IT often seemed odd to me that Cresta Lodge in Gaborone, Botswana, is a destination of choice among the cognoscenti of travellers, with restaurants in which you’d be proud to be seen and pleased to be entertained, while its Harare equivalent, where Greendale meets Msasa, tends to be very much an afterthought!
Report by Dusty Miller
I lived almost within spitting distance of the Harare hotel for decades and if we ate there half-a-dozen times (usually an impromptu meal during an extended Zesa outrage!) I’d be surprised. I don’t think I’ve ever called in for a casual drink and don’t know many people who’ve actually stayed there.
All that looks like coming to an end as the Cresta Group (who clearly know something I don’t), are spending a cool US$6 million on building a new conference centre, renovating and refurbishing the existing 171 bedrooms, reception, bar and restaurant and adding a state-of-the-art gym.
Given those attractions, the fairly painless and plentiful parking which surrounds the hotels amid lush green gardens under shady mainly indigenous trees and its convenient position and Cresta Lodge, Harare, really means business, members of the media were told by Cresta chief operating officer, Glenn Stutchbury, at a recent Press briefing and cocktail party there.
The Sango (Shona for a glade of trees) Conference Centre will be able to host talkfests for 400, or 600 cinema style or a cocktail party of 800. So …great…let’s get some conference business back in Ha-ha-ha-rare (Africa’s fun capital!)
Ten days after the Press briefing, I was back at Cresta Lodge for the always keenly anticipated annual mustn’t miss event the Azta (Association of Zimbabwe Travel Agents) Awards for excellence in travel and tourism.
A graphic display at the briefing had sadly shown a klompjie of fever-trees being ripped out to make way for the conference centre and I was pleased to see these being replaced at an official tree planting ceremony during which Stutchbury, the Mayor of Harare and the tourism minister did the planting!
The Kolokola bird said, with a mournful cry: “Go to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo, all set about with fever-trees…” (Rudyard Kipling).
If we have space for the picture, readers will see Glenn wearing an extraordinary outfit made of recycled flour bags!
The theme for the occasion was “Live, love, think, green for a brighter future” and the day’s dress code defined as: Environmentally friendly/natural.
A truly magnificent US$50 a head buffet comprised mezza’s bread basket: on the tables in an enormous marquee, along with accompanying red and white wine: an assortment of bread rolls, sticks and garlic bread with butter and a selection of home-made dips and spreads.
Salads: beetroot shavings, water melon and feta cheese with fresh mint (a sort of African version of caprese!), baby potatoes with butter, garlic and bacon, garden greens, deep-fried spinach (sounds dreadful…it was wonderful!) and Waldorf salad, with a selection of vinaigrettes, basil pesto and lemon grass mayonnaise.
The tilapia kebab was one of the nicest, most memorable ways of serving Kariba bream I’ve come across: freshwater fillets served on a skewer, having been marinated in fish spice and lemon juice, pan-seared and served with tomatoes, onions and green pepper salsa.
Chatters (it’s the rather twee name of the restaurants at Cresta Lodges) roast beef was marinated and flame-sealed, then finished in the oven and served with roast potatoes…OR (it seemed to me and/or) chicken tandoori: huku breast marinated in sour cream and mixed spice, served with a savoury madras rice.
Puddings included a duo of vanilla and chocolate mousse, profiterole swans, Chatters’ chocolate gateaux, fresh fruit kebab, lemon sorbet, milk tarts and upside down apple cake (like a tarte tatin.)
Those honoured, awarded and given accolades included:
Best Car Hire Company
1, AVIS Rent-a-Car, 2, Europcar, 3, dead heat between LED and Rockshade.
Best Tour Operator: 1, Sunset Tours, 2, Shuttle Tours, 3, dead heat between Tourism Services Zimbabwe and Wild Horizons.
Best Service Provider
1, Shearwater Adventures, 2 Wild Horizons, 3, Tourism Services Zimbabwe
Best Off-Line Carrier (airlines not actually serving Zimbabwe directly)
1, Qatar Airways, 2, Lufthansa, 3, Virgin Atlantic
Best Regional Airline
1) Kenya Airways, 2, SAA, 3, BA by Comair
Best International Airline
1) Emirates, 2, Kenya Airways, 3, dead heat between SAA and Ethiopian
Best Safari Camp
1) The Hide, Hwange, 2, Rukomechi, 3, Antelope Park, Gweru.
Best Safari Lodge
1) Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, 2, Bumi Hills Safari Lodge, 3, Hwange Safari Lodge.
Best Resort or Country Hotel
1) Leopard Rock, the Vumba, 2, Inns of Zimbabwe (Inn on Ruparara, Juliasdale—at this stage there was a power cut!) 3, Victoria Falls Hotel.
Best City Hotel
1) Meikles Hotel, Harare (for the 18th consecutive year), 2,Crowne-Plaza Monomatapa, Harare, 3, Rainbow Towers, Harare.
Best Travel Agent (voted for by the international airlines)
1) Premier Travel, 2, Wings, 3, Phileas Fogg
Best Voluntary Service to Azta
1) Laura Evans (chair: Wings Travel), 2, Wendy Bourne (African Albia Tourism), 3, Ross Kennedy (African Albida Tourism)
Services to the Environment
1) Imire Game Ranch, Wedza (John Travers), 2) Miracle Missions, Harare (Sharon Hook), 3) Kariba Animal Wildlife Fund Trust
Our sister paper, The Standard, will publish a lavishly illustrated commemorative supplement featuring the 2012 Azta Awards in a fortnight.