Africa, Countries

Mandela Manor

When you’ve spent 25 years in a tiny prison cell as a freedom fighter you deserve to come out to something of a Mandela Manor.

We all, of course, became familiar with news of The Great Man‘s false incarceration in Robben Island.

Hands across the world: Me, Siseko and The Great Man in Gqeberha

But less about his life in the quarters he then relocated to back in Johannesburg.

His primary place of residence was in the leafy surrounds of Houghton.

Sanctuary Mandela

Arch of triumph: Mandela’s old home

If it felt like a hotel to Mandela after all those years mucking out then it most definitely is now.

Sanctuary Mandela is now a re-envisioned residency, a boutique hotel with nine rooms.

Each room is dedicated to an aspect of his personality.

While the lush gardens reflect the South African icon’s love of nature.

With retreat spaces filled with perfectly curated exhibits that pay tribute to Mandela.

Every corner of the boutique hotel is envisaged to provide the combination of tranquillity, heritage, and mindful experiences.

Invictus victorious

Va-va room: Luxury

And if you think Sanctuary Mandela looks familiar then it was used in the filming of Invictus.

All in our minds just now as the Rugby World Cup kicks off and Siya Kolisi’s Springboks attempt to retain the trophy.

While in memory of Mandela’s love for food, the fine-dining restaurant serves as a tribute to his favourite dishes.

As they were previously prepared by his long-time personal chef of 20 years, Xoliswa Ndoyiya.

Of course you can walk in Mandela’s footsteps across South Africa.

In the frame: Nelson is everywhere

And feel his presence particularly in his home province of the Eastern Cape.

We found three nights from the start of next month for under £500 at £493 for two.

Where you can live like an icon in Mandela Manor.

And we picked out British Airways return flights for two for under £3,000 (£2,982.82).

Africa, Countries

Holiday Pics on World Photography Day

I’ve an advantage over everybody else… I’ve an award-winning snapper to showcase her holiday pics on World Photography Day.

And that makes it all a treat for y’all when we get the piccies out when we get home.

So without further adieu here’s a taster of what fills our albums at home.

And we’ll even throw in a photography vacation offer to tease you.

Portugal’s a picture

Our boat comes in: In Aveiro

And you can keep your Algarve amateur poolside and beach lounger snaps this is one from Aveiro.

A stunning fishing town in Portugal Centro it is known as the Portuguese Venice.

It’s Portugal’s big secret but heck now it’s out thanks to an award-winning writer, and a snapper.

Hamburger and shots

Flying the flag: Hamburg

And we did both in the Reeperbahn and further afield and photographic shots and shoots.

We’ll leave our bed pics to your imagination, though actually we have shared those Hamburg city beach bar snaps.

My Fjord Lady

Norway, yes way: Up the fjords

And my Little Mermaid followed us from Kiel in Germany through Copenhagen and up the Norwegian fjords.

And captured it all from aboard her MSC cruise ship and on our land excursions.

Amsterdam dame

What a picture: Amsterdam

And in the City of Tulips, my photographic pal was the prettiest flower.

And when I was motioning towards their famously tall, narrow bars she was capturing the delightful Amsterdam architecture. 

No pic like Rome

Bridge of highs: Rome

And with all roads famously leading to Rome it took me some time, until I was 40, to visit La Citta Eterna

Sadie the Snapper had been here before and was excited to show me the sites, among them the Trevi Fountain.

The superstition is right and I’ve been back and we will be too.

Snap up Morocco

Sahara bumpity: Two Tuareg nomads in the Sahara

While any and all travellers can always do with Travel Department to hold our hands.

TD Active Holidays offers a guided holiday with an array of photographic opportunities.

From the impressive mosques and markets of Marrakech.

To the busy fishing port of Essaouira and the rocky, barren Agafay Desert.

Where you’ll learn to develop your documentary, street and landscape photography skills.

On this holiday, you’ll not only get to experience Moroccan culture through a camera’s lens.

But also through traditional Moroccan food and live music.

As well as an exhilarating camel ride across the dunes… I hope you get my old friend Larsson to hump you along.

You’ll be accompanied on your journey with an additional tutor from the Dublin Photography School.

They’ll provide tutorials, demonstrations and tips to your small group.

So that you get the most out of the images you capture.

This trip departs on 13th October from €1,099pp.

Including return flights, transfers, four nights’ half-board in a three-star hotel, plus expert guide.

And when you get back your friends will be begging you to share 

Africa, Asia, Countries

World Sand Dune Day

It’s World Sand Dune Day so let’s get ready to rumble.

If you’re lucky enough to live by the sea then you could have sand dunes next to you.

Slide rule: Sandboarding

Ours are a 9km circular trek, part of the John Muir Way, the West Bay in North Berwick, east of Edinburgh and Gullane Bents.

Of course, the quickest route and the one we all first took was a forward roll down dunes.

Over the dune

Pyla sand: Europe’s biggest dune

We were fortunate to spend those summers in Ireland and play in the Portsalon Dunes in Co. Donegal.

And the biggest in the country is another stomping ground, Tramore in Co. Waterford, at 85ft high.

Big, but not as big as the Great Dune of Pyla.

Head just over 37 miles from Bordeaux, and you’ll find the tallest dune in Europe.

It’s more than a mile and a half long and stands over 360ft above sea level.

Come one, camel

One hump or two: Camel riding

Or as towering as the 500ft tall, 30-mile long Erg Chebbi Dunes in south-eastern Morocco.

Now I’m not sure which part of the desert Larsson (I kid you not) the camel took me to.

But, of course, I did the roly-poly thing down a dune.

Moroccan rollin’

Keep ‘em truckin’: In Jordan

Only to feel my tummy really rumble, on account of a dodgy tagine up in the Atlas Mountains.

But don’t let my mishap put you off, sand dunes are to be played among.

And while the camel is, of course, the ship of the desert.

If you want to get there quicker and like a thrill, you can hit the Jeeps as we did in Jordan.

Sand surfing

Footsteps: In the dunes

Of course wherever there’s sand, or you can build sand, then you can go sand boarding or sand surfing.

So islands here, like Britain, are framed by dunes.

With our friends in the duning club pointing us towards Balmedie, near Aberdeen as Scotland’s best.

Of course, as there’s a World Championships for everything and a world day too…

Then check out the Sandboard World Cup in Peru.

So get on a roll this World Sand Dune Day… just be careful what you eat first.

And insure yourself with Imodium… and InsureandGo.




Africa, Countries, Culture

Sidecar around the dastardly Atlas Mountains

It conjures up the image of Dick Dastardly and Muttley, a sidecar around the dastardly Atlas Mountains.

So picture, if you will, a biblical deluge, and a Moroccan guide fasting for Ramadan.

He’s only driving a minibus around windy cliff roads with rain and the mountain falling around the vehicle.

Yes,Wacky Races had nothing on this… and now someone wants to sidecar around the Dastardly Atlas Mountains!

Now what is it about Morocco and the Moroccans?

Concierge a votre service

Take it as Red: Marrakech, the Red City

Our guide that day in the mountains would have nothing of us cancelling the trip to the desert because of the weather.

And we suspect, the end of the world apart, neither will the Royal Mansour Marrakech.

Because they boast a concierge service of which their royal family would be proud.

And what bigger thrill than to discover the Atlas Mountains off the beaten path aboard a vintage style sidecar?

While if you prefer to keep your feet on solid ground then they know the best centuries-old, shepherds’ paths to hike.

Right, you reach the desert, past the pleading brown-eyed kids who get pushed towards you with their little palm camels.

Weaving between remote Berber villages, mountain pastures and craggy massifs to venture over panoramic passes.

Before you feast on Moroccan culinary delights in the Agafay Desert beneath a Bedouin tent.

The big tent

Step on it: The glorious lobby

And stay overnight at eco-luxe lodge La Pause to indulge in an evening of stargazing, next to tributary river with spectacular views.

Better than staring at the skies from an outdoor, open-roofed toilet, because you’ve eaten a tagine from a fly-ridden barbecue up thar mountains… but then that was just me. 

The feasting doesn’t stop there – the 30th of July commemorates the crowning of the King with the Feast of the Throne, a celebration filled with delectable feasts, fireworks displays and parades.

And how to get around… well, what about quad bikes or in a buggy, a guided hike or cycling tour, or discover the desert on horseback (I preferred a camel).

Elsewhere, watch the sun rise over the Sahara from a hot air balloon, accompanied by a champagne picnic on board.

Marvel at dancers, snake charmers, fortune-tellers, acrobats and more at the Marrakech Popular Arts Festival taking place in the city’s palaces, streets, and squares between July 2-6.

While the city’s Oasis Festival takes place between September 13 and 15.

With three days of electronic music, surf trips, yoga sessions and swimming at the base of the Atlas Mountains.

All of which adventures and peregrinations will mean that you’ll be wanting some R&R back in the Royal Mansour.

Live like a royal

Tree-mendous: The courtyard

Well, their specifications bills the Royal Mansour as:

Just steps from the Medina, showcasing an open-air courtyard and nearly four acres of lush gardens. 

These have recently been extended to incorporate a beautiful kitchen garden Atelier d’Artiste and an elevated, private dining space.

And they encourage us to stay in private multi-story riads dotted along pink pathways. No carts; no rooms; no crowds.

And they’re not finished there…

Because the property’s crown jewel is the three-story, 2,500 square-metre Spa Royal Mansour which is accessed through a private citrus grove.

The elaborate white birdcage atrium is bathed in natural light and offers multi-day wellness programmes to soothe the body, mind, and soul.

And for the creatives there’s art therapy sessions in the Atelier d’Artiste.
Situated within a glass-panelled greenhouse surrounded by the quiet serenity of the property’s gardens.
So whether it’s pottery, photography, calligraphy or embroidery, art therapists encourage guests to reconnect with their inner selves.

And a pool day at the hotel’s 30-metre-long, 20-metre-wide pool offers serenity.

With seven, air-conditioned, private pavilions allowing poolgoers to relax and refresh.

That’s a deal

Ya dancer: And learn the moves

And best of all they are offering a four nights for the price of  three summer offer meaning one-bedroom riads start from £1,200 per night.

And that includes breakfast, immigration fast track service + airport transfers in Marrakech.



Africa, Countries

South Africa Get Me Into There

The Celebrities were happy enough to scream South Africa Get Me Into There… so why not us?

Well, our friends at Cassidy Travel in Ireland have been thinking about us and, of course, they never stop.

Easy Ryder: Shaun Ryder

So they’ve hoved in on SA and safaris as somewhere you’d be glad to set up camp.

Now where Gillian McKeith, Shaun Ryder, Carol Vorderman, Janice Dickinson et al have gone they have followed us.

And all the trials and tribulations and tricky treats are as nought compared to our travails in the Eastern Cape.

Safari travails

This land: South Africa

When we put ourselves in the hands of Alan of Alan Tours out of Gqberha, or Port Elizabeth, as we then knew it.

Into Baviaanskloof Reserve with its monkeys, baboons, antelopes and springboks.

And were diverted though through Alan’s local knowledge we got back at 1am.

But lived by our wits in the South Africa back woods eating South African/Scots biscuits and playing party games.

Cape crusaders

Monkeying around: Eastern Cape

Cassidy’s, of course, have everything covered on their eight-night Cape Town & Safari Package for travel on October 2.

Including flights with Qatar Airways, private transfers and accommodation.

You’ll have five nights B&B in Cape Town at the Pepper Club Luxury Hotel and Spa.

Me and Nelson: And Siseko

Where you’ll naturally want to check out Table Mountain National Park.

And Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was robbed of 25 years of his life.

Safari so good

Spring into life: Springboks

And then three nights safari on Aquila Game Reserve in a Premier Lodge Room on a full room basis.

Prices from €2149pp based on two people sharing.

Something to think on when you’re watching Z-list celebs and shouting South Africa Get Me Into There.


Africa, Countries, Sustainable Tourism

The Riad to Marrakech

I’ve been saving all my money just to take you there, I smell the garden in your hair. It’s the Marrakech Express… or what I like to call The Riad to Marrakech.

With apologies to those Sixties hipsters Crosby, Stills and Nash (and sometimes Young) who were, of course, far more lyrical about the Red City.

We dare say that they would have stayed at some hippy hang-out.

But I suspect that Stephen and Graham, and RIP to David, would now frequent the Royal Mansour Marrakech.

Groovy: Sixties rockers

Situated at the foot of Marrakech’s ramparts, in the western part of the medina are the lush, landscaped gardens at Royal Mansour Marrakech.

Spanning four acres, it is the vision of award-winning Spanish landscape designer and Bonsai curator Luis Vallejo, drawing on Arab-Andalusian tradition into play.

And going off on a tangent, my green-fingered pal here is doing so well with her bonsai garden that she’s thinking of downsizing.

Festival of flowers

Bonzai bonzer: Luis Vallejo

Back to Souk City and the The Jardin’art Festival over the spring unfolds in the city’s Jardin des Arts.

To offer a variety of botanical events, concerts, and gorgeous floral displays for all to enjoy.

And thanks to our friends in Marrakech, and believe me you need all the pals you can get in this bustling city with false guides round some of the souk corners, we have these gardening tips to share.

Straight from Luis’s mouth.

Verdant vision: The Royal Mansour

Incorporate a water feature (or several –as is the case at Royal Mansour Marrakech, home to 150 water fountains)

‘Like constant background music, a small stream of water in movement’.

Plant fruit trees and aromatic plants, to elevate the senses. At Royal Mansour Marrakech, the garden features several species of palm tree, citrus fruits (spanning lemon, sweet and bitter orange).

As well as various fruit trees (inclusive of olive, pomegranate, fig, persimmon, carob, quince, guava, medlar and more).

Various aromatic herbs are also grown for use in the spa, from marjoram to rosemary.

Choose plants of varied colour, texture, and volume – select seasonal plants that inspire your imagination and offer a link to Morocco.

Vallejo chose multiple species of trees, from conifers and coral trees to tamarisk and mahogany trees, offering a textural variety.

Choose from decorative foliage, ground cover plants and climbers to create dimensional levels.

In addition, he intentionally selected native and naturalised flora allowing for year-round flowering – meaning vibrant colour all year round!

Add a coloured rug or cushions into a cosy corner, and sip a Moorish tea, for an authentic Moroccan experience.

Mansour manor

Palm sunny day: Royal Mansour

Royal Mansour is a palatial oasis exquisitely crafted by over 1,500 local artisans.

As an ode to traditional Moroccan architecture and craftsmanship.

It’s a perfectly peaceful, private retreat just steps from the Medina.

Showcasing an open-air courtyard and nearly four acres of lush gardens.

These have recently been extended to incorporate a beautiful kitchen garden Atelier d’Artiste and an elevated, private dining space.

Tree-mendous: The Royal Mansour

Stay in private multi-story riads dotted along pink pathways. No carts; no rooms; no crowds.

Onebedroom riads start from £1,200 (includes breakfast, Immigration Fast Track service + airport transfers in Marrakech).

And we found sample flights for a three-night return for next month from £356.21.

Get on that riad to Marrakech then.

Africa, Countries

Above the Serengeti

Every morning as sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti the Africa song would ring out.

In the lobby of the Boardwalk Hotel in Port Elizabeth (now Gqberha) in South Africa.

Just like the band Toto at the time they wrote the classic song, I’ve yet to enjoy the pleasures of the Serengeti in Tanzania.

But I too have it in my mind’s eye.

And so for the rest I rely on my friends who are experts in all things Africa.

And they tell us that their name translates to ‘welcome’ in Swahili, Karibu Camps and Lodges.

It offers four distinctive luxury properties, all situated in the most iconic locations on what is known as the Northern Circuit.

To the four

Food for thought: And you’ll never go hungry

Serengeti National Park Sametu Camp: And they boast the perfect balance between a safari in the wild and the comfort of a permanent luxury tented camp.

It is situated in a secluded part of the eastern edge of Central Serengeti.

And that’s a short distance from the Ngare Nanyuki River, Sametu Camps’ position has a wondrous horizon.

It is silhouetted by grazing wildebeest, zebra, and various antelope species, as well as numerous bird species.

Float on: Over Masai Mara National Reserve 

Serengeti National Park River Camp

This resort is surrounded by Acacia trees and grasslands just a few metres from the Mara river.

And it is ideally situated for the river crossing of the Great Migration which occurs from June to October.

Fire it up: Night camp

Serengeti National Park Woodlands Camp: And this one is a special treat between December and March.

The mobile luxury tented camp rests within the Nabi Slopes, in proximity with Lake Ndutu, Moru Kopjes, and the Hidden Valley.  

And all specifically set up during the emotion-stirring calving season. 

Panorama: And the outdoors is extra room

Ngorongoro Crater Rim Ngorongoro Lions Paw: The view of the cradled Lake Magadi in the crater’s base is a sight to see.

From the lounge areas of our Eastern Rim Ngorongoro Crater accommodation.

And this is where you can see large tusked elephants and endangered Black Rhinos with your binoculars.

So it’s all from the comfort of the bar and lounge area. Lions Paw is ten minutes away from the entrance to the crater floor.

Yes, as Toto said: hurry boy (and girl) it’s waiting there for you above the Serengeti.





Africa, Countries, Deals, Food & Wine

Moroccan cookin’

If only they’d taught me Moroccan cookin’ then I might have avoided being up all night star-gazing in the Sahara Desert.

But then I hadn’t been introduced to the vibrant Medina of Marrakech, Hotel La Maison Arabe by then.

Or the good services of Tropical Sky.

I can recommend a riad which is far more preferable to a makeshift loo.

In the Sahara with a corrugated roof which was missing when I got there.

Maison around

Tagine by the pool: La Maison

La Maison offers traditional cooking classes in the hotel restaurant which will come in useful later (believe me)!

At the half-day classes participants can learn the secrets of Moroccan cuisine.

The workshops are run by a dada (a traditional Moroccan chef).

And they include a visit to a nearby spice market and communal bread oven.

The rest of us of course, in the Western World, were taught at a stove by a mama…

Worth remembering with Mother’s Day around the corner.

A little local knowledge

A wrap: Know your tajines

Knowing your way around a tajine will come in handy during your stay in Morocco.

Particularly if you stop for one in a roadside cafe on the Atlas Mountains.

You’ll know what to look out for.

And you’ll avoid Marakech revenge from the rumbles and the tumbles down the dunes.

Even though your camel will try and make it as smooth as possible.

A little local knowledge to know how to avoid false guides and hawksters will also come in useful.

A seven-night stay at Hotel La Maison Arabe is priced from £825pps on a B&B basis, including flights and transfers.

And you can become a tajine genie and learn Moroccan cooking.


Africa, America, Countries, Europe

Bet on these casinos

You can put your money on a good night on the tables and that means having a bet on these casinos.

You bet that includes Monte Carlo and Las Vegas but our friends at Online Casino have given us the skinny on the other great gambling towns.

And who’d have thunk that top of the table was old New England, cultural Connecticut?

Connect the casino

D’oh: Everyone loves a flutter

Where Foxwoods Resort Casino is the most googled casino, with an average of 91,000 per month worldwide.

The casino stretches 344,000 square feet and has over 5,500 slot machines and 250 gaming tables.

Good Baden-Baden

Red carpet: For casino guests


In second place is Casino Baden-Baden, with 22,000 Google searches.

Germany’s oldest casino, it features roulette, poker cash games, blackjack and over 140 slot machines.

You might associate Portugal more with fado and football and fancy custard tarts but it is also the place for a flutter.

The Third Force

Portugeezers: Lisbon

Thirteen thousand googlers sought out Casino Lisboa in Parque das Nações.

The casino offers 1,100 slot machines, live table games such as Blackjack and roulette, and free entry.

And WinStar World Casino, Thackerville, Oklahoma 73459, shares third on the list and is the biggest casino in the US (who knew?)

Despite being attached to a hotel, the total gaming space is 370,000 square feet.

It is filled with over 8,600 electronic games, 100 table games and a 55-table poker room.

Bok to the tables

A little bit of Rio: In South Africa

In fourth with 5,700 searches is Rio Casino, in Klerksdorp in fun South Africa with a Rio de Janeiro Carnival theme across 266,000 square feet.

While fifth with 5,600 searches is Sun City Casino in the North West Province.

With over 40 table games and is perfect for both experienced and first-time gamers.

And that would include one Bandanaman shooting craps so forcibly he earned himself the nickname Hannibal.

The top ten table

One slot: In Las Vegas

The most popular casinos in the world

1 Foxwoods Resort Casino: 91,000

2 Casino Baden-Baden: 22,000

3 Casino Lisboa/WinStar World Casino: 13,000

4 Rio Casino: 5,700

5 Sun City: 5,600

6 Wynn Casino: 4,200

7 Marina Bay Sands: 4,100

8 Casino de Monte-Carlo: 4,000

9 MGM Grand Casino: 3,900

10 Grand Lisboa Casino: 2,600

Africa, Asia, Countries, Europe

I left Boy George in Kuramathi

I left Boy George in my bedroom in Kuramathi in the Maldives and I dare say someone’s finished him off since.

And the Leon Uris Irish epic Trinity in Malta.

And countless other biographies and tomes around the world… and you’re welcome.

I’ve also returned with guidebooks, histories and diaries from musical Mississippi through classical Kythera in Greece to Springbok South Africa

And browsed some bazaar books in Istanbul.

As well as the odd page turner by the pool.

All of which just makes me just a typical traveller as our friends at TUI Blue have revealed in a survey of their customers. 

Stat attack

Pure Culture: Boy George
  • One in five of us only read when we go on holiday getting through an average of 1.9 books each time
  • Mystery and thrillers top the poolside reading list, romance novels are the nation’s guilty holiday reading pleasure
  • 8% of us admit to reading things whilst away we’d be too embarrassed to pick up in front of friends and family at home
  • We’re happy to be personal lending libraries with 91% willing to pass on our reads.

And all of that is a trend which TUI Blue is celebrating with the announcement of its TUI Blue Book Swap Scheme at hotels this summer the research also revealed our top poolside reads and guilty holiday reading pleasure.

We read an average of 1.9 books on our annual holiday with favourite genres including romance (45%), mysteries (41%) and thrillers (37%).

And they say women are more avid holiday readers compared to me (probably our scintillating conversation).

But across the board 30 per cent of us admit to changing it up and reading different types of books on holiday.

Share the love

Upside down world: On the Dead Sea

We’re also avid book lenders and borrowers with 91% per cent happy to donate a book they have read and loved for someone else to enjoy.

And 73% per cent happy to hit up friends and family for some fresh reads before they go away on holiday.

And so the book swap scheme is encouraging readers to pick up a pre-loved book and share a few words of recommendation – or warning.

With a personal note saying why you loved or hated your read.

The TUI Blue Book Swap will be operating in selected hotels across Europe this summer.  

Mind you I don’t know how welcome this dog-eared book I’m reading here in the Dead Sea would be as welcome.

And there’s a clue in the way I’m holding it that I might just have been using it as a prop.