News & Reviews Africa South Africa Review: The Farmstead

The Farmstead, Thornybush Private Game Reserve
Room type: Luxury Farm Suite
Duration: 9th > 11th September, 2019

After 3 months of being married, my wife sent me packing…on a luxury safari.  Whilst she was meeting new suppliers in Marrakech, at one of the worlds largest luxury travel shows, I felt it only fair that I suffer equally by staying in Singita Ebony and Boulders.  Yet she had other ideas.  So Singita was cut to 4 nights and I was sent on an expedition to the newly finished Farmstead, which went against everything I believe in: new hotels, and new hotels within The Royal Portfolio. Let me be honest, I did not want to be here.  I’m sure there was a hint of love, but abandoning her and going on safari most likely made this a well thought-out punishment that only a woman can deliver.

I have very mixed feelings with The Royal Portfolio.  Beautiful?  Undoubtedly.  Overhyped?  Definitely.  Exhibit a). The Silo, Your Honour.  Pleasing to look at, but the less time you spent with her the better; like a high-class escort that fails to deliver.  Repeated service failures and sky high prices are all I remember.  La Residence was another that didn’t quite hit the spot – all in all just that bit too quirky, like a hipster born in the 60s.  The Farmstead is their follow-up to their highly regarded Royal Malewane, being on the same reserve, 15 minutes away, as its own property, but strangely not receiving of its own website.

This would have been strike 3, were it not for the fact that The Farmstead is a brilliant property. Breaking news, gentleman: marriage can be quite the blessing.

I am not just saying this because of how grateful I was to actually arrive there, for my driver from Singita Sabi Sands managed to spend an hour getting lost in the reserve.  Had he not, it would have been approximately a 90 minute drive.  Instead it was nearly 3 hours, half of which started to feel like the Blair Witch, where every few minutes we appeared to be back where we started.  I will remain certain until my death bed that those doll twigs were following us.

Yet this would either be the most boring hotel review I’ve ever written had I not arrived.  Scratch that, it may actually have been the best.  My take on roughing it is sitting in a 5 star hotels, whilst room service has delivered my steak medium rare, not medium, and watching Bear Grylls on a 22″ TV.  So as all good fairy tales of hotel reviews go, I eventually did arrive.  No glass slipper was waiting for my arrival, although a rather concerned GM was.  No one wants to be in charge when a guest goes missing near a pride of lions, it really reflects badly on your CV.

It was immediately obvious that The Farmstead was not just another safari lodge; the type that I’ve grown so accustomed to, with the dark woods, rustic design and colonial style that practically smells like my great grandfather’s beard. There are 2 types of surprises: sexual transmitted diseases and arriving at a premium priced hotel only to slow clap at the genius marketing team and terrible everyone-else-team.  The Farmstead is thankfully STD free.

The Farmstead entrance

With only 3 rooms and a family villa, The Farmstead is the most intimate lodge I’ve stayed in.  Only 1 room was occupied during my stay – and they left on the first day – so I think I can safely say the number of percentage of guests to staff ratio was exactly how I like it: 100%.   As you might suspect of a property with this room count, it’s no Atlantis, Dubai.  The list of facilities is tiny, but it’s so elegantly designed and spread out that it ticks all the boxes; you have yourself plenty of outdoor and indoor seating, a bar, lounge, small gym and even smaller 1-treatment-room-spa.  Yet you’re on the same land as Royal Malewane, so if you fancy using their impressive facilities, namely their magnificent spa, it’s a short car ride away.

After the usual high-fives with management, I was taken to my room.  They put me farthest away, most likely to keep the staff away from me.  It was mentioned once or twice that they were aware of this blog, so I was going there with an arsehole stamp on my forehead.  There was no need, chaps, as you went above and beyond – the room was perfectly setup, for which I should leave it there and say no more, but I did appreciate the “save” the lodge manager attempted when I mentioned the bottle of champagne waiting for me, only for him to come back later and say it was so the room was setup as it would normally be and I could photograph it.  Ok, maybe they were right to avoid me.

The room?  Once again: gorgeous.  It contains all the charm of La Residence, without being overly charming, like La Residence.  Some may not like that there’s not any view, or the fact that it isn’t in anyway like another safari lodge. I don’t care for these people’s opinions.  Look at the size of that bathroom; the deck; the huge ceilings and comforts galore.  The colours, warmth and class of it.  An actual TV!  You can even connect your devices to it, although obviously it didn’t work.  The outside porch area, with the swinging sofa – perfect to spend time relaxing.  What I took away the most from this experience as a solo traveler was what suddenly didn’t matter.  I did not care if there’s a toilet door, or even a toilet – I could go, whenever and wherever I wanted.

It feels a shame to spend your entire safari in your room, but I’ll make an exception if you come here.

Then came lunch, where my eyes rolled so far back in my head that I could see myself think, and I assure you they were not pleasant thoughts.  I did not like what I saw, either in my mind or in front of my eyes – tapas, which is widely known as a synonym for elephants droppings.  For those of you who either know me, or wish they didn’t know me, you may understand that I’m a fussy eater.  You don’t stay this thin whilst practically living in hotels, without suffering somewhere along the line.  So out comes the tapas, the sky turns dark, crows start cawing and the lights start flickering.  And then I end up eating all of it.   Dinner was equally brilliant, even if the choice is restricted to 2 starters, 3 mains and only 1 dessert.  The food was amongst the best I’ve experienced whilst on safari.

Then there was the safari itself.  The entire safari experience is ultimately how you get on with your guide and what you see.  It’s so obvious when it’s someone’s job or their passion, and on this trip I lucked out.  Wayne, my guide, was clearly living the dream.  Even the most boring subject managed to become a fascinating story and insight.

This was my 15th African safari camp in the last 24 months, so at this point it was no longer enough to see an elephant.  Nor even an elephant learning to fly, as I saw Dumbo on the plane getting here.  I was down to the real specifics of what would qualify as a successful safari.  After BBC’s Dynasties, I took on an entirely new respect for wild dogs.  I had already managed to see two successful hunts in Singita and Kenya, so now I only cared to see these clinical beasts rip something apart.  After seeing pups every day whilst in Singita, as well as the adults mauling their way through an impala, I only cared to see the full hunt.

Whilst impatiently waiting for this, we did experience a rather annoyed bull elephant charging at leopards trying to mate, as well as a wild dog den with the youngest pups my guide had ever seen.  We spent an entire evening watching the dogs, waiting for them to get up and hunt, only for them to twice charge impalas and give up.  This is an animal with an 80% success rate, yet three times we saw them give up.  They’re almost as useless as my dog.  Getting up early and being out by 5:45am did nothing to help either, as on arrival at the den one of the dogs was covered in blood, having already eaten elsewhere.  Time and luck were not on my side.  Time to find another hobby, I guess.

The Good

  • Service, food, intimacy

The Bad

  • Shared reserve
  • Animal murder was on the low side

The Luxurious

  • Best rooms I’ve experienced on safari
  • Brilliant guide

Conclusion

The Farmstead is a great property.  On premise, no complaints.  Off premise, this is my only “but” in the review.  With it being on a shared reserve, you will find yourself restricted. Thornybush has 12 lodges on it, so you will see other guests from other camps.  Why should that bother you?  Well, because we’re not animals, so we must share our viewings of animals.  I was fortunate enough to have a private vehicle and never had to move off a viewing, but that was mostly due to coming in September, right after all the Europeans and Americans have gone back home and occupancy is low.  We did see other vehicles from camps multiple times.  A few weeks earlier and it could have been a different story, where suddenly you have to leave a sighting as someone and their iPad want to photograph it.

The infamous Mombo is even more restrictive and can be twice the price, so this might not be a concern to everyone.  Obviously there is nothing they can do to fix it, so you’ve just got to go in understanding this.  The rooms, service and food is great, so you will be in a truly luxurious environment during your stay.  Perhaps most surprisingly, the design made it feel incredibly relaxed, so why not just take full advantage of it being all inclusive and go along for a good old British piss-up instead?

I’m not a fan of the atypical rustic safari design so The Farmstead was a really welcome respite for me.  It’s safari, but not as we know it.

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 2nd Oct '19

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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