Sir Richard Branson’s treasured safari lodge in South Africa’s Sabi Sands reserve has just opened a newly renovated suite, and I was the first journalist to enjoy a couple of nights ground-testing it.
Converted from three separate lodgings, the 2,010-sq-ft (187sq-metre) Safari Suite is the latest upgrade to Ulusaba Private Game Reserve’s collection of 20 rooms, and accommodates two guests in a residence that is comparable to a small cottage. A walled, lantern-strewn, tree-dotted garden with a boma fire pit leads to the front door, and a spacious pinewood deck wraps around the back of the property.
The suite’s bedroom CREDIT: JONATHAN COSH
Inside, South African designer Franci du Toit has kept things simple with modern, minimalist interiors finished in cream, gold and ocre. Rustic African charm comes from well-placed artifacts, dark wood furniture and a thatched dome roof.
A sizable kitchen area (not that you’ll be doing any cooking) with a well-stocked bar and snacks counter, opens out into a bright, glass-fronted lounge area. Adjacent is the elegantly dressed master bedroom, complete with king-sized canopy bed, and the adjoining all-white bathroom, with a deep curved tub set under the vast window and separate sinks. The lounge, bedroom and bathroom all offer views of the dry Mabrak riverbed and the fragrant bush which unfolds for miles around.
The view from the tub
The suite may only sleep two, but there’s plenty of scope for entertaining guests, either on the 12 cushioned seats encircling the private garden’s fire pit or at the viewing deck’s dining table, which sits eight. And if you’re a party of four, the Safari Suite can be interconnected with the matching Safari Room that neighbours it, also newly renovated and with an en-suite bathroom – guests who choose this set-up will be provided with a private guide and game drive vehicle for the duration of their stay.
In short, there’s more space within the compound of the Safari Suite than its residents could ever need to sleep, work, lounge and party – not that you’d want to spend much time inside. The vast proportion of my stay was enjoyed outside on the viewing deck or in the warm waters of the triangular hot tub plunge pool while watching wildlife saunter nonchalantly past.
Its positioning on the outskirts of Ulusaba lends this suite a sense of total seclusion, but it’s worth venturing into the heart of the property on occasion. Meandering rope bridges lead to a communal dining veranda, two outdoor pools, a spa, gym, two tennis courts, a quaint wine cellar, and an isolated stargazing observatory.
The viewing deck CREDIT: JONATHAN COSH
And of course, there’s the real reason you came: the safari experiences. Ulusaba, acquired by Branson in 1994, means ‘place of little fear’, a nod to its elevated position over the 13,500 hectares of bush it occupies. “We’ve have leopards who’ve felt safe enough to give birth right by the lodge,” Branson informed me over lunch by the pool (expect seasonal pan-African dishes alongside freshly baked breads and pastrie). Of course there’s no guarantee future guests will witness such a dramatic encounter directly on their door step, but the twice-daily game drives will undoubtedly throw up some surprises, from sightings of the Big Five to encounters with wild dogs and glossy impala. All continue to flourish on these peaceful, well-protected grounds.