WORDS Robyn Alexander PRODUCTION Annemarie Mentjes PHOTOS Dook
Xigera, a new boutique lodge in Botswana’s pristine Okavango Delta, combines all the wonders of a bush destination with sustainable, location-sensitive architecture – and a magnificent showcase of contemporary African design.
Dawn breaks at Xigera, in the heart of the Okavango Delta. The velvety-black night sky fades to midnight blue, and the first bird calls – a laughing dove. It’s closely followed by the liquid notes of a coucal, in turn interrupted by the raucous alarm call of a francolin, as the heavens rapidly lighten. Soon the upper part of the sky has bleached from royal to cobalt blue, and a peachy-pink glow beneath heralds the arrival of the sun. Moments later, the fiery orange-red ball pops above the horizon, and as if to greet it, two fish eagles call in chorus, far away.
I’m observing all this right from my bed, in the heart of my suite. From here, there’s a full 180-degree view of the floodplain that one side of Xigera lodge opens out to, through the glazed front façade of the suite’s bathroom, bedroom and living area. It was a conversation with architect Anton de Kock – who, with much valued professional assistance by Malan Vorster Architecture, designed all of Xigera’s built structures – that alerted me to the bed’s perfect placement. “Sit right here,” he said, patting the opulent African Jacquard scatter cushion in the middle of the bed. “See, the bathroom and the living room are placed just forward of the bedroom space, so you get that view right across the horizon…”
Anton’s architectural inspiration for the lodge came from the natural landscape that surrounds Xigera. He envisaged the structures as being an abstraction of birds in flight, with a central “body” and adjacent “wings”. (The lodge is an excellent place to spot the elusive Pel’s fishing owl, along with many other species.) And so, with their swooping, tensile canvas tented roofs and eye-catching clerestory windows, they do.
Positioned between a river on one side and a floodplain on the other, among the breathtaking trees that form a typical riverine forest canopy, Xigera has been placed and designed to disappear almost entirely into its setting. You could visit the lodge and never leave the camp – and still have a wonderful bush experience simply by wandering along the kilometres of sustainably sourced garapa boardwalks that link the main buildings, spa and pool area with the various suites. Birds and tree squirrels chatter overhead, vervet monkeys treat the suite roofs as an activity playground, and a myriad other mammals – ranging from delicately stepping bushbuck to Xigera’s majestic leopards – regularly wander through the unfenced camp. It’s why guests are always accompanied back to their suites after dark.
“It’s supposed to just feel natural,” says Toni Tollman, director of design and projects at Red Carnation Hotel Collection (the developers and owners), and Xigera absolutely does. Each of the 12 suites nestles among the trees as if it had always been there. In part, this is because their exterior walls are clad in sustainably sourced Japanese cedarwood that has been “torched” using a traditional shou sugi ban process, in which the timber surface is treated with an open flame, creating a layer of charcoal that protects it from both insects and weather. Plus, it’s precisely the right shade of grey-brown to blend in with the tree trunks of the forest surrounds. Multiple further careful choices of materials, and the attention paid to the practicalities, also contribute to Xigera’s sustainability credentials. The lodge is entirely off-grid: it generates its own solar power, purifies its own water, and processes its own waste using state-of-the-art technology.
The Xigera design team also rightly relates the fact that the lodge is an unprecedented showcase of African design excellence to the sustainability of its creation. The collection was put together by Toni and project manager Philip Fourie, in collaboration with Southern Guild. As Anton points out, it is “intrinsically sustainable” for multiple reasons, including the fact that the vast majority of the pieces were manufactured in southern Africa, and because it is an “heirloom collection that is timeless and will last many lifetimes”. Over 90% of Xigera’s furniture, art, decor accessories, crockery, glassware, linens and textiles were hand-produced in Africa by more than 80 studios, designers and artists, making the lodge a remarkable showcase of the largest single collection of African design anywhere in the world.
Xigera is unique. As an experience, it blends all the luxurious style of a very special boutique hotel with consummate African artistry and artisanship, as well as affording its visitors superb access to the fauna and flora of the Okavango Delta. Its like has not been seen before – and the design artistry deployed here, in particular, makes this extraordinary destination a new benchmark for the African lodge experience.
For more visit xigera.com.