Castleton Lodge in the heart of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve was once the family home of Singita’s founder Luke Bailes’ grandfather. By opening the house to commercial use, Singita introduced a new theme on bush lodge holidays. Castleton feels like an old farmhouse - a posh one of course. It makes a bush stay somehow more personal.
The reserve and the house are steeped in Bailes family history. This has been sensitively captured in the revamp that transformed it from their family home for the last 80 years into a high-end hospitality venue - a very small, very exclusive one at that.
The Sabi Sand Game Reserve on the Kruger National Park border is the oldest private reserve in South Africa. In the early years of the last century, the area was carved up into a number of farms. Ranching proved to be a tough, unprofitable business and these properties eventually merged to create the current conservation area. Today the reserve has a central administration and employs its own warden and rangers, but it is still made up of blocks of privately owned land. The area is recognised globally for its formidable concentration of the big five and frequent leopard sightings.
Built in the 1920’s as a farmhouse, Castleton has retained its Lowveld vernacular. The heavy, thatched roof and cool veranda are typical of early homes in these parts where the sun’s heat can be overwhelming. The interior décor is an updated version of a comfortable country house with fabrics in muted earth tones and classic prints, and with the occasional nod to the Bailes’ Anglo Saxon family heritage in the form of traditional tartans.
Set in splendid isolation in 45 000 acres of a private game reserve, Castleton consists of a main house with communal living spaces and six individual cottages in tree-shaded grounds.
The walls are lined with botanical art, while country furniture and flagstone floors complete the nostalgic, unpretentious ambience. The result is reminiscent of a private home in the heart of the bush rather than a traditional safari lodge shared with other guests. Which is exactly what it is. Retaining this intrinsic character was the decorating team’s principle goal.
Georgina Pennington was the Design Manager at Singita’s in-house style and design department. She says, "Not much revamping was needed.The main lodge area stayed pretty much the same as it has been for years and years. It has a deep veranda, high-pitched thatch roof and beautiful masonry around the outside. We pulled out the verandah on one side to make it even. The we built a pergola around the back to link the kitchen and living spaces."
Architects Sally Tsiliyiannis of GAPP in Cape Town handled the project. The most significant changes made were to the bathrooms. "The footprint of the bedrooms stayed the same. We just doubled the size of the bathrooms which are now nearly as big as the bedrooms. They’re lighter with beautiful slate floors and steel and glass framed windows."
There were some additions that made the bedrooms more livable. "We gave each bedroom its own little verandah. We wanted to keep the main house and verandah as the place where guests congregate, but now each room also has the facility to let visitors throw the doors open and sit outside in privacy."
The overall interior design was conceptualized by Cécile & Boyd - whose stamp can be seen on all the Singita properties - before being passed on to the in-house design and style department which maintains and manages the company’s huge installations. Georgina describes the Castleton mood board as "Very graceful and elegant with tiny pops of colour and pre-faded fabrics in 100% linens."
Castleton comes with a small private staff of a game guide, a tracker, a housekeeper and chef. The facilities include the great old garden, a swimming pool, wine cellar, gym, tennis court and a spa treatment room. Guests can relax in the courtyard, gather in the boma or get convivial in the country-style kitchen. Afterwards they can retreat to individual cottages.
All of this is overlooking a waterhole where animals gather to drink. Castleton’s appeal lies in how it combines the best elements of a safari lodge experience with the rustic charm of a family country home founded on Singita’s simple, winning philosophy of 'never saying no' to visitors' requests.