How to Celebrate Christmas in the Sun

Above: North Island Resort, Seychelles

When the sun comes out, we follow. Not merely we, the sun lovers, but we, life lovers. Like flowers looking to the light. A whole world opens up to us in summer; the great outdoors and bright city streets are all the more enticing with the sun shining down, with the days longer and the nights shorter.

This Christmas, switch the skis and eggnog in the winter wonderlands of the north for warms seas and G&Ts in the sunshine of Africa. For islands, nature reserves, great rivers and their banks, beaches and Winelands. Think of it as something new, a special kind of festive season with the family and the kind of gift you won’t find under a Christmas tree.

Above: Camp Jabulani, South Africa


9 Ways to Celebrate Christmas in the Sun

  1. Cocktails by the pool

Don’t let anyone tell you it’s lazy. Lying beside a pool is a matter of therapy. Necessity. For all others know you’re pondering your deepest thoughts while swigging that mojito and brainstorming the next creative project while gazing at your navel. Thing is, you can do whatever you like. It’s Christmas and you’ll drink all the Mai Tais you want to.

Best head to Ellerman House,  Delaire Graff Estate or The Cellars-Hohenort for poolside time under the sun in Cape Town. When in Johannesburg, pull up a lounger beside the pool at AtholPlace Hotel & Villa, with life’s simple pleasures: a book, a drink, and your costume. The villa is perfect for families to make their own home away from home, with kiddie activities available to keep little ones entertained. Alternatively, combine your safari and pool time at any of our safari lodges, including Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge.

Above: Ellerman House, Cape Town

Above: AtholPlace Hotel & Villa, Johannesburg

Above: Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge

2. Island Living

You can pretend you like the cold all you want. We know the idea of sinking into warm sea water and lolling on sandy beaches in a teeny weeny yellow polka-dot bikini speaks to you too. The islands of the Indian Ocean do that. They call you from afar with the promise of romance, adventure and relaxation – the perfect Christmas trifactor.

Head to North Island Resort and Château de Feuilles in the Seychelles, 20 Degrés Sud in Mauritius, Blue Margouillat Seaview Hotel in Reunion, Anjajavy le Lodge in Madagascar, or Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas in Zanzibar, for a  holiday of swimming, snorkelling, diving, eating and playing. Lots of playing.

Above: North Island, Seychelles

Above: Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas

3. Picnic in the wild

Picnics demand you slow down, let go, sit down, sit still. Ok, they demand a lot, but it’s all in your best interests. Their casual, outdoorsy quality has a way of bringing families together. They strip away distractions and impel us to enjoy the beauty of being in nature, with sweet sun and wholesome food to warm the heart.

Head to Royal Chundu, on the Zambezi River in Zambia. Start with a canoe trip downstream and pull in to a private riverbank picnic already laid out – Persian rugs, cushions, hammocks, a table under the shade of an umbrella, private waiters, and that spread… Simply help yourself to the treats and sink into picnic mode with a Pimm’s.

Alternatively, picnic beside the deep blue of the Indian Ocean at North Island Resort in the Seychelles, on Honeymoon Beach, your own private beach to share with loved ones. Feel free to take photos and tell the guys and dolls back home that you’ve bought an island. Because it sure will feel like it.

Above: Royal Chundu

Above: North Island Resort

4. My family and other animals

We don’t advise you leave Africa without going on safari. Besides being one of those occasions in life you’ll never forget, and that you’ll make sure your friends never forget you had, being on safari for Christmas adds an extra something special. Dine under the stars to the sounds of lions in the night, gather with loved ones around a campfire while buffalo roam closeby, head out on game drives and walks to share in the gift of witnessing wild animals in their natural habitat – whether its the big cats or dancing lemurs.

Head to Camp Jabulani, Londolozi Private Game Reserve or Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat in South Africa; Duba Plains Camp and Zarafa Camp in Botswana; or Mara Plains Camp or ol Donyo Lodge in Kenya. Witness the wholly unique wildlife of Madagascar at Anjajavy le Lodge.

Above: Camp Jabulani, Kapama Private Game Reserve

Above: Anjajavy le Lodge, Madagascar

5. The gourmand’s getaway

Imagine your traditional Christmas lunch or dinner recreated by the hands of Relais & Châteaux chefs. With the sun out and about, enjoy long lunches on the terrace and late evening dinners outdoors. We’re not sure you need any more persuasion than that. So…

Check into Ellerman House or The Cellars-Hohenort with its Conservatory and Greenhouse restaurants, in Cape Town, the Delaire Graff Estate,  in the Cape Winelands, or AtholPlace Hotel & Villa in Johannesburg. Dining outdoors is particularly special in wild places like Botswana’s Duba Plains Camp or the Cederberg Mountains’ Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat.

Above: Duba Plains Camp, Botswana

Above: Zarafa Camp, Botswana

Above: ol Donyo Lodge, Kenya

6. For the love of wine

Tis the season, as they say. Time for being generous. Generous with the wine… The variety of wines to sample while on holiday in Africa or the Indian Ocean islands could fill up all your hours. Let’s leave some time aside for that scuba-diving or mountain climbing, but by all means, unwind and drink wine. Little ones can enjoy the experience on strolls through the vineyards of the Cape Winelands, with the warmth of the summer sun following you.

Enjoy a wine lover’s Christmas at Delaire Graff Estate, The Cellars-Hohenort or Ellerman House in Cape Town, or head to the Indian Ocean for a night of private candlelit wine tastings on the beach at North Island in the Seychelles, with a sommelier guiding the way.

Above: Delaire Graff Estate, Cape Winelands

Above: The Cellars-Hohenort, Cape Town

7. Travel deeper

You might not notice it at first. It might only happen on the plane back home, or weeks later when your loved one, little or old, turns to you and says something that makes you go, woah, who are you? Africa does that. It has a way of transforming its visitors, opening their minds and hearts by showing them whole new landscapes, spaces where wild animals run freely,where people live in an entirely different way, with different priorities, values, and customs. Since you’re never too old to widen your horizon, to welcome the element of surprise, show the whole family just how big this world is.

Be a student in the school of life while discovering Masai culture at ol Donyo Lodge and Mara Plains Camp in Kenya, village life on the banks of the Zambezi at Royal Chundu or in the remote stretches of Madagascar at Anjajavy le Lodge, or the rock art of the Bushmen at Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat.

Above: Mara Plains Camp, Kenya

8. A healing holiday

How about trading the rush and ruckus of traditional Christmases for something calmer? Something involving massages on your deck overlooking the Zambezi or yoga on a white sand beach or above Big 5 wilderness, healthy Christmas meals and fresh juices (gin is a juice, right?) under African skies? A holiday where you can hear yourself think, learn the art of being here, now, and have others care for you for a change.

Indulge in a slow Christmas on the island of Zanzibar, at Zanzibar White Sands Luxury Villas, or Château de Feuilles in the Seychelles, with open sided spa rooms that let the birdsong in. Head to Royal Chundu in Zambia; Camp Jabulani, Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge, Londolozi Private Game Reserve, or Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat in South Africa.

Above: Château de Feuilles

Above: Londolozi Private Game Reserve

9. Wild and free in the mountains

As a self-confessed mountain lover myself, this might just be my favourite idea. Sunshine, rocks to run on, mountain streams, birdlife and sweet silence… The mountains of Cape Town are something special, with trails for all types: strollers, runners, hikers, explorers, athletes, photographers, paragliders, little legs and old. They are the city’s source of adventure and take one within minutes from the excitement of city life to the beauty of nature. Further inland are the mountains of the Cederberg that call rock climbers and mountain lovers from all around the world.

Escape to Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat in the Cederberg for a Christmas of wide open spaces as well as cavernous mountainscapes, rivulets, rockpools and shooting stars. Explore Cape Town’s peaks from your base at Ellerman House or The Cellars-Hohenort.

Above: Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat.

Under the Influence of Gardens at The Cellars-Hohenort

Spend enough time in a garden with a friend and you will witness something rather peculiar take place. A sort of transformation… Because it’s not possible to enter the space of enchanted forests and blossoming rose orchards and not feel a change take place inside you. I noticed this in my own nearest and dearest on a stroll through the gardens at The Cellars-Hohenort in Cape Town.

While my camera and I immersed ourselves in the estate’s rose, herb, vegetable and citrus tree gardens, I couldn’t help but notice something a little less expected.

I saw friends, usually quiet and composed, frolicking like fairies. I saw the talkative turn silent. I saw city folk soften with the touch of nature. I saw the tired come to life. I saw followers become leaders, racing along the winding paths and encouraging others along. I saw children where adults once stood.

Quite simply, I’ve noticed, you never leave a garden the same person you enter as. Of course, it isn’t just any garden that creates such an effect. It takes one like The Cellars-Hohenort’s – with its bougainvillea, agapanthus, plectranthus, hydrangeas, clivia, camphor trees and daffodils; its resident porcupine and duck family, Cape Dwarf Chameleon colonies, squirrels and Cinnamon Dove, Cape White-eye, Lemon Dove, African Paradise-Flycatcher, and Forest Canary; and its 950 wine-producing vines.

While initially birthed under the curation of Liz McGrath and with the caring hand of co-creator Jean Almon, today the gardens are maintained by Head Gardner Leigh-Ann Louw and her team.

We’ve caught up with a few of the greenfingers that have contributed to the making of The Cellars-Hohenort gardens over the years – namely Jean Almon and Niall Mckrill – and today we share insight into Leigh-Ann, the woman helping to transform all who walk through one of South Africa’s most beautiful gardens.


Q&A with Leigh-Ann Louw

What’s your favourite part of The Cellars-Hohenort garden?
There are so many… but I have to say the herb garden because as soon as you step into it, the scent of all the different fragrances is so amazing. I also enjoy having the chefs of The Conservatory and Greenhouse invading the garden too.

What are some of the summer highlights in the garden?
It’s the flowering time of many of the plants, and I love the sound of the bees buzzing around the blooms.

What’s popping up in the veggie garden at the moment?
Lovely fresh spinach, cabbages and green peppers.

Do you have a favourite gardening quote to share with us?
‘Gardening always has been an art, essentially.’ – Robert Irwin

Your perfect day looks like…
Coming in early in the morning and walking around the property to think about the week ahead. I have a wonderful team where I set out the work for each gardener as well as for myself. Just working in the gardens makes my day more than perfect.

Your top three Cape Town gardens are…
The Cellars-Hohenort
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Green Point Urban Park

Any advice for novice gardeners wanting to improve on their gardens?
When you pick your plants choose ones that are adapted to your climate, the soil type and the amount of sunlight that enters your garden. It’s always best to do the research first. And… never forget to take a moment to look and smell at whatever you’re growing in your garden.

Describe yourself in three words
Honest, trustworthy and a hard-worker

The Seven Wonders of the World. The Culinary World.

There were seven tastes that stood out, seven flavours of Africa that took me right back to the banks of the Zambezi River and the shores of the Cape’s seas, to safaris in the South African wilderness and dinners surrounded by the silhouette of the Cederberg. Distinct, yet magically complemented by the other ingredients in the seven dishes.

This is what the chefs of Relais & Châteaux do. What any good chef does. They take you on a journey. And they make you feel ok with the fact that you’re eating a day’s worth of food in one sitting.

Last week, the chefs of Relais & Châteaux Africa came together to create a multi-hands dinner for a few special guests at AtholPlace Hotel & Villa in Johannesburg.

Together under one roof, for the first time, were Peter Tempelhoff – Greenhouse at The Cellars-Hohenort, Anna Ridgewell – Londolozi Private Game Reserve, Virgil Kahn – Indochine, Delaire Graff Estate, Willie Malherbe – AtholPlace Hotel & Villa, Sungani Phiri – Royal Chundu in Zambia, Alex Van As – Camp Jabulani, and Charles Hayward – Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat.

Each chef created a dish for the evening. On serving, the tale behind the dish was revealed… its connection to the land, or terroir, its significance to the chef, and its knitting together of experiences and influences, far and wide.

I’ll remember the incredible company I found myself sharing the night with for some time to come, but what has my attention right now are those seven tastes of Africa that so beautifully told the stories of the continent:

  1. Biltong
  2. Wild lemongrass
  3. Atlantic tuna
  4. Morogo
  5. Springbok
  6. Amarula
  7. Rooibos

Discover how these flavours fit in to the menu as a whole below, starting with the evening’s canapés and ending with the final dessert.


East Meets South – Canapés from Delaire Graff Estate

You could call this Asian food through the eyes of a Cape Malay. Indochine Head Chef, Virgil Kahn favours the Cape Malay influences and ingredients in his cooking – it is in his blood, being from the Cape himself. In the three appetisers he prepared, he combined this touch of South Africa with a Thai influence and a hint to Japan (the robust Asian flavours being typical of Indochine), and all of this prepared with French precision…. And of course, a South African favourite, biltong.

  • Tart with smoked eggplant, green curry, green pepper
  • Cookies and cream-shrimp, red curry prawn, biltong
  • Choux craquelin-cauliflower and miso, bonito

Paired with Delaire Graff Sunrise MCC


From the Zambezi

From the banks of the Zambezi River in Zambia, Royal Chundu’s Head Chef Sungani Phiri created a sweetcorn brioche, with lemon grass butter and olive oil powder, as captured below by our guest @LaurasWorldza.

The dish combined lemongrass forested from around the lodge at Royal Chundu where it grows naturally and corn from the banks of the Zambezi, a staple in the local diet. This was served with an egg-based brioche wrapped in the traditional Zambian cloth known as the chitenge, creating a true cultural culinary experience. 


Memories of Japan from Peter Tempelhoff, Executive Chef at The Cellars-Hohenort’s Greenhouse, combined influences from the East and ingredients from the South: Atlantic tuna tataki, home-fermented kimchi, Elgin apple, beet kombucha radish, sesame dressing

Paired with Delaire Graff Coastal Cuvee Sauvignon Blanc 2017

For Peter, this dish goes as far back as 2009, when he spent time walking through the world famous Tsukiji Fish Market in Japan with chef, Kiyomi Mikuni of Hotel de Mikuni. Peter was so taken aback by the unusual tools used in their cooking that Kiyomi took him to Masamoto where they came across a knife that was particularly special, because of its unique colour bone, among other aspects. Peter now uses the knife every time he cooks with tuna, as he did in the preparation of this meal. Each time he does so, he is reminded of this special time in Japan.

The tuna for the evening was caught off the shores of Cape Town. This dish also featured apples from a local farmer in Elgin in the Cape and kimchi – a favourite of Peter’s as he believes fermented foods add an important flavour to cooking. In this way the dish unites Japan and the Cape and Peter’s experiences in both locales, making it a true traveller’s dish.


Home, sweet home… a taste of South African safari life from Camp Jabulani Head Chef, Alex Van As: Springbok shank ravioli with spicy Asian broth, brunoise vegetables, panko crusted shimiji mushrooms, Parmesan foam, Thai lemon-dressed morogo and micro coriander.

Paired with Delaire Graff Shiraz 2017

Alex is passionate about pasta and wanted to introduce to this Italian element a few South African flavours – such as springbok (also the name of his much cherished South African rugby team) and morogo (spinach, being a symbol of strength) – two ingredients that evoke a sense of home for him and that in turn help to connect the diner and the chef in a more intimate way.


The Art of Sharing (AtholPlace Hotel & Villa)

Lamb Rogan Josh – Crème fraiche pastry, rainbow carrots, spiced yoghurt, and curry leaf jus.

Paired with Delaire Graff Botmaskop 2015

AtholPlace Hotel & Villa Chef, Willie Malherbe is passionate about curries – because of the numerous rich flavours you can get from one curry dish. Also important to him is family and family meals, something that he grew up with and that he wanted to recreate in a new way. His family meals always included a single large pie for the family to share, and so here he created smaller pieces of the same pie for each of us to enjoy – separately and together. Inside his love for curries shows, with the Indian flavours shining through.


An African Sunset

Londolozi’s Executive Chef Anna Ridgewell served a taste of the winter African sunset after a drought – an Amarula and white chocolate cremeux, inspired by safari life at Londolozi.

Londolozi lies in the Lowveld, a macadamia growing area. Inspired by this nut and the terroir, Executive Chef Anna Ridgewell put together a dessert that combines macadamia with another South African favourite – Amarula, to evoke what she calls a winter African sunset after the drought.


It’s simple. It’s the Cederberg

Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Wellness Retreat’s Executive Chef, Charles Hayward rounded off the evening with a taste of the Cederberg… a rooibos panna cotta, spiced cake, caramelised banana, toasted coconut, paired with Delaire Graff Sunburst Noble Late Harvest 2015.

Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat  is set in the rooibos-rich region of the Cederberg Mountains in South Africa and so Charles really had no choice but to celebrate this one, simple ingredient that is so much a part of the South African national identity. He combined rooibos in a panna cotta and added the flavours of the Cape Malay spices to a delicate cake to create a memorable end to a special dinner.


All together in one place… our chefs from Camp Jabulani, Delaire Graff Estate’s Indochine, The Cellars-Hohenort’s Greenhouse, Royal Chundu, Londolozi Private Game Reserve, AtholPlace Hotel & Villa and Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat…

What an extraordinary night! Thank you to our guests for sharing in our celebration of cuisine and hospitality, to our chefs from around Africa, to AtholPlace Hotel & Villa for hosting us and to Delaire Graff Estate for the beautiful wines.