Four times Olympian Chemmy Alcott had always dreamed of a safari honeymoon and last month, following her idyllic wedding day at London's Syon Park, her wish came true. Here the alpine skier writes exclusively for HELLO! Online on why the trip has left the newlyweds on top of the world.
"There is a lot of pressure for honeymoons to be good. I mean, more of-ten than not, they start within 24 hours of the best day of your life! The fear of an anticlimax after a big and amazing event is always there. The pressure to enjoy your first days as man and wife is colossal.
Almost 8 years ago when Dougie and I went on our first dates we joked that if we were ever to get married we would go on a safari honeymoon. Now that was coming true. We flowed frantically through the busy happiness of our wedding day, leading such a fast paced life (we both race at around 80mph on a weekly basis) it is the norm. And because there is no time to stop your body and mind becomes used to all the excitement. By the time we landed in Tanzania we were ready for this incredible country to wow us.
Having been frantically caught up wedding planning, we handed all our trust over to Africa Odyssey andBeyond to make the honeymoon a holiday of a lifetime. So nervously landing at Kilimanjaro we realised that we had no clue how we were getting to our first stop. Breathing a big sigh of relief when we saw a lovely man holding a sign with our name, we started our trip.
I have to admit the itinerary had daunted us at first. There seemed so much travelling. However, safari travel isn't really travelling - I have heard the Chinese proverb - 'the journey is the reward' on many occasions but travelling every second day to a different part of this amazing African country, I finally got it. From the internal, tiny planes where Dougie sat in the co-pilot seat, to the 4 by 4s that snaked through the woods, which weren't merely methods of getting from A to B - they were an experience in themselves. We will never forget the birds-eye view of perfectly round Masai villages dotting around the country side (one actually was a heart - we saw this as a sign!) to the vast, pink illuminated waters of Lake Manyara (we later found out this wasn't the sunset but millions of flamingos), nor the rough landings on rustic, dirt packed runways!
Embarrassingly we didn’t even make it into the first national park be-fore we shrieked in excitement asking the guide to pull over so we could take a photo of one lone family of baboons sitting at the side of the road. That 'airport pick up' alone we were spoilt by sightings of giraffes, hippos, zebras, wildebeest, 'Pumba' (warthogs), flamingos, impala , buffalo and dik-diks.
Exhausted, but buzzing from the animal sightings we arrived at andBeyond Lake Manyara Tree Lodge - a perfectly hidden, unintrusive gem in the middle of the bush. In terms of being at one with nature and living amongst the trees you couldn't get any better (although Dougie pointed out it was bizarre that we were staying high up in a tree house in the one area famed for tree climbing lions!)
Giggling like teenagers when we were told we had our own butler for the stay - we felt like we had sneaked into someone else's life - that evening we were spoilt by a lovely, romantic, candle lit bubble bath (the first of many our butlers would prepare for us). I had been warned be-fore leaving not to expect too much of the food whilst on safari. Well for us at every andBeyond lodge we visited this warning was redundant - the food was not only fresh, it was spectacular - from the marinades to the perfectly tender meats cooked in outside, clay tandoori ovens.
The one thing about safari that we underestimated was how exhausting it is - and as professional athletes we can handle early morning and full days on the mountains. But you don't want to sleep in. Dougie and I both suffer from F.O.M.O (fear of missing out) so every morning, how-ever sleepy we felt, we always dragged ourselves out of bed. Watching game waking at sunrise is magical. One of my favourite moments was watching two young zebras playing around. Each in turn would sit down and pretend they were finished playing, to tempt the other to rest as well and up would pop the first back onto its hind legs to be tall, strong and powerful.
Being able to have the chance at Lake Manyara to cycle to the local village and chat amongst the people who live there was unforgettable. Cycling to the school and, despite not fully understanding each other, put-ting on performances (they sung beautifully to us and Dougie and I showed them some pairs circus yoga!) we had an amazing time, which ended in a local football match on the banks of the Lake where Dougie and another family we met challenged all the young children to a game!
Another opportunity to delve into the culture was our visit to the Masai Village where we became the lead in a girls vs boys jump off competition. Being the youngest to take part by a fair few years and also having spent 20 years training in the gym professionally, I enjoyed the admiration and laughs I received when I just kept jumping! The Masai live a very unique life in their family villages but what resonates from the experience is that whatever they do, however they live, it makes them all very happy, as they spent the whole time we were there smiling and laughing! I have travelled the world and been very lucky to be invited to some truly magical locations but andBeyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge is definitely the most wondrous place I have ever been to. Warm, opulent, extravagant and yet very comfortable with absolutely breathtaking views across the huge expanse of the sunken volcano. In fact on arrival, whilst indulging in another incredible lunch, we dined just next to a few zebras who had climbed right up to the luscious grass of the lodge to feed.
Whilst the animals on safari wowed us, the staff and the lodges made our honeymoon incredible, and we will never forget some of the amazing dining locations - from poolside candlelight in the jungle, to a private alcove on the white sands of Mnemba Island, to taking in room dining to a whole new level (log fire roaring, hundreds of rose petals decorating the floor!)
Leaving the animals to go and spend 2 days at the beach sounds like a cop out but with all the crazy wedding preparations followed by the fantastic but emotional day itself, we relished the idea to stop. To stop on a beautiful private island like andBeyond Mnemba Island Lodge was the icing on the cake!
When I say 'stop' I mean having a great day scuba diving with turtles, free diving with dolphins, paddle boarding around the island and some epicly competitive games of ‘boule’! And then when we felt lazy we just went snorkelling on the unbelievably colourful reef just 1 metre below the surface and only about 50 meters in front of our bed!
The most incredible part of our time on Mnemba though, was when a nest of 103 baby turtles decided that they needed our help to survive. The odds on baby turtles becoming fully grown is only 1 in 1000 So, when the nests are ready, the staff ask guests to help clear the beach and protect the babies from birds and crabs to give them the best possible chance of survival. Since we were on honeymoon we were allowed to escort the first baby turtle to the water where we named him Syon (after our wedding location) and wished him all the luck in the world as he awkwardly battled the shore breaking waves. It was such an incredible experience to witness the first moments of life of these amazingly cute little creatures!
You know a holiday is good when you are already thinking of reasons and excuses to return before you have even left! Well, maybe when I am pregnant, maybe our ten year anniversary or maybe when our children have grown and left home; for whatever the occasion I know we will be back."
www.africaodyssey.com tel 020 8704 1216 Two nights at andBeyond Lake Manyara Tree Lodge, two nights at andBeyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge and two nights at andBeyond Mnemba Island Lodge from £4,824 per person on an all-inclusive basis. Price based on two people sharing and includes international and domestic flights and all game viewing activities.