By Norma Tsopo
Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands is part of a long escarpment that runs a wavy course from the Drakensberg range of South Africa to the Ahmar Mountains of Ethiopia.
Isolated from the highlands to the north and south by the mighty Zambezi and Limpopo river valleys, it rises from 300 metres to over 2 500 metres and forms the southern African country’s natural border with Mozambique.
It is along this ridge that the Vumba is found – a magical ecological enclave with diverse habitats from Afro-montane evergreen forests, Miombo woodlands to montane grassland, bracken-scrub, exotic vegetation, and acacia woodland.
Vumba literally means ‘mountain of mist and drizzle’. It was so named due to the effect of humid air that blows in from the warm Mozambican lowlands which then condenses around it to create mist and drizzle.
This is what apart from its altitude gives it its unique and diverse biome.
Now add to this cool and enchanting environment a world-class hotel, 71-par 18 hole championship elaborately designed golf-course and a game reserve – and you have a paradisiacal holiday centre.
If any place holds any magical healing powers out of its sheer beauty then Leopard Rock Hotel does.
Sitting on the foot of Chinyakwaremba Hill in the majestic Vumba Mountains with its French Chateau atmosphere, it is no surprise that it’s favourite haunt of royalty, statesmen, sporting and film personalities, business leaders and various other celebrities from across the world as well as discerning travellers.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother – back in 1953, was so impressed by this resort when she visited with Princess Margaret that she later wrote that “There is nowhere more beautiful in Africa!”
And this can only be disputed by someone who has never been to the place.
The place could only have improved since then.
Without spoiling its natural environment, the place has since been delicately groomed to make it one of the most picturesque places in the region.
The pursuit for ascetic value which created a spectacular setting has however not been made at the expense of the montane wildlife.
The legendary tourist establishment has such an ambience one feels it’s at one with its natural environment.
Its reception is in the evenings such an enchanted space with the nearby tree cleverly lit behind a giant panel of windows to make it every bit part of the hotel.
They have deliberately nature such that it now allows its guests to come into close encounter with some of the region’s rare wildlife with a troop of the evergreen forest primate Simango monkeys having the property in its embrace.
One thus does not necessarily need to go to its dedicated game park to enjoy the Vumba’s near endemic bird species with the entire property a birding hot spot.
It introduced a dedicated game sanctuary in 2000 making it a refuge for animals seeking refuge from the dangers of the outside world with rampant poaching a blight in the area. It’s has a wide range of antelopes Nyala, Kudu, Wildebeest, Eland, Blue Duikers Bushbuck and Impala as well as Ostrich, Zebra and Giraffe.
The hotel offers nature trails and guided walks that bring tourists even closer these stunning animals.
It is as well that the hotel itself considers itself as “more than a hotel: it is a welcoming and diverse holiday resort for travellers of all ages and all backgrounds, as well as a superb conference and celebration venue, golfers’ dream course and nature lovers’ haven.”
The building is divided in two wings: the oldest part named: Turret Wing built in 1946 by Italian prisoners of war and the other wing which was added later – making the place rich in history.
The legend of the Chinyakwaremba curse which is used to explain how half the hill above the hotel collapsed eons ago, with both the hotel and the Castle appearing to have been built on its rubble – complete with huge stone boulders inside them.
The long and short is that the hotel offers a rich and diverse relaxing environment from its fascinating architectural design, room ambience, food and beverages to a long list of activities either within it or around the Vumba to enjoy the variety, beauty and spectacle of ‘the mountains of the mist and drizzle.’
Outside its views, diverse biodiversity and a bracing climate it’s challenging 18-hole Peter Markovich-designed championship-rated course, named one of Africa’s Top 10 by CNN Travel (2013), and makes this an extraordinary package.
The Leopard Rock Golf Course is also a winner of the Hertz 2000 Africa/ Middle East golf course of the year award and was once voted one of the “Finest Golf Resorts” in the world by the PGA of Europe, and one of the most challenging too.
This par 71 course of 6164 metres has breath-taking views over the plains into Mozambique and the Burma valley, the course is always in excellent condition.
It also has good tennis, squash and swimming facilities with these handsomely lit in the evening between 6 and 8 pm to encourage guests to enjoy some outdoor activities.
It offers flexible dining options with three restaurants, two cocktail bars and a club house.
Among the restaurants, the Conservatory is less formal, the Terrace allows dinners to enjoy both its fine cuisine and magnificent Vumba views while the La Roche is for elegant and formal dinners.
But whichever one chooses it does not disappoint in its promise to deliver a pleasurable culinary experience.
Apart from its fine international cuisine it also has an impressive wine list in the region.
The hotel has some of the finest accommodation in the country with a total of 58 quality rooms which include various super luxurious suites, such as The Presidential Suite comprising of a reception area with a guest bathroom, separate sitting room and bedroom en suite and also boasts a large private terrace with spectacular views ideal for private functions; Executive Suite which also has a reception area with a guest toilet, a sitting room, and spacious bedroom with bathroom en suite;
The Royal Rooms – The Queen Mother and Princess Margaret Rooms which are steeped in history and were selected by the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret during their visit to Leopard Rock in 1953; Family Suites consisting of two inter-leading double rooms, which share a bathroom; there are also King and Queen rooms as well as standard rooms all of which have mini bars and balconies, and of course there are tea and coffee making facilities as well as all the homely comforts and accessories.
The Vumba Mountains have a breath-taking romantic ambience which makes is ideal for weddings and honeymoon which the hotel can expertly manage to create memorable experiences.
And its conferencing facilities are second to none from executive meetings to training seminars or congressional gatherings.