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Following her recent stay at Mont Rochelle and Ulusaba, Caitlyn Chase, founder of popular luxury lifestyle blog Caviar and Cashmere, has kindly written about her stay. Thanks Caitlyn for sharing your Winelands and Wildlife experience with us.
Photograph provided by Caviar and Cashmere
For someone who has traveled to six of the seven continents and has stayed at some of the best hotels and resorts in the world, I may be a little hard to impress when it comes to travel. I knew visiting two of the Virgin Limited Edition properties in South Africa would be a great experience, but I did not expect to have my breath taken away, over and over again.
My trip began at Virgin Limited Edition's South African wine country hideaway, Mont Rochelle. Set on a hill overlooking the picturesque valley and village of Franschhoek,'Mont Rochelle' is a understatedly luxurious hotel and winery with breathtaking views of the neighboring vineyards and Klein Dassenberg mountains. Fruit and wine have been cultivated in Franschhoek, just one hour outside of Cape Town, since the 18th century when French Huguenots fled to the Cape to escape religious persecution in France.
The thatch-roofed property was taken over by Virgin Limited Edition in 2014, and given a complete makeover. My family and I decided that Mont Rochelle would be the perfect first stop on our South African adventure, a place to unwind and adjust after a 24+ hour journey to South Africa from Los Angeles.
With 100 acres of grounds, 22 well-appointed rooms with views galore, 2 restaurants, a spa with a hammam and a heated pool,'Mont Rochelle' has everything you'd want while on a idyllic getaway. You can relax by the pool or underneath a charming portico, drink the region's wine and dine at world-class restaurants, enjoy a picnic in the vineyards, and for those who are more active like myself, the Winelands offers wine tours, horseback riding, hiking, biking, fishing and golf. I chose to spend most of my time on property (can you blame me?) but when I did venture out, my favorite destinations were Babylonstoren, a historic Cape Dutch farm dating back to 1692 that boasts one of the best preserved farmyards in the Cape, and La Petite Ferme, which is regarded as one of the best restaurants in the region.
The Winelands are a wonderful year-round destination and boast a mild Mediterranean climate, somewhat like the South of France or the Napa Valley, which is what makes the area perfect for grape-growing. Summer is the reverse of the Northern hemisphere, so my end of March timing was still considered summer season. The best season to visit is considered September to March when it is hot, sunny and dry. From April to August is when it cools down with some rain in the region.
I spent 3 nights and 4 days at Mont Rochelle, and savored every last minute. From the welcoming staff, to the peaceful guest room balconies overlooking the vineyards, to the hard-to-beat food and wine, we were in heaven.
My favorite part there was the early morning time. My family and I would meet on the outdoor patio of the Miko restaurant for coffee and breakfast, enjoying the serene quiet and peacefulness of Franschhoek. The view literally took my breath away, every single morning.
When it was time to leave Mont Rochelle, I was sad but also overcome with excitement because I was headed to my next Virgin Limited Edition property: Ulusaba.
I have to admit, I have never fallen for somewhere as much as I did Ulusaba Private Game Reserve. When my family and I decided that we wanted to go on a safari as part of our South African adventure, Ulusaba kept coming up not only in our online research, but also in conversation. A few friends who had visited before unanimously agreed that they'd return there again soon.
Once I stepped foot onto the property, I knew I was in for something special. My family and I were greeted by our friendly ranger, Pierre, who would be our guide for the entire stay. He welcomed us with a smile and of course, mimosas, checked us in, and drove us to our lodge in the Land Rover Defender that we would call home for the next five days.
Ulusaba has 21 rooms and suites spread over two lodges: Rock Lodge and Safari Lodge. My family and I were planning to stay in the Safari Lodge, which is built along the banks of a dry riverbed, complete with swing bridges between the exquisite tree house style rooms, but when we arrived we had a surprise lodge and room change.
We were taken to Rock Lodge, which is perched on the top of a koppie with panoramic views over the 33,000 acres of bush below. There are 8 rooms at Rock Lodge, including the Master Suite, Makwela Suites, Rock Cliff rooms and the two bedroom Rock Suite, some of which have private plunge pools. We were taken to stay in the Cliff Lodge room, which is a palatial private two bedroom suite with a pool, jacuzzi, kitchen, living room, and expansive viewing deck.
Ulusaba offers two game drives per day for guests, one in the early morning (5am wake up call) and the other in the late afternoon (4pm.) You are assigned to a guide and tracker, who become like your family as you're with them for many hours per day. My family and I loved our guide, Pierre, and tracker, Paulee so much that we even spent may meals with them, and never missed a game drive (we went on 10 total.)
The experience of going out 'on safari' is unlike any experience I have ever had. Propped up in an open, no-roof Land Rover Defender (with extremely comfortable seats) you are up close and personal with the terrain and wildlife. Each seat in the vehicle offers an unobstructed view of the adventures ahead.
What makes the Sabi Sands Game Reserve so unique is that it was pioneered by local landowners in the 1950s, and shares a border with the world-renowned Kruger National Park. Today, many of these families are now third and fourth generation land owners, their legacy being the successful conservation of the highest density of big game in South Africa. Even though there is a 50 kilometer unfenced boundary with Kruger National Park, wildlife in the Sabi Sands Reserve is well habituated resulting in extraordinary close encounters and prolific, diverse sightings. The Sabi and the Sand Rivers run through the reserve, which add further dimension to the bio-diversity of the area.
Each drive is an entirely new experience. Many people come to South Africa to view the Big 5 (African Lion, African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, African Leopard, and Rhinoceros) however, there are so many other amazing animals to be seen as well (Leopard, Giraffe, Zebra, Cheetah, Wild Dog, and more!) There are optimal times for viewing each different kind of species, some are more likely to be spotted in the early morning hours and others are more apt to the evening.
I gained so much knowledge about the wildlife on every drive, thanks to our more than well-informed guide and tracker. I learned so much, but one of the most interesting pieces of knowledge I took home was how to spot the animal footprints, decipher which kind of animal they belonged to, how fresh they were, and how to figure out where they were headed. It was mind-blowing! My favorite footprints to look for were the baby lions, mainly because I couldn't get enough of them! We kept running into the same pack of lions, which consisted of six playful baby cubs, their mother, and aunts.
One of my favorite parts of the day (after the game drives) were the incredible gourmet meals. Ulusaba is a friendly, collaborative atmosphere, so breakfasts are shared with your guide after morning drive, and dinners are held at a long communal table with all other guests after afternoon drive. Each dinner offers an entirely new menu consisting of super fresh ingredients, which is explained personally before dinner by one of the talented chefs (the chefs rotate.) It was such a pleasure to get to know people from all over the world, including the incredible staff (if you visit please say hi to Robyn Mack, the General Assistant), and share our experiences and stories from the drives each day. Not to mention, the food and wine was some of the best I've had.
Aside from enjoying my favorite things in the world (eating wonderful food and game-viewing rare animals,) there is a plethora of other things to do on the expansive property. You can relax by the pool, enjoy a spa treatment with an unbeatable view, visit one of the other lodges, shop at the boutique filled with local artisanal goodies and souvenirs, stargaze at the private observatory, wine taste in the private wine cellar, play tennis, go on a guided safari walk, or even volunteer with their impactful organization, Pride 'N Purpose.
If you are dying to go after hearing about my once-in-a-lifetime experience that took my breath away, over and over again, at this world-class hidden retreat, check out Virgin Limited Edition's Winelands & Wildlife offer available, where you can recreate my unforgettable experience at both Ulusaba and Mont Rochelle.
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