Malabar Retreats, Zimbabwe
Tibetan Healing Yoga and meditation with wildlife encounters and pampering in the lap of luxury in two stunning locations
Best for:People of means seeking a spiritual experience amidst the thrill of wildlife, and with an appetite for good living and learning.
Not for: The irredeemably restless, or anyone without the willpower to say no to treats should they want to (alcohol, chocolate and coffee).
Running for 8 days twice a year, in March and November, this glorious retreat combines Lu Jong, a little-known ancient form of Tibetan Healing yoga, with meditation, periods of silence, inspirational encounters with wildlife, plenty of downtime and pampering in the lap of luxury. You spend the first four days at Malabar Zambezi, a private home in the heart of the African bush boasting majestic panoramic views across the Zambezi river, then move for the second four to the stunningly appointed Malabar Hall Harare, set in twelve acres of Msasa forest. Digitally detox and tune in to new levels of stillness and rigour, then enjoy slighter daily Lu Jong practice, periods of silence, meditation and profound balancing daily massage, all in an atmosphere of social warmth and bonhomie.
The splendour of the settings, the sounds and rhythms of the wild, and the unparalleled commitment to elegance and quality. You might be sleeping in relative simplicity in Malabar Zambezi, but Diptyque candles will be burning in your bathroom and your stay will be peppered with treats and surprises. The comfort and style are dialled up to dizzying in Malabar Hall in Harare.
Shared ensuite bathrooms are a compromise on absolute privacy in Malabar Zambezi. Some furnishings in Malabar Hall, such as kudu leather sofas or cowhide rugs, will not appeal to vegans.
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In Malabar Zambezi, your day pivots on two intensive morning sessions of the little-known practice of Lu Jong. You can expect your afternoons to be punctuated by game drives to see elephant and hippo, tiger fishing, bird watching, thrilling boat rides and breathtaking sunsets.
In Malabar Hall, there will be lighter morning yoga and meditation, Indian head massage and energy balancing deep tissue massage, silent time by the pool and trips to local sights in the late afternoon, all in exceptional luxury.
Lu Jong is a form of Tibetan yoga dating back 8,000 years. Its literal meaning is ‘body transformation,’ and it is a meditative moving practice that aims to benefit health and wellbeing on every plane. The movements of Lu Jong are closer to Qi Gong or Tai Chi than the Indian yoga we’re familiar with in the West. Teacher Dominique Caubel introduces a set sequence of 21 repetitive poses that encapsulate the principles and healing intentions of the practice. Largely silent practice on the Zambezi yoga deck overlooking the full splendour of the landscape is each morning from 6 until 8am. After breakfast, there is a further two-hour workshop, where Dominique breaks down the technique and theory and empowers students to synthesise their learning. In Harare for the last three days, there will be just the two-hour sunrise session, where you’ll put all you have learnt into practice. There is also a half-hour bedtime meditation throughout the week, where you will sample a variety of meditation styles.
Daily one-hour massages alternate between Indian head massage delivered on the yoga deck by owner Bibi Schofield, and Dominique Caubel’s unique form of healing massage on the terrace below. His method combines techniques from Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, Tibetan osteopathy, Reiki and Karuna. He varies his approach each time, so no two massages from him will feel the same.
When you arrive, you’ll find a beautifully presented Malabar Hall notebook on your bed, to be taken as an invitation to write down reflections and observations throughout the week. The intention is that you let yourself feel bored, in order that you find some creativity in that stillness, and put pen to paper.
Kenneth Schofield, Bibi’s husband, is a native Zimbabwean and an invaluable Zambezi bush guide, waking you up to the subtleties and complexities of the nature surrounding you. Expect astounding encounters with hippo and elephant, but also a deeper connection with plant and bird life, the nuances of native plants, and the history and context of the region. Your ears will become attuned to the distinct rumble of a lion’s roar, the jocular grunt of a hippo, and the call of a laughing dove. In Harare, there will be a visit to an eccentric animal sanctuary, where you might be introduced to the exceedingly shy (and near-extinct) pangolin. Plus expect hugs from the two resident dogs, Coco and Tedi.
In Zambezi, trips out on the boat are a daily ritual. Leaving the house at 4pm in a car loaded up with a cooler bag bearing the promise of sunset aperitifs, you set off for the river bank, climb aboard either Kenneth’s zippy speedboat, Woody, or a slightly more stately flat cruising boat, and take a thrilling ride along the river, alternately speeding through spray and lingering to admire countless pods of hippos, perhaps an elephant grazing on the bank, a basking baby crocodile, an exquisitely coloured bird on a branch ahead, and ultimately, the changing skies with a chilled glass of white wine (or water, of course!) in hand.
The afternoon boat trip might be substituted one day for a game drive in open jeeps and a stop at a recently revamped local safari lodge, boasting a stunning veranda; or for a guided game walk; or for an expedition to catch the local tiger fish.
In Harare, expect a trip to the Dombushava Rocks, an expanse of granite hills and rock formations, where you’ll clamber, practise Lu Jong, meditate, and enjoy sundowners looking out over the horizon.
In Zambezi, a gorgeous kidney-shaped pool (3 x 5 metres) overlooks the river, and is the perfect spot for reading, sunbathing and monkey-watching, with several perched in the branches above you.
The oblong pool in Harare (12×5 metres) is equally lovely and primed for gentle laps.
In Harare, you will visit charming local boutique, Kiki’s, a treasure trove of local artisanal furniture, objets, textiles and jewellery, and the Patrick Mavros flagship boutique and workshop, where you’ll witness the ancient practice of lost wax casting to create exquisite silver sculptures.
Malabar Zambezi: There are four double bedrooms on the ground floor of the house, simply furnished, though with notably comfortable beds and linens. The rooms are neat and functional, elevated by the details: the charming gift of a Malabar Hall notebook and handwritten card awaiting each guest, tea lights lit each evening, and extremely attentive housekeeping. There are two bathrooms: each bedroom shares an interconnected ensuite with another. Again, the décor is simple, but accessorised stylishly, a soapstone hippo peering coquettishly over its shoulder while you brush your teeth with Marvis toothpaste.
Malabar Hall: The four beautifully appointed double bedrooms are all resplendent with heavenly four-poster beds. The two on the top floor have private balconies, and marble bathrooms with vast walk-in showers. The rooms are decorated in harmonious whites and neutrals, with 19th-century colonial wooden furniture and luxurious touches everywhere, such as lavender balms, scented candles and crystal decanters.
Other spaces to be
Malabar Zambezi: Notwithstanding the importance of paying attention as you cross the lawn, given the possibility of there being wild animals close-by, the yoga deck is a space that you can retreat to at any time of day, and is a perfect vantage point for private meditation, stretching or Lu Jong practice. The outlook across the river is truly breathtaking.
Malabar Hall: There are several balconies with gorgeous hanging chairs and hammocks, perfect for some solitary drifting in the breeze during silent time. Tucked around the side of the house, on a little island among the Msasa, is a stone table with benches.
If you’ve got time either side of the retreat, build in a trip to a safari lodge in Mana Pools National Park, or head to Victoria falls for rafting, bungee jumping and helicopter rides. Try to stop off at the soapstone garden on your way in or out of Harare Airport, to pick up beautiful sculptures at great value. Don’t stint on glad rags or even a little bling if you want to keep up with your surroundings during the stay in Harare. There is no dress code, but evenings feel special and Bibi is an especially glamorous host.
When to Go
In March it is warm and dry, with average temperatures of 28˚C, and in November, hotter and drier still, with average temperatures of 33˚C. Dry months are better for wildlife visibility, since there is less foliage to hide behind; and these are also months where the temperature does not soar to intolerable highs.
In Zambezi, meals are enjoyed at the table on the veranda, beautifully dressed with white table cloth and delicate silverware. A vibrant array of dishes is laid out buffet-style on a large wooden table in the living room, on striking platters and in beautiful coconut bowls.
In Malabar Hall, meals are also stunningly presented buffet-style, and you might eat at the grand indoor dining table; in the bright kitchen beneath windows on all sides; on the main terrace overlooking the pool; on a smaller terrace by the pool itself, looking back at the house – and, magically, at night on a candlelit outdoor balcony on the top floor.
The food ethos at Malabar Hall honours abundance, wholesomeness and pleasure. The diet is broadly vegetarian, with the occasional fish or chicken dish. Menus are devised by Bibi and executed with aesthetic flair by Innocent, her cook. Food is locally sourced where possible – both tilapia and bream come from nearby Lake Kariba, the tea and coffee are local, and artisanal jams and breads, vegan cashew cheese, macadamias and pecans come from Harare.
Breakfasts are a lavish affair: a combination on any given day of jams, marmalades, nut butters, toast, papaya boats laden with yoghurt and pomegranate seeds, granola parfaits, dried fruits, rusks and savoury courgette and feta muffins. Not to mention an epic Last Breakfast of Venezuelan arepas, local bacon, eggs, roasted cherry tomatoes, and cheese. For lunch, you can expect Ottolenghi-style salads, homemade gluten-free seed crackers, cheeses, courgette hummus, beetroot dip, tapenade and crudités, and singular treats like mackerel presented in exquisitely nostalgic tins with Provençal baked tomatoes. Dinner might be fish pie with bean salad, or maize and groundnut curry with mango salad; flame-grilled sea bass with vegetable skewers, or courgetti puttanesca with grilled chicken. Red and white wine are served with dinner, and coffee and tea are freely available.
All staff are employed from local communities both in both locations, and are treated very warmly. Kenneth and Bibi donate to local schools, and collaborate with a local safari camps and RIFA educational camp. All water in Malabar Zambezi is sourced from the river. Food waste at Malabar Hall is composted.
Chirundu, Mashonaland West Province and 62 Umwinsidale Road, Harare, Zimbabwe
4 hours by car to Chirundu, and half an hour back to airport from Harare.