It’s not every day that you get to experience true personal service. The kind that leaves you thinking you are in heaven, or something close to it. I was fortunate enough to have a taste of this on a weekend adventure to Malawi.
My travels began in Lusaka early one fine Friday morning, where I boarded a Proflight plane to Lilongwe. An hour and a half later, we glided into Kamuzu International Airport where I was greeted by a gentleman with the broadest smile I’ve ever seen, holding a large placard with my name written on it in bold “Latitude 13 welcomes you Ms Rachel Mupela”.
A scenic drive on a quiet stretch of highway leading into Lilongwe was made a little more interesting by the rains we ran into halfway there. My driver informed me that, apparently rain is a sign of blessings and my retreat was christened with quite a downpour. It felt like a welcome from the sky gods. My anticipation grew as I saw the signs leading to the hotel, tucked away in the quaint leafy suburb of Area 43. The sort of feeling you get when you’re going home.
We arrived at the hotel, which was a pleasant sight to my eyes and quite a welcome relief to be able to get away from the rain. The beautiful bright buildings were quite reminiscent of Miami Beach house style in their architecture, a modern look with clean lines. I was greeted with more smiles; a special welcome letter at the reception desk and a welcome drink was served to me before I was led to my room. My room was located in the newly renovated original hotel building; a charming suite in a quieter, more secluded section of the hotel, set in manicured gardens with rolling lawns and the hotel’s second, more private swimming pool.
The buildings here stood in dark contrast to the bright ones I encountered earlier but they shared the large floor to ceiling glass windows and the signature, eclectic furnishings and artwork by Katundu and Lightfoot Zambia, two businesses that are at the forefront of Latitude Hotels CSR initiatives. What sets these companies apart is their commitment to sustainability; the décor is made from recycled and upcycled elements, where anything and everything has a place – from the hand made clay beaded chandeliers that make stunning statement pieces in the hotel ceilings, to the recycled glass light fixtures, your eyes leaping from one piece to the next. My room opened to a small lounge area with a very plush settee I literally sunk into, and a few steps above was the bedroom area, with queen-sized bed dressed in crisp white linens and billowy duvets accented with plush, colourful throws and scatter cushions.
All rooms are equipped with air conditioning, flat screen TVs, Wi-Fi, and a mini bar stocked with drinks and snacks. They also have a small workspace complete with a desk and stool. All of the rooms are en-suite, but mine had a sunken bath as its centrepiece, a large walk-in shower, and enough built-in cupboards to ensure even the longest staying guest has more than enough space. The rooms scream comfort, calm and functionality, and had it not been for the sounds of protest from my hungry stomach, I would gladly have stayed there, happily embraced in the folds of the comforter. Room service is available, but I am not a hermit. I wanted to be around people, and to explore.
After unpacking my bags, I set off for the hotel’s poolside restaurant, where friendly staff, wonderfully patient with my indecisiveness, waited on me. The lunch menu is light with an assortment of delectable wraps and salads, and the pleasant surprise of fish tacos, which I dug into quite gleefully. Filled with wonderful crumbed fillet of Chambo (the local fish caught from Lake Malawi), crisp sweet peppers, onions and cilantro, drizzled with a sweet and tangy sauce, they were just what I needed.
My hunger sated, I set off on a tour and came across the fully equipped gym, where an energetic aerobics class was taking place. As I was keen on making this as relaxing a weekend as possible, I quickly said goodbye to the gym and headed up the spiral stairs to the spa for an afternoon of pampering. With views across the pools and gardens, and calming Latitude signature décor, they offer a wide variety of treatments ranging from Balinese-style massages, to detoxifying facials, and manicures and pedicures; absolute heaven for anyone looking for the ultimate in relaxation. I emerged fully refreshed some time later, ready for an evening of entertainment in the lounge over some sundowners, and later on dinner with my gracious host and the general manager, Mehul Lodaya.
The dinner offering was a foodie’s dream with options such as Thai Red curry, Malaysian chicken stir-fry, rump steak, and prawn or chicken risotto.
“Our food is meant to excite the palette. We like to exceed our guest’s expectations. Our dishes are a fusion of different cuisines, using fresh local ingredients which we get from the market, to create our extraordinary dishes.” Cephas, Head Chef.
True to those words, my expectations were indeed exceeded; the meal experience was one of absolute decadent indulgence, and my only wish was that I had an extra stomach, as the servings were quite substantial. I can chalk that down to true Malawian hospitality, they really do make sure you are well fed.
After an evening well spent, eating and making merry with in-house guests from all corners of the world, and Lilongwe residents, I decided to call it a night and headed back to my room.
The next morning brought with it dazzling sunshine, clear blue skies and a lot of happy birds singing in the huge number trees in the expansive gardens. A mouth exciting Indian Aloo Paratha (Indian stuffed flatbread, made on special request) and an eye widening cup of Malawian coffee later, I was ready to face the day. My itinerary included a tour with Mehul , lots of food and of course plenty of time left over to re-visit the spa.
The Other Side at Latitude 13 (aptly named as it is discreetly hidden in its own private gardens) also includes “The Works”, the hotel chain’s unique working space for entrepreneurs and businesses. Small conferences and meetings, cocktail parties and private dinners are all well catered for in the modern conference rooms. The space is also equipped with a smoothie bar and coffee station, and of course has great Wi-Fi. For those less formal meetings there are multiple private lounge areas, as well as the gardens, overlooking the clear blue swimming pool.
If you are here on a longer stay, the hotel also has twenty, 2 and 1 bedroomed loft-style apartments, each double storey, and equipped with their own kitchen. The apartments are super chic and elegant, and the stuff of Pinterest inspiration. They make for such a comfortable stay that you are surely not to miss any home comforts at all.
The end of my weekend was met with mixed feelings, but I was glad to have spent a truly restful and refreshing weekend in quiet Lilongwe. Words would not do it enough justice, I humbly suggest you plan a trip there soon to experience it all for yourself.
The Latitude Hotels have left an indelible mark on me and I look forward to more of their offerings. Be sure to look out for the opening of their property in Kampala, Uganda, Latitude 0, set to open later on in the year.Latitude 13 can be contacted via thelatitudehotels.com, or by emailing [email protected]