Zambezi Grande

Photographed by Elsa Young

The story of Zambezi Grande is at its core one of love and a profound sense of awe for this magnificent part of the world. The provenance and connection to nature here, where some of the earth’s most lauded wild animals roam, are omnipresent.

It started in 2019 when the Bergsma, Ball and Throssell families came together to transform an old holiday home, on the banks of the lower Zambezi, into a lodge of dreams. The renovation of the Cape Dutch homestead was a joint passion project of the three families. For Michele Throssell it had particular reverence.

“The lodge has a special place in our hearts and for me and my team as its been the first lodge we have been able to be a part of in terms of ownership,” says Michele.  The goal of the three owners was to create ‘the Best’ luxury escape on the Zambezi River and all of them contributed significantly to make this a reality. It was imperative to retain the homeliness and character of the old homestead, to be the quintessential African-safari, ‘home away from home.’ Says Michele

“As it was a family lodge it was not catering for heavy traffic and ergonomically was not practical as a luxurious guest experience. The lodge has distinct features and due to it previously being a family home, we wanted to highlight the soulfulness and home-like features it already had.”

The revamp was extensive and holistic and paid homage not just to the provenance of the original home but to the preservation of the abundant wildlife and ecology of the surrounds. “It was important to honour the place that gives the lodge life but we wanted to do this in new and interesting ways,” says Michele.

Aside from the bricks and mortar makeover of the main and outlying guest dwellings, the kitchens and staff accommodation also got an overhaul.  Then there was the installation of a solar farm to enable the entire establishment to run off-grid and the grounds and surrounding locale were landscaped with the inclusion of indigenous plants as well as a vegetable and herb garden.

Externally, the facades of all the buildings were painted charcoal and the beige, dated, sandstone tiles of the suites’ verandas were replaced with geometric terrazzo monochrome and silver tiles – a contemporary update to the old-world black and white floor tiles. Inside the suites and main building, ceilings now feature bamboo lattice, the vinyl floors were replaced with a dark khaki screed and the walls have been cladded with timber and washed in the comforting hue of rich olive green.

The final phase of the overhaul was a thorough rebrand and repositioning marketing and client service strategy, from the beautifully illustrated information booklets – featuring some emotive and nostalgic illustrations – right through to the styling of the concierges with their pressed white linen jackets and gold buttons; every detail was considered.

With the creative brief being to retain the sense of history and provenance of the original homestead and its location, the MTI team knew that the main dwelling and outbuildings, although designed in the grandiose colonial aesthetic, had to be cleverly reworked to reflect as well as blend into the surrounds. Every surface that was originally a neutral shade of white or cream got a wash of deep and ambient shades of the surrounding bush; olive green, charcoal, khaki and all shades in-between. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this would affect the illumination of the spaces, in fact with MTI’s thoughtful curation of lighter shades throughout the layered furnishings and accessories, the natural light seems even more abundant.

Remnants from the homestead’s past have been given new life. Most of the furnishings, many of which are antiques, have been recovered and re-upholstered in neutral tones with accents of all shades of green. But where the true showmanship of the lodge’s interior patina comes to life is in the overwhelming homely yet luxurious feel.

This was achieved by a very well thought out assemblage of textures, fittings, fabrics, materials and coverings. From the extensive use of rattan and brass fittings, to linen fabrics in shades of cream and green and an abundance of dark wood and leather furnishings, to unfinished matte stone tops and consoles – they all reside together in perfect harmony, much like the natural habitat of Africa’s wildlife beyond.

Something that was very important from the start of this project was contributing to the upliftment of the local community without whom this undertaking wouldn’t have been possible. “Whilst the lodge was being renovated we hired many members of the local community, as tilers and painters, to work on the fit-out,” says Michele. Many of the staff employed by the lodge started their tenure before it was complete, by assisting in its construction. From the knowledgeable guides to the chefs, waitrons and housekeepers, everyone came together to bring the vision to life. “We feel very blessed to have created our own family here, something that’s aligned with the original vision of the lodge; to retain the sense of homeliness and to pay homage to the previous family who lived here. We are very privileged to employ such a team of exceptional people, who have made the dream come true,” says Michele.

When dusk settles along the Zambezi, the magic of Zambezi Grande comes into its own. With the gentle evening breeze, the luminous colours and exotic sounds all create the most enchanting experience to escape to. A place where you not only get to experience nature at its most robust but to do it ensconced in complete luxury.