WhenSimonGreenwoodgivesalodgeorhotelthethumbs up,you’dbettertakenotice.IngridShevlinaskshimhowhis accommodationguidebooksstarted
THIS year marks the 10th anniversary of the publication of the first Greenwood Guide, guides to hand-picked accommodation now available for New Zealand, Zambia, Canada, Botswana and Australia. As it happened, South Africa was their first country and London-based Simon Greenwood says in the foreword to his latest publication that he cannot remember now why South Africa was the first country to be chosen.
“But I’m very glad we did. It was then – and still is – a wonderfully positive place for a new business to cut its teeth and it was the start of a great relationship with the country for me personally.”
I visited South Africa back in 1998, ostensibly on holiday, but with one eye on the potential for a guide such as GG. It was clear then that there were thousands of places to stay in South Africa, but no truly trustworthy and well-presented guide to the best of them.
By “ best ” I mean pl a c e s r un by friendly owners for whom looking after their guests is a proper pleasure. Once this particular box is ticked, most other criteria such as comfortable beds, delicious breakfasts and more often fall into place.
Other guides existed but none had yet taken editorial responsibility for describing each place from an objective perspective and none had really chosen according to charm rather than facilities.
We found once we got out among the accommodation owners who saw eye to eye with our approach that there was a real desire for such a guide to be born.
Howlongdidittaketoputthefirst onetogetherandwhatwerethelogisticalproblemsinreviewingeverysingle entry?
Just the inspections took a full year for three people. One of the main problems at the outset was not knowing which places were even vaguely likely to meet our standards.
This meant that every day we would see up to five places of which perhaps four ranged from wrong to very wrong. It is actually no fun visiting a place and going through the inspection when you know that it is not right for the guide. Four times a day, this becomes very hard work indeed. It took us ages to find the really good ones.
Itseemsyourteamofreviewers todayissevenstrong–notmanyto reviewmorethan370places,including outletsinZambiaandBotswana.Isthis theirfull-timejob?
Actually I employ three researchers each year and we see about 600 places in four months. They have mainly been Britons interviewed back in London and, no, they usually do just one “tour of duty”. We visit up to five places a day; so it is quite easy to fit that many visits into the time frame.
Zambia and Botswana were done differently. That small section was compiled by Sarah Campbell-Pitt, who had spent a lot of time on an extended honeymoon driving all over and visiting our sort of lodges.
Fab friendly hosts, the sense of being sensitively well looked after, great comfort in all things, and something that lifts the place into somewhere memorable.
Hosts who display pretentiousness, arrogance and/or a lack of genuine hospitality and care. The hosts themselves are what most effectively turn us off. But dirtiness is not far behind.
Whodoyouthinkwillgetthemost outofyourbookandwhat,inyour opinion,makesyourguidedifferent fromothersthataresimilar.Orarethere anyotherguidesquitelikeyours?
Anyone who puts originality and human contact before simple facilities. Most of our owners would prefer to be treated as equals and if you treat them that way you will get the most out of the guide.
There are no other guides like ours in South Africa, although there is a series in Britain called the AlastairSawday guides that have the same basic philosophy.
Book shops such as Exclusive Books or through our website at www.green woodguides.com. R119.95.
I love travelling but have just had two small children in quick succession (one 16 months and one three months) and am now pinned down in London. I am lucky if I make it to the cinema these days.
Easy. Off the beaten track in South Africa has always been so rewarding. Also the Hebrides. And other places at certain times of life such as Borneo and Vietnam, which I visited back in the mid-90s. Both places have changed so much since then that I am not sure they would offer the same sort of experience.
My partner and I spent 10 days staying at Umlani Bush Lodge, then Idube in Limpopo Province, then we flew to northern Mozambique to Quilalea Lodge and back to Joburg. Variety, extraordinary adventures with animals, diving, great food… no small children! We both felt like crying when we had to fly home.
Although swanning around chatting to delightful hosts, eating wonderful food sounds like a truly great job, it is not necessarily so.
In answer to your question, here is a mock write-up that encapsulates the dark side of being a bed and breakfast inspector: The Old Parsimonage.
My hostess’s hostile glare expressed greed and dislike in equal and ample measure as I was motioned perfunctorily into the gloom behind her. I was clearly dirty, late and inconvenient. My bedroom had its own dismaying odour, was small and cold, and dimly illuminated by an energy-saving strip light; there was no bedside light (or table) and one junk print of a badly done poodle passed for décor.
The s hower c ubicl e was an al uminium-and-plastic Tardis, in the room, not off it. “How ‘en-suite’ do you want me?,” it seemed to say. The showerhead had perhaps once been used as a metalcutting tool or handled by a dentist’s assistant.
The single thin jet alternately burnt and froze individual points of my pate a s I duc k e d a n d weaved i n pa i n . I dabbed the few drops of water from my cold skin with a flannel (or was it the towel?) before trying to get warm between nylon sheets and a damp thin blanket.
It was too cold to read with my arms outside the sheets and getting out of bed again to turn off the light was unthinkable. An overzealous, Naziinspired central heating system roared into life at about one o’clock in the morning (playing bad cop, bad cop with the solidly painted-up windows). My sore throat was instantaneous.
Breakfast would be a grand word for the morning repast… The scrambled eggs had clearly been prepared the night before by a very young child; the bacon looked uncooked (so presumably was); the tinned tomatoes were tinned tomatoes. The baked beans that had not been contaminated by their fellow ingredients were pretty good… Yes, they were pretty good. It hurts to admit it, but they were all right.
The Old Parsimonage turns no stone whatsoever to ensure that your stay is a pleasant one. The food is execrable; the ambience grim; the facilities would leave Ivan Denisevic wistful for the gulag; and it cannot be long surely before your hostess spends some time behind bars.
Independence of movement allows for genuine and unexpected experiences ... But to be certain of avoiding the above you do need to find a trustworthy guide book to help you avoid the rotten apples. I would say that, though.
Finally,whytravel?Whynotstayat homeandavoidcongestedairports, dangerousplanes,foreigncountries whereEnglishisnotspoken,unsafe foodandexoticdiseases?
When you put it like that, perhaps you’re right. If you were certain of a terrible delay at the airport, a near-miss in the air, diarrhoea from every meal and malaria to come home with, you probably would stay at home ... as long as home happens not to be Kinshasa airport.
But mainly these things do not happen, at least not all at once, and the advantages in terms of meeting new people, experiencing new cultures, food, climates, languages make the risks easily worthwhile.
Nothing really worthwhile in life comes without some sort of risk. I cannot imagine choosing never to see a herd of wild elephants in my life for fear of congested airports. And anyway nothing is as enjoyable as relating how you picked up Dengue fever in Thailand in 2002.