Luxury Explorer Review

5-Star Hotel Review

Royal Malewane

South Africa

The magic here is instant, beguiling, chromatically harmonized in rich bush tones

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Royal Malewane
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Royal Malewane

Location

Nelspruit, Kruger National Park, Timbavati Game Reserve

Travel Information

2.5 hour drive from Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport in Nelspruit

Top Tips

Helicopter flights give a thrilling view of Kruger National Park's stunning scenery

5-Star X-Factors

The lodge has a maximum of 20 guests at any one time, allowing ultimate privacy in an awe-inspiring setting

The Resplendent Royal Malewane

My sister was at an Elton John concert in Cape Town recently and couldn't wait to call me afterwards. Why? Because he opened the concert with a chorus of praise for Royal Malewane, which we visited last November. We know why he chooses this paradisiacal bolthole as his special wilderness retreat - but did he have to tell 30,000 fans? It's out: the bag is open, and now you, too, could experience something that really is worth singing about.

Cape Town has more than its fair share of natural beauty, and for this reason you can't skip it when visiting South Africa. If it's simply the ultimate bush-experience that you're after, then bookend this with a stint in Africa's most remarkable coastal city.

We flew to Nelspruit from Cape Town and, as luck would have it, the Bidens, owners of the Royal Portfolio, were on the same plane. They kindly offered us the only two spare seats on their private charter from Nelspruit to Royal Malewane. Flying over the rolling Pilanesberg Hills, with a herd of buffalo trailing dust beneath a carrion kite show of the wings of Hades, triggered the start of this adrenalin-based bush-fantasia. There is never a dull moment in this animal kingdom.

Landing took two attempts - warthogs on the runway! A short drive from here, in an open-top Land Rover, waits something truly special. We were greeted by a team of welcoming staff bearing trays of iced tumblers filled with the juices of fresh passion-fruit, mango, pawpaw, pineapple - the season's sweetest nectar - along with those, now familiar, genuinely warm, smiles.

The walk across the bridge to the entrance is staggering. Not many would remember to draw breath during these few steps - the magic is all embracing. Liz Biden's wand-of-wonder has given an edge to the bush in a style that captures the African soul while simultaneously grabbing hold of your sensual antenna. If you can imagine an Out of Africa swoon on a colonial White Mischief terrace with a Rajput-inspired Heat and Dust seduction, then you're getting the gist of this place. Every detail calls for a camera frame beneath the melancholic aroma of thatch and beam: the imposing bronze leopard statues; groomed hardwood floorboards; chunky rattan daybeds; spotless white canvas sofas; Persian Zieglers'; cavernous bowls of local flora and fruit; Ming vases; indigenous and ancient craftwork; then the view - belonging entirely to Nature Herself.

It is here, at the sumptuous Royal Malewane, that heart-thumping thrill meets luxuriant nurture in the unadulterated wild 'kingdom' of the Kruger. This combination is compelling. When we were being shown around the spa - the 'Aphrodite' of wilderness spas - the prettiest and coyest animal of all, the doe-eyed bushbuck, was waiting with her young fawn beside the steps. Perhaps she wanted to take her for a drink at the orchid- strewn water feature that circumvents this staggering clay-clad Zen-zone.

Sadly, on this visit, we could only indulge in just one day as we had prior engagements at nearby Tanda Tula. However, we would go there in a flash in order to sink beneath the bespoke embroidered linen on the out-sized, hand carved, four poster; if only. Besides, we were fortunate to enjoy exceptional nights in the two other 'supremos' of this very regal Royal Portfolio trio, Birkenhead House and La Residence, and the standard of excellence is outstanding in all three.

We did do the Royal tour of Malewane, taking in the Royal Suite, The Spa from 'Olympus', and the Malewane Suite. We also enjoyed a memorable lunch on the terrace beside the view. The suites here are sublime: each one possessing a sort of 'Merchant Ivory' film-set appeal.

There was also one of those Royal Portfolio boutiques, those covetable, naughty but irresistibly nice boutiques, where you have to purchase another bag in order to return home with your spoils. I am still pining for the long silver chain, separated at about every third loop with a dazzling gem that dangled a perfect silver elephant, chunky heart, and ring of coloured stones at its pinnacle. Why did I not do it then? And the ostrich and jewel fringed throws, or the hand woven pashminas, or the colour-coded rails of kaftans, or the trays of eye-watering jewellery... next time.

The feeling of 'family' is rooted here, a remarkable achievement, as it really does feel comforting. The service is uncontrived and gracious; they simply love where they work, what they do and the guest's wellbeing is paramount. Not many places have managed to offer service like this, let alone luxury like this and in the African outback!

We had a delicious light lunch of pea and mint soup followed by fresh crayfish with a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc on the decked terrace beside the view. I heard stories about the morning's safari together with excited talk of the leopard with her young nearby. The evening's safari was promising a pride of lions. Royal Malewane uses the powers of one, of only two, bona fide scouts in this part of the world: a born and bred bushman of the Kalahari.

They have stopped at nothing here, except the wildlife, of course.

Sophie Marchant
Sophie Marchant


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