A designer safari dream - Mhondoro Safari Lodge and Villa
Mhondoro Lodge is situated within the 37,000 hectare Welgevonden Game Reserve, which forms part of the greater UNESCO Waterberg Biosphere, a region of significant geological importance and home to some of the oldest rock formations on the planet. What makes this desirable destination even more remarkable, apart from its awe-inspiring natural beauty and abundance of wildlife, is the fact that it is as accessible as it is exclusive. A scenic two-and-a-half hour drive or short chartered flight away from Johannesburg, it's no wonder this conservation area is hailed as the ideal introduction to luxury safaris in South Africa.
Upon arrival at the reserve's main gate, a member of Mhondoro's chivalrous staff awaits to transport you through the bushveld to the lodge. Despite its relative proximity to Mzansi's largest city, a sense of remoteness dawns upon you once you're surrounded by the vast wilderness. And without any luck, you will spot several animal inhabitants before reaching camp.
The Private Villa
As you approach the striking thatched structure, which blends in effortlessly with its surrounding landscape, the distant sounds of a small ensemble's traditional song welcomes you. This unique inauguration instantly establishes the special relationship between staff and guests - one of openness, enthusiasm and warmth. Introductions to your personal butler, chef and game ranger take place at this little ceremony, and you're subsequently escorted (refreshing cocktail in hand) to the Villa, where an informal orientation of the facilities and your schedule (which is entirely customisable) is presented by the lodge manager on duty.
After a devastating fire destroyed most of Mhondoro in 2013, it was meticulously redesigned and rebuilt, with the edition of a private residence as a retreat for the lodge's hands-on owners. Luckily the trendy couple from Holland have since decided to make this exclusive hideaway available to guests who require privacy and unobtrusive service. Its generous proportions create an ideal environment for 6 adults to pleasantly share the exquisitely planned spaces. An expansive wrap-around verandah and balconies allow for endless vistas of the terrain beyond, providing ample opportunity for observing the variety of fauna that often wander nearby. In fact, as the lodge is not fenced, wild animals can come and go as they please. Imagine cooling down in the sparkling swimming pool, whilst a mighty elephant (or two) casually takes a sip! This is an unbelievable scene that often plays out at Mhondoro, and is one that leaves its visitors astounded.
The Villa's stylish interior was designed by co-owner Myriam Vogel herself, who clearly had a vision of creating a chic and indulgent ambience suitable for uncomplicated bush living. With an abundance of glass incorporated in the building's clever architecture, the lines between indoors and outdoors are effectively blurred, in turn allowing natural light to flood all the living and sleeping areas. A soothing palette of neutrals, plush furnishings and many organic accents forge a contemporary African design scheme complimented by its subtle European climate.
Encompassing obvious attention to detail, every aspect of the villa has been purposefully thought over to ensure guests are as comfortable as possible. From its polished screed floors that keep the indoors cool, beautiful exposed double volume grass ceilings and ingenious layout, the level of downplayed luxury and craftmanship is second to none.
With several cosy seating areas around the villa, visitors can enjoy quiet moments to themselves, or spend time together in the lofty living room, which opens up onto a covered outdoor lounge and dining area. A slick double sided fireplace enhances the mood, while you savor a carefully prepared cocktail by your gracious butler. At the Villa a selection of complimentary drinks, liquors and wines are available all day, as well as espresso based coffees, teas and healthy snacks.
There are three spacious bedrooms, complete with their own viewing decks, ample closet space and full bathrooms, all showcasing spectacular views over the local domain. Oversized four poster beds gently draped with white mosquito nets create a romantic atmosphere in each room, accompanied by luxurious linens and blockout curtains, which ensure a peaceful night's rest. Residents can indulge in large soaking tubs, and pamper themselves with the carefully selected range of all-natural African botanical amenities by Rain.
The turn down service comprises of a beautifully drawn bed, comfy slippers and floor mats neatly placed by your bedside. As Mhondoro is an eco-conscious and self-sustaining lodge with minimal environmental impact, among its initiatives is their 'no plastic bottles' policy - fresh drinking water is provided in glass carafes, which can be found throughout the villa.
The main suite's stunning wet room features an inviting walk-in rain shower, as well as a large dressing room with handsomely fashioned cabinetry. What I loved most about this space was its circular open-air shower, accessible via a private deck, where one can look up at the endless night sky or spy on wildlife, whilst having warm water serenely splash over you.
Patrons staying at The Villa have access to their own private chef, who is at your disposal day and night. Before checking in, you're advised to indicate any particular persuasion regarding your diet, and encouraged to specify exactly what kind of catering you'd prefer. Whether its fresh sushi or rustic pizzas, the culinary team at Mhondoro will meet (and most likely exceed) all requests. With no dietary requirement too complex at this level of laid-back lavishness, even the most demanding of vegans and fruitarians are gladly welcomed.
I'm not a selective eater and wanted to see what the 'standard' offering would include, hence, I submitted no prior food preferences. This essentially gave my masterful chef free reign to create many magical meals... Even though the experience can be entirely tailored, my tastebuds were beyond satisfied by the classic menu. Breakfast, which is usually served after your early morning game drive, included a cold buffet with several freshly pressed juices, delicious handmade breads and preserves, charcuterie and Danish. Followed by a choice of different hot dishes - I must mention that the eggs Benedict was especially delectable!
For dinner there were several made-to-order options of starters, mains and dessert, and in between courses a delicious sorbet palate cleanser was served. The outstanding quality of ingredients (grown nearly entirely in Mhondoro's extensive vegetable gardens and greenhouse) and expert cooking skills are nothing short of what you'll find in a fine dining establishment, without the pretense of course. On my second night I decided to forgo a private meal in the Villa, to join fellow guests at the main lodge for an atmospheric BBQ dinner under the stars. We were gathered around the massive fire pit in its circular enclosure, when a heartfelt impromptu performance of song and dance was staged by the staff, bringing an unforgettable evening to a wondrous close.
Fascilities & Experiences
As one would expect, a destination of this kind must provide premium facilities in line with what their discerning clientele are accustomed to. Thus, unsurprisingly, the Villa rightly shows off with its own fully equipped gym, a tranquil yoga room and heated saline swimming pool. Furthermore, the small yet sensuous spa suite on the premises presents a sizeable catalogue of calming therapies and treatments, which are offered at incredible value.
Mhondoro also provides the perfect place for fantastic stargazing from its elevated viewing platform, complete with reclined seating and a sophisticated computerized telescope system. This activity is a must on clear nights, when over 2500 stars can be traced throughout the shimmering Milky Way. Furthermore, guided bush walks, rhino tracking and excursions to the area's ancient rock art sites (painted by the indigenous people of the land) compiles a thrilling itinerary for the adventurous guest.
I reckon leisure travelers go on deluxe safaris not just for a high-end vacation, but primarily to experience a compelling nearness to nature. With a highly skilled ranger and private game viewing vehicle reserved for your use, adventure awaits as you ride off into the great outdoors, not knowing what you'll encounter along the way... Many avid safari-goers will profess that wildlife sightings are greatly based on pure good fortune, still, my fervidly capable ranger and I seemed to have luck on our side, as we witnessed unimaginable scenes of elephant herds bathing, rhinoceros families rearing their young and, after nightfall, a sleuthing lone lioness. Mike (originally from Switzerland) also provided an insightful answer to my every question, whether relating to the area's geography or the conservation efforts of the reserve, and much more.
Even if you're living it up at the villa, you have access to the main lodge and its amenities - like the one-of-a-kind 65 meter underground tunnel leading to a hide by the waterhole, which is perfectly positioned in front of the lodge. Here astonishing eye-level encounters with unsuspecting wildlife (especially elephants) are made possible! There is also a large pool deck, snazzy bar, eatery and an elegant lounge where you can mingle with other guests, if you fancy. Additionally, the subterranean wine cellar holds a considerable collection of beautiful wines, which can be savoured at your request.
Having read and heard several incredible reports of this extraordinary place, I couldn't wait to live those moments for myself. Never before have I felt so at home in an unfamiliar, albeit sumptuous environment. I wholeheartedly believe this was warranted by the truly talented staff members, who's energy, grace and uncanny ability to interpret and anticipate the cues of a well seasoned globetrotter did not go unnoticed...
As 'Mhondoro' aptly translates to 'Spirit of the Lion', it is no wonder that a sense of pride, appreciation of beauty and an ethos of endurance was conjured through the entire experience.
Surreptitiously, it seemed that the aura of Mhondoro's namesake, the king of the African savannah, had somehow become entrenched within my soul...
Subsequently, on a rather poignant departure, I consoled myself with a little smile, knowing that this phenomenal destination has etched an enduring memory in my mind, which I'll treasure forever.
* I was kindly invited by 5 Star PR to the lodge, and my stay was complimentary
*Banner image & several others courtesy of Mhondoro Lodge
All opinions and other photos are my own © Traverate 2018