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Spotlight: Singita Castleton

By the time I rolled up at Singita Castleton, in the Sabi Sand Reserve, I was on my seventh of ten lodges. But if I had not seen any other during my two-week sojourn in South Africa, Castleton alone would have been enough.

Located on the same 45,000-acre concession as Singita’s two original properties, Castleton is something of a sleeper in the company’s portfolio. Ebony and Boulders, just a few miles away, ushered in a new era of safari luxury more than twenty years ago, in the early 1990s, when Singita founder and CEO Luke Bailes debuted them. Singita Sasakwa, in Tanzania’s Grumeti Reserves, is arguably the most esteemed safari lodge in the world. Castleton, by contrast, is relatively unknown, and not surprisingly. It’s small, with just six cottages; has been open to guests only since 2013; and is available solely for exclusive use—you have to take the whole camp.

Related: South Africa Safari Destination Report

But despite the lodge’s low profile and outlier status, the Castleton property is the birthplace of Singita. It was one of two farms that Bailes’s grandfather purchased and combined in 1923, and the house he built there became the heart of the concession that would inspire his grandson and eventually lead to today’s Singita, now with twelve safari offerings in three countries.

As I climb down from the safari cruiser, little about James Bailes’s venerable farmstead reads as fancy. A fellow is waiting for me with a tray of scented towels—and that’s about it. The main building, where we have a welcome drink, is a single room maybe twenty paces long, with an antique dining table at one end, a stone fireplace at the other and a veranda alongside. On the lawn beyond, a rope swing with a weathered plank for a seat hangs waiting from a tree. Nearby, the swimming pool is the kind you don’t see much anymore—a plain rectangle, no infinity edge, no built-in Jacuzzi, just a flagstone border around a hole in the ground. Across the lawn are a few beige cottages, each of which turns out to consist of a relatively small bedroom, a disproportionately large bathroom and a tiny porch. Set in a row beneath the trees, they face a watering hole about 500 yards away, whose surface is still in the midday heat.

Coming off a trip during which I had seen maharaja-worthy suites that could have been in Delhi or Doha and enough plunge pools to refill a river (wow, that’s a lot of wasted water for this continent!), here we were—finally at home in Africa.

Related: South Africa Recommended Reading

Even though it offered estate amenities—a tennis court, a gym and a spa cottage were hidden behind the original family farmhouse—here at last was an honest property that wasn’t trying to one-up the experience of looking at spectacular animals in their spectacular home. The chairs on the veranda were wicker with cushions, instead of zebra-covered thrones; the cottage walls were covered with traditional, if oversize, versions of botanicals prints, instead of trophy heads and thatched dung; and the largest object in the living room was not a dramatic, how-did-they-do-that chandelier made of ostrich eggs (in 2012) but a grandfather clock that belonged to grandfather Bailes (from the 19th century).

Home, however, rarely has service this attentive—we were tended by two managers, two waitresses, a chef, kitchen staff and several porters—or food this good. At one meal, Chef Darius bread made with sundried tomatoes, feta and basil, served with pesto sauce; spiced bean-and-rocket wraps; and miso-glazed marinated tofu with artichokes, sunflower seeds, baby spinach, cos lettuce and port reduction. And those were just the vegetarian options.

When we learned that one man had booked the property for three weeks, and only for himself, no one was surprised. Just envious.

What to Know

At $7,000 a night, Castleton costs more than many couples want to spend. But for parties of four or more, the price is on par with that of other lodges—except here you get it all to yourself. Ask your Indagare safari planner to run the numbers, and you might be lucky enough to find Castleton on your South Africa itinerary.

Published onJuly 11, 2016

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