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.

The Waterless Cooking Movement

You might have heard about it from Capetonians on the plane, because it’s all we can talk about. And rightly so. You might have come across the signs in the airport, in your hotel, in the city’s newspapers. That’s the weather for you. It may seem trifle, the stuff of small talk, but its effect is anything but.

Cape Town is in the midst of its worst drought in a century, meaning in just about anyone you meet here’s lifetime.

What is inspiring, though, is how the people of the city have taken to honouring nature and adapting to this endless summer. One such example is The Cellars-Hohenort in the Constantia Valley and their contribution to #WaterlessWednesdays.

Creative agency 140BBDO, and Radio SMILE 90.4FM recently ran a campaign called H2ZERO: a water-saving initiative where renowned local chefs were challenged to create a menu that uses absolutely zero water.

The hotel’s Group Executive Chef, Peter Tempelhoff and Greenhouse Head Chef, Ashley Moss contributed a dish Peter has called, “the best fish dish I have tasted… ever!” The dish even made it onto the menu at Greenhouse, with Peter offering to cook the dish for free. “Just send me a picture of your water bill and the dish is yours,” he told diners.

The aim of the challenge is to inspire locals to be more aware of daily water usage and to adopt weekly water-saving techniques in their own homes.

“We’re hoping that the Waterless Cooking challenges can become a movement in which people, and establishments alike, see that responding to a problem is not synonymous with sacrifice but instead, it can offer an exciting and prospective venture,” says BBDO Chief Creative Officer, Mike Schalit.


In Peter’s Words

Below, Peter talks about small changes with big impacts, stepping out of the kitchen and using ingredients that require little water to grow – reduce the demand, lessen the water, increase the difference.

Below, Ashley separates water from oil as he breaks down why saving water doesn’t start in the kitchen but actually when we source our ingredients.


From The Cellars-Hohenort’s blog, Tips for a Water-Wise Restaurant Kitchen, here are a few water-saving techniques from the kitchens of Greenhouse and The Conservatory.

After all… “What is the most important ingredient in the modern kitchen, salt? Perhaps it’s oil or even eggs? Or what is a kitchen without flour? Some say ‘time’ is without rival as an ingredient…” said Executive Chef, Peter Tempelhoff. “All pretty important ingredients and essential to all menus and kitchens, but after limiting the number of times that we turned the tap on and off each day, it was pretty clear, crystal clear in fact. Kitchens grind to a standstill without it, so preserving it in this H2O lean time is imperative to our industry and essentially our livelihood.”

Top Water-Saving Tips for Chefs

  1. Use melted ice bucket water to boil vegetables. At the end of service don’t throw out the water, use it for the gardens (provided there’s no salt in it).
  2. Ask your chefs to lather their hands with the tap off as this will save litres every day. Also, they can wash their hands with the plug in the sink; this stemmed water can be used to rinse with.
  3. Rinse the washed dishes in a bucket of water and not in a sink. Then, warm up the water and use it to mop the floor.
  4. Don’t use water to defrost foods. Take out the item in advance and let it defrost slowly in the fridge.
  5. Mop the kitchen floor only if food is spilled and only at the end of a service. Sweep the floor regularly to keep things neat.
  6. Keep small containers of water in the fridge to wash fruit and vegetables, discard at night by watering the garden.
  7. Steam food items rather than boil in water, where possible.
  8. Don’t rinse plates off individually, simply run a sink till the halfway mark and use this as rinsing water.
  9. Only run the dishwasher when there is a full load.
  10. Use half-consumed bottles of mineral water left over after service to water the garden.

10 Questions with Mara Plains Camp’s Head Chef

I could see it in his eyes and in something of the intangible. Exuberance, I think the word is. It was as though his spirit was beside itself, overtly ecstatic at getting to inhabit the man it did. The man’s name is Benjamin Maritim and his soft glow emanates from living the life he most wants to lead, from doing what his heart has always called on him to do.

Benjamin is the Head Chef at Mara Plains Camp, on the northern border of the Maasai Mara. I could sense his joy for life from my first meeting with him, as he stood proudly beside the dishes he and his team had laid out before us for lunch. I felt it while talking to him about something seemingly simple, yet wholly consuming – food – as we stood out in the wilderness at a bush breakfast with the wild things of Kenya.

I had to hear more from him. I had to share his spirit with you. And I had to hold onto it for myself. So here it is… our Q&A with Benjamin Maritim, a closer look at the man behind the meals at Mara Plains Camp,  on the banks of the Ntiakitiak River.

10 Questions with Mara Plains Camp Head Chef, Benjamin Maritim

What is your first memory of cooking?

When I was doing my National Youth Service I was assigned to engineering however my roommate was training in hospitality, when he spoke of the cooking and all the skills he was learning I knew I had to transfer. From then on cooking has been my passion.

What five things has working at Mara Plains Camp taught you about yourself, life and love?

  • I have learnt how to interact with different types of people.
  • It’s taught me about different parts of the world.
  • It’s taught me about different perspectives and opinions.
  • I have learnt (a little of) different languages.
  • I have found comfort and built lasting relationships.

How did your path lead you to Mara Plains Camp?

Cooking is my passion and my life and since I learnt there was a chance to be the Head Chef at Mara Plains Camp, I couldn’t stop myself applying. I was called for an interview and I passed with flying colours. Thereafter I committed myself to becoming one of the family.

How do you bring a taste of the land to your dishes?

I learnt to cook western food in culinary school with different international ingredients, but my style of cooking is a little different, as I am using the local ingredients and natural resources from around the community. This allows me to cook fusion style dishes and make unique food with flavours that you don’t get anywhere else other than Mara Plains Camp.

How would you describe the kind of cuisine at Mara Plains Camp and the motivation behind it?

A feast for the eyes, the ears, the nose and the mouth. I take inspiration from the master chefs from around the world and then I like to add a touch of Kenya. Being self-sustainable is the goal so using fresh items from our garden and the local community is key to show off the incredible Kenyan produce in globally-inspired dishes that are fresh, light and healthy.

What inspires you day to day – in life and work?

Guest feedback is incredibly important in my life and work. It helps me to sharpen my understanding and knowledge. It also shows me how important my duties are in the guest experience.

Where do you source most of your produce from and why?

We aim to be true to our local produce, sourcing all our fresh ingredients from the local communities and the farms and coastal regions of Kenya. Mara Plains  Camp has its own kitchen garden with a wide variety of vegetables and edible flowers, however what we do not currently grow here is sourced from the local community farmers. This is one way of promoting the community and farmers and also the products are local, fresh and healthy.

What are some of your favourite local ingredients and dishes?

My favourite ingredients are Posho, Sukuma, Arrowroots, Cassava, Coconut, Banana, Pumpkins and local greens, as well as the amazing local lamb and goat meat.  I cook dishes with this local ingredient like Irio, Ugali, Sukuma, matoke, mbuzi choma, or stew, Swahili fish etc.

What are some of the ways you incorporate a health focus into the menu?

The first thing I focus on in the menu is the clientele, looking at their dietary requirements, ages and then using the ingredients I have to plan menus that are fresh, light and healthy.

I try and avoid adding unnecessary sugar, opting for natural sweeteners such as our fantastic Kenyan honey. Selecting leaner cuts of meat and ensuring there is always a variety of fruits and vegetables with each meal. I want guests to be satisfied but not weighed down with carbohydrate and fat heavy meals.

What do you enjoy most about working at Mara Plains Camp and what makes the camp so special?

Honestly, since I started working here, I have been learning lots and growing day by day in hospitality. I enjoy the sharing of knowledge with my colleagues. Mara Plains Camp is like my family, they are very positive and supportive from my bosses starting with CEO’s, Directors, Managers and all the staff, they are all so friendly we work as the Great Plains family.

Mara Plains Camp is special for many reasons, but the conservation of animals and nature and promoting and helping the community is key. Plus it’s a non-profit company.