Although the room we stayed in listed online at over $700/night, our stay at The Cellars-Hohenort was completely free thanks to Hyatt credit card “annual” certificates which David had accumulated over the pandemic as Hyatt and other hotel chains extended the validity of such certificates during the worldwide shut-down. (We used my three certificates for our stay at The Marine Hermanus.) The Cellars-Hohenort is part of the Liz McGrath collection of three 5-star hotels which, along with The Marine Hermanus, had just come under the Hyatt umbrella. We couldn’t have been happier with this use of the certificates!
I’m behind on blogging having been distracted by the holidays and then the heartbreaking last weeks with my beloved, nearly 18-year old dog, so am finishing up the end of our South Africa trip while on a transAtlantic cruise from Florida back to Europe. I’ll keep it brief, but I hated to let two favorite South African stays (and a pair of awesome Qatar Airways Qsuites flights home) go unreported.
Looking for something different after our time driving South Africa’s Garden Route, I was intrigued to find Skeiding Guest Farm, billed as a working ostrich farm. How fun!) Turning inland from the Garden Route, the drive to Skeiding took us through dramatic mountain passes into the Little Karoo, a rugged high plains area. We stopped for lunch at a funky little roadside café and gift shop called Bella de Karoo and descended back through the mountains to the ostrich farm at the end of some miles of unpaved road. (Bella de Karoo apparently has guest rooms elsewhere, but we didn’t check those out.)
The famed Garden Route along the southern coast of the Western Cape of South Africa stretches from Mossel Bay to Storms River. I’d planned our first two nights officially on the Garden Route at an AirBnB apartment in Mossel Bay. The drive from Hermanus was just under 3 ½ hours along an inland stretch of the N2 highway. It wasn’t the gorgeous coastline we’d enjoyed en route from Cape Town to Hermanus via the Cape Peninsula, but it had had its own rugged vastness with mountains looming beyond plains off to our left. We loved a lunch stop at Ou Meul Bakkery in Riviersonderend where kudu venison meat pies and sweet pastries were delicious and cheap.
Six free-annual-night Hyatt certificates first put Hermanus, South Africa, on my radar screen. David and I each had accumulated lots of hotel certificates over the pandemic and we each had three Hyatt nights that we needed to use. We get one certificate/year with certain credit cards and, although they usually expire within a year, Hyatt had extended the expiration due to the pandemic. This created a great opportunity to use those certificates for an extended stay. We often use these certificates for a 2-night stay, using each of our 1-night certificates, then calling the hotel to make sure we can stay in the same room, rather than checking out and then in again as the booking switches from one of our names to the other. So, we could have lumped our nights together for a 6-night free stay somewhere, but that really didn’t suit our plans on this trip.
After our Kenya safari, it was time for 15 days/14 nights in South Africa. I wanted to spend the entire time in the Western Cape, exploring Cape Town, driving the famous Garden Route at leisure and doing a little wine tasting. We also wanted to make use of Hyatt anniversary night certificates that had been piling up during the pandemic but that would be expiring before too long. With Hyatt and Small Luxury Hotels having recently added the 3-hotel Liz McGrath boutique hotel chain in South Africa to its lineup, we had a great opportunity to get max value from those certificates.
Traveling from an apartment in Paris to Kenya for a safari was truly a “now for something completely different” move. Just what I had in mind to really make this 2-month trip a birthday celebration. I’d been wanting to make a trip to sub-Saharan Africa from Europe to avoid the really long flight(s) and jetlag that attend travel there from the US. After five weeks in Belgium and France, now was the perfect time.
In addition to the obvious appeals, I loved the idea of Kenya because it made sense as a waypoint on our way to South Africa and we could get there from Paris without an overnight flight. This meant we were fine with flying economy (with a exit row or bulkhead seat for David’s long legs). I transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Air France/Flying Blue to book an 8-hour flight on Air France from Paris to Nairobi, Kenya, for 48,000 points (24,000 points apiece) plus €214.40.
This post is not as fun as some, but I wanted to share practical travel-during-Covid info that took me awhile to pull together for our recent travels to Belgium (via the UK), France, Kenya and South Africa.
This year was a big birthday for me, so I was hoping we’d be able to do something special after last year’s pandemic isolation. We were thrilled when Europe opened up to (non-essential) American travelers again after we’d been banned for so long during the pandemic. When Antwerp friends asked us back for a favorite house- and cat-sit in September, we decided to launch my birthday trip there. I came up with a 2-month/4-trips-in-1 birthday trip that included Belgium, Paris, Kenya and South Africa. I made plans with the understanding that any portion of our travels could be canceled at any time given the vagaries of ever-changing Covid restrictions. I researched travel requirements throughout the summer, thinking early on that South Africa might be out when that country raised its Covid Level from 2 to 3 to 4. A ban on all alcohol sales and the closing of many venues would make our planned Garden Route exploration and wine tasting impossible. Fortunately, South Africa was back to Level 2 by the time we traveled there. When –just prior to our September 2 departure– the EU recommended member nations consider banning Americans as our Covid numbers spiked, we started to wonder if we’d even make it to our first stop in Belgium. I decided each and every step of the trip would be a gift. As each portion of our trip materialized, we counted ourselves lucky and crossed our fingers for the next. In the end, all four portions of our trip worked out and we had a wonderful time: We spent three weeks in Antwerp, two weeks in an apartment in my beloved Paris, a week on safari in Kenya, and 15 days in the Western Cape of South Africa.
We wanted to celebrate a big anniversary somewhere memorable, but as always in these strange times, Covid played a major factor in determining what was open to us (and with not too many related hoops to jump through) and what felt reasonably safe. That first “bulletproof” feeling after getting our vaccines was waning as breakthrough cases started popping up everywhere (including among family). Focusing on outdoorsy destinations seemed like a good idea… and, after a little research, the Galápagos Islands moved to the top of my list.
We spent 2020 and then some sheltering in place with my high-risk parents. It was a beautiful place to stay and a privilege to be useful until we could all be vaccinated. But, after a year+ of being in one place with a lot of togetherness (plus doing all the shopping and 98% of the cooking), we were getting restless and everyone needed some space. First up were a number of visits to family and friends, then it was time to find somewhere new to light for a while. A search of places we could just live for a month (May 2021) with minimal hassles and no quarantine led me to the Dominican Republic. I’d only been once before to Samaná and that was ages ago. I found a beautiful 2-bedroom/2-bath condo at a great price on Bávaro Beach near Punta Cana. We were a go!
I’ve been offline for some months, enjoying down-time with family and friends between travels. We wandered so much in 2019 (7.5+ months in total, including 12 countries and a couple of extended U.S. roadtrips) that I got behind on blogging. Also, I wasn’t sure I had much to add to the sea of info out there, and if I don’t think I can add something meaningful, I don’t feel compelled to blog just for the sake of it. That said, I do feel remiss about not sharing the awesome Tasmanian itinerary laid out for us by native-Tassie friends, Gail and Lyndon.