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LUXURY HOTELS: The Royal Livingstone Hotel, Victoria Falls, Zambia
Style: Colonial Africa 
Scene: Banks of the Zambezi
Seen in the lobby: Well-heeled southern Africans on holiday, safari types from around the world
THIS has to be the world's best hotel arrival. It has everything;  views, originality, romance and just a hint of drama... "Is that a croc or a rock", I wonder as our water taxi buzzes like a tsetse fly across the surface of the Zambezi River in Zambia. Over the other side of the boat a hippo rises like doe from the depths, just its nostrils and eyes showing, and surveys us with disinterest. 
Ahead of us the spray from mighty Victoria Falls rises 100 of metres into the air and as the water gathers speed toward the edge of the falls I am more than a little relieved when our tiny boat swings towards the landing stage of The Royal Livingstone hotel.

the sundeck with zebras in the foreground
the sundeck with zebras in the foreground
pool area
the lounge
luxury suite lounge and verandah
the dining room
exterior view of the royal livingstone

We've been tipped straight from the plane into the heart of Africa, to the place where Livingstone first set eyes on the falls and named them after his queen. The locals of the time called the rushing water 'The smoke that roars' (mosi- oa- Tunya) and fewer are closer to the Big Smoke than The Royal Livingstone. Any closer and we'd be plunging over.

This is my second visit to this amazing hotel but the arrival isn't any less exciting.

Liveried staff are waiting at the private dock with African-sunset coloured cocktails and cold towels. Soaked by spray my sun hat appears to be wilting in the heat and I'm not far behind it so the cold towel is more than welcome. An amazing array of tiny lunch bites from Chef Anuj Ovaleker are also waiting, so delicately arranged they look almost too good to eat...almost.

Although it was only built in 2001 The Royal Livingstone has channeled its namesake in a big way. It oozes colonial charm from the wind up gramophone on its terrace to the triple gin and tonics served in the bar. (I like this place already). Oh and did I mention the cucumber sandwiches for afternoon tea. There is a languid charm about the place that instantly relaxes you.

Perhaps it's the easy charm of the Zambian staff, or internet slower than snail-mail which means crack-berry types are forced to wind down, or the sound of the Zambezi constantly flowing past the edge of the manicured lawns which makes me so relaxed. Or perhaps it's the size of those damned gins. Whatever the reason I remember that on my first visit by late afternoon I was so relaxed I was  virtually catatonic. It is was all I could do to leaf indolently through the pages of my novel and gaze at the river and those smoking falls.

This time i'm on a tighter schedule and have to rush off for a massage before I'm even unpacked (rush? massage?). White canopied massage tents have been set up at the very edge of the river, their muslin curtains blowing gently in the breeze. And despite the initial sprint to the tent I find myself relaxing as strong hands knead away the knots while I listen to the sound of the river and the strange bassoon cry of the hippos.  

Rooms at Royal Livingstone are in ostrich-egg coloured buildings which fan out on either side of the main lobby. The decor is suitably 'Out of Africa' with wooden bed-heads, animal prints on the wall, black and white tiled bathroom floors and marble-edged baths. I keep my French windows closed so that I'm not be bothered by mosquitoes or anything else beginning with "M"(take that monkeys).

At breakfast on my first trip a zebra grazed gently on the hotel grass as I drank my morning cup of tea and when my guard was down a monkey leapt onto the breakfast table and grabbed a handful of sugars, I flapped my white linen napkin but it was too little too late. Evading capture by the groundsman he shot off across the lawn and sat triumphantly in the nearest tree pouring the packets down his throat as fast as he could -   one speedy monkey that really didn't need a sugar high. Later I saw him running around and around the edge of the swimming pool with the guard in hot, but ineffective pursuit.
'At breakfast a zebra graze gently on the hotel grass as guests drink  morning cups of tea'
This time we breakfast on Livingstone island,  a boat trip away on the edge of the mighty falls.and I stand in the very spot where Livingstone first saw the falls and called them 'The most wonderful sight I have witnessed in Africa". I am inclined to agree. This is my fifth visit to mosi- oa- Tunya and I've seen her in many moods. The falls are gloriously full this visit and in a week they'll close Livingstone Island because it will be virtually submerged. The falls thunder so loudly you almost need earplugs and the spray rises so high into the sky you think it will soak the planes. During dry season  the brave can clamber out and swim in the Devil's Pool on the very, very edge. As it is two bikini clad girls are dipping in pools further back from the brink  but the swirling water, and the fact that I'm covered head to toe in an over-sized rain mac like discarded rubbish in a bin bag,  mean I'm not game to give it a go. 

When we fly over the falls I see just how close our hotel is to the edge, closer than the orange ring of its sister property Zambezi Sun and closer than Elephant Hills and the historic but faded Victoria Falls Hotel over the border in Zimbabwe. From here it looks as if the hotels are facing each other across a tiny crack in a pond, all be it one with water frothing like a washing machine,  not a yawning canyon cut by the relentless river.

You could spend an evening aboard the historic Royal Livingstone Express train but to be honest it isn't nearly as luxurious as the hotel itself , so I'd rather watch the sunset from the hotel.  Early evening on the Zambezi and the sun is a blood orange in the sky, it looks as if its juice is leaking into the river; a shiny red trail that glimmers across the water as the sun sets.  For that alone I'd come back again.. and again.

Check in:  The Royal Livingstone, Livingstone, Zambia
Ultimate Luxury:  The Presidential Suite,with a wide terrace overlooking the grounds and the river
Most Indulgent Moment: A massage in a tent on the edge of the Zambezi
Insider Secrets:  The colonial bar has a VERY impressive selection of whiskies
The Little Things: Staff are adept at scaring off over-enthusiastic monkeys
Junior Luxies: welcome but keep them away from the crocs
Dress code: smart casual with a hint of  safari khaki for outings
Perfect luggage: Bashed-about weathered leather that has been all over Africa
Dent in the platinum:
Luxury Hotels Link:  www.suninternational.com
Luxury Travel Link: South African Airways www.flysaa.com
Hilary Doling Update 15/5/15  
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