The staff now know to wait for it, that moment when guests emerge from the low-key entrance to Tengile River Lodge in South Africa's Sabi Sand Game Reserve and into the lounge and bar.
Gasps are heard, heads swivel and handbags are dropped as they take in a jaw-dropping 180-degree vista of this wildlife-rich bend in the Sand River. Even though the lodge only opened in December, this dramatic living mural, often dotted with elephants and other large animals – and always splashed with bird life – is a guaranteed show-stopper.
Tengile River Lodge, the latest development by conservation-minded luxury travel company andBeyond, has turned lodge design on its head, with a clever mix of the classic and the contemporary enriched with an undeniably African aesthetic.
First impressions? Space and lots of it. Not only do you have your own moveable feast of game animals in situ to gaze at, you do so in light, airy and stylish comfort, with high ceilings, leather lounges, swirling green marble, and a stone fireplace. Handpainted animal print fabrics and sculpted aloe vera plants showcase local materials and artists.
There are also many nods to history, including the use of rust red, dark green and black stones from a local historic gold rush railway line embedded in the stunning terrazzo floor.
Yet despite its spectacular interior, Tengile River Lodge is somewhat of a hidden treasure. The flat roofs covered with local sand and wide, covered verandahs help it nestle into the landscape rather than shout from it.
And despite each one of the nine spacious and very private guest villas covering a whopping 200 square metres, including a private deck and pool, these too, are hard to spot along the tree-lined river and are set at least 20 metres apart from each other.
But the real stars of the lodge are the animals it celebrates and helps protect.
This place is not just wild, it's wildly beautiful. From $2022 per person per night.