This will be the theme throughout the review, but from Stuart's help to the properties and then some - a score of 5/5 does not to do justify to how wonderful our trip and experiences were! We had been looking forward to this trip for a few years (in fact, wasn't sure with the water concerns, etc. at times it might happen) but it FAR BEYOND exceeded how expectations. My only "if I could have changed" is that we had an extra day in Capetown to explore some more. We were having a such a lovely time in Franschhoek and getting some much needed relaxation that we got into Capetown on the later side of the day we arrived. Then between 1 day primarily dedicated to Table Mountain hiking and another to going to Cape Point - we were limited on "exploring" time. We absolutely the Saturday market at the Biscuit Mill (and yes, loved Test Kitchen and La Columbe) but imagine another day to explore some of the other neighborhoods would be enjoyable.
Since we've been home, we tell everyone - if you have the opportunity or mean to travel to South Africa... you should not hesitate to do so. We could have spent more time! The country itself has so much to offer - such a range of amazing food, people, activities, and truly inspiring natural beauty. However, my waistline is still recovering from all the delightful food and drink options we took advantage of. We felt very safe everywhere we went, but also had folks at all the properties making sure to provide tips about using ATMs, etc. to make sure that happened.
After about 24 hours of travel, having someone meet us to get through customs, collect our bags, being able walk through the airport to the hotel was ideal. The hotel restaurant food (dinner and breakfast) was also very enjoyable! In fact, I'd say we were pleasantly surprised how enjoyable it was. Hotel room was average quality, but perfectly fine to get a good night's rest between flights. Was a bit off to have a bathroom that did not have an exhaust fan. It was also very helpful to be able to make a connection in the morning well rested and fed. Would highly suggest this option rather than making a connection in the evening after a 12+ hour trans-Atlantic flight.
The location, the property, the rooms, the staff, and especially the breakfasts all far exceeded expectations. All the breakfast options were delightful. Franklin took care of all our needs and made great suggestions for meals that we could just walk to. We admit we did not fully take advantage of allowing him to make any reservation we could have needed (we liked to see how we felt most evenings before deciding on dinner) but he always helped us and every night we loved where we went. We especially loved the our evening dessert treat in the room. Stuart knew exactly what we were looking for with been able to walk to various spots from restaurants, shopping, and getting the things you forgot or didn't know you needed from the Woolworth's in town. Parking and navigating the drive from Capetown was also surprisingly easier than we expected (especially for our first time driving on the other side of the highway from the states) And the pool was a delightful spot to relax for the afternoon with a glass of wine and a snack, especially on the 90 degree days we had. We were able to do wineries across Stellenbosch and Franschhoek and a day trip to Hermanus and the penguin colony very comfortably out of Franschhoek and come back to our home away from home. For the beginning of the trip, especially after long travel - this was the best way we could have started our holiday.
The property was like a beautiful oasis in the middle of the city. We adored being to able tea (or a glass of wine we brought Franschhoek) with a different tasty afternoon pastry by the pool. At the way that the property was lighted outside at night was truly beautiful. They made us feel extra special with honeymoon cupcakes in our room on our arrival. Breakfasts were always a relaxing and filling way to start our day. The location was also a convenient car ride away from all the things we had planned (table mountain, Test Kitchen, La Columbe, the harbor, etc.) Mavudo was always there to help us with anything we needed.
There is not a grading scale that could to justice to our experience at the Jackalberry Lodge. Natalie, Gerhard, Godfrey, Lucy, and that wonderful chef are 5 people who set a bar for a vacation properties that may never be able to achieved elsewhere. They put our party of 4 in a duplex on the edge of property with porches over-looking the bush that was perfect for the 4 of us. The beds were incredibly comfortable! I adored the bathroom with the large soaking tub and the indoor plus outdoor showers and the delightfully smelling & quality bath products all exceeded expectations. (And then some when you remember that this is all kind of in the middle of the wild!) The food was fantastic! Having snack & beverage time on each safari drive was probably by favorite part because Gerhard & Godfrey became like friends we've known for years after 8 game drives together. We learned so much and got to see more up close & personal than anything we could have imagined (including a bush walk) And 6 of our 8 drives ended up just being the 4 of us in our party. We will be eternally grateful for the evening drive since it was just 4 of us they tracked and followed a pride of lions on the hunt for the evening since we had been very lucky to see all the big 5 in the first 2 days of drives. And, Lucy... we really did talk about bringing her home with us. She was so sweet & took care of everything we could possible of needed. Maybe the true highlight to say how special and truly memorable the experience was when we leaving the lodge.... Lucy told us Godfrey, our tracker, would get our bags. We thought she was kidding, but she followed him to and from both our rooms with all our bags! Lucy, Gerhard, and Godfrey also saw us off into our transportation with big hugs goodbye. I will treasure the group pictures with those 3 people and they are framed and my wall already! They actually thanked us for having such a fun 5 days with us. We've traveled a bit and stayed at some wonderful properties - this review cannot reflect truly how grateful I am to have had the experience on safari at the Jackalberry Lodge.
Again, if there was an option to rate him higher - I would definitely do so. Before I talked to Stuart, my husband had looked at 2 other travel companies. Neither were even remotely close to meeting/understanding what we were looking for in our South African trip. I got a co-workers Mahlatini itinerary and it looked like a dream! I sent an email through the site and then 24 hours after a 20 minute call with Stuart - I knew this would be the special vacation were had been dreaming of! I will probably never forget that 1st call when he said "planning to do safari once, let's pick a once in a lifetime experience that will make you want to go again & again" Stuart - you delivered on that promise 110%!!!
Stuart made everything so easy and I had such high confidence that everything would be taken care of with our transport & lodging. He did such a good job on paper that we had 2 friends jump in and join our vacation! (Thank you for making that happen!) Again, I cannot thank you enough from the bottom of my heart. People still don't believe when they see the pictures, read the itinerary, and then look at the price - it really was a dream come true. Stuart was spot on with picking starting in Franschhoek for 4 days - doing the day trips to wineries and Hermanus from there. We loved being able to walk to many restaurants and stores rather needing to drive places. And when we lined up our own international flights using points we had been saving, Stuart took care of arranging the Tambo lodge a little later in our planning. Having that first night with a good meal and night's rest set the tone with the rest of trip. We also did occasionally get a chuckle when we'd meet another Stuart Mahlatini trip couple at the properties. Can't wait to plan another trip with him! Myself, husband, and our friends we traveled with also hope maybe someday in our lifetimes we can meet Stuart to buy him a absolutely fabulous drink of his choice to thank him for planning this trip for us!