29 November 2013
f you’re looking for a truly authentic Out-of-Africa-style luxury safari minus the hefty price tag, you can’t get better than the slice of African heaven that is umSisi House.
Nestled on a hillside watched over by the sacred Lion Mountain of Legogote, there are few spots this beautiful on the fringes of the Kruger National Park.
Yes, you can pay more for a more chichi (aka contrived) experience as provided by some better-known game reserves within the park - where guests are flown in and out without their feet ever really touching African soil. But if a lovingly crafted mix of homespun charms, high-class comfort and authentic 21st century colonial Africa sounds more your thing, umSisi House will deliver above and beyond.
The British owners have managed to capture Africa’s heart and stitch its soul into the very fabric of the place. Personal touches abound, alongside high-end creature comforts that create the kind of ‘At Home in Africa’ that a discerning traveller could spend years trying to find.
The lodge’s owners and managers, Amanda and Paddy, are charming hosts who possess the rather uncanny ability to know exactly when to appear and disappear. If you’re lucky enough to get to know them, you’ll probably want to sit up and chat the night away in their company (and we did) - not least because of their warmth and hospitality. But, having travelled around more than 75,000km of Africa in the last twenty years, their deep and passionate knowledge of their magical country, and the continent beyond, gives rise to unrivalled conversation.
Quite apart from their conversation, you can rest assured that at the very least you’ll fall in love with this duo for their exceptional skills in the kitchen. Let’s just say that if Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson partnered up and set up a guesthouse in Africa, they’d have a hard time competing with umSisi House. The menu planning begins before you arrive, when you’ll receive a long list of meal options to choose from. They cater to every taste and dietary restriction - you can pick and choose from a selection that would leave Anthony Bordain spoilt for choice.
Early evenings are best spent lounging on the colonial-style wrap-around veranda, aperitif in hand, sampling some of White River’s finest local biltong. My elephant sightings aside, watching the lingering rays of a setting African sun dance upon the dome of Lion Mountain made for some of the finest memories of our trip. Decked out with animal skins and elegant local art, this is the perfect spot from which to contemplate the vast continent stretched out before you. It’s a view that’s probably not changed in centuries.
The same however, can’t be said of umSisi House, which has clearly undergone a facelift worthy of a sizeable spread in Conde Nast Traveller. Kitted out with all the high-end boutique hotel accoutrements you could wish for in the wilderness - wireless, iPod docks, HD TV, rainwater showers, oversized tubs - it’s the ultimate oasis to come home to and swap sighting stories after a day getting dusty in the Kruger.
Day safaris, which are arranged by your hosts, leave at dawn. If like me, you’ve never been on safari before, you’ll come back a different person. There aren’t words to explain the feeling of stepping into Attenborough’s shoes for a day or the profundity of seeing your fellow mammals up close in the wild. I daren’t even imagine how many digital camera slideshows Amanda and Paddy have had to sit through on their guests’ return, but you can bet your bottom dollar you’ll want to show them yours.