2013 in review

AND THE WINNERS IN 2013 ARE …

(Posted 28th December 2013)

This year again, I travelled far and wide to bring stories and travel experiences to my readers and this is the time of year that I simply must share ‘The Best of 2013’ with you, though I shall spare you ‘The Worst of 2013’ for which you need to scroll down my TripAdvisor reviews to put names to the downside of my travels.

Let me start in Uganda, where I after all live, when I am not out and about travelling the world.

For Kampala there is no doubt that the Kampala Serena is my hotel of choice and my hotel of the year, head and shoulder above the competition, but for the exception of the best hotel lounge which honours go to the Sheraton Kampala Hotel for their ‘Sky Lounge’ on the 10th floor. There, from early morning till late guests can enjoy free coffee, tea, juices and water besides ever ready snacks, from a light breakfast till Hors D’oeuvres time and beyond.

Nkuringo Walking Safaris this year is my choice of adventure and activities operator and here comes my overall winner for Uganda, the quirky and funky Chameleon Lodge which majestically sits on a ridge over Lake Mutanda. While a newcomer to the Ugandan lodge scene, there cannot be a shred of a doubt in my mind that they rose to the top in no time and as usual, good things need mentioning.

On the downside, barbs for all those who constantly mouth off why I write so little about Uganda – check your facts by the way – and yet treat every development worth talking about and writing about in their own backyard like a state secret. My advice for 2014 – make up your mind once and for all, you want PR and exposure, for free by the way, then talk and tell or else hold your peace forever.

In neighbouring Rwanda, again Serena take the honours for my choice of best city hotel, and when the new competition arrives later in 2014, they will have a fight at hand if they want to dislodge this hospitality gem from the top. Upcountry, there are three winners in my book, each on their own merit, each for their own special features.

First the Nyungwe Forest Lodge, for the location as much as for their hospitality, which has matured very nicely over the past years. On Lake Kivu, two places captured my heart, sharing Gisenyi as their base but otherwise widely different in appeal. The Lake Kivu Serena is my trusted friend when returning to those lake shores on business, as their facilities, especially their suites, always give me a home away from home, and an office away from my office, where I can work on the terrace, the lake below and the hills across the water in the Congo in the distance, good food but a call to room service away.

A little further, in Bralirwa, home of the brewery, however is my secret favourite located, the Paradis Malohide, where I always spend happy moments and most of them across the water on their little island, sitting in the grass, finding inspiration before returning to the main lodgings to sample another one of their fab pizza creations.

In Kenya, let me start by first mentioning my most favoured area this year, and it is the central highlands around Nanyuki and the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a place I named as Kenya’s most complete wilderness experience where the Big Five can be seen after a road journey of just 3 ½ hours from Kenya’s capital Nairobi, or alternatively a 40 minute flight with Safarilink, my favourite Kenyan safari airline, from Wilson Airport. Kenya is also the home of Kenya Airways, my favourite regional and continental airline and I acknowledge and applaud their seemingly never ending supply of red carpets along the way.

I always treasure a return to one of Nairobi’s most historic hotels, The Sarova Stanley, for their food and hospitality, but then my ‘former home’ of 3 ½ years in the 1970’s, the Nairobi Serena Hotel too is always worth a visit. The honours on the top though this year must go to Hemingways in Karen, the most memorable feature being their taste bud busting food, produced during my stay by Michelin star rated chef Barry Tonks. That said, equally impressive was their general hospitality and their suites, each with their own butler – now that is what I call style. On the safari circuit it was a close race, with Porini’s Rhino Camp beaten by a short nose as Ol Seki Hemingways took the top spot.

And then of course my favourite destination across the area I report from – the Seychelles. ‘ONLY’ two visits this year but very memorable ones again. The Festival Kreol was an eye opener, allowing me to discover the archipelago’s cultural roots and at the end of an eventful 8 days I took two days out and stayed at what turned out to be my property of the year, the www.residenceontherocks.com … a superbly located and tastefully furnished private residence, adjoining the Banyan Tree Seychelles, which offers two master bedrooms in the main house, one master bedroom in the pool villa and another master bedroom in an ‘ocean view’ villa, set behind the outdoor hot tub and whirl pool. I am sure, were I able to spend more time there, I would finish my long in the making book in no time as that place inspired me to write and find the right words like nearer at home only the Chameleon Hill did.

And then there was Reunion, that French Indian Ocean island tucked away between Madagascar and Mauritius and an eye opening return it was after over 20 years. European infrastructure combined with Creole culture and spirit, a blend of food bringing together the finest French traditions with Creole and Indian Ocean spices and dishes and a variety of attractions, from white water rafting to rock climbing, paragliding, heli-safaris across the rugged interior with 360’s just metres from waterfalls gushing down thousands of feet over the rock faces of the mountains, a life volcano and whales and dolphins meandering alongside our yacht – this was the bonus trip of 2013 and much looking forward to returning again in 2014.

For all those places I did not mention by name or location, countries visited included, you all did ok at one level or another and perhaps for my end year review in 2014 you will make it into the top rankings through some exceptional experiences I take home with me when I next come calling, officially as well as often done almost incognito.

For now, thank you to all my readers of my blog and the daily ATC News. As of today I count over 520.000, and I salute you for your support, your comments, your critiques – believe me I take as good as I give – and for your encouragement when touching on the many topics I cover, from aviation to mainstream tourism to conservation. Have a great 2014 – Health, Happiness and Success and keep reading …

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