The Victoria Falls Hotel is a southern African institution. It’s a luxury hotel with colonial style interiors. If you’re travelling to Zimbabwe and plan on spending time at Victoria Falls, whose waterfall is full flow during April and May, it’s worth investing in booking a room at this upscale hotel: the experience of staying is worth it.
The doormen wear white tunics and pith helmets, a throwback to Edwardian times when the hotel opened for business. The most photographed of the Victoria Falls Hotel’s doormen is named Duly. His tunic is studded with pin badges from around the world, reflecting the places that people have travelled from to visit this hotel, which is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World.
The hotel’s corridors reflect the building’s long history. Framed pictures decorate the walls. They include oil paintings of British monarchs, cartoons and magazine covers depicting life and travel during the times of the British Empire, plus photos of guests and life in the country that was formerly known as Southern Rhodesia. It’s easy to while away hours simply ambling through the corridors. Additionally, there’s the trophies bagged by game hunters of bygone times, ranging from zebra hides to the horned heads of cape buffalos and other wildlife.
Times, of course, have changed but you wouldn’t know that while inside the hotel. The uniforms and manners of the well-trained hotel staff mean they could easily step into the filming of an Agatha Christie-style novel set in Africa, for which the classy colonial décor of the hotel’s public rooms would also prove ideal.
The guest rooms are stylish and spacious. If it wasn’t for the flat-screen television, in room safe and access to Wi-Fi, you could easily wake thinking you’d been transported in time back to the early 20th century. Beds are draped with mosquito nets, the furniture is made of dark wood, ceiling fans turn (though there is also air-conditioning) and the tiled bathrooms have a clawfoot bathtub (walk in showers have been added too, in recent years). With a desk, sofa and coffee table, the bedrooms are inviting places to spend time and have a welcome air of cool calm, even in the sultry dry season.
Yet in a hotel like this one it’s tricky to resist the temptation to wander through the grand rooms, order a drink in Stanley’s Bar (named after the journalist who found the Scottish missionary and explorer who called the mighty waterfalls after his queen and emperor), or stroll on the footpaths that cut through the garden that provides fine views of the Victoria Falls Bridge. The arched bridge was constructed with a view to becoming part of a Cape Town to Cairo railway that would carry guests to this hotel. In the decades after the hotel was built Victoria Falls was nicknamed Jungle Junction. That’s now the name of the restaurant where sumptuous breakfast and dinner buffets are served (crocodile sourced from a local farm counts as one of the meats served each evening).
The outdoor swimming pool offers a place to cool on warm evenings or to ease into the day. If you are feeling active you could take a trip to the bridge and bungy jump off its side or walk beneath it guided by a man playing the character of French engineer, Georges C. Imbault, who oversaw the building of the metal structure that had been prefabricated in the north-east of England and shipped to Africa.
The hotel itself offers an exquisite sense of calm. It’s a gorgeous place to watch a sunset while experiencing a sense of how life was, at least of the upper classes of society, when the sun never set on the British Empire.
The Victoria Falls Hotel, 1, Mallet Drive, PO Box 10, Victoria Falls, Harare, Zimbabwe.
The Victoria Falls Hotel is on Mallet Drive close to the centre of Victoria Falls. It’s an institution, so by no means difficult to locate. The hotel is less than 20km (under 20 minutes’ drive) from Victoria Falls Airport.
Type of Hotel: 5-Star Hotel
Number of Rooms: 161 bedrooms, including nine suites with complimentary Wi-Fi.
Price Band: High
Insider Tip: Plan to arrive in the mid-afternoon, giving yourself ample time to enjoy afternoon tea on the hotel’s terrace with views of Victoria Falls Bridge. Alternatively, order a gin and tonic or drink of your choice while watching the sun set.
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10
Stuart Forster is a freelance writer and photographer specialising in food and travel related features.
Photographs by Stuart Forster