One of the many things that help separate Hills of Africa apart from other agencies, is that we truly value our client’s experiences so much that we will not send a client to a property that we have not seen or visited. We are confident in making sure that the properties are set to our expectations of what we want our clients to experience. So that also means that we take the opportunity to send our staff to visit when we can, to explore new properties as well as visit some of our favorites to make sure everything is still to our expectations.

In May 2023, our own Client Experience Concierge, Lori Garrison had the opportunity to visit a variety of properties in South Africa as part of a FAM with Livingstone Safaris. Her recap was just too good not to share with our readers.


I loved the aesthetic of the clean lines allowing the art and flowers to shine through. There wasn’t the usual large check-in counter but two graceful queen-Ann-style writing tables with small laptop computers with comfortable occasional chairs for clients to perch on while checking in. The single room contained a comfortable tall king bed, occasional chairs facing a built-in bookshelf with a TV. A well-stocked bar armoire. A beautifully appointed bathroom of travertine marble with a free-standing tub, a counter with double sinks separating the enclosed WC, and huge shower. In the corner was a small table with upholstered dining chairs. On the table was a chilling bottle of bubbles, a beautiful brownie and a note of welcome from both the Saxon and Livingstone Safaris along with a small bag of welcome gifts and essentials.

For dinner I had an amazing pear and stilton cream (it also had baby beets- not a favorite) salad as a first course followed by springbok fillet with a demi-glace, which was well worth the 15-year wait. We shared a delicious Rijks Pinotage. Upon conclusion of our meal, we used the partially covered elevated walkway to return to the villa where our rooms were located.
The next morning, we had a quick breakfast on the covered patio, then were whisked off for a brief tour of the property. We were shown the Presidential and Nelson Mandela suites in the main building. The swimming pools and Gym and gorgeous Spa.


The villas come with a private butler who will greet you with a welcome drink of bubbles…and individual staff for preparing meals. The common space was covered to allow the breezes along the river to keep things cool for relaxing after game drives. If that doesn’t do it each suite has a plunge pool. The primary bedroom also has an outdoor bathtub. Dining spaces are extended over the river.

OLD DRIFT LODGE (a Hills of Africa favorite)

From the first impression, of a sunken communal firepit, it sets a very welcoming tone. I loved the subtly rustic elements that lend to the comfort in the tent suites. A riverside tent channeled a romantic bygone safari experience. My favorite thing was the slipper tubs on the decks surrounded by curtains to provide privacy. Now I can imagine our clients having fun while there.


We enjoyed a lovely welcome drink while our luggage was taken to our suites. I shared with another agent on the trip, so the king bed was divided into two large comfortable twin beds. Our suite was above a nice bend in the river. I loved the open bathroom with the huge round tub. The door to the plunge pool was next to an enclosed outdoor shower. We didn’t take advantage of it but the dressing room had a meal delivery box. After a quick freshen up we were off on our evening game drive. We saw so many bird species, I have to admit that since I have terrible eyesight, that birding has never been popular with me. But our guide Orphius, and his partner tracker- Gift, took the time to point out the various species as we traveled around the expansive Matetsi reserve. Later, we had a bit of a sundowner then returned to the Lodge for dinner. Again, the meal offered was delicious, I had the Kingklip – another favorite I hadn’t had since we’d returned to the US in 2008. The food was amazing, and the beverages couldn’t be beat.

The next morning, we had our early morning game drive, beginning at 6 AM, we saw lots of Waterbok and a few elephants. We stopped for Ranger coffee- which is coffee accented with chocolate and topped off with Amarula (a forgotten favorite) before returning to the lodge for breakfast. The truth is, one will never go hungry on safari, if you do it’s your own fault as the meals offered are amazing and filling. Breakfast consists of varieties of breads and Danish, fruits and yogurts, or an “English fry up” – eggs, bacon, toast, etc. Lunch is two to three courses, then dinner is a fabulous 3-4 course event.

After breakfast, we toured the remaining accommodations available on the property- Family suite and Private Villa, the spa and the gift shop. After another delicious lunch, we had free time to relax. Our afternoon game drive took us to the river where we boarded a pontoon boat for our sunset “Booze Cruise.” We had a nice time cruising upriver, while sipping on a gin and tonic, snacking on a variety of nibbles, and watching the sunset. Along the way, we saw a family of elephants enjoying the riverbank. After dusk, we returned to camp for another delicious dinner on the riverbank by lanternlight. I felt bad that I didn’t take advantage of the tub full of warm water and rose petals that was waiting for us when we returned to our suite that evening.


I was excited to see this property since we had booked clients in here recently. I really liked it. The rooms were bright and cheerful. Their bathrooms were amazing, I loved the colorful tiles- the wallpaper was also delightful. We were shown the honeymoon suite, which I liked very much. It was bright, yet romantic. I would say that I wouldn’t want to book the family villa at Palm River, while the rooms are very nice, I thought it was too far removed. There are no views of the river, the pool or the main area, at all. While this remoteness may appeal to some clients, I felt that there were no specific amenities specific to the family villa. The theme of the hotel mimics the bridge that spans across to Zambia. I would prefer lodge stays to a hotel but it does satisfy a specific price-point.


The Victoria Falls Hotel was in the midst of a transformation. Judith Zinyoro, the Guest Relations Manager was very excited to show us their newly renovated rooms. At that time, they have renovated 2/3 of the hotel room and are still in the process. Sadly, I found their color choices to be boring and bland. I felt that the look lacked character. I loved the lobby and communal areas. Honestly, I loved the little quiet nooks tucked under the main staircases.


I am going to say right here that Tintswalo Safari Lodge was my absolute favorite place. The ambiance screamed Safari Lodge- the ultimate safari lodge. Primitive elements blended with touches of elegance. We were greeted with a glass of champagne and ushered into a lovely dining room. It was easy to see the attention to detail, for the table setting to the delicious buffet. The dishes were classic South African fare, simple yet delicious.

The Explorer suites are fabulous. Each suite is named for a famous explorer. I was in the Kingsley Suite, named for Mary Kingsley. The suite was decorated in shades of blues and greens to reflect the fish and insects she studied during her exploration of western Africa. A small pot belly stove sat in the corner to warm the space if needed but I had to take advantage of the air conditioning. Two comfortable club chairs face out toward the deck with the private plunge pool. A lovely carafe of sherry with two glasses tops off the aura of warmth and welcome. There was also a lovely note from my personal housekeeper, Juliette who had come to turn down my bed.

Prior to our morning game drive, I was escorted to the main lodge where a selection of small Danish, shortbread cookies, coffee, teas, and juices were waiting in front of the fire in the parlor area. Our group filtered in then we proceeded to our open safari vehicle to meet our Guide- Mike and Tracker- Elvis. It was a chilly morning so Elvis explained there were blankets in the seats as well as hot water bottles! After an exciting morning game drive, we enjoyed “Ranger Coffee” which is coffee, hot chocolate, and Amarula.

Breakfast was served on the back patio. The table was set with small pots of muesli and crystalized fruit that could be spooned over yogurt, racks of toast, pots of honey, and jams. And a menu of breakfast options including a “full English fry up”. Carafes of coffee and hot water for tea, fresh juices were also available. Emily, one of the managers asked us if we wanted lunch or would we prefer a proper tea around 3PM before going out for our afternoon game drive. We opted for heavier tea offerings and went to our rooms to freshen up. We toured the rest of the accommodations of the main lodge including the Grant Suite which is a villa that has two bedrooms. The Baines Presidential suite can accommodate 4 persons and includes private chef and butler as well as private game-viewing vehicle.


I was excited to see this property since last year we had booked it for three consecutive trips. I thought it was a fabulous place. A fully fenced, self-contained space with its own pool, bar, kitchen, and staff can accommodate 10 people. The Manor House is perfect for families or groups of friends. There is even a tree house structure inside the fence that can be used as a sleep-out porch.


Our accommodation was comprised of four separate rooms- glass cubes, really. From the parking area, walkways led to the pool deck. Before the building to the right of the walkway was a firepit area with casual plastic chairs surrounding the firepit. In the center was a casual gathering room- glass enclosed overlooking a deck and pool. This gathering room had a kitchen and dining space it was divided from the seating area by a large sculpted fireplace. To the right and left of the gathering room were stairs that led to two rooms. For a total of four rooms. As I said these rooms have glass walls all around and the bathrooms are situated so that they cannot be seen from the other rooms, however other parts of the rooms were more exposed. Granted, there were curtains to block the views but I still felt a bit exposed, as were my neighbors as I could have looked right into their room. I tend to be security focused and found that since the doors to the rooms were all secured with an electronic lock, the fob was hung on a hook next to the locking mechanism.

The room also boasted a star bed on the balcony. The suite had a beautiful freestanding tub and the shower had a sliding panel to open the space to feel as though you were showering outdoors. I noticed that this external sliding panel did not have a lock or even a hasp to secure it, there was however a hasp on the outside of the shower to secure it from within the bathroom.

That evening after we returned to the lodge, we met the General Manager, Andrew Rosettenstein, who greeted us with champagne, was very gracious. Another firepit is set up right off of the patio with comfortable plastic chairs. Our dinner was served beside the pool at the main lodge. The sommelier discussed wine suggestions from their very extensive wine list. In the center of the lodge is the wine cellar which actually is more like a wine silo. The shelves encircle the tower which houses an extensive wine collection.


Sweni is a smaller property closer to the river with only six one-bedroom suites. The separate pool suite is tailored to families with children with two interleading bedrooms with a small space where beds can be added for kids. As a separate property, they have their own staff and guides. Lembombo does not cater to children. We then toured the lovely Art Gallery, gift shops, and Wellness Center.


The Silo is part of the Royal Portfolio group. I was very excited that we were staying here, I’d wanted to see it ever since I had clients book it when I first joined Hills of Africa. Johndri Ras, the Assistant Manager gave us a tour of the property and guided us to our assigned rooms. I loved how eclectic the rooms and common area were. The ambiance was very bright and vibrant. Most Duplex suites are two levels with a sitting and dining area on the first level, then a beautiful bathroom with panoramic views of the harbor over the free-standing bathtub.


Nicola Everitt, the Sales Manager gave us our tour of the main hotel and the across to the Island suites and Spa. As a downtown resort, they have many amenities to cater to all types of clients and keep a guest on the property. The Table Mountain and Presidential Suites are expansive and luxurious. The rooms and suites face either the Harbor or Table Mountain. First-time visitors to Cape Town are usually accommodated in the main hotel. Nicola recommends those guests who have visited Cape Town before tend to stay in the Island suites.

BELMOND MOUNT NELSON or “The Nellie” as it is lovingly referred

The historic hotel has been welcoming guests since 1899 and was painted pink in celebration of the end of World War I. We checked in and were given our tour of the property, by Mary Kate Hendriks, the Leisure Sales manager, starting with the Garden Cottage Suites. Pardon us, but these are the rooms where celebrities stay. The widow of James Sherwood, who owned the Venice Simplon Orient Express, stays in the first cottage for six months of the year. Along the side of the main hotel, the street is lined with palm trees that are over one hundred years old. Our rooms were in the Oasis Wing overlooking the pool and Spa. . Mary Kate mentioned that when Tiago transferred in recently, he wanted to stress the fine points of Customer Service. For example, for single travelers, the staff was to determine which side of the bed the guest slept on so that housekeeping would know where to place their slippers. I was excited to find a pillow menu and I ordered an orthopedic pillow.

That evening we met for cocktails in the Planet Bar. We were encouraged to enjoy a pink gin and tonic. Then we went in to dinner where we had the usual three courses, amazing courses paired with wines by the house sommelier.


The vibe upon arrival was immediately relaxing. We were met by a group of staff members who transferred our luggage to a golf cart and we were invited to tour the garden as we made our way to the main lodge. We were welcomed with a refreshing tonic while shown to our rooms where our luggage had already been delivered.

Arrangements were made for all of us to have a spa massage treatment. I was escorted to the Bath House where Bertice provided the best massage I have ever had. She incorporated reflexology to complete my treatment. All toiletry products were made in the property and presented in jars and bottles from the pottery atelier.

Before dinner, we gathered in the main living room to chat with one of the owners, Nicole Boekehoorn. She explained that she and her wife and partner, Fleur Huijskens re-established Steerekopje Farm which had been the original name of the farm from 1694. Their vision was to have a destination that would be a retreat to revitalize and refresh. Their original plans were to encourage their guests to stay for five nights to embrace rest and regeneration. Their accommodation packages include a variety of spa or wellness treatments. They can also participate in other activities, horseback riding, pottery, visiting the chef, and helping to harvest vegetables or herbs from the gardens. There are only certain times during the year when children are welcome. I was surprised to notice that each staff member I encountered always addressed me by name, from the housekeeper to the chef. Nicole and Fleur’s vision was realized as a wellness destination. That evening when I returned to my room, there was a fresh bundle of herbs to add to my bath for a warm soak.


Our original itinerary had us spending the previous night at Mont Rochelle, one of Sir Richard Branson’s properties but we stayed at Steerekopje instead. While the property was nice enough, the message of our visit had not been noted on the calendar or schedule, as a result, the assistant manager was very put out when we arrived.
She asked us to wait in a small study and were offered coffee, which never arrived in the twenty minutes we waited. One of the staff gave us a quick tour of a suite that had been recently vacated and not yet cleaned. In another wing, we were shown a pretty room with vineyard views. In the center of the wing is a warm communal space with game tables, sofas, and TVs.
We were driven over to the winery area with the Country Kitchen café and then to The Manor House. The Manor is a separate villa property that would be perfect for family or friends to spend time together. There are four generous King bedrooms and a fun bunkhouse for kids. The Manor can accommodate fourteen people. My favorite part was a private pool with an amazing outdoor kitchen and dining space.
After Mont Rochelle, we drove to Babylonstoren Gardens. It was a beautiful day. We wandered through the shops and gardens until the early afternoon. I wandered around for a bit before people-watching until the rest of my group joined me.


I loved La Residence. We were greeted warmly and shepherded into the beautiful main entrance and handed glasses of bubbles. The flowers on the center table were fabulous, a perfect complement to the chandeliers, gold-leafed tables, and mirrors. The rustic counterpoint of the open beams. I joked that the stunning flower display was a beautiful Mother’s Day arrangement. We were also gifted a bottle of wine in our rooms.
Our accommodation was located in the Vineyard Villas. I shared a lovely two-bedroom suite with a full salon-style living/dining room. Families with children under 10 years old will be accommodated in the villas and not the main hotel. There is a communal villa with a terrace surrounded pool, a library, bar and separate kitchen from the main hotel to cater to the villa occupants. This is perfect for families and can accommodate sixteen adults and four children.
Like the Silo, La Residence each suite is beautifully decorated with lush, luxurious colors and textures. It’s no wonder that Elton John stays at La Residence whenever he visits Cape Town.
We were invited to convene in the main hotel lounge area by the fireplace for pre-dinner drinks and canapes. We were greeted by Edward Morton, the Ambassador for Royal Portfolio. After drinks, he escorted us to the other end of the room to the main dining area and were treated to an amazing dinner. The most remarkable part was the soup offering of pumpkin/carrot. It sounded delicious but we were all so afraid of being too full with the other three courses. Edward suggested we request the tea cup serving. Our soup was served in a lovely eclectic collection of tea cups with their saucers. The wines are all from the winemakers surrounding the property. My chicken in wine sauce was delectable and dessert of chocolate mousse was heavenly.


The property was ideally located in central Franschhoek, it was simple, clean, and hospitable. It had a very casual atmosphere a perfect accommodation for the type of traveler who wanted to be out and about spending their days exploring the area.


We explored the various aspects of Leeu House- the lavish rooms and gardens. Also centrally located, with great access to marvelous world-class restaurants. Then we toured Le Quartier Francais with their variety of rooms and suites, decorated in colorful yet soothing tones and textures. Their various properties are simply stunning. Then over to Leeu Estates with their calm, neutral tones and beautiful sculptured gardens. A brief tour of the wine studio with tasting reserved for guests of the estate.

I am still in awe of being able to have this amazing experience and the opportunity to explore several of the properties and see first-hand the accommodation and services frequented by and provided to our clients. My family still hasn’t forgiven me but I’ll live with it.

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