Set on a remote stretch of the Ruaha River, surrounded by incredible wildlife…
The Retreat: Our full report
The Retreat is a very different style of camp to others in the Selous Game Reserve – in fact it is totally different to any other camp we have seen in Tanzania! While it is a safari camp, and so is partly focused on wildlife viewing, it puts a stronger emphasis on the spiritual aspects of its care. Its owner, Uma Grob, envisaged the camp as a place for travellers to re-charge not only their bodies, but also their souls.
Located in a remote western part of the northern Selous, on a long stretch of the Ruaha River and surrounded by combretum woodland, The Retreat Selous is well away from most other camps and lodges. A combination of Feng Shui, luxurious surroundings and the soulful ideology of the owners has resulted in a peaceful place with very much a holistic outlook. Having put a lot of care and attention into the design of camp, and a lot of money into its construction, the owners hope that as well as enjoying the safari activities, their guests will feel they have escaped to a 'retreat'.
The design and décor of The Retreat blends a wonderful range of styles, many dating back to east Africa's trading heyday – when this region's prosperity was built on slaves and spices. The mix of Arab, Indian, north African and European influences results in a melting pot of design that is reminiscent of Zanzibar, and the focus on the five elements – water, air, earth, fire and metal – aims to create a peaceful, balanced ambience.
The main building at The Retreat has been built in the style of a fort, taking its inspiration from a military look-out point that was located on this site during the First World War. However, in keeping with the Arab design, it feels more like an Arab fort than a military outpost, with an impressive and intricately carved 200-year-old door from Rajasthan.
Inside, sofas and chairs upholstered in fine silk fabrics are set around beautifully carved wooden tables. This shady spot captures the breeze and is a cool place for relaxing in the heat of the day.
For those who want to get a bit of sun, plenty of loungers are set around a lovely infinity pool, with stunning views over the Ruaha River.
Up a flight of stairs on a higher level – like the 'ramparts' of a fort – is a relaxation area and bar, covered by billowing white fabric and regularly used for dining, too. The bar is a lovely spot to enjoy a sundowner in the warm evening light.
Central to the holistic approach of The Retreat is The Spa. Situated down by the Ruaha River, this outdoor spa offers a variety of treatments including stone massages, crystal massages and sound therapy. There is also a Vichy shower, where you can have a variety of wet treatments such as a body scrub or wrap.
All treatments use products made from natural ingredients – and all are at extra cost. They have a vast selection of essential oils from Switzerland which are mixed to suit each guest. One spa treatment is included as an activity, based on two activities per day. If not included as an activity, a typical 40-minute massage using the oils costs US$50 when we were last at The Retreat, in September 2012.
The 12 tents at The Retreat are all broadly similar in design, though there are three slightly different categories as well as a satellite camp:
- The six Hill Tents are the simplest. Set on top of the hill right by the central building, they share the same wonderful view as the pool and dining area. Each sits on a 100m² teak platform, and with multiple layers of billowing silk, mosquito gauze and canvas you can have the tent open to the view or closed in for privacy. In an effort to emulate the feeling of sleeping under the stars, the ceiling is draped in silk inlaid with fine silver stars.
The dark, high-quality wooden furniture in each tent is Zanzibari in style. Each tent has a large wardrobe, writing desk, coffee station and a pair of lounge chairs. In front of each tent is a beautiful open-air brass or copper bath, sharing the hilltop views.
At the back of each tent is an en-suite bathroom designed to use lots of the earth's elements to create a peaceful ambience. As well as a flush toilet, there's a washbasin made either from semi-precious stones such as tiger's eye or amethyst, or maybe of stylishly beaten metal. The open shower is at one end of the room, its tray is crafted from a stunning piece of rose sandstone. Complimentary bathroom products made from fruits and oils from Madagascar and Zanzibar are included.
- On the edge of the river, a short drive from the main area of The Retreat, are four River Tents. These have the same interiors as the Hill Tents, but their 160m² decks each have a private plunge pool and relaxing loungers.
- Of these, the largest, the Lion River Suite sits on a wooden platform with a further 60m² tented seating area making a total of 220m², which can house additional beds for families. Included is a personal dining area & plunge pool.
- Some 2km from the main fort the exclusive Hippo Point forms a separate satellite camp with a private guide and vehicle. The 2 tents here, of the same design as the others, are centred on a swimming pool and bar area. Guests at Hippo Point can choose either to dine at the main lodge, or to eat privately here.
For keen safari goers heading to the Selous, and seeking as much wildlife viewing as possible, this probably isn't the camp to stay at. However, if you want to relax in a peaceful and beautiful camp, enjoying spa treatments with safaris also on offer, then it could be the perfect choice.
Ideal length of stay: 4 nights – 5 if you want to fly camp
Directions: The Retreat is a 45-minute flight from Dar es Salaam, followed by a 30-minute drive from the nearest airstrip at Simbazi airstrip.
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: Broadly speaking the food at The Retreat on our last few visits was very good – with a varied menu and tasty fresh food. We particularly liked the imaginative way in which it was served, often in beautiful handmade glassware.
Breakfast offered three courses, with fruit, fruit juice, tea and coffee, followed by muesli and yoghurt, then toast, pasties and pancakes. The muesli was served in a stunning and ornate glass and metal tankard – a great example of the attention to detail paid here.
Lunch is also three courses. When we last stayed in September 2012 we had a starter of cold cucumber soup, a main course of chicken salad, then a fruit salad for dessert .
For dinner we had spiced aubergine to start, barbecued beef with potato gratin and vegetables for main, followed by a delicious lemon torte for dessert.
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Some drinks are included at The Retreat (such as house wines, soft drinks, and local beers) but all spirits, cellar wines and champagne are extra. A bottle of wine is typically about US$30.
Wellbeing: The Retreat isn't just a safari camp that happens to have a lovely open-air spa right on the Ruaha River; it's really been designed as a well-being retreat which incorporates an excellent spa ... plus the opportunity for safari activities. The variety of treatments here includes a Vichy shower and sound therapy. For those looking for a safari with a holistic approach, The Retreat is perfect!See more ideas for Wellbeing in Tanzania
Attitude towards children: The Retreat welcomes families wth children.
Equipment: The Retreat does have high-chairs and baby cots.
Generally recommended for children: Like most safari camps, we wouldn't recommend The Retreat for young children, but it would be fine for older children who take an interest in wildlife.
Notes: Parents must be aware that children are their responsibility at all times; they will need constant supervision.
Power supply: Generator
Communications: There is intermittent cellphone reception from the roof of the main lodge and guests can use the office email for emergencies.
TV & radio: No
Health & safety
Malarial area: Yes
Medical care: The Retreat has a first-aid kit on site and links to flying doctors. Staff are first aid trained – and the owner of the camp is a doctor so does frequent refresher courses.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: There are two askaris on site, and guides to escort guests at night.
Fire safety: There is a fire break around the camp and a fire extinguisher in each tent.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: Laundry is included, but as it is hand washed and line dried, no female underwear is accepted for cultural reasons.
Money: The camp does not offer any currency exchange facilities.