The Royal Malewane was the final lodge we stayed at during our time in the South African Bush and before we arrived many people told us that we had saved the best to last. These people were not far off the truth. Arguably the finest all-round lodge around the Kruger National Park, the Royal Malewane is exceptional in every aspect. It boasts sumptuously appointed, spacious accommodations, a superb wellness centre, fine dining and an impressively high standard of service from the brilliant staff. The décor throughout is exquisite and there is lots of space around the lodge, with (non-dangerous) animals roaming freely in the greenery. This is an ideal property for couples or families (with children over the age of 12 years) looking for both excellent game viewing opportunities coupled with a luxury bush experience.
The camp is located in a private reserve which shares an unfenced border with the Kruger National Park. As this area gets more rain than the Sabi Sands further south, the vegetation is thicker meaning that it is sometimes a little trickier to spot animals. In order to get to the lodge you can either take a flight from Johannesburg's O. R. Tambo International Airport to Hoedspruit from where a road transfer can be arranged (around 35 minutes). Alternatively, there are flights from Cape Town to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport from where a charter flight to Royal Malewane's private air strip can be organised. If arriving by car you should enter through Orpen Gate.
The Royal Malewane is part of the Royal Collection which includes five star properties Africa House (on the same site as Royal Malewane), Birkenhead House and Birkenhead Villa (just southeast of Cape Town) and La Residence, east of Cape Town. The lodge supports the local community not only by employing and empowering those from the villages surrounding it but also by putting money into projects such as the Sigagule Nhluvuko Creche. In May 2010 the facility had just one classroom for 86 children, no running water, no kitchen and basic toilet facilities. Royal Malewane has built them new classrooms equipped with educational material, toilets, a kitchen, a water supply, a jungle gym and playground as well as vegetables gardens and fruit tress meaning they are largely self-sufficient. This is an ongoing project which is paid for monthly and which guests can see for themselves as part of a community tour which is strongly recommended.
One can only imagine that the length of the boardwalk leading to the main lodge is as long as it is in order to build up the spectacle that is the Royal Malewane. At the end of the path probably the first thing that will strike you is the view of the bushveld which can be seen right through at the other side of the lodge, but that's for later. After walking past the pots of floating flowers and you'll notice, guarding the entrance, are two elegant feline figures which recall something from ancient Egypt. Between them is an oriental rug while right in front is an imposing wooden unit, flanked by carved dragon thrones, with a pair of Chinese vases and a couple of lamps. To the left-hand side is a seating area featuring more rugs and a couch and armchair covered in white linens as well as two beautiful leather armchairs with a coffee table in the middle with some aged books. It's here that you will be given both your welcome drink and towel and your orientation. Another seating space lies on the other side where there is also an honesty bar, a fireplace and reading material.
In front of the undercover lounge area is the deck, which is used both for recreational purposes and for meals (see 'Food and Drink'). The rest of the lodge's spaces unwind off to the right with the curio shop the first stop. Then is the deck where breakfast is served followed by the library. This latter is dominated by the 10-person dining table at its centre posed on an enormous rug and also features a fireplace, shelves of books, a television and two large pieces of African art on the walls.
Arguably the biggest pull however is The Waters of Royal Malewane Bush Spa. One of the finest facilities we saw anywhere, the huge wooden doors which were taken from a North African castle lead into a gorgeous space at whose is narrow, solar panel heated a 25m pool bordered by sun loungers and small fountains. All around are the various treatment rooms as well as the fitness room. The casitas, impressive marble-clad spaces for the pre-treatment foot ritual, are decorated with candles, flowers heads and hanging lanterns, while the smart treatments rooms (of which one is for couples) feature carefully laid beds with wall to wall mirrors and a huge range of products. In addition there is a relaxation area with fruit, cakes and juices as African baths, a jacuzzi corner, steam room and an outdoor hydro bath. The spa offers a wide range of treatments, many of which are inspired by the continent, and various multi-day packages are also available. We highly recommend that you take advantage of this unique wellness centre. Note that the public computer is also located in the spa.
The ensemble of the camp is kept impeccably and one of the most pleasant things is the presence of several animals within the grounds. Kudu and impala, amongst others, roam freely around Royal Malewane and are not startled by the sight of guests meaning you can observe them up close. The staff at the lodge is superb and the rangers friendly and knowledgable. In fact, one of the trackers, Wilson, is the only master tracker in Africa and one of only two in the world.
There are a total of eight suites at the Royal Malewane, comprising six luxury suites, the Royal suite and the Malewane suite. The rooms are some of the best appointed around and are both spacious and practical. The luxury rooms feature a beautifully carved four-poster king bed piled high with pillows and dressed in the finest linens. On either side of the bed is a bedside table with oriental lamp, a telephone, an oriental rug and small foot stall while to one side is a cabinet and filled umbrella stand. In front of the bed is the seating area whose elements are placed on a giant rug. Between the couch and the armchair is an occasional table with sherry and complimentary wine while next to this is a working fireplace complete with extra logs. On the other side of the seating area is a desk on which is a make-up mirror candle and iPod docking station. In various locations around the room are flowers, figurines and artworks which make the space homely. The huge picture windows give on to the decked terrace which has its own private swimming pool along with a laid table with fruit and an undercover cabin with loungers. The bathroom, which is accessed through the sliding doors, has a double vanity boasting Molton Brown toiletries, a standalone deep soaking tub and an open monsoon shower in the corner from where you can see the bushveld. Both spacious and gleaming, it also features candles, flower heads on each towel and crystal glasses. For those who want to experience washing out in the open, there is an external shower round from the terrace. You'll of course find all the amenities necessary for your stay including a large safe, tea and coffee facilities, a minibar, anti-mosquito products, air conditioning and even yoga mats.
The two larger suites each can sleep four people and boast en-suite bedrooms, dining facilities, private butler, chef and game drives and up to four complimentary massage per suite per day.
The food at the Royal Malewane is in line with the quality of the rest of the lodge, that's to say of the highest order. With a staff to guest ratio of 4:1, this level of service is difficult to duplicate and is therefore not found in many lodges. The breakfast room is half undercover and then spills out on to the deck in front with bush views. Small tables are laid out on the lodge's trademark rugs with an elegant occasional table in the middle with a pot of fresh flowers. To the back of the room is the buffet from where guests will fetch the continental element of their meal while just next to this is the fireplace and a huge map of Africa. Following the buffet a delicious hot breakfast is served by the wonderful staff that is both obliging and friendly. The space is also used for the pre-morning game drive snack.
Lunch is not served at a specific time so that guests may choose when they prefer to eat (more often than not later in the day as the irresistible breakfast is so filling). If you do opt for the midday meal then this can be taken either in the breakfast room or in the main lounge of the lodge. If you prefer some privacy then dining in your room is also an option.
Dinner is served in various locations around the lodge: the deck, the boma, the spa and in the bush. The first of these is accompanied by a roaring fire and is more of a winter eventuality. The boma option takes place all year round and can be organised as a group meal or individually for more privacy. The steps leading down to the boma are lit with lanterns as are the tables, while heaters and fires ensure that you do not get chilly. The spa dinner can also be arranged privately and is given atmosphere with tea lights and lanterns while the bush dinners take place under a Bedouin tent with Moroccan lamps. You should experience most of the locations should you stay at the lodges for three nights or so.
An example of the sort of menu you could expect for dinner is as follows: salmon cakes on spinch with chili and coriander sauces accompanied with beetroot julienne; carrot and cumin soup with toasted sunflower seeds; a main course buffet with veggie lasagne, marinated pork spare ribs, slow braised oxtail with red wine, tomato and herbs, tarditional beef boerewors and meon and herb marinated chicken; side dishes of mashed potatoes, buttered corn on the cob, seasonal veg and salad; a dessert of deep fried custards served with star aise poached pineapple and plain yoghurt.Simply mouthwatering!
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