The Last Word

5 Jun

SLOWLast1 SLOWLast2First published in SLOW Magazine.

Noting the trend of large hotel chains to re-package and create “boutique” brands to stem losses as more of the well heeled and well traveled are selecting intimate hotels, luxury travel writer Brian Berkman spoke to The Last Word founder to better understand it.

“Large hotel brands are immersing themselves in ‘boutique’ to create a difference and to try to stand out from the myriad of large hotels,” says Peter Fleck, who founded The Last Word collection of three intimate hotels and one villa. “But a 150-room hotel can never be boutique and never personal,” he says explaining that’s the beauty of being small and why The Last Word have the quest to be ‘beyond boutique’ with their intimate hotels. “We believe in the pleasures that people bring to a guest experience.”

Having stayed at each of The Last Word properties I can confirm that it is indeed the easy yet professional interaction with the staff that make staying with them so special. One gets the feeling of being in the stylish home of a favourite aunt with a team of staff you have known since birth.

Peter spent a lifetime working in the liquor industry with premium brands such as Chivas Regal, Glenlivet, Absolut Vodka and Captain Morgan after starting a career in journalism in the late 60’s where he worked on The Cape Argus newspaper.  “I did write an unpublished book/manual for our staff, but that’s where the writing ends,” he laughs. It was while travelling for work where he had the opportunity to be the guest at some of the world’s top hotels such as the Dolder Grand in Zurich, Switzerland and Hotel George V Paris, France. “Now when we travel we also choose smaller properties that go ‘beyond boutique’. There are some gems that simply steal your heart: I can think of Longueville Manor in Jersey, United Kingdom or some of the Grace Hotels in Greece or other parts of the world. At The Last Word we try to build our image on the intimacy we create in everything we do,” he says. He does add though “some of the more renowned hotels I stayed in served only to inform that one needs very deep pockets and that the bigger you are the more personal service fades. Our staff give of their natural self on a personal basis and not the starched version. This is what makes  us distinctive,” he says.

The Last Word Franschhoek recently benefited from a major upgrade which included expanding suites on a second floor following flooding in the village. “Our Franschhoek hotel’s popularity stems from its location right in the centre of the village. It is just a gentle stroll to boutiques and the many fine restaurants in what is considered Cape Town’s culinary capital”, he says. He adds that the Last Word Constantia is an oasis in an upmarket residential area, centrally accessible to all Cape Town has to offer while The Last Word Long Beach is right on the beach. “Perhaps ours is the only hotel where you can literally walk 10 metres and you’re on the sand,” he says adding: “It also has one of the most picturesque views in Cape Town.”

Racontours is a parallel bespoke touring business. Peter explains: “Racontours began as an option for Last Word guests to do something interesting in a more personalised way; an opportunity to visit selected wine farms where owners meet guests for tastings; also to get the inside stories of Cape Town’s city given by a unique and knowledgeable story teller; or to tour the mountains hearing from personable experts about Cape Fynbos; or generally touring the best attractions with humour.” Peter says that while Racontours is still connected to The Last Word, it is now also part owned and run by Getaway magazine former editor, David Bristow. “Racontours tries to find the story behind the story and lets our guests live much of that story as they can,” Peter says.

“We pride ourselves in selling more than a comfortable bed. We offer an experience. The niche market we attract desires home comforts in a stylish, graceful environment,” he says.

For more than six consecutive years The Last Word Long Beach was voted South Africa’s Leading Beach Hotel by the World Travel Awards’ travel and tourism professionals worldwide.

The Last Word Constantia won a Lilizela Tourism Award in 2013 when voted the top five-star guest house in South Africa for service excellence.

Nicky Coenen, Peter’s daughter, is the group’s general manager. She admits to getting immense satisfaction from continually working towards the next level of success. “Being a family business, we are small yet highly creative – and keeping one step ahead is a constant motivating factor,” she says, clearly inspired by the position she holds.

As a guest, The Last World provides everything I want in an all-inclusive package but its real genius is in proving the things I don’t even know I want, yet always appreciate.

Visit: www.thelastword.co.za; Email: info@thelastword.co.za; Phone: +27 (0) 21 794 6561

A forest lodge with beach access that’s near Cape Town

25 May

This piece was first published on www.BizCommunity.com.

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Great kid's play area.

Great kid’s play area.

Lovely to walk under the milkweed canopy.

Lovely to walk under the milkweed canopy.

Curmudgeonly. That’s what I’ve become. Rather than focus on the extraordinary value in winter (two for the price of one), the thicket of gnarled milkwoods and coastal forest, wonderful sea views, I’m focusing on the loud music and revelry from the wedding. You should know that Sea-facing executive room, Guinea fowl, is about as near to the timber banquet room as you can get. As I’d said – curmudgeonly.

Soon enough, after the glowing embers in our wood-burning fireplace banished the evening chill from our room, I chose to focus rather on the swishing from the sea and our unexpectedly delicious dinner at Monkey Valley Resort’s restaurant, Thorfynns.

Before the sun went down I had a bath in the generous Victorian-style tub in the bathroom, designed to take full advantage of the view over the milkwoods and onwards to the sea. Earlier in the day we followed the path down to the beach, narrowly missing a series of orb spider webs spun into a silken arch between the tops of the trees.   Noordhoek’s Long Beach is well named and had the weather been finer I’d have relished a walk along it. Monkey Valley Resort offers accommodation that is self-catering and on a bed and breakfast basis. These thatched cottages are cleverly located within the greenery that trees provide the necessary privacy. It is also one of the few accommodation places that welcome animals – birds are very active within the trees and while we didn’t see the eponymous monkeys, I’m sure they are around. Many people had dogs as did the folks running the restaurant as their four-legged friends welcomed us with warm sniffs and awkward nudges whenever we arrived in the reception and restaurant areas.

They have a wonderful kid’s area with a pirate-style jungle gym that made me wish I was 40 years younger.

While some of Monkey Valley’s higher reaches were destroyed in the recent fire that decimated Silvermine and Chapman’s Peak, it looks like building work is also currently underway to expand the reception and admin building. Some of the accommodation is newly completed and I’d love to stay in one of the self-catering units nearer to the beach on a return visit.

The luxury here is in being in such a beautiful natural environment. Monkey Valley Resort is justifiably popular for conferences (the first time I ever visited was to attend a conference there eons ago) and at such affordable prices, a wonderful place for a family vacation.

If you’re as curmudgeonly as I am, keep ear plugs with you or a dinner suit so you can join the party.

www.MonkeyValleyResort.com

LCHF prawn & Avo salad

16 Mar

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASuccess in the kitchen has more to do with planning than it does with creativity or skill.

My biggest culinary lesson was how to prepare basic essentials in advance. The french call this mise en place but I call it being prepared.

This dish, smart enough for company at short notice, requires the following:

A batch of Banting Mayo

Chopped garlic

A packet of sun-dried tomatoes in oil

A packet of leaves

One Avo per person

Frozen prawn meat.

Olive oil

Hot sauce

Malden Salt and pepper

Here’s how you do it:

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees.

Toss the still frozen prawns (10 per portion if they’re small) on a baking sheet, douse in olive oil, salt and pepper and liberal amounts of crushed garlic to keep vampires away.

Just as soon as the oven has reached 180, bung them in and roast for four minutes. Remove the tray, turn them over and roast for another four minutes. They should be coral in colour and firm but cooked through. Try one and add a minute or two more if they aren’t cooked all the way through. Prawns overcook easily and become mealy so take care.

Save the cooking juices.

Again, quantities here depend on the number of people you are serving, but prepare the avo by cutting them in half and removing the pip. Sprinkle with a drop of something acidic – lemon/vinegar etc or rub with an onion to prevent them going brown while oxidising. Arrange the lettuce leaves that you’ve tossed with olive oil and a splash of vinegar, on a plate with the two halves looking upward.

In a food processor or with a hand-held blender blitz the drained sun-dried tomato and now add, a tablespoon at a time, to the mayo and then the cooking juices and a dollop of hot sauce, if you can take it to make the sauce.

Tumble the warm prawns over your avo and top with a generous mount of my version of Marie Rose sauce.

Add more prawns and another avo to turn this into a main course. I like to serve bowls of Banting mayo and blitzed tomato on the side along with Tabasco or whatever your poison might be.

This dish can be made and eaten in 30 minutes if needs be.

 

Roasted fillet recipe – perfect LCHF

23 Feb

Was great to see my #LCHF recipes in Die Burger newspaper. If you missed it, here is the recipe for my roasted fillet.

All Recipes serve six with leftovers.

Roasted beef fillet.
1 Whole grass-fed beef fillet
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Maldon salt
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns 

Preheat your oven to its hottest temperature or prepare a hot indirect Weber fire.
Take the fillet out of the fridge one hour before you plan to cook it. Either slice the raw fillet into three so that the thickest part stands on its own or tie it up so that the whole piece of meat has a similar width once tied.
Dry the meat with kitchen paper. Grind the salt and pepper into a fine powder and make a paste of it with the oil. Cover the whole fillet with the paste and place it on a baking tray.
Roast for 25 minutes, removing the smaller cuts after 14 minutes for rare.

Cover with foil and allow to cool before slicing as thinly as you can and arranging, overlapped, on a platter. Garnish with  sprinkles of pomegranate seeds and a bunch of green herbs. Serve at room temperature.

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Decide to be happy

8 Feb

Decide to be happy.

I’ve decided to remind myself how lucky, blessed, whatever you call it I am to have this life and live this life where I do. Deciding to be happy doesn’t make our President a man of integrity, it doesn’t change our shrinking economy, it doesn’t keep the lights on nor does it impact the poverty around me. What it does do, for me anyway, is not weigh me down with the heaviness of it all. When I decide to be happy I celebrate all I have. I celebrate the beauty around me. I celebrate the many opportunities I have to be amongst nature without paying a hefty price for it. I celebrate the mountain. The sea. Life.

 

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Relationships matter more than all the luxury in the world

26 Dec

Don’t get me wrong: I still love luxury but what this recent trip has confirmed for me is that it is the interactions with people while travelling that matter more, much more than all the luxury in the world.

I am blessed to have strong family connections and deeply-held friendships but I  also value the new relationships that we can make if we allow ourselves to take the first steps. These last weeks I’ve been conducting an experiment: do I have a better time when I take the risk and make the effort to connect or do I sit back and wait for someone else to make the first step? Even though it requires a fair amount of effort to reach out, the rewards are palpable.

In selecting images that represent our most recent trip – this time to The USA, The Caribbean, England and Switzerland, the photographs that best describe the experience are not the ones of the deep-pile luxury but those of people. If we allow it, travel not only educates us about what to look at but also allows us to feel the excitement of human connections.

I hope you enjoy this six-minute snapshot of our trip.

Banting while travelling.

25 Nov

The great news is that if you also follow a #Banting or #LCHF diet you can now travel with impunity knowing that your culinary needs will, with advance notice, happily be taken care of.

That was certainly my experience on our recent Kwa-Zulu Natal visit, the highlight of which was our Pretoria to Durban Safari on board Rovos Rail. Our cuisine and accommodation highlight was our stay at Fairmont’s Zimbali Resort while our biggest disappointment, not of their making but of the weather’s, was our visit to Rocktail Bay to see the Rocktail Turtles.

If you’re staying in Durban our first choice is Suncoast Towers and in Pretoria we choose to stay at Protea’s Pretoria Manor Hotel while sanctuaries at the airports must be the SLOW lounge. Bon Voyage.

Our epic KwaZulu-Natal safari

21 Oct

They say one should be careful of what one wishes for: I wished for a mega storm – the sort that rattles windows and lights up the skies up with lightening bolts, as we rarely see such climate in Cape Town. Well, I got what I wished for while on our KZN Safari but it did mean we couldn’t do many of the things we hoped to – seeing Turtles lay their eggs in the sand and snorkelling the reef among them.

Here is a visual taster of our trip – I will post links to the articles I write about it once they’re published.

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See Rovos Rail  Fairmont Zimbali Resort & Lodge, Rocktail Beach Lodge, Protea Manor Hotel, Hatfield, Riverside Hotel & Spa, Hotel Verde at CT International  SunCoast Towers Hotel, Durban

#LCHF PR-Net Trade event and #Banting while out

18 Aug

The conversation around Prof Tim Noakes’ 25g or less of carbohydrate a day with quality fat from olive oil, fish and meat in every meal and the hash tags  #LCHF and #Banting seems to be as angry as our world at war.

Rather than refute his theories in a constructive way that also educates us all, his naysayers describe him as criminal. For me the truth of his diet is irrefutable. I know that I can continue to eat pretty much what I like while maintaining my healthy weight but just slightly increasing my carb intake – from 100g of cashews, for example, reflects heavily on the scale the very next day.

Because I’m never really hungry doesn’t mean that I eat tiny portions – I wish I did, as it may be better for me. I still eat more than I need to because I enjoy the pleasure of it. I still eat emotionally when I feel overwhelmed. I’m behaviour hasn’t changed so very much. What has changed is what I eat and I continue to be disciplined in selecting low-carb foods that are sugar free.

I don’t mind engaging a server, like I did recently at Woolworth’s Willowbridge and Tasha’s at the Waterfront recently, to ask the kitchen to adjust a dish to meet LCHF.

There is regular news of new restaurants and suppliers joining The Banting Bandwagon and the high fat, but flour-free Gravy Train. As wonderful as it is to know restaurants are offering LCHF menus, we must remain vigilant. When it comes to maintaining my weight nothing is more important.

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I’m not sure how some of the items on Bread & Butter’s  Sunningdale LCHF menu got there. A liberal sprinkling of cashew nuts and apple slices is not what the doctor orders nor is the addition of fresh peas to a dish for people on low-carb, low-sugar diet.

PR-Net Trade, a JV between Andrea Desfarges of PublicitySA and I, recently hosted Prof Noakes and LCHF suppliers to a meet-the-media event. It was great to see many that are already entrenched in my kitchen like Crede (say kra-day)  and Lancewood but a wonderful treat to connect with Cold Gold Ice Cream and fab yogurt supplier Curds & Whey and my school friend Denise of Caring Candies, who first introduced me to xylitol.

Janine van Zyl, of Cold Gold Ice Cream also helped the chef at the stellar Coopmanshujs Hotel and Restaurant create a #LCHF dinner for us Saturday. What a treat and proof that with advance notice and a willingness to accommodate fussy diners, miracles can and do happen.

Travel during low season for the best of everything

19 Jul

Our May trip along the Garden Route is proof how much more pleasurable it is to travel during low season.

The biggest appeal is, as you would think, fewer other travellers, but in truth, the milder temperatures and low wind conditions made, for a more comfortable visit when compared to summer ones.

Click on the hotel names to read my reviews of each individual property. Grootbos just two hours from Cape Town is a good place to start. Next stop was Gondwana in Mossel Bay. The Grand Cafe and Rooms was our first in Plettenberg Bay before also visiting The Plettenberg Hotel and The Beacon Island Resort. A visit to The Cango Caves and overnight at The Queen’s Hotel, Oudtshoorn made the trip back to Cape Town, with a lunch stop on Montagu an easy one.

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