Designed for life – naturally

Crafted from the elements to highlight nature’s palette, Earth Lodge – Africa’s most ecologically sensitive venue – is world-famous for the unique architectural design that sees it sculpted into a slope and almost invisible in the landscape. Add to that a burgeoning tradition of culinary excellence and a location renowned for big-game sightings and you’ve got a safari lodge that ranks among the world’s best.

May 2015

Ah, the African bush! The smell of wild sage and buffalo dung as the golden veld basks in the morning sun. The promise of close encounters with the Big Five; tracking rhino, spotting leopard, watching elephants bond at a waterhole. Such personal proximity to nature is bound to thrill your soul.

Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge in the 65 000-hectare Sabi Sand Private Reserve is one of the few places on the planet where you can observe at close quarters the age-old dance between predator and prey. It’s a total immersion into a wildlife oasis that touches a deep part of us, the unexplored wilderness within.

From the womb-like confines of the rough, textured adobe walls of this living abode, you become one with the surrounding fauna and flora. Think view with a room. But, what a room! And what a view!

Dug into the undulating landscape with wild grass roofs blending into the sunburnt savannah at koppie-level, 13 individual ethnic palaces offer private plunge pools, hand-crafted furniture, fine linen, glass-fronted bathrooms, indoor and alfresco showers. At Earth Lodge it’s hard to tell where the mortar ends and the riverine forest begins.

Throw in a Zen garden, well-stocked library, lounge, spa and a day bar – where guests can doze within muslin-enclosed salas or cool their feet in the midday heat at the pool while buffalo slake their thirst nearby – and you can see why National Geographic fêted Earth Lodge as one of its Unique Lodges of the World for its superb sustainability and rich, meaningful guest experience.

Architect Mohammed Hans, sculptor Geoffrey Armstrong, interior designer Stephen Rich, co-owner Jacqui Loon, Mother Earth and Father Time boldly ventured further into the wild to offer it a reciprocal invitation. All shared their creativity to produce Africa’s most ecologically sensitive lodge, where the buildings – sunk into a slope of the earth – merge so well with the landscape, they become virtually invisible. At Earth Lodge, nature communes with you.

The inspiration came from the low-impact earth shelter architecture so beloved by Medieval Europeans, in which earth is used against building walls for external thermal mass, as an insulating blanket to reduce heat loss, and to maintain a constant indoor temperature. An earth sheltered dwelling is energy-efficient, quiet, freeze-proof and low maintenance.

The African take on this sustainable architectural style that employs passive solar heating can be seen in the organic curved walls hewn from sand, stone and thatch, while indigenous plants spring from the roof.

Inspired by the plants and animals, Geoffrey Armstrong crafted the furniture from trees uprooted by elephants or floods. Particularly noteworthy is his “burning bush” headboard in the Amber Presidential Suite – an opulent space, dubbed the most beautiful suite in the world, that boasts lounge, study, steam room and kitchenette alongside the glamorous en-suite bedroom.

Fingers of sunlight linger over the gold, copper, silver, platinum and bronze elements in objets d’art, or thread through fabrics to reflect Africa’s mineral wealth and promote a sense of harmony. Nguni hides soften ivory-hued floors and, at night, branches of handmade gilded chandeliers shimmer like stars. Each piece is a masterpiece of art, design and functionality.

However guests cannot live by design alone. Victuals are vital to ensure an unsurpassed safari experience and here, Earth Lodge knocks leopard spots off the competition.

What other South African venue can boast the culinary aristocracy of fêted Eric Chavot of Michelin–starred Brasserie Chavot in Mayfair, London? Blown away by Earth Lodge, Chavot came to advise kitchen staff on the intricacies of French cuisine in January 2015. Think Miso-marinated quail breast, sweet corn, water chestnuts, brinjal, spring onion and teryaki sauce, just for starters!

Says Earth Lodge’s head chef Brendan Stein, no slouch at the stove himself, having cooked in Zanzibar, Mozambique, the Maldives and some top South African restaurants: “Chef Eric Chavot is not just an amazing chef and mentor, he’s also a great guy willing to impart his knowledge and help in any way he can, especially when it comes to a fresh approach to the menu. We communicate regularly and he will return to Earth Lodge to follow up on our progress. I will also spend time with Chef Eric in his Brasserie Chavot kitchen in the UK to further the mentorship training. His expertise has spread to everyone who works in our kitchen.”

This equates to a sous chef, chef de partie, commis pastry chef, two students and three cooks. For all the fads that food goes through, certain dishes always stand the test of time so at Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, Brendan updated firm favourites with a fresh approach, as seen in the pan-fried sea bass with sesame rice noodles and avo salsa, or grilled kudu fillet with a hazelnut cream, morello cherry reduction.

“The cuisine here is prepared simply but executed with class, focusing on flavour rather then fuss. The menu is varied and we will adjust anything to accommodate guests’ dietary requirements.

“Staples include grass-fed beef fillet, lamb rack, pork belly or duck breast, with kudu and gemsbok as game options,” says Brendan. In keeping with Earth Lodge’s eco principles, he does his best to source pasture-raised options despite the remote location. “We source as much as we can from Hazyview, White River, and Nelspruit, although some speciality items come from Jo’burg.”

A typical vegetarian dish might include a porcini mushroom risotto, Parmesan shavings, micro herb salad and truffle oil, but it’s the beef fillet with potato galette, baby carrots and brandy-pepper cream sauce that seems to generate the most applause. A popular dessert is the milk tart jelly and vanilla crumble with cinnamon ice cream.

“We do not have a specific room service menu, but we will arrange for guests to eat whatever they choose in their suites,” adds Brendan. Private meals are often arranged in multiple venues, such as the meditation gardens, the unique day bar (seated in the pool), the American Express Diamond Award-winning wine cellar – an oenophile’s dream – or on the lawns under starlit African skies.

Brendan draws his inspiration from his surroundings – “our location is what people all over the world dream of seeing” – and fresh ingredients to hand. “Earth Lodge is an inspirational place where I have the freedom to create and innovate. This way I get to offer guests not just a saliva-inducing feast, but a sumptuous gastronomic experience!”

A celebration of place and of the senses, Earth Lodge is for discerning sybarites hunting down the perfect bush sojourn. For pampering, the Amani Spa offers holistic beauty treatments and massages, while the small gym gives a workout overlooking a waterhole.

Game drives in open vehicles and guided bush walks – all led by dedicated, knowledgeable rangers – take guests through a wide variety of habitats for special sightings of the prolific game for which the area is renowned, whether it be lions preparing for their evening hunt or bushbabies leaping from treetop to treetop. Back to nature really doesn’t come much better than this!

Carolyn Hurry

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