This week… baobab trees, cod fish and tiaras.

The annual World Travel Market London went virtual and the buzz was all about the future of travel, what the future holds for the industry, how it is adapting and the trends (sustainability, travel with meaning and authentic experiences, thanks for asking). Personally, I think this is what we’re all seeking in every aspect of our lives but it’s not so simple in a troubled world. I don’t have the answers either, but here’s my quick round-up of six things that have made me smile this week.

Archaeology project announced in Nigeria

In 2021 a major new project will launch, at an equivalent of $4 million. The investigaton into the archaeology of the Kingdom of Benin will include remains buried below the proposed site of the new Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA). ‘Rediscovering the History of Benin’ is a collaboration between The Legacy Restoration Trust, the British Museum and Adjaye Associates. The EMOWAA will house West African art and artefacts and comprise the ‘Royal Collection’, a comprehensive display of magnificent Benin Bronzes, as well as contemporary arts.

L to R: Benin brass plaque (16th-17th century) showing Benin court officials flanking a palace entrance or altar. (2020 © Trustees of the British Museum); and Reconstructed Royal Spire Pavilion.

The museum will sit adjacent to the Oba’s Palace and feature a public garden courtyard surrounded by floating galleries above. The collection will contain rich, regal and sacred objects of the ancient kingdom of Benin and its historic past. Archaeology work will continue for a period of five years which gives an idea of the scope of the project. Follow along on social media @britishmuseum, and

The Baobab Treehouse

The treehouse takes inspiration from the iconic painting of a solitary baobab tree by Jacobus Hendrik Pierneef (1886-1957), one of South Africa’s master landscape artists.

Once upon a time, there was a treehouse built like a baobab tree located in the African bush… A new safari lodge opening in the heart of Botswana’s Okavango Delta, Xigera (“Kee-jera”) in January, gives an entirely new meaning to ‘off the beaten track’. Situated a kilometre from the main lodge in the African bush, the architectural design features eight individually designed cantilevering steel branches, radiating out from the central trunk. These ‘branches’ will remain untreated to allow the branches to rust over time and integrate into the natural environment.

Botswana’s Okavango Delta, Xigera resort.

Rising 10 metres above the floodplain, the lodge offers 360-degree views from each of three levels reached via a central spiral staircase. There is a bedroom, with canvas walls that open up to the outside environment, a bathroom and a dining area. The canvas walls can be ‘zipped up for privacy’ although I can’t image who would be peeping in. The baobab tree lodge is utterly remote and off-grid (no electricity, no traffic and no human noise).

On the third level is an open-air deck for lounging and wildlife-watching, and for sleeping under the stars. If your idea of a holiday is a fortnight on the beach at Marbella, the Xigera Safari Lodge is probably not for you. It has been created for ‘daring, nature-loving and adventurous spirits’ who wish to take the concept of authentic travel to the next level, and literally immerse themselves in the wilderness.

To add another (romantic) dimension, when water-levels are high guests can arrive by glass-bottom mokoro, gliding along the Okavango Delta’s waterways to arrive at the baobab for sundowners and supper.

Rates at Xigera Safari Lodge start from $2,320 (approx. £1,847) per adult per night sharing including fully inclusive accommodation, park fees and all activities. The baobab experience is bookable at the camp for an added cost of $250 per night. @xigerasafarilodge

Page header photo: The spa at Xigera Safari Lodge.

Street food

Portugese wine and fresh clams, a perfect match.

I have a very happy memory of eating freshly-caught sardines on the quayside, ‘somewhere’ on the south coast of Portugal. It wasn’t a tourist area – we were on a rambling road trip in a vintage sports car – and the ‘restaurant’ was a wooden shack, busy with local families including grandparents, enjoying Sunday lunch. The fish was bar-b-qued on the quayside on a homemade grill and was the best I have ever tasted, with a crispy skin and a sweet succulent inside. Served simply with plain boiled potates, bread and local red wine and accompanied by lively chatter, seabirds and lapping water. Heavenly. Visit Lisbon is keen to promote their cuisine and who can blame them.

Bacalhau (salted cod) is a national Portugese dish and I love that there is a museum dedicated to this traditional cuisine. At The Interpretive Centre of the History of Cod visitors can discover more about the fishermen who left their families for the icy seas off Newfoundland and Greenland in the 15th century, to the latest ways of cooking it. The centre opened in August this year in the middle of the pandemic. Find out more about bacalhau and how to cook it at the online ‘Codfish Encyclopedia’.

Mercado da Ribeiro, Lisbon.

Like many cities, the food scene in Lisbon is a mix of traditional and new. For the latest places to eat make for the waterfront Cais do Sodré district and the giant Mercado da Ribeira. Mediterreanean food markets have some of the best food stalls or bars where you can taste freshly cooked, local cuisine. At the Mercado da Ribeiro pop-ups from some of Lisbon’s leading restaurants serve street-food style dishes. Just talking about it makes we want to be there!

City travel 2021

‘Transformer’ architecture at the n-How Hotel, Berlin.

If you’re looking to visit Lisbon, or another great European city, as soon as we’re able, this new deal from the NH Hotel Group is worth exploring. Travellers discounts are offered on stays until 31 August 2021 but you must book by 22 November 2020. The promotion includes up to 30% off on weekend days*, complimentary breakfast and free late check-out. There’s also the flexibility of free cancellation up to 48 hours before arrival, which offers some reassurance should travel restrictions change. The offer includes selected hotels in the NH Collection, nhow and NH Hotels in some great cities including London, Rome, Munich, Barcelona, Lisbon, Marseille, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Brussels and Amsterdam. I especially like the achitectural design at the n-How in Berlin. *Please check the NH-hotels website for full details and Terms and Conditions.

A right royal tea

The Royal Afternoon Tea at The Milestone Hotel, London.

Afternoon tea has become a little clichéd in recent years but at The Milestone Hotel & Residences, located in the Royal Borough of Kensington naturally, they have really gone to town. Once open again to the public (hopefully) on 3 December, guests will be able to indulge in a Royal Afternoon Tea, inspired by season four of the popular TV series ‘The Crown’. At the table centre is an edible gold tiara, placed on top of a raspberry, strawberry and Valhrona chocolate mousse cube with a pistachio biscuit at its heart, oh, and sprayed with royal purple for good measure. There is also, of course, finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones accompanied by clotted cream and home-made preserves, and scrummy pastries. A pot of quality loose leaf tea is essential and, while we’re talking slight decadence, a glass of champagne. In this instance, Lanson Champagne, a holder of a Royal Warrant to the Court of England since 1900.

Afternoon Tea at The Royal Milestone, Kensington.

Complete the afternoon at Kensington Palace and the Diana: Designing for a Princess exhibition, featuring pieces from Diana’s wardrobe alongside the original design sketches. If you’re really pushing the boat out stay overnight in The Royal Kensington Suite at The Milestone, a fusion of the Hermès Suite and the Kensington Garden Suite, to create one incredible space of almost 1,000 square feet, and not one but three balconies overlooking Kensington Gardens.

Rates at The Milestone Hotel & Residences start from £500 per room. The Royal Afternoon tea starts from £55

In my inbox

Exclusive online, The Royal Christmas Hamper £99. Royal Collection Trust a Registered Charity. © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020.

Spotted…cosy Christmas gifts. Have you started your gift shopping yet? Years ago my sister and I had an annual tradition of a day’s shopping together on a big busy high street, which included a (slightly boozy) festive lunch at a swanky hotel. It was a day full of laughter, and shared frustration, (“What are you buying dad this year?!”) and I miss it. But times have moved on and, like most people, shopping is done mostly online.

While I appreciate the ease of sourcing something online from the sofa, desk, or even in bed, it’s nowhere near as much fun. However with so many of us in lockdown and unable to shop the high street, even if we wanted to, the perfect solution lies in gorgeous gifts like these beautifully crafted socks and a soft, cosy alpaca hot water bottle, which I’m adding to my own list for Santa.

A gift of artisan food and drink, sourced or made by independent producers with a strong sustainable ethic, will have a positive knock-on effect. Good coffee is not just for Christmas so, as an example, a subscription to single-estate coffee from around the globe and roasted in the UK, will go on giving throughout the year. Invoke Italy with single-origin olive oils and UK-exclusive organic wines from a specialist importer for guaranteed traceability. For more ideas check out my round-up of Sustainable Christmas Gifts for Gourmets published on Travel Begins At 40 this week. (Disclaimer: some of these items were gifted for editorial review).

That’s it for this week. Hang on in there and I wish you a healthy, peaceful week, wherever you are in the world.

As always please check the Foreign travel advice web site for the latest on domestic and international travel guidelines.

Unless otherwise stated, I have no affiliation with the brands mentioned but simply aim to share places and products that have caught my eye. I will always state if a post is sponsored or gifted.

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