Luke Bailes is the visionary behind the Singita brand, which evolved from a parcel of land his grandfather bought in 1925. The property, bordered by South Africa‘s Sabi and Sand rivers, is now a massive 38,000 acres, and to pay for its conservation Luke put up his first luxury safari hotel, Ebony Lodge, in 1993. It was given a sibling, Boulders Lodge, three years later – both, with 12 detached villas each, operate separately, with some shared departments not seen by guests. Ebony Lodge was redone in 2014. See the bed in villa ten, above. At night the mosquito nets are put down, and by pulling down khaki canvas roller blinds at all wall-high windows it becomes really cosy: the gal also pulled down a roller blind separating bed-living space from the inside bathing area and the closet room.
You approach each villa by charming twisting paths, getting to what looks like a thatched cottage with a hobbit-like door. Your villa has a rear terrace, with scenic views, and a big bubbling plunge pool large enough for serious vertical swimming. There is also an outdoor shower – see the video, below, to get a tour. Inside, everything you might need is provided, from fleece ponchos and pashminas for chilly evenings, to straw hats and khaki totes for day. Toiletries are Dermologica, as used in the spa. There are serious books, and a two-way working big-log fireplace. The minibar, which like laundry is included in the all-in price – pay only for spa treatments, and French Champagne – has a full range of wines, and spirits and a lemon with knife. Of course there is an espresso machine.
After your morning drive, you come back for a giant buffet brunch, and perhaps a bath in an old-fashioned tub that has immediate hot water. There are enough bathsalts for you to soak 24/7 if you want. Right, what is not here? Television, but who cares when you have such inspiring natural views all around. When I arrived a water buffalo, seen in the video below, was nonchalantly wandering in the distance. Throughout my stay I felt it was me, and me alone with nature. There is sound, or sign, of the other 22 people around – all villas seem to be full the entire time, by the way, so my message to travel advisors is to book far far ahead, ideally with at least three days in Johannesburg en route, to get acclimatised and to make the most of that city.
If safari lodges elsewhere have gyms they may be just a couple of old bits of equipment, but not here (remember this is a luxury hotel in the bush). The Technogym has latest equipment, including an arc trainer, and fresh fruit, and power drinks, and the view, as in the image on the right. It was very tempting to order a massage there and then but yet another meal awaited. Ah food, tell me more…