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Following Trout Point Lodge’s participation in the International Congress of the Relais & Chateaux Association, Cape Town, South Africa, proprietors Vaughn Perret and Charles Leary joined the owner of Hotel St. Germain for a 10-day exploration of South African hotels & lodges.

Though Nova Scotia and South Africa have remarkably distinct climates and ecosystems, the importance of nature tourism–what the National Geographic Society might call Geotourism–is vitally important in both places. Visits to Gorah Elephant Camp, Tsala Treetop Lodge, Le Quartier Francais, and Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve rounded out a trip that started with stays at the Mount Nelson Hotel and One & Only Cape Town.

Overall, this diverse collection of  hotels expressed the best that South Africa has to offer: a sophisticated combination of refined elegance and meaningful contact with local nature & culture. Lions, zebras, buffalo, and elephants at Gorah became central to a larger understanding of humankind’s attempts to live with and within this larger–often not so kind–natural world over the past 2 centuries. Guides at Gorah and Bushmans Kloof proved indispensable to an enriching stay. Both Garret at Gorah and Zenovia at Bushmans served not only as interpreters of the local flora and fauna on twice-daily “game drives,” they also acted like the ultimate in concierges, offering friendly and highly personalized service throughout the day.

The exoticism of the South African “safari” experience clearly outweighed comparatively minor inconveniences that many guests in North American or Continental hotels might find objectionable if found in their local Hilton or Marriott. But, like Trout Point, these are small hotels, often not exceeding 20 guests at a time. Each provides for unique travel experiences. Predictably, the largest and most recent hotel–Cape Town’s One & Only–was also the least distinctive and enriching.

While Nova Scotia lacks “the Big 5,” and our moose and black bear hide rather than displaying themselves,  the South African lodges provided excellent examples of how to make the most out of the natural surroundings for guests. Gorah, in particular, but also Tsala and Bushmans, also demonstrated the value of providing authentic “lodge” and “safari” experiences, including references to local heritage and all the elements that feed the romantic imagination. Vacations in places like South Africa–and Nova Scotia–should transport you to another world, a place without cares, a true enriching diversion.

More to come . . .

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