An off-grid camp, run like a smart hotel by travel stalwarts the Tollman family, Xigera represents the sharp edge of transformative, sustainable travel in one of Botswana’s prime private concessions. Thanks to the family’s takeover of this former Wilderness Safaris-run property on the western edge of Moremi Game Reserve, the dozen perfectly positioned, solar-powered tents, elevated between riverine forest, are filled to the brim with bespoke, artisanal pieces and artworks by Southern Africa’s creatives. This is the most pampered, plush, personalised safari to be had in the Delta.
The original Xigera, a modest camp built from reed and thatch, was the very first property opened by Wilderness Safaris in Botswana in the mid-1980s. Up until recently, the Tollmans owned a sizable share in Wilderness Safaris – a fraction of their global travel empire, but significant because of their commitment to Africa. For more than 20 years Stanley Tollman brought friends and family to the delta to be privately guided by the erudite and hugely entertaining Mike Myers. In the parting of ways with Wilderness, the family kept Xigera, fulfilling a lifelong dream of rebuilding and refining their favourite lodge. Today, Myers and his wife Marian have become the Dereck and Beverly Joubert of Xigera. They oversee operations, mixing the family’s hospitality expertise with their safari experience and a deep understanding of operating sustainably in the middle of nowhere.
The 12 suites, most facing east over the floodplains, are linked to the main areas by elevated boardwalks winding between the trees filled with birdlife. Each is a self-contained oasis of indoor-outdoor living spaces filled with contemporary furniture and art, commissioned and sourced through Cape Town’s Southern Guild gallery. Bedrooms are lavishly layered – plump cushions, ornate Ardmore bedside lamps, rich, textured fabrics – it’s hard to believe you’re in the wilderness. While the dressing room is tucked behind the bedroom, the spacious en-suite bathroom has a free-standing copper bath, twin bronze lily-flower basins and a choice of indoor and outdoor showers.
Ingenuity and variety spring from the kitchen – it feels as if you’re eating in a different restaurant every time, served in unique, last-minute surprise locations. A picnic lunch might be taken under a fig tree in the middle of the reserve, a romantic plated dinner on your private deck, sundowner snacks in the baobab-sculpture treehouse, a fireside barbecue in the boma with its giant centrepiece by Conrad Hicks. There’s even English tea with chocolate cake, smoked-salmon sandwiches, cream scones and pastel macarons. There are also authentic Indian curries (try the fragrant fish curry) and tandoori specialities on the menu every day, but you can order whatever else you feel like, from steak frites to a buddha bowl. House wines are from the family’s own cool-climate vineyards in South Africa, but the cellar holds many boutique labels besides.
Definitely book a skin-quenching Tata Harper facial (the first African outpost of this cult organic range) or a full-body massage using botanical-enriched oils in one of Xigera’s two spa therapy pods. These open up fully to take in the views or can be closed to cocoon you against the elements. There is a gym, pool and yoga pavilion for sunrise practice with a resident teacher beneath Xigera’s very own folly, the water lily sculpture designed by architect Anton de Kock.
The lodge’s designer interiors and superb service are wonderfully distracting, but it’s the Delta’s watery wonderland that demands attention and exploration by boat, mokoro (request one of the glass-bottomed canoes), four-wheel-drive game-viewer or on a guided walk. Photograph lions stalking through long grass, watch red lechwe antelopes splash effortlessly through the water or elephants, knee deep, feeding on water-lily roots. Birding is excellent, especially on foot.
Many of the staff have been part of the Xigera family for decades, and are enormously proud of the new lodge, but it is a quiet, intentional, service-driven confidence – nothing is too much trouble and personal quirks are indulged and remembered, as they would be in one of the Tollmans’ Red Carnation city hotels. Days unfold as energetically or as leisurely as you want, with plans and surprises orchestrated with meticulous attention to detail in the background thanks to your private guide and butler.
There’s no better place for a multi-gen gathering (the family suite is ideal for those with tweens or teens), but the camp is so spread out that a romantic rendezvous will be just that – deeply private, as if you’re the only guests in residence.
Full marks for sustainable design, build and operations. Central to the efficient off-grid running of Xigera is the state-of-the-art Tesla solar hybrid-power system, which supplies almost 100 per cent of the camp and nearby staff village’s energy. Many of the eco efforts are behind the scenes, like the composter for organic kitchen waste that produces ‘black gold’ to boost the kitchen gardens; the biodegradable cleaning products and the gorgeously scented toiletries, packaged in recyclable grass-green glass; grey water from the above-ground sewage system that safely irrigates the gardens. The water supply throughout the lodge is purified via the latest in reverse-osmosis technology before being remineralised (tap water is perfectly safe to drink and guests receive a sleek, refillable water flask). Thermodynamic geysers supply hot water using minimal energy, while the tinted glass windows in the guest tents insulate the interiors against heat and cold depending on the time of year.
The lodge is not fully accessible for those with limited mobility.
Besides the obvious game-viewing options, book a helicopter trip to see the Delta’s large herds of elephant, buffalo, hippo pods and flocks of water birds. Spend a night in the baobab treehouse, a triple-storey, off-grid rooftop star bed (there’s a second bedroom below it, with drop-down canvas walls, should the open-air bed feel too scary).
By Marcela Kunova - 20th April 2017
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Your holiday is fully protected by the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018
Flight-Inclusive Bonding: We are licensed by the Civil Aviation Authority and hold ATOL Number 7159
Flight-Exclusive bonding: Your holiday is further protected by our membership of ABTOT Membership Number 5197