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.)
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.
I added Sofia, Bulgaria, on whim to the 8-night side trip I’d planned for us before our latest house- and cat-sit in Antwerp, Belgium. It was really a matter of “as long as we’re in the area (Bucharest, Romania), why not?” I didn’t know much about either Sofia or Bulgaria before then. Pre-travel research confirmed my general impression of a less-than-wealthy Eastern European capital, still recovering from Communism and still relatively new to the EU. As of the latest census I could find, Sofia has a population of 1.2 million people as compared to Bucharest’s 1.8 million. Bulgaria is both the poorest country in the EU and the fastest shrinking population in the world.
We arrived in bustling Agra in the afternoon after spending the first part of the day touring our way from Jaipur via Chand Baori and Fatehpur Sikri. Our driver threaded his way through the jumble of vehicles, pedestrians, cows and trash as we headed straight to Agra Fort. Hurrying to meet a waiting guide, we didn’t even have time to drop off our luggage.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Agra Fort was the main residence of the emperors of the Mughal Dynasty until 1638, when the capital moved to Delhi. The semi-circular fort occupies 94 acres and sits behind 70′ walls on the Yamuna River. Part of the fort is occupied by active military so tourists only see a small portion of the huge complex. From the main tourist courtyard, we could see soldiers atop the wall separating us from the military area.
I don’t often do straight-up lodging reviews and then only when there’s something really worth mentioning. Pearl Palace Heritage Hotel in Jaipur is one of those places that deserves a separate write-up. Located in a neighborhood that’s gated at night, Pearl Palace Heritage Hotel is safe, convenient, clean, comfortable and reasonably priced, but above all, it’s gorgeous. Housed in an elegant historic building, the decor is over-the-top in places, but fun and displaying impressive craftsmanship and artistry. The hotel has been named #1 Romantic Indian Hotel on Tripadvisor and a portion of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 2 was shot there in 2014. Photos are necessary to do this place justice, so here you go:
While not exactly a tourist destination, Sterling City does boast a historic little hotel and that was enough to get it on my radar screen as a half-way stop on our drive from Big Bend National Park back to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I was looking for a hotel with character and–as nice as Hotel Settles was on the drive down–I wanted to take a different route home just to vary things up a little. When I found a list of historic Texas hotels online, I pulled up Google Maps and eyed the location of those I wasn’t familiar with. 1910 State Hotel in Sterling City seemed exactly what I was looking for.
In recent years, Marfa, Texas, has gained a reputation as a funky, artsy destination town. Before that, it was famous as the filming location for the movie, “Giant,” starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean. (Dean died in a car crash in 1955 and the movie was released posthumously.) The cast stayed at the Hotel Paisano during filming, a -great old inn steeped in West Texas culture. The hotel plays up its connection to the movie with framed, poster-sized black-and-white photos scattered throughout.
Deciding where to stay during our much-anticipated McDonald Observatory “Star Party” came down to a historic hotel in downtown Fort Davis or Indian Lodge in Davis Mountains State Park. Highly recommended by friends, closer to the observatory, located within the state park where we wanted to hike, and newly refurbished as of summer 2018, we opted for Indian Lodge.
Built to look like a multi-level pueblo village, Indian Lodge opened to the public in 1939. The lodge boasts a big two-fireplace den/game room, a lovely pool and a restaurant with hit-and-miss opening hours. Our room on the upper level had windows on two sides and a now-blocked adobe fireplace in one corner. The ceiling consisted of large beams and twigs. Just what I had in mind!
I’m super excited about our upcoming week-long Texas roadtrip. As a native Texan with roots going back to the days when Texas was an independent republic, it’s high time I got myself to one of the state’s most iconic, unique and remote treasures, Big Bend National Park. I reserved one of the park’s coveted Chisos Mountains Lodge cottages a year ago and crossed my fingers that the weather would cooperate when the allotted time rolled around. A government shutdown didn’t even cross my mind back then. Fortunately, although Big Bend is a national park, the park is open, if unstaffed, and the Lodge is run by a private concessionaire, so we’re still a go. On our journey, we’ll also take in other Texas classics including a “Star Party” at the McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains, a stay in the “James Dean” room at the Paisano Hotel in Marfa and lots more.