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North Africa and The Middle East
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- North Africa Holidays & Middle East Holidays
The cradle of ancient civilisations, the sandy swathes of North Africa and the Middle East are home to fascinating cultures and some of the most hospitable people on Earth. Each of its countries is home to an epic: Egypt the mighty River Nile, Jordan the ancient city of Petra, Morocco the soaring Atlas Mountains, and Israel the Western Wall. This is a region where history is writ large across the very foundations of its construction, from the great Pyramids at Giza to the flagstones of Jerusalem. Abandon all thoughts of Aladdin (though the deserts of the Sahara and Wadi Rum really are that spectacular), and get under the skin of the states that gave the world the three monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
In great contrast to all this ancient history are the glittering high rises of the Emirates, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Parts of the city still cling to its humble beginnings, but rapid development has created an adult's playground of artificial islands, staggering buildings and glamorous stores and hotels. Across the border is the genteel Sultanate of Oman, a country blessed with an interior that's as richly beautiful as its splendid coastlines, with wadis speckled like oases throughout the dusty land. Qatar is a relative newcomer to tourism, with exceptional off-road driving and an attractive corniche. But it's a world away from the traditional North African countries of Morocco and Egypt, where switchback alleys, old-time traditions and bustling souqs still reign supreme.
North Africa & Middle East with A&K
If you wish to draw back the veil of the past and explore the treasures of an ancient land, then North Africa and Arabia is the perfect choice. The lands of Morocco, Egypt, Oman, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon each hold a different yet equally intriguing heritage within their borders; such a wealth of options that our expertise is invaluable.
On A&K's Morocco Holidays 2015, 2016 travel back in time and wander through the labyrinthine streets of Morocco's souqs where traders hawk their wares, old men sit and talk and women move silently behind shutters - scenes as ancient as time itself.
For millennia, the iconic sights encountered on our luxury Egypt holidays have held visitors in their sway, from the Pyramids of Giza erupting from a haze of heat to the white sails of a felucca floating down the Nile. We have recreated this fascinating Pharaonic past on our own elegant vessels, Sun Boat III and IV, with their private docks, evoking a glamorous era of travel.
We will help you follow in the footsteps of British explorer Thesiger through wadis, deserts and old forts to capture the stillness of Wahiba Sands in the Sultanate of Oman, one of the oldest civilisations in the Arabian Peninsula.
Or, for an ethnic melting pot of cultures, Israel's landscapes reverberate with history that has changed the world. Few countries pack as many hidden gems into such a small space, where archaeological sites dot the landscape echoing famous names and momentous events.
Jordan's greatest legacy is undoubtedly the ancient city of Petra, yet there is far more to this compact gem than the rose-red city alone. Our guides will explain how The Seven Pillars of Wisdom inspired T.E. Lawrence, show you where Jesus was baptised and reveal the secrets of Jerash.
North Africa Holidays & Middle East Holidays with Abercrombie & Kent take you to the heart of these amazing regions. Let our experts design your perfect North Africa Holiday or Middle East Holiday.
Our experts can tailor-make the perfect holiday to suit your individual requirements, however, if you need inspiration or a starting point, below are some of our suggested trips and experiences:
Nights: 10 | from £2,045
Ever since there have been travellers, there have been travellers in Egypt. Its unparalleled ancient sites have drawn the curious for centuries – and it’s easy to see why. Outside capital Cairo, the best way to experience the country is on a cruise down the Nile, an unfurling of classic tombs and temples, busy souqs, wafting palms and timeless riverbank life. Find out more
Holiday type: Tailor-made Private set departure
Adventure & Culture | Voyages & Cruising
Call 01242 547 703 Enquire
Nights: 7 | from £1,545
The River Nile is the lifeblood of Egypt. It is along this riverbank than ancient civilisations thrived, and where modern Egyptians still live and farm as they have for centuries. A week-long cruise on this mighty waterway, stopping at temples, tombs and palm-frilled villages, is the best way to take the measure of this fascinating country. Find out more
Holiday type: Tailor-made Private set departure
Call 01242 547 703 Enquire
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Here's a selection of some recent articles to whet your appetite:
In my job I am blessed to travel to some of the most unique hotels in the world, ride some of the most beautiful horses, drink the finest wines and dine on succulent Argentine steaks or freshly caught sea food. I have had the luck to travel to Colombia where I swam in gold-flecked seas and tasted the best coffee on earth. I've had sublime stargazing opportunities from the mighty Atacama, and breathed the clear air of wild Patagonia. I have hung out in trendy Santiago restaurants and cuddled up to sea lions on the Galapagos; walked the Incan stones of Machu Picchu; and seen the salt flats of Bolivia dazzling like diamonds. Yet I would readily admit that I've merely scratched the surface.
Adventurous or relaxed, Latin America will seduce every traveller. A&K is the only UK tour operator with its own offices across the region, and we've been making contacts, uncovering special places, seeking out the hippest new restaurants and sourcing the most knowledgeable guides for over 20 years. My team and I also head out as often as possible, and we're passionate about enabling you to uncover the real spirit of each country. Whether you would prefer to stay in a remote Amazon lodge drinking chicha with an Amerindian or in a converted city palace enjoying the spa, we can find the place to suit you.
Hot Off the Press
Tren Crucero is a beautifully restored heritage train opening in June this year. The route covers 280 miles of Ecuadorian track, between Quito and Guayaquil. The full journey takes four days, but shorter journeys are also possible. Accommodation will be at traditional haciendas.
The Airstream Teardrop is the most unique dining experience on the Bolivian salt flats. If you're not able to take the fantastic overnight Airstream journey you can still enjoy a gourmet dining experience while visiting this spectacular desert of salt.
The Place to Be
Peru's capital has been getting a lot of press of late. The city has a booming food scene, and there's been a great buzz around Mario Testino's latest gallery, which recently opened in the up-and-coming artistic neighbourhood of Barranco. Lima's first luxury boutique hotel, Boutique Hotel B, will also be opening soon in the same district. Far from being a pit-stop on the way to other sights, Lima is rapidly becoming one of Latin America's hottest cities.
Brazil's winding waterway is one of the world's largest tropical wetland areas. Travel there this summer - in the Brazilian dry season - and you won't be disappointed. On a recent trip our specialist Melissa watched not only the rarest of rare - a Puma stalking a Capybara on the river bank - but saw Giant River Otters enjoying their fish breakfast and a male Jaguar stretching on the river bank. All before 10am in the morning! Simply a wildlife lover's paradise.
Stylish and chic, there really is nowhere more glamorous than the Argentinian capital - especially when it comes to drinking and dining. The elegant Alvear Palace Hotel, built in 1932, is located in the heart of La Recoleta, the historic district home to the cemetery where Eva Perez is buried. Its exclusive new Cigar Bar, which holds just 17 guests, adds a new dimension to its fabulous restaurant offerings. Not to be outdone, the equally fabulous Four Seasons Hotel has opened Elena Restaurant and The Pony Line Bar. On the menu you'll discover precision-cut dry aged steaks and delicious Argentinian Kobe beef.
The Chilean island of Chiloé is still a wonderfully off the beaten track destination, but ith a relatively recent four times weekly flight from Santiago it is possible to fit it into your itinerary - and it's highly recommended! Take an early morning kayak ride from the island's award winning new hotel and paddle out into the sunken forest awaiting the first rays of dawn. As the sun begins to rise, the fog covering the waters begins to lift and the birds burst into song. Our Head of Operations in Chile describes this as her favourite ever experience. On Chiloé you can discover the perfect blend of adventure and relaxation as you retire from a day exploring the windswept landscape to a comfortable lodge and a glass of wine by the fire.
Local fiestas such as the Mamacha del Carmen in Paucartambo and Pisac in Peru's Sacred Valley provide a great insight into local cultures. Latin America has so many and all of them are different - our consultants would be delighted to talk with you about them.
Throw yourself into Mexico's legendary cuisine. From high end restaurants to unusual delicacies, such as the miniscule grasshoppers that are recommended as an addition to your morning omelette, there's so much to sample. You could even take a cooking class in Oaxaca - the country's culinary capital.
Take half a day to walk around vibrant Santiago, Chile, making sure you stop at the new wine-bar Bocanariz - a favourite of Santiaguinos and local wine lovers. The divine Chilean wines are all served by the owner and his well-trained team of local sommeliers.
Try a game of Frisbee on the Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia's largest salt flat which is visible from the moon - surrounded by nothing but shimmering white. A totally unique experience.
Don't just watch a fabulous tango but dance at an Argentinian milonga - a late night dance hall where locals learn and perfect their tango and can teach you too!Don't miss an opera performance at the Colon Theatre Opera House in Buenos Aires, followed by one of the city's best cocktails at the exclusive Frank's bar. Frank's has a strict door policy and password but we can get you in no problem.
In Antigua, Guatemala, get up early to take photos of the volcanoes which overlook the town before they get shrouded in mist. Your reward will be a visit to the Kaffee Fernando for amazing homemade chocolate before going shopping for cowboy boots and local leather.
Take a couple of days after a magical Galapagos cruise to stay on dry land at one of the new island properties, stretching your legs and lazing about with giant tortoises.
For more information click here or call 01242 858188 to make an enquiry
Big Five: Island Escapes
Peter Island Resort & Spa, British Virgin Islands
Mountainous and jungle-cloaked with secluded coves and idyllic beaches, Peter Island has played host to an impressive array of visitors including explorer Christopher Columbus, Hollywood heavyweight Robert De Niro and footballer Rio Ferdinand. Reached only by boat or helicopter, the island began life as a resort in the 1960's and has always maintained a wonderfully laid-back and romantic atmosphere. With world-class diving, delicious private picnics, cooking lessons, horticultural tours and a blissful spa, there are plenty of ways to enjoy island life. We recommend heading to The Loop to watch the sunset whilst tucking into a fruit and cheese platter - delivered to you alongside your tipple of choice.
Constance Tsarabanjina Lodge, Madagascar
Located on a remote islet in the paradisiacal Mitsio Archipelago, Tsarabanjina Lodge combines castaway simplicity with Constance comforts to offer barefoot luxury at its best. Surrounded by vivid-blue waters, kaleidoscopic underwater scenery and powdery white beaches, you can do as little or as much as you like here. Take a trip to meet the lemurs on the nearby island of Nosy Komba, or watch the sun set behind the volcanic Frères islands to a ballet of tropical birds. When you're done with exploring and rejuvenated after a snooze in your private hammock, the beach bar is the place to be. It only closes when you're ready to leave, and the mango martinis are to die for.
Refugia, Chiloé Island, Chile
The largest island of the Chiloé archipelago - until recently one of the most isolated on earth - is a stunning natural wilderness. Rich in folklore, the island is a melting pot of ancient traditions and Hispanic culture, and there are charming little villages, costal treasures and three national parks to explore. Opened in 2012, Rufugia Lodge is the island's first luxury offering- an intimate 12-room gem with dreamy views over the water of Reloncavi Sound and the distant Andes peaks. Stylish yet homely: large glass windows make the most of the views, whilst the restaurant serves up delicious local fare accompanied by fantastic Chilean wines. From unwinding in the outdoor Jacuzzi to penguin safaris, rainforest treks and sailing trips; the experiences you have here are guaranteed to stay with you long after you return home.
Cappella Lodge, Lord Howe Island, Australia
Just two hours from Sydney, Lord Howe Island is one of Australia's best kept secrets. Subtropical, untouched and brimming with rare birds, flora and fauna: the island is a collage of soaring volcanic peaks, turquoise lagoons, lush vegetation and spectacular coral reefs. A real adventure playground, activities include bird-watching, surfing, guided hikes, snorkelling and diving, to name just a few. At the southern end of the island, the nine-suite Cappella Lodge provides a luxurious and eco-friendly base with beach-house chic interiors, a relaxed vibe and top notch contemporary Pacific cuisine. After an action-packed day, book yourself in for the three hour 'Dreaming' package at the Capella Spa - guaranteed to leave you feeling balanced and renewed.
Denis Private Island, Seychelles
With unspoilt surroundings, bags of character and the moto "The island is yours - Do as you will, without disturbing others", Denis Private Island is pure magic. Just half an hour by seaplane from the main island of Mahé, the 25 cottages are hidden among the lush foliage, just yards from the vivid crystalline waters. Spacious and elegant, the cottages offer privacy and comfort aplenty. We love the open-air bathrooms, and with no televisions, mobile phone signal or keys, this really is the place to simply kick back and unwind. A haven for turtles and rare sea birds, the wildlife is also a major draw; don a snorkel and head to the lagoon for encounters with triggerfish, clownfish, parrotfish, pirouetting rays and gliding turtles.
Sveti Stefan, Montenegro
With cobbled lanes, quaint courtyards and remarkable sea views, the tiny islet of Sveti Stefan was once a fortified village and dates back to the 15th Century. Its rare pink sand beach was a playground for the rich and famous during the 1950s and 60s. Surrounded by ancient cedar and pine forests, and with pristine turquoise waters, this slice of Balkan paradise has since been restored to its former glory with the opening of a sumptuous Aman resort. There are a host of water sports on offer, and if you can bear to tear yourself away from your sun lounger the beautiful surrounding area is well worth exploring.
Pasikudah Bay, Sri Lanka
Having recently opened up to visitors, Sri Lanka's north east coast is home to stunning, palm-fringed, white sand beaches, with sea so calm and clear it's like stepping into a giant bath. Despite having one of the longest stretches of shallow coastline in the world, Pasikudah Bay remains largely untouched. Don a snorkel and you'll find yourself nose-to-nose with the multi-hued tropical fish and intriguing crustaceans of the sun-dappled Indian Ocean. Currently, just a few small boutique hotels are dotted around the bay, and we'd recommend you enjoy them while the area is still quiet and unspoiled.
Seal Bay, Australia
Just 15 kms off the south coast of Australia, Kangaroo Island is a wildlife haven - perfect if you like your beaches a little more rugged. Here you can see pink pelicans wheeling through the sky, sleepy koalas in the trees, and pairs of little penguins making their nightly pilgrimage to the shore in Penneshaw. Wallabies, brush-tailed possums, kangaroos and fur seals also inhabit the island. Although not a swimming beach, Seal Bay is home to Australia's third largest colony of Australian sea lions and offers some of the best beach walks we know of, bringing you up close and personal with these fascinating animals.
Taipus de Fora, Brazil
The Brazilian equivalent of the English expression 'just my cup of tea' is 'é minha praia' or 'that's my beach' - a wonderfully apt expression for a nation famous for its vibrant beach culture. A long sweep of pure white sand, located on the Bahia state Maraú Peninsula, Taipus de Fora is arguably one of Brazil's most magical beaches. With giant coconut palms, natural reef pools, crystal clear waters and a distinct lack of crowds, it's a fantastic place to kick back and relax caipirinha in hand. If you're feeling more adventurous, some of Brazil's best surf is just around the peninsula.
Manafiafy Beach, Madagascar
Renowned for the diversity of its flora and fauna - most of which can be found nowhere else on earth - Madagascar is a nature lover's paradise. With azure blue seas and miles of white sand fringed by lush tropical forest, the remote Manafiafy Beach, located on the south-east coast of the island, offers beachside escapism at its best. Well sheltered, the beach is an excellent spot for swimming and snorkelling. Meet the local fishermen bringing in their catch, explore the inland mangroves by canoe, catch a boat over to the nearby islands for picnic lunches, or take a night walk in the littoral rainforest. From June to November you can also view migrating humpback whales.
Geoffrey Kent - Ahead of his time
The man who put experience into luxury travel was 52 years ahead of his time. Geoffrey Kent, the founder of Abercrombie & Kent, explains all…
I’m kind of like a Land Rover – I combine adventure and luxury. I was born in Africa, lived on a farm in Africa and I’ve never really left. So on one hand I’ve got this rough, tough streak. But the other side of me is from my military training – I went to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and served in a great regiment. I was also a champion polo player – I captained the Prince of Wales’ Windsor Park polo team for five years. So I acquired a certain amount of cultivation.
At the Duke of York School in Nairobi where I grew up there was only one thing the boys dreamed of becoming – a professional hunter with the local safari company Ker, Downey and Selby. But that was seven years’ apprenticeship and after I left the army, I didn’t fancy doing that. So I decided to set up a rival.
Together with my parents, I started Abercrombie & Kent in 1962 with a dream £100 of my own cash, a made-up name (the “Abercrombie” bit just put me at the top of the Yellow Pages) and our old farm Land Rover - KBH 482. I decided to focus not on hunting, but on photography. My slogan was “shoot with a camera, not with a gun”. I made it exactly like a luxury tent safari – I got refrigerators, ice, caviar, Champagne and the finest wines. My Major General in the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, to whom I was an aide-de-camp, liked to live very well. He used to tell me, “Only a fool should be uncomfortable”.
I expanded into travel. I wanted to bring to the world all these wonderful things that can be seen and done, but with a simplicity and style underlined by the ruthless efficiency and logistics from my British military background. I’ve recently been inducted into the travel hall of fame – they said I was “a visionary who created the experiential holiday”. I was surprised it took people so long to “get” what I had believed implicitly since 1962 – why would you want to spend two weeks on a yacht in the Mediterranean, when you could be going to Antarctica?
I’ve always had an adventurous spirit. At 16 I left school a little early (I won’t go into reasons) and drove my motorbike from Nairobi to Cape Town – the first time it had ever been done. I think I got it from my father. He was in the King’s African Rifles and when I was a boy I remember him going away on big safaris. He’d say, “I’m going somewhere where you can’t drink the water”. When I started Abercrombie & Kent, that was my business plan – to take people places where you can’t drink the water.
When we’re thinking up new experiences for our customers, the key is I’ll always to it myself. I’ve climbed Mount Kilimanjaro twice in a month, spent 67 days in China and Tibet in the Seventies, crossed the Drake Passage in waves that were over 20m high. I always take a yellow pad with me – on the left I’ll write down all the most dangerous things we come across, and on the right, “How do we alleviate this danger through logistics and the best local guides we can find?” I did a trip down the Mara River in a Zodiac inflatable boat. This hippo grabbed the thing, and flicked us all out. Luckily he didn’t attack us – it was loving its new toy. I climbed out onto the bank, got out my pad and wrote. “NO. We don’t go here.”
I always say an Abercrombie & Kent holiday will change your life. I took Bill Gates to Africa and it changed his life, but it also changed Africa’s. He saw how people were living, saw the inequality and, millions of dollars later, he and Melinda have changed the world.
I’m so lucky because most people don’t get a chance to meet these people until they’ve become a huge success, get private jets and travel in these circles. At 20 years old I was guiding the Rockefellers and the Firestone families, and they introduced me to their friends and then they travelled with me.
In the future I see the travel industry helping communities. Every natural environment has to have an income, otherwise it will be poached, or fished or destroyed. The only way to get this income is from sensible, low-impact, high-spend tourism. This will mean people will become very aware of the problems in the world – like the extinction of species such as tigers, rhinos and elephants. There will be more ecologically-focused luxury travel. The internet will continue to make people very aware – but that doesn’t preclude the Abercrombie & Kent personal way of doing things.
Let’s face it; there aren’t many more places to go, so we have to be inventive. Over the next 25 years, we’ll be bringing on Iran and Cuba. We’ve just gone into Sri Lanka. Russia is going to be interesting – the Russian ambassador just asked me to open up the hinterland for great adventures. I also think there will be more expedition ships – a great way to travel round places like Indonesia.
Not bad for a Kenyan boy. I was born on safari and I travel 300 days a year, so I’ve been on safari ever since. And we’ve always had Land Rovers. We were driving Land Rovers at the age of six all over Kenya’s South Kinangop. We just put a couple of cushions behind us and we were off…
Land Rover Adventure Travel by Abercrombie & Kent has launched, with luxury self-drive adventures in the UK, Tanzania and India in 2014. Morocco and China are on the menu for 2015.
Europe For Families
There's so much on our doorstep in Europe. The question is, as a family restricted to school holidays, where is it best to go when? Our Product Manager for Europe and mother of two, Clare Watkins, shares her top seasonal destinations.
Avoid the peak season prices of Spring and the ferocious heat of Summer and head to Turkey in Autumn to enjoy the warmth of both the climate and the family-friendly people. Turkey is exotic enough to be interesting and educational, yet it also has a European feel and is a relatively short flight away. Gulet cruising around the turquoise waters is an enjoyable, relaxing experience, or alternatively you could stay at The Kempinski Barbaros Bay, on one of the most magnificent bays of Bodrum. Its private beach is idyllic and safe, and you could chose to visit a family farm, try your hand at diving or sailing, or sit back and enjoy a catamaran cruise around small bays.
As Europe begins to cool down, why not embrace the indoor delights of cities such as Paris and Rome? Russian cities are magical in the Winter. Children can be astronauts for the day at Star City in Moscow, or visit the incredible Cold War Museum - 16 stories below ground - to be shown round by a former KGB agent. The family can go behind-thescenes at some of the world's most prestigious ballet companies, or have fun in the snow ice-skating, sledging or taking a traditional troika ride around St Petersburg's Winter Palace. Midwinter in Iceland is dark and atmospheric. This is the best time to see the Northern Lights, and it's fun for all the family to explore snowy landscapes on foot, by jeep, or even on an Icelandic dog sled. If you get chilly you can always take a dip in the warm, therapeutic waters of the blue lagoon spa.
Greece and Cyprus are a great bet for Spring. The weather is pleasantly warm but not too hot, and Spring isn't peak season, so you can usually find space even if you book last-minute. The Westin Costa Navarino has interconnecting rooms and provides good extra beds for children. Two excellent children's clubs - Cocoon and Sandcastle - cater for different age groups and offer various activities, from nature walks and swimming to traditional Greek games. The surrounding Peloponnese region has an abundance of history and mythology to discover. Cyprus' Columbia Beach Resort is a quieter option. It is very Cypriot in feel, with a pool, beach, gardens and a children's club. Parents can enjoy delicious food and relaxation in the spa while the children are being entertained.
A floating holiday aboard a traditional French barge is relaxing, but it won't leave children twiddling their thumbs. On board, the crew will look after your family as you travel the French canals, stopping en route for picnics, wine tasting, small towns and sights. There are also bicycles kept on board. Italy starts to heat up from April/May, and though Summer is peak season this isn't necessarily a bad thing; Italians adore children and often holiday within Italy during the summer, meaning a very familyfriendly atmosphere. The heel of Italy, Apuglia, has some great options, such as Borgo Egnazia and Masseria Torre Coccaro. The Superskills Academy at Forte Village in southern Sardinia has a rugby and cricket academy ideal for active children, and Le Dune is another family favourite, with a great beach and bungalows which have private outdoor spaces.
For more information on Europe click here or call 01242 547 703 to make an enquiry.
A Lifetime in Luxury Travel
An Interview for Ultratravel
On the banks of the Mara River in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, a mobile bush camp has been set up under the trees to recreate the atmosphere of a safari in the 1960s. To reach it we have flown from Nairobi by private charter,then driven across miles of lion-coloured plains on which herds of zebra were chomping at the chest-high grass. Now, seated by the river on canvas chairs in a shady grove of African greenhearts, Geoffrey Kent is telling me about his extraordinary life.
Lean and fit – he still goes for regular three-mile runs – he has a mane of hair that frames deeply tanned features that belie his 70 years. Dressed in a green bush-shirt and faded jeans, he looks every inch the polo champion he once was. “I was practically born in the saddle,” he says. “I’ve been riding horses since I was two years old.”
Geoffrey Kent was born in 1942 while his parents, Colonel John and Valerie Kent, were on safari in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), and spent his childhood running wild on the family’s farm on Kinangop Plateau in Kenya.
“I was a real kaburu – a Kenya cowboy,” he says. “We wanted to be like all the tough Afrikaner boys, who used to run around barefoot, killing elephants and doing all sorts of wild things.” Kent shot his first elephant when he was 16 – not unusual in that era, but a surprise given
his stance on conservation now. “I was with Major Lyn Temple-Boreham, Kenya’s head game warden,” he adds.
“He used to keep two tame lions, one of which bit me.” That same year he discovered he could make money by selling elephant-hair bracelets to an Indian trader and had soon acquired enough to buy a motorbike. But
by doing so, he had broken the school rules and was expelled. “I didn’t care,” he says. “I just got on my bike with a sleeping bag and some biltong and set off from Nairobi to Cape Town, 3,000 miles away. I was the first person to make that trip by motorbike.” Then, revealing
the consummate entrepreneur he was to become, he sold his story to the South African press and got paid enough to sail back first-class to Mombasa.
While we are talking, it is impossible to ignore our idyllic setting and its natural soundtrack. Hippos honk from the river below. Swallowtail butterflies flit about our heads and every now and again, above the liquid voices of forest orioles, there comes the yelping cry of a fish eagle. The year after Kent returned to Mombasa, his father decided the Army should be his future and shipped him off to England, where he arrived with his first-ever suit, a new pair of shoes and a hunting bow given to him by a pygmy. A spell at Sandhurst quickly knocked him into shape, where he excelled through his prowess at polo and shooting, and he soon found himself in the Middle East, where he became aide-de-camp to Major General John Frost, the legendary airborne officer who commanded the 2nd Parachute Battalion at Arnhem in 1944.
It was in 1962, home on leave from Sandhurst, that he helped his parents to set up Abercrombie & Kent after they were forced off their farm in the run-up to Kenya’s independence. “Those first safaris were modest affairs,” Kent recalls, “conducted with little more than my mother’s silver ice bucket and the farm Land Rover. I still remember the number plate: KBH 482.” Even in those early days the game plan was to become the best high-end tour operator in the field of luxury adventure – hence the name they chose. “We wanted a name that would put us at the top of the Yellow Pages. Aardvark was a hot contender, but in the end we settled for Abercrombie because it sounded so aristocratic.” In 1967 Geoffrey Kent became managing director when his parents retired and immediately decided to expand operations, establishing an office in South Africa in 1968. Three years later he met the Chicago heiress Jorie Butler, an ardent conservationist and astute businesswoman. She became a partner in the business and together they expanded A&K into the worldwide enterprise it is today, with offices in London, Illinois and Melbourne, and more experts in more places than any other travel company.
In 1969 he set up a programme working with Adventures Unlimited, owned by a husband-and-wife team, Buzz and Jane Chapin, aimed at travellers from the US. “We came up with a slogan ‘Hunt with a camera, not with a gun’ and within a year had 500 clients spending around $250 per night. In 1972 I took David Rockefeller and 122 of the world’s leading bankers on safari in Kenya, and that was the last time I acted as a safari guide. From then on, I’ve been a businessman, steering the ship.” By then he had married Andrea Whitehead (who later became the Duchess of Manchester), but the couple divorced in 1973 and Jorie became his second wife. Although they, too, divorced in 2002, she is still involved in the business and is the driving force behind A&K Philanthropy, which supports a string of conservation projects, including the Living with Elephants Foundation in Botswana. In between his travels, Kent somehow found time to become an accomplished polo player, twice winning the US Open and playing alongside Prince Charles as captain of the Windsor Park team. “Not bad for a barefoot Kenya cowboy,” he says with a smile. “But then I had a couple of nasty falls and was told I could never play again – something I still find very hard to take.” Kent accompanied Prince Charles on several safaris and also introduced Princes William and Harry to Africa, taking them to the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater and Lewa, where William later proposed to Catherine Middleton.
Today he divides his time jet-setting between Monaco and Belgravia in London, where he lives with Otavia Jardim, a Brazilian former model whom he married two years ago. But Kenya remains his spiritual home, hence his decision to celebrate A&K’s 50th anniversary by going back to the Masai Mara. The tents behind us, with their weather-beaten canvas and hessian floors, are leftovers from the 1980s – the best A&K could find to recreate a 1960s bush camp. One even has a long-drop WC and an outdoor shower in which hot water is dispensed from a canvas bucket suspended from a tree. “In those days,” says Kent, “the first thing you looked for when choosing a campsite was a suitable branch from which to hang your shower.”
How life has moved on. The Kent formula of providing a luxury cocoon from which to explore the world has attracted more than 200,000 clients, including Hillary Clinton, Richard Burton, Kim Basinger, John Grisham, Goldie Hawn, Robert De Niro and Bill Gates, who told him, “Geoffrey, you changed my life.” He loves to tell the story of how he once met the Duke of Suffolk on an A&K safari. “Suffolk,” said the Duke, extending his hand. “Kent,” replied Kent, trying not to smile. Over the years he also got to know most of East Africa’s old-time game wardens, including David Sheldrick, the legendary head warden of Tsavo National Park. “They were like gods to us,” he says. “One day my vehicle got bogged down in a waterhole in Tsavo and I’d forgotten to tell anyone where we were heading. I had clients with me and so, when night came, I rigged up a makeshift bed for them in a tree. There were lions all around, but eventually Sheldrick found us. He gave me such a bollocking but we became friends afterwards.”
Inevitably the talk gets around to what Geoffrey Kent calls “laxative moments” – like the time in the Ngorongoro Crater when his vehicle was virtually written off by a black rhino. On another occasion he was on safari with Richard Burton when a buffalo arrived out of the darkness and crashed into the campfire with four lionesses on top of it. “We watched from behind the mess table,” Kent recalls, “and when it was all over Burton was so impressed he asked me if I could arrange the same thing the following day.” Not all his memories are so fondly cherished. I ask him about Kichwa Tembo, the safari lodge he built in the Mara in 1978. Its Swahili name means “head of the elephant”, and it was the first tented camp to have a swimming pool. Robert Redford and Meryl Streep stayed near there while filming Out of Africa and it quickly became A&K’s East African flagship property. Then came the Gulf War in 1990. Overnight, the Americans stopped coming and Kent had to sell it. “It was the most difficult moment in the history of A&K and the worst day of my life,” he confesses. “I felt almost suicidal. But when something like that happens, you just have to sell the family silver, which is what I did.”
In mid-morning we break off our conversation to welcome an old friend of Kent’s, Dr Richard Leakey, a scion of Kenya’s famous fossil-hunting family, who has flown in to join us. Leakey is the man who gave up his search for the bones of our hominid ancestors to protect his country’s living heritage of endangered wildlife. That was in 1989, when he set up the Kenya Wildlife Service, ordered his rangers to shoot elephant poachers on sight and torched 12 tons of confiscated ivory worth millions to ram home the message that trading in tusks was a dirty business. His reward was a plane crash in 1993 – almost certainly sabotage – in which he lost both his legs below the knees. But his grit and determination survived, along with a restless mind and a wry sense of humour. Walking slowly but unaided on his artificial legs, he joins us in the clearing, where the two men greet each other warmly, having known each other since they were children. “As kids growing up in those days, Richard and I thought nothing of going on 20-mile horseback rides,” says Kent. “Our farms were so far apart, and that’s how people got around.” They both went to the Duke of York School in Nairobi and constantly tease each other about their achievements. “His mother loved Dalmatians,” says Kent. “It was a Dalmatian that dug up Zinjanthropus, not her.”
When at last the sun goes down, the campfire is lit and we sit, Tusker beers in hand, continuing to reminisce as lions roar on the plains and the sparks fly upwards into the vast African night. This is the time that Kent loves best, after a day spent out in the bush, when you end up swapping yarns in the firelight’s glow. Over dinner – a candlelit feast of pumpkin soup and grilled lamb chops with South African wines in cut-glass goblets – Leakey tells the story of how, after the plane crash, he had his legs embalmed with a 10-year guarantee and kept them at his home on the edge of the Rift Valley until he decided he’d had enough of them and buried them under a tree. “Having had a funeral for one half of my body,” he adds with a puckish grin, “I’m not worried about what happens to the rest.” He is pessimistic about the future of Kenya’s wildlife and complains that the government is not doing enough to look after it. “I say to them, this is your oil and we should do everything we can to protect it.” But Kent is more upbeat. “Kenya is my country,” he says. “Its wildlife is our heritage and I have a huge belief in the ability of the Kenyan people to succeed. They possess an entrepreneurial spirit which is rare in Africa.” As for the future of eco-tourism, Kent believes there will be a resurgence of mobile camping as discerning clients seek out the last of that old, wild Africa that once existed everywhere, but is now so much harder to find.
Next morning, before Kent and Leakey have to fly back to Nairobi, there is time for a bush breakfast on top of the Oloololo Escarpment, close to where the last scene of Out of Africa was filmed and where, in a small plot of rocky ground enclosed by a low drystone wall, two massive granite boulders mark the spot where Kent’s parents lie buried. Above his father’s grave is a plaque with the words “His footprints across Africa became our road”. The views of the reserve 1,000ft below are sensational, with the tree-lined Mara River winding down to the Serengeti and the heat-hazy plains reaching away to the Loita Hills. With binoculars I can pick out the parasol shapes of desert date trees in the Mara Triangle, buffalo strung out like black beads in a marsh, and wandering herds of elephant. “I often come and sit up here,” Kent says. “I bring tea and ginger biscuits and think about those early days. I look down on the plains and I’m struck by the peacefulness and how nothing has changed. And I remember my mother; she was an incredible lady. During the Mau Mau uprising she would walk around the farm with a pistol strapped to her waist, but whenever she went to Nairobi she always wore white gloves and a hat, like all ladies did in those days.”
As for the future, Kent has a favourite saying: “Chance favours the prepared mind”. He’s always on the lookout for new ideas, he says, “trying to stay one jump ahead of everyone else.” To celebrate A&K’s 50th anniversary, he has persuaded leading conservationists in Kenya to accompany guests on activities – a one-day safari with Jonathan Scott, a tour round Kenya’s elephant orphanage with Dr Dame Daphne Sheldrick, a photographic workshop with film-maker Alan Root and lunch with Dr Richard Leakey. He is currently looking to buy a camp in Kenya or Tanzania and set it up exclusively for the Chinese market, which he says will be the next big thing. “We have just produced a television film [for the Chinese] about the Masai Mara,” he says. “When it is screened over there it will be seen by 600 million people.”
Big Five: Spring Breaks
Famous for its archaeological treasures, lip-smacking food and unmatched zest for life, Mexico is in full swing in Spring: celebrate the Spring Equinox at the spellbinding Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá, witness the great Monarch Butterfly migrations in the highlands of Michoacan and tuck in at the Cancun and Riviera Maya Food and Wine Festival. February through to the end of April is also whale-watching season on the wild pacific coast of Baja California. One of the longest peninsulas in the world, here you can see a greater variety of whales and dolphins than anywhere else on the planet.
From the vast open plains of the Serengeti to the snow-dusted peaks of Kilimanjaro and the dazzling white beaches of Zanzibar, Tanzania has so much to offer. One of its biggest draws, the wildlife in Tanzania is spectacular; here you'll discover big game, flamingo-filled soda lakes and playful chimps. If you visit in the Spring you'll also find its plains are full of young, as many species - from the big cats to the plains game - give birth before the long rains begin. For the ultimate safari experience, we recommend topping off an exhilarating game drive with a reviving sundowner and a night spent out under the stars at our luxurious mobile camp.
With guaranteed warmth, a captivating culture and spellbinding landscapes, Morocco has all the appeal of an exotic location and yet is just a short-haul flight away. Arguably at its best in the Spring when the country is lush and green, and temperatures are comfortable, there is plenty to tempt you here from bustling cities to remote desert landscapes and the windswept Atlantic coast. Spring in the Atlas Mountains is particularly pretty, as the hills and valleys come into bloom against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks. Fabulous mountain retreats and guest houses provide comfort and relaxation, and you can stroll through the valleys and explore traditional Berber villages.
Although the Spring may not be the peak time to visit Cambodia weather-wise, the 'rainy season' is rarely as dramatic as it sounds. It generally means a tropical shower in the morning, clearing the air ahead of a glorious day on the beach or late afternoon - a perfect time to visit the spa. Hotel rates are often much lower and the crowds that descend on the country from December-February are long gone, leaving you to explore the countries mesmerising temples, relaxed leafy cities and a whole host of gorgeous, unspoilt islands in relative solitude. Experience castaway luxury at its best at Song Saa- Cambodia's first private island resort.
So much more than a beach destination, Turkey has stunning landscapes, a magnificent coastline, classical cities and an intriguing and unique culture. In Spring, the climate is pleasant enough to enjoy both the cities and the coast, and the landscape comes alive with flowers. A proud, historic city and Turkey's cultural capital, Istanbul is one of our favourite European cities, where time can be spent wandering the many districts, sharing delicious meze dishes and haggling with the sellers at the Grand Bazaar before an evening cruise to the 12th Century Maiden's Tower aboard a traditional kayak.
Big Five: Foodie Hotspots
It's hard to imagine a visit to Italy which doesn't involve indulgence. For the Italians, enjoyment of good food is simply a way of life. The principle of Italian cuisine is actually quite simple: fresh, natural ingredients prepared simply and with care. There are abundant food and wine-related activities on offer in the country. Some of our personal favourites are pizzamaking lessons in Rome, heading into the Tuscan woods in search of truffles and porcini mushrooms - and then preparing them with a local chef - and visiting wineries and olive oil producers for a glimpse into how the country's high quality produce is made.
Food is something of an obsession in Japan, and the cuisine is considered one of the finest and most unique in the world. The focus is on the freshest of ingredients and a delicate balance of flavours and textures. At high-end restaurants, food is elevated to an art form and is complex and technical yet tastes clean and fresh. At street level you can enjoy delicious yakitori grilled meats and bottled beer whilst sitting on makeshift benches. The cities of Tokyo and Kyoto are the best places to enjoy cooking courses, which we can easily arrange for you.
Home to around 50 of the best restaurants in the world, South Africa is no less than a foodie paradise. The South Africans have exacting standards, and the land produces an enviable bounty of delicious, quality produce which lends itself to fantastic and inventive cuisine. Private bush dinners prepared by your own personal chef come as standard, and there are innumerable Michelin starred restaurants and unique dining experiences to be had, not to mention private tours at some of the world's best wine estates. Le Quartier Francais, an exclusive boutique hotel situated in the heart of the Franschoek Valley, offers excellent cookery classes.
From sizzling street food to home cooked dishes and the finest royal cuisine, Vietnam's food is unfailingly delicious. Food is an integral part of everyday life in Vietnam, so much so that a famous proverb dictates that people should 'learn to eat before learning to speak'. Since good food is such an important part of a visit to Vietnam, we have designed a culinary tour to get you right to the heart of the nation's cuisine, offering the chance to explore local markets, learn about street food and enjoy cookery lessons with expert chefs and local families.
Forget all you think you know about Mexican food. The country has an incredibly varied and delicious cuisine, which displays indelible Aztec, Mayan and Spanish influences, as well as many more. The country's food varies from the most meticulous haute cuisine to weird and wonderful street food. The Oaxaca region is especially good for regional specialities, and you can enjoy a delicious meal courtesy of famous chef Alejandro Ruiz at Casa Oaxaca - featured in Thomasina Miers' 'Mexican Food Made Easy'. In the Colonial Heartlands, head to San Miguel de Allende and enjoy a lesson at the fantastic Sazon Cooking School.
Big, bold and beautiful: Welcome to North America
Vast, both geographically and culturally, North America is a place the just keeps on giving. Whether it's bear spotting in British Columbia, surf lessons in Santa Monica or sampling food pods in Portland, the United States and Canada offer more gob-smacking, jaw-dropping and thoroughly mind-blowing experiences than anywhere else on the planet.
THE PLACE TO BE
California's calling. Miles of golden sand and surf; laid-back, quirky cities from San Francisco to San Diego with the glamour of Los Angeles in between; the majesty of Yosemite, the wines of the Napa Valley…the Golden State has pretty much everything, and all on a grand scale. This really is the place to 'dream big'.
Off-the-beaten-path Oregon is one of our favourite states. Miles of rugged Pacific Coast, bordered by lush temperate rainforest makes it brilliant for leisurely coastal touring. Throw in the laidback city of Portland and wrap it all up in delicious local wines from the Dundee Hills, organic farm-to-fork food to make your mouth water, and humorous, charismatic people.
The birthplace of America is filled with rich history, cultural attractions, fascinating cities, scenic villages and outdoor adventures. The six states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont are renowned for their vibrant Autumn colours, but whatever the season, New England is a beauty.
The raw nature of Alaska is overwhelming. This vast state, once part of Russia, is home to towering mountain ranges, thick forests, mighty rivers, open tundra and tumbling glaciers. Wildlife viewing is amongst the best on the planet; from the brown bears of Brooks Falls to the whale watching of Glacier Bay.
Home to five national parks, Utah represents the best of the Desert Southwest. Nowhere else on earth offers landscapes as stark yet beautiful or as dramatic yet intimate. Our Mighty Five encompasses the iconic Wild West scenery of Monument Valley, the majestic canyons of Zion, the mysterious hoodoo rocks of Bryce, the white water rapids of Canyonlands and the natural bridges of Arches National Park.
Howdy Cowboy! They say it's like a Whole Other Country - and it is. The Lone Star state is home to vast open prairies and swaggering stockmen on the one hand - with glitzy Dallas and boho Austin on the other. There are dude ranches galore for the real cowboy experience.
British Columbia, Canada
An intoxicating blend of cosmopolitan and rural; wild and homely; sophisticated and sleepy, BC is a paradox. The towering mountains of the Coastal Ranges, the wilderness of Vancouver Island and the Great Bear Rainforest offer square mile upon mile to explore in splendid isolation, save for the grizzly bears you may see fishing for salmon.
Home of the Rocky Mountains, Alberta is a land of staggering beauty and awe-inspiring wildlife. A land where bears roam free, bison graze in boreal forests, moose amble through spectacular landscapes. From the dizzying mountains through crystal lakes to the open plains of the east, you could easily spend months in this province alone, fishing, walking, riding, ranching.
Set on Widgeon II, a re-purposed crabbing boat which was originally a World War II-era troop carrie, the unique setting of Tutka Bay's cooking school offers inspiration to explore Alaska's regional products such as halibut, salmon and oysters.
Take in the sounds and sights of Austin's historic 6th street. Located within the city's urban core in Downtown Austin, its jam-packed with eclectic bars and an ever changing array of live music spots.
A tranquil and luxurious resort, Amangiri (meaning 'peaceful mountain') is situated on 600 acres in Canyon Point, Southern Utah, close to the border with Arizona. Soak up mesmerising views from your own private deck over the colourful, stratified rock towards the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument.
A collage of gemstone lakes, lush valleys, mighty waterfalls and glinting glaciers, Yosemite National Park offers adventure in spades. An early morning start, to avoid the crowds, is well worth the effort.
Tuck into seasonal Canadian cuisine at the Banffshire Club. Located at the Fairmont Banff Spring, famously known as 'The Castle in the Rockies', the hotel's signature dining room uses ingredients sourced from the best local and sustainable producers, farmers and growers. Try the Angus beef tartare with pepper cress and some smoked mustard. Delicious!
Experience the wild and rugged beauty of Canada's west onboard the Rocky Mountaineer. With domed glass windows curving high over your head, the Gold Leaf carriage offers the ultimate opportunity to see much of Canada's natural beauty and wildlife, including eagles, elk and black bears.
The 2014 Hot List
With British Airways now operating direct flights from Heathrow to Santorini and Mykonos from May this year, it's never been easier to discover Greece's captivating islands. The most westerly of the Cyclades, Santorini is associated with the misty tales of Atlantis. With an average of 300 days of sunshine each year, picturesque white-washed villages teetering on the edge of an extinct volcanic caldera, multi-coloured beaches of volcanic sand, and some of the oldest wineries in the world, we can't recommend it enough. Popular all year round, and in full swing during the summer months, the island can be busy but that doesn't take away from its magic.
With small-scale entrepreneurship now permitted in Cuba and the imminent scrapping of its two-currency system, you can feel change in the air all over the island, with an atmosphere that is, for the most part, incredibly positive. Fresh back from a trip there last month, our Latin America Product Manager, Lucinda Paxton, hasn't stopped raving about the food: "As state control over the country's food supply lessens, paladares and restaurants are gaining access to previously hard-to-find ingredients with lip-smacking results. I was amazed by the array of local fresh produce and innovative fusion dishes." When you're not busy discovering Cuba's food revolution for yourself, we recommend shimmying on down to one of the capital's top musical hotspots.
As its neighbour Myanmar continues to attract the crowds, with demand far outstripping supply in the best hotels, Laos, as Laos does best, remains as laid back and tranquil as ever. From kicking back with an ice-cold Beerlao at sunset by the river, in what might just be the world's most unhurried, friendly capital city, Vientiane, to trekking forest-topped mountains inhabited by remote hill tribes in the north, and discovering the cooler climes of the Bolaven Plateau in the south, Laos offers relaxation, culture and adventure in spades. Just make sure you get there before everyone else cottons on.
Straddling Chile and Argentina, Patagonia is home to otherworldly landscapes that to the north hide dinosaur bones and legends of cowboys past, and to the south the mythical granite towers and glinting glaciers of Torres del Paine National Park. If your new year's resolution is to get outdoors and be more active, then Patagonia has your name on it. One of the most remote and beautiful environments in the world, you can trek over glaciers, gallop over vast grassy plains, kayak across turquoise glacial lakes and revel in splendid isolation. It is also rich in wildlife and birdlife, so you are likely to spot condors, penguins, wild guanaco and even pumas, to name just a few.
A mesmerising mix of rich culture, welcoming people and staggeringly beautiful landscapes, Ethiopia tourism is set to sky-rocket over the next few years with a boom in small hotels and restaurants. From the ancient rock-hewn churches of Lalibela to pristine national parks, and the buzzing restaurant and nightlife scene of its capital Addis Ababa, travel here is as rewarding as it is surprising. Located in Bale National park, the newly opened Bale Mountain Lodge is one of the country's first luxury wilderness lodges. The surrounding area is home to myriad rare species, including Ethiopian Wolves, and offers fantastic trekking opportunities. We'd recommend combining a stay with a visit to the tribes of the remote Omo River Valley, one of Africa's-and the world's-last great undiscovered places.
Below are some of our suggested places to stay:
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