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Where are the most amazing 'Grand Designs' safari properties in Africa?

Nicola Shepherd By Nicola Shepherd
08 Nov 2021
Namibia - Onduli Ridge.jpg

I have been asked on countless occasions, both by clients and by press in the US, Europe and the UK, to name the very best, most sophisticated design-inspired lodges in Africa. Therefore I have pulled together this list of camps and lodges that I feel offer the very best in terms of contemporary design.

I have collaborated with and personally visited these properties for many years and have great pleasure in detailing them for you below. There are of course many other amazing lodges and camps that I haven’t been able to mention here, but those featured below have that cutting edge of contemporary or intriguing design.

Their architecture and design often embodies aspects of their areas and surrounds, many times punctuated with great art from the region by their top artists, and the buildings don’t detract from the scenery, but rather they allow the outside world in, melding a harmonious, balanced, restful space which exudes calm. For any lover of a clean minimalist approach and five-star living, this is the only list of luxury African vacation destinations you will ever need!

 


The great news is that all these hotels, lodges and camps below are in countries that are open to tourists. In addition, front of house, hospitality entities dealing publicly with guests have ensured that their employees are vaccinated. There are also rigorous COVID protocols in place which are strictly adhered to, so that you can travel with confidence.

Please do browse through our definitive list of the top design properties in Africa to whet your appetite for your next safari!

 

Xigera Lodge, Okavango Delta, Botswana

Fairly recently refurbished and touted as Botswana’s most luxurious lodge in the Okavango Delta, this lodge has been beautifully designed. It is more of a wetland camp, so your best wildlife viewing will be elsewhere, but for the wow factor, this camp certainly has it.

Everything revolves around you – when you rise, when you go out on activities, etc, it offers the flexibility of a private villa whilst being part of a 10 bedroomed luxury camp. Fabulous walking and boating in particular, it’s a beautiful part of the Okavango Delta. In addition, they are proactive in this region in terms of assisting the local community.

 


Shipwreck Lodge, Skeleton Coast, Namibia

Located on the famous Skeleton Coast concession, the cabins are located between the dunes and the Atlantic Ocean. There are just 10 chalets, built to resemble shipwrecks, for which this area has become famous.

There are beach picnics, visits by vehicle to the massive sand formations, quad biking and visiting the shipwrecks and learning about them, along the Skeleton Coast. There is a fireplace and wood burning stove in each cabin, to keep you warm, especially in those winter months!

 

Little Mombo, Okavango Delta, Botswana

It’s reputation precedes it as the top wildlife camp in Botswana! Little Mombo has just five suites and can be taken over as exclusive use. This camp never fails to impress! The relatively recent refurbishment and its reputation keeps it as the toughest camp to get space in, regardless of the cost! It is wildlife on steroids, and the villas are large and luxurious with magnificent views across the Delta.

 


Onduli Ridge Damaraland, Namibia

Onduli Ridge is a fabulous lodge built in the granite rocks of the dramatic, harsh landscape of Damaraland, home to desert dwelling rhino and elephant as well as lion and giraffe. The location allows for magnificent views across Namibia’s highest mountain, the Brandberg. The camp has an amazing ambience as the colours of the rocks change hue at sunrise and sunset.

There is a swimming pool and also a star bed. There are just six rooms which are open fronted and built between the rocks. This place is simply stunning. The guiding here is second to none, and there are walks, nature drives, ebiking and visiting rock art.

 


Jao Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana

Another drop dead gorgeous camp in the Okavango Delta with shades of Bali rather than Africa. Again, it is not located in the most game-rich area, but it is the perfect antidote at the end of a busy safari, where one can enjoy one’s environs, relax, have spa treatments, go out on walks (there are game drives too), and simply relax in luxury!

 


Cheetah Plains, Kruger, South Africa

Newly opened, each Plains House accommodates up to eight guests and therefore, is perfect for those looking for an exclusive-use villa. Each four bedroomed villa boasts a swimming pool, wine gallery and curated art collection.

The bedrooms are decorated in muted colours and look out across the bush, with ceiling to floor windows, allowing the expansive views to come in. The guiding is simply first class, and the food is excellent. Game viewing is second to none in this rich, concentrated wildlife area.

 


Singita Kwitonda and Kataza House, Rwanda

This really is another fabulous establishment where one can choose to either stay in their private villa Kataza House, or at the main lodge. Perfectly situated to see the mountain gorillas in the Virunga National Park, the lodge is set close to the park entrance which is incredibly convenient. Each of the eight luxurious suites features a private, heated plunge pool, and a wellness area – perfect for smoothing out those aches and pains after a challenging but rewarding gorilla trek! There are outdoor and indoor fireplaces.

The building comprises local stone, glass and timber and features local artwork. It boasts breathtaking views of the three surrounding volcanoes and high-altitude forests. Again, the food is superb, being a Singita signature feature.

 


The Silo Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa

Described as a celebration of art, architecture, style and design, this five-star hotel towers above the waterfront in the heart of the city. It occupies six floors above the Zeitz museum of contemporary African art. Colourful and eclectic pieces juxtapose with modern, industrial architecture. The restaurant is excellent, but one is so close to the very best restaurants in Cape Town here.

 

Mwiba Lodge, southern Serengeti, Tanzania

Such a beautiful lodge, with wonderful wildlife, where one can sit in the swimming pool and look over the edge to large herds of elephant that congregate around the surrounding watering holes. The guiding is superb, the food out of this world, and so many options to choose from, in terms of wildlife viewing, spending time with the Datoga tribe, hunting with them, sleeping out beneath the stars.

They offer wildlife viewing both on foot and by vehicle. The best thing of all though, is that this company is one of the most proactive in Tanzania where conservation of wildlife is concerned, so your stay really does make a huge difference!

 

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Singita Sabora, Grumeti region of the Serengeti, Tanzania

This tented camp in typical Singita style exudes class, elegance and pleasing design and lines. Having been recently refurbished, one can now appreciate the brand new seven villas, which ensures a private experience. Each suite includes a private meditation deck and sala with daybeds, a private fitness area and a lifestyle unit with an in-room pantry and dining area.

Apart from regular safaris by vehicle and on foot, there are wine experiences to be had, a spa, a swimming pool and the opportunity to visit the local community. This place is fabulous for couples and families alike and they have a wonderful children’s programme. One can also visit their anti poaching observation point and learn about the work they are undertaking to combat poaching. Singita is another organization that is proactive in conservation and community work.

 


Singita Pamushana Camp, Malilangwe, Zimbabwe

This is such a special lodge in the most magical part of Zimbabwe! Typical of the Singita style, it is designed around the artwork of the local area. There is a sky bed where one can sleep beneath the stars for a night. This area has superb wildlife and the accommodation and food, and quality of guiding is synonymous with the Singita style. The best bit of all is that they feed thousands of children in the local area each day and they contribute hugely both to the local communities and the preservation of wildlife itself.

 


Jabali Ridge, Ruaha, southern Tanzania

This National Park is one of the most beautiful, extraordinary parks in Tanzania. With 10 percent of the entire lion population in Africa, the second largest park in Tanzania, with just a handful of lodges, for anyone looking for a pristine wildlife experience, this must be it! Coupled with a fabulous lodge such as Jabali Ridge which also has a private villa.

The rooms are enormous and is placed between boulders. Each room has a sunken pit outside where one can simply sit and immerse oneself in the bush or have drinks or a fire lit for you at night. There is also a swimming pool.

 


One and Only Nyungwe House, Nyungwe, Rwanda

This place is simply stunning. It is located on a tea plantation with the most beautiful backdrop of the mountain surrounding it. The villa rooms are comfortable, and the main entertainment region is enormous with an open plan sitting room and bar area. The food is superb.

There is so much to do here, from yoga, to walks around the tea estate, to cycling, to trekking across rope bridges through the National Park, to seeing some of the best habituated chimpanzee experiences.

 

Time + Tide Miavana, Madagascar

With tactile stone, driftwood and light pastel colours, Miavana offers the most wonderful island retreat. Designed by award winning architects, the lines blend pleasingly with the surrounding environment. This gorgeous lodge faces a powdery white beach and the azure blue ocean, whilst backing up against a lush forest where one can go walking in search of lemurs. This is possibly the most exclusive castaway ever!

There are 14 enormous beach front villas each with a private pool and an imposing stone walled central hub for socializing. There are banks of folding glass doors and sofas of aquamarine. The real architectural design space is the main central entertainment area with a restaurant with four domes, each with a piercing skylight. The food of course is superb, and the feeling is sophisticated European. The diving is quite superb as is the fishing. The ethos is to give back to nature and they are proactive in conserving this magnificent area.

 

Segera Lodge, Laikipia, Kenya

This place is simply sublime, on so many levels. It is the perfect romantic getaway set on 50 000 acres. There are six enormous villas, made from timber and thatch. There is also a private villa which sleeps four – perfect for families or friends travelling together. There are sumptuous, manicured gardens and a fabulous swimming pool.

An outside daybed is made up for you each evening, should you decide to sleep one night beneath the stars and there is also the unique Bird Nest, a collaboration between Segera, Nay Palad Hideaways and the architect Daniel Pouzet.

 


One of the great points of interest is the owner, Jochen Zeitz’s art collection. He has probably the finest art collection in Africa, most displayed at the Mocha Zeitz museum in Cape Town and some at his home here, at Segera. The food is outstanding, and most is locally grown and one is beautifully looked after by Jens, who with his cool touch keeps everything running simply immaculately. He also has a fabulous wine collection which one can see and taste! There is also a gym and fitness room.

The most incredible factor here though is the owners far reaching initiatives, with supporting the local community (which you can visit), as well as having the first women’s only anti-poaching unit as well as undertaking an enormous tree planting project. There is wonderful wildlife here, and each activity is designed around each client. Nothing is too much trouble here – and it shows!

 


Chisa Lodge, Busanga Plains, Zambia

Just opened, this area complements the South Luangwa well! Built to resemble bird’s nests, this fabulous tree house design will appeal to all with a quirky outlook and sense of adventure. The camp is completely eco, and each room affords views across the magnificent Busanga plains. Game drives and walks are conducted in this area.

 

Angama Mara, Masai Mara, Kenya

 Set in the famous wildlife rich region of the Mara Triangle in Kenya, this place offers some of the finest views in Africa! Aside from the breathtaking scenery, and the magnificent wildlife which can be seen by vehicle, the design is one of steel, fine lines, wood, bright colours and much glass, which allows nothing to interfere with the magnificent views! The villas or enormous rooms are capacious with ceiling to floor windows overlooking the escarpment.

The food is outstanding too, and the staff are simply charming. There is a women’s beading co-operative which once can visit, too. They have a swimming pool and state of the art gym. This lodge is also excellent in supporting their local community. They have a professional wildlife photographer who can accompany you and assist you with your wildlife photography.

 


Time + Tide King Lewanika Lodge, Liuwa Plains, Zambia

A truly gorgeous camp for anyone seriously interested in wildlife conservation and aiding this cause. This is an enterprise which is run by one of the top NGO’s – African Parks. From a design perspective, it is simply stunning. The main entertainment area is completely open fronted, allowing the breath-taking scenery to envelop the sitting areas. The villas (large rooms) are all sumptuous.

The birdlife is second to none and they have a particular interest in lion species as they reintroduced them back into this area. So, help out in a positive manner by staying here, and enjoying every moment of luxury, scenery, and lovely wildlife!

 


Royal Mansour, Marrakesh, Morocco

Royal Mansour is arguably one of the most beautiful hotels in the world. Designed to to intuitively take you on a sensory journey through the sumptuous history of Marrakesh. With intricately designed pillars and soft pale fabrics, crisp glass vases paired with soft warm colours, this combines contemporary design and traditional Moroccan elegance perfectly.

The hotel itself offers an top-notch experience with a wellness spa, restaurants and bars and children's activities available. They do not have rooms and suites, instead offering self-contained luxury Riads spread across their own medina. These are three-floored private residences that you take exclusively. Venturing out, you are only steps away from the Jemaa El Fna square.

 


Ol Donyo Lodge, Kenya

Situated at the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, this lodge has a handful of enormous villa bedrooms. The piece de resistance is the sky beds – outdoor beds on the roof which you can always elect to sleep in should you want to feel that bit closer to the sky, and not miss those magnificent stars! There is a swimming pool and the food is superb. The main entertainment area is huge with many African artefacts.

This region is renowned for the super tuskers – the elephants with the largest tusks. There is game viewing here by open vehicle, on foot, on horseback and by bicycle. There is also a spa. Most fabulous is their commitment to conservation and you can go out for the day to learn about their anti-poaching, meet the dogs, meet the team and simply become more immersed with a greater understanding of the requirements involved in protecting such a large region!

 


Kisawa Sanctuary, Mozambique

This is a brand new lodge with 12 one-, two- and three-bedroomed villa-style guest suites, which are enormous. Each suite has its own private beach and infinity pool and the lodge is set on a powder white beach.

 


Chongwe River House, Lower Zambezi, Zambia

A fabulous villa which is exclusive use, designed with appealing curved lines. Overlooking the Zambezi River, it offers fabulous wildlife, on foot, by vehicle and also by boat. This place is very special and would appeal to any design lover as well as any wildlife enthusiast!

 


Sanctuary Sun Boat, The Nile, Egypt

This luxury cruise ship is the perfect way to explore the Nile River, which is on so many people’s bucket lists! Finished in a contemporary style with an Art Deco influence. On the sun deck there is a heated swimming pool, surrounded by teak and marble. With a choice of three, four and seven-night itineraries to choose from, with some of the best Egyptologists in the country, this is a fabulous way to explore Egypt!

 


Time + Tide Chinzombo, South Luangwa, Zambia

One of Zambia’s most opulent lodges, the design here is pared back elegance in a contemporary safari style. The rooms are enormous, and each room has a large balcony where one can relax and look out across the river. South Luangwa is one of the richest wildlife regions in Africa and has the greatest concentration of leopard on the continent. One can also spend a night beneath the stars here, in the riverbed. This truly is the last word in elegance in Zambia. Each villa has its own plunge pool.

 


Chikwenya Camp, Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

This is our favourite region in Zimbabwe being the Mana Pools region. It harbours fantastic wildlife, and is renowned in particular for its elephant, wild dog and leopard populations. It is excellent for canoe safaris, walking safaris and of course the traditional vehicle safari.

Chikwenya without doubt occupies the finest position on this stretch of the river and the rooms are large and spacious, designed in cool whites and light wood, with enormous fold back windows, affording magnificent views over the river.

 


Victoria Falls Island Lodge, Zimbabwe

Light and airy, clean lines and classic safari, the Victoria Falls Island Lodge’s Treehouse Suites lie on Kandahar Island in the middle of the Zambezi River. They are simply beautiful. What makes this a very special retreat is exclusivity of location, matched with almost zero impact on the land, and beautiful and elegant suspended rooms that sit over the water’s edge.

 Only accessible by boat, each room sits under a canopy of Ilala and wild date palms. The pale-coloured wooden walls have a Scandinavian feeling, with light pouring in from full length glass doors. The modern architecture blends into the natural environment as one. The rooms are uncluttered yet have everything one needs. There is a sense of calm and peace here, only the sound of the river, the twittering birds and occasional herd of elephants visiting under your deck.

 


Omaanda, Windhoek, Namibia

Part of the Zannier group and renowned for its design, Omaanda Lodge is close to Windhoek. This is the perfect place to stay before a safari or after a safari. With just 10 thatch and clay huts modelled on the local Owambo tribe’s style of accommodation, the 22 000-acre wildlife conservancy lies just 30 minutes from the capital. Here you can track rhino or spend time with a herd of elephant.

Programmes are designed around each guest, affording luxury, privacy and flexibility - the key to a successful safari. The food is excellent and they have a superb spa. There is also a swimming pool to cool off during the summer months.

 


Singita Lebombo, Limpopo, South Africa

The last Singita lodge features in our collection and is based in the beautiful Limpopo region north of Kruger Park. Fabulous wildlife, walking and cycling are on offer. However, the design is very much minimalist here. The lodge was designed on the Eagle’s nests, and are built into the rock face, but overlook the seasonal river.

The enormous villa style rooms are open plan, with an abundance of glass from floor to ceiling and each has a large verandah with a sky bed which they make up for you should you wish to sleep beneath the stars one night. There is a lap pool, a wine studio and a library. There is also a fitness centre and a wellness spa. One can visit the local community from here too. Singita also have an excellent children’s safari programme.

If you would like more information about luxury holidays and safaris to Africa, please do feel free to get in touch, I would love to discuss these properties (or others) with you! There are also a plethora of beautiful hotels and lodges across Asia that have unique and inspired design or architectural qualities. Or, if you would just like to dream for now, you can do so at our Video Library.

 

Images and videos by kind courtesy of:

  • Top pic - Onduli Ridge, background - Cheetah Plains, 2nd pic - Little Mombo
  • Little Mombo: Crookes and Jackson
  • Omaanda: Zannier Hotels
  • Chisa Busanga Camp: Chase Bjornson
  • Chikwenya Lodge: Kyle & Ruth
  • Xigera Lodge, Sanctuary Retreats, Angama Mara, Great Plains Conservation, Segera Retreat, Singita, Time + Tide, Kisawa, Natural Selection Safaris, One and Only Hotels, The Silo, Asilia Africa, Legendary Expeditions, Green Safaris, Zambezi Crescent Collection, Wilderness Safaris.

 

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