Saturday, 26 September 2015

A Staycation at the Montagu Hotel

Halfway between Cape Town and the Garden Route lies the pretty village of Montagu and the elegant Montagu Country Hotel (MCH). I've stayed there every August since 2012 - when I'm in town to adjudicate the vibrant annual youth festival. The visit (to the fest and the hotel) is a highlight on my calendar and the MCH has become a home away from home.

The Montagu Country Hotel is another beautiful Cape 'Staycation' option. You know, one of the fabulous places you can escape to for some downtime, mid week or weekend. It's a mere 2 hour drive from the Mother City via the famous Route 62. 

Gert Lubbe, the owner of the hotel, is a gracious host. He  has transformed the MCH into a destination in itself. The Art Deco building is iconic and the interior is filled with beautiful pieces of art and furniture. The staff are welcoming, nothing is too much trouble. This is hospitality at its best.

Montagu itself is the gateway to the Klein Karoo, surrounded by mountains and gorgeous at any time of the year. And wine...there are excellent experiences to be had close by, at estates like Springfield (two of my fave wines are Life From Stone and The Work of Time) in Robertson .

On their website, the MCH points out that you can taste wine on a barge, have sundowners on the river and even have dinner served while drifting down a stream. Another unique way to explore the town and area is in one of the hotel's American Dream Cars....such a treat. All must-have adventures I'd say. 

There is a lot to do in Montagu people, from hot springs, to mountain bike trails, walks and more - have a squizz at the tourism site and go exploring!

Porridge for breakfast, my favorite...

Gert Lubbe


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Tuesday, 15 September 2015

15 safety tips for women travelling solo

I love solo travel. It's liberating, inspiring and exciting but you've got to be travel savvy when going it alone as a woman. Here are a few tips that have stood me in good stead this past decade of trotting around the globe toute seule. Hope you find it useful, particularly if you're more of a sophisticated female traveller, like moi. Nothing worse than a fifty-something diva in a fluster!

1. Security-make sure you know up front what to expect: typical scams, protocols, cautions etc - know your destination as thoroughly as possible before you get there; 

2. Use sensible (but stylish), roomy bags that close properly and comfortably hold a DSLR without giving you a dislocated shoulder. A zip-less Louis Vuitton tote may look fabulous but is an open invitation to thieves. Personally I love a stylish backpack (even though Ines de la Fressage says in her fabulous style bible Parisian Chic that they are a no-no once you've left l'ecole); backpacks are a necessity for bicycle tourists like me; and a deep sling bag (see my pics re all afore-mentioned bags) that hangs perfectly towards the front of the body, is also ideal;

3. Don't make it look too obvious when checking directions, and walk with pace, confidently, even if you're unsure. Use your phone's GPS and if you need to flip through a guide book or check the map, do it inside a store or restaurant over a glass of pinot, and don't be afraid to ask someone for assistance; 

4. Talking of GPS, be sure to have 3G access on all your gadgets in lieu of a wifi fail- buy a local sim card at the airport as you land, with a decent data bundle, and keep a fully charged external battery on you always;

5. Don't draw cash on the street, rather go into a bank; it's also useful to load cash onto a Travelex currency card-they can be used at auto banks and for all types of transactions;

6. Use Uber- it's great for night time travel, and is safe, prompt and cashless. Avoid local taxi cabs (I've been ripped off in almost every city I've been to), unless you are in Japan where taxi fares are regulated. But still, Uber is in Japan , so happy days, no stress, no fuss;

7. Avoid being too flashy and leave the carats and Cartier back home; cover your head and bare shoulders at shrines and temples so as not to disrespect the locals, and if you're blonde and in Turkey or Egypt, wear a cap. Trust me on this one;

8. Don't overshare with friendly but don't give your surname or randomly hand out a biz card. We all know that in 2 secs you can be tracked via social media and unless someone wants to hand deliver a pair of complimentary Louboutins to your suite, keep your personal details to yourself;

9. If you want to avoid being picked up at a bar, wear a wedding ring, married or nay. It can be a great detractor - that, and the good old rule of not making lingering eye contact, no matter how hot the eye candy;

10. Choose a city where you know at least one person…even if it's a friend of a friend, just in case you need to call on someone for advice or help; 

11. Don't rely solely on your mobile to store key info- keep a copy of your passport, hotel info and itinerary on you and have the local police and SA Embassy numbers at hand;

12. Leave all valuables in the room safe and keep your suitcase  locked - housekeeping may decide to poke around your stuff and G-d forbid someone sees your two-tone Prada shoes in their future;

13. Choose an upmarket hotel in a good area where it's safe to walk around alone, especially after dark, and make sure they offer an airport transfer -this will eliminate a lot of angst. And be polite and friendly to the hotel reception staff as they're often the ones who can best advise re great non-touristy bars and restaurants (usually way less expensive) and will alert you as to no-go areas; 

14. Avoid public transport in peak times when the trains and buses are heaving with humanity. Risks, aside from germ overload (I often wear a face mask by the way), is running late, the uncomfortably close proximity of other passengers and pickpocketing;

15. Book well-recommended food / walking / bicycle tours - it's a great way to explore a city from the get-go and you get to hang out (albeit briefly) with people with other explorers, which takes the edge off any loneliness some may feel when going it alone on vacation.

Hope this post helps. Keep travelling and be safe! 

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