Amoung The Elephants – Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero

Words by Gillian McLaren

Set high on a hill overlooking the magnificent Chobe River and edging Chobe National Park in Botswana, this ultra-luxurious bush lodge with its personalised services is perfect for both adventure and relaxation.

Pampering has been raised to an art form at Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero Lodge. The welcome is enthusiastic and personal as you are led through exquisitely carved wooden doors down to the verandah edging the front of the communal area. A panoramic view of the Chobe River and flood plain, right across into Namibia, is overwhelmingly beautiful. My reluctance to tear myself away from the spectacle was noticed by the sensitive and attentive manageress, Basadi Ramhitshana, who immediately asked whether I would like to linger and enjoy my meal right there, demonstrating a flexibility that typifies the level of individual attention here.

The introduction to the lodge, its facilities and activities included a request as to what I would like in the bar fridge in my cottage. No random cluster of small bottles here: drinks are customised to your preferences, and even my throwaway comment about chocolates was taken seriously.

Fifteen thatched cottages are set among indigenous trees like the African ebony, where you can spot banded mongoose, the endemic Chobe bushbuck, baboon and scores of birds. I watched an orange-breasted shrike in full flight, as well as Meyer’s parrots and longbilled crombec, from my private terrace.

The décor is modern, with hues of cream, white and touches of black. Set into niches are carefully chosen pieces of African art. Rooms are air-conditioned, but there are windows protected by screens should you prefer the ambient temperature and fresh air.

A freestanding bath is positioned so you can look out of a wall-sized plate glass window onto your concealed garden area, which is simply decorated with a few African stone statues. As a honeymoon couple you could return to your cottage after dining to find a hot bubble bath, with champagne on ice and your room lovingly decorated with lit candles, flowers and creatively folded towels. An abundance of Africology products are provided, as well as scented bath salts and oil. Laundered clothes are left in fawn tissue paper tied with raffia.

An indoor shower has a door opening onto your secret garden, where there is also an outdoor shower under an African sky, where the stars seem to be brighter and more abundant than in the city.

At Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero the food is consistently excellent. Chef Phinias Kuchicha and his sous chefs use fresh ingredients and prepare meals from scratch, presenting them artistically and serving them with grace. Small details – such as the pewter butter dishes, with small animals sculpted on the lid – add a personal touch to the pleasingly set tables. Both continental and cooked breakfasts are excellent, and sophisticated three-course meals are served for lunch and dinner, where several choices are available including a vegetarian option.

The soups are particularly tasty, with unusual combinations like parsnip and pear or garden pea and baby onion. A signature meat dish is grilled impala with port wine, and I was surprised to find fresh fish including tuna and salmon on the menu. Good South African wines are freely available to accompany meals and chilled Fleur du Cap unwooded Chardonnay complemented my lightly seared tuna. The chefs love to please and will deviate from the menu should you have any special requests.

Some of the meals are fun, like the lunch where you make your own selection from an array of toppings, spooning them onto a handmade pizza, which is oven-baked as you watch. An evening braai is enjoyable, as huge fires are lit and a range of meats is cooked for you, with a cornucopia of traditional salads and vegetables provided. A choir from a local school comes to sing and dance before the braai, during pre-dinner drinks in the lounge area. Their energy and musicality get many of the guests up and dancing. If you wish to dine in the privacy of your room or on the verandah of your cottage, it is quietly set up during your afternoon activity.

The fully equipped spa is an experience not to be missed, with its hydrotherapy room and a treehouse overlooking the bush to the Chobe River. My full body massage was memorable and left me with the lingering scent of ylang ylang and feeling deliciously relaxed. Adjacent to the spa is an immaculately kept, split-level swimming pool, where I stood with binoculars in hand to watch elephants browsing next to the lodge’s fence. Big herds of these gentle creatures move down to the river each day to drink and bathe. Here you will see the biggest concentration of elephants in Africa.

A special way to watch the elephants up close and personal is from the safety of a boat on a Morning or Sunset River Cruise. You are likely to see herds of buffalo, impala, hippo, basking crocodile and – if you are privileged – a lion or leopard at the water’s edge. A moving sight for me was when 11 shy sable antelope slaked their thirst, then quickly moved back up into the forested area. There are so many bird species frequenting this magnificent river that even the most ardent of bird watchers is sure to find a kind they have not seen before.

Chobe Chilwero’s characteristic attention to detail is extended to the drinks and snacks provided on the river cruises.

Besides spotting game, a good reason to go on a morning game drive into the adjacent Chobe National Park is the fine tea which is set up for you in the bush. It is a thrill to be in the wilderness of Botswana and to alight from baked muffins. Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero is able to provide honeymooners with a private vehicle or motorised cruise boat subject to availability and at an additional cost.

Each evening you will find a note giving you the weather report for the following day. Pampering continues throughout your stay, with several treats and surprises. This level of luxury and excellence is guaranteed to give you the precious memories you hope for on your honeymoon.

Getting there
Fly AIRLINK daily from Johannesburg to
Kasane. Kasane International Airport is 10
minutes away by road.
For bookings contact the SAA Call Centre on
011 978 1111 or visit www.flyairlink.com
Reservations
http://www.sanctuaryretreats.com
southernafrica@sanctuaryretreats.com

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