenient connections to all of this action) is a highly recommended place from which to soak it all up.

Turbine Hotel Knysna

www.turbinehotel.co.za

This blog article was originally written for Southern Vines magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/08/20/eden-on-the-lagoon-knysna-and-the-turbine-boutique-hotel-spa/

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From Russia with Love

Avant-Garde at Hazendal Wine Estate delivers a harmonious fusion of South African and Russian cuisine

Before Avant-Garde, the only things I knew about Russia was that it’s the progenitor of vodka, the world’s best caviar, and a rather depressing novelist called Dostoevsky. And so, upon arriving at the sprawling Hazendal heritage farm and wine estate on Stellenbosch’s Bottelary Road, our expectations were a blank canvas with plenty of elbow room for impression.

Hazendal-Restaurant-1

Mark Voloshin, the owner of Hazendal, is Russian, which explains the colourful percolation of Russian culture and cuisine into the estate’s offering, from its authentic traditional tea ceremonies to its soon-to-open vodka distillery. That’s right: move aside craft gin. Beneath these charming Russian accents, however, Hazendal is most assuredly South African in heritage with its collection of Cape Dutch homesteads dating back to the late 1700s, right around the time that Catherine the Great was behind the wheel of the Russian empire. And it’s in Hazendal’s beautifully restored and elegantly dressed historic wine cellar that you’ll find the estate’s wine tasting lounge and flagship restaurant, Avant-Garde.

Hazendal-Restaurant-1

Getting to grips with Russian cuisine

Executive Chef Michélle Theron had little experience with Russian cuisine before her appointment at Hazendal Wine Estate. It was under the gentle guidance and encouragement of owner Mark and his family, and the tutelage of an experienced Russian chef that she dived deep and mastered a diverse cuisine that bears the influence of multiple ethnicities and social classes, from Northern Europe to East Asia and from the austerity of the impoverished peasant class to the exorbitant excess of the tsarist regimes.

Executive Chef Michélle Theron
Executive Chef Michélle Theron

Avant-Garde’s menu presents a subsequent fusion of South African and Russian flavours and ingredients, a musical composition that would have impressed even Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Presented with such a smorgasbord of delicious sounding dishes and perhaps a few words we had to run past Google Translate, we sent our waitron back to the kitchen with a single request: “surprise us.” Chef Michélle responded with a magnificent volley of fusion dishes that both entertained and educated our palates.

Hazendal Restaurant

Multi-course dining and wine pairing

We eased into our meal with an amuse-bouche of savoury pastry crowned with fennel-laced cream cheese and a generous dollop of black caviar, which we washed down with a golden flute of the Hazendal Scarlet Sails MCC 2014. Next, was a delectable constellation of starters paired with wines from Hazendal and surrounding farms along Stellenbosch’s Bottelary Road. Lightly smoked snoek and potato pampushki, Russia’s answer to croquettes, were served with Cape Malay curried sweet potato, apricots, and parsley purée and paired with the Hartenberg Riesling 2016; octopus terrine with a bright and lively salad of green melon, dehydrated tomato, salsa verde, chorizo, radish, and saltbush sprigs (pairing: Hazendal Sémillon/Sauvignon Blanc 2017); and asparagus, fennel, poached pear and pickled cucumber salad with Valley blue cheese from Riebeeck Kasteel (pairing: the Christoffel Hazenwinkel Cape blend 2017, a vibrant and fruit-forward, yet velvety Cape blend of Pinotage, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon.)

Hazendal Restaurant
Lightly smoked fish and potato pampushki, curried sweet potato and apricot, with a parsley sauce

This inundation of delicious and surprising dishes was followed by a Ramen style bowl of mushroom broth packed with bean sprouts, spring onion, tender slices of pork with crispy skin, a perfectly cooked egg, and springbok pelmeni (Russian-style dumplings). Then, we tried the winter-perfect slow-braised lamb on a bed of kasha (a savoury barley porridge) with hazelnuts and mushrooms, which, we were told, is traditional ‘peasant’ food in Russia; and roasted Kei apple-glazed duck breast with an apple and onion tart. I adored the upturned onion halves filled with Chef Michélle’s rich, savoury reduction. These main dishes were paired with the Goede Hoop Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 and Hazendal Chenin Blanc 2017 respectively.

Hazendal Restaurant

Dessert was no less impressive and just as artistically rendered as every dish before. We had the apple sharlotka, a classic Russian apple sponge cake topped with a flavourful apple and thyme ice cream in a milk chocolate encasing; and Anna pavlova with cream cheese custard, green tea sablé cookies, matcha coated milk rocks, strawberries, and cream. And while, by this stage, we were grossly over-filled, we managed to conclude the experience with that classic vodka cocktail: the Moscow Mule. How could we boast about our meal at Avant-Garde without a nip of vodka?

Hazendal Restaurant

Picture perfect setting

My early ignorant impressions of Russian cuisine – potatoes served with potato and a side of potatoes – has been completely obliterated by Chef Michélle and Avant-Garde’s sumptuous menu. Enjoyed in an elegant, classically attractive setting complete with hand-painted mural ceiling and a view of the wine cellar’s impressive stainless-steel tanks, Avant-Garde truly is a picture-perfect venue for long, leisurely lunches framed by Hazendal’s beautifully-crafted wines.

Hazendal Restaurant

Avant-Garde at Hazendal is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11:30 to 15:30. For bookings and enquiries, please email bookings@hazendal.co.za or call +27 (0) 21 205 5620 (bookings essential)

www.hazendal.co.za

This blog article was originally written for Southern Vines magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa:https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/06/19/avant-garde-at-hazendal-wine-estate-delivers-a-harmonious-fusion-of-south-african-and-russian-cuisine/

Holden Manz Wine Estate Delivers a Food and Wine Experience that is Pure and Unpretentious Luxury

We pulled up to Holden Manz Wine Estate in Franschhoek on a day that was the epitome of winter; although in her fine dress of vineyards and voluptuous mountain borders, this idyllic winelands town always manages to look beautifully dramatic on even the drizzliest of days. Situated in the southernmost corner of the Franschhoek Valley, sandwiched between the Franschhoek River and Stony Brook, the 22-hectare estate of Holden Manz boasts a unique terroir that is the progenitor of a range of truly exquisite red wines, including a ‘top 6 in the world’ Cabernet Franc and ‘top 10’ Merlot.

On the two occasions we have sampled Holden Manz wines before – the Franschhoek Summer Wine and Franschhoek Winter Wine festivals at which we had the Chenin Blanc and the Proprietor’s Blend, respectively – we were compelled by their depth of fruit, aromatic complexity, and pure elegance. And so it was with much anticipation that we swooned into the estate’s rustic tasting room to explore the full range before sitting down to a three-course lunch at Holden Manz’ restaurant, the Franschhoek Kitchen.

Holden Manz wine tasting

Holden Manz red wine Franschhoek

Our wine tasting was hosted by the dashing and charismatic Ruben, Holden Manz’ wine ambassador, who walked us through the estate’s very fine repertoire of award-winning wines, beginning with the lush and creamy Provence-style rosé, the gorgeous Chenin Blanc, and, the final white wine, the barrel-fermented Chardonnay 2018. Then, we embarked upon Holden Manz’ rich, elegant, and smooth reds, the grapes of which are grown in the topmost 16 hectares of the estate. To be quite honest, I would be hard-pressed to decide upon a favourite but under duress I suppose I would opt for the Holden Manz Syrah…and the Cabernet Sauvignon…and while we’re at it, the Reserve Merlot. Oh and their Visionaire, Cabernet Franc,and Big G Bordeaux-styleblend.

Do you see where I’m going with this? My absolute compliments to Holden Manz’ experienced and artful winemaker, Thierry Haberer.

Lunch at Franschhoek Kitchen

Holden Manz Franschhoek Kitchen
Franschhoek trout ceviche with yuzu mayo and horseradish crème

A rather gluttonous volume of wine later, we headed upstairs from the tasting room and cellars for a much-needed lunch at Franschhoek Kitchen, which has been rated one of the leading restaurants in a valley already lauded for its culinary calibre. In this classically beautiful, yet rustic setting with stunning views over rain bejewelled vineyards, we tucked into a feast crafted from fresh ingredients strictly sourced from the Franschhoek Valley.

For starters, we shared the gorgeous and velvety vichyssoise soup, served warm and paired with the Holden Manz Chenin Blanc, and the Franschhoek trout ceviche with yuzu mayo, horseradish crème, and a glass of the deliciously indulgent Reserve Chardonnay.

Holden Manz Franschhoek Kitchen sea bass
Sea bass with laksa (Malaysian curry) sauce and toasted coconut chips

For mains, we shared (again, because variety is the spice of life) the pork belly with pomme purée, peach gel, shitake mushrooms, vine tomato, and shitake jus with a glass of Holden Manz Reserve Merlot, and the sea bass, which came swimming in a rich, creamy laksa (Malaysian curry) sauce with toasted coconut chips. The wine pairing for this dish was the exquisite Holden Manz Syrah Reserve. For a sweet ending, we chose the triple chocolate mousse, apple tart, and a nip of Holden Manz Good Sport Cape Vintage 2014, by which stage we had slumped into a miasma of hedonistic pleasure.

Holden Manz Franschhoek Kitchen dessert
Triple chocolate mousse

Five-star accommodation

A visit to Holden Manz Wine Estate need not conclude with a meal. With the Holden Manz Country House being a stone’s throw from the tasting room and restaurant, guests – satiated with good food and wine – can collapse into the lap of luxury. This five-star guesthouse offers five spacious and lavishly appointed suites, all with breathtaking views of the upper Franschhoek Valley and the mountains beyond, as well as a pool, afternoon tea with homemade delicacies, sandwiches, cakes, and preserves, and generous breakfasts, featuring fruits from the estate’s orchards and eggs from their vineyard chickens.

Holden Manz Country Manor Franschhoek

Top culinary and wine experience

Holden Manz Estate owners Gerard Holden and Migo Manz, together with winemaker Thierry Haberer and every member of their staff, have created a wine and food experience that is every ounce as luxurious as it is unpretentious. There are few airs and graces here to dress up the offering because – no surprises here – absolutely none are necessary. Our first few encounters with the brand at Franschhoek’s seasonal wine festivals already had us impressed but our visit to Holden Manz took our impressions to stratospheric heights. Wine estate, fine dining country restaurant, wedding venue, wine tasting cellar, and luxurious five-star accommodations, Holden Manz has it all!

www.HoldenManz.com, +27 (0) 21 876 2738

One of a Million V&A Waterfront Restaurants, Firefish Manages to be “One IN a Million”

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have your tried-and-tested V&A Waterfront restaurant: the one you make a beeline for because you know the sushi is good, the wine list isn’t an insult to the wine educated, and the prices aren’t a total swindle. I know, right? Sounds like a bit of a unicorn at the V&A. The problem with this tendency is that restaurants like Firefish can sail under the radar, when in fact they more than meet all of the above criteria: the food is delicious (and healthy to boot), the atmosphere cheery and chic, and the views of Table Mountain a postcard of Cape Town you’ll take home and keep with you forever. And if all of that isn’t enough, Firefish is currently offering a winter menu special, which runs until 31stAugust 2019.

With all of this considered, I was seduced away from my usual V&A Waterfront routine for lunch at Firefish, hosted by the Kove Collection, the hospitality group behind this sophisticated harbour-side eatery and a portfolio of other South African restaurants, bars, and hotels.

Welcome drinks

Graham-Beck-Brut

Firefish Restaurant opened its doors towards the end of 2017, adding to V&A Waterfront’s existing cornucopia of eateries. Initially, the sheer variety of restaurants on the Waterfront’s Breakwater Boulevard can seem a bit overwhelming but once inside Firefish, its naturally bright and cheery interior and sophisticated, chic atmosphere drown out the noise and distraction of its neighbouring restaurants.

Firefish is an upmarket restaurant – and a Writer’s Choice Top Rated one at that – perched right on the harbour’s edge, yielding iconic views of the Cape Town harbour, from its tourist boats and restaurant-lined quay to the coruscating Ferris wheel and Table Mountain beyond. It has a delightful sheltered outdoor seating area but, due to the cold weather, we gathered inside and eased into our lunch with a flute of Graham Beck Brut and a bit of a chinwag with fellow foodie writers, bloggers, and photographers.

Firefish Restaurant Cape Town-2

Three-course lunch with Kove Collection Wine

The Kove Collection has teamed up with various wine estates around the Cape to put together a signature range of wines, which we were treated to over the course of our lunch. To begin with, I had a glass of the Kove Collection Thelema Mountain White, an aromatic, lively, and elegant French oak barrel matured blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, and Rousanne. This paired excellently with my delicious starter of tuna tartare: cubes of raw, tender tuna served with avocado purée, crème fraiche, citrus dressing, and what tasted like a wasabi soy sauce with slices of raw chilli for kick. Also on offer were the parsley, butter, and lemon-dressed grilled baby squid and a fried goat’s cheese pastry, which, according to the exclamations of joy from my fellow diners were equally as delicious.

Firefish Cape Town-Tuna-Tartare
Tuna Tartare

Kove-Collection-White-Blend

For mains, I chose the pan-roasted sea bass, cooked to succulent perfection with a crispy skin, and served with mussels, olives, cherry tomato halves, buttery baby new potatoes, and fresh thyme and fennel. Curious to try another of the Kove Collection wines, I veered from the tradition of pairing fish with white wine and ordered a glass of the Thelema Mountain Red, a gentle, smooth, and cherry-fragranced blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Grenache, Shiraz, and Cabernet Franc. Whoever said red wine and fish don’t go together has clearly never paired their seafood with the right red wine.

pan-roasted-sea-bass-firefish
Pan-roasted Sea Bass
Other dishes served for lunch were the grilled cauliflower steak with cauliflower purée and a walnut caper salsa, and grilled sirloin with walnut salsa verde, charred shallots, and potato fries. Here, it should be mentioned that while Firefish presents as a seafood restaurant (probably because of its ice bar, where guests can make their choice of fish, crustacean, or freshly shucked oysters), its menu is more accurately described as “surf and turf”. Making use of a Josper Charcoal Grill, Firefish turns out seafood, meat, and even vegetarian dishes that are both grilled to perfection and that retain their nuanced flavours. Also, using this state-of-the-art cooking equipment means that the restaurant can offer guests a varied menu that caters to all palates.

Our final course was a choice between creamy coconut panna cotta with mango sorbet, lime soil, and fresh wedges of grapefruit and orange, and vanilla crème brûlée with strawberries and olive oil sponge. I know: what a cruel thing to do making us choose between the two! I opted for the former, since my love of coconut panna cotta knows no bounds; not even the lure of crème brûlée.

Firefish Restaurant Cape Town-Panna-Cotta

One in a million

Firefish is one in a million for several reasons. Quite literally, it is one of a million V&A Waterfront restaurants, many of which are located cheek-by-jowl along the harbour’s edge. In spite of that, it manages to stand right out with its delicious, well-priced, and varied menu; impressive wine list; artful food presentation; chic ambiance; friendly, efficient service; and, let’s not forget, extraordinary harbour and mountain views. And so, for more esoteric reasons, Firefish is, to me, one in a million!

Firefish Restaurant Cape Town-1

Firefish is open Monday to Sunday, 12:00 to 22:30. For bookings and enquiries, please call +27 (0) 21 286 4933 or go to the website at www.firefishrestaurant.co.za

Shop 154 Victoria Wharf, Breakwater Boulevard, V&A Waterfront

This article was originally written for Southern Vines, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/07/02/firefish-one-in-a-million/

Testin’ the Westin: Dinner and Overnight Stay at an Iconic Luxury Cape Town Hotel

The Westin Cape Town is in the middle of a grand revamp but you really wouldn’t know that because, in our svelte suite fifteen floors in the sky, it’s as peaceful as a spa (without the annoying pipe music). The multi-million-rand makeover – *cough R150 million cough* – is set to be completed by October 2019 just in time for the summer deluge of tourists; although the Westin Cape Town remains perennially popular owing to its appeal to business travellers, both foreign and South African.

Our task is to put the revamped and reimagined rooms to the test by luxuriating in one for the next 24 hours – I know, it’s a tough job but someone’s got to make sure the next guest is getting their money’s worth.

Spoiler alert: they most definitely are.

The grand entrance

The Westin Cape Town is a five-star luxury hotel located right next door to the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) and a five-minute drive from the V&A Waterfront. This sleek and stylish hotel is a mainstay of the Cape Town city skyline, as well as the international luxury hospitality industry. Wherever you travel to in the world, you can expect a high standard of comfort, luxury, and hospitality from the Westin.

Westin Cape Town Stay
Getting a bit of work in before the great unwind.

Walking into our suite, our eyes were first and foremost drawn to the floor-to-ceiling windows that dominated the far side of the room, affording us sweeping west-facing views of the city from Signal Hill and the V&A Waterfront to the bustling Cape Town harbour, Robben Island, and the shimmering Atlantic Ocean beyond. Beneath our feet, we had a (gut-wrenching) bird’s eye view of a congested N1 highway feeding traffic into and out of the city. However, rather than evoking feelings of anxiety, as one might expect, we felt just a little smug to be ensconced in luxury accommodation while those little ants down there in their toy cars were stuck in traffic.

Suite features and amenities

Our room was the epitome of comfort and convenience, packing practically everything any visitor with any agenda could want and need. There was a large king-sized bed with poofy covers clad in clean, white linen; an office table with lamp, telephone, and multi-plug electrical outlet (where I currently sit and write this); a sophisticated coffee and tea making station with kettle and Caffitaly machine; bar fridge stocked with sodas, water, and beer; closets with complimentary fluffy bathrobes, slippers, ironing board, and safe; and a very beautiful, very executive-feel bathroom with shower, bath, and twin vanities.

Westin Cape Town Stay
Admiring the view from the bedroom.

Westin Cape Town Stay
The obligatory cheesy bathroom shot.

Unlimited Wi-Fi and access to the Westin Club Lounge, which is open all day for refreshments, round out the offer. Oh, and we also enjoy complimentary access to the Heavenly spa lounge, pool, and sauna (you only have to pay for treatments). Right off the bat there are two things I’m looking forward to: (1) seeing the view of Cape Town at night from our suite and (2) falling asleep beneath a mountain of duvet after dinner.

In the meantime, with the sun making its slow descent into the west (as witnessed from our room), we hopscotched to the Westin Club for Canapé Hour.

Westin Club Canapé Hour

Every day, from 17:30 to 19:30, the Westin Club (on the nineteenth floor) offers guests a rather sexy lounge environment in which to chill, crack open a beverage, and enjoy a complimentary selection of cold mezze and hot tapas. It’s a place to unwind after a long day of touristing, travelling, or being important; it’s a place to enjoy a cold glass of wine or hot cup of tea, and to whet the appetite in time for dinner.

Westin Cape Town Stay

The Westin Club is also open for:

  • Continental and hot buffet breakfasts between 06:30 and 11:00.
  • All day “grab and go” snacks and beverages from 12:00 to 22:00.
  • A quick recharge meal chosen from the Westin’s organic and freshly produced daily rotation snack menu, 12:00 to 14:30.
  • Afternoon tea featuring homemade gourmet biscuits and a carefully curated tea selection, from 15:00 to 17:00.

In other words, if you’re hungry, thirsty, or in need of a fabulously atmospheric venue for a business meeting, a date, or to get charged up for an evening of fine dining or a night on the town, the Westin Club is the place to kick off. And kick the evening off we did: with a glass of house white wine (Huguenot Chenin Blanc or ‘Steen’ 2018), a little basket of nuts, popcorn, and dried fruits, and front row seats to a spectacular sunset.

Cape Town sunset wine

Dinner at Thirty7 Showkitchen

With the sun tucked behind the western horizon, we caught the elevator to the ground floor for dinner at the Westin’s main restaurant, Thirty7 Showkitchen. This enormous, opulent space is quite something to behold, although a major fundraising event going on downstairs robbed the restaurant of the majority of any patrons it might have had, leaving us to the lion’s share of the staff’s attention.

Westin Cape Town Stay

For starters, we had ocean trout with trout tartar, and slow-cooked pork with pineapple chutney and a smoked apple aioli so gorgeous, it is my most ardent recommendation that they consider selling it by the bottle. For mains we enjoyed the 12-hour confit Karoo lamb neck, with roast carrot puree and gremolata, and black mussel risotto with smoked onion soubise and slices of regional cheese, both soft and crispy. Unable to extend our stomachs any further, we concluded our meal with an Irish coffee.

The chefs at the helm of Thirty7 Showkitchen are Stephen Mandes and Rohan Mudenda whose philosophy aligns well with today’s demand for free-range, ethically produced meats, sustainable, green-listed seafood, and organic, never frozen vegetables “as full of flavour and nutrients as the day it was harvested”. They also maintain a live-fire kitchen, cooking on charcoal fire, which is beautifully showcased by the food’s flavour and presentation.

Thirty7 Showkitchen is open Monday to Sunday, 06:30 – 10:30 | 12:00 – 22:30. For bookings and enquiries, please email rochelle.voigt@westinhotels.com or call +27 (0) 21 412 9999.

Breakfast of champions

Waking up in the Westin’s immeasurably comfortable king-sized bed, I fantasised briefly about owning Mary Poppins’ handbag – you know, the one that can fit just about anything in it, for example, this king-sized bed. Of course, the Westin staff would soon notice the fact that a bed’s gone missing and since I would hate to be blacklisted by the Westin – never mind the impossibility of such a magical handbag – my fantasies soon shifted to breakfast.

Both Thirty7 Showkitchen and the Westin Club host breakfast each morning but since the former promised a more extensive and abundant hot and cold breakfast buffet, we took the elevator down, rather than up. The scene that greeted us could only be described as “food heaven”. Whatever breakfast food is popular in your country of origin, you’ll find it here. From cereal, oats, flapjacks, and fruit to fried eggs, bacon, salmon, sushi, and charcuterie; cheeses, croissants, and curry for crying out loud, to pretzels, stir-fried noodles, and smoothies.

Think of a breakfasty food: you’ll find it in the Westin’s breakfast buffet, served with just about every add-on, side dish, and condiment known to humankind. I particularly enjoyed their Superfood™ juices (I had the strawberry, date, and rosewater smoothie), which are the ultimate atonement for all the wine you may have drank the night before.

Let’s talk about water

One cannot sing the praises of the Westin Cape Town without mentioning its state-of-the-art reverse osmosis system that saves 40 million litres of municipal water a year. This hotel and many other buildings located on Cape Town’s foreshore stand on land that has been reclaimed from the ocean. Consequently, seawater flows through the underlying soil with the voluminous abundance of a river, which requires buildings in the area to actively pump millions of litres of water out of their foundations every day to keep from flooding.

The Westin Cape Town decided instead to pump this water, which has already been partially filtered by the rock through which it has travelled, through a reverse osmosis plant to remove the remaining salt and impurities. The result of this R4 million investment is 400,000 litres of fresh water every day, 180,000 litres of which is used on site (the rest is piped to its sister establishments, the Tsogo Sun Waterfront and Tsogo Sun Cullinan). The Westin’s reverse osmosis plant is a solution to the water shortages that once threatened Cape Town’s viability as a tourist and business destination and will hopefully contribute to our ability to survive drought conditions in the future.

The Westin Hotel

Reluctant goodbyes

With over a decade of luxury hoteliering under its belt, the Westin Cape Town has been given a multi-million-rand décor and design transformation to update and refresh its offering. It now boasts an interior to rival its sleek and sophisticated exterior, both in aesthetic and function, and with all the modern accoutrements and conveniences even the savviest business or tourist traveller could want and need. We enjoyed 24 hours of beautiful views, beyond comfortable beds, indulgent dining, and peace and tranquillity right here in the heart of the Mother City. And so it was with great reluctance that we bid our accommodations (and bed) a fond farewell.

The next time I travel, I know where I’m staying.

Cape Town sunset

The Westin Cape Town is home to the award-winning Heavenly Spa and the Thirty7 Showkitchen. For bookings and enquiries, please call +27 21 412 9999

www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/cptwi-the-westin-cape-town/

This blog was originally written by Thea Beckman for Southern Vines Magazine, the biggest lifestyle and leisure publication in the Western Cape of South Africa: www.southernvines.co.za/2019/06/04/testin-the-westin-dinner-and-overnight-stay-at-an-iconic-luxury-cape-town-hotel/

The Arniston Spa Hotel: Home, Sweet Temporary Home on the South Cape Coast

The Cape countryside is a patchwork quilt of rolling fields dotted with cows, sheep, blue cranes, and the occasional ostrich. Amongst the cultivation remain untouched stands of the Cape’s indigenous flora or taller tree imports from Australia. Winding through this tranquil, timeless scenery en route to Arniston, I mused that John Constable himself couldn’t paint a more bucolic landscape. And it’s in landscapes such as these, framed by the stoic, craggy mountains of the Cape peninsula and escarpment that the Cape Country Routes’ constellation of properties is located.

The Cape Country Routes is a loose coalition of hotels and activity-based experiences sprinkled across the southwestern Cape (in concentration) but that extends as far up the east coast as Port Elizabeth, and as far north as Hanover, the halfway stop between Cape Town and Johannesburg. Our destination, however, was the Arniston Spa Hotel, a large luxury four-star hotel right on the beachfront in the quaint 120-year-old fishing village of Arniston, and whose bright façade gazes into the East over the Atlantic Ocean.

Arniston Spa Hotel

The Arniston Spa Hotel

We arrived fairly early in the day and as the Arniston Spa Hotel and its spectacular coastal surrounds came into view, we all pressed our faces eagerly against the car windows. Eyes aglitter, we could scarcely believe that this would be our address for the next 24 hours. The Arniston Spa Hotel offers pretty much everything one would need/want to enjoy a long, leisurely stay on the southern coast.

There is ample accommodation with four exclusive room options to choose from, all of which are kitted-out with luxury furnishings, satellite TVs, minibars, coffee and tea-making facilities, and complimentary Wi-Fi. There is also a full-service restaurant (more on that later), bar, Ginkgo Spa, and picturesque pool in a central courtyard so that even the rooms that don’t face the ocean afford guests desirable views.

Arniston Spa Hotel, South Cape Coast of Africa

With her aspect towards the east, I hoped for a sea-facing room, imaging just how beautiful it would be to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic. But before we could settle in, we had somewhere urgent to be and so we deposited our luggage and made a 180-degree turnaround. The tide was rising.

Arniston AKA Waenhuiskrans

Arniston, South Cape Coast of Africa
Typically HORRENDOUS view

Surveying this tranquil, cheery little fishing village today, it’s hard to imagine that Arniston was named after one of the worst naval disasters in South African history but indeed it was. In 1815, the British East Indiaman Arniston was bound for England. Aboard her were 378 passengers, many of whom were wounded soldiers. Tragically, a furious Cape storm – and perhaps a bit of a boo-boo on the part of the captain who miscalculated her longitude – smashed her onto the shore and only six lived to tell the tale.

If that story is a little macabre for you, there’s always Arniston’s other official name of Waenhuiskrans, which literally translates to “wagon house cliff” or “wagon shelter cliff”. This name is derived from an immense nearby tidal cave that was said to be big enough to accommodate an entire ox wagon team, the popular mode of transport several hundred years ago. And this was exactly where we needed to be before the rising tide rendered the sea cave inaccessible to us.

Coastal walk to Waenhuiskrans Cave

Arniston, South Cape Coast of Africa

After a brisk walk alongside craggy ocean cliffs, past odoriferous colonies of cormorants, pristine coastal scrub, and dune systems that beckoned to our inner children, we finally arrived at the village’s namesake attraction. Waenhuiskrans cave was large, cool, and dank with its recent tidal bathing and was surrounded by rock pools riddled with brightly coloured sea life like anemones, sea urchins, and skittish fish. We took our photos, delighted in the sea spray and the reflections of the cave off its subterranean pools, and then, a whole morning’s walking under our belt, headed back to the Arniston Spa Hotel to check in, relieve our feet of their sodden shoes and socks, and finally appraise the views from our rooms.

Arniston, South Cape Coast of Africa
Our guide explains the history of the area, as well as some tidbits on local flora, fauna, and geology.

Arniston, South Cape Coast of Africa
These coastal succulents contain powerful anti-inflammatory properties, making them useful for treating sunburn, among other maladies.

Home, sweet temporary home

We were all lucky and secured sea-facing views. The suites were filled with natural light and spectacular views of the ocean and embracing coastline. I did a quick appraisal, which culminated in some seriously smug satisfaction, and then headed down to the restaurant, where I enjoyed a lunch of chicken and prawn Thai curry with a glass of Arniston Bay Sauvignon Blanc / Sémillon. That afternoon was taken at leisure with the exception of an hour-long massage at the Gingko Spa, from which I emerged pickled with pleasure. Mystified by how my fellow media people manage to use their afternoons productively for work, I sprawled out on my king-sized bed and snoozed.

We concluded a perfectly hedonistic day with a slap-up dinner of fresh wild oysters harvested from the bay at Arniston and washed down with a glass of the delicate and elegantly perfumed Theuniskraal Riesling 2017, followed by a melt-off-the-bone lamb shank, which I savoured with a glass (or two) of the exceptional Strandveld (Rhône style) Syrah 2016. Unable to choose, we ordered three desserts to share: the baked cheesecake with sour cherry compote, iced nougat parfait with toasted almonds and maraschino cherries, and good old-fashioned pavlova with green peppercorn mascarpone cream and fresh fruit. Judging from the alacrity with which those desserts disappeared down our gullets, it’s safe to say that we all enjoyed them immensely.

Arniston Spa Hotel lamb shank and red wine
Now THAT is what I call a quintessential South African feast!

That night, I was lulled to sleep by a belly full of home-style cooking, the region’s beautiful cool climate wines, and the gentle sigh of the waves on the coast.

Kassiesbaai and breakfast

As tempting as it was to remain swathed in sheets, I extricated myself from bed to go on a fresh, early morning walk through Kassiesbaai heritage fishing village, which sprawls right next door to the Arniston Spa Hotel. This is how Arniston began really: as a fishing community and it’s wonderful to see that the rustic, lime-washed, and thatched homes with their colourful doors and window frames remain standing, unspoiled, and inhabited by friendly fisher folk. We meandered through the 120-year-old village, enjoying the company of free-ranging dogs and the views of the sun making its escape from the eastern horizon.

Kassiesbaai fishing village, Arniston
The colourful fishing village of Kassiesbaai, Arniston

Kassiesbaai fishing village, Arniston

Our final indulgence for the trip was a full-out assault on the most epic continental style breakfast buffet you could ever imagine. Quite literally, no breakfast item was left unrepresented, from fruit salad, yoghurts, cereals, and muesli to croissants, scones, flapjacks, cheeses, charcuterie, and smoked salmon. There was even a hot station where you could order your heart’s desire for an on-the-spot breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, tomato, and any and every combination and iteration thereof. I ate like food was going out of fashion and it was good.

Brimstone canary, South Africa birds and birding
A little brimstone canary welcomes the day

Your next getaway

What began as a colourful fishing community has since soared in reputation and popularity for its incredible natural beauty, whale watching opportunities (June to November), and human heritage and history. Chief amongst the draw cards to this rather remote neck of the Cape is the Arniston Spa Hotel, which offers travellers a quintessential Cape country experience and a luxurious and comfortable base from which to explore the region’s charming, breath-taking surrounds. And if you are yet to visit Arniston, you now know where your next weekend getaway should be.

Sunrise Arniston Hotel, South Cape Coast
Sunrise as seen from the Arniston Hotel

The Arniston Spa Hotel is located at 1 Main Rd, Arniston, an approximate 210 km drive from Cape Town. For bookings and enquiries, please email info@arnistonhotel.com or call +27 (0) 28 445 9000

 www.arnistonhotel.com www.capecountryroutes.com

This article was originally written for Southern Vines Magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure publication in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/05/24/the-arniston-spa-hotel-and-cape-country-routes/

Travel Memoirs of the Wanderlust-struck, Part 6

The Middle East

There is something wholly beguiling about the Middle East. The region is an ancient centre of civilization steeped both in spirituality and spectacular wonders, the vast age of which have imparted to their facades a sense of timelessness that is extraordinarily humbling. The rock-cut palace of Petra in Jordan, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the old Christian quarter of Jerusalem (where Jesus is said to have been crucified and buried), the eerily lit Jeita Grotto in Lebanon, and the Masjid al Haram in Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest mosque…the Middle East is home to innumerable archaeological and architectural marvels.

Then, of course, there are the vast desiccated landscapes rippling with sand dunes and being ripped apart by yawning canyons, where the silence is so absolute that it’s deafening. Dusty museums display artefacts dating back thousands of years, when the sweeping stories told by the ancient record were almost too grand, too opulent, and too savage to be believed.

The Middle East is a place to feel humbled by age, beauty, desolation, affluence, vastness, and the deep devotion of a people to their God and their religion. In other words, it is the Holy Grail of travel kicks and, one way or another, every traveller should make his or her pilgrimage here.

Maligned by War

Unfortunately, the very phrase ‘Middle East’ evokes strongly averse feelings from the rest of the world and particularly the West. Perhaps rightly so. Bloody, merciless wars have waged in this region for decades now, if not longer, and news of bombings, terrorism, and appalling atrocities continue to dominate the headlines streaming out of global news centres. It is a war fuelled by greed, creed, and the utter conviction from every quarter that the violence is a noble and righteous cause, when in fact it is little more than humankind at its dastardly worst.

Middle East war Howitzer gun

But, not all of the Middle East is a battlefield. In fact, much of this ancient region is peaceful and offers travellers an incredible off the beaten track experience. One such haven is to be found in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and a collection of small islands and countries bordering on the Persian Gulf and tucked into the crook of Saudi Arabia’s landmass.

Dubai (International Airport)

It is in places like the UAE that intrepid explorers such as myself are provided with a somewhat sanitized, yet spicy taste of the Middle East without the terribly pervasive dangers one can experience further north in Iraq and Afghanistan, and south in Yemen. Dubai, the capital of the UAE and a hugely successful business centre, is perhaps the best-known city in the area. It is home to the Burj Khalifa – the world’s tallest building – as well as many other architectural oddities, such as a man-made island resort shaped like a palm tree, which is best appreciated from the air as you take off from Dubai International Airport.

Dubai_Palm_Islands_from_the_air

I can’t recount how many times I have traipsed through this airport en route to some other international destination. It surely has to be one of the most sophisticated in the world but, other than its souvenirs of smirking plastic camels, burka-clad figurines, and oases trapped in snow globes (how does that work?), it doesn’t offer one much of a cultural experience. Although, curled up on an airport lounger at some ungodly hour, eyes crusty from arid airplane air, I have felt compelled to smile by the haunting warble of the Imam Muslim prayer leaders calling people to prayer. It’s what tells you that – in spite of the yawning marble, glass, and chrome structure that envelops you – you’re in the Middle East, baby.

Aside from that, all I can say about Dubai is that it is hotter than Lucifer’s taint. One day, I shall have to spend more than just 12 hours in that country.

Two Weeks in Bahrain

Bahrain fort Bahrain Middle East
Qal’at al-Bahrain, also known as the Bahrain Fort or Portuguese Fort, is an archaeological site in Bahrain. Since 1954, archaeological excavations carried out here have unearthed antiquities dating to between 2300 BC and the 18th Century, belonging to the Kassites, Greeks, Portuguese, and Persians. The fort was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.

Tree of Life, Bahrain Middle East
The Tree of Life (Shajarat-al-Hayat) is a 9.75 meters (32 feet) high Prosopis cineraria tree that is over 400 years old. It is located on a hill in a barren area of the Arabian Desert and is the only remotely large tree growing in the area, which has made it a significant tourist attraction. In fact, the Tree of Life is visited by approximately 65,000 people every year.

Souk market places Bahrain Middle East
A really bad photo I took really quickly of a souk (marketplace) we visited. After the unwanted attention we had received from several Bahraini men, many of my photos I took on our trip turned out like this because I was too rushed and too anxious to take decent pictures.

Shortly after I submitted my Master Degree thesis (or, rather, threw it at my supervisor yelling “tag, you’re it!” before running away from campus and the country) I spent two weeks in Bahrain, en route to Thailand, where I would be spending the following two years of my life. I had always dreamed of travelling and now that my studies were finally done, it was time to get the hell out of Dodge. I, or rather we, spent two weeks in the sovereign state of Bahrain because my then girlfriend’s father lived and worked there, and the opportunity to experience a country I would never have otherwise thought to visit presented itself.

Bahrain, officially the Kingdom of Bahrain, is another one of those havens where one can appreciate Middle Eastern culture without having to trade in one’s limbs for a debilitating case of PTSD: a lose-lose situation if I ever heard of one (pretty much sums up the U.S. war in Iraq, doesn’t it?) Coming from most places in the world, this island country in the Persian Gulf slaps you in the face as a totally alien place. Disembarking your plane, you don’t feel like you’ve stepped into another country; you feel like you’ve stepped onto another planet. And to support this point, Bahrain was used as the film location for Tattoine in the Star Warsmovies, the desert planet where Luke Skywalker was raised as a child.

Desert scenery Bahrain Middle East
Photograph of Tattoine’s / Bahrain’s dusty-ass, rock-strewn desert surface.

The country comprises a small archipelago sandwiched between the Qatar peninsula and the north-eastern coast of Saudi Arabia, which it is connected by the 25-kilometre long King Fahd Causeway. What immediately strikes you as you touch down here, even in the wee hours of the morning as we did, is the intense, suffocating heat and humidity. Then, when the sun rises, you’re confronted by an atmosphere and landscape so white and hazy with desert sand and dust that seeing colour comes as a physical relief to your retina.

Bedouine Camps, Bahrain Middle East
A really crappy, mostly unadulterated photograph of a Bedouine camp. Notice the eerily white atmosphere.

But while there are parts of Bahrain that are just vast expanses of white, crumbly rock and soil, there are, conversely, parts that have been nurtured into lush gardens, palm forests, and flowerbeds. It’s illogical and it’s beautiful.

Money, Money, Money

The Arab Sheiks, oil barons, business moguls, and royal family have the money to turn infertile desert into man-made oases of intense biological activity. These people are rich. They are richer than Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey but we never really hear about it here in the West. This stratospheric affluence was evident in the sheer number of ambitious building projects there were scattered across the island: building projects that had been abandoned, not because their investor ran out of capital but because they got bored, leaving behind dinosaur skeletons of would-be super malls and palaces.

Walking Bahrain Middle East
On our daytime walkabout: to our right is Princess Sabeeka Park, a recreational space that was inaugurated in February 2010 (literally the same time we were there) by Her Royal Highness Princess Sabeekabint Ibrahim Al Khalifa, wife of His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Chairwoman of the Supreme Council for Women in Bahrain. That’s quite a title.

The homes of wealthy Bahrainis are almost senselessly palatial, the business district is dominated by spectacularly scaled and designed skyscrapers, everyone drives big expensive cars, and the kind of gifts that are exchanged between affluent members of society can be measured in acres (it’s the square footage that counts, right?) Even shopping malls are ostentatious brick-and-mortar odes to an incomprehensible level of affluence, with their polished solid marble flooring and gilded bathroom faucets. But of all the displays of wealth that leave one slack-jawed in Bahrain, by far the most outrageous were the beggars. Outside of a grocery store, right around the corner from where we were staying, a man pulled up next to us in an Audi – not the latest model but infinitely nicer than any car I have ever owned.

And he stopped to beg for money…money to put petrol in his car, fetch his kids from school, and feed them. Something that, we were told by our host, isn’t uncommon.

Manama, Bahrain, Middle East
Manama, the capital and largest city of Bahrain. Photo credit: Jayson De Leon.

In Bahrain, the evidence of ancient custom, deep religious fervour and history is juxtaposed by the country’s thriving economic activity. This, in turn, is juxtaposed by desperate poverty. Blue steel-and-glass monstrosities rear up out of the flat white landscape, almost defying physics with their size. These monolithic entities give way to Bedouin camps and clustered, terribly impoverished housing where Indians, Thais, Filipinos, and other hopeful foreigners live. Oil and gas pipes ubiquitous to the island run for miles and miles through its white wasteland. Some of these pipes end in vents that sporadically erupt in a monstrous burp of gas and flame, which has, according to our host, roasted many a poor and unsuspecting soul.

Bahrain by Foot. Bad Idea.

The Middle East 1

For two weeks, we explored this tiny island nation mostly by car because, in spite of its size, daytime temperatures of 35 to 40 degrees Celsius made walking a very real health hazard. More than any risk of heat exhaustion, however, were the younger Bahraini men and the constant unwanted attention they slathered in copious amounts over us.

Eager to experience Bahrain on my skin and in all its intoxicating fragrances and fascinating scenery, we struck out on foot on one of the first few days of our trip. Within the first ten minutes, a man pulled his car up next to us and, leering out of the open window, gabbled something in Arabic. We tried to explain that we didn’t understand. He proceeded to stare at us, no, drink us in with his liquid dark eyes and with a revolting lecherous smirk on his face. Minutes later, another complete stranger pulled his car over, once again, to stare at us. It’s like we were tall glasses of ice water on legs and these men in their expensive cars were fresh from dying of thirst in the desert. We were fully clothed (long shorts and T-shirts that covered our shoulders, as was recommended to us) but I couldn’t have felt more blue-arsed naked. I was shocked to my core by their complete lack of what the West regards as rudimentary etiquette.

This is the incredibly confronting reality that visitors to most places in the Middle East have to come to terms with. This is a man’s world and women are second-class citizens for the most part. Seriously battling the temptation to pick up a dog turd and throw it in the next leery asshole’s open car window, we ducked into an air-conditioned mall for an hour or two before catching a taxi home.

The men of Bahrain were redeemed a day or two later when, attempting to catch a taxi home from sightseeing, a kind man stopped his car and offered us a lift. Thinking he was a taxi, we climbed in and were astounded (and somewhat shaken) to discover when he refused to take our money that he had gone completely out of his way to deliver us safely to our doorstep. He was friendly and chatty and simply welcomed the opportunity to speak to a couple of foreigners. I’m sure he was also concerned for our safety.

It must be said that most of the older Bahraini men we met during our two-week stay were polite and generous. It was the younger generations who appeared to need a serious clout about the ears.

Bahrain Middle East
Our verdant abode during our stay in Bahrain; quite the juxtaposition to the desert landscapes outside!

What I Remember Most

Adventures in Bahrain, Middle East
A visit to the Arabian Sea! Naturally, I had to give the water a fondle.

In Bahrain, the morning dawns and the day closes with the haunting warbles of the Imam Muslim prayer leaders. Accompanying this gentle soundtrack are the spectacular sunsets and sunrises, which is what I think I remember most about Bahrain. With the atmosphere being so thick with white dust, the early morning light gets refracted into a billion shades of pink and blue pastels, and all of this gorgeous light caresses the Bahraini landscape’s white desolation and visionary architecture.

We spent two weeks exploring the ancient archaeological ruins of the Bahrain Fort, enduring the incredible heat, marvelling at the strange and exotic imported fruits in the grocery store, and trying new foods, the names of which I have long forgotten. We went to bars where we couldn’t afford to drink (thanks to the steep exchange rate), to the desert where I felt as though the emptiness and silence would swallow me whole, and to the beach, where the salty waters of the Arabian Sea lapped at our feet. We wandered the souks, the malls, and the streets of this very strange country, the first international adventure I’d had since travelling to Singapore as a child.

I enjoyed Bahrain intensely and the scene I carry – and will always carry – as my mental postcard for this magical place is of a gently pink dawn over the bridge to Manama.

Sunrise Bahrain Middle East