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Royal Zambezi Lodge is one of Africa’s premier safari camps, situated on the banks of the mighty Zambezi river and offering one of the only bush spas in Zambia. Rachel Hamada went to visit and enjoyed nature and pampering in one relaxing trip.  Arriving at Zambia’s Royal Zambezi Lodge is dramatic...

Zambezi Zest

Royal Zambezi Lodge is one of Africa’s premier safari camps, situated on the banks of the mighty Zambezi river and offering one of the only bush spas in Zambia. Rachel Hamada went to visit and enjoyed nature and pampering in one relaxing trip. 

Arriving at Zambia’s Royal Zambezi Lodge is dramatic in itself. Sweeping over the wide curves of the Zambezi River in a small charter plane, the views are extraordinary – I expect David Attenborough to start a voiceover as I swoop over a family of elephants watering themselves on the riverbank. 

I’m met by lodge manager Tony and driven to the riverside lodge in a Royal Zambezi jeep. The airstrip is conveniently only five minutes from the hotel. I’m staying in one of the suites – the Royal Suite – and this comprises a fairly spacious double bedroom with writing desk and chairs, a part open-air bathroom with blue and turquoise mosaic work, and a wooden deck with a small plunge pool and an antique style copper bathtub (copper has traditionally been one of the main exports of Zambia and is often used here). The room is inside a permanent tent, with a thatched roof above. This particular suite is set up a steep flight of stairs and looks onto the river below, where pods of hippos can often be seen and heard declaring their territory. One hippo in particular is partial to a lunchtime snack of grass on the small island opposite. 

I decide to leave my spa treatments until the end of my stay, preferring to do the busier activities first and enjoy the relaxation at the end. That said, most of the activities are relaxing anyway – there is really nothing at all stressful here. On the first afternoon, I go out onto the river with a couple of other guests to fish for tiger fish, the large and fierce fish for which the Zambezi is renowned. I’m a fishing amateur, but get a bite almost immediately. The fish gets away, but it’s given us all a taste. After another five minutes or so, I get another bite and this time manage to land the fish – it’s a ten pound tiger fish with ferocious teeth, but weak from fighting. Later, another guests catches a 14-pounder (they go up to about 22 pounds on occasion). This is purely sport fishing, so we release these gorgeous iridescent fish back into the depths of the river and photograph the red African sun going down. 

This being a luxury lodge, we enjoy sundowners on the river with prawn spring rolls made by South African chef Darrel, who does most of the cooking at the lodge. Breakfast is a simple affair of cereal, toast and tea/coffee if you’re an early riser and going out on the river or on a game drive. For later risers a cooked breakfast is available. Lunch is a substantial wholesome one-course meal, usually with lots of vegetables or salad. Dinner is the most extravagant meal, with three courses and wine. 

Before dinner, guests tend to converge around the lodge’s Sausage Tree Bar, to discuss the events of the day and what everyone has seen and done. Meals are communal and the atmosphere is sociable. For a special occasion, you can request something different, such having dinner on one of the little islands dotted along the river. 

The next morning I opt for a river cruise, during which I see vast numbers of birds including herons, ibis, storks, cormorants, egrets, sandpipers and the shy purple gallinule. We also see lots of hippos, buffalo and crocodiles. The banks of the river are a light ochre colour and eroded into honeycomb patterns. Even in the dry season they are dotted with green trees and palms that look North African. On the other side of the Zambezi is Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park – the river marks the border. 

In the afternoon, after a siesta, I embark on a canoe safari, a tranquil and eco-friendly way of seeing the local wildlife. We flow down the river with the current in three-person Canadian canoes and spy fish eagles and pretty tropical bee-eaters darting around a quiet backwater. Pale lilac water hyacinths dot the water’s edge as we pass stolid buffaloes and startled impala. After drinks and some biltong from the lodge, we depart the river and rendezvous with a jeep to make a night drive back. 

We soon encounter two proud male lions, who have recently come over from the Zimbabwean side of the river to establish a new terrority on the Zambian side. They strain their whole bodies and roar as loud as they can, over and over. This is the kind of noise you feel with your body, but thankfully we have the security of the jeep. But maybe it is the lions who should be scared of us – one has a deep and painful scar along his face and shoulder, from being caught in a snare. The guides will keep an eye on him and get him medical help if need be – the rule is not to help any animals with ‘natural’ injuries – ie from other animals but animals hurt by humans can be assisted. 

The next morning, we head out early on a walking safari. This is to experience the smaller details of the bush. After the big drama of the lions and crocodiles, we can observe the micro-system of the dung beetle, the medicinal use of various trees and lots more birds. We’re told about one fruit that if eaten, makes you have uncontrollable hiccups until you die. We also hear about the ants and larvae that are popular snacks with locals, at least the older generation. We see a termite mound that has been abandoned by termites, but modified into a mansion for mongooses instead. Nothing is wasted here. 

In the afternoon, we’re on the river again and just as we are thinking of leaving, we notice three male elephants crossing the river from Zimbabwe. They wade out and as the water gets deeper, start to swim. It’s with clear relief that they reach an island in the middle of the river where they start to splash and play. Watching these young wild elephants against the backdrop of the majestic river, the intense red hues of the setting sun and the deeply shadowed mountains of the escarpment, it seems like Africa distilled into a single moment. 

The next day is my last and is also my spa day. The Royal Zambezi Lodge has one of the only bush spas in Zambia. Like my suite, it is set high up above the river and using wooden decking, it features a couple of inside treatment rooms, a mini steam-room, and a massage bed, plunge pool and outside Jacuzzi. There is just one therapist, Tristan from South Africa and I discuss with her what treatments to choose. First, I decide to have a 60-minute Hydra Memory Facial for dehydrated skin, using the spa’s products by luxury Italian brand Comfort Zone. 

Tristan starts by cleansing my skin, which is in bad condition after my week of safaris. All that dust, sweat and sunscreen means seriously blocked pores. After exfoliating my skin, she uses Skin Resonance Peeling, which claims to be a ‘delicate enzyme rejuvenator.’ Then, using her fingers, Tristan extracts the dirt and products, massages my skin and applies Action Sublime serum to all the problem areas. After another thorough cleanse she applies 24-Hour Hydra Memory Fluid and over that, a Hydra Memory Mask, which stays on for 15 minutes. Once the mask is removed, Everyday Tonic is applied – a toning lotion with aloe vera, grape, bilberry and butcher’s broom. The facial ends with my skin being treated with 24 Hour Hydra Memory Cream. 

I opted to have my eyebrows waxed while I having the facial, and this was quick and professional with great results. The only negative was that the electricity in the lodge and spa is off for much of the day and as I was just relaxing into the facial, the air conditioning shut down and the therapist had to open a window instead. Aesthetically this was fine as there were green trees and tropical birds outside adding to the bush spa ambience, but in practical terms, the treatment room got very hot and irritating tsetse flies were able to get inside. 

My skin felt much fresher and plumper afterwards and was visibly healthier looking for several days. I also tried a traditional Zambian treatment – the ukichina massage, a massage with hot towels infused with camomile and rosemary oils. This was pleasant and effective on my back but didn’t do too much for my legs. Apparently ukichina massage is good for people who had been sick or suffered pain in their legs. 

The spa’s other signature treatments include the Royal Massage, with invigorating ginger oil, the Exotic Fruit Glow exfoliation, and the Floral Foot Massage using oils and seasonal flowers. There is also a men’s facial. This is a great destination for mixing the gender roles – women can fish for a giant tiger fish and the men enjoy a relaxing facial! Spa packages are available and treatments can be tailor-made. Groups can spend a half-day in the spa, using the pool, steam room and Jacuzzi and enjoying drinks. The spa itself is small and simple, but it’s so unusual to have a spa in the bush that it’s a welcome addition to the lodge’s attractions and the setting is absolutely unique. 

Most guests stay for three or four days – long enough to enjoy the spa and activities, but not too long to get restless, as beyond the core activities there is not so much to do other than relax and unwind. But for relaxing and unwinding, this is a pretty good place. 

Royal Zambezi Lodge
Lower Zambezi National Park
£1,673 per person (based on two people sharing) with Imagine Africa (0207 622 5114, Price includes BA flights from London, return Royal Charter flights to Lower Zambezi National Park, four nights’ accommodation in a Classic Tent, all meals, soft drinks, game viewing activities & park fees.
Spa treatments are extra – see the spa menu here:
If you want to enjoy a two-centre holiday, taking in the best of South Africa and Zambia, you can fly direct from most UK cities to Johannesburg and then fly to Lusaka with the Zambian national airline Zambezi
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