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If I was to be truly honest, my most indulgent memory of Royal Chundu was the most touching surprise waiting for me as I returned to my island villa after the sundown river cruise: a magical, lantern lit, foaming bubble bath on the deck – an entirely decadent treat. Staring up at the stars with the mighty Zambezi drifting beneath me, frogs croaking and hippos grunting in the distance, I wished that I could share it with every Capetonian living through the worst drought in living memory. Ironically, the river here was at its highest in 10 years. I couldn’t have been happier.

That said, I’ve rewritten this opening paragraph at least twice because Royal Chundu is Zambia’s only Relais & Chateaux property for good reason: the food is heavenly. And, whether your arrival is by helicopter, car or boat, as mine was that day, there’s nothing more soothing than alighting on the jetty and being welcomed onto Katombora Island with a refreshing cocktail followed by a lunch that exceeded all expectations. I opted for the roasted pear and blue cheese starter followed by chef Sungani Phiri’s most sublime fish curry, all the time sitting mesmerized by the powerful rippling tide of water heading for the big plunge downstream, where spray plumes mushroom like rain clouds above the thundering Victoria Falls.

Commanding a private and pristine stretch of the mighty Zambezi, the Island Lodge is without doubt one of the most tranquil settings and it only sleeps 8 so it’s small enough to book exclusively. And if you’re up for it, you can even do a sleep-out on a platform above the rapids on the northernmost tip of the island – the ultimate way to connect with nature – followed by a spa treatment. In fact, I would plan to do very little here. Sit back in a hanging chair and read, rest and rejuvenate the soul and go out each evening for the sundowner cruise. Chef’s flat, roasted parmesan and handmade butternut crisps fly out of the bowls first, and by the time the G&Ts are poured you’re on the other side of the river facing Matetsi’s game-filled shores on the Zimbabwean side. Elephant, hippo and crocs are prolific here. As you return, you’ll spot the lanterns being lit at the nearby family friendly River Lodge, all part of the 15 kilometers of pristine river frontage of Royal Chundu. Evening dinners are undeniably romantic, and privacy is always top of mind.

Interestingly, both Royal Chundu and Matetsi are managed by the owner’s daughters: in this case dynamic Tina Aponte’s style and passion for the lodges is reflected by her staff who are bubbly, caring and capable of making anything happen. Built by her father but inspired by her adventure-loving grandmother who set out to settle in the unchartered wilderness of Africa along with the family silver and antiques, Tina has kept up the tradition, always bringing in personal touches at Royal Chundu. It’s no surprise then that it’s just been voted 4th Best Resort in Africa and an awesome 9th in the World in the Condé Nast Traveler’s 2018 Reader’s Choice Awards. Richly deserved!

What we love!

  • the six-course Zambian slow-food tasting menu beginning with a Mubuyu Cocktail, a Zambian Pina Colada (using the milky baobab fruit as a base with pineapple), before moving on to local ingredients and flavours. Cassava bread with chicken liver mousse, pan-fried Zambezi bream in an aniseed fish broth on Kapenta Visashi (similar to white bait) with okra, fried bondwe (nutritious and spinach-like) and sautéed sweet potato leaves, and beef fillet served with impwa (bitter tomato) – the perfect combination. Loved that some of the unfamiliar ingredients were bought to the table along with the dish.  
  • that even the dressing gowns are different – mine was a funky locally designed and printed Zambian fabric.
  • the extra mile: expect to find fresh mint tea and an infusing teapot, of course. There’s also lemon, ginger and cinnamon at the well-stocked mini bar.
  • the all the windows and doors in your suite stack-back, opening everything up to the view and the deck.

Need to know…

  • sundowners are, quite simply, a cut above the rest on the river. Beautifully styled food trays are set on bright local fabrics and even the large silver ice-bucket comes along for the ride.
  • the village walkabout is worth doing – it was especially heartening to hear that the immune-boosting Moringa tree is flourishing here. This is where most of the vegetables are organically grown for the lodge.
  • personally, I think it’s worth staying at the lodge and enjoying every minute of the soul soothing indulgences here, rather than dashing off to do the adrenaline-pumping activities at the Falls inbetween. Book those before or after your stay and just prepare to be spoilt and pampered while here. Arriving by helicopter is by far the most glam way to arrive. It’s a spectacular journey.

Reviewed by Michelle Snaddon

Sleeps 8 in 4 suites built over the river

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Victoria Falls, Zambia

If I was to be truly honest, my most indulgent memory of Royal Chundu was the most touching surprise waiting for me as I returned to my island villa after the sundown river cruise: a magical, lantern lit, foaming bubble bath on the deck – an entirely decadent treat. Staring up at the stars with the

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Rates

Royal Chundu rates:

2019
Island Lodge: from US$633 to US$1 294

2020
Island Lodge: from US$641 to US$1 254