Safari lodges don’t come more luxurious than the Royal Malewane. Ever since it’s opening in 1999 it has been among the best of the best and with the recent refurbishments it is set to remain the pinnacle of luxury safari experiences for the next decade. The Royal Malewane was once again one of the Condé Nast “Top Resorts in the World” in 2018, just to iterate it’s place at the top, and to give you an example of how good this place really is.
Being part of the Royal Portfolio, you know you’ll get excellent service, wonderful accommodation and endless culinary delights to top things off. The lodge is situated in the Thornybush Game Reserve, which in recent years became connected to the Kruger National Park when they took the fence away, which made it possible for the animals to roam freely between the two reserves. And an abundance of animals you’ll find, going from the big five all the way to the smaller animals which are certainly as impressive to admire.
Getting there is easy. Royal Malewane has its own private airstrip in case you arrive on a private charter flight. Hoedspruit airport is only a 35 minutes’ drive away if you’re flying in on a commercial airline or alternatively you can drive down from Johannesburg through the spectacular Drakensberg mountains. It will take you around 6 hours for the latter but the views do make up for the long drive.
Upon arrival the staff gives you a warm welcome, instantly addressing you by name which makes you feel at home right away. The lodge manager together with the bar, spa and kitchen managers introduce themselves and check if they can do anything specific to make your stay even more enjoyable. For example, the cook will check if they are aware of all the dietary requirements. Even though we were asked prior to our arrival, it is nice to see they follow up making sure everybody enjoys the culinary aspect of their stay. Aaaah…It feels so good and familiar (having stayed at other Royal Portfolio properties before) to know you’re in the best place imaginable to enjoy an amazing safari.
The Royal Malewane is a boutique lodge, with only 6 one-bedroom luxury suites, 2 royal suites and the Africa House which is the ultimate bush villa. All of the suites are stunning in their own right. The eclectic style is something you’ll find in all the Royal Portfolio properties, and while it may look crazy on paper, in works perfectly in real life.
Our luxury suite was situated close to the drink pool, which is in front of the lodge, giving us some amazing wildlife viewings while relaxing on one of the loungers. It’s also relatively common to have elephants drinking out of your pool, like we could experience on our last day. Besides the view and wildlife there’s a lot to enjoy in these amazing suites. A beautiful deck with a private plunge pool, daybeds, Indoor-and outdoor shower, freestanding bathtubs, comfy sofas, a fireplace (which is perfect during those chilled winter evenings), a massive bed, a mini-bar which looks more like a boutique supermarket than anything else, …the list goes on and on. The royal suites are similar in design, though consist of two bedrooms, a large living room, private kitchen and dining room and a massive outside deck with an even bigger pool. It’s a favorite among celebrities like Elton John, Richard Gere, Nicolas Sarkozy, Bono,…just to name a few. And then there’s the Africa House. This villa has 6 bedrooms, and is completely separated from the main lodge. You’ll still find the antique furniture, four-poster beds, dramatic bathrooms, Persian rugs,…but it gives guests the chance to have an ultra-exclusive private luxury safari in the bush.
Lucky there’s plenty of things to see and do which will get you out of your suite in no time. Besides the cozy bar, the inviting deck and seemingly endless amounts of food being served, there is of course the Bush Spa. Being voted the best spa in Africa on several occasions, it is hard to believe the beauty and sheer size of it all until you walk in. The main attraction is the 25m lap pool with several secluded day beds dotted around. Jacuzzi, fully equipped gym, beautiful treatment rooms,…it’s all here. We had a great massage followed by some lounging around the pool. But you can also just walk in and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere while sipping some of the fresh juices, flavored waters or champers which are provided at all times.
Service is key and to make sure the guests have the best time imaginable there are over 100 staff members. How about that for a staff/guest ratio knowing there are only 32 guests at full capacity (yes, that includes the Africa House)?! It’s a given that whenever and wherever you ask for something, the Royal Malewane will accommodate immediately.
But, the main reason why most guests come over here is to have an amazing mix of luxury accommodation and world class game viewing. And only the best of the best will do, resulting in the most experienced team of rangers and trackers in the whole of Africa. To give you an idea, there are only 4 master trackers in the world, of which 2 work at the Royal Malewane. All the rangers have a ton of experience and understand their guests in such a way that every game drive feels like you’ve been to another world. The vast amount of wildlife does help of course. Highlights from out last visit was a female leopard that was calling and taking care of her two cubs while moving her kill from earlier that day. Another highlight was a black rhino who was so relaxed that we could enjoy some real quality time with him, which is not a given knowing there are only a mere 3.000 left in the wild and often they are too afraid to come even close to game vehicles.
On one of our evening game drives we stopped in the middle of bush to find a beautiful tent surrounded by fire baskets, countless lanterns and some of the staff who were ready to hand over whatever drink you had in mind. This is true luxury where the Royal Malewane distances itself from the rest of the bunch. It’s these amazing experiences that will make you never forget how crazy a safari can become. Then again, being part of the Royal Portfolio I didn’t expect anything less. We enjoyed a wonderful bush dinner before heading back to the lodge ending the night with a late night whisky tasting. The Royal Malewane has the largest whisky collection of any safari lodge, with over 60 varieties. They also have a great gin collection and their wine cellar is filled with glorious wines from South Africa’s best vineyards.
So, is there any way to top the Royal Malewane. It’s going to be a tough task but the Royal portfolio surely wants to give a great alternative by opening the Farmstead later this year. It will offer the same level of service and gastronomy, but the look and feel will be completely different. With only 3 luxury suites and one three and a half bedroom villa (called the Farmhouse) it will be even more exclusive than the Royal Malewane. Located only minutes from the Royal Malewane, it will benefit from the same abundance of wildlife which lives in the Thornybush area. Can’t wait to try it out and keep you all in the loop if the Royal Portfolio succeeded in their goal of establishing yet another amazing property.
For more details visit their website.
Text by Kristof Eyckmans@KEyckmans
Images by Kristof Eyckmans@KEyckmans or Royal Malewane.