As you might expect, “Zomba Forest Lodge”:http://www.zombaforestlodge.com/, is located in Zomba Forest, and a 30 minute drive on a bumpy dirt track from Zomba Town. It’s a former forestry resthouse, now owned by Tom and Petal, who previously lived in Southampton.
There are only four rooms and Petal explained that they run it informally as a ‘home from home’, in that beds are not made, rooms are not cleaned and towels are changed on request. None of this was a problem for a couple of days. The room was relatively basic with stone floor, double bed with a large ethnic wall hanging, table and desk and open plan space for hanging. The bathroom was very small and no frills with shower, hand basin and loo. There’s no electricity or generator but solar lights were provided, candles were lit when dark and camera batteries etc could be left for solar charging. Tom was a designer in a former life and there are lots of artistic touches around.
There was a main dining area/lounge and a semi open veranda with seating and the extensive grounds, with lawn and garden, had lots of quiet places to sit and relax. The lodge sits within 20 acres and there were numerous walking trails around the property, although many of them are steep.
Tom and Petal were excellent hosts and always around for a chat or to provide drinks.
Food was a big part of our stay and I looked forward to reading the dinner menu on the blackboard as everything was so temptingly described. This was how our first dinner was written:
The Tummy Tickler – butternut and cinnamon soup.
The Belly Filler – chunks of chicken with honey and spice and all things nice, served with mint cous cous, sweet potato and rosemary flatbread, roasted vegetables in yoghurt and herbs and tzatziki.
The Top Button’s Undoing – a slice of lemon and almond tart.
Everyone ate together at 7pm on a long table with the food being informally served in large bowls which we helped ourselves to. As most guests only stay a couple of nights, there was a constant stream of new and interesting people to chat to. They included aid workers, a young couple from Tel Aviv, Germans and South Africans. We thought we were ambitious with a month in Malawi, but this was nothing compared to a retired Swiss couple travelling around Africa in their camper van for two years.
Many of their guests are aid workers or repeat visitors, and Petal told us, she maintains a meticulous spreadsheet of what each guest is served, so that meals are never repeated.
Tom was always up early and happy to serve pots of tea and jugs of coffee until the warm cinnamon rolls or orange muffins came out of the gas oven at 7am. Once out, a cooked breakfast was available, but we limited ourselves to cereal and fruit and the super rolls and muffins.
As the lodge is in the middle of nowhere, we expected it to have its own vegetable garden, but we were told they prefer to buy from the nearby market to support the local growers and put money into the economy. They obviously look after their staff very well and pay for their health care. Illegal logging is a major problem, as wood is used for cooking and heating, but Tom and Petal are both working hard to combat the deforestation through many initiatives including planting fast growing trees that can be coppiced.
Although only small, this was one of the only places we stayed which was full to capacity the whole time we were there. But with Tom and Petal’s hospitality it’s easy to see why. We felt we were leaving new friends as we departed.