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Home free | Memorable villa experiences

Home free | Memorable villa experiences
As privacy remains the most valued luxury in travel today, we’ve handpicked our eight most memorable villa experiences to enjoy winding down in style.

Azura Quilalea, Mozambique
by Michelle Snaddon

There’s nothing quite like being strapped into a life jacket before boarding a helicopter in 30°C heat and extreme humidity to confirm that you’re off on an adventure. But once airborne and gliding swiftly over impossibly blue waters dotted with wooden dhows and a plethora of untouched islands in the Quirimbas Archipelago, the magic fast unfolds. So much so that, arriving to ice-cold, lemongrass-scented hand towels and a walk through a forest periodically dotted with 1 000-year-old baobabs, it becomes part of a journey that feels like a living dream.

Azura Quilalea is now available as an exclusive-use island hideaway. Its typically Mozambican welcome of wide smiles paves the way for blissful days of watching parrotfish swimming over a coral reef metres from the shoreline or waking to discover turtle tracks in the sand. Deep grooves remain imprinted on the beach – testimony to the immense effort it took to lay more than 100 eggs before returning to the water utterly exhausted.


You’ll think nothing of wandering from your private villa down to your beach at dawn half asleep, slowly sipping your first cup of tea. It’s about timing your visit around the moon so that you can kayak at high tide to the mangroves on Sencar Island. It’s about letting go and letting island time take over.


Fly with a soft bag for your helicopter transfer. Don’t bother with anything warmer than a long-sleeved top, flip-flops and sandals – pack double the amount of kaftans instead. The setting is casual Robinson Crusoe but each villa offers five-star comfort.


Up to 18 in eight villas and the honeymoon suite


From $14 460 per night, all inclusive, excluding transfers. Enquire about special rates for South Africans.

Mhondoro Game Lodge, Welgevonden Game Reserve, Limpopo
by Julia Freemantle

One of South Africa’s (mysteriously) lesser-visited game destinations, Welgevonden is a short three-hour drive from Johannesburg. A malaria-free Big Five reserve in the breathtakingly scenic and varied terrain of the Waterberg, it’s home to the newly launched Mhondoro Game Lodge, an intimate and contemporary luxury lodge. It’s made up of a chic and modern main lodge and separate suites joined by walkways, looking out over a watering hole. The private villa is set to the far left, adjacent, but by way of its design orientation, screened from view of the main buildings.


The ultimate safari escape, this is essentially a large, beautifully designed house, with all the comforts of home but added hotel conveniences just next door (the spa pavilion has a bath on the deck where you can have a post-treatment candlelit bath watching the sun set – a game changer). Numerous outdoor lounging, dining and game-watching areas invite you to spend as much time as possible soaking up the scenery – the point of the bush, really.

The use of the villa comes with everything you can possibly think of – private heated pool, gym, safari vehicle with personal ranger, a chef, butler and housekeeping staff – and even some that you wouldn’t have: a yoga studio and outdoor shower with game-viewing window to mention two. This is the kind of place you want to settle in for a while to really make the most of the setting and service, which is exemplary (look forward to a hot-water bottle each night and on morning game drives, along with the warmest staff imaginable).

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The underground hide, which you reach via a tunnel from the main lodge to the watering hole, is the perfect spot to watch the game at close range. The resident elephant bull Mr T comes to drink from the pool almost daily, a magnificent sight.


Six people accommodated in a huge master suite and two additional en-suite bedrooms


The R25 000 (low season) to R30 000 (high season) per night fee is for four guests. Additional adults and children carry different rates. This includes all meals and game drives, plus house wines and beers. Gratuities and premium liquors are extra.

Tarkuni, Tswalu Private Game Reserve, Kalahari
by Jane Broughton

Spanning more than 1 000km2, the Oppenheimer family’s private conservation area in the southern Kalahari provides a luxury of space and solitude that is priceless. Checking into Tarkuni, the private, five-bedroom getaway gives you access to all of it.


Untamed and uninhabited, the entire reserve awaits exploration by 4×4, on foot or via horseback accompanied by a private guide and tracker team. Backed by the ancient, quartzite Korannaberg mountains and fronted by seemingly endless savannah grasslands and red sand dunes, the rustic-chic thatched lodge has a large swimming pool, outdoor lounging areas, its own boma for starlit dining, an extensive library and a spa, where you can indulge in signature Tswalu treatments. Try a desert mineral crystal body exfoliation followed by an aromatic, desert botanical-infused candle massage.


Tswalu is not a typical Big Five reserve but instead, it’s a place for leisurely excursions to find Kalahari lion, cheetah and pangolin, and enjoy the comical antics of meerkats. Tracking the rare desert black rhino on foot is a highlight.


Up to 10 guests


From $6 500 (exclusive use, maximum 10 guests) per night, inclusive.


Synergy Tree House, Scarborough, South Africa
by Michelle Snaddon

Aptly named for its sensitive design around the trees on the craggy Scarborough hillside, Synergy Tree House is a blissful sanctuary for those who want to get away from the city yet leave none of their comfort zones behind. But that’s where the traditional vision of a tree house ends. By the time you’ve had some fun with the sophisticated touch-lighting system in what’s possibly the most high-tech villa in this blissfully quiet seaside village, you’ll realise that there’s absolutely nothing barefoot-and-hippie about this hideaway. No expense has been spared, from the pop-up flatscreens at the foot of the bed to the Bond-style bar that beckons at sundown.


Made with the last piece of registered cedar wood from the Cederberg, it’s just one of the obsessive but wonderful details that we can’t resist sharing about Synergy. A second: gourmet cooks will love the Andy de Klerk-designed kitchen that’s been kitted out with Smeg and Le Creuset and, of course, styled to perfection.

Most impressive of all is the flow. Glass doors literally disappear to reveal endless sea views, a magnificent safari-style deck is hidden by the trees and a rocky outdoor boma. Eating alfresco, even in winter, is de rigueur with snuggly blankets and a roaring fire to keep you warm. In summer, swim in the lap pool or head for the unspoilt beach before returning to lunch on the deck or in the garden, where chaise longues are perfectly placed for a siesta.

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The Village Hub, Foragers and the Whole Earth Cafe are within walking distance for any supplies you might have forgotten. When you arrive, ask about meditative yoga on the deck or the variety of massages and holistic, restorative treatments.


Four people


R5 000 to R9 000 per night for four.

The Longhouse, Graaff-Reinet, South Africa
by Julia Freemantle

Graaff-Reinet is one of South Africa’s prettiest towns, sadly often just a stop en route to somewhere else, although it deserves a more thorough exploration. With much of the charming old architecture intact (even the most perfunctory buildings are housed in exquisite spaces) and wide, tree-lined streets, it retains the charm that many old towns have lost along the way.


The Longhouse is one such example. A long, 19th-century whitewashed Karoo house with characteristic green shutters and thick walls, it’s designed to provide refuge from the searing midsummer heat. Designer Charlotte Daneel’s Axel Vervoordt-inspired palette of terracotta, linen and taupe has a soothing and timeless quality, complemented by cement screed floors and squashy sofas. The odd elegant armchair keeps it polished, but the overall effect is comfortable and laid-back. A row of flourishing fruit trees and a well-stocked veggie garden adds to the country setting and gives you the feeling of taking a step back in time. But despite its old-world feel, the house has all the mod cons and is fully kitted out to make a holiday here really relaxing, including DStv, a full kitchen and an inviting pool.


Go in summer. The long outdoor dining table begs for late-into-the-evening dinners while the kids won’t leave the 14m-long pool all day, leaving you to sip G & Ts on the deep veranda with a book. Stock up the kitchen; there aren’t many great restaurants in town, so this is an opportunity to have loads of home-cooked meals.


Eight in three king-size bedrooms, one with two three-quarter beds


R4 200 per night, all year round.


Manor House, Mont Rochelle Hotel, Franschhoek
by Pippa De Bruyn

Having done a sterling job with Mont Rochelle Hotel, the design duo at Hot Cocoa was given free reign at this latest addition to Richard Branson’s 39ha wine estate. The results are fantastic: open-plan living with large picture windows that frame views of the vineyard-clad slopes and a classy, unstructured approach to luxury that doesn’t shout money but costs plenty. Even the walls – a textured white – are hand-painted by an artist; a fairly strict palette of white, black and graphite grey is offset by the prodigious use of warm oak. It’s the kind of place that invites you to help yourself to the contents of the fridge (though there’s always someone on hand to serve your drinks), plug in your music and put your feet up.



It’s a private mountain idyll, with baboons gambolling in the back garden, yet Franschhoek’s high street with its chi-chi galleries, boutiques and restaurants is a 10-minute stroll down the hill.


Eight adults and up to six children


From R46 800 per night; includes breakfast, either a three-course lunch or dinner, all drinks and Wi-Fi.


Singita Pamushana’s Villa 7, Zimbabwe
by Jane Broughton

This five-bedroom family villa, perched high on a koppie between dramatic boulders and mature trees, forms part of Singita Pamushana. The villa and six additional suites overlook the Malilangwe Dam and are unique in design, combining intricate and decorative stonework – reminiscent of the Great Zimbabwe ruins – with thatch and glass. Up until January 2016, the villa was for the exclusive use of Wall Street hedge funder Paul Tudor Jones, who set up the not-for-profit Malilangwe Trust, which owns the private and remote Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve. Bordering Gonarezhou National Park, it’s a truly wild and beautiful corner of Zimbabwe, characterised by towering rocky outcrops, hundreds of baobabs, ancient rock paintings and abundant wildlife including white rhino and lion.


In addition to split-level living spaces, the sprawling, self-contained villa, decorated in bold Shangaan patterns and bright colours by Boyd Ferguson, has a kids’ den, study, rim-flow pool and outdoor shower. It comes with private staff, including a personal chef, guide and tracker. Days are filled with game drives, nature walks, bike rides, sunset boat cruises, fishing and star-bed sleepouts, or you can simply gaze out over the panoramic landscape.


The master bedroom is substantially bigger and more private than the other four bedrooms, making this a better option for families instead of a party of friends.


Up to 10 guests


$8 695 per night (one to six guests), $1 450 per additional adult per night and $725 per extra child per night.


Mkombe’s House, Nomad Lamai, Serengeti
by Pippa De Bruyn

Located near the Mara River into which the migration herds plunge every year, Mkombe’s House is one of only two exclusive-use houses in the Serengeti and the perfect family base for parents wanting to experience Africa’s greatest game park. Decor is trademark Joanna Cooke: barefoot-chic, cool and comfortable, more Zanzibar than safari, with canvas walls that open every room to views of the Serengeti plains stretching below Kogakuria Kopje.


For parents with young children, it’s inimitably practical: two large en-suite bedrooms, each with an adjoining en-suite children’s room; two fenced-off swimming pools (one a shallow plunge pool for toddlers); little chairs and high chairs and a freestanding step for the bath or loo. A staff complement of five includes a private guide, so everything is scheduled around your family routine.

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Mara River crossings take place from July to October. Closed mid-March to end-May.


Four adults and six children


From $655 per person per night based on a minimum of four adults, inclusive of accommodation, meals, drinks and game activities.


Contact details

• Azura Quilalea:
• Mhondoro Game Lodge:
• Tswalu Private Game Reserve:
• Perfect Hideaways:
• Mont Rochelle Hotel:
• Singita:
• Nomad Lamai:

Text Michelle Snaddon, Julia Freemantle, Jane Broughton and Pippa de Bruyn
Photographs Claudia Pellarini, David Ross and supplied

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