“An awe-inspiring lodge on the banks of the Sabie river, with some of southern Africa's best game viewing, top rangers and the finest gourmet cuisine”
Raised wooden platforms run out from the main lodge to the 20 semi-detached guest chalets which are wrapped in amongst an amazing stand of ancient bushveld: some of its towering trees are almost 1,000 years old.
The chalets are beamed and thatched, with patterned inlays of river pebbles in their shining screed floors. Each has a small deck, most of which face the river, with kraal fencing to guarantee maximum privacy and all have the same cool cream, white and brown colour scheme as the main lodge. The clean, sober lines feel just right for the bush, leaving the surrounding veld as chief protagonist.
Kingsize beds are banked up with pillows and cushions, linen is only the best and you get treated to piles of snowy-white towels as well as monogrammed bathrobes. The chalets all have masses of wardrobe space plus minibars, safes, phones, air-conditioning, Casablanca-style fans and a tray with a kettle and selection of teas and coffee.
Bathrooms are functional rather than remarkable and have little in the way of storage space for your toiletries. But you do get both a shower and a bath, as well as a second river-facing outside shower.
Adventurous spirits might like to spend a night in one of the lodge’s 3 treehouses: one in a high jackalberry, one overlooking the river, and the other in an ancient leadwood tree (named Chalkley Treehouse, Kingston Treehouse and Tinyeleti Treehouse). You’ll be driven out from the lodge after dinner and left to commune with the extraordinary African night. You get a double bed with a mattress and linen, a mosquito net, bedside tables, a toilet, a bush vanity table, and a viewing deck with chairs and gowns and slippers.
Food in the bush just doesn’t come better than that at the River Lodge, which has a whole team of chefs under the supervision of culinary maestro Janine Hobbs.
You couldn’t find a more spectacular place to eat than the deck, raised high above the sandy banks of the Sabie: there were buffalo foraging just yards from our table during one of our starlit suppers. Dinners are also occasionally served at the lodge’s riverside viewing platform or out in the Sabi plains. Whatever the location you’ll be treated to top bush cuisine. Amongst Janine’s flagship dishes are crocodile kebabs in lemon butter and apricot sauce, blesbok fillet stuffed with peanut butter and coriander, and beef fillet marinaded in pinotage. All meals are immaculately presented by ever-smiling staff and there’s a wine list to rival that of a top Johannesburg restaurant. There’s even a cigar menu, as well as a choice of several brandies and half a dozen single malts. Desserts are excellent too: crafted by the in-house pastry chef.
Breakfasts are laid up in the shade of the enormous jackalberry tree which towers above the lodge or, occasionally, prepared out in the bush. Breads and muffins are baked daily, there are stewed fruit compotes as well as a big fruit salad, cheese and cold meat platters, smoked salmon, and cereals and yoghurts. This can be followed by ‘the full works’, which will include some kind of game sausage, perhaps gemsbok or warthog. Lunches are often picnics in the bush and stick to a ‘keep it light’ formula after the huge spread at breakfast: imaginative salads, perhaps fish or quiche, and exquisite presentation.
The general vibe at River Lodge is pretty grown-up, with no obvious child-friendly focus. Even though children over 10 are welcome, this place somehow feels more suited to adults. Children between 10 and 15 years old are charged at 50% of the adult tariff if with 2 adults. Children over 15 years olds are charged at adult rates.