Monthly Archives: January 2016

Edito 068 – Happy New Year !

Starting a new year always comes with a collection of new goals and resolutions…

Happier, healthier, richer – and of course asking for divine invocation is the number 1 hit every year. In reality the failed resolutions that we had set for ourselves the previous year are often underlining the new ones…

So does that mean that we are all quitters or are we actually ready for the struggle ?
Because reaching our goals, targets, dreams and resolutions demand the help of a few components… Action, risk, commitment, positive thinking, calculation and plans, effort, endurance, sometimes pain, even chance…


But above all, a vision, a clear and set direction that will convert the ingredients into this succulent dish, once dreamed of in the early days of January.

This year, we will raise our level of quality, of service, bringing innovation to a new standard meant to blow your mind.

Now if that is not a resolution? Happy new year.



A Year of Indulgence

Do you have an appetite for a culinary discovery? Thirsty for new gourmet creations? Hungry for creative new concepts? Then South Africa is your destination.

A culinary melting pot of master pieces influenced by a myriad of fantastic cooking cultures that result in some of the world’s finest restaurants and most brilliant chefs.

Main at The Test Kitchen

Main at The Test Kitchen

South Africa is a culinary destination like no other – whether you looking for refined French inspired haute-cuisine set amidst a five star greenhouse, local Cape Malay menus that will warm up body, mind and soul in a bustling Food Bazaar or modern Fusion cuisine served in generous tapas sizes with unlimited bubbly to wash all the goodness down high above the beauty that is Cape Town – we have it all!

Dinning area of The Waterkloof

Dinning area of The Waterkloof Restaurant

And no one loves drinking, eating and celebrating a meal and the coming together more than South Africans do. Possibly the number one reason I stayed in this country and still fall in love with it all over again every day is because the families, the getting together and how everything is centred around meals is so familiar to me from the Italian background I originate from.

Main at La Colombe

Main at La Colombe

The holidays and the new beginning of a year is a special time – my most favourite time of the year – a time of indulgence starts and a time of new resolutions follows. Indulgence in holidays, time with our loved ones, a time of giving, gifting and sharing and a time to celebrate. Followed by a time of determination and fresh energy to strive towards new goals and new adventures.

And why not instead of always having the restraint from indulgence as a New Year resolution think about engulfing in new culinary experiences or in our case: new culinary destinations as your resolution?

The Tasting Room in the Cape Winelands

The Tasting Room in the Cape Winelands

And speaking of culinary: The Eat Out Awards recently awarded South Africa’s favourite indulgence: its Top 10 Restaurants. Unsurprisingly 8 out of 10 are located in Cape Town and its surrounding Winelands! And two of our far away neighbours in Sandton and Pretoria make up the total ten.

So if you are looking for the ultimate indulgent holiday and want to discover all of them on just one trip then get in touch with us and ask us about our ultimate culinary experience itinerary that celebrates this new year as one of indulgence and brings you the best of what Cape Town has to offer whether it is gifts, special events for lovers and families alike or the culinary superpowers – we have it all and more. And we also have a number of fun activities in store if you feel like action alongside all the indulgence.

Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge dinner

Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge dinner

Our itinerary takes you from Cape Town to the Winelands for a two night stay in Franschhoek, followed by a Kruger adventure at the Sabi Sabi lodges renowned for their gourmet cuisine and as a finale a night at the Saxon hotel rounds up your stay – allowing you to try not only South Africa’s Top 10 but also all those other little gems – the small bars and cafes, food stalls and street food vendors that make every holiday that unforgettable food experience you want it to be.

Desert at The Tasting Room

Desert at The Tasting Room

We from Travel by XO want to wish you a beautiful new year full of indulgence and new adventures!


In Search of Hidden Gems

For this year of indulgence we have chosen to take you on a gastronomic journey orientated around some of the most talented Chefs of the continent.  Some of the chefs featured on the itinerary of the month are known worldwide and have a long-term reputation.

But let us not forget that the New Year is all about novelty and new discoveries.

For this reason Travel by XO has decided to present to you a rising star on the South African  restaurant map whose restaurant is rapidly growing in prestige and popularity due to its outstanding menu and great location – drum roll please for Chef Pieter Vlok and his restaurant Mont Marie.

Nestled within a Wine Estate in the heart of the Cape Winelands , the restaurant Mont Marie is a place with a feel of casual luxury that will surprise all your senses.

View from Mont Marie

View from Mont Marie

Mont Marie is a visual delight:  Enter through the white gates of the estate and drive along the small road surrounded by vines before you arrive at the restaurant.

You are received with a warm welcome and if you wish you can take a seat on the terrace. The restaurant interiors are  very chic with stylish pieces of furniture beautifully  arranged to make you  feel comfortable and allowing you to admire the spectacular view of the dam and the surrounding mountains.

Indoor seating area

Indoor seating area

The dining experience is completed by a  masterful set of waiters who make sure every guest is satisfied and the atmosphere stays relaxed and joyful.

Chef Pieter Vlok and his team of chefs bring to the table an explosion of flavours and textures .

29 years old Chef Pieter Vlok was born and raised in Stellenbosch. He originally studied commerce before deciding that his real passion was to cook.

He graduated from  Warwick’s Chef School before starting to work for some of the greatest chefs in South Africa such as Bertus Basson (chef of Overture at Hidden Valley). He opened Mont Marie in 2013 and started creating his own  menu of wonderful, tasty dishes. The menu changes seasonally according to the availability of local produce.

Allow us to present you this young and dynamic chef in this month’s exclusive interview with Travel By XO:

Describe yourself in 3 words

Creative, local & passionate

Chef Pieter Vlok

Chef Pieter Vlok

What is the major quality of a great chef?

The ability of thinking while creating and ending up with something more amazing than what you had envisioned in the first place

What experience do you want your guests to have?

Mind blowing and simple at the same time to create a true explosion of flavours

Could you describe the culinary masterpiece on your menu?
The springbok loin for 4 people

Editor’s Note: As a gift for the new year here the recipe:

200g springbok loin
50g Butter
20g Fresh Italian parsley
10g Fresh thyme leaves
10g Fresh rosemary
10ml Olive oil
Pinch Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven at 180C
Mix all herb crust ingredients in a food processor until smooth
Roll smooth herbs into chopping board with rolling pin
Leave overnight in the fridge to set
Once set, cut in square (according to the loin portion)
Season the springbok with spice rub and seal in a pan with olive oil
Place portioned herb crust on each portion of loin and place in the oven till cooked to your satisfaction

Serve with beetroot, pea puree and baby potatoes.

Christmas is coming up, how are you planning to create a festive feeling with your menu?

Christmas is about spending time with family, friends and loved ones. For this reason we created a non-fussy, mouth-watering but yet simple menu with dishes that everybody can relate with.

What is the perfect Christmas dish for you? And how would you personalize it?

My perfect Christmas dish is a roast leg of lamb with red wine juice and grilled vegetables. It is something for dad, which mom prepared with love and friends and family can enjoy as well.

Did you always know you wanted to become a chef?

I always knew that I wanted to cook and prepare good food for friends, but I did not wanted to be a chef… I thought it to be too hard and that it was too much of a ladies world until I had my first experience in a restaurant’s kitchen. The rest is history leading to Mont Marie.

Macaron and Ice Cream

Macaron and Ice Cream

Would you like to share a favourite kitchen disaster story?

I overslept one morning on a function day where I was supposed to start at 8h00 and showed up at 9h00 for work. My boss made me peel potatoes and clean the fat traps for the whole week.

You’re stranded on a desert island. What four items would you want with you?

My braai (barbecue) tongs, a good steak, great wine and fishing rod

If you were being executed tomorrow, what would be your last meal?

I would like to try my own pork belly with a glass of Bordeaux blend

Pork Belly

Pork Belly

What could you not work without?
My knives and chefs

Where do you create new recipes?

My kitchen at home is my ‘test kitchen”, so whatever I have in mind, goes to my menu after being tried out in my personal kitchen

Are you curious about foreign cuisines? Have you ever adapted a recipe from another country that inspired you?

I love the thrill of learning new cuisines, but with the products that are available in South Africa, “local is lekker” (good in Afrikaans) and being creative in such an amazing country, is such a challenge and honour

What is your personal favourite restaurant? Where do you like to indulge?

Editor’s Note: Chef Pieter clearly has a sense of humour

My favourite restaurant is Mont Marie, I have not eaten there yet, but from what I heard, it is the place to dine and have great wines!

What’s your favourite thing about the Winelands and Stellenbosch?

I love the Winelands because of diversity of restaurants that shoot up over the last 3 years. Everybody have something different to offer and I enjoy the fact that you can sit on a wine farm under a huge tree with a fabulous view. For me, this is unbeatable


A new year, a new vision and a new perspective

Cowardice aside – this year we are taking the services for direct clients to a whole new level as we are aiming at new destinations and new visions!

We want to pay that extra bit of attention to detail and make every last one of your wishes come true, guide you along your holiday and try to be one step ahead preventing any mishaps along the way so you can relax and unwind as you deserve it.

Our offers are going to be better, bigger and bolder and break down new frontiers – no challenge is too big for us – we will always find a way. And even if we can’t you won’t know as we will make sure the proposed alternative is just as fantastic.

It is that sort of courage that presents itself in one of the team members of Travel by XO – Alessandra – your dedicated Travel Expert.



Alessandra has travelled the world living and working in three continents. Luckily for us she fell in love with Cape Town and decided to make this wonderful city her home. She joined the XO Africa team 3 years ago and works with clients of all nationalities seeing as she is fluent in English, German and Italian and speaks even a bit of French!

She is passionate about creating the perfect proposal for clients and is always willing to go the extra mile. Her creativity, determination and positive attitude are not only important aspects to the team but reflect in the process of making the dream holiday a reality.

Attention to detail and professionalism are the two pillars she bases her work on but being a new mommy has also taught her to know when to just breathe and relax.

Her little bundle of joy has given her more expertise in assisting you with your family related enquiries and concerns when it comes to travelling as she can relate to them all herself.

She loves anything that has to do with the culinary world – whether it’s cooking and healthy eating, restaurants or a good food related show or documentary. So it’s really no surprise she married a chef with whom she can share this interest. She will be able to point out the good spots you should visit during your stay in South Africa.

Another great passion of hers is languages and literature. Aside from the few mentioned above she has done language courses in Hebrew, Chinese and Spanish and previously studied Languages and Literature and worked as a Lifestyle Editor before switching to the field of Diplomacy.

According to her this New Year will see new trends and new challenges for tourism in South Africa – what she has prepared for you in this respect are new destinations and new themes for both activities and packages alike that you won’t be able to resist.

So what are you waiting for? Get in touch and let us share our vision with you!