In April this year, I had the incredible opportunity to visit one of the Greater Kruger National Park's most renowned luxury lodges, Silvan Safari. Adorned with numerous accolades – including the World's Leading Luxury Lodge (for multiple years running) – Silvan Safari is an ever-present topic of conversation in the world of luxury African travel. It's also a recurring recommendation when it comes to exceptional lodges in South Africa. Needless to say, after hearing about it over and over again, I was excited to FINALLY experience it first-hand!
Silvan is a Story
Having studied Fine Arts at university, I always find myself gravitating to all sorts of visual displays that (seemingly) serve no purpose other than being admired for their beauty. However, there are many reasons why exceptional art pieces possess this power to allure even the most novice art aficionados.
One of these, whether you're conscious of it or not, is that art tells a story. And the works displayed at Silvan Safari are certainly no exception! In fact, a big part of this esteemed lodge is its pride in visual aesthetic and how every aspect of the design feeds into a meaningful narrative.
So, in this blog, I'm staying true to my "artsy-fartsy" self and naturally gravitating to the aesthetic aspects of Silvan Safari. Or more importantly, to unfold the stories they hold.
Silvan is a Feeling
As I enter the Silvan Safari Lodge for the very first time, I can't really describe the visual immediately. It's like I'm overpowered by a feeling of ultimate calm rather than that innate enthusiasm one gets when surveying exciting new territory.
My eyelids, ever so slightly, start to feel more weighted. My blinking becomes slower. And my breathing is deep and complete. "What is happening!?" I think to myself. But the thought is instantly stilled with this unfamiliar (yet very much welcomed) sense of serenity. Serenity? Is that what this is? It must be.
Silvan is Serenity
From sprawling riverbed views, sweet-smelling trees and the soft symphony of birdsong to the refreshing zing that my welcome drink delivers, I cannot pinpoint which sight, smell, sound or taste is the culprit for this calming sensation.
Therefore, I can only assume that it's a combination of all four. My analytical side wants to dig deep and decipher why this place feels so good, but my brain simply won't allow it. Instead, it whispers, "stop thinking so much and just enjoy." It's only once I let go that I start to notice some of the many details that make Silvan so special.
Silvan Holds Many Surprises
Enjoying uninterrupted views, a vast deck stretches seemingly forever along the Manyeleti riverbed. It's here where the lodge's main areas are housed. I come across several indoor and outdoor spaces that provide ample privacy for groups to gabble, couples to cuddle, and individuals to isolate.
Along with its pristine surroundings, Silvan's full-length lap pool is definitely a defining feature. However, my artistic eye is drawn to something a little more unusual. Glancing toward the bar area, inside, I notice a flurry of small bird-shaped objects dangling from the ceiling. On closer inspection, I see that it's a massive installation of bee-eaters, suspended in mid-air as if in flight. This unique find instantly makes me giddy with anticipation, and I'm eager to see what else is in store!
Inspired by Nature
As I continue my expedition in search of more creative treasures, I realise that the natural elements surrounding Silvan Safari are a clear inspiration. The jackalberry and leadwood trees, bustling bee-eaters, and incredible wildlife are all celebrated throughout the décor and design.
Sporadically, large trees emerge through the deck. And as I make my way to the lodge’s suites, I find a human-sized, handwoven nest garnished with giant pillows swinging from a jackalberry tree. I fight the urge to sample a sway – I am, after all, on a creative quest and cannot delay!
Everything is Connected
Just like the handwoven nest, it appears that Silvan uses the technique of weaving through many aspects of the lodge. From the outdoor carpets handwoven by weavers in KwaZulu-Natal to the woven ropes of the outdoor furniture seats and artefact beds used as coffee tables.
This idea of interlacing seems to be significant. And later, I discover that it's symbolic of the flower of life, a design that's also an integral part of Silvan's logo. It's a sacred pattern, the pattern of the universe, and a visual expression of the connections life weaves through all sentient beings.
Stylish and spacious, every one of Silvan's suites boasts its own unique aesthetic. Inspired by the particular environs around them, they successfully bring the beauty of what's outside into the interior. From their names, forms and colours, the "spirit of the trees" is incorporated throughout as a visual concept.
I also notice that the bee-eater makes frequent appearances – introducing vibrant bursts of colour. The rooms feature a bohemian flair without being over the top. In fact, I'm very impressed by the combination of free-spirited, contemporary and modern styles. Despite the contrast, everything feels so balanced. It just works.
Silvan Embraces South African Artists
Artistic brilliance is incorporated into every detail of the lodge, especially the suites. I find bespoke furniture, handcrafted elements, and commissioned artworks in every room. All commissions were awarded to emerging South African artists whose work is inspired by or holds a strong connection with nature. Seven individual artists created large-scale works for Silvan's Suites using mixed art forms ranging from oils and watercolours to wool and gold leaf.
The theme of the artworks is centred around the very nature of Silvan Safari. And as a result, they convey a message and invoke emotion. For me, the story of Silvan Safari is one of celebration. And it's a celebration of the majesty of the bush, Africa's people, the pure exhilaration of life and how they all interlace. This spirit of Silvan has inspired a remarkable reimagining of a luxury safari in Africa. And its inspirational leadwood and jackalberry forest provide the ideal canvas for creativity to grow wild.
I think that Silvan Safari's founder, David Ryan, said it best: "It's all about how one act is beautifully connected to another, with Silvan playing her role in this intricate connection, enhancing and inspiring every life she touches."
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