Samode Safari Lodge

Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India Book from IRs66,550

Reviewed by Kate Darnton
An elegant safari lodge in deepest central India, with top-notch service, sublime food and personable, experienced guides
Samode Safari Lodge has raised the bar for luxury wilderness tourism in India. It starts with the accommodation: 12 palatial private villas, each with a bedroom, sitting room, dressing room, veranda and jaw-dropping indoor/outdoor bathroom. Then there’s the swimming pool, the spa and gym, the library with its billiards table, and the 2 vast central lodges, full of fireplaces and cosy nooks where you can flip through glossy nature books. And there’s the excellent food: generous breakfast spreads and delectable 4-course lunches served on an open-air deck, and highly choreographed dinners taken by the glowing swimming pool, around a campfire under the mahua trees, or even out in the bush.

But people come here primarily for the wildlife in the neighbouring Bandhavgarh National Park. While animal sightings aren't guaranteed, Samode does its very best, providing you with specially designed jeeps and charming, experienced naturalists. There are sloth bears, leopards, panthers, wolves, gaur and a staggering array of birds, butterflies and reptiles. And who knows? You might get lucky and spot that tiger.

Highs

  • We loved the luxurious villas, particularly the open-air ‘bath courts’ for alfresco soaks and showers (there are full indoor facilities, too)
  • Exceptional service - flower-strewn foot baths waiting for you after your morning safari, and hurricane lanterns already flickering in your villa when you return from dinner
  • Elegant, flavourful food that combines continental and Indian influences, with careful attention to dietary needs and personal preferences
  • Charismatic naturalists who are eager to help you discover the park. Safaris include pre-breakfast picnics or sundowners, and you’ll travel through beautiful jungle
  • A wonderfully sophisticated and romantic ambiance - though children are welcome, too

Lows

  • It's very remote (an internal flight to Jabalpur, followed by a 3.5-hour drive)
  • Phone reception is limited (we only found one spot on an outdoor deck), there’s no WiFi, and you might experience occasional power outages
  • You won’t see masses of wildlife, and tigers are notoriously elusive, but a stay here is a wonderful experience nonetheless
  • Every safari starts with a rather bumpy 30-minute drive to the park entrance
  • It’s pricey (and full pre-payment is required), but rates include game drives, all food, cocktails, and free-flowing wine and liquors. The only additional charges will come from the spa and transfers

Best time to go

The lodge is normally open from mid-October to late June. Like most places in central India, it gets uncomfortably hot in the summer months. The best time to visit is from November to February, when days are sunny and nights chilly, though visitors also enjoy October, March and even April. Note that there are no safari trips into Bandhavgarh National Park on Wednesday afternoons.

Our top tips

  • Wildlife enthusiasts may want to combine a stay here with other game reserves in central India, including Pench, Khanha and/or Satpura, in order to maximise their chances of seeing the elusive tiger, leopard and sloth bear (though that’s no guarantee; we’ve visited 6 national parks and seen neither the spotted nor the striped beast yet)
  • If you’d like to add some culture to your tour, you could fly in or out of Khajuraho (5 hours’ drive from the lodge), stopping to visit its world-famous temple complex
  • Bring a fleece for game drives - it can be chilly early in the morning

Great for...

Eco
Family
Foodie
Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Safari Lodge
  • 12
  • All inclusive
  • All ages welcome
  • Closed: 1 Jul 2016 - 15 Oct 2016
  • Heated Pool
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Bicycles Available
  • Billiards
Room:

Rooms

The 12 extravagant villas are virtually identical, set amongst the flowering trees and rough scrub of the 22-acre property. Inside they’re vast: a spacious sitting room with an armchair and couch facing a flat-screen TV and DVD player, a double or twin bedroom opening onto a private veranda with loungers, a dressing room, and a WC. But it’s the bathroom that’s the real stunner, with an enormous walk-in shower, a freestanding tub positioned beside a fireplace, and an open-air ‘bath court’ with a further tub and separate shower. It sounds excessive, but there’s nothing like a long soak - whether inside by the fire or outside under the stars - after a 4-hour jeep ride through the jungle.

Décor is eclectic - think African safari (leather trunks, tribal masks, black-and-white wildlife photos) with Indian touches (a marble elephant statue here, a decorative sitar there). The owner has gone to great lengths to incorporate local handicrafts such as hand-woven baskets and quirky metal sculptures, and every bathroom features a stunning Gond-style mural across one entire wall (ours undulated with birds, fish and turtles, and even the black granite in the bathroom was etched with Gond bird motifs). There are some glam details - a shiny chandelier dripping with crystals - but the general vibe is masculine and handsome, though colourful.

All the little luxuries are there for you: a Lavazza coffee maker, an iPod dock, Kama Ayurveda toiletries, bathrobes, almonds and chocolates, even a hand-written note on your pillow at night. The overall result? You may never want to leave.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Central heating
  • Coffee maker
  • Coffee tea making
  • Cots Available
  • Dvd player
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Fireplace
  • Hairdryer
  • Internet access
  • Ipod dock
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Mosquito net
  • Phone
  • Safe box
  • Terrace
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • Tv

Eating

The more we ate at Samode, the more impressed we grew with the delicious food (all included in the rates) - this is haute safari cuisine.

Breakfast is very good - an expansive spread of pastries, curries, juices and the like, laid out on an open-air deck in one of the central lodges. It’s tempting to gorge, but our recommendation is to remain disciplined - just sparkling wine and fresh fruit for us, thanks very much! - so that you still have room for lunch, which is a delightful, 4-course continental affair. It normally starts with a bright vegetarian soup, followed by a perfectly composed salad (we loved roast corn and onion, and lentil with anchovies, mint and roasted red peppers). For the main course there’s a choice of vegetarian and non-vegetarian - we tended to prefer the latter, especially the pan-roasted fish with fresh tomato relish, which was divine. Do save room for dessert - perhaps a creamy banoffee pie or a cardamom-scented panna cotta - and for afternoon tea, served in the larger lodge, where there’s also a bar.

Dinner is even more elaborate, and is served in a variety of locations around the property, including private areas in the bush on request. We found the meals indoors to be overly formal (must the naturalists show up in jodhpurs and cravats?), but the food was delicious, all the way from the aubergine amuse bouche to the masala chai crème brûlée. Our favourite meal was the more casual but utterly delectable outdoor dinner buffet. First, we gathered around a campfire with the other guests, sipping cocktails and nibbling on tandoori-grilled treats as we swapped stories of safari glory. Then we retreated to our private tables, beautifully covered in dhurries and candles, where we feasted on creamy dal makhani and spicy cauliflower, juicy prawns and chicken, piping-hot from the tandoor, and fresh naan, dripping with butter. Lanterns hung from the trees. The wine flowed freely. The stars twinkled above. It was heaven.

Features include:

  • All meals included
  • Bar
  • Children meals
  • Coffee maker
  • Coffee tea making
  • Cooking classes
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Go out on an early-morning or evening safari in Samode’s specially designed jeeps, with a charming and well-trained naturalist at the wheel. You could spot tigers, sloth bears, leopards, panthers, wolves, hyenas and gaur, as well as colourful birds, lizards and butterflies. You’ll be treated to refreshments in the bush, too - either a pre-breakfast picnic or sundowners with snacks
  • Take a guided tour of the 22-acre property and the little village beyond, where you can visit the school (many guests bring small donations) and step into friendly locals’ houses
  • Free cooking demonstrations can also be arranged for those with an interest in learning more about Indian cuisine
  • If you’re in need of relaxation, get a fabulous massage in the tranquil spa, go for a dip in the pool, or simply soak up the sun on an outdoor daybed
  • Need an exercise fix? Go for a bike ride (there are bicycles to borrow) or work out at the gym
  • Elephant rides (additional cost) can be organised with a bit of notice
  • Play a game of billiards in the library, or cosy up with a nature book from Samode’s collection
  • Star-gaze after dark - there’s a telescope in one of the main lodges

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Cooking classes
  • Cycling
  • Elephant rides
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Private guided tours
  • Safaris
  • Star-gazing
  • Swimming
  • Traditional cultures
  • Well being
  • Wildlife

Kids

Samode Safari Lodge is an elegant - and let’s face it, expensive - safari experience, which tends to attract an older, well-heeled crowd. You might get tired of shushing your kids as they splash in the pool or dash up and down the ramps to the lodges.

Having said all that, our kids absolutely loved their stay. The safaris were a blast, bumping through the jungle in our own open-air jeep - we may not have seen a tiger, but we heard its roar, which put our hairs on end! And what fun to eat breakfast - muffins, hot chocolate and Nutella sandwiches, made especially for the kids - on the hood of our vehicle. Staff had even placed board games and crayons in our villa, and in the evening we threw all the kids in the massive outdoor tub, then wrapped them up in their child-sized bathrobes and let them watch nature DVDs.

Note that children are charged full adult rates.

Best for:

Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Each villa can accommodate a comfy floor mattress for a child. Baby cots are available, too.

Babysitting:

Available on request.

Children's meals:

You wouldn’t want to subject kids to Samode’s formal, multi-course dinners, but staff will babysit while you eat, and the chef will prepare special meals (pizzas, pasta etc) for children to eat in the villa. Lunch and breakfast are more casual affairs, and fine for families

Kids Activities on site:

  • Safaris (families will be allocated their own jeep where possible)
  • Village tours
  • Elephant rides
  • Swimming (there's a shallow pool area)
  • Billiards
  • Bikes to borrow
  • Books, board games and DVDs

Families Should Know:

The lodge is very remote, but emergency medical evacuation is provided free of charge for all guests under the age of 75 if required.

Distances:

  • Airport: Jabalpur (a 3.5-hour drive)
  • Hospital: 35km (Umaria)
  • Shop: 35km (Umaria)
Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

10/
Rooms
10/
Food
10/
Service
10/
Value
10/
Overall

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Rates for Samode Safari Lodge