Johannesburg - We chat to André Thirion, Country Hotels’ chief executive officer, about his most memorable travel experiences.
First holiday memory?
That would be camping with my family in Botswana where we slept under the trees and stars in the middle of the bush. This was my first taste of Africa, with our only water source being a dam for cattle, and having fun family meals and entertainment around the fire.
Favourite place in South Africa?
Without a doubt it is the Northern Cape. This is also a reason why I set up a number of hotels along this beautiful route, with our latest hotel in the Namaqualand, which is amazing during the daisy season – an absolute must-see!
Globally it would be Thailand and Mykonos because of the culture, food and friendly people. But it still doesn’t beat my recent river-rafting trip with the family along the Orange River for three days.
What have you learnt from your travels?
Always plan ahead, book in advance and leave enough time to change your mind!
Ideal travelling companion?
That would be my beautiful wife and our children – we always say, family vacay is the only way.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
For me it’s all about adrenalin – from bungee jumping, to mountain hiking, to 4x4 excursions off the beaten track – that’s what makes a holiday an experience you can remember for a lifetime.
Greatest travel luxury?
Putting my feet up and relaxing, having a massage (or three) and indulging in good food in the company of family and friends.
I’m passionate about the hospitality industry, so my best reading material would be catching up on my financials and projections – it’s the best place and time for me to de-stress and clear my head.
Which place has seduced you?
The Kalahari because of its scenic beauty. Every year I return. There’s nothing like taking your shoes off and walking across the red sand dunes at sunset with the mesmerising display of purple and orange.
Worst travel experience?
I arrived in Mykonos with no luggage and got it back only the day I left. Luckily we didn’t have to wear much, a costume and a vest got us by.
My favourite international hotel is the Moana Surfrider Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii.
In the heart of Waikiki Beach, the ocean-front hotel was established in 1901 and is a legendary landmark.
Top of my bucket list is the Orange River from source to mouth – from the Drakensberg to the mouth at Oranjemund.
Best meal abroad?
I would have to say in Tokyo, at a restaurant called Tsukathai that made the best chicken teriyaki I have had.
Kyoto – formerly the imperial capital of Japan for more than a thousand years – for its culture, friendly people, its service and its vibrant energy. To me it’s the best of the best – it’s like a top first-world destination.
Where to next?
I would love to take my hotel brand into Botswana and Namibia, and in terms of personal travel, anywhere I don’t have to take my belt and shoes off at customs.
l André Thirion is Country Hotels chief executive officer.