Some come to Africa for the game. Others—let’s be honest—will pay just to get away from the crises of life at home, to unwind over great meals, relax by the pool, listen to the sounds of nature.
South Africa’s 185,000-acre Madikwe Game Reserve, a 50-minute flight from Johannesburg, on the border with Botswana, is best for those in that latter category. Indeed, it’s the kind of place safari regulars visit after they’ve gotten their fill of the Big Five. The game’s not quite as good as it is in, say, Sabi Sand Reserve, where three of Singita’s lodges are located, and so the accommodations, particularly the villas, become the main attraction. Case in point? Molori Safari Lodge, which has improved the villa offerings here exponentially since its October 2008 debut.
Johannesburg natives Kirk Lazarus and Ivor Ichikowitz began expanding their Madikwe estate in 2006, turning it into this five- bungalow retreat and offering, among other unique pleasures, one of the largest personal telescopes in southern Africa, a generous holistic indoor-outdoor spa, and interiors by South African designer Stephen Falcke, a regular in the pages of Architectural Digest and French Vogue.
Molori’s staff of 44 serves a maximum of 14. Chef Willie Malherbe oversees each day’s menu, depending heavily on the on-site organic garden. Specialties include oxtail stew, homemade peach chutney, and pan-roasted springbok (gazelle), an African delicacy that doesn’t have too gamy a flavor, despite being, well, game. Safari guide Greg Lederle, a ten-year veteran of the bush, spent three years as a professional game hunter throughout South Africa. He leads custom outings, including night drives—at Molori there are no regimented schedules. Butler Lucas Mabele, meanwhile, unpacks suitcases, arranges safari suits, stocks the selection of Acqua di Parma toiletries, and replenishes the assortment of homemade cured meats, dried mangoes, and more in every suite.
It’s easy to get lost in the service and accommodations here, and many guests do—opting out of the game drives entirely, in favor of, say, lounging beneath the high thatch ceilings on a white leather Fendi chaise, sunning themselves on a mock-crocodile-embossed daybed by the full-length infinity-edge pool, or taking lunch on the patio. Designer Falcke’s decor combines native inspiration and innovative design, mixing antique dugout canoes and kudu horns with contemporary pieces like Kenneth Cobonpue’s red reed chair, for example, or unexpected classics like an undulating pale blue Murano glass chandelier. Retractable floor-to-ceiling glass walls bring the primal landscape and the echoing trumpet calls of nearby elephants right inside.
Yes, it’s true: These also let in the occasional—and completely harmless, though no less terrifying—bush-size beetle, but that’s a small price to pay for such proximity to where the wild things are.
Inclusive nightly rates at Molori for a one-bedroom villa sleeping two people begin at $1,870 and cover, among other amenities, all meals, two daily safaris, and transportation to and from the local airstrip (molori.co.za).