Frog & Fern Cottages – celebrating Zimbabwe’s architectural, natural heritages

By Norma Tsopo

Zimbabwean round-hut architectural designs have always fascinated travelers but locals are increasingly drifting away from these beauties.

Some even now despise them as backward – an embarrassment even.

Miombo cottage
Miombo Cottage

It is no wonder then that when the building plans for Frog and Fern Cottages – which pioneered the architectural designs of giant huts in the local hotel industry in the early 1990s, the local council refused to approve them.

Chimanimani rural district council could not tolerate having ‘huts under thatch’ in its low density suburbs. It took the intervention of an hotelier in its board to have the plan passed after a long and heated debate.

Its main double storey rondavel cottage is an impressive architectural master piece which together with the other two stone cabins in a rustic layout was, and continues, to inspire archetypical Zimbabwean village lodge presentations in many up market facilities across the country – of which Musangano Lodge is one.

Frog and Fern’s location is also perfect for viewing Chimanimani as it sits atop a hill that was used by the Rhodesian Army as a vantage point, during the war of liberation, to monitor the entire Chimanimani valley – the small town and its environs stretching over to Ngangu high density area as well as the surrounding mountain ridges.

Frog and Fern.jpg
Frog and Fern

It backs up against Pork Pie Eland Sanctuary Mountain but has everything else in its outlay.

The view might no longer be as clear from one standpoint because of the beautiful Miombo forest that has been allowed to regenerate creating a perfect enclave for nature lovers and birders while retaining its vantage point status for breathtaking views.

The Msasa woodlands and aloes as well as a variety of plant species attract all manner of endemic insects, amphibians, small mammals and birds.

There is no attempt to create a showy Victorian garden – with all its excesses of water and chemicals to keep it neat and clean, making this perfect for conservationists.

It is no wonder that many wildlife researchers and nature enthusiasts prefer staying here.

A male Miombo double-collared sunbird Pic. Frog & Fern

With Chimanimani being home to rare birds that include endangered Blue swallow, Bronze sunbird, Gurneys sugarbird, Miombo tit, Mashona hyliota and Miombo rock thrush some of them can sometimes be seen from the comfort of this lodging.

Patched up in a hillock, the road has some rough patches and challenging inclines for small vehicles making four-wheel-drives with good clearance more ideal particularly if it’s rainy.

It’s however a walkable distance from town and thus still very accessible.

Sitting a few hundred metres off the road to Bridal Veil Falls, Frog and Fern is perfectly positioned for visitors to this key attraction.

The facility has three cottages with each being a home in its own right with a warm ambiance and charming décor that includes original art works by well known and loved local artists including Martin van der Spuy and Dee Schafer, its co-owner,  complete with a kitchen, lounge, bedroom and bathrooms.

All this combines to give a relaxing homely comfort.

Miombo Cottage is the largest and perhaps the most impressive of the three.

It is a stone, double storey rondavel, under thatch, with a central chimney that works as a source of heat in the winter.

It has a double en suite downstairs and four single beds – dorm style, upstairs. There are two bathrooms, sunken lounge open plan kitchen and central jetmaster fireplace.

It may be ideal for families although they will not check in anyone with children under five as a safety precaution due to its stairway and interior upstairs design.

Msasa Cottage is particularly designed with the elderly in mind and also disability friendly. It has an open plan design and would suit either couples on a honey moon or with one young child.

Msasa cottage
Msasa Cottage patio

“My mother helped design this for herself and its ideal for people living with disability as well,” Jane High a co-owner of the facility told maDzimbahwe Explorer.

It has a spacious patio area that overlooks the garden.

Mzanje Cabin is meant for a single couple but also has extra beds in the lounge one is to squeeze in a third person or children.

Being a self-catering facility, the cottages and cabin are well stocked with some basics like coffee, tea, salt and sugar in the well-appointed kitchen.

There is also a camping facility but due to limited parking areas and limited flat ground it can only accommodate three tents.

Camping site
One of the camping site at Frog & Fern Cottages

This comes with a kitchenette, stone braai, private Boma, a toilet and hot shower.