In an occasional look at some of the world’s most inspiring places to stay, here’s a little visit to Earth Lodge, Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve in South Africa
I’ve always fancied the notion of the great outdoors… but the reality has always rather put me off (the mud, the wind, the, er, brisk activity… it all plays havoc with a girl’s look). But safari is different. There’s something wildly romantic (pun intended) about an African safari. So I love the look of the recent revamp of one of the world’s quintessential safari lodges, found in the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve.
A decade ago Sabi Sabi’s Earth Lodge opened in the south-western section of the Kruger National Park. At the time it was met with much acclaim due to its ground-breaking, dramatic architecture. Rather than the twee wicker furniture and heavy-handed colonial design, which every other African lodge offered, this had sweeping lines and a minimalist ethos which ushered in a new era of game lodge design and attracted a new tranche of cool, urban guests.
According to owner Jacqui Loon, who, this time around, enlisted Cape Town based interior designer Stephen Rich, the new look is all about improving the pared-down feel with a chic edge. “You have to move with the times and I wanted something unique and hip,” she told us. “The result is an African hideaway that is sophisticated, yet innovatively concealed in the bush.”
And concealed it is. In the middle of heart-stopping vistas of stunning bush land, the Lodge is sculpted into the earth and is practically invisible within the landscape. Guests are ushered – pulse racing – down a hidden corridor to the entrance, in front of which unfolds an uninterrupted view of the surrounding reserve, teaming with hundreds of species of birds and plentiful wildlife. This is one of the few places on earth that you are highly likely to see the Big Five.
The lodge is home to 13 luxe suites, the Amani spa, a library, an underground wine cellar and outdoor lounges and restaurant. All the suites are individually designed, but with a common earthy theme borrowed from the incredible natural surroundings.
The Amber Suite has a butler on tap – ideal for keeping the Watermelon Coolers flowing and a remarkable ‘Burning Bush’ headboard. Sculpted by local artist Geoffrey Armstrong to look like a dramatic towering tree, it is the centrepiece of the room. Floors are adorned with kudu skin rugs, which have been shaved and sprayed with gold paint for an understated shimmering effect, while a twinkling amber glass bead chandelier lights up the rough hewn walls. A warm colour palette of coppers, bronzes, silvers and golds – used to reflect Africa’s rich mineral wealth – give a warm opulence to the space.
A glass fronted bathroom, meanwhile, with oversized stone bath, offers prime viewing of the larger-than-life wildlife documentary going on outside. With no fences between the reserve and the Kruger Park, big game roams freely around. Safari outings take place every morning and evening in open Land Rovers. The evening safaris are the most thrilling, particularly as they follow a mouth-watering high tea in the open-air lounge. Nestled in blankets in the back of the Land Rover, guests are likely to see leopards and elephants lit up by the moonlight or flying bushbabies leaping from tree to tree.
Feeding time for adults, meanwhile, is looked after by Chef Shaniel Dinna, who offers dishes he describes as ‘Afro Asian’ – fresh local South African produce with an Asian twist. There’s no menu to speak of but instead Shaniel greets guests before dinner to discuss what he has in mind for the evening. Think fresh venison with hummous mashed potato, followed by olive oil ice cream.
Guests can dine separately if they want – in the romantic outdoor ‘boma’ sculpted from tree roots and open to the star-lit night sky. Or for something truly special – there’s a private dining experience in the lavish wine cellar in front of a roaring fire. But more often than not, eating here is communal, with guests still buzzing about the day’s sightings, eager to swap stories around shared tables in the indoor/outdoor dining area or to watch the comings and goings at the adjacent waterhole with its resident grumpy hippo. It’s wonderfully wild at heart.