“Come this way please Sir… Madam,” says the sprucely clad waiter. He leads us to the wooden deck, overlooking the waterhole, where a spotlight illuminates two bull elephants having a leisurely drink. “A table, just for you,” he says with a wide smile. “Happy Anniversary!”
We are pleased to be alone, under the stars in the Zimbabwean sky, to celebrate twenty years of marriage. I am glad that I made an extra effort to dress smartly. Grant hands me a small, beautifully-wrapped gift, which I rip open. I am thrilled with my tanzanite earrings and slip them on immediately.
We revel in the silence of the evening, and notice the detail with which the Stanley and Livingstone Hotel staff have set our table - white tablecloth, linen serviettes, a pretty candle with matching fresh flowers and a hand written card wishing us well.
The waiter appears and with a flourish, sets down a gin a tonic for me: “Bombay sapphire, Mrs. McLaren, compliments of the Manager”. I am highly amused at this, as that afternoon we had met the hospitable general manager, Tapfumanei Shinya, who studied at Hotel School in Switzerland.
He is a remarkable source of information on food and wine. When he observed that I enjoy that quintessentially colonial anti-malarial potion- gin and tonic- he insisted that before I leave, I try Bombay Sapphire.
Grant, my husband of 20 years, peruses the wine list and informs me it has some excellent wines of international origin. He blanches at the price of the Chateaux Petrus and Chateaux Lafite and settles for a pleasant Zorgvliet Cabernet Sauvignon.
We savour our food and are touched when the waiter brings a freshly baked cake, inscribed with wishes for a memorable anniversary.
Memorable it certainly is. We have been given the honeymoon suite where, resplendent with a teak four-poster bed draped with lavish fabric, the spacious bedroom also sports a chaise longue. Discreet Victorian erotica decorates the walls. The bathroom, with its ball and claw bath, is a haven of delights with gilt-edged taps and shower fittings and an array of luxurious bath products. My favourite is a flat, moon-shaped bottle, filled with bath oil floating fresh flowers.
The Victorian theme is cleverly carried throughout the lodge. Décor is a clever mix of reproductions of Victorian furniture and furbishing of that era, and genuine antiques and art works. The hotel registers date back to the late nineteenth century. Wall- paper and paint colours are true to the colonial period. Grant is an amateur historian and he is lapping up the details about the Victorian Safari era and Dr. David Livingstone.
From our private garden - with a Jacuzzi under thatched gazebo - we see many birds including tropical boubou, brown hooded kingfisher and five trumpeter hornbills. Stanley and Livingstone Lodge has well-kept, lush gardens which add to the enchanting Victorian opulence and draw clouds of butterflies. Grant and I float together in the sparkling swimming pool, and looking out into the bush, see five giraffes.
We have been told that there are many activities at the nearby Victoria Falls, but we eschew them all to relish the splendours of the lodge itself. This is such a lazy indulgent time, we are not tempted to bungee jump, take the flying fox across the falls or even to have an elephant back ride.
Framed by the Broekie lace of our veranda, we watch game. Some young eland’s smooth, glossy coats shine in the soft evening light, adding a romantic touch to our splendid view.
On our way home, the flight with 1Time airlines enables us to see the legendary Victoria Falls and Zambezi gorge from the air, which is an overwhelming experience for me. In April the spray from the falls is an impressive sight and the deep gorge with raging water is frighteningly full.
Stanley and Livingstone Lodge has been the perfect place for a celebration in style. We feel as if we have recaptured the magic of the Victorian Safari era - and freshly infused our marriage with romance.
For reservations at the Stanley and Livingstone, contact Rani Resorts in Johannesburg on 011 658 0633 or visit www.raniresorts.com. For more information on activities at the Victoria Falls, visit www.shearwatervictoriafalls.com.