One of the finest contemporary lodges around, Lion Sands is a wonderful all-round product with quality throughout from the décor to the service and from the food to the facilities. Although incredibly stylish and sleek, there are enough touches here and there to remind us where we are and why we have come. A full service property staffed by a personable and enthusiastic bunch, the lodge is perfect for both couples and families with older children (10 years and above) looking for much more than game spotting during their safari experience. As beautiful as it is welcoming, Lion Sands River Lodge cannot be ignored!
Lion Sands River Lodge is situated in the extreme south of the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve which shares an unfenced border with the Kruger National Park. It was built on the banks of the Sabie River and together with Kirkman's, it is the only lodge with access to this and the Sand River. There are daily direct flights from Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport from where you can either choose to be collected by bus or take a charter flight to Skukuza from where you'll be collected by someone from Lion Sands. Alternatively you can fly from Jo'burg to the Mala Mala airfield from where you will be collected or take a flight from Jo'burg to Skukuza and complete the journey by road. If you are coming by road from Jo'burg, leave roughly 5 hours for your journey. It will take approximately two and a quarter hours from Hoedspruit Airport and one hour from Hazyview.
River Lodge, together with its sister property just 100m away, Ivory Lodge, is located on land owned and managed by the More family for four generations, since 1933. The lodges opened in 2001 and their guests are the only ones to be able to traverse within the Lion's reserve which means a highly personalised experience. Lion Sands sponsors the Henna pre-school in the surrounding community and a visit of the facility is part of a cultural tour that guests can participate in (at extra cost). Note that room 14 at the lodge would be suitable for guests using a wheelchair, there being no step up to the bathroom.
It's with a broad smile and much warmth that you will be greeted at Lion Sands as you arrive at the end of the boardwalk which leads to the reception area. After downing a welcome drink and freshening up with a wet towel, you will be introduced to your ranger before a butler arrives on the scene to take care of your luggage. It is one of the most professional, well-orchestrated orientations of any lodge which includes a presentation of the facility and a walk around of the main areas of the lodge. The reception area is a white-walled, thatched structure decorated with wooden carvings and at whose centre is a beautiful wooden table with tall birds of paradise upon it. Through the other side of the welcome area is the main lodge which comprises several communal spaces. One of these is the Safari Lodge, a lounge area which is used for both orientation and for talks given by the rangers. One half of the space is a cosy seating area arranged around an open log fire with plenty of books to flick through as well as carvings and paintings on the walls. There is also a television in the lounge for those who wish to keep up with the outside world during their stay while over the other side of the room is the bar. Another of these spaces is the River Lounge, which, when not being used for meals can be occupied for relaxing under cover. However, if the weather plays ball, then there is no reason not to use the beautiful decks at the lodge, appointed with smart outdoor furniture. There are several other niches where guests can sit and relax with a book or a drink which could easily been featured in a spread in a lifestyle magazine.
In terms of leisure facilities, River Lodge has it pretty well covered. The communal infinity pool, which looks out on to the bushveld (although the view is not stunning), is surrounded by decking and there are loungers as well as parasols to shade from the sun in addition to the towering trees. There is a fitness room for those who want to keep their regime going although it is the spa centre which is the real pull. The Lalamuka Health Spa is a cute little affair with a swish entrance featuring soft white armchairs with matching foot rests and a cabinet displaying the range of quality products used in the treatments. From skin care treatments to body rituals and from massages manicures to pedicures, there is a wide range of relaxing treatments to choose from each given in the well appointed rooms of which one is for couples (packages for couples are available, as well as for birthdays and separate him and her treatments).
One of the unique features of River Lodge is the Chalkley Tree house (named after the gentleman who bought up the land on which the lodge is situated) where, for an extra cost, guests can enjoy the African sunset from atop a 500 year old Leadwood tree while dining on a picnic before sleeping under the stars. In the morning their ranger will fetch them and take them on a private game drive before they feast on a bush breakfast.
Aside from the game drives, which are led by some of the best and most friendly rangers we came across, guests can go on a guided bush walk in the mornings where they will learn more about the plants around them and the basics of tracking. Those who have trouble spotting hippos can embark on a game drive specifically aimed at finding the fascinating creatures.
The 18 luxury suites at River Lodge are divided into two categories. Each is decorated in a similar style, white dominating the colour palette, with hints of beige, cream and yellow. Small touches such as the welcome message on the bed spelt out with green stalks and embellished with leaves and petals are the kind of attention to detail that set the lodge apart, as is the disposition of a small chalkboard to note down any requests for the chambermaids. Every room has a deliciously comfortable king bed dressed with white linens, plaid and textured cushions while either side of the bed is a bedside table with sleek lamps. At the foot of the bed is a seating area with soft armchairs and matching foot rests facing the sliding doors which look out on to the bushveld. There is plenty of storage and cupboard space inside of which you will find the safe, anti-mosquito products and bathrobes, while in the alcoves beside the wardrobes are a collection to white porcelain pieces. A desk to one side of the room has a small collection of books as well as a make-up mirror for madame. Outside the sliding doors is a decked terrace with table and chairs with a (not too distant) view of the wilderness. The bathroom is as relatively spacious as the room and features a double vanity with bowl-style basins with fittings in the wall, a deep, free standing soaking tub with a table of lotions, potions and candles and a large walk-in monsoon shower with glass walls.
The impressive superior luxury rooms are more generous in scale and are more of a studio type room with an open plan room and bathroom. The gable roofs have triangular glass panels at each end, giving an extra source of light while the bedroom and bathroom are separated in part by a mini dry stone wall adding a rustic element to the room. The bathrooms are similar although the walk-in shower is larger and there is an outdoor shower too just beyond the bathroom. Contemporary furniture, sleek fixtures and the sense of space make these some of our favourite rooms.
Another reason to choose the River Lodge would be down to the quality of its food. Breakfast is usually taken on the deck overlooking the bushveld and is a relaxing, pleasurable experience, down in no small part to the excellent staff. After a continental buffet you have the choice of a hot dish, delicious and beautifully presented. At times, a continental breakfast is served in the bush, either in the dry river bed or in an open plain. Provided you stay several days, you should get the chance to experience this. Lunch is taken back at the lodge, either on the deck or in the River Lounge (where pre-morning game drive snacks and afternoon tea are served) if the weather is bad. The location for dinner rotates between the deck, the dining room, the bush and the boma although the atmosphere in each is great, especially in the boma when you share your meal with the other guests in your 4x4 and your ranger. There is a good choice of dishes for each course and the service is top notch. If, however, you feel like eating in your room, on your terrace, privately in any of the locations or have special requests, dietary or otherwise, the staff will be delighted to cater to your wishes as best they can. Indeed, if you happen to be the only family/couple at the lodge, it is more than likely that the staff will ask you when, where and how you would like to eat! In addition to the main meals, you will be given hot drinks and a snack during the morning game drive and a tipple and another snack during the evening drive.
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