Bowled over by Singita Boulders
Words Jenny Ratcliffe-Wright, Pic Darryl Wright & Singita Boulders Lodge
The Oxford English Dictionary defines luxury as a state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense. But what does it mean in our fast-paced, high-end lives? The term is thrown around to include anything from luxury burgers and pizzas to luxury mineral water, and is used to attract a certain calibre of person. It’s generally agreed that once you reach a certain level of luxury, there’s very little difference between it and the absolute top. So off I went to prove if this was true.
Singita Sabi Sand has prided itself on winning some of the top global travel awards. One always hears talk – in whispers – in the media about the top hotel in the world, and Singita has been on the US Travel & Leisure World’s Best Awards top 100 list for a decade, frequently taking the top or second spot. I was looking forward to seeing what all the noise was about.
We arrived in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve after a beautiful five-hour drive from Jo’burg, to the friendly faces of Gordon Kavovsky and his team at Singita Boulders Lodge.
Fresh granadilla virgin mojitos and a lemongrass-scented iced cloth introduced us to Singita hospitality before we were shown to our ‘room’, which was more like our own private lodge. It was as big as a respectable suburban home, with every conceivable amenity you could imagine. Outdoor showers overlooked the waterhole, indoor showers overlooked the waterhole, in-room toiletries were Dermalogica, there was a heated pool, a bathtub itself the size of a pool, a docking station that could start a party in Ibiza and a ‘mini’ bar that was stocked with more drinks than one could fathom. The fact that we had to get ready for a game drive filled me with panic. How would I get to enjoy all that the ‘best hotel in the world’ had to offer if I was off in the wilderness in search of a pack of three-week old hyenas and a leopard that had dragged a bushbuck up a tree. This, I thought, was a high-class problem.
The game drive proved very eventful – a huge male leopard, up close and personal, glared at us after a meal of a duiker. The guides at Singita are all highly knowledgeable, and professional, and share all sorts of stories and facts about the bush as you trundle along in an open-top Land Rover. During the drive we stopped for beautiful sundowner drinks in the middle of the reserve and were served wine, snacks, hot towels and more bush stories. When we got back to the lodge there was time to freshen up before dinner – a sumptuous boma braai. Our guide Andy told us the origin of the word boma: in British military history it first stood for British Officers Mess Area (BOMA), but has since been taken into South African lingo and is officially understood as a dining area, protected from the wind and animals by reeds or branches.
What sets Singita apart is its attention to detail. Singita has one of the largest private wine collections in South Africa. Each property shares a wine list that is tweaked with additional wines or older vintages depending on the size and style of the accommodation, the cuisine and even the guest profile. The chilled cellars at Boulders Lodge are under the lodge and carved out between ancient, immovable rocks, creating the perfect dark and chilled environment. All wines in the cellar are chosen by sommelier Francois Rautenbach. They’re then purchased and aged in the Singita cellars in Stellenbosch until Francois deems them ready to drink. Then they’re shipped to the lodges, pre-aged to perfection, and ready to be savoured by thirsty safari goers. There are more than 222 wine labels in the cellar, and there’s always a sommelier on duty to introduce you to special wines, which are included in the room rate and poured liberally. Jennifer Holmes was our delightful sommelier. Supremely knowledgeable on all the South African wines in the cellar, she gauges her guests’ preferences on wine, then serves them perfectly decanted in Riedel glasses with your dinner. A 2003 Thelema Cabernet was silky smooth and inviting, and a 2005 De Toren Fusion V just called for a second and third glass. I was truly astonished by the level of wine knowledge most of the staff members had and the fact that all wines are offered only at their optimum period, which is a welcome change from the norm.
The question of what real luxury is, was still in my head, and the more I chatted to Gordon, Boulders Lodge’s gregarious manager, the clearer the answer became. It’s about the lodge and its staff knowing what you want, as a guest, before you want it. At Singita they seem to quietly anticipate your needs, making this beautiful lodge feel like an extension of your own home. An example: on arrival, at lunch, I asked for a block of ice in my white wine. We had just arrived after a long drive and I wanted my wine especially cold and refreshing. Every time, for the rest of the weekend, I was served a glass of white wine, there was a small bucket of ice next to it, as they remembered that was how I liked it. I was impressed.
All coffee was served from Nespresso machines. They’re everywhere, anticipating the need for a quick shot of caffeine. And a selection of Nespresso pods is available so you can have any strength and flavour you like. What’s more, you can make your own, or if the friendly butler assigned to you during your stay makes it for you, she always remembers how you like it.
Chef Scott Rattray introduced himself as we arrived and offered us an open kitchen. It was a case of ‘anything you like, any time, and nothing was impossible’. Even guests who are lactose and gluten intolerant vegan fruitarians are catered for – and with a high percentage of American guests, these requests do seem to rear their heads fairly often. Breakfasts, lunches and most dinners are à la carte, with the option to choose whatever you feel like – even if it’s not on the menu – served in whatever part of the lodge suits you. But with the choices we were presented with, I was not about to veer off the beaten track. My breakfast on the first morning was an omelette of goat cheese, coriander, chilli and sweet corn. Such an unusual combination, and just too delicious. I was going to try to stick to the fruit platter only, but there was no stopping me once I had glanced at the choices on the menu. The juices are freshly squeezed, the pastries are home-made. Even the monkeys have a taste for fine food, and the staff use catties loaded with dried beans to keep them from absconding with freshly baked scones from the breakfast buffet.
Lunch swung around all too soon, but I managed to find an appetite when I was presented with the option of homemade gravid lax with mustard dressing and apple salad or a fragrant chicken curry served with all its sambals. All the wines in the cellar are available to guests at any time, and my lunch was enhanced with a (once again perfectly aged) Ondine Semillon 2009. Waxy with hints of marmalade, slightly rounded with age, it was with more panic, that I had to finish my glass and board the game viewing vehicle.
A herd of more than 300 buffalo were roaming around, and a pack of seven wild dogs were on our viewing list for the day. Singita Sabi Sand is itself 13 836 acres, but it has a traversing area of 37 065 acres which means there’s so much scope for seeing game. Amongst incredible birdlife and many small mammals, you can also be pretty sure of seeing the Big Five, cheetah, giraffe, hippo, spotted hyena and reedbuck. And we couldn’t believe just how many leopard we saw – they’re incredibly tolerant of game viewing vehicles so it’s a prime area for leopard research. We found it evident how devoted Singita and its staff are to fulfilling the company’s core mission of protecting land for future generations. To do this they adopt a modern conservation approach that relies on the inter-dependant relationship between local communities, wildlife and tourism. Singita believes the key to success is showing local communities that if they protect the wilderness and wildlife, tourism will flourish, leading to long-term jobs and a high standard of living.
On our last evening’s return from the game drive we were surprised by a romantic setting in our room – bubbly chilled in an ice bucket next to a huge bathtub filled to the brim with bubbles. There were rose petals scatted around and candles everywhere, with Édith Piaf crooning from the iPod. Heaven. After a glorious dinner we were back in our room, the fireplace creating a happy glow and Chivas Regal flowing.
A weekend seemed like enough time to explore the lodge and the reserve, but Sunday morning arrived too quickly and the road back to the big city loomed. As a last touch, we were sent on our way with a gourmet packed lunch, so we didn’t need to grace a roadside greasy spoon for sustenance.
Luxury means different things for different people, but that which creates lasting memories of utter bliss is, I think, what best deserves the term.
Source: Winestyle Magazine