Silver award: Bushmans Kloof
When an Australian archaeologist is flown all the way from Wollongong in New South Wales to a remote reserve in the Cederberg region of South Africa's Western Cape, you know something exciting is happening. In fact it feels like a veritable Indiana Jones movie. The real star of this set, however, is a magnificent collection of 130 documented rock art sites created by the San Bushmen, one of mankind's earliest societies, with paintings that are up to 10, 000 years old being revealed to visitors coming to this wilderness luxury resort of Bushmans Kloof.
The owners of Bushmans Kloof take their role as custodians of the San Bushmen's' ancient heritage very seriously, with ongoing archaeological excavation projects revealing more and more ancient treasures. In addition, all the art is now being professionally recorded and documented by a resident archaeologist to create a database that is linked to a Geographic Information System (GIS) platform, ensuring the preservation of these sites for future generations. Guests staying at the resort are taken on guided tours of the sites, led by specially trained guides from the local community. Guests also visit the Bushmans Kloof Heritage Centre that brings to life the history and lives of the San people. This esteemed collection isn't just open to guests, however. Bushmans Kloof hosts site visits for University of Cape Town's Department of Archaeology, as well as local schools and community groups, enabling everyone to share in what has been described as the 'world's largest open-air art gallery' and also now holder of South African Natural Heritage status.
Celebrating living culture is also a feature at Bushmans Kloof, as they have been major players in reviving the traditional Riel Dance in the Cederberg region - a traditional dance of the San Bushmen and the Khoi. Apart from being the major funder and sponsor of the Riel dance troupes, it trains and encourages the troupes to compete in regional and national competitions. The troupes also regularly perform for guests at the lodge, which is the icing on the cake for visitors to this already stunning reserve, with its cultural gems shining among the natural ones.
Silver award: Cnoc Suain
Cnoc Suain is an Irish homestead high up in the hills overlooking Connemara's coastline, converted to a place where you can immerse yourself totally in Ireland's cultural heritage. When the owners of this cultural haven, Dearbhail Standún and Charlie Troy, took over the site in 1995, they discovered ruins of cottages hidden under the overgrown lands, and slowly went about rebuilding them. In addition, being professional musician and botanist/geologist respectively, they filled them with music sessions, a nature lover's library, Irish language sessions and plenty of local fare.
Tired of watching tourists being told about their country from behind a coach window, Dearbhail Standún and Charlie Troy decided to offer something more authentic to tourists seeking out a genuine Irish experience in this Gaeltacht, or Irish speaking region of Ireland. But Cnoc Suain is no theme park. There is nothing tacky or commercial here, just beautiful traditional cottages to stay in, and a plethora of experiences, or Eispéireas, as they say in Irish one their website, ranging from traditional music and dance sessions for small groups by a roaring fire (an antidote to the overcommercialised Riverdance version of Ireland that is now so well known) to small civil ceremonies held by their 3,000 year old standing stone on the hill-top, with its dramatic and timeless backdrop of the Burren and Galway bay. At Cnoc Suain each song, story and sup oozes with a pride and determination to protect and share some of the joys of their beloved and most beautiful Irish heritage.