Explorers from the Twenties knew how to travel. No mess tins and ground mats for them – no, they transported their bulkiest home comforts, dined in Bacchanalian style and enriched their days with adventures. Now Namibian luxury camp Zannier Hotels Sonop, built on a spill of giant boulders amid the soaring dunes and wide-open wilds of the Namib Desert, lets you live it up in roaring vintage style, whether you’re galloping over the sands, snooping wild things on a scenic drive, spa-ing and swimming or knocking back drinks in a bar with a billiards table. The world may be mostly found, but it’s a pleasure to lose yourself here.
Get this when you book through us:
For one-night stays, a surprise gift; for longer stays, a free 60-minute spa treatment
Eight one-bedroom luxury tents and a twinset of two-bedroom tents.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability and an extra charge. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £654.75 (NAD13,600), including tax at 15 per cent.
Rates include a daily gourmet à la carte breakfast, lunch and five-course silver-service dinner; all drinks (except premium spirits and champagne); twice-daily shared desert drives; a 30-minute horse ride; fat e-bike hire; and stargazing session.
To ensure no distractions from your sun salutations and inner soul contemplations, book a private yoga or meditation session on your tent’s deck. The hotel also holds free open-air film screenings by the pool.
At the hotel
Stables; spa; fitness suite; sitting room with deck; cigar lounge with a billiards table, books and parlour games; free WiFi throughout. In rooms: private deck with telescope; antique and bespoke furnishings; Nespresso machine; free daily-restocked minibar; kettle and selection of teas; free bottled water; air-conditioning.
Our favourite rooms
Each tent is dressed to the nines, so differences lie in the settings. Those on high have the upper hand when it comes to views, but there are fewer steps to climb to the grounded tents, and you can pick your preferred spot: near the pool, lounge or dining room – or further out for a true away-from-it-all experience.
The outdoor infinity pool is an adults-only space privy to some stirring scenery – from your pillow-y sunlounger you might spy a curious oryx passing by and other critters en route to the watering-hole. The water and deck are warmed by the sun (come winter it’s much cooler), but there are spots where you can stay shaded.
There are two couple-sized treatment rooms near the pool deck; each is private but still have those incredible views. To make you feel even more immersed in your surroundings, indigenous ingredients (very fine sand, sun-baked stones and healing plants) are used in scrubs, massages, facials and more. The fitness centre is remarkably well-equipped for running, weight-training, cycling and ellipticals, with free group yoga and meditation sessions for winding down, too.
The desert blows hot and cold, so pack layers to add and shed at will – all stashed in a well-loved suitcase adorned with ageing travel stickers, of course.
There’s no TV in your tent, what with being back to nature and all that – but, square-eyed sorts can attend a cinema screening in the wilds each evening. WiFi is patchy too, and phone signal is non-existent.
Children over six are welcome and the two-bedroom tents are very accommodating to families; rates for littles are available on request. Truthfully, it’s best to keep wandering little ones and the wilderness apart.
Water conservation is of the utmost importance at this desert camp: the lodge recycles waste water, channelling it to watering holes for local wildlife and using it to water plants. It’s solar powered, too, and every effort is made to keep the environment pristine, with clean-up campaigns, eco-friendly cleaning products and sustainable dining.
There’s a lively communal table for story-swapping, but couples seeking some alone time need only give staff the nod to be set up somewhere private and lantern-lit (with blankets, if dining on the deck).
Far-from-home flapper girls and dapper dudes.
As vintage decorum dictates, camp meals are silver-service affairs with candelabra to set the mood and white-gloved waiters serving five-course feasts and keeping an eye on wine-glass levels. Dinner is set and differs each day, using largely fresh local produce (desert windfalls allowing). Menus have a Mediterranean flavour, with some local influence: expect fresh fish and seafood, home-made soups and stews, and traditional desserts such as malva pudding. With some advance notice, the chefs will cater for all dietary needs too. Or, for that à la Lawrence of Arabia feel, breakfast and dinner can be taken atop the curvaceous Sonop Dune.
There are two: the first is a cosmopolitan gentlemen’s club that doubles up as a cigar lounge and games room, with a billiards table and other diversions (chess, Mikado sticks, Monopoly…). You’ll need to pay more for champagne and premium spirits (including the fine selection of aged ports and South African gins), but included-in-your-rate wines, classic cocktails and Windhoek beers keep evenings well-lubricated. The Pool Bar is a more casual affair where cocktails, fresh juices and small plates are ferried to your lounger. There’s a fire-pit-warmed terrace with pouffes to perch on, too, and the lounge’s deck has a telescope to turn skywards.
Breakfast is served from 7am to 11am; lunch, noon to 2pm; and dinner kicks off at 8pm; the bar dings its bell at 11pm. If you’re peckish in between, the pool bar serves bites and drinks from 11am to 5pm.
Sonop is at the edge of NamibRand Nature Reserve, amid the dunes and plains of the Namib Desert in Namibia’s sparsely populated Karas Region.
The nearest international hub is Namibia’s Windhoek Hosea Kutako Airport; flights here from major cities in the UK, US and further afield usually stop over in Johannesburg. From Windhoek, you can arrange a plane transfer to the hotel’s private landing strip (a 90-minute flight) with the camp’s guest services team. Alternatively, the camp is around a six-hour drive, and return transfers by chauffeur-driven car can be booked on request, plus trips to and from sister property Omaanda.
To drive from the airport, you’ll need stamina and nerves of steel to cope with roads and driving of varying quality. Plus, you’ll need to go off-road in the desert, so we highly recommend the hotel’s transfers by plane or with a skilled 4x4 driver. If self-drive is your desire, hire a rugged vehicle at the airport and follow the route south via Kalkrand, Rehoboth, Maltahohe and Betta Campsite; there’s parking close to the camp with a frequent shuttle service.
Fancy chartering your own flight or chopper? The hotel can provide all the details to do so.
Worth getting out of bed for
Picturesque desolation is kind of the point here, admiring the desert’s golden dunes, bare trees and endless topaz-to-violet skies as you contemplate man’s insignificance in the face of nature… But, on a lighter note, the Namib Desert isn’t as dry as it initially seems: morning and afternoon scenic drives seek out flower- and herb-scattered bushmen’s caves (a guide will talk you through their uses) and wildlife-attended watering-holes. A 30-minute horse ride (the lodge has its own stables) and e-bike hire are included in your room rate and staff can provide routes and guides for hiking and cycling in the mountains and across the plains. Challenge fellow guests to a game of billiards, partake in group yoga and meditation sessions, chased with a soothing spa time-outs; and settle in after sundowners for an open-air cinema screening. Stargaze from the comfort of your deck or in NamibRand, allegedly the darkest Dark-Sky Reserve, practically next door, get a vulture’s eye view from a hot-air balloon or clamber up and down the painterly dunes and pans of Sossusvlei and Deadvlei. Zannier Hotels Sonop can also arrange a photographer to capture your ‘where quite a few men have been before, but it’s new to me’ explorations with a Leica. And, if you’d like a customised excursion, the charming concierge is your man.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this mirage-like luxury camp in the Namib desert and unpacked their well-thumbed maps and leatherbound field-notes, a full account of their middle-of-nowhere break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, let’s explore Zannier Hotels Sonop in the Karas Region’s isolated wilds…
The Namib desert is defined by its haunting, breathtaking sparseness. And yet, Zannier Hotels’ new luxury camp Sonop – in the most middle-of-nowhere bit of the Karas Region – has, well, everything: a spa, pool, stables, antiques aplenty, even white gloves for the staff to wear during silver-service dinners (there’s definitely a kitchen sink somewhere, too). This abundant abode is inspired by the Twenties explorers who travelled with a Jenga’s worth of steamer trunks and lackeys to lug about their writing desks, tea sets and such. Lounges and bars are dressed with leather trunks, wingbacks and other colonial-era trappings; one could easily imagine Burton translating his exotic texts or a lavishly mustachioed cartographer plotting discoveries in each of the 10 palatial, antique-stuffed tents, built on a tumble of enormous boulders. Days are spent on horse- or bike-back, seeking out cheetahs, springboks and baboons in the nearby nature reserve or scaling golden dunes, before beating your comrades at billiards, lighting up a girthy cigar while swilling a well-aged spirit and watching the surreally hued sunset darken to the twinkliest of nights. Yes, Zannier Hotels Sonop is more getting away with it all than from it all, but it succeeds in making the inhospitable landscape immensely welcoming.