Top 10: best small romantic hotels in Paris

Monday newsletters always feature top 10 travel lists to inspire.

Today (February 13, 2017): Top 10 best small romantic hotels in Paris.

Paris, France’s capital, has always been a destination for romance, with its candlelit wine bars, sunset walks along the River Seine, proposals atop the Eiffel Tower and the stunning views from Montmartre and its signature Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, a place of pilgrimage for romantics. In addition to the romance this major European city is a global centre for art, fashion, gastronomy and culture and lies just over an hour’s flight away from London, making it the perfect hop for an anniversary, birthday, Valentine’s or any other event for that matter. To help you plan your next trip to this enchanting city, I compiled a list of my top 10 best small romantic hotels in Paris.

There is more information below the slide show. Think I missed one? Share your favorite Parisian hotel in the comments section.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*** Follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for a daily moment of travel inspiration ***


10. HOTEL VERNEUIL

This romantic little 4-star hotel lies on a quiet street within a lively and fashionable area, close to the Musée d’Orsay, the Louvre and the Café de Flore. Situated on Rue de Verneuil, famous for the many writers, actors and top fashion designers who live there, the hotel is also close to a range of antique shops, art galleries, fashion boutiques, restaurants and cafés. There are 4 types of stylishly decorated guest room to choose from: Deluxe, Club, Classic and Communicating and all of them offer a comfortable bed, bathroom with shower, individual air-conditioning / heating, LED flat TV screen with international channels, safe, mini bar, slippers and toiletries from the gorgeous l’Occitane. The hotel also offers complimentary international calls and internet as well as a full buffet-style breakfast (for €18) offering hot drinks, juices, cereals, breads, croissants, meats, cheeses, farmhouse yoghurts and eggs prepared any way you like. Prices start at 249€ per night.

HOTEL VERNEUIL

HOTEL VERNEUIL


9. HOTEL RECAMIER

Situated on the Left Bank, this wonderful little gem of a hotel is nestled in one of Saint-Germain-des-Prés’s most secluded spots. A haven of privacy, Hotel Récamier enjoys a luxurious and exquisite décor, dotted with collector’s items which is the work of interior designer Jean-Louis Deniot. The 24-rooms in this stylish 4-star boutique hotel offer a modern glamour and have been designed in a palette of creams and browns overlooking Place Saint-Sulpice with ornate fixtures and wrought-iron balconies all complemented by rich, thick fabrics. There’s no restaurant in the hotel, but a Continental breakfast is spread available in the lounge and between 4-6pm you can enjoy complimentary soft drinks and snacks. In the evening you can relax at the little bar in the breakfast lounge, where a waiter will serve your drinks. Prices start at 185€ per night.

  • Hotel website: Hotel Récamier
  • Tip: Enjoy a mouth-watering, gourmet high tea in the lounge and in the summer months enjoy the inner courtyard garden which is an oasis of calm and tranquillity.
HOTEL RECAMIER

HOTEL RECAMIER


8. HOTEL LES DAMES DU PANTHEON

The recently renovated, 4-Star, Hôtel Les Dames du Panthéon offers highly styled rooms, many with rooftop views out across the Latin Quarter in the historic 5th arrondissement, Saint-Germain. Head up the spiral animal-print staircase, to discover six floors of dramatic, coquettish, fifties-styled rooms which pay tribute to France’s scintillating women in a dazzling display of mid-century pieces, femininity and silky chinoiserie. All of the 35 chic and jazzy rooms have been decorated in rich colors and thick fabrics and benefit from complimentary wifi, flatscreen TVs, minibars, ensuite bathrooms with Carthusia toiletries and some enjoy a small balcony too. The Suite and Deluxe Rooms on the fifth and sixth floors offer panoramic views over the Parisian rooftops and also feature Nespresso coffee machines. Breakfast can be served in your room or in the stylish stone-clad basement and comprises of an array of pastries and eggs. In the evenings, you can people-watch at the hotel bar which is decorated with thick rugs, hanging glassware and inviting banquettes overlooking the Place du Panthéon. Prices start at 125€ per night.

  • Hotel website: Hôtel Les Dames Du Panthéon
  • Tip: There is no restaurant at the hotel but you can walk down the hill and enjoy the local brasseries and cafes.
HOTEL LES DAMES DU PANTHEON

HOTEL LES DAMES DU PANTHEON


7. HOTEL DES ACADEMIES ET DES ARTS

If you are a fan of the arts, then a stay at the 4-star boutique Hôtel des Academies et des Arts in the Montparnasse district would be ideal. This one-of-a-kind hotel is full of elegance and charm, paying homage to the creative arts and its artists and located on the same street that Gauguin and Modigliani once lived! The hotel also lies in front of famous Académie de la Grande Chaumière, where talented artists such as Gauguin and Giacometti succeeded each other and the hotel’s walls have been adorned with works from the painter Jérôme Mesnager, famous for his “white bodies”, and sculptures by Sophie de Watrigant. This exclusive Left Bank hotel comprises of just 20 rooms, a library, home-cinema room, spa and beauty treatments on request. Each of the guest rooms has been beautifully and artistically decorated as you would expect and enjoys air-conditioning, wifi, flatscreen-TV, minibar and safe. The Commedienne rooms inspired by legendary 1920s party girl Kiki de Montparnasse are especially cute with their scarlet headboards and vibrant purple throws on the beds. Breakfast can be taken either in the library, the adjacent ‘petit bistro’ or the hotel’s Salon d’Art Video. Prices start at 150€ per night.

HOTEL DES ACADEMIES ET DES ARTS

HOTEL DES ACADEMIES ET DES ARTS


6. HOTEL LE CHAT NOIR

If you want to stay somewhere full of character in the heart of Montmartre, one of the liveliest districts of the capital, then the Hotel Le Chat Noir is perfect. Set in a building that once housed a famous 1920s cabaret of the same name, this unique and contemporary 4-star hotel lies within easy walking distance of the famous Rue Lepic, Place du Tertre, le Sacré Coeur and just two minutes on foot from the Moulin Rouge. Conveniently located just 1-minute walk from the Blanche metro station, this hotel allows you to take advantage of the buzzing cafes around the Sacré-Cœur and browse the multitude of historic antique-shops at the Marche aux Puces de Clignancourt, one of the largest antiques market in the world. Hotel Le Chat Noir’s interior décor has been inspired by the fabulous Moulin Rouge with hues of its iconic red and black extended throughout. Most of its 39 modern rooms also benefit from a touch of the Moulin color-scheme with feline motifs and touches. All rooms enjoy air conditioning, flat-screen TV with satellite channels, safe, bathroom with tub or shower and complimentary wifi and some rooms feature private balconies and Eiffel Tower views. In the morning, you can wake to a breakfast buffet of pastries, cheeses, charcuterie and fruit washed down with a strong French coffee. Already with a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence, Le Chat Noir Design Hotel comes highly recommended. Prices start at 150€ per night.

HOTEL LE CHAT NOIR

HOTEL LE CHAT NOIR


5. HOTEL LES MATINS DE PARIS

While on your romantic break, if you enjoy delicious dining in quirky little restaurants and bars, then the 4-star boutique Les Matins de Paris hotel would be perfect for you. Located in the buzzing 9th arrondissement, it lies just off Rue Des Martyrs, which is known for its fabulous eateries, bakeries, coffee shops and boutiques. It’s also just a few minutes’ away from some of the famous Parisian landmarks of Montmartre, the Sacré-Cœur, Palais Garnier (home to the Paris Opera) and Boulevard Haussmann with its famous Galeries Lafayettes and Printemps department stores. With just 33 bijou rooms, this boutique hotel has an intimate feel while still being able to offer a bar and lounge, hammam, indoor pool, breakfast area and complimentary wifi. Each of the guest rooms is vibrant and bright with clean lines and offers LED TVs with satellite channels, minibars, premium bedding and ensuite bathrooms with rainfall showers, bathrobes and slippers. Some rooms also offer a small balcony and if you choose one of their Deluxe Rooms you might even be able to see Montmartre and the Sacred Heart right from the comfort of your balcony! Prices start at 220€ per night.

  • Hotel website: Les Matins De Paris
  • Tip: If you’re a fan of delicious French cheese, then you must try the nearby L’Affineur Affine, a tiny restaurant at the back of a cheese shop where you can enjoy a platter of up to 15 different cheeses and / or meats, but make sure to book ahead as the kitchen closes at 9pm.
HOTEL LES MATINS DE PARIS

HOTEL LES MATINS DE PARIS


4. HOTEL LE PRADEY

If you’re looking for great staff, comfortable accommodations and an excellent location, Hotel Le Pradey will tick all the boxes. Located on the right bank of the Seine, near the rue St-Honoré fashion district, close to the Concorde square and about a 20-minute walk to The Louvre, this 4-star boutique hotel offers 28 rooms which have been designed to reflect the stone, wood and zinc roofs of Paris. The 5th floor suites, decorated by Hermès, offer hand crafted leather furnishings and balconies with views across to the pretty Tuileries gardens at the end of the street. My favourite are the Cabaret Suite which was inspired by the Moulin Rouge with a vibrant red and mauve colour scheme oozing glitz and glamour; while the Opéra Suite harnesses the feel of the Opéra Garnier, with more a more sedate colour scheme of pastel hues and ballet finishes everywhere. In the evening, you can relax in the 50’s styled Mezzanine Lounge with its honesty bar allowing you to help yourself to drinks and snacks; and in the morning, you can wake up to a tasty continental breakfast in the vaulted cellar or simply grab a coffee, juice and croissant on the mezzanine. Prices start at 219€ per night.

HOTEL LE PRADEY

HOTEL LE PRADEY


3. HOTEL EUGENE EN VILLE

If you’re looking for a memorable stay in the capital of romance, then the unique and eclectic Hotel Eugene En Ville will be right up your street. This 4-star boutique hotel is centrally located between Montmartre and Opera, offering quintessential Parisian style mixed with contemporary design and quirky charms. Along with a very warm welcome from the friendly staff, you’ll be greeted with fantastical candelabras, unusual and eye-catching object d’art and curious works of art around every corner. Each of the 66 rooms and suites are simple and stylish with comfy beds, iPod dock, LED TV with 64 multilingual channels, wifi, air conditioning and complimentary mineral water. Superior Rooms offer the added luxury of their own private 40m² terrace, while the most spacious and luxurious Deluxe Rooms also offer the ease of a Nespresso coffee machine and luxury VIP toiletries. Eugene’s Cantine offers a modern atmosphere with quirky wooden seating and hearty meals like steak tartar and sharing plates including charcuteries, French cheeses and smoked salmon and if you wish to dine out, there are plenty of local bars, restaurants and bistros nearby. Prices start at 261€ per night.

  • Hotel website: Hôtel Eugene En Ville
  • Tip: Wifi coverage is better on the lower floors and street noise is quietest at the back of the hotel.
HOTEL EUGENE EN VILLE

HOTEL EUGENE EN VILLE


2. HOTEL DUPOND-SMITH

If you’re looking for something a little extraordinary then the highly luxurious Hotel Dupond-Smith is the hidden gem for you. Located in the heart of Paris’s wonderful Marais quarter, this five-star hotel conveniently lies just a 5-minute walk from the metro, 10 minutes from Notre Dame, 20 minutes from the River Seine and a scenic 1 hour wander to the romantic Eiffel Tower. The hotel prides itself on its exclusivity and promotion only by word of mouth. The equally mysterious guest rooms are broken into levels like Alias and Incognito and each one has been named after style icons, literary geniuses’ and rock legends. Alias Rooms are their luxury version of a standard room with 20sqm of lounging capacity, a king-size or twin single beds, ergonomic desk, wardrobe, bathroom with rain shower and one has its own little balcony. The larger Incognito Rooms offer a more superior style room and have been hidden away in the eaves of this enchanting building or can be found lower down with small private terraces to take in the breeze and watch the world go by. The most luxurious 30+sqm. Intuitu Suites have each been individually designed and decorated with a luxurious bedroom area, bathroom with bath and rain shower, some have a private balcony and all feature unique extravagant design quirks like an entrance alcove, dressing room or bar and lounge area. All guest rooms benefit from air-conditioning, flat-screen satellite TV, complimentary wifi, safe, your own personal espresso coffee machine, a selection of Kusmi teas and herbal teas, minibar, iPod Station, bathrobes, slippers and beautiful toiletries from the gorgeous Parisian Perfume House: Diptyque. Despite being right in the middle of busy Marais, you won’t hear a thing from the street as all the windows are double glazed and although there is no restaurant or bar in the hotel, you are just a short stroll from some amazing cafes, bistros, bars and restaurants. Prices start at 323€ per night.

  • Hotel website: Hotel Dupond-Smith
  • Tip: The hotel offers a delicious breakfast that can be served in your room or can be taken in the ground-floor lobby and it is available all day long.
HOTEL DUPOND-SMITH

HOTEL DUPOND-SMITH


1. HOTEL DA VINCI

If you fancy a truly authentic, romantic French experience in a hotel packed with Parisian charm and character then the five-star Hôtel Da Vinci might be just what you’re looking for. This boutique 24-room hotel opened in June 2014 and has been decorated to take its guests on a journey back to the heart of the Renaissance, with the period’s most iconic figure, Leonardo da Vinci, as its theme throughout and if that isn’t enough to tempt, The Mona Lisa was hidden in this very building for three nights in 1911 after it had been stolen from the Louvre! The hotel is located perfectly for exploring this beautiful city, right on the Left Bank, near the Louvre and Saint-Germain-des-Prés. While staying you can book your own private pool session in the small mosaic-lined pool or enjoy breakfast or a delicious afternoon expresso at Café Da Vinci, with decoration inspired by the oldest and most famous café in Venice: Caffè Florian. All of the guest rooms are decorated with period features, such as caqueteuse chairs and dressing rooms with curved features reminiscent of the wardrobes of the period. Around half the rooms enjoy a balcony and some overlook the hotel patio, a haven of peace and quiet, while others, have views down the Rue des Saints-Pères and offer a glimpse of the Louvre. The Inventions rooms pay tribute to Leonardo da Vinci’s innovative genius and at the head of the bed you’ll find a fresco taken from some of his best-known technical drawings. Prices start at 333€ per night.

  • Hotel website: Hôtel Da Vinci
  • Tip: If available, the Mona Lisa room is the one to book, located on the ground floor with a charming little terrace.
HOTEL DA VINCI

HOTEL DA VINCI


*** Follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for a daily moment of travel inspiration ***


How to visit the National Parks in Canada & USA for free?

Friday newsletters always feature luxury travel contests, tips, series, or news.

Today (February 10, 2017): Travel tip: How to visit the National Parks in Canada and USA for free?

My fascination for luxury travel pales in comparison to my travel passion for trekking in the great outdoors and being at one with nature. Yes, I still prefer a simple cabin in a grandiose wilderness spot over a luxury hotel. And when it comes to natural splendor, it’s hard to beat the wilderness experiences to be found in the National Parks of Canada and the USA.

Last summer, I enjoyed a(nother) terrific holiday in the Canadian Rockies, a pristine wilderness areas on a scale difficult to imagine. Few places in the world offer such a diverse range of scenery and activities, from kayaking and spectacular drives to backcountry hiking and wildlife spotting. I previously shared with you the top 10 best sights and activities in Banff, Yoho, Kootenay and Jasper National Park, as well as my top 10 list of the best hotels & lodges in the Canadian Rockies (which includes several trip reports and Youtube clips).

MORAINE LAKE, BANFF NATIONAL PARK, CANADA

MORAINE LAKE, BANFF NATIONAL PARK, CANADA

I have previously visited most of the USA National Parks, and I am going back this summer. The crown jewels of the USA’s National Park system are all located in the West, with the most famous ones being Grand Teton & Yellowstone National Park (wildlife, mountains, geysers), Yosemite National Park (mountains, valleys), Glacier National Park (mountains and grizzlies), and Grand Canyon National Park (canyons). Hawaii and Alaska also boast some national parks that offer otherworldly scenery. The USA’s National Parks rank on quite a few of my to 10 travel lists:

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, USA

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, USA

This year might be the best time ever to visit the natural splendor of Canada and the USA, since it’s possible to visit their famous National Parks for free. Here’s how to do it: 

Visit Canada’s National Parks for free

Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday in 2017 and to commemorate the milestone, the government of Canada has a very special gift in store for all Canadian and international visitors: admission to all Canadian national parks is free for the entire year to everyone. But you’re going to need an access pass which you can order from the Parks Canada website (they will ship it to you for free to anywhere in the world). Please note:

  • You only need to order one pass for your group or family if you are all traveling together. A 2017 Discovery Pass is valid for everyone arriving in the same vehicle at a national park, or arriving together at a marine conservation area or historic site.
  • The Discovery Pass is only accepted at national historic sites which are operated by Parks Canada.
  • Activities such as tours or parking that normally carry a separate fee may not be covered by the Discovery Pass.
  • Camping fees are not included with the Discovery Pass
  • Validity Period: January 1st 2017 to December 31st 2017.
  • Display: The 2017 Discovery Pass must be hung from the rear view mirror of the vehicle facing forward or it can be placed on the front driver side dashboard facing up.
Visit the USA’s National Parks for free
The USA National Park Service just turned 100 years old. To celebrate the start of their second century, the USA National Park Service will offer free admission to everyone during a couple of days in 2017. The fee-free days provide a great opportunity to visit a new place or an old favorite, especially one of the 120 national parks that normally charge an entrance fee. The fee waiver includes entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees. Other fees such as reservation, camping, tours, concession and fees collected by third parties are not included unless stated otherwise.

So, you should mark your calendar for these entrance fee–free dates in 2017:

  • February 20: Presidents’ Day
  • April 15-16 and 22-23: Weekends of National Park Week
  • August 25: National Park Service Birthday
  • September 30: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11-12: Veterans Day Weekend

Enjoy the weekend and stay tuned for Monday when I reveal a new top 10 travel list.


*** Follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for a daily moment of travel inspiration ***


Hotel review: PHENOMENAL Royal Malewane (South Africa)

Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel and/or flight review.

I recently enjoyed a terrific holiday in South Africa. You can read my trip reports here:


Today (February 8, 2017): Review of Royal Malewane (Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa). 
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Address: Thornybush Private Game Reserve, Hoedspruit, 1380, South Africa
  • Hotel website: Royal Malewane

Royal Malewane is a luxury safari lodge with only 7 one- to six-bedroom villas, located in Thornybush private game reserve on the western border of the Kruger National Park. The lodge, which has Bill Gates, Bono, Oprah and Elton John among its repeat guests, exudes the romance and beauty of a bygone age while offering every modern comfort and convenience. Here, the classic safari experience is unsurpassed with unrivaled Big Five game viewing and the country’s most qualified guiding team, who will provide detailed insights into the complex and fascinating ecosystems of the South African bushveld. Guests can also indulge in sensual treatments at the tranquil waters of Royal Malewane’s Bush Spa and enjoy nightly feasts under the African stars.

Royal Malewane features in my top 10 list of the best luxury hotels in South Africa, the most insanely beautiful safari lodges in Africa, and the best safari lodges in South Africa.

In this review (more info below the slideshow):

  • Pros & things I like
  • Cons & things to know
  • My verdict
  • Tips for future guests & save money
  • Best time to visit
  • How to get there
  • Photos

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*** Follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for a daily moment of travel inspiration ***


PROS & THINGS I LIKE
  • Royal Malewane is easily accessible by road from Johannesburg in under 5 hours. Most guests though will prefer to travel by air, by making use of a commercial flight to one of the nearby airports (either the Hoedspruit Airport or Nelson’s Kruger Mpumulanga International Airport), or by chartering their own flights directly onto the lodge’s private airstrip.
  • The lodge is located in the Greater Kruger National Park, which refers to the Kruger National Park itself –operated by the South African National Parks Board – as well as the private game reserves on the Western border of the Kruger National Park such as the Sabi Sand, Timbavati, Manyeleti and Thornybush Private Game Reserve. The latter is the home to Royal Malewane, and set in the heart of the rolling Lowveld savannah. As there is no fence separating the reserve and the park, animals move freely between the two wilderness areas.
  • The distinction between the Kruger National Park and its adjacent private game reserves (such as Royal Malewane) is an important one as the latter offer a superior safari experience where nature is paramount: there are no restrictions on access or driving times, only specialized safari vehicles with guides are permitted (and they are permitted to go off-road in search of the wildlife) and a maximum of two vehicles at a time are permitted on a single sighting resulting in a more intimate wildlife experience and fantastic photographic opportunities.
  • The open-sided, thatched roof, main lodge provides an elegant colonial-style refuge in the heart of the African bush. Two bronze cheetahs guard the entrance. Besides a boutique shop and the dining room, it features several seating and lounge areas, all of them boasting unparalleled views of the nearby waterhole (which attracts plenty of big game) and the raw uncompromising wilderness.
  • The stunningly beautiful décor is classic colonial bush style, brimming with old world, timeless elegance, and mixed with Oriental antique ornaments such as Persian carpets. The lavish décor was created by design maven Liz Biden, who is also the mastermind behind Royal Malewane’s sister properties La Residence in the Cape Winelands and Birkenhead House in Hermanus.
  • Royal Malewane accommodates a maximum of 20 guests in the utmost colonial splendor of six Luxury Suites, two Royal Suites, and one Africa House (an exclusive bush villa with six bedrooms). Elevated walkways connects all accommodations with the main lodge. During my holiday, I stayed in a Royal Suite, which ranks among the most spacious and opulent villas that I have ever stayed in – and I’ve seen a few. Luxuriously appointed and fully air-conditioned, the extravagantly proportioned villa featured a large living room with fireplace, and two separate bedrooms, each one with a Mahogany four-posters bed and an extravagant bathroom with a window-side Victoria bath. The villa was surrounded by a huge outside deck complete with crystal-clear pool and two thatched gazebos, so you could take the most of the surrounding wild beauty and enjoy the warmth of the African sunshine in complete privacy.
  • The Waters of Royal Malewane Bush Spa is an oasis of a very special sort, a chance to refresh and restore mind, body and spirit amid the serenity and peace of the bush. Located at short walking distance from the main lodge, the spa is renowned for its beautiful setting and the sheer luxuriousness of its treatments, many of which make inspired use of indigenous ingredients. Facilities include a fully equipped gym, a rectangular heated lap pool, steam room, hot and cold African baths and private casitas for relaxation or treatments. It’s not uncommon to spot a passing impala gazing in fascination as you change position on your massage bed.
  • Dinners at Royal Malewane are sumptuous affairs, with a constantly changing menu and a wide variety of beautiful settings in which to savor the contemporary cuisine prepared by Executive Chef, Brandon Souris and his dedicated team. Whether you feel like a light salad by the pool in the privacy of your villa or a decadent six-course dinner paired with fine wines on the main dining terrace, the culinary team at Royal Malewane will ensure that you are carefully looked after. All meals, soft drinks, spirits and wines are included in the accommodation rates at Royal Malewane, so you can completely relax and enjoy the endless temptations available.
  • Once a week, Royal Malewane organizes a feast, served family style with one communal table for all guests, in a Bedouin Tent in the heart of the African bush. This is truly a remarkable and romantic experience with glowing lanterns casting a gentle light among the brightly burning braziers. The sounds of the wild and the local village choir provide the soundtrack to a very special evening where you can enjoy being out in the bush by the fireside under the African stars as the ranger and your fellow guests recounts the stories of the day.
  • Of course, the main raison d’être for staying at Royal Malewane is the safari experience. With over 130 mammal species and over 300 bird species, the lodge delivers an unrivaled wildlife adventure, but most guests are here of course in the hope of spotting one of the Big Five animals: lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, elephant and black rhino. The Big Five phrase was coined by hunters back in the day, and referred to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot and the degree of danger involved. Your chances of observing the Big Five at Royal Malewane are extremely high (although never guaranteed of course) and the property is especially famous for its leopard sightings.
  • The game drives at dawn and dusk form the basic rhythm of the day, when the wildlife is most active and the temperature more moderate. To engage with the landscape even more intimately, you can also explore the bush on foot with Royal Malewane’s expert guides and trackers at your side. You are encouraged to relax and experience the African bush at your own pace. There are no set meal times and the guiding team will accommodate your needs and interests as far as possible. Below is a schedule of what to expect on a typical day at Royal Malewane:
    • 5 am: wake up call
    • 5.30 am: light breakfast
    • 6 am: game drive
    • 9 am: return to the lodge for full breakfast
    • 9.30-1 pm: time at your leisure
    • 1 pm: lunch
    • 2-4 pm: time at your leisure
    • 4 pm: afternoon tea
    • 4.30-7 pm: game drive
    • 7 pm: return to the lodge for dinner
    • 9 pm: guided escort to your room
  • A typical game drive lasts for three to four hours and all game drives are included in the rates. The game drive vehicles at Royal Malewane seat only 6 guests in order to optimize each guest’s game viewing experience and comfort affording ample space for photographic equipment (and some refreshments of course). Top of the range, specialist Land Cruisers and Land Rovers ensure that the guides can go off-road safely in search of the ultimate wildlife sightings no matter what the conditions.
  • On all game drives, guests are guided on specialized Land Rovers by a ranger who drives the vehicle and by a tracker who sits on an especially precarious seat at the front of the bonnet. And you are in good hands since Royal Malewane has the most qualified guiding team in Africa, with over 300 years of African bush experience between them. All the game rangers at Royal Malewane hold the highest FGASA (Field Guides Association of Southern Africa) qualifications as well as advanced rifle handling certificates. These qualifications ensure guests an exceptional and safe game experience – not only while on game drive, but also on foot. Our guide Ryan and tracker Mumps were the best guides I have ever encountered on a safari on the African continent, and they managed to find the Big Five on all of our game drives.
  • The gorgeously extravagant  lodge has played host to a bevy of Hollywood actors, pop stars, royals and presidents who, like every guest, appreciate the privacy, opulence, and discreet attention they receive. A-List guests who have had stayed at the lodge include former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, Microsoft billionaires Bill Gates and Paul Allen, as well as Richard Gere, Oprah, Bono, and Elton John.

CONS & THINGS TO KNOW

Royal Malewane is one of South Africa’s grandest and most famous lodges, and it doesn’t get better than this. The exquisite décor, incredible food and the unbelievable wildlife adventure with the best safari guides ever made this a trip of a lifetime that I will never forget. The resort has no real cons, but you need to know the following when going in:

  • This is not Disney land. While wildlife sightings are common, it is not guaranteed that you will spot the Big Five. Having said that, this is one of Africa’s most game-rich reserves and best places to spot the Big Five, especially the elusive leopard, but luck certainly plays its part as do the knowledge of the guides.
  • The lodge is not fenced so wildlife freely moves around the lodge. Although it is uncommon, predators such as leopards have been spotted in the lodge and on the villa’s terraces. Although most wildlife enthusiasts would be thrilled by such a special sighting, some may feel a little uncomfortable with all the wildlife around them, especially when walking between the main lodge and villas on the elevated walkways. However, it should not be too much of an issue since the staff is aways there to escort you.

MY VERDICT
  • Location: 10/10
  • Design: 10/10
  • Pool: 9/10
  • Resort grounds: 10/10
  • Rooms: 10/10
  • Food: 10/10
  • Breakfast: 9/10
  • Spa: 10/10
  • Service: 10/10
  • Value for money: 9/10
  • Overall experience: exceptional: 9,7/10

TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
  • Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury resort like Royal Malewane (and receive many free perks).
  • The lodge has only seven villas, all of them superbly located in the African bush and enjoying similar views, so you cannot go wrong with any of them. If you don’t like to walk to much between your room and the lobby, request a villa close to the public areas.
  • Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

The best time to visit really depends on your personal preferences – nature has something to offer throughout the year. Incredible game viewing can be experienced at any time and there is not really a ‘best time of year for game viewing’. The region enjoys summer rains and dramatic thunder storms – temperatures soar into the 30s in the summer months. The vegetation is lush and verdant attracting incredible bird life while many new borns appear at this time of year. The winter months are drier and cooler – the vegetation is sparser resulting in improved visibility for game viewing as the animals make their way to the watering holes for hydration.


HOW TO GET THERE

Royal Malewane is easily accessible by road from Johannesburg in under 5 hours. Most guests though will prefer to travel by air, by making use of a commercial flight to one of the nearby airports (either the Hoedspruit Airport or Nelson’s Kruger Mpumulanga International Airport), or by chartering their own flights directly onto the lodge’s private airstrip.


WALKWAY TO LOBBY

WALKWAY TO LOBBY

WALKWAY TO LOBBY

WALKWAY TO LOBBY

WALKWAY TO LOBBY

WALKWAY TO LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

ELEPHANTS AROUND WATER HOLE NEAR LOBBY

ELEPHANTS AROUND WATER HOLE NEAR LOBBY

ELEPHANTS AROUND WATER HOLE NEAR LOBBY

ELEPHANTS AROUND WATER HOLE NEAR LOBBY

ELEPHANTS AROUND WATER HOLE NEAR LOBBY

ELEPHANTS AROUND WATER HOLE NEAR LOBBY

ELEPHANTS AROUND WATER HOLE NEAR LOBBY

ELEPHANTS AROUND WATER HOLE NEAR LOBBY

ELEPHANTS AROUND WATER HOLE NEAR LOBBY

ELEPHANTS AROUND WATER HOLE NEAR LOBBY

ELEPHANTS AROUND WATER HOLE NEAR LOBBY

ELEPHANTS AROUND WATER HOLE NEAR LOBBY

ELEPHANTS AROUND WATER HOLE NEAR LOBBY

ELEPHANTS AROUND WATER HOLE NEAR LOBBY

BOUTIQUE SHOP

BOUTIQUE SHOP

BOUTIQUE SHOP

BOUTIQUE SHOP

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

LIBRARY

LIBRARY

LIBRARY

LIBRARY

WALKWAY TO ROYAL SUITE

WALKWAY TO ROYAL SUITE

ROYAL SUITE: ENTRANCE

ROYAL SUITE: ENTRANCE

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: LIVING & DINING AREA

ROYAL SUITE: BEDROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BEDROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BEDROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BEDROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BEDROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BEDROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BEDROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BEDROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BEDROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BEDROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BEDROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BEDROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BEDROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BEDROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BEDROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BEDROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BATHROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BATHROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BATHROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BATHROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BATHROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BATHROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BATHROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BATHROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BATHROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BATHROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BATHROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BATHROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BATHROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BATHROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BATHROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BATHROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BATHROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BATHROOM NR ONE

ROYAL SUITE: BEDROOM NR TWO

ROYAL SUITE: BEDROOM NR TWO

ROYAL SUITE: BEDROOM NR TWO

ROYAL SUITE: BEDROOM NR TWO

ROYAL SUITE: BEDROOM NR TWO

ROYAL SUITE: BEDROOM NR TWO

ROYAL SUITE: BEDROOM NR TWO

ROYAL SUITE: BEDROOM NR TWO

ROYAL SUITE: BATHROOM NR TWO

ROYAL SUITE: BATHROOM NR TWO

ROYAL SUITE: BATHROOM NR TWO

ROYAL SUITE: BATHROOM NR TWO

ROYAL SUITE: BATHROOM NR TWO

ROYAL SUITE: BATHROOM NR TWO

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: TERRACE

ROYAL SUITE: GUEST BOOK

ROYAL SUITE: GUEST BOOK

ROYAL SUITE: GUEST BOOK

ROYAL SUITE: GUEST BOOK

ROYAL SUITE: GUEST BOOK

ROYAL SUITE: GUEST BOOK

ROYAL SUITE: GUEST BOOK

ROYAL SUITE: GUEST BOOK

ROYAL SUITE: WELCOME PRESENT

ROYAL SUITE: WELCOME PRESENT

ROYAL SUITE: WELCOME PRESENT

ROYAL SUITE: WELCOME PRESENT

ROYAL SUITE: WELCOME LETTER

ROYAL SUITE: WELCOME LETTER

ROYAL SUITE: WELCOME LETTER

ROYAL SUITE: WELCOME LETTER

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

THE WATERS OF ROYAL MALEWANE BUSH SPA

LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE GAME DRIVE

LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE GAME DRIVE

LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE GAME DRIVE

LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE GAME DRIVE

LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE GAME DRIVE

LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE GAME DRIVE

LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE GAME DRIVE

LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE GAME DRIVE

LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE GAME DRIVE

LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE GAME DRIVE

LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE GAME DRIVE

LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

AFTERNOON TEA

AFTERNOON TEA

AFTERNOON TEA

AFTERNOON TEA

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

LATE AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

DINNER AT THE BEDOUIN TENT

DINNER AT THE BEDOUIN TENT

DINNER AT THE BEDOUIN TENT

DINNER AT THE BEDOUIN TENT

DINNER AT THE BEDOUIN TENT

DINNER AT THE BEDOUIN TENT

DINNER AT THE BEDOUIN TENT

DINNER AT THE BEDOUIN TENT

DINNER AT THE BEDOUIN TENT

DINNER AT THE BEDOUIN TENT

DINNER AT THE BEDOUIN TENT

DINNER AT THE BEDOUIN TENT

DINNER AT THE BEDOUIN TENT

DINNER AT THE BEDOUIN TENT

DINNER AT THE BEDOUIN TENT

DINNER AT THE BEDOUIN TENT

DINNER AT THE BEDOUIN TENT

DINNER AT THE BEDOUIN TENT


*** Follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for a daily moment of travel inspiration ***


Top 10: most luxurious safari lodges in South Africa

Monday newsletters always feature top 10 travel lists to inspire.

Today (February 6, 2017): Top 10 most luxurious safari lodges in South Africa.

Whether you are a safari virgin hoping to catch your first glimpse of the Big Five or a safari aficionado with a specific sighting in mind, South Africa will rarely disappoint. And the country offers some ultraluxe accommodations to match the exceptional wildlife experience. Here’s my top 10 of South Africa’s most luxurious safari lodges.

There is more information (with reviews & Youtube clips) below the slide show. Think I missed one? Share your favorite South African safari lodge in the comments section, or take my poll below!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*** Follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for a daily moment of travel inspiration ***


10. SANCTUARY MAKANYANE SAFARI LODGE, NORTH WEST PROVINCE

Named for the African wild dog which calls the local area home, Sanctuary Makanyane Safari Lodge is situated on the edge of a dramatic ravine within Madikwe Game Reserve. This luxurious lodge caters for just sixteen guests, ensuring personal attention and exclusivity. Constructed from local stone, wood and thatch and blending effortlessly with the bush, the lodge allows guests to continuously experience the natural beauty of their surroundings. The eight luxurious suites, each with glass-walled bedrooms, overlook the Marico River, offering uninterrupted views of the surrounding bush. All suites have open-fronted lounges, private sundecks and spacious bathrooms that can be opened to the forest. The lodge has an infinity-edge swimming pool, gym, health and beauty treatment centre and lookout point with magnificent views.

SANCTUARY MAKANYANE SAFARI LODGE, NORTH WEST PROVINCE

SANCTUARY MAKANYANE SAFARI LODGE, NORTH WEST PROVINCE


9. LEOPARD HILLS PRIVATE GAME RESERVE, MPUMALANGA

Award-winning Leopard Hills is located in the western sector of the renowned Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve, bordering the world-famous Kruger National Park. The lodge is spectacularly situated atop a rocky outcrop, offering magnificent views over the bush and an active waterhole on the plains below. The reserve comprises over 10,000 hectares of incredibly diverse ecosystems making Leopard Hills the ideal destination to view plentiful game in its natural habitat. The five-star luxury lodge features eight newly renovated and decorated glass-fronted, air-conditioned suites, each with private plunge pool and spectacular views over the African bush. Superb game-viewing and a wide variety of activities, along with outstanding fine dining, attended to by professional and friendly staff; all create the safari experience of a lifetime.

LEOPARD HILLS PRIVATE GAME RESERVE, MPUMALANGA

LEOPARD HILLS PRIVATE GAME RESERVE, MPUMALANGA


8. ULUSABA PRIVATE GAME RESERVE, MPUMALANGA

Ulusaba Private Game Reserve, member of Virgin Limited Edition’s award-winning collection of retreats, is Sir Richard Branson’s safari lodge located in the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve. Ulusaba means “place of little fear”. That’s because the koppie where Rock Lodge sits provided the ancient Shangaan warriors with the perfect lookout point. Rock Lodge has the best view in the Sabi Sand: perched high on the summit of a koppie, with panoramic views over miles of bush, you should grab a pair of binoculars to see what you can spot. Ulusaba’s other resort, Safari Lodge, is built along the banks of the dry Mabrak riverbed and some of the rooms are built treehouse-style and you really get the feeling of being in the heart of life in the bush. Safari Lodge’s rooms provide fascinating views of the animals as they stroll past on their way to the nearby watering hole.

ULUSABA PRIVATE GAME RESERVE, MPUMALANGA

ULUSABA PRIVATE GAME RESERVE, MPUMALANGA


7. TSWALU KALAHARI, NORTHERN CAPE

Tswalu Kalahari is South Africa’s largest private game reserve, now protecting over 110,000 hectares of spectacular grasslands and mountains. The owners, the Oppenheimer family, take conservation as their absolute priority and have a vision to “restore the Kalahari to itself.” No more than 30 guests at a time can discover the beauty of this arid savannah, its diverse wildlife and the serenity of what may well be South Africa’s last great wilderness. You can choose to stay at either Tswalu Kalahari’s main property, designated “The Motse”, or at the nearby personal home of the Oppenheimer family, so-called “Tarkuni”. Motse means village in Tswana and it consists of just nine secluded suites, each with their own private deck and open fireplace. Tarkuni’s five luxurious suites, each with a magnificent en-suite bathroom, accommodate a maximum of 10 guests in total and is perfect for families and larger groups.

TSWALU KALAHARI, NORTHERN CAPE

TSWALU KALAHARI, NORTHERN CAPE


 6. THANDA PRIVATE GAME RESERVE, KWAZULU NATAL

Thanda Safari offers an authentic wildlife experience, matched with sincere commitment to the Zulu culture and passionate conservation of the environment. Meaning ‘love’ in isiZulu, Thanda is a proud member of The Leading Hotels of the World and is known for exclusive close-up encounters with Africa’s magnificent Big Five. Thanda Safari offers three very different products, each with their own style, atmosphere and appeal. Thanda Safari Lodge, Thanda’s flagship product, is known for its 9 bush suites – each the height of luxurious exclusivity and African abundance. Villa iZulu is an exclusive bush residence beyond any traditional understanding of extravagance and service. And Thanda Tented Camp, with its 14 grand tents and 1 grande deluxe tent, offers a truly relaxed and authentic safari experience.

THANDA PRIVATE GAME RESERVE, KWAZULU NATAL

THANDA PRIVATE GAME RESERVE, KWAZULU NATAL


5. MADIKWE HILLS PRIVATE GAME LODGE, NORTH WEST PROVINCE

Set within 75 000 hectares of safari park, Madikwe Hills Private Game Lodge is situated on a rocky outcrop in the heart of the malaria-free Madikwe Game Reserve in the North West Province of South Africa, along the border with Botswana. Ingeniously set amongst boulders and age-old Tamboti trees, the private game lodge terrain is home not only to the big five animals of Africa, but also to a wealth of over 66 mammal species, including the rare African wild dog, as well as cheetah, eland, kudu, giraffe and a range of more than 300 resident and migratory species of birds. The lodge accommodates up to 24 guests in vast, well-spaced and utterly private glass-fronted suites scattered across the hillside, camouflaged by tamboti-beamed thatch roofs.

MADIKWE HILLS PRIVATE GAME LODGE, NORTH WEST PROVINCE

MADIKWE HILLS PRIVATE GAME LODGE, NORTH WEST PROVINCE


4. KAPAMA KARULA, LIMPOPO

Set on the banks of the perennial Klaserie River is the flagship five-star lodge of Kapama Game Reserve: Kapama Karula. Meaning “place of peace”, this ultra-luxurious and prestigious lodge exudes calmness and depicts the pinnacle of elegant safari accommodation, with wraparound views of the African bush enhancing the overall sense of tranquillity. Modern whitewashed wood and vast sections of glass, complemented by a neutral colour palette, give Kapama Karula a contemporary African feel. The open-plan lounge and bar are spacious yet cosy, with skylights drawing in natural daylight and moonshine. Kapama Karula has ten superior suites, each exquisitely decorated and with generous private space. Each suite has its own outside deck area, full-sized heated swimming pool and sun loungers for relaxation.

KAPAMA KARULA, HOEDSPRUIT

KAPAMA KARULA, HOEDSPRUIT


3. SINGITA LEBOMBO LODGE, MPUMALANGA

Singita Lebombo Lodge is a celebration of cutting-edge design in an African context where everything defers to nature. This dramatic lodge comprises 13 suites and one villa that give guests a front row seat to the Kruger National Park with bold, contemporary open plan suites suspended above the N’Wanetsi River. The exclusive concession is a richly diverse habitat, teeming with game, beneath endless African skies. Other highlights of the lodge include a roof terrace and wine studio (a multi-level retreat which boasts a library, multi-media room, wine studio and rooftop viewing area), an interactive kitchen, and a lovely lap pool. All communal areas of the lodge have been pushed out to ensure that the outside bursts in, offering elegant, calm and meditative spaces immersed in a dramatic landscape of giant euphorbia trees.

SINGITA LEBOMBO LODGE, KRUGER NP

SINGITA LEBOMBO LODGE, KRUGER NP


2. IVORY LODGE LION SANDS, MPUMALANGA

Ivory Lodge, which was recently completely renovated, offers its guests an African Bushveld experience in lavish comfort. Extraordinarily beautiful in its simplicity and texture, the lodge’s timeless design incorporates steel, wood, thatch, glass, water & sand enhancing the surrounding bush environment. A sophisticated contemporary theme defines the interiors, with bold furniture and edgy decor, ambient lighting, inferences of tribal design and highly textured finishes. Each of the 8 villas include a private rim flow pool, exquisitely appointed bedroom and lounge, and simply more of everything. The more adventurous may want to opt to stay at one of the ultraluxurious treehouses operated by the same management of in the same wildlife reserve, guaranteeing a once in a lifetime experience and the ultimate African bush experience.


1. ROYAL MALEWANE, LIMPOPO

Royal Malewane is a luxury safari lodge with only 7 one- to six-bedroom villas, located in Thornybush private game reserve on the western border of the Kruger National Park. The lodge, which has Bill Gates, Bono and Elton John among its repeat guests, exudes the romance and beauty of a bygone age while offering every modern comfort and convenience. Here, the classic safari experience is unsurpassed with unrivaled Big Five game viewing and the country’s most qualified guiding team, who will provide detailed insights into the complex and fascinating ecosystems of the South African bushveld. Guests can also indulge in sensual treatments at the tranquil waters of Royal Malewane’s Bush Spa and enjoy nightly feasts under the African stars.


*** Follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for a daily moment of travel inspiration ***


Take Our Poll


Review: Big Five safari at River Lodge Lion Sands (South Africa)

Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel and/or flight review.

I recently enjoyed a terrific holiday in South Africa, and I will publish my trip reports over the coming weeks:

  • Review: Iberia A330 Business Class from Madrid to Johannesburg
  • Review: Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff, Johannesburg
  • Review: River Lodge, Lion Sands Game Reserve (today)
  • Review: Royal Malewane, Thornybush Private Game Reserve
  • Review: Kapama Karula, Kapama Private Game Reserve
  • Review: Rovos train from Pretoria to Cape Town
  • Review: 12 Apostles hotel, Cape Town
  • Review: Cape Grace, Cape Town
  • Review: Ellerman House, Cape Town
  • Review: South African Airways A340 Business Class from Cape Town to Johannesburg
  • Review: British Airways A380 First Class from Johannesburg to London

Today (February 1, 2017): Review of River Lodge Lion Sands (Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa). 

Lion Sands private game reserve lies at the southern end of the vast Sabi Sand Reserve, which borders the Kruger National Park. The Lion Sands management operates two lodges in Sabi Sands, the upscale River Lodge and its twin property, ultraluxe Ivory Lodge (which recently reopened after an extensive renovation). River Lodge and Ivory Lodge are unique since they are the only properties to offer a safari in both the Sabie River and Sand River ecosystems, which boast some of the world’s most spectacular game viewing along their sandy banks. Lion Sands also operates two lodges within the Kruger National Park itself, in addition to a couple of stunning treehouses where guests are able to spend a night under the stars in lavish style. When you book a few night at one of the Lion Sands lodges, you are guaranteed the safari experience of a lifetime. This is a review of the River Lodge property.

Lion Sands Game Reserve features in my top 10 list of the best luxury hotels in South Africa, the world’s most amazing outdoor hotel rooms, the world’s best honeymoon resorts, and Africa’s most luxurious safari lodges.

In this review (more info below the slideshow):

  • Pros & things I like
  • Cons & things to know
  • My verdict
  • Tips for future guests & save money
  • Best time to visit
  • How to get there
  • Photos

Click to view slideshow.

*** Follow me on TwitterInstagram and Facebook for a daily moment of travel inspiration ***


PROS & THINGS I LIKE
  • The Lion Sands private game reserve is easily accessible by road from Johannesburg in under 5 hours. Most guests though will prefer to travel by air, by making use of a commercial flight to one of the nearby airports. The Skukuza Airport is located about 20 minutes from the reserve and offers daily flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg (flights from Durban will follow in the near future).  The distance to the other airport in the area, Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport near Nelspruit, is approximately 110 kilometers (68 miles) and it takes around 1 hour and 45 minutes to get from here to the lodge.
  • Lion Sands lies at the southern end of the vast Sabi Sands Reserve, which is part of the Greater Kruger National Park. The latter refers to the Kruger National Park itself –operated by the South African National Parks Board – as well as the private game reserves on the Western border of the Kruger National Park such as Sabi Sands. The only border between Lion Sands and the Kruger National Park is a river, and since there is no fence separating the reserve and the park, animals freely move around between the two wilderness areas.
  • The reserve is owned by the 4th generation More Family. Their grandfather was one of the founding members of the Sabi Sand Wildtuin in 1948 instilling a long history of community and conservation. They are the only business with a foot in both the Sabi Sand Reserve and the Kruger National Park managing four lodges in total, each one of them unique in respect of style and decor. Both Tinga Lodge and Narina Lodge afford exclusive accommodations with private plunge pools and are set within the Kruger National Park. The River Lodge – the most modest property of the company – and the company’s flagship and ultraluxe Ivory Lodge are located across the Sabie River in  the private Sabi Sand reserve.
  • River Lodge features a functional layout. All public areas – such as the open-fronted lobby, small reception area, gift shop, indoor seating area (with soaring thatched ceiling, dramatic chandelier, fireplace and bar), outdoor safari lounge and dining room – are centered around a central piazza and dining terrace, with the 20 guest rooms fanning out to either side. The dining terrace and rooms are surrounded by 800 year old trees and look out across sandy reed beds to the river, with front-row views of the untamed African wilderness and animals that flock to the water’s edge.
  • The lodge was refurbished and partly rebuilt in early 2010, tripling the size of the suites and updating them with beautiful furnishings and modern amenities. The lodge’s overall décor is Afro-colonial chic with soft shades of vanilla-cream and chocolate-brown, exuding an ambience of tranquility, warmth and relaxation. If you are a design junkie, you will prefer to stay at the upstream Ivory Lodge, a sleek design haven – and South Africa’s primary safari lodge – which was reopened last November after an intensive 6 month refurbishment of more than 50 million rand investment.
  • River Lodge has 20 luxurious, air-conditioned, thatched bedrooms that are linked to the public areas by raised wooden walkways. During my holiday, I stayed in the lodge’s entrance room category, a so-called Luxury Room, which featured an en-suite bathroom (with white double vanity basins and stand-alone bathtubs), a small lounge area with complimentary mini bar, and a wooden deck from which to appreciate the wilds beyond. The woven king-sized bed could be converted into two twins and mimicked the thatched roof overhead. River lodge also has two other room categories: Superior Luxury Rooms are larger in size and come with open-plan bathrooms and outdoor showers, while the lodge’s largest accommodations – River Suites – are located further from the public areas and are therefore more private.
  • The lodge offers excellent leisure facilities to kill time in between the often lengthy game drives. Both ends of the property feature a small infinity pool, surrounded by viewing decks where you can relax on one of the comfortable loungers. One pool is located in the shade, which is a blessing when you want to escape the blistering African sun, while the other pool is totally exposed and very popular with sunbathers. The property also has a small but well equipped gym on site, as well as an intimate spa.
  • Every guest gets a welcome present upon arrival in the room: a drinking bottle with his/her name on it. I assume this is to keep you hydrated during the game drives since the open-air vehicles don’t offer shade, but since game drives are regularly paused  for refreshments and snacks, it’s more of a gadget and to keep good memories of your wonderful safari adventure at Lion Sands.
  • River Lodge Lion Sands offers an all-inclusive experience. Room rates include all meals, teas/coffees, selected local beverages (including soft drinks, local brand beers, spirits and house wines), mini bar, WiFi, two game drives daily, game drive refreshments and snacks.
  • For the ultimate bush adventure, you should stay at one of the insanely beautiful Lion Sand Treehouses, which are the perfect accommodations for hopeless romantics and wildlife enthusiasts who prefers the bush au-natural. All of theTreehouses are securely constructed above the ground, so animals remain at a safe and comfortable distance. The Treehouses are booked – for an extra fee – in conjunction with your accommodation at River Lodge: you pack an overnight bag with your essentials, while leaving your other belongings back in your room at camp (so you’re still secured a room if the weather conditions don’t allow an overnight sleep under the African stars). You get a full orientation when you are dropped off before sunset, and will remain on call via the radio left behind until it is time to leave the following morning after sunrise.
  • Of course, the main raison d’être for staying at Lion Sands is the safari experience, with most guests hoping to spot one of the Big Five animals: lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, elephant and black rhino. The ‘Big 5’ phrase was coined by hunters back in the day, and referred to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot and the degree of danger involved. Your chances of observing the Big Five at Lion Sands are extremely high (although never guaranteed of course) and the game reserve is especially famous for its leopard sightings.
  • The distinction between the Kruger National Park and the Lion Sands Game Reserve is an important one as the latter offers a superior safari experience where nature is paramount: there are no restrictions on access or driving times, only specialized safari vehicles with guides are permitted (and they can go off-road in search of the wildlife) and a maximum of two vehicles at a time are permitted on a single sighting resulting in a more intimate wildlife experience and fantastic photographic opportunities.
  • The game drives at dawn and dusk form the basic rhythm of the day, when the wildlife is most active and the temperature more moderate. To engage with the landscape even more intimately, you can also explore the bush on foot with the lodge’s expert guides and trackers at your side. Below is a schedule of what to expect on a typical day at River Lodge Lion Sands:
    • 5 am: wake up call
    • 5.30 am: light breakfast
    • 6 am: game drive
    • 9 am: return to the lodge for full breakfast
    • 9.30-1 am: time at your leisure
    • 1 pm: lunch
    • 2 pm – 4 pm: time at your leisure
    • 7 pm: return to the lodge for dinner
    • 9 pm: guided escort to your room
  • A typical game drive lasts for three to four hours and all game drives are included in the rates. The game drive vehicles at Lion Sands seat only 6 guests in order to optimize each guest’s game viewing experience and comfort affording ample space for photographic equipment (and some refreshments of course). Stairs are present, so guests with mobility problems won’t have any problem to embark and disembark the vehicle. Top of the range, specialist Land Rovers ensure that the guides can go off-road safely in search of the ultimate wildlife sightings no matter what the conditions.

CONS & THINGS TO KNOW

River Lodge Lion Sands ranks amongst South Africa’s most delectable safari camps. The picturesque riverside setting, lovely rooms,  and the unbelievable wildlife adventure make this an excellent choice for a safari in the Greater Kruger National Park. The lodge does have a few minor drawbacks though that you need to know when considering a stay here:

  • This is not Disney land. While wildlife sightings are common, it is not guaranteed that you will spot the Big Five. Having said that, this is one of Africa’s most game-rich reserves and best places to spot the Big Five, especially the elusive leopard, but luck certainly plays its part as do the knowledge of the guides. During my two nights at the lodge, I saw the complete Big Five on two of my three game drives.
  • The lodge is not fenced so wildlife freely moves around the lodge. Although it is uncommon, predators such as hyenas are frequently spotted around the lodge. The lodge even had a leopard wandering around in the lobby a couple of months ago (albeit at night). Although most wildlife enthusiasts would be thrilled by such a special sighting, some may feel a little uncomfortable with all the wildlife around them, especially when walking between the main lodge and the rooms on the elevated walkways. However, it is not much of an issue since the staff is always there to escort you.
  • Rates exclude the Sabi Sand entrance/conservation fees, airport transfer transfers, laundry, premium brand or imported beers, spirits, cellar wines and champagnes, gratuities, spa treatments, game reserve landing fees (airport departure tax) and some activities (e.g. golf, helicopter flights, treehouses, private safaris, cultural village experience, elephant interaction experience).
  • Although definitely a 5-star hotel, River lodge is the most modest property within the Lions Sands Game Reserve. If you’re looking for grand luxe, you may want to stay at Lion Sand’s Tinga Lodge or Narina Lodge in the Kruger National Park where rooms come with their own plunge pools. If money is no issue and you’re looking for an exceptional wildlife experience, you have to stay at Lion Sands’ flagship property, the completely refurbished and rebuilt ultraluxe Ivory Lodge. I had a tour of the property (which was not fully open yet at the time of my visit) and the minimalist, Aman-esque design – with bold furniture and edgy decor – blew me off my feet and offered an utterly sensory experience.
  • Albeit excellent and of very good quality, the food did not completely met my very high expectations and did not really match the amazing surroundings. It’s not fine dining, but rather excellent bistro fare in the bush, probably reflecting the nature of the lodge and its ranking within the Lion Sands group. I had one breakfast at Ivory Lodge, which was on a total different scale. On a positive note, River Lodge hosted a “surprise” dinner in the bush one evening for all guests, featuring an African braai (barbecue) which was a tremendous feast (and the best braai I ever had in South Africa).
  • Although perfect to take a dip and cool off, the lodge’s two pools are quite small and not suitable to swim laps for exercise.

MY VERDICT
  • Location: 10/10
  • Design: 8/10
  • Pool: 7/10
  • Resort grounds: 9/10
  • Rooms: 8/10
  • Food: 8/10
  • Breakfast: 8/10
  • Spa: 8/10
  • Service: 9/10
  • Value for money: 10/10
  • Overall experience: very good: 8,5/10

TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
  • Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury resort like River Lodge Lions Sands (and receive many free perks).
  • All rooms overlook the river, where you will see an abundance of wild animals. However, some are closer to the sunny pool and some to the shady pool, so make sure to put a request when the room location with regards to the pool is important for you.
  • For the ultimate bush adventure, make sure you book a night in one of the fabulous Treehouses.
  • Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

The best time to visit really depends on your personal preferences – nature has something to offer throughout the year. Incredible game viewing can be experienced at any time and there is not really a ‘best time of year for game viewing’. The region enjoys summer rains and dramatic thunder storms – temperatures soar into the 30s in the summer months. The vegetation is lush and verdant attracting incredible bird life while many new borns appear at this time of year. The winter months are drier and cooler – the vegetation is sparser resulting in improved visibility for game viewing as the animals make their way to the watering holes for hydration.


HOW TO GET THERE

The Lion Sands Private Game Reserve is easily accessible by road from Johannesburg in under 5 hours. Most guests though will prefer to travel by air, by making use of a commercial flight to one of the two nearby airports.

  • The exclusive Skukuza Airport is located about 20 minutes from the reserve and offers daily flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg (flights from Durban will follow in the near future).
  • The distance to the other airport in the area, Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport near Nelspruit, is approximately 110 kilometers (68 miles) and it takes around 1 hour and 45 minutes to get to the lodge

LODGE ENTRANCE

LODGE ENTRANCE

LODGE ENTRANCE

LODGE ENTRANCE

LODGE ENTRANCE

LODGE ENTRANCE

LODGE ENTRANCE

LODGE ENTRANCE

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

RECEPTION AREA

RECEPTION AREA

RECEPTION AREA

RECEPTION AREA

RECEPTION AREA

RECEPTION AREA

INDOOR LOUNGE & BAR

INDOOR LOUNGE & BAR

INDOOR LOUNGE & BAR

INDOOR LOUNGE & BAR

INDOOR LOUNGE & BAR

INDOOR LOUNGE & BAR

INDOOR LOUNGE & BAR

INDOOR LOUNGE & BAR

INDOOR LOUNGE & BAR

INDOOR LOUNGE & BAR

CURIO SHOP

CURIO SHOP

CURIO SHOP

CURIO SHOP

CURIO SHOP

CURIO SHOP

CENTRAL PIAZZA

CENTRAL PIAZZA

CENTRAL PIAZZA

CENTRAL PIAZZA

CENTRAL PIAZZA

CENTRAL PIAZZA

CENTRAL PIAZZA

CENTRAL PIAZZA

CENTRAL PIAZZA

CENTRAL PIAZZA

SAFARI LOUNGE

SAFARI LOUNGE

SAFARI LOUNGE

SAFARI LOUNGE

SAFARI LOUNGE

SAFARI LOUNGE

SAFARI LOUNGE

SAFARI LOUNGE

SAFARI LOUNGE

SAFARI LOUNGE

SAFARI LOUNGE

SAFARI LOUNGE

SAFARI LOUNGE

SAFARI LOUNGE

SAFARI LOUNGE

SAFARI LOUNGE

SAFARI LOUNGE

SAFARI LOUNGE

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING TERRACE

DINING TERRACE

DINING TERRACE

DINING TERRACE

DINING TERRACE

DINING TERRACE

ROOMS

ROOMS

ROOMS

ROOMS

WALKWAYS TO ROOMS

WALKWAYS TO ROOMS

WALKWAYS TO ROOMS

WALKWAYS TO ROOMS

WALKWAYS TO ROOMS

WALKWAYS TO ROOMS

WALKWAYS TO ROOMS

WALKWAYS TO ROOMS

WALKWAYS TO ROOMS

WALKWAYS TO ROOMS

WALKWAYS TO ROOMS

WALKWAYS TO ROOMS

WALKWAYS TO ROOMS

WALKWAYS TO ROOMS

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM

LUXURY ROOM: OUTDOOR DECK

LUXURY ROOM: OUTDOOR DECK

LUXURY ROOM: OUTDOOR DECK

LUXURY ROOM: OUTDOOR DECK

LUXURY ROOM: OUTDOOR DECK

LUXURY ROOM: OUTDOOR DECK

LUXURY ROOM: OUTDOOR DECK

LUXURY ROOM: OUTDOOR DECK

LUXURY ROOM: OUTDOOR DECK

LUXURY ROOM: OUTDOOR DECK

LUXURY ROOM: OUTDOOR DECK

LUXURY ROOM: OUTDOOR DECK

LUXURY ROOM: OUTDOOR DECK

LUXURY ROOM: OUTDOOR DECK

LUXURY ROOM: TURN DOWNSERVICE

LUXURY ROOM: TURN DOWNSERVICE

LUXURY ROOM: TURN DOWNSERVICE

LUXURY ROOM: TURN DOWNSERVICE

SUNNY POOL

SUNNY POOL

SUNNY POOL

SUNNY POOL

SUNNY POOL

SUNNY POOL

SUNNY POOL

SUNNY POOL

SUNNY POOL

SUNNY POOL

SUNNY POOL

SUNNY POOL

SUNNY POOL

SUNNY POOL

SHADY POOL

SHADY POOL

SHADY POOL

SHADY POOL

SHADY POOL

SHADY POOL

SHADY POOL

SHADY POOL

SHADY POOL

SHADY POOL

SHADY POOL

SHADY POOL

SHADY POOL

SHADY POOL

SHADY POOL

SHADY POOL

SHADY POOL

SHADY POOL

SPA

SPA

SPA

SPA

SPA

SPA

SPA

SPA

SPA

SPA

GYM

GYM

GYM

GYM

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

KINGSTON TREEHOUSE

SAFARI VEHICLE

SAFARI VEHICLE

SAFARI VEHICLE

SAFARI VEHICLE

SAFARI VEHICLE

SAFARI VEHICLE

SAFARI VEHICLE

SAFARI VEHICLE

SAFARI VEHICLE

SAFARI VEHICLE

SAFARI VEHICLE

SAFARI VEHICLE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE

GAME DRIVE: REFRESHMENTS & SNACKS

GAME DRIVE: REFRESHMENTS & SNACKS

GAME DRIVE: REFRESHMENTS & SNACKS

GAME DRIVE: REFRESHMENTS & SNACKS

LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE GAME DRIVE

LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE GAME DRIVE

LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE GAME DRIVE

LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE GAME DRIVE

LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE GAME DRIVE

LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE GAME DRIVE

LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE GAME DRIVE

LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE GAME DRIVE

LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE GAME DRIVE

LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE GAME DRIVE

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

AFTERNOON TEA

AFTERNOON TEA

AFTERNOON TEA

AFTERNOON TEA

AFTERNOON TEA

AFTERNOON TEA

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER


*** Follow me on TwitterInstagram and Facebook for a daily moment of travel inspiration ***


 

Filed under: Trip reports: luxury hotels Tagged: big five, Hotel review, Hotel Review Africa, Hotel Review South Africa, lion sands, river lodge, safari

Review: Big Five safari at River Lodge Lion Sands (South Africa)

Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel and/or flight review.

I recently enjoyed a terrific holiday in South Africa, and I will publish my trip reports over the coming weeks:

  • Review: Iberia A330 Business Class from Madrid to Johannesburg
  • Review: Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff, Johannesburg
  • Review: River Lodge, Lion Sands Game Reserve (today)
  • Review: Royal Malewane, Thornybush Private Game Reserve
  • Review: Kapama Karula, Kapama Private Game Reserve
  • Review: Rovos train from Pretoria to Cape Town
  • Review: 12 Apostles hotel, Cape Town
  • Review: Cape Grace, Cape Town
  • Review: Ellerman House, Cape Town
  • Review: South African Airways A340 Business Class from Cape Town to Johannesburg
  • Review: British Airways A380 First Class from Johannesburg to London

Today (February 1, 2017): Review of River Lodge Lion Sands (Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa). 

Lion Sands private game reserve lies at the southern end of the vast Sabi Sand Reserve, which borders the Kruger National Park. The Lion Sands management operates two lodges in Sabi Sands, the upscale River Lodge and its twin property, ultraluxe Ivory Lodge (which recently reopened after an extensive renovation). River Lodge and Ivory Lodge are unique since they are the only properties to offer a safari in both the Sabie River and Sand River ecosystems, which boast some of the world’s most spectacular game viewing along their sandy banks. Lion Sands also operates two lodges within the Kruger National Park itself, in addition to a couple of stunning treehouses where guests are able to spend a night under the stars in lavish style. When you book a few night at one of the Lion Sands lodges, you are guaranteed the safari experience of a lifetime. This is a review of the River Lodge property.

Lion Sands Game Reserve features in my top 10 list of the best luxury hotels in South Africa, the world’s most amazing outdoor hotel rooms, the world’s best honeymoon resorts, and Africa’s most luxurious safari lodges.

In this review (more info below the slideshow):

  • Pros & things I like
  • Cons & things to know
  • My verdict
  • Tips for future guests & save money
  • Best time to visit
  • How to get there
  • Photos

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*** Follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for a daily moment of travel inspiration ***


PROS & THINGS I LIKE
  • The Lion Sands private game reserve is easily accessible by road from Johannesburg in under 5 hours. Most guests though will prefer to travel by air, by making use of a commercial flight to one of the nearby airports. The Skukuza Airport is located about 20 minutes from the reserve and offers daily flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg (flights from Durban will follow in the near future).  The distance to the other airport in the area, Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport near Nelspruit, is approximately 110 kilometers (68 miles) and it takes around 1 hour and 45 minutes to get from here to the lodge.
  • Lion Sands lies at the southern end of the vast Sabi Sands Reserve, which is part of the Greater Kruger National Park. The latter refers to the Kruger National Park itself –operated by the South African National Parks Board – as well as the private game reserves on the Western border of the Kruger National Park such as Sabi Sands. The only border between Lion Sands and the Kruger National Park is a river, and since there is no fence separating the reserve and the park, animals freely move around between the two wilderness areas.
  • The reserve is owned by the 4th generation More Family. Their grandfather was one of the founding members of the Sabi Sand Wildtuin in 1948 instilling a long history of community and conservation. They are the only business with a foot in both the Sabi Sand Reserve and the Kruger National Park managing four lodges in total, each one of them unique in respect of style and decor. Both Tinga Lodge and Narina Lodge afford exclusive accommodations with private plunge pools and are set within the Kruger National Park. The River Lodge – the most modest property of the company – and the company’s flagship and ultraluxe Ivory Lodge are located across the Sabie River in  the private Sabi Sand reserve.
  • River Lodge features a functional layout. All public areas – such as the open-fronted lobby, small reception area, gift shop, indoor seating area (with soaring thatched ceiling, dramatic chandelier, fireplace and bar), outdoor safari lounge and dining room – are centered around a central piazza and dining terrace, with the 20 guest rooms fanning out to either side. The dining terrace and rooms are surrounded by 800 year old trees and look out across sandy reed beds to the river, with front-row views of the untamed African wilderness and animals that flock to the water’s edge.
  • The lodge was refurbished and partly rebuilt in early 2010, tripling the size of the suites and updating them with beautiful furnishings and modern amenities. The lodge’s overall décor is Afro-colonial chic with soft shades of vanilla-cream and chocolate-brown, exuding an ambience of tranquility, warmth and relaxation. If you are a design junkie, you will prefer to stay at the upstream Ivory Lodge, a sleek design haven – and South Africa’s primary safari lodge – which was reopened last November after an intensive 6 month refurbishment of more than 50 million rand investment.
  • River Lodge has 20 luxurious, air-conditioned, thatched bedrooms that are linked to the public areas by raised wooden walkways. During my holiday, I stayed in the lodge’s entrance room category, a so-called Luxury Room, which featured an en-suite bathroom (with white double vanity basins and stand-alone bathtubs), a small lounge area with complimentary mini bar, and a wooden deck from which to appreciate the wilds beyond. The woven king-sized bed could be converted into two twins and mimicked the thatched roof overhead. River lodge also has two other room categories: Superior Luxury Rooms are larger in size and come with open-plan bathrooms and outdoor showers, while the lodge’s largest accommodations – River Suites – are located further from the public areas and are therefore more private.
  • The lodge offers excellent leisure facilities to kill time in between the often lengthy game drives. Both ends of the property feature a small infinity pool, surrounded by viewing decks where you can relax on one of the comfortable loungers. One pool is located in the shade, which is a blessing when you want to escape the blistering African sun, while the other pool is totally exposed and very popular with sunbathers. The property also has a small but well equipped gym on site, as well as an intimate spa.
  • Every guest gets a welcome present upon arrival in the room: a drinking bottle with his/her name on it. I assume this is to keep you hydrated during the game drives since the open-air vehicles don’t offer shade, but since game drives are regularly paused  for refreshments and snacks, it’s more of a gadget and to keep good memories of your wonderful safari adventure at Lion Sands.
  • River Lodge Lion Sands offers an all-inclusive experience. Room rates include all meals, teas/coffees, selected local beverages (including soft drinks, local brand beers, spirits and house wines), mini bar, WiFi, two game drives daily, game drive refreshments and snacks.
  • For the ultimate bush adventure, you should stay at one of the insanely beautiful Lion Sand Treehouses, which are the perfect accommodations for hopeless romantics and wildlife enthusiasts who prefers the bush au-natural. All of theTreehouses are securely constructed above the ground, so animals remain at a safe and comfortable distance. The Treehouses are booked – for an extra fee – in conjunction with your accommodation at River Lodge: you pack an overnight bag with your essentials, while leaving your other belongings back in your room at camp (so you’re still secured a room if the weather conditions don’t allow an overnight sleep under the African stars). You get a full orientation when you are dropped off before sunset, and will remain on call via the radio left behind until it is time to leave the following morning after sunrise.
  • Of course, the main raison d’être for staying at Lion Sands is the safari experience, with most guests hoping to spot one of the Big Five animals: lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, elephant and black rhino. The ‘Big 5’ phrase was coined by hunters back in the day, and referred to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot and the degree of danger involved. Your chances of observing the Big Five at Lion Sands are extremely high (although never guaranteed of course) and the game reserve is especially famous for its leopard sightings.
  • The distinction between the Kruger National Park and the Lion Sands Game Reserve is an important one as the latter offers a superior safari experience where nature is paramount: there are no restrictions on access or driving times, only specialized safari vehicles with guides are permitted (and they can go off-road in search of the wildlife) and a maximum of two vehicles at a time are permitted on a single sighting resulting in a more intimate wildlife experience and fantastic photographic opportunities.
  • The game drives at dawn and dusk form the basic rhythm of the day, when the wildlife is most active and the temperature more moderate. To engage with the landscape even more intimately, you can also explore the bush on foot with the lodge’s expert guides and trackers at your side. Below is a schedule of what to expect on a typical day at River Lodge Lion Sands:
    • 5 am: wake up call
    • 5.30 am: light breakfast
    • 6 am: game drive
    • 9 am: return to the lodge for full breakfast
    • 9.30-1 am: time at your leisure
    • 1 pm: lunch
    • 2 pm – 4 pm: time at your leisure
    • 7 pm: return to the lodge for dinner
    • 9 pm: guided escort to your room
  • A typical game drive lasts for three to four hours and all game drives are included in the rates. The game drive vehicles at Lion Sands seat only 6 guests in order to optimize each guest’s game viewing experience and comfort affording ample space for photographic equipment (and some refreshments of course). Stairs are present, so guests with mobility problems won’t have any problem to embark and disembark the vehicle. Top of the range, specialist Land Rovers ensure that the guides can go off-road safely in search of the ultimate wildlife sightings no matter what the conditions.

CONS & THINGS TO KNOW

River Lodge Lion Sands ranks amongst South Africa’s most delectable safari camps. The picturesque riverside setting, lovely rooms,  and the unbelievable wildlife adventure make this an excellent choice for a safari in the Greater Kruger National Park. The lodge does have a few minor drawbacks though that you need to know when considering a stay here:

  • This is not Disney land. While wildlife sightings are common, it is not guaranteed that you will spot the Big Five. Having said that, this is one of Africa’s most game-rich reserves and best places to spot the Big Five, especially the elusive leopard, but luck certainly plays its part as do the knowledge of the guides. During my two nights at the lodge, I saw the complete Big Five on two of my three game drives.
  • The lodge is not fenced so wildlife freely moves around the lodge. Although it is uncommon, predators such as hyenas are frequently spotted around the lodge. The lodge even had a leopard wandering around in the lobby a couple of months ago (albeit at night). Although most wildlife enthusiasts would be thrilled by such a special sighting, some may feel a little uncomfortable with all the wildlife around them, especially when walking between the main lodge and the rooms on the elevated walkways. However, it is not much of an issue since the staff is always there to escort you.
  • Rates exclude the Sabi Sand entrance/conservation fees, airport transfer transfers, laundry, premium brand or imported beers, spirits, cellar wines and champagnes, gratuities, spa treatments, game reserve landing fees (airport departure tax) and some activities (e.g. golf, helicopter flights, treehouses, private safaris, cultural village experience, elephant interaction experience).
  • Although definitely a 5-star hotel, River lodge is the most modest property within the Lions Sands Game Reserve. If you’re looking for grand luxe, you may want to stay at Lion Sand’s Tinga Lodge or Narina Lodge in the Kruger National Park where rooms come with their own plunge pools. If money is no issue and you’re looking for an exceptional wildlife experience, you have to stay at Lion Sands’ flagship property, the completely refurbished and rebuilt ultraluxe Ivory Lodge. I had a tour of the property (which was not fully open yet at the time of my visit) and the minimalist, Aman-esque design – with bold furniture and edgy decor – blew me off my feet and offered an utterly sensory experience.
  • Albeit excellent and of very good quality, the food did not completely met my very high expectations and did not really match the amazing surroundings. It’s not fine dining, but rather excellent bistro fare in the bush, probably reflecting the nature of the lodge and its ranking within the Lion Sands group. I had one breakfast at Ivory Lodge, which was on a total different scale. On a positive note, River Lodge hosted a “surprise” dinner in the bush one evening for all guests, featuring an African braai (barbecue) which was a tremendous feast (and the best braai I ever had in South Africa).
  • Although perfect to take a dip and cool off, the lodge’s two pools are quite small and not suitable to swim laps for exercise.

MY VERDICT
  • Location: 10/10
  • Design: 8/10
  • Pool: 7/10
  • Resort grounds: 9/10
  • Rooms: 8/10
  • Food: 8/10
  • Breakfast: 8/10
  • Spa: 8/10
  • Service: 9/10
  • Value for money: 10/10
  • Overall experience: very good: 8,5/10

TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
  • Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury resort like River Lodge Lions Sands (and receive many free perks).
  • All rooms overlook the river, where you will see an abundance of wild animals. However, some are closer to the sunny pool and some to the shady pool, so make sure to put a request when the room location with regards to the pool is important for you.
  • For the ultimate bush adventure, make sure you book a night in one of the fabulous Treehouses.
  • Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

The best time to visit really depends on your personal preferences – nature has something to offer throughout the year. Incredible game viewing can be experienced at any time and there is not really a ‘best time of year for game viewing’. The region enjoys summer rains and dramatic thunder storms – temperatures soar into the 30s in the summer months. The vegetation is lush and verdant attracting incredible bird life while many new borns appear at this time of year. The winter months are drier and cooler – the vegetation is sparser resulting in improved visibility for game viewing as the animals make their way to the watering holes for hydration.


HOW TO GET THERE

The Lion Sands Private Game Reserve is easily accessible by road from Johannesburg in under 5 hours. Most guests though will prefer to travel by air, by making use of a commercial flight to one of the two nearby airports.

  • The exclusive Skukuza Airport is located about 20 minutes from the reserve and offers daily flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg (flights from Durban will follow in the near future).
  • The distance to the other airport in the area, Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport near Nelspruit, is approximately 110 kilometers (68 miles) and it takes around 1 hour and 45 minutes to get to the lodge

LODGE ENTRANCE

LODGE ENTRANCE

LODGE ENTRANCE

LODGE ENTRANCE

LODGE ENTRANCE

LODGE ENTRANCE

LODGE ENTRANCE

LODGE ENTRANCE

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY