By Norma Tsopo
Chimanimani Mountains are an undeniable hikers’ and adventurers’ magnet. And let’s admit it – most of them are adrenaline junkies and funky dare-devils.
Formality is just not their thing. And so may be a proper hotel accommodation.
It is no wonder then that Chimanimani has so many rustic lodges and backpackers’ camping sites. Perhaps the reason even Chimanimani Hotel – a classic, had to create space for a camp and caravan site in its grounds.
It’s the only proper hotel in this resort area which at its peak was only second to Victoria Falls in tourist inflows before the southern Africa’s politics turned it into a pariah state and kept out visitors.
And the hotel knows it is never going to be ideal lodging in its high ceilinged facility for everyone. That would be an exercise in futility.
So it has primed itself for the true lady, gentleman and the elderly who would really do with a proper luxury bed and appreciate executive culinary arts.
It is the perfect place for those who would love to enjoy the wild, take on the mountain hiking challenge, take time to relax and recharge in this resort’s healing environs but get the homely comforts of a proper hotel.
This does not take anything away from the hotel. Its reputation for comfort and cuisine is high up there with the country’s best hotels.
It offers swimming, mini golf and with an elegant golf course only a kilometre away from its door step.
The hotel that celebrated its centenary this year is a truly a resort hotel with a wide choice of accommodation with suits with uninterrupted views of Chimanimani Mountains after which it was named.
Chimanimani Hotel is right at the centre of a network of scenic drives, all offering new viewpoints of the great quartzite mountain range that dominates the area.
Five kilometres from the hotel, in a shady glade, are the beautiful Bridal Veil Falls.
For those who would want a day of hard walking the hotel is at the base of Pork Pie Mountain – an Eland Sanctuary Park. Most visitors also walk to the falls for good measure.
The hotel has all the history of this world-class resort area whose economy is interestingly anchored on farming instead.
Public sentiment is that it was deliberately underdeveloped by the Rhodesian government authorities who wanted it to be a quite retirement enclave pushing urbanisation development plans to Chipinge about 100 kilometres further down the Mozambican border.
There is no other plausible explanation on why such an astoundingly gorgeous region could be so rustic.
And the township is still a sleepy little settlement commonly referred to as a village.
Chimanimani Hotel, then rather a dissent cottage, used to be a company house for a local businessman of the time, Mr. Meikle who had interests in the agricultural sector who would use it to accommodate his managers.
It was bought by J. Lethbridge in 1918 who opened it as a fully licensed hotel in the area. It is the hotel cottage of the present day hotel.
He added several bedrooms and a large stable that was capable of housing several horses. By 1923 guests were flocking to the hotel and would bath in water heated in paraffin tins on an outside fire.
In 1924 the hotel consisted of six bedrooms in a row along a small veranda with a tiny bar and dining room at the end.
In 1932 the hotel was bought by Captain Allot who hoped to improve it to provide more attractive accommodation for tourists, boost the district and provide an outlet for produce from his Belmont farm.
But this plan was frustrated by war. By 1939 petrol as well as other basics like sugar, eggs and other critical commodities were being rationed. The hotel staff was thin and there was very little business.
According to the hotel, at the time the only visitors to the hotel were members of the air force who were putting up for free as well as occasional government officials – one or two permanents residents and lorry drivers.
The Allots were to dispose of the hotel and return to their Belmont farm in 1945.
In 1951 the Townsend-Greens bought the hotel and had plans to renovate it into a luxury hotel as a cost of one £100 000.
Renovations were completed on 21 March 1953 as Chimanimani Arms. But the impassable road to Chimanimani was a major setback as only a few visitors could access it.
It was closed for 18 months after struggling over a six month period after the huge investment.
When it reopened it was called Chimanimani Chalet and later changed to Chimanimani Hotel.
The road was to greatly improve in the 1970s giving it a major boost. As a major tourist attraction, it began offering swimming, bowls and miniature golf, tennis, riding, hiking and climbing among other activities.
The hotel took a knock at the turn of the millennium as there was a huge slump in tourist arrivals that saw Rainbow Tourism Group (RTG) relinquish its shares in the hotel in 2001 to Messrs Mataure and Makoni which whom it has acquired the hotel back in 1995.
Chimanimani Hotel is on a growth path again offering visitor comfortable accommodation ranging from standard rooms, deluxe, executive suits and family rooms as it caters for all types of clients having had the advantage of an infrastructural investment after RTG’s half a decade of ownership.
The detached chalets are perfect for people with disability as the hotel rooms are accessible by a staircase which makes it one of a few facilities in this region that is disability friendly.
It has everything – a restaurant for drive through dinners and guest, a bar, conferencing facilities and beautiful gardens to offer perfect facilities for hosting functions and weddings.