The locals have long known it, and now UK visitors agree: South Africa is the most beautiful country on earth. In the 2006 Reader’s Travel Awards by UK magazine Condé Nast Traveller, South Africa’s scenery scored 97.8% – the highest in the world – with the country being voted the world’s fifth-best tourist destination.

Now in their ninth year, the awards come out of a comprehensive survey of readers’ favourite hotels, spas, cities, countries and more, based on a range of criteria that are then compiled into a score out of 100. In the country category, South Africa’s overall score was 94.2% – putting it ahead of other destinations such as Thailand, France, the US, Greece and Malaysia.

This is the sixth year in a row that South Africa has been ranked as one of the world’s top 20 destinations. In 2005 the country came in at ninth place, up from 13th place in 2004. The top country in 2006 was Italy, with a score of 95.57%, followed by New Zealand (94.81%), Australia (94.44%) and India (94.42%).

South Africa’s hotels and spas were also rated among the best in the world, with six establishments making it onto the top 20 list of leisure hotels in the Middle East, Africa and the Indian Ocean islands. Clinching second position in this category was the multi-award-winning Singita Private Game Reserve, with an overall score of 95.6% and a top score of 97.95% for service and staff.

“Singita provides the ultimate sophisticated safari experience,” Condé Nast says of the reserve. “Three ultra-luxurious safari lodges (colonial Ebony, Afro-chic Boulders and converted farmhouse Castleton) are situated on an 18 500-hectare concession in Sabi Sand Reserve, bordering the Kruger National Park. Sophisticated, pan-African cuisine and a 35 000-bottle wine cellar bring civility to the bush. The goal-orientated game-viewing with knowledgeable, likeable rangers is excellent.”

The other top South African hotels in this category, according to position and score, were:

– 5 (94.2%) – Londolozi Private Game Reserve, Mpumalanga
– 9 (92.02%) – The Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa, Cape Town
– 13 (86.36%) – The Table Bay Hotel, Cape Town
– 18 (82.89%) – Ulusaba Private Game Reserve, Mpumalanga
– 20 (81.45%) – Pezula Resort Hotel & Spa, Knysna

Three South African establishments also made it onto the list of the world’s top 15 hotel spas outside the UK. These were the Sanctuary Spa at the Twelve Apostles Hotel in Cape Town, in sixth position with a score of 88.67%, the Altiraspa at the Arabella Sheraton Grand Hotel in Cape Town (eighth position, 87.25%), and the Pezula Resort Hotel and Spa in Knysna (13th position, 83.67%). The Altiraspa was also singled out for its amenities and products (97.5%), and service and staff (95%).

In the Top 100 category of the Readers’ Travel Awards, Condé Nast ranks the overall winners in all categories by their scores. Again, South Africa and its hospitality industry did well, with Singita Private Game Reserve in fourth position. The country’s other winners, according to position and score, were:

– 21 (94.2%) – South Africa (country)
– 22 (94.2%) – Londolozi Private Game Reserve, South Africa (hotel)
– 48 (92.02%) – The Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa, Cape Town (hotel)

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