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South Africa's Sabi Sabi Reserve gets a makeover

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In theory, the idea of the great outdoors is rather romantic, but the reality is often different (the mud, the wind). But an African safari is in a different league. So when we heard that one of the world’s quintessential safari lodges in the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, South Africa was marking its 10-year anniversary with a glamorous revamp, Stylist willingly hopped on a plane.

Sabi Sabi’s Earth Lodge opened a decade ago in the south-western section of the Kruger National Park. At the time it was met with much acclaim due to its groundbreaking, dramatic architecture (instead of wicker furniture and heavy-handed colonial design, it featured sweeping lines and a minimalist ethos), which ushered in a new era of game lodge design and attracted a new wave of cool guests. And they’ve pushed this even further with the re-design.

According to owner Jacqui Loon the new look was all about improving the pareddown feel with a chic edge. “You have to move with the times and I wanted something unique,” she told Stylist.

After driving 500km from Johannesburg through breathtaking vistas of bushland, we arrived at the lodge, which is camouflaged in the landscape. We were ushered down a corridor to the entrance, in front of which unfolds an uninterrupted view of the surrounding reserve, teeming with hundreds of birds and plentiful wildlife – we spotted a small herd of giraffes and zebras going about their business.

The lodge is home to 13 suites, a spa, a library, an underground wine cellar, outdoor lounges and restaurant. We stayed in the Amber Suite and loved the homely tribal feel, not to mention the on-call butler who kept our watermelon coolers flowing. The remarkable ‘Burning Bush’ headboard was the room’s magically extravagant centrepiece, resembling a towering tree trunk, and sculpted by local artist Geoffrey Armstrong.

The glass-fronted bathroom with oversized stone bath offered us prime viewing of the larger-than-life live wildlife outside. The sounds of hippos snorting and birds screeching are a constant reminder of your exotic animal neighbours. Light sleepers should bring earplugs!

Why it’s hot

With no fences between the reserve and Kruger National Park, large game roam free. Safari outings take place every morning and evening in open Land Rovers. The area is known for its leopard sightings and head ranger, Will Lawson, is brilliant at pointing out their eyes flashing in the darkness on the evening safari, as well as highlighting unforgettable sights, such as elephants moving in the distance or bush babies leaping from tree to tree. When you’re not on safari, the wilderness location of Earth Lodge is perfect for stargazing. Throughout the year planets such as Mars and Venus are visible with Saturn being the most spectacular (it can clearly be seen all evening throughout the spring and summer months).

Eating and drinking

Chef Shaniel Dinna serves up ‘Afro Asian’ dishes, but there’s no menu; instead Shaniel greets you before dinner to discuss what he has in mind for the evening. Everything we tasted was delicious, especially the fresh venison with hummus mashed potato, followed by olive oil ice cream. Alternatively, guests can dine in the romantic outdoor ‘boma’ (enclosure) sculpted from tree roots. Or for something truly special – you can choose to dine privately in the lavish wine cellar in front of a roaring fire.

Photo opportunity

The best part of Earth Lodge is the raw experience of being in the thick of Africa. Stylist was pleasantly stunned when an elephant strolled up to dip its trunk in our pool. We were not sure whether we were relieved or not when a resident ranger gently shooed her away.

Suites start from £770 per person per night, including safaris, meals, selected beveragesand wines; sabisabi.com

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