Having worked in Hull for many years, I’m a master at spotting its distinctive accent. So, within 5 minutes of arriving at Luwawa Forest Lodge, in Malawi’s South Viphya Forest Reserve, I’d established that the owners, George and Christine, were originally from the ‘UK City of Culture 2017’.
The lodge is located off Malawi’s M1 (which bears no resemblance to its English equivalent) along a 10km stretch of dirt track.
As we were staying two nights, we were allocated Cedar Cottage, a self-catering cottage, rather than one of their four chalets. We had a large living room with fireplace, TV, comfy chairs, dining area and basic kitchen which had a door leading to a small rear garden and BBQ.
Up rather steep open stairs were two bedrooms with a child’s bed on the landing, which we used for our luggage. Our large bedroom had creaky wooden floorboards and a small balcony with two, fold-up chairs.
There were two bathrooms: one had a loo, basin and bath on a raised dais which meant it was slightly difficult to get in and out of and a tap which gushed hot water, whilst the basin tap dribbled. The second, had a shower, but we struggled to mix a suitable temperature.
We thought it interesting we were allocated the cottage before they knew how physically able we were.
The main lodge had a small bar, dining room and lounge where everyone gathered for pre-dinner drinks. Having discovered a liking for Malawi Gin and Tonic in our first lodge, we were disappointed to find gin but no tonic, so settled for reasonably priced glasses of wine. The room had a welcoming log fire, the favourite spot of the lodge’s two huge dogs, with the chimney breast being painted with a picture of a huge Baobab tree. Leading off the dining area, was an outdoor terrace with seating which was dotted with pots and plants.
All in all, it was quirky, ramshackle and a little disorganised (on arrival, we were asked by three different people if we wanted tea). There were no formalities and no introduction to the lodge and its facilities. As a result, we weren’t told that the electricity is switched off 30 minutes after the last guest has gone to bed. And as we weren’t given solar lights, we had to negotiate our way to the bathroom in an unexpectedly pitch-black room on our first night. Despite its remote location, wifi was available in the bar when the power was on (from around 5pm onwards).
Numerous activities were offered at extra charge: forest walks, archery, mountain biking, abseiling, canoeing etc. Armed with a map, we settled on a non-guided, 45-minute walk to the dam under lots of tall fir trees with pine cones scattering the floor. We also found a long, wooden jetty with rickety boards, but made it to the end and sat in the late-afternoon sun at a picnic bench. Returning, we explored the archery area and the viewing platform.
The no-choice food was average. Dinner was at 7pm and on our first night, had a very thick soup, steak with a pepper sauce, roast potatoes and red cabbage but declined a huge square of stodgy sponge pudding with squirty cream. Our second dinner started with a tasty bruschetta, followed by chicken in a mustard sauce, roast potatoes, squash and salad. Instead of the banana fritters shown on the chalk board, we were amused when served with two, mini savoury quiche with home-made tomato sauce – presumably destined for lunch the next day.
Breakfast, ordered the previous night, presented two unusual options: breakfast pizza (slices of home-made bread lightly toasted and topped with a tomato mixture and grated cheese) and cheese on toast, topped with two poached eggs. Both were surprisingly good.
Neither George or Christine were around to wave us off: we suspect they were busy preparing for the impending visit of 20+ school children for team building activities. We were just pleased we were leaving before they arrived to spoil the peace and tranquility.