It may be hard to imagine the rather run-down city of Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit) is the provincial capital of Mpumalanga, but it’s a useful pitstop — with local sights worth a short stay – for those travelling from Johannesburg to the Kruger National Park about 50km (31mi) away, Blyde River Canyon, Mozambique or Swaziland. Check out the best hotels in Mbombela.
Well-connected to Johannesburg, Mbombela (colloquially still called Nelspruit) isn’t much of a destination in itself. But if you’re passing through, a short stop will prove rewarding: visit Chimp Eden 15km (9mi) away, a refuge for displaced chimpanzees and the Sudwala Caves, among the oldest in the world, with spectacularly carved canyons. After dark, catch a musical at the Barnyard Theatre, or try your luck at the tables of the Emnotweni Casino. At night, rest at one of these excellent hotels and guesthouses.
This modern two-storey lodge is a relatively recent addition to Nelspruit (or Mbombela, as it’s now officially known), with views over the city. Big open-plan executive and family suites are lit with bright accents and artworks. Each has its own kitchenette, and there’s a communal pool. The Orange restaurant, with bold black and white decor and gilded mirrors, prides itself on its contemporary cuisine – think lime prawns with herbed couscous.
Wrapped in a deep veranda, this 100-year-old family farmhouse built from natural stone has been turned into one of the Lowveld’s favourite guesthouses, with spacious pale suites and deep armchairs. The owners love food, and chef Stanford celebrates produce from the garden, with offerings changing with the seasons. His country breakfasts with homemade muesli and preserves are legendary.
Thatched eaves and wooden floors are offset with quirky touches like an old desk painted yellow, or elaborate hand-carved mirrors. Set in a quiet upmarket Mbombela suburb in a subtropical garden, this is a peaceful retreat after a day’s safari in the nearby Kruger National Park, with a pool deck and dining lapa (pavillion) that look out over the Nelspruit Nature Reserve and escarpment.
Though in the heart of the city, this hotel is near the Nelspruit Nature Reserve, and along with a vast variety of birds, you may spot banded mongoose, bush babies, duiker, porcupine and, yes, beetles, in the lush sub-tropical garden. Accommodation ranges from luxury suites to wooden cabins. All rooms are spacious and have all modern conveniences.
The 80-year-old three-storey Mediterranean-style family home of the Christie family, who are Lowveld business pioneers, has been converted into 12 airy suites. In addition, 1950s-style bungalows in the terraced gardens with cascading pools have been refurbished as 11 comfortable apartments. Don’t miss out on Christie’s three-course dinners, with the likes of springbok carpaccio, followed by lamb shank and chocolate and marshmallow pie.
Purple crested and grey loeries are among the many birds you can hear in the gardens of this owner-managed guest house. Nine suites, each with its own quiet but distinctive style, have private entrances and balconies or patios looking over town and the mountain. Ask for one of two loft rooms, quaint and cosy under sloping ceilings with glass doors opening to the view. Eat at the Orange restaurant adjoining Francolin Lodge.
Built on a granite dome with views over the forest, in a garden with a mountain stream, this hotel offers a variety of accommodation. Choose from natural wood-finish contemporary self-catering suites, standard and sophisticated superiors, right up to a presidential suite with stone fireplace, leather sofa and extra-long bed. Try the onsite spa Rasul.
In the centre of town but secluded in lush gardens, this Tuscan-style mansion has high ceilings, stone walls and a huge pool. Cool off there or in the jacuzzi on the villa’s private Sundowners Patio, before dining of note in the Piano Room. Rooms are luxurious, with buttoned headboards or canopied beds. By day, stroll the gardens, hike the surrounding nature reserves, or just chill under a brolly in the pool garden.
Offering mid-range corporate accommodation close to the Kruger National Park, the Mercure is unsurprisingly popular for conferences. Its 102 self-catering suits with kitchenettes are lit with splashes of orange, as is the dining room, which serves an all-you-can eat breakfast buffet and South African favourites. The Lowveld National Botanical Garden is 10 minutes away, and you’re a short drive from Pilgrim’s Rest village and the Sudwala Caves.
This hotel has 109 big suites, furnished in tones that reflect the landscape. Apart from its proximity to the Big Five in the Kruger National Park 50km (31mi) away, Emnotweni’s big draw is the tables and slots of its casino complex, with the Jasmine Restaurant catering to a range of tastes (sometimes in themed dinner evenings), a busy bar, lounge and movies.