10 of the most luxurious new safari properties


This year Africa has experienced a real boom in high-end safari properties, with extraordinary new lodges and camps opening across the continent. We have already checked out some of the most exciting openings so they can share their firsthand observations and opinions with you. Below you’ll find 10 of our favourites.

Sable Alley, Botswana

Built around a lagoon close to the world famous Moremi Game Reserve is an intimate safari camp with just 12 tents, two of which are large enough for families. Game wander right up to the watering hole so you’ll have a close-up view of hippo, elephant, and buffalo. Game drives take place day and night, and on the latter you are able to see shy nocturnal animals. Another attraction of Sable Alley is the mokoro safaris. Mokoro are traditional carved canoes, and paddling along the waterways you get a very different perspective on the river and the birdlife living along it.

King Lewanika Lodge, Zambia

Zambia’s most exclusive camp has been several years in the making, and its opening is a cause for great excitement. It is the only permanent camp in the Liuwa Plains National Park, one of the oldest conservation parks in Africa, and it is no exaggeration to say it is a photographer’s dream. The camp has been designed by the same specialist architects behind North Island in the Seychelles. The furnishings are inspired by the early days of East African safaris, with leather, cotton, canvas, and other natural materials featuring prominently in the design. Liuwa Plains has the second biggest wildebeest migration in Africa, a growing cheetah population, and a famed lion pride.

Saruni Rhino, Kenya

Sighting rhino in the wild is one of the most sought-after safari experiences in Africa, but achieving it was very, very rare. Now, finally, you can stay at Saruni Rhino and track black rhino in the 350,000-hectare Sera Conservancy. There are just two bandas (open-sided cottages), so staying here is an intimate affair. Take your breakfast on the dry river bed, visit the the recently opened Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, learn the bush skills, folklore, and ancient wisdom needed to survive in one of Kenya’s richest wildlife regions, and enjoy a starlit dinner beneath the vast African skies.

One Nature Nyaruswiga, Tanzania

The plains in this stunning part of Tanzania are completely untouched by tourism. Tents open out onto the open savannah, their roofs supported by slightly fragrant African eucalyptus wood. There’s a permanent water hole by the camp which attracts the game, and you can explore the region and spot wildlife not only by 4×4 but also from the air on a balloon safari or scenic flight. Attractions include watching the Mara River migration crossing, walking on the shifting sands of the Olduvai Gorge, and marvelling at the natural wonder which is the Ngorongoro crater.

Somalisa Expeditions, Zimbabwe

It’s time to have an authentic safari experience in Hwange National Park, a place known as the “Land of the Giants” on account of its big elephant herds. Somalisa Expeditions have erected six elegantly furnished Serengeti-style tents, each with an en suite bathroom. The communal area includes a lounge and dining area on raised decking, and this overlooks a small pool where elephant come to drink. Staying here you’ll have countless up-close encounters with elephant but also see kudu, zebra, and sable antelope, gemsbok, roan antelope, buffalo, and giraffe.

Bisate Lodge, Rwanda

Bisate Lodge is our #1 choice for gorilla trekking in the Volcanoes National Park. It lies within the natural amphitheatre of an eroded volcanic cone, with dramatic views of the peaks of the Bisoke volcanoes. The national park is home to golden monkey, side-striped jackal, buffalo, elephant, and 178 species of birds. But the stars of the show are the 12 habituated groups of mountain gorilla, which you can visit on foot with expert trackers.

Three Rivers Lodge, Zambia

Tents at the Three Rivers Lodge area spread out beneath the shade of the sausage trees, looking out at the Luangwa River or across the game-rich lagoon. Hippo saunter up onto the white beach to drink and bathe; and there are elephant, waterbuck, roan antelope, lion, and leopard, too. This area of the Luangwa Valley is one of the few places where you can see African wild dog in the wild. Spotting one is a cause for great excitement. The camp is eco-friendly — all lighting is solar-powered — and you can dine or sleep out beneath the stars.

Nimali Central Serengeti, Tanzania

For the most luxurious tented safari camp in the Serengeti, choose Nimali Central. Days start with early morning balloon rides across the plains, and Champagne breakfast in the bush. On a game drive you can expect to see elephant, giraffe, cheetah, eland, lion, and leopard, and when you return to camp you can relax with a swim in the pool or perhaps an indulgent spa treatment. Solar torches light the camp by night, creating a romantic atmosphere, so much so in fact that we anticipate Nimali Central will become one of our most popular choices for intimate destination weddings and honeymoons.

Roho Ya Selous, Tanzania

Nothing beats being a spectator at the great migration in the Selous Game Reserve. The scale of herds, and the opportunity to see the buffalo up close, will take your breath away. But there’s plenty more wildlife to see: the big five are all present, and there’s a substantial population of big cats, wild dog, and hippo. As a guest at Roho Ya Selous you sit atop a hill for optimal views of the surrounding landscape. The eight canvas tents are set far apart to maximise privacy, and have a special air cooling system so you can sleep comfortably even on the hottest of nights.

Gomoti Plains, Botswana

The Gomoti Plains is known for its large concentrations of wildlife, including its large population of African wild dog. The whole camp, which is raised on wooden decks decorated in a classic safari style, is comprised of 10 luxury safari tents, two of which are family units. Game drives take place in the morning, afternoon, and evening, and there are also possibilities for nature walks and canoeing in the shallower waters of the Okavango. Excursions to the delta’s islands are particularly fun and give you the chance to spot some of the region’s shyer creatures, as well as plenty of waterbirds.

All of the new properties we’ve discussed in this blog have very limited space due to their small size. If you want to be amongst the first guests to experience them, especially at a peak time such as Christmas or during the seasonal migration, you should start to plan your trip now!

Laura Burdett-Munns is Managing Director at Africa Exclusive. Africa Exclusive has been creating the finest tailor-made safaris since 1990, specialising in luxurious accommodation in beautiful remote places.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.



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5 of Africa’s best eco-lodges


Africa boasts an incredible selection of stunning places to stay, from beach resorts on otherwise uninhabited islands to stylish boutique hotels in thriving cities. Eco-tourism is defined by The International Ecotourism Society as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people”. This has motivated us to seek out Africa’s best eco-lodges.

The difference between an eco-lodge and an eco-hotel is largely one of context: eco-lodges tend to be in remote wildernesses, and it is arguably therefore even more important that they have minimal negative impact on the environment. Their eco-friendly credentials vary, but Africa’s best eco-lodges tend to use renewable energy (in particular solar power), conserve water, recycle waste, build positive relationships with the local community, and take a long-term, sustainable approach to business. Some lodges have sought internationally recognised green certificates and awards, but others are simply proud of pursuing eco-friendly best practice locally, and will talk to you with enthusiasm about what they do.

There are many inspiring eco-lodges across Africa, but here are 5 of our favourites.

Old Mondoro, Zambia

Family-owned Old Mondoro takes guests back to the bush in the Lower Zambezi National Park. It’s a small camp with a light footprint on the land, a green electricity system, and close partnerships with NGOs Conservation Lower Zambezi and Pack for a Purpose. Game drives are available in purpose-built vehicles, but guests are also encouraged to explore the park under their own steam, on foot or by canoe. There’s a 100% catch and release policy for anglers, and the pontoon boats use for river safaris are environmentally sensitive, too.

Kicheche Bush Camp, Kenya

The ultra low impact Kicheche Bush Camp has received a gold rating from Eco Tourism Kenya, something of which the staff are understandably proud. Each of the six tents has its own solar powered lighting system, guests are served fresh, organic produce from the kitchen garden, and the camp’s waste policy is based on the four Rs: reduce, reuse, repair, and recycle. The Kicheche Community Trust supports a local school and medical centre, and guests can visit these in Aitong Village.

Nsolo Bush Camp, Zambia

The four chalets at Nsolo seem to blend into the landscape: they’re constructed from sustainable timber, grass, and reeds, all of which are traditional local building materials. The shade of the evergreen trees keeps things cool, and solar panels provide all the camp’s power. Visitor numbers here are restricted so as not to worry the wildlife: in fact, the lion, leopard, and wild dog seem completely unfazed by visitors, so the viewing opportunities are spectacular.

Nkwichi Lodge, Mozambique

Nkwichi is a slice of paradise on the shore of Lake Malawi. The lodge works closely with the local Nyanja community on development and conservation issues, ensuring that the pristine environment is protected for future generations to enjoy. All of the activities at the lodge are eco-friendly: you can canoe or sail in a dhow, paddle in the water, and snorkel to look at the tropical fish. In the evenings you will sit around the campfire on the beach, and gaze up at the stars.

Camp Kalahari, Botswana

Camp Kalahari is a tented camp, so its footprint is only temporary: there are no permanent structures here at all. There is no electricity — lighting at night is by lantern — and there are hot bucket showers to reduce water consumption. This may make the camp sound a little basic, but that’s part of its charm: you are going back in time to the earliest days of safaris. The focus here is on the wildlife, on walking and horseback riding across the breathtaking lunar landscapes of the Makgadikgadi Pans. You can also meet with the San bushmen who call this remote part of Botswana their home.

Laura Burdett-Munns is Managing Director at Africa Exclusive.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.



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5 active experiences in Southern Africa


A safari doesn’t have to mean spending hours sitting still in a vehicle. Across Southern Africa, there are an increasing number of experiences that get you up and moving, trying out new ways of exploring the landscape, culture and wildlife of your chosen destination. From cycling between vineyards in South Africa’s Cape Winelands, to horse riding at sunset through Namibia’s desert scrubland, here are five of the best active experiences Southern Africa has to offer.

Foodies on Foot walking tour, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Surrounded by the vineyards and fertile hills of the Cape Winelands, Stellenbosch is renowned for its fresh food and locally produced wines. Dating back to 1679, it’s also the second-oldest town in South Africa.

Cheese and meat platter

By joining this three-and-a-half-hour walking tour, you’re able to appreciate both the cuisine and the heritage of this university town. Strolling along streets lined with oak trees and buildings boasting Cape Dutch, Victorian and Georgian architecture, you’ll hear the history of Stellenbosch — including details about the fire that destroyed much of the town in 1710 — and make regular stops to try local delicacies.

Your guide, Hanli, is a Stellenbosch resident and often greets people she knows during the walk. She keeps in contact with the food producers throughout the tour, so you’re taken to try food as soon as it’s ready, ensuring you taste it as fresh as possible. At each place you can chat to the local artisans about the inspiration behind their products and about life in Stellenbosch.

Each tour is different, but you’ll always sample a variety of sweet and savoury products, including a sit-down lunch. Possible eateries include the Blue Crane and the Butterfly, which serves homemade cakes and freshly prepared sandwiches, and the Blue Crane Coffee Company across the road. Here, cold-brew coffee is made in the cafe’s own ‘laboratory’, and you can see the process in action.

At the Brompton Wine Studio you can pair some of the region’s wines with locally crafted chocolates, noting the subtle changes in taste. Then there’s the chance to sample traditional beef delicacies such as biltong and droëwors sausage at a family-owned butchers.

At the end of the tour you’re given details on each of the places you visited, plus a few other recommended restaurants and cafes to try out during the rest of your stay.

Sunset horse riding from Desert Homestead Lodge, Namibia

Situated around half an hour outside Sesriem, Desert Homestead Lodge is surrounded by open desert scrubland. The distant outline of the Tsaris and Naukluft Mountains forms a stark backdrop, and a rippling sea of burnt-orange sand dunes begins around an hour’s drive to the west.

Horse ride at sunset

The main activity from here is visiting some of the highest dunes in the world around Sossusvlei to watch the sunrise, look for desert-adapted wildlife and work on your photography skills. But you can also join guided horse riding trips through the remote landscape as the sinking sun streaks the sky coral pink and fiery red.

Even if you haven’t ridden a horse before, the relaxed pace and experienced guides will ensure you feel at ease. As a more experienced rider, you might find the ride a little straightforward, but there may be a chance to trot or gallop at certain points along the route.

After taking afternoon tea on the lodge’s veranda, you’re kitted out with a helmet and matched with one of the property’s horses. As you head out across open grassland and through ancient water courses, there’s a distinct Wild West feel. Followed only by the group’s long shadows and the occasional oryx, there’s nothing but empty wilderness for miles.

After riding for around 45 minutes, you arrive at an elevated spot where drinks and snacks have been laid out ready for sundowners. Here, you can sip on a glass of wine or gin and tonic while watching the landscape gradually alter in the changing light. You then mount up once more before heading back to the lodge in the fading sun.

Walking safaris, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

Walking safaris are offered in many destinations across Africa, but nowhere does them quite like Zambia. It was here that British conservationist Norman Carr first pioneered the walking safari concept, and today you can experience them in most of the country’s parks and reserves, including South Luangwa National Park.

Leopard, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

While in other places bush walks typically last a couple of hours, in Zambia they can stretch on for five or six, covering much more ground as you learn about the local ecosystem.

There’s also the chance to join a mobile walking safari. Lasting between two and seven days, they involve tramping through the bush during the day before sleeping out under the stars.

The guides in Zambia must gain a higher qualification than elsewhere, so they’re true experts. As you follow your guide through the bush (in a group of no more than seven people), you’re shown how to identify and track animals by inspecting the paw prints and droppings left in their wake.

You’ll learn the calls of individual bird species, and hear all about the life cycle of dung beetles and other insects. Your guide will also point out plant life and tell you the stories behind trees that have stood for centuries.

While you might see more of the larger animals on game drives, you become much more tuned into your surroundings when on foot. Without the hum of a 4×4’s engine, you can listen to the sounds of the bush, from the crack of a twig to the whirr of a cricket or the roar of a lion.

Wine & Ride cycle tour of the Winelands, Franschhoek, South Africa

In South Africa’s Winelands region, great fists of rock rise above valleys braided by green vineyards, the odd cloud scudding gently over crumpled mountains. On this three-hour mountain bike tour you can enjoy the best of the area’s wine and scenery.

Stellenbosch vineyard

Following mountain passes and peaceful backroads, you pedal between local wineries in a small group led by a guide who’ll tell you about the region and its vineyards. Each cycling stint should last no longer than half an hour. While some sections are uphill, the ride’s pace is balanced against the group’s fitness levels, and bottles of water are provided.

The tour departs from Basse Provence, a country house just outside the town of Franschhoek. The wineries you visit vary for each tour, but you’ll stop at up to five different estates around Franschhoek and the surrounding area, tasting several varieties of wine at each. Some offer chocolate pairings or cheese and meat platters to accompany the wine, with a gourmet lunch included at one of the stops.

The experience also includes guided tours of vineyards and wine cellars, giving you an opportunity to learn about the wine-making process from vine to bottle.

Tok Tokkie Trails multi-day hike, NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia

The apricot-hued dunes and arid scrubland of the Namib Desert may seem barren and devoid of life, but look closer and an intricate world of desert-adapted wildlife is revealed. On this two-night experience you have the chance to walk through barely visited areas to see and learn about creatures that otherwise go unnoticed.

NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia

Joining no more than seven others, plus a guide with extensive knowledge of the region and its wildlife, you’ll hike and camp within the private NamibRand Reserve, following a circular route that takes in dunes, open savannah, rocky hills and dried-up riverbeds.

The first day involves a two-hour ramble, while on the second day you’ll walk for no more than five or six hours, moving at a leisurely pace with plenty of time reserved for a picnic lunch in the shade. The third day only requires a short walk back to the start point. Your luggage is transported separately, so all you need to carry is a daypack.

Throughout the hike, your guide will point out some of Namibia’s more unusual wildlife residents, including cartwheeling spiders, barking geckos, cannibalistic crickets and chameleons whose sticky tongues shoot out in a flash to catch unsuspecting prey. You might also encounter the tok tokkie beetle, whose skill at gathering moisture from the morning mists atop the dunes was featured in David Attenborough’s Planet Earth II.

Both nights are spent in camps, where you’re served a three-course dinner and your bed is set out in the open. Being a designated Dark Sky Reserve, this is one of the best places on the continent for stargazing — your guide is well-versed in astronomy and will help to identify the constellations glowing above you.

Craig Burkinshaw is Founder of Audley Travel.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.



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10 of the best star bed experiences in Africa



 



It’s time to experience the wilderness at its most exciting: laid bare beneath a canopy of stars. Whether you are out on safari in the plains, the delta, or the desert, nothing beats sleeping outside. You’ll be surrounded by the noises of nocturnal animals, and otherwise the world around you is completely still.

Star beds are designed so you can make the most of the great outdoors, whilst still being safe and comfortable. They vary from tensioned hammocks to four poster beds on wheels, covered by a mosquito net. A candle or lantern will provide your nightlight, and when you turn it out and lie back, every single star in the sky shines unforgettably bright.

Having travelled the length of Africa to seek out the most exceptional star bed experiences in the continent. Here are our favourite 10:

Samara Private Reserve, South Africa

The Samara Private Reserve covers 70,000 ha of malaria-free land in South Africa’s Great Karoo, home to Samara Karoo Lodge.

The star bed here is set atop a wooden platform, and you and your loved one will sleep in a bespoke four poster bed. You’ll arrive at dusk for a picnic dinner and drinks, and to watch the animals descend to the Milk River to drink. As night falls, you’ll be left alone to gaze at the stars (identifying them with the help of a selection of star books), then fall asleep, warm beneath the softest of mohair blankets.

Tswalu Kalahari, South Africa

Tswalu Kalahari is South Africa’s largest private game reserve. Visitors can see black maned lion, desert black rhino, cheetah, wild dog, and playful meerkat. The lodge’s sleep-out deck, Malori, means “dreamer” in the local language. It’s thatched design is inspired by a weaver’s nest, and the partial roof will protect you from inclement weather. The bed rolls forwards into the open, however, so you can choose to look out at the stars, or to lie directly beneath them, as the feeling takes you. This is the epitome of barefoot luxury.

Sanctuary Baines Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana

Sanctuary Baines Camp is one of the smallest and most exclusive camps in the Okavango Delta, with only five suites, surrounded by papyrus beds. Each of the suites has a private deck, and your four poster bed can be wheeled outside for a night beneath the stars, cooled by the natural breeze. For an added treat, you can also bathe outside as there’s also a star bath on the deck. Lie and soak in the bubbles, lit only by lanterns, and listen to the rustling and roaring of the nocturnal creatures a stone’s through away in the trees.

Ruckomechi Camp, Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

Ruckomechi Camp at Mana Pools is known as the elephants’ favourite camp as they come right into the camp to eat pods from the albida trees. The star bed here is situated close to a well-frequented waterhole, and so in the morning you’ll be in for an early start. The birds will start singing at dawn in the surrounding acacia and mahogany trees, and once they’re awake, the elephant and other animals will quickly follow. Enjoy breakfast in bed soaking up the wonders of the Rift Valley, as the elephant serenade you with the sounds of the morning ablutions.

Abu Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana

Magnificent and wild, Abu Camp is within a pristine ecosystem. By day you’re encouraged to join the elephant herd, walking amongst them and learning about their behaviour. It’s an unforgettable experience. The night is no less exciting, however, as you can opt to leave your elegantly furnished safari tent behind to bathe and sleep beneath the stars. You’ll have a free-standing copper bathtub out on the deck, lit by lanterns and candelabra. It’s a place of absolutely peace where you’ll want to meditate, pray, or simply count the stars before drifting off into a deep and dreamless sleep.

Ol Donyo Lodge, Chyulu Hills, Kenya

Ol Donyo Lodge neighbours Kenya’s Chyulu Hills National Park in a 275,000 acre reserve owned by the Maasai people. Mount Kilimanjaro looms on the horizon, and giant elephant still roam freely. The haunting call of the leopard cuts through the otherwise still night time air. Each room at the lodge has its own roof terrace, and it’s here that you can sleep out in style. Safe, private, and unbelievably beautiful, you might well find yourself wanting to sleep up here every night of your stay.

Loisaba Star Beds, Kenya

The Loisabia Conservancy is in the Laikipia region of Kenya, and it’s a place abundant with wildlife. It sits on the edge of Kenya’s most important elephant movement corridor, and as these are community-owned lands, you’ll also see local pasturalists moving through with their livestock flocks. The Loisaba Starbeds overlook the Kiboko Watehole, home to a family of hippo. Your gracious hosts here are Samburu and Laikipia Maasai Warriors. They lay on huge four poster beds, handcrafted and set upon raised wooden platforms. The accompanying bathrooms are equipped with beautiful brass fittings and running water, so all your creature comforts are there.

Nkwichi Lodge, Lake Malawi, Mozambique

David Livingston called Lake Malawi ‘The Lake of Stars’, so surely there can be no better place for stargazing. Nkwichi Lodge is a luxurious beach lodge, a leader in sustainable tourism, and, if we’re honest, it’s a little slice of paradise. Guests stay in intimate chalets and houses along one of Nkwichi’s eight private beaches. If you opt for the star bed, however, you’ll have a beach to yourself, or even your very own island! Beds can be set right on the lake shore, where the lapping of the waves on the sand will be your lullaby.

Wolwedans, Namibia

Wolwedans is a desert retreat in Namibia’s NabibRand Reserve. The desert camps have the breathtaking desert scenery as their backdrop. It’s a pristine, wild environment where you can see oryx and springbok, jackal, aardwolf, and 170 species of birds. Opt for the vast Mountain View Suite if you want to sleep out one night in the desert. Possible only in summer (otherwise it’d be too cold), the star bed is outside on your private verandah. You therefore have the majesty of the star filled sky before you, and the comforts of your suite just behind.

Kapama, South Luangwa, Zambia

Known as Africa’s Eden, the Kapama Private Game Reserve covers 13,000 ha of savannah and riverine forest. The peaks of the Drakensberg Mountains line the horizon. The Big Five are all found in the reserve, and so too are 40 other species of mammals. The Kapama star bed is wonderfully romantic. Your personal chef will serve you a five-course dinner in the wilderness, and you’ll dine in a ring of lantern light. You’ll then be left alone with only the star studded sky for company, the place entirely your own until dawn.

Laura Burdett-Munns is Managing Director at Africa Exclusive.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.



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5 of the most memorable steam train journeys around the world



 



The great puffs of steam, the deep chug of the engine and the screech of the whistle as your train pulls out of the station. The romance of a steam train journey never fades, and it’s the same wherever you go.

Here we’ve put together some of the most memorable steam train journeys you can embark on around the world. Get into the spirit of 19th century Wild West America aboard a train used during Colorado’s gold mining boom. Pretend you’re on your way to Hogwarts as you wind through the Scottish Highlands. Or join in the Japaneses nostalgia for the bullet trains early ancestors.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, USA

Winding through the rocky canyons Colorado is famed for, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad follows the path of the free-flowing Animas River between the old mining towns of Durango and Silverton. The 73 km (45.4 mile) railroad was constructed between 1881 and 1882, primarily to transport silver and gold ore from the San Juan Mountains. Its been in continuous operation ever since.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Today, the vintage steam train that still chugs along the line has swapped precious stones for inquisitive passengers who want to experience the landscape as people would have at the turn of the 20th century.

The train crosses the river five times as it meanders through pine-covered valleys and skims the edge of craggy cliffs inaccessible to motor vehicles. From your carriage, you’ll see green farmland, former mining camps, old stagecoach roads and snow-covered peaks rising over 4,200 m (14,000 ft). Look out for glimpses of elk, deer, moose and bighorn sheep grazing at the side of the tracks.

Open-air viewing gondolas are available if you’d like to breathe in fresh mountain air. Alternatively, sit in one of the two Historical Narration cars. Here you can listen to on-board narrators dressed in period costume as they tell you more about the history of the railroad and what life was like here during the mining boom.

The journey takes three-and-a-half hours each way. You can stay in the National Historic District of Silverton for either two hours or just half an hour, admiring its Victorian-era architecture and exploring its Mining Heritage Center.

The Nilgiri Mountain Railway, India

With some of the most innovative train engineering of the 20th century, India’s railways climb steep ravines, cross vast plains and traverse forested valleys. While most steam trains have been replaced with modern models, a few well-oiled engines are still trawling the tracks. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway runs from Mettupalayam, in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, to the colonial hill station Ooty.

The Nilgiri Mountain Railway

The line runs 46 km (28.5 miles) across 250 bridges, around 108 curves and through 16 tunnels. Often moving at walking pace, it never reaches more than 45 km/h (27 mph). A taxi or bus might be much quicker it takes around five hours to complete the route but this quintessential Indian experience allows you to join many locals who still prefer to take the train.

Initially, the blue and cream carriages are pulled from Mettupalayam by a diesel train, meandering through tea plantations and terraced farmland. On reaching Coonoor station, about halfway along the route, a steam locomotive takes over. As the wind catches the billowing smoke, the train tackles the steepest part of the route up through eucalyptus groves and shola forests. Monkeys scamper off the tracks as the train approaches.

As the train reaches Ooty (youll see Udhagamandalam on the station sign, the towns little-used full name) theres mayhem on the platform as vendors rush forward to offer packets of roasted nuts and fresh samosas. Its worth spending a night in the town to explore the Raj-era bungalows, 19th-century British governmental buildings and the lemon-yellow Saint Stephens Church.

The Royal Livingstone Express, Victoria Falls, Zambia

This traditional 1920s steam train departs from the town of Livingstone, close to Victoria Falls, two evenings a week (due to increase to three evenings by the end of this year). Tastefully restored to its former glory, it runs along a section of the incomplete Cape to Cairo railway begun by British colonialist Cecil Rhodes during the 19th century.

The Royal Livingstone Express

On board, leather seats and polished wood take you back to a bygone era. During the four-and-a-half-hour experience, you can relax in the lounge car or enjoy a drink from the observation cars well-stocked bar. This car also has an open-sided veranda where you can take in views of the falls and surrounding countryside.

The journey takes you through the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site and is timed just right for you to enjoy a sunset vista from Victoria Falls Bridge. Also commissioned by Rhodes in 1905, the bridge acts as a border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The train pauses here for around half an hour, giving you time to disembark and take photographs. If visiting during the falls peak flow (January to July) you can watch the roaring wall of water and rising mist as its tinged burnt-orange and gold in the changing light.

After continuing on to nearby Palm Grove Siding, the ring of a dinner bell signals the beginning of your five-course meal, freshly prepared by the on-board chefs. Expect anything from braised game shoulder and vanilla panna cotta to mushroom risotto followed by a zesty lemon tart.

A similar experience is available twice a week from the Zimbabwe side of the falls aboard the Bushtracks Express. Departing from Victoria Falls station, it takes you to the bridge via Victoria Falls Game Park.

SL Hitoyoshi, Japan

Some of the most futuristic trains in the world zoom through Japan’s cities and countryside, but the Japanese still have a nostalgic affection for steam trains. In 2009 the SL Hitoyoshi began running between Kumamoto and Hitoyoshi on Japans south island of Kyushu. Its been lovingly restored inside with rosewood flooring and plump leather seats, as well as a polished and freshly gilded exterior.

SL Hitoyoshi

The train begins in Kumamoto, stopping at a number of stations along the way. Youre free to get off at each station: a bell calls you back when its time to depart. Shiroishi Station is worth exploring, with a 108-year-old wooden platform and waiting room. While the first part of the journey follows much of Yatsushiro Bay, the second part heads inland following the Kuma River through the cedar forest-covered mountains.

On board, there’s a glass-windowed observation car at the end of the train, as well as a dining car selling SL Hitoyoshi-branded drink and snacks. One car has a display of train memorabilia as well as mini railway engineer uniforms for children to try on.

Once the train arrives in Hitoyoshi, you can watch the locomotive turn round for the return journey on a huge steel turntable. The train only runs on select days throughout the year so pre-booking is essential.

Jacobite Steam Train, Highlands, Scotland

There’s a certain fantastical thrill in climbing onto the Jacobite Steam Train. The big black engine rumbles loudly and white steam pours out in huge hot clouds, making it easy to imagine that you’re not taking a journey through the Highlands, but instead boarding the Hogwarts Express.

Jacobite Steam Train

The trip doesn’t begin at Platform 9 however, but at Fort William, the largest town in the Highlands. The train chugs slowly between steep-sided mountains and past sweeping glens. Moving at a leisurely pace, you have plenty of time to take photographs and appreciate the rugged beauty of the countryside.

The two-hour ride passes by Neptune’s Staircase, a series of eight locks on the Caledonian Canal, as well as the Glenfinnan Monument, a memorial to the clansmen who fought in the Jacobite uprising of 1745. But the highlight of the trip for most people is cruising over the arresting 14-arch Glenfinnan Viaduct, which gained renown thanks to its role in the Harry Potter movies.

After Glenfinnan Station, the trip continues through a stark landscape. From your seat, you have views over the sea to distant islands with evocative names like Rum and Muck. The final stop is Mallaig, a fishing town where you can board a ferry to the Isle of Skye.

Craig Burkinshaw is Founder of Audley Travel.

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Where to enjoy an al fresco coffee in Africa



 



If you’re planning an African safari and are also a coffee lover, then you already know that several safari destinations are also coffee exporters, such as Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and even Zambia. We try to frequent new coffee shops on every visit to Africa and have compiled a list of our current favorite haunts based on quality of coffee and the tranquil, al fresco environment.

We’ve selected our top pick for each city or town and, in no particular order, have listed them below.

Inzora Rooftop Cafe, Kigali, Rwanda

This coffee shop is located inside a bookshop, so if you dont wish to enjoy your java on the rooftop, you can sip coffee and peruse their great selection of books, many of which focus on Rwanda.

We love that the coffee is grown, picked and processed by womens coops in Rwanda. The coffee is good and the views from the rooftop area are gorgeous. The wifi isn’t strong on the rooftop which, in our book, is an added bonus.

Prunes, Kampala, Uganda

Designed by Parisian architects, Prunes offers a funky, modern interior to complement its lovely outdoor seating options.

And, if you’re after more than a cup of joe, this is an excellent spot for lunch or dinner.

The Mulberry, Arusha, Tanzania

Despite its central location, only five minutes on foot from the clock tower, The Mulberry’s outdoor seating is so peaceful, you’d swear you were somewhere on the outskirts of town. This venue is perfect for those who wish to sit back and take in some of their natural surroundings whilst enjoying their cappuccino.

Their website claims that they even have the odd hedgehog in their garden area, but we’ve only been privy to birds and monkeys. Still, not many cafes can claim that.

The River Cafe, Nairobi, Kenya

This cafe is nestled inside Karura Forest and you truly feel as though you are nowhere near a major city. The wifi is strong here, too, if you’re looking for a place where you can linger and catch up on whats been happening while you’ve been in the bush.

It is pricey, though, as this is also a tourist spot.

Taste by Rootz, Lusaka, Zambia

This trendy cafe offers a funky, fun interior for those wishing to escape the heat. But, for us, the real lure is the lovely, tranquil gardens.

It’s too easy to spend several hours here, lingering over a good cup of coffee and enjoying a very healthy meal.

The Cottage Cafe, Harare, Zimbabwe

The Cottage Cafe has a spacious garden section with a play area for little ones. The wifi is strong here, too.

There’s often something local happening at The Cottage Cafe, so dont be surprised if, when you turn up, they’ve got baby clothes for sale, hanging up randomly around the garden area, or local artists showcasing their latest works. This is a good spot if you’re seeking a bit of company with your coffee.

Vintage Coffee Shop, Windhoek, Namibia

Last but not least on our list of al fresco coffee shops is the Vintage Coffee Shop. Aptly named, the Vintage Coffee Shop sells a wide array of vintage items, such as tableware, clothing and furniture.

The outdoor seating has comfy, push chairs, perfect for tucking in to a good book while enjoying your coffee.

Javier Luque is a Co-Founder and Director ofYour African Safari.

If you would like to be a guest blogger onA Luxury Travel Blogin order to raise your profile, pleasecontact us.



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9 of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world



 



There are hundreds of thousands of different waterfalls across the world in many different countries, both in prominent locations, and secret hideaways. All of the waterfalls I am going to describe are spectacular, exhilarating, beautiful, and often a popular tourist attraction in that area. Some waterfalls are better known than others, but whether it’s a planned trip or an added gem to your itinerary these breath taking waterfalls are a must.

Gullfoss, Iceland

Gullfoss waterfall is located in the canyon of the Hvita River in the southwest of Iceland. It is also known as Golden Waterfall, as due to when the sun shines the waterfall takes on a golden brown colour. Gullfoss is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland; it has two cascades before reaching the 2.5km crevasse below, the first which is 36 feet and the second which is 69 feet. The waterfall is the largest in Europe and is part of an eponymous nature reserve, to ensure it is protected for all to enjoy its natural beauty.

Gullfoss-Falls,-Iceland

Angel Falls, Venezuela

Angel Falls is located in the western sector of Canaima National Park in Venezuela. Angel Falls is the highest waterfall in the world, falling from a height of 3230 feet. There are many different ways to observe the falls; fly, canoe or hike. Should one wish for a bit more adventure, abseiling down the falls is a real thrill, but involves some rock climbing first! Although this does take two days, the views and adrenaline rush are worth every second.

Angel-Falls

Iguazu Falls, Brazil

Igauazu Falls, also known as Iguassu Falls and Iguacu Falls, are located on the border of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. There are 275 individual cascades making it one of the natural wonders of the world. The falls stretch out over 2.7 km and a height of 200-269 feet. The best way to see the falls in their natural beauty is through the special walkway, which has been built around the falls which allows tourists to see it up close. The falls are so incredibly beautiful that they have been used as the backdrops for many different films. If one allows a couple of days to see this incredible waterfall, it is worth viewing from both the Brazilian side and the Argentinian side. They both offer unique and jaw dropping experiences and of course both countries will claim their side is better!

Iguazu-Falls

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Zambia

Victoria Falls is located on the Zambezi River, forming the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. With a width of 1.6 km and a drop of 354 feet, it’s not a surprise that the spray of water can be seen from miles away. One special vista is from the Knife-edge Bridge, as visitors can enjoy the best view of the Main Falls as well as the Boiling Pot (where the river parts and heads down the Botoka Gorge). Falls Bridge, Devils Pool and the Lookout Tree offer panoramic views across the Main Falls.

Victoria-Falls

Niagara Falls, US and Canada

One of the worlds most well known falls, Niagara is a shared name for three individual waterfalls, which make up part of the international border between Canada and the US. The individual falls are; Horseshoe Falls, America Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. As there are three cascades, Niagara Falls has the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world. Located on the Niagara River, the falls have a drop of 177 feet. Although it may not be the tallest waterfall in the world, the combination of the width of the three falls and the volume of water make it a truly spectacular sight. Take a boat trip – the ‘Spirit of Niagara’ into the falls and see the mesmerising power of the water up close along with the spectacular sight of the falls from a different perspective – it’s a really fun and must do experience.

Niagara-Falls-2

Huangguoshu Waterfall, China and East Asia

Huanggushu Waterfall, which translates to Yellow Fruit Tree it is the largest waterfall in China and Asia, located on the Baishui River in Huanggushu Waterfall National Park. It is 243 feet high and altogether there is an impressive 18 falls. Make sure you plan your visit around the morning sunrise, as this is when rainbows appear, which create a truly magical moment not to be missed. A path has been cut into the cliff behind the fall, which gives visitors a beautiful view of the water-curtain and the flowing river below.

Huanggushu-Falls

Plitvice Lake Waterfalls, Croatia

Plitvice Lakes National Park is the largest National Park in Croatia and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Register. The national park is world renowned for its beautiful collection of lakes and their distinctive colours. There are two waterfalls, Veliki slap, which is 255 feet, and Galocaki buk, which is 82 feet. Both waterfalls contribute to the beautiful 16 lakes.

Plitvice-Falls

Mackenzie Falls, Victoria, Australia

Based in Grampians National Park, Victoria, the waterfall is 114 feet, and there is a beautiful area at the top of the falls – a lookout point where visitors are able to see down the falls and appreciate the views of the higher drops which cannot be seen from below. The falls are year round flowing, unlike some other falls in the national park, due to the humid weather and droughts throughout the year. The waterfall is beautiful, with two tiers and both with pools that link them – this is definitely a fall to see while in the National Park.

Mackenzie-Falls

Sgwd Clun-Gwyn, Wales

Meaning the Fall of the White Meadow, based in the Brecon Beacons National Park (on the Western side). There are spectacular waterfalls of all different sizes, colours and beauty in the National Park, but one which really stands out is the Sgwd Clun-Gwyn waterfall. There are two cascades in the waterfall that can be viewed from above by following the footpath, or from the river below. It may only be 40 feet, but the sheer beauty of this waterfall should not be missed.

Sgwd Clun Gwyn Falls

Mike Kelly is Director at Oxford Private Travel.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.



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