Inside South Africa's Hottest Safari Lodge: Singita Sweni

Looking for more than the stereotypical "safari" experience of cream-colored tents, green-and-khaki decor, and other clichés? South African lodge Singita Sweni might be your ultimate and ultra-modern match. The newly reinvented luxury lodge not only represents Africa safari design at its maximal, it has also raised the bar for fine dining and community sustainability with a world-class program led by South African star chef Liam Tomlin.

Read on for five reasons you'll love the new Singita Sweni – and why this (along with a few other Singita properties) might have the finest safari dining program on the continent.  

1. The sensational safari lodge re-design

You won't find the "classic" safari look here; after a dramatic design makeover in mid-2017, Singita Sweni is Africa's most ultra-contemporary safari lodge by far. Design mavens Cecil & Boyd swapped the earthy tones of the lodge's spaces for an exuberant collage of color and texture, referencing beetle shells, butterflies, and iridescent bird feathers to the furnishings and wall art. Adding to Sweni's reinvention is a sexy infinity lap pool hovering over the riverbank, a show kitchen, and re-imagined open-air dining spaces.


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2. A world-class dining program

If the Michelin Guide were to ever include safari lodges, the Sweni Lodge would be a shoe-in.

That's because Liam Tomlin, a demigod in South Africa's culinary scene known for his premier Chef's Warehouse restaurant in Cape Town, recently teamed with Singita to "realign, refine and modernize" the luxury lodge's dining experience. Forget ordinary steak cuts with fries and bland pasta dishes; the daily-changing menu might list the likes of springbok carpaccio with ponzu, pumpkin seeds, and pickled shimeji or roast plum salad with Parma ham, roobois reduction, and goats' cheese.

Even better news: all five of Singita's South Africa-based properties have received the "Tomlin touch," and each have their own signature cooking style. Sweni, for instance, employs the trendiest yet tasteful (and tasty) cooking techniques for the lunch menu – curing, pickling, fermenting and the like – while pretty-plated dinner dishes made for sharing focuses on the five basic tastes.

3. Cooking with care for the community

There's probably not one safari lodge in existence with a food training program as sophisticated and sustainably-minded as Singita's. The Singita School of Cooking, a rigorous 12-month cooking initiative for the local bushveld community, serves the Singita Sweni and Lebombo Lodges and is harder to get into than Harvard, with a 7% acceptance rate.

In 2017, Chef Liam Tomlin helped elevate the program further by revamping the curriculum. The school's proudest achievement is sending their local star student, Tsakane Khoza (TK), to intern at the World's Best 50 Restaurants-listed Blue Hills Stone Barns in New York. The school's newest facility will open in the Singita Lebombo property in 2018, making it accessible for guests.  

4. See the Big Five and beyond

Singita's private 33,000-acre Kruger National Park concession hosts all of the safari stars – rhinos, lions, buffalo, leopards, elephants – and then some. Expert and easy-going trackers and guides will no doubt show you the best of the bush and provide in-depth commentary on the animals spotted and the wild and wondrous landscape comprised of rivers, red-rock cliffs, and otherworldly, cacti-esque euphorbia trees. For a different and more immersive safari experience, elect for a walking safari among the twice-daily game drives on offer. And there's plenty to do beyond the safari: the adjacent Lebombo Village hosts a boutique shop and a lovely spa with African-themed treatments; try your luck at archery, book a community visit around the area, or simply relax in your spacious suite or around the infinity-edged lap pool.

5. A premium wine and beverage program

The all-inclusive food and beverage program (excluding French champagnes) and central lodge bar means you'll always eat and drink well from Sweni's national and international selections.

Love gin? Singita has an extensive collection of artisanal, made-in-South-Africa gins begging to be quaffed, including the elegant Musgrave Pink Gin and Kalahari truffle-infused Cruxland brand. I don't want to spoil the surprise, but depending on your length of stay, you might get a pop-up gin tasting in a time and place that you'll never forget.

A good glass of wine is never a bad idea on safari, and with Sweni and Lebombo's wine collection numbering in the thousands, you can have plenty of it. Each lunch and dinner menu feature a small list of South African wines based on the day's dishes, with the recommendations consistently hitting the mark. Test your knowledge of Sauvignon Blanc flavor profiles from Chardonnay ones with their South African "blind" wine tasting sessions, which takes place in their cellar. Those fond of particular bottles in Sweni's premium collection can have the vino packed with luggage or shipped to their homes with Singita's Premier Wine Direct Service.

6. Visit and eat at Lebombo Lodge, Sweni's stunning sister

Double the fun, double the food: Singita Sweni's within walking distance to its larger, cliff-hanging neighbor Singita Lebombo, which also recently underwent a fabulous contemporary makeover. Guests are encouraged to visit the respective neighboring lodge and try a meal for a different taste of Singita – Lebombo's style, for instance, involves globally-inspired tapas-style plates, and its large open-plan kitchen. Later in 2018, visiting Lebombo will be all the more enticing once the Singita School of Cooking opens, allowing guests to peek further into Singita's safari dining magic of the highest order.