By Barbara Ramsay Orr
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, South Africa
It isn’t often that jet lag is a good thing, but that was the case at Grootbos Private Nature Reserve in the Gansbaai region of the Western Cape. In a private villa nestled into the hillside, on a second cup of coffee as the sun rose at 5 a.m., I found myself doing laps in the infinity pool. Morning mist was just clearing from the tip of the Cape of Good Hope and birds were beginning their morning songs. It was one of those moments of exceptional beauty that you want to freeze-frame. The five-star resort is discretely snugged into the rolling hills of ‘fynbos,’ the rich bush vegetation with more than 9,000 species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world.
While a flower safari may sound pretty tame, it is anything but. A tour, either on horseback or in a Jeep, of the rolling hills covered in flowering bushes reveals the magical interconnectedness of plants, birds and insects. It feels a little like ‘forest bathing,’ an immersion into green nature. Some of the plants documented at Grootbos are found only in this private reserve, and it’s that special and rare diversity that the resort is dedicated to saving.
If you’ve seen the animals and the plants, why not do the fishes? Grootbos arranges marine safaris, with the chance to see the marine big five — dophins, whales, sharks, seals and penguins. You can try out shark cage diving in the Gansbaai too, if that’s something on your risk-list. The cuisine at the resort is exemplary, with local ingredients, seafood, fish and fruit and vegetables from local providers dominating the menu. This is a very special place, highly family-friendly and inspiring in its goals to preserve the fynbos and support the
local community. www.grootbos.com/en
In addition to white beaches and blue skies, Barbados is justifiably famous for its cuisine. Restaurants like The Cliff, Daphnes and Champers are world-class. I love ordering the local seafood and dining within steps of the ocean. But on a recent visit to the island, I stepped off the beaten path and explored some of the smaller local places to dine, discovering in the process some real island gems. Bajan chef Michael Harrison was my guide to the places favoured by locals, where the dishes reflect the fresh produce and unique spicing that defines Barbados cuisine. We visited a rum shop for a cold Banks beer and fish cakes. We toured the city farmers market to taste fruits and vegetables used in popular dishes. A visit to the fish market let us sample freshly grilled fish, drizzled with lemon, in a little booth just steps from the boats that had recently caught them. Best of all was a visit to Chef Harrison’s childhood neighbourhood for a quick stop at The Roti House for one of the best chicken roti ever.
Barbados isn’t all about food, of course. One of the cool, and free, experiences is to join the horses from the nearby Garrison Racetrack for an early morning swim, around 6 a.m., at Pebbles Beach. Their pleasure at being in the water is a joy to see and you can join them, if the trainers give you permission.
There’s also rum, a Caribbean specialty, and something you should savour while here. Try some of the aged rums, many of which are only available on the island. “Rum is like a woman,” Simon Warren of St. Nicholas Abbey tells me. “As it ages, it gets smoother — and more expensive.” There are several places to do rum tastings, from the historic plantations to the tasting rooms at the Mount Gay Rum factory.
The Sea Breeze Beach Club is a newly renovated resort on a quiet a beach. The Hilton in Bridgetown is well situated for walking into the town and has lovely beaches. Fairmont’s Royal Pavilion on St. James Beach is high style and gorgeous in pink.
There’s car racing at Bushy Park, polo matches, submarine excursions, hiking, water sports — a great collection of adventures. Barbados is an island the satisfies all your cravings. You can book a food tour with Chef Michael Harrison at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Vineyard Cottage at 13th Street Winery, Twenty Valley
Whatever it is that draws you to Niagara for a visit — the Ice Wine Festival in winter, the Shaw Festival in summer or the harvest celebrations in the fall — now there’s a new reason to linger for a sleep over. In a white clapboard house that used to be home to the farm’s hired hand, 13th Street Winery has created the Vineyard Cottage, a luxury retreat that’s perfect for a family getaway, a girlfriends’ retreat or a romantic couple’s weekend.
The décor is elegantly contemporary without being stark, with soft touches added by original art, cosy fireplaces, lots of light pouring in through multiple windows and personal touches like a complimentary bottle of 13th Street wine in the fridge.
Guests can rent the whole cottage, which sleeps eight, or just the separate apartment for two. The kitchen is beautifully equipped, making a group dinner in the dining area an easy task, but there’s also the opportunity to arrange a private chef to prepare dinner. There’s a spacious patio for warm weather lounging.
Located in the Twenty Valley on Fourth Avenue, just steps from the winery, the cottage is a great location for visiting wine country, going to the theatre or exploring Niagara Falls.
Guests can stroll over for lunch on the winery verandah or to sample the famous 13th Street butter tarts. There are several wineries located nearby for tastings, the shopping district of Jordan is just down the road and the cottage is surrounded by fruit orchards and vineyards, perfect for long walks. It’s also a good base for a hike on the Bruce Trail. There’s WiFi, Netflix and really good sunsets. And wine. The Vineyard Cottage can be booked at: https://13thstreetwinery.com/stay/