Mel’s travel guide from her experience as an air stewardess

Wanderlust: the primal urge to discover the unknown, my journey off the beaten track and the way in which I have come to know the “townie” in me.

I have long had an affinity for a life of opportunities and freedom – and thus my journey, of intrepid wanderer, was ignited in Dubai. I had landed a vacancy in the first class skies and for one of the UAE`s most prestigious airlines. The anticipation of adventure was irresistible and the possibilities, endless!

As an airline stewardess, you`re in the business of creating memories. You become a promoter of utter relaxation – the conjurer of excitement. You are the beacon amidst the long, often wild and unforgiving, distances one has to travel. Ironically, in my quest for adventure, I became the metaphorical ‘leader to adventure’ too.

I was part of a team that ensured the overall flight-experience was synonymous with what is expected in the hospitality industry – that of, that each person is of value, and is treated as such – and I loved it. The interactions, the stories, being a facilitator of comfort and of course, the opportunities to share the extraordinary amounts of travel tips that I had  learned as I covered the four corners of the earth. One thing I most definitely learned was that small towns offer something so unique and special. The townsfolk are warm, friendly, personable and kind.

I knew that one day, I would choose a village over a city and, as all stories go, my chapter as a globe-trotter, did eventually come to an end. I developed the need for roots, stability and a different kind of adventure. I wanted that small town feel on a permanent basis and I decided to head home in search of my next adventure. Upon my return to South Africa, to the beautiful town of Clarens, an idea began to dawn – what if one could merge their love for travel with home and yet retain the pleasurable company of fellow travelers? With reasonable knowledge in the Travel, Leisure and Hospitality industry, I pursued the entrepreneurial route and set out simply to create a “home away from home” feeling, space of escape and welcoming service for fellow travelers. After all, the entire journey relates to the interaction enjoyed with fellow travelers, service providers and locals.

A fundamental aspect of my travel history was the absolute delight that came with exploring small towns. I suppose one will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place. Hereforth, and with great delight begins my tale of the best of these fascinating destinations and picturesque villages that left me feeling so inspired.

Manarola, Italy

There is something special about Manarola. A primeval ambiance that satisfies 21st century man`s hunger for a life of beauty, peace and tranquility. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is situated on the coastline of Cinque Terre, the most picturesque and colorful setting in the country. It may be the oldest of the towns with the cornerstone of the church, San Lorenzo dating back from 1338. Follow the famous hiking trail to Riomaggiore called “Via dell`Amore”, (Lover`s Trail). Experience the vibe and rhythm of bustling streets, taste “Sciacchetra” (regional wine) and treat yourself to a few homemade traditional delicacies.

Travel tip: Hop on the train from Corniglia en route to Vernazza, a quick 20 minute ride!


Gilli Trawangan, Indonesia

Gilli Trawangan is different things to different people. To fishermen, it is waters richly blessed with sea creatures and boats that lie scattered along the coastline. To others, the island evokes dreams of romance and mystery and the reality will not disappoint. Only discovered a mere thirty years ago, the Gilli  boasts world-beating beaches, some of the most extraordinary island- hopping possibilities made seemingly in heaven and remains untouched and unspoiled by mass tourism to this day. Get around by foot, bicycle or in “Cidomos” (pony carts), since all forms of motorized transport are not allowed. Travel tip: Catch the sun set at North Beach over Bali`s Mount Agung with jugs of Sangria and fresh Tapas!


Petra, Jordan

Nicknamed the “Rose City”, Petra is an exclusive escape from the rest of the world. This famous archaeological site dates back to 300 B.C which contains tombs and temples carved into sandstone cliffs. While traveling through this gem by foot on a dirt road, you can visit the famous Greek-style façade “Al Khazneh” (The Treasury). This UNESCO World Heritage Site was established in 1985 and recently proclaimed as one of the new 7 Wonders of the World in 2007. Ride a mule to the Monastery and meet the Bedouins for fascinating stories about what is was like living in Petra in days bygone.

Travel tip: Visit the renowned Dead Sea, a definite must during your stay!


Niagara on the Lake, Canada

Swap the city scene for breath-taking scenery at Niagara on the Lake. Nestled between the south shore of Lake Ontario and north shore of Lake Erie, it once played a central role in the War of 1812. Voted prolific wine region, one can find a variety of local breweries and distilleries across the countryside. Discover the quite village lanes and visit the Fruit Stack, a family operated market and bakery specialising in top quality Canadian delicatessens from butter tarts to applesauce. Walk along a meandering brick path through award-winning English country garden at Angie Strauss Secret Garden Art Gallery, one of the most spectacular locations for those who love being enchanted by nature.

Travel tip: See the extraordinary power of the Niagara Falls and the firework display along the gorge at night!


Ile de Goree, Senegal

Just a short ferry ride from Senegal, one can find beautiful rocky paths leading into surrounding villages on this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ile de Goree tells plenty of stories from the past; in fact it is one of the first places on the African continent where Europeans settled. Today it`s a pilgrimage destination for the African diaspora, a foyer for contact between the West and Africa, and a space for exchange and dialogue between cultures through the confrontation of ideals of reconciliation and forgiveness. Photograph the brightly colored buildings and flowers near the fort. The villagers are pleased to welcome in respectful visitors and proud to show them around. It gives the tourist a wonderful opportunity to have a glimpse of real Goree!

Travel Tip: Walk through the “Mansion des Escalves” (The House of Slaves) to learn about Senegal`s role in historic slave trade and stare out the door of no return!


Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

A nostalgic experience that takes you back in time is a visit to Cesky Krumlov. The town is a pocket-sized Prague and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site that well deserves the designation. It is an interesting mix of new and old and its architecture offers some eye- catching and intriguing designs (from Renaissance and Baroque palaces to preserved theaters), representing  the nation’s history ethos, politics and people. The Cesky Crumlov Castle dates back to 1240, much of what is seen today was built in the 17th century. The Czech Republic offers a treasure trove full of unexplored and underdeveloped tourism attractions all along the route.

Travel tip: Hop in a raft on the gushing Vltava, it darts through the town!


Innsbruck, Austria

A warm hospitable welcome awaits you at Innsbruck, nestled on the slope of the magnificent Alpes. In many ways, this quaint little town is still waiting to be discovered, yet it`s a destination that offers just about anything. From the most dramatic landscapes (rich in fauna and flora) to mountain peaks capped by snow and frequently fringed by clouds. Innsbruck, host of the Olympic Winter Games in 1964 and 1976, is of course a major winter sports center. Popular activities include skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and skating. Alternatively discover the village by bicycle or foot. Stroll through lively and colorful “Altstadt” (old  town), it offers the visitor a traditional and unmatched Austrian experience.

Travel tip: Catch the “Innsbrucker Nordkettenbahnen” or the “Hungerburg Funicular” (tramways) and admire the phenomenal views of the Alpine terrain!


Burano, Italy

If its art you`re looking for, look no further: You have arrived in Burano! To reach this exquisite little village, make the perfect day trip by ferry from Venice. Much of the “Island of Color and Lace” is still a true fisherman`s land. It consists of four small islands connected by bridges and is just a little smaller than its neighbor Murano (famous for its Glass Factory) and almost as popular among tourists. This town is quite different from what you will see in Venice, a maze of boat filled canals and walkways lined with rows of vividly painted houses and flowerpots, a rainbow of fun, and a photographers paradise. Visit the Burano Lace Museum or browse through local crafts and mouth-watering homemade delicacies.

Travel tip: Visit the old time favorite restaurant Al Gatto Nero da Ruggero. All of the pastas and desserts are made in-house.


Waiheke Island, New Zealand

In landscape, lifestyle and experience, Waiheke Island is a world apart. It offers a unique blend of opportunities including art galleries and craft boutiques, native forests and cool enclaves, all just a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland. It boasts more than a dozen high quality vineyards offering unique and exquisite tastings. The island is a paradise for food lovers too, where original tantalizing recipes await you at world class restaurants – whilst looking out over the valleys to the blue sea beyond. Whether it`s something new and exciting that you are after, the varied and creative menus offers something suitable for every palette. For the more adventurous, rent a beach house and wake up to the sound of the waves breaking on the beach.

Travel tip: Take the public bus to Oneroa – explore a haven of olive groves and beaches!


Clarens, South Africa

The picturesque village is one stop on your travelers’ journey that you most certainly do not want to miss! Renowned “Jewel of the Free State”, this quaint town has an unique blend of art galleries, a home grown distillery and quirky little shops worth a solemn visit, all conveniently situated around the village square. It`s part of the scenic Highlands Route and surrounded by the Rooiberge and the majestic Maluti’s which borders Lesotho. See sandstone cliffs with multi – colored layers, which is a unique geological feature of the area. If you are an outdoor enthusiast, you`ll definitely not be disappointed. The area offers a variety of excursions and sporting activates. After a lovely day out in the fresh air and breathtakingly beautiful scenery within the Clarens Nature Reserve or alternatively along the Golden Gate Highlands National Park route, you can retreat and spoil yourself to a scrumptious variety of stylish eateries. No shortage of accommodation facilities are available ranging from camping to guesthouses, B&B`s and upmarket lodges to choose from.

Travel Tip: Stay at Habitat – a self-catering, pet-friendly cottage situated in the heart of Clarens.