Today, our ‘My Favourite Hotel’ review is of the Sani Mountain Lodge in Lesotho, on the border with South Africa.
Due to a continued strong response from readers, we are running another batch of ‘My Favourite Hotel’ reviews over the next few weeks. This time we wanted to hear about your ‘unique’ experiences and we’ve once again received a great amount of suggestions. Hopefully you will enjoy reading these reviews. As always you can find all of the ‘My Favourite Hotel’ reviews by clicking here.
Today’s hotel is the Sani Mountain Lodge on the border of Lesotho and South Africa, which includes the highest pub in Africa.
Here is reader Alistair’s review:
I’m eating roast lamb with mint sauce and all the trimmings. A Labrador stretches out in front of the roaring fire. Fierce wind whistles past the windows. It could easily be Yorkshire but I’m in the Kingdom of Lesotho, at the top of the Sani Mountain pass, where the cliffs meet the clouds and you can spend a night at the highest pub in Africa.
Where is the highest pub in Africa?
Lesotho is a mountainous kingdom, so high its lowest point is the highest of any country. On the eastern side, approaching from Durban in South Africa, is the Sani pass, an exhilarating drive up a steeply twisting dirt road that can only be tackled in a four-wheel drive.
Near the top, inside the clouds, you can’t see the edge of the narrow trail. After breaking through to the lost world above you might need a drink to calm the nerves, so it’s handy to have a pub right there.
Sani Mountain Lodge sits on the edge of the Sani Top plateau at 2874 metres. Many come on a guided tour from Durban, to see the pass and have a drink. The pass is too dangerous in darkness so the border gates close at 6pm and day-trippers leave early. Far better to rent your own car and stay the night.
If you want to stay but dare not drive yourself, the lodge offers a 4×4 shuttle to collect you from the South African border post at the bottom of the pass.
Facilities and rooms are basic, but you don’t come for luxury. You come for the bucketloads of atmosphere.
There are doubles, and family rooms sleeping four. Rates usually include dinner and breakfast.
I stayed in a traditional “rondavel” hut. They are small, have a double bed, a feeble shower, a toilet, and not much else. You’ll find a fireplace with a pile of wood and a bucket of coal. Return to your hut after dinner and the staff will have lit the fire. As the wind howls across the plateau, the fire creates a wonderful cozy feeling. There’s only one amenity worth mentioning. A little decanter of sherry.
It’s perfect. You’ll lie awake, sipping sherry, listening to the wind, throw another log on the fire and enjoy it far too much to go to sleep.
I came because the Sani pass is one of the world’s most thrilling drives, but staying at the lodge is an experience that justifies the effort to get there.
Facilities and activities
The pub is open all day for food and drink, and there’s a souvenir craft shop at the top of the pass. That’s all there is, but you’ll be too busy with the landscape. There are epic views back down the pass, a spectacular mountain wilderness to hike around, and if you have your own car, more dirt roads into the unspoilt kingdom.
Take a torch because once the sun has set the darkness is total. It gets cold, too. There are just two things to do. Eat and drink in the pub, or gaze at the stars showing more clearly than you’ve ever seen.
There’s wifi in the pub, and they can organise horse riding, cultural tours, and guided hikes to the mountain peaks.
Drinking and dining
The pub has a lounge of comfy old chairs, crackling fires, and lazy dogs. The daytime menu offers sandwiches and burgers, and a cracking Basotho lamb stew. Dinner is a friendly, casual group affair. Join in with the mix of adventurers to share a drink and talk about the drive.
It’s a set menu. Food and drink is all brought up the pass or across the plateau from a great distance. You will get what you’re given and everyone gets the same – and you won’t be disappointed.
I had roast lamb. It was as good as you’d get at a pub in Yorkshire, minus the Yorkshire pudding. South African red wine, local beers, and conversation with new friends will entertain you late into the night.
Breakfast is a very good buffet, cooked and continental.
Driving the Sani Pass
You must have a proper four-wheel drive vehicle with ground clearance. An ordinary car will not be allowed through. You don’t need to be an experienced off-roader, just a competent and confident driver. Your heart will be racing, but the car will take it in its stride.
It will take at least 90 minutes to drive the pass. It gets really steep and narrow as you approach the Lesotho border post at the top. Heavy rain can make it a non-starter.
If you’re not confident in your driving skills, take a tour from Durban, which is also a good place to hire your own vehicle. It’s three hours from Durban to the bottom of the pass, and don’t forget your passport.
Africa is full of highlights, but Sani Mountain Lodge, whether you stay the night or just stop for a pint at the highest pub in Africa, will be one of the most memorable. I explored South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe in my 4×4, and the Sani Pass is the bit I remember most.
I wish I’d stayed another night to explore more of that side of Lesotho. You might be sad to leave, but you’ve still got a breathtaking drive back down the pass. It’s a trip you won’t stop talking about.
If you want to find out more, the Sani Mountain Lodge’s website is here.
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