Looking back on the 3 nights T. & I spent at Royal Malewane in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, I can honestly say I don’t know if I’ve ever had a more glamorous hotel experience.
I’ve stayed places that have technically been, pound-for-pound, a little more luxurious (like a suite at The Savoy in London) or more special to me in a very specific way (my transformative birthday slice of heaven at The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs in New Zealand).
But for overall hotel experience–the comfy beds, the palatial bathroom (seriously, best hotel bathroom ever), the out-of-control 777-sized private deck with infiniti pool, jacuzzi, outdoor showers and 2 cabanas overlooking the African bush–Royal Malewane beats them all. It smokes the competition. There’s just no comparison.
From the time T. & I arrived in the thatched-straw-roof suite–which, as T. observed, was literally about twice the size of her house–we were gaping and gawking like little kids. There was a lot of silent squealing, some arm-clutching, and much jaw-dropping and mouthing of “Oh my God!” when the general manager who was showing us around had his back turned. Royal Malewane was generous enough to allow us a comped stay in the Royal Suite, which features a massive living room, dining room and kitchen, fully stocked liquor armoire, the ridiculously huge and amazing jumbo-jet-sized private terrace I was talking about earlier (the infiniti pool, the private showers, the cabanas, what have you), and 2 separate bedroom wings on each side of the suite.
The four-poster beds are plush and large, with white mosquito-netting draped down the sides of the wooden frame satisfying all my most-cliched Africa dreams. The bathrooms–one side of which is entirely sliding glass doors looking out onto the bush–have roomy claw-foot tubs with an assortment of bath salts, oils and candles, and just in case you’re not feeling clean enough after your bath or outdoor shower, there’s also an indoor rainhead shower, featuring Molton Brown goodies. The indoor shower, naturally, is massive: about the size of my first bedroom in New York City. Maybe bigger.
No review of a luxury game reserve hotel would be complete without talking about the game reserve itself, and Royal Malewane didn’t disappoint. It’s located in Thornybush Private Game Reserve in Kruger National Park, and each guest staying in one of the hotel’s 8 suites (or the private Africa House) gets their own Game Ranger and Tracker for drives both morning and night. (The evening drives are complete with “Sundowners”, where the Rangers bring a picnic basket and you watch the sun go down while drinking gin & tonics or wine and nibbling fruit, cheese, crackers and meats. It was one of my favorite experiences, ever.)
Everything is completely tailored to your schedule, so our Game Ranger Craig and Tracker Nicola were happy to push our 6 am drive to 7 am one morning, or to change course once out in the bush when we said we were keen to see lions and elephants. We spotted all of the Big Five animals (lions, elephants, both black and white rhinos, buffalo, and the very elusive leopards), as well as giraffes, cheetahs, hippos, crocodiles, hyenas, warthogs, zebras and monkeys. On our first night, while having a group dinner in the bush, several lions circled us not 10 feet away, lured by the fire pit and food. As we ate, staff kept watch with flashlights and ears pricked. To say it was thrilling would be an understatement.
On our last evening. T & I opted out of our game drive and sundowner experience in favor of some time spent at The Waters of Royal Malewane Bush Spa. Um. Amazing.
You know me and spas. Not easily impressed. But how could you not be impressed by a spa with treatment rooms opening out onto the bush, the cicadas serenading you as you’re experiencing a 2 or 3 hour signature treatment like the rebalancing Moru African Forest Ritual, or the Tula Calmness experience. My treatment included an hour-long massage, half-hour reflexology, and half-hour head massage. Somewhere at minute 91, right when my masseuse got to work on my scalp, I passed out, only to wake 29 minutes later dazed, drooling and delighted. Post-massage, T. & I met in the Spa’s indoor/outdoor hot and cold African baths, where we were served nibbles and South African wine, and presented with that evening’s dinner menus to make our selection. Outside, the African skies darkened and then opened in a torrential downpour. Staff quickly appeared to escort us back to our suite–a requirement at a resort where you’re surrounded by the Big Five and could literally encounter a lion or panther at any time.
Each night before bed, T. & I would eat a Ferrero Rocher, sip on a glass of brandy from the crystal decanter in the living room, listen to Miles Davis or Ella Fitzgerald, and look out onto the nighttime bush, bright with Southern Hemisphere stars one evening, a lightning storm our last, as the water filled up our respective essential oil-scented baths. There were secrets shared, one fight had, endless giggles, and much ruminating on our love lives. Royal Malewane is the type of place that should really be experienced on a honeymoon, since it’s just so over-the-top and so beautiful and so romantic.
But even without the new ring and the bridal glow and the husband, it was magnificent. For two lucky friends on a girlfriends getaway, one reconnecting with the land of her birth, the other reconnecting with her briefly misplaced sense-of-self? I can’t imagine anywhere more perfect.
Thank you to Royal Malewane for hosting us! Although our stay was comped, as always, all opinions remain my own. Visit RoyalMalewane.com for more information.