By Kristof Eyckmans
Often Africa is left aside when looking for a luxury escape from everyday life. But the continent has a lot to offer, and not only for budget travellers but also for the ones that aren’t shy to spend some cash in return for the most exclusive travel experiences out there. Here are a few of my favourite experiences.
Rovos Rail, Southern Africa
Being the African equivalent of the Orient Express, this luxurious train offers several itineraries, going from a 3 day trip within South Africa, all the way to a 15-day journey connecting Dar es Salaam and Cape Town. The suites are massive and each has their own bathroom (a luxury you don’t even have on the Orient Express). Besides that, there is the endless supply of wonderful food and a drinks menu that revels any bar in the world, including an impressive wine list with wines from some of the best estates in South Africa.
The highlight though is the open-air terrace at the back of the train where you can sit down and enjoy the views while sipping from your favourite drink. The service is top-notch and everything you can ask for is adhered to instantly. The train stops regularly for excursions and to get some exercise to lose part of the weight you gain from all the amazing food during your journey on board. The whole experience is like going back in time, and the occasional gala dinners onboard surely enhance that feeling. Be aware, travelling on the Rovos is addictive, but so is chocolate and we all love chocolate too.
Bisate Lodge, Rwanda
When people hear about Rwanda, they instantly think about a dark history, though those days are long gone. The country is rebuilding itself at record speed, and luxury brands are rushing in to secure prime locations in places like Volcanoes National Park. So did Wilderness safaris with Bisate Lodge. The six forest villas are fitting in perfectly with the surrounding forest, though the inside provides you with all the bells and whistles you’ll find at any other luxury retreat at world-class destinations.
The main attraction here is the mountain gorilla trek which will give you the chance to encounter these rare and endangered species in their natural habitat. An experience only a few have enjoyed and one that will stay with you for the rest of your life. It was in this region that Dian Fossey did her research and also is buried. You can visit her tomb, which is located next to the grave of her favourite gorilla. The lodge is also very involved with habitat restoration, trying to bring back the indigenous rainforest in order for a natural recolonization to take place. This place is just one of many where you can actually see and experience that Rwanda has turned the page.
Tswalu Kalahari, South Africa
If there is one place in Africa that knows how to let you experience luxury, it is Tswalu! It is the biggest private game reserve in South Africa, and its location is so remote (in the southern part of the Kalahari) that the only comfortable way to get there is by private plane. But not to worry, Tswalu has its own fleet of aircraft and helicopters to fly their guests in and out, but also over the massive reserve. The rooms are beautiful and have everything you can ask for. The game drives are one of the highlights here and having your private guide + tracker + vehicle at your disposal makes the experience very personal. And with a maximum of 32 guests (which are split over two properties), you will be lucky if you cross another vehicle.
This place is known for its specific wildlife that in most other parts of Africa is almost impossible to find, like the pangolin, aardvark, aardwolf and so on. And as the owners started this whole project in order to protect and rehabilitate this part of the Kalahari, they do everything they can to expand the reserve, bring in more resources for research, work together with the best of the best like National Geographic’s,…. As if that isn’t enough they also started to work together with Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen who’s a Michelin star chef, in order to also elevate the culinary experience to new heights. If you want to be guaranteed to have a life-changing and luxurious experience, this is the place to be.
Royal Mansour, Morocco
Marrakech has always been a magical place, with plenty of hidden riads’, the famous Jemaa el-Fna square and the souks where anyone can get their fix when it comes to shopping. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of this city, the Royal Mansour has been an oasis of luxury and tranquillity. The hotel consists out of 53 individual raids’, which are actually private residences. Spanning over three floors, each of them are masterpieces and an example of Moroccan craftsmanship. The opulence of it all will leave you speechless. Food is important in Moroccan culture, and you’ll be spoilt for choice with several restaurants serving the best of local and international dishes.
The gardens are one of the reasons why the Royal Mansour feels like an oasis, as the span over 1,5 hectares, and the pool area is the perfect spot to escape the heat during summer. In an overload of white, the spa is another must-visit when staying here. The iron walls designed in a Moorish style immediately put you in a relaxed state of mind, and that’s even before you get one of the many treatments. It is rare to find a place where everything comes together, but the Royal Mansour somehow makes it seem like it’s the easiest thing on earth.
&Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, Tanzania
If Noah’s Ark would have landed somewhere on the African continent, it would have been at the Ngorongoro Crater. And on the edge of that crater, you’ll find the &Beyond lodge which boosts some amazing views over the remainings of the collapsed volcano. To counter those views, the interior is equally stunning and is the perfect mix of a French chateau and a grand African palace. Think fireplaces, chandeliers and silverware. The service is very impressive and adds to the feeling of living in your own castle on top of the volcano, especially the private butler service. The rooms feel opulent, and even from your bathroom, you’ll be able to look down into the crater.
Of course, you come over here to enjoy some of the best safari experiences you can find on the African continent, and the &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater lodge will not let you down. Their team of guides provide guests with great game drives on the crater floor, looking for the wildlife that considers this place their personal Eden. The floor is rich in minerals, which attracts a lot of game as it is covered with nutritious grasses. Game drives here are just an absolute treat as is the wine cellar of the lodge which comes in handy in the evenings to wash away the delicious food and to talk about all those past safari experiences.