From The Mail on Sunday (2 Aug 2009)
By Sarah Turner
"Restaurant afloat on the Thames as it comes under the critical eye of TV's Alex Polizzi
SITTING on the deck of the boat, with the sun about to set, we meander sedately downriver. It is a Wind In The Willows experience but less rushed: Jerome K. Jerome without the sense of urgency. On this stretch of the Thames, there are no roads, just farmland, an occasional walker on the towpath and a series of grand houses with lawns down to the water. Just one boat passes us. After a while, Andy Cowley, the skipper and owner of the African Queen, turns the boat around and we head back to its tree-fringed mooring at Mapledurham, near Reading. Nothing much daunts Andy. When he bought the African Queen in 2004, he sailed it across the Irish Sea and has done battle with numerous officials to breathe life into his gloriously eccentric dream"............
"It’s mildly eccentric, very enjoyable: a barge holiday with high production values. It offers the quintessential holiday pleasure of doing nothing. The centre of London is 27 locks and three days away. Reading is a few minutes away. ‘Reading isn’t so bad,’ says Andy, who is passing through. ‘Especially from the water,’ adds Alex. ‘There used to be 1,500 hire boats between Windsor and Oxford but now there are only 70,’ says Andy. Just as you think that there are no hidden parts of Britain – especially a spot just six miles from Reading – you can be surprised. Ironically, that’s the African Queen’s problem. It’s gorgeous, undiscovered and overlooked, but Alex Polizzi is planning to do something about that."
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From the SA Times
The African Queen, a floating hotel and restaurant run by Andy Cowley and his wife Bonny, has a fascinating tale of how it landed up on Henley-on-Thames.
“I left for South Africa in 1957 at the age of 12 and enjoyed 40 fantastic years in the sun. My wife Bonn and I have two beautiful daughters.
A job offer brought me back to Europe in 1990 and circumstances returned me to the Isle of Wight in 1997, exactly 40 years after I had left.
“The boat was originally named De Hoop, which indicates that the Dutch owner of this boat was a protestant – they always named their boat with scriptural messages. Catholics named their boats after their wives,” Cowley said.
The naming of the boat has its roots in the owners’ South African ties. “The boat was first named the Shannon Princess – we upgraded her to a queen. As my wife is South African we thought the African Queen would blend in with our menu,” Cowley explains.
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If you fancy cruising down the Thames in splendour for a weekend, enjoying fine cuisine as the spectacular countryside glides by, then we have an unforgettable holiday break for you to win.
For most of us, the African Queen was one of the most magical films ever made – with Humphry Bogart and Katharine Hepburn at the very top of their form as the comically mismatched pair who, somehow, stop bickering long enough to contrive to sink the German battle cruiser on which they have just been married.
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