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Feature, Travel

The Abu Herd In Botswana’s Okavango Delta

November 4, 2015

Have you ever had a holiday of a lifetime and then looked back a few months later and wondered if that really happened to you?

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As I put the best snapshots and mementos together to make an overdue scrapbook of our trip to Wilderness Collection’s Abu Camp in Botswana’s Okavango Delta – now 8 months pregnant – I truly don’t recognise myself in pictures. Is that really me jumping in a swimming pool in the African bush or riding an elephant at the crack of dawn?

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I almost have to pinch myself that I was there less than a year ago! Whether you are a seasoned safari buff or have never been anywhere very remote, the ultimate elephant interaction experience is at Abu Camp, a private concession in one of Africa’s prime wildlife-viewing areas. The exquisite six-tented safari camp is also home to the Abu Herd – six resident elephants rescued from the wild, brought in from captivity or born at Abu Camp.

ABU CAMP, Okavango Delta, Botswana

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Shortly after arriving at the camp we were introduced to ‘the herd’ during an afternoon mud bath session. Once you have received the nod of approval from Cathy, the herd’s massive 55-year-old matriarch, then you have permission to meet the rest of the Abu herd – Shireni, Lorato, Paseka, Warona and baby Naledi. I never anticipated what it would feel like to stand next to one of the most powerful mammals on this planet. Despite being a bit nervous at first, I would soon feel so at ease stroking each elephant’s tough rubbery skin and playing with their ever-curious trunk as I had the privilege of getting to know them individually.

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Abu camp is strongly affiliated with conservation partner Elephants Without Borders, so education, conservation and elephant research are firmly at the forefront of the camp. Abu Camp recently announced the exciting news that elephant herd member Lorato is expecting her first calf sometime around October or November 2016 after mating with a wild bull, which will be the first calf born into the Abu herd since 2013; a big mark of success for the camp’s research and elephant preservation programme. I can only sympathise knowing that Lorato has a full 22 months of pregnancy ahead of her!

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What makes this particular camp so special is the incredible daily interactions with the Abu herd with the chance to observe their group dynamic as well as each individual elephant’s behavior. You quickly realise how personable elephants are and that they have really distinct characters.

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One late afternoon we had a tea party in the bush, which the herd decided to join. Baby Naledi thought this was a hilarious opportunity to see whether she too could have an afternoon cuppa and just like a rebellious toddler, she promptly pushed over a table holding an immaculate afternoon tea set-up with a mere touch of her trunk. It’s moments like this when you realise how physically strong these gentle giants are from such a young age and how privileged we are to be amongst their presence in such a relaxed setting.

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For those who are a bit more adventurous and can be lured away from their luxurious tent for the night, you have the option of sleeping adjacent to the herd overlooking the elephant boma in an elevated star bed platform (weather dependent!). Here you will literally fall asleep under the African sky as you are serenaded by the snores of the herd. Mosquito repellent and a strong nightcap are highly recommended!

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Abu Camp also offers stunning day and night-time game drives, birding, boating, and Mokoro excursions not to mention a gorgeous outdoor swimming pool to cool off in and a pampering spa to soothe safari induced aches and pains.

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No matter what activities you fill your days with, the herd inevitably seems to steal your heart. Upon reluctantly departing this spectacular camp we truly felt a very special and emotional connection to the herd. A mere three nights at Abu Camp had utterly transformed our perceptions of elephants and the wilderness – looking through my photographs really brings back what a magical visit we had.

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www.abucamp.com

Feature, Travel

Springtime Skiing in Val d’Isère

March 30, 2015

Growing up with Lake Tahoe in my backyard and Vail and Jackson Hole only a short flight away, I’ve been pretty spoiled when it comes to choice of ski resorts. I recently dusted off my skis and went to Val d’Isère for a long weekend to see what one of Europe’s most loved resorts in the French Alps had to offer. The snow was incredible, we ate far too much cheese and I’m proud to say we did the après-ski scene proud.

It was such a memorable weekend, I’m already planning my trip for next season!  IMG_3238Val d’Isère has one of the longest seasons in Europe and stays open until early May, so you can still fit in a last minute spring ski trip! If you’re a die hard ski bunny already planning ahead for next year or are weighing up your options of which resort to go to, here is what I loved about Val d’Isère.

Ski hard:

It goes without saying the skiing in Val d’Isère is out of this world. The resort has 300 km/180 miles of runs to choose from with one ski pass, so you definitely won’t find yourself repeatedly going down the same slope. If you’re a complete beginner, the Espace Killy skiing area is available to novice skiers free of charge, so you can practice gaining your on-piste confidence without any damage to your wallet. Here are some photos I took from the chair lift towards the top peak of Val d’Isère. We were truly skiing amongst the clouds!

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For a cool €60,000, you can even bring home Wild Kong, who hangs out on the mountain providing onlookers with a good photo opportunity. A nice statement piece for your living room perhaps?IMG_3276

Feasting:

Unlike American ski resorts, the meals both on and off the mountain were seriously delicious- further reason to hit another run or two post lunch.  It’s hard to beat a rewarding lunch at La Fruitiere, situated on the mountain right next to party central, the Folie Douce! IMG_3348

Walking into La Fruitiere with my goggles and ski clothes on, I looked around and immediately felt a bit too casually dressed. This is a luxury sit down French restaurant with waiter service and French Anthropologie chic fittings and furnishings. Non-skiers or snowboarders even take the chair lift all the way up just to have lunch here! Feeling a bit overwhelmed with choice of French comfort food, our waiter suggested one of the restaurant’s specialties which was served in a metallic pot, slow-cooked Boeuf Burgundy. The succulent red meat fell off the bone and had the most incredible flavour, which was paired perfectly with warm polenta and a glass of red wine. If you can, save room for the chocolate tart and local cheeses!IMG_3355

Speaking of cheese, you can’t go skiing in the French Alps without trying Tartiflette, a tempting melted mixture of cheeses (typically Reblochon) cooked with potatoes, cream, ham and wine – with a small salad on the side to ensure you get your daily dose of greens! This is my absolute heaven on a plate, but beware a strong food coma that will imminently hit you like a snow plow afterwards.IMG_3171

If you find Tartiflette too filling, then opt for another on-piste lunchtime favourite, a ‘light’ dish of melted Camembert with toasted bread, dill pickles, cured meats and a side of salad and potato. Served best with a glass of crisp rosé or Aperol Spritz of course! IMG_3269

For a truly cheesy experience (sorry, not sorry!), have dinner at one of Val d’Isère’s local family-owned farms, Ferme de l’Adroit,  where you dine next to the farm’s cows. Wear loose clothing and order the house Raclette, which arrives in a contraption that looks like a medieval cheese torture chamber. IMG_3318

Using a wooden spoon, scrape off the freshly melted cheese as it oozes on to your plate and enjoy with meats and breads. How French women stay so thin remains a mystery!

Après-Ski:

La Folie Douce is Val d’Isère’s daily on-piste party with a lively atmosphere like none other. Treat weary ski legs to an afternoon of boozing in your ski gear to DJs and live music while taking in the ‘best of Euro’ on-table dancers and cabaret show. La Folie Douce is truly the Mardi Gras of the slopes- leave your inhibitions at your chalet and get ready to let loose!

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Picture: courtesy of Val d’Isère Office du Tourisme

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We also tested out the latest après-ski joint in town, Cocorico, which is conveniently located at the bottom of the mountain for end of day celebrations. If you’re a night owl, Cocorico’s nightclub stays open till the wee hours!

Post-Piste Activities: 

When you’re not on the slopes, there is a wide variety of shops, spas, bars, restaurants and local attractions in Val d’Isère to enjoy. Navigating around the village is easy, and keep an eye out for locally designed ice sculptures, which change on a regular basis.IMG_3179

If you’re an adrenaline junkie and speed riding on the slopes isn’t enough to get your pulses racing, then try Ice Driving day or night. We went whizzing around an icy race track in a BMW racing car and were relieved to tell the tale afterwards. Avoid eating or drinking anything at least an hour before. For a more PG version, try ice-karting instead!

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I can now see what makes Val d’Isère so special, but I hope my next ski trip here will be for longer. Offering fine food, fantastic skiing, fresh mountain air, a buzzing on and off piste atmosphere and gorgeous scenery, it’s no wonder so many skiers return to Val d’Isère year after year.

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For more information about Val d’Isère, visit www.valdisere.com or ring +33 (0)4 79 06 06 60.