Our first impression of the deservedly well-renowned Fairmont Zimbali Resort came in the form of a long, paved road, cutting through luscious greenery as it ploughed towards the lobby of the 5-star establishment. As we curved along the circumference of a palm-packed roundabout, the hotel’s majestic glass entrance finally came into view and it was then, before attending our custom-planned welcome lunch service, or entering our ocean-view suite, or traipsing across the resort’s private beach, that my husband and I realised the once-in-a-lifetime value of what we were about to experience.
As we would come to realise over the course of our 3-night stay at Durban’s finest resort, the Fairmont Zimbali is so much more than a hotel, and no less than a standalone world, where life is lived to the finest degree, with a most effortless sense of elegance.
A mere 30-minute drive from central Durban, set on a property almost too vast to imagine, the resort includes a number of restaurants (each of them top-class, but I digress), 5 beautiful outdoor pools, a private beach long enough to walk for hours, a gym, a wonderfully decadent spa and a handful of bars. Basically, a weekend away at Fairmont Zimbali Resort puts you in touch with everything that you could wish to do outside the bounds of the hotel, and then some. And from the shallow end of the main pool, right through to the bicycle rental gazebo, we were greeted with smiles and a special warmth of character, the likes of which is a rarity in today’s busy world.
Further into the thick of the property lies the Fairmont Zimbali lodge, a vestige of an older time, and although it’s much smaller than its sister resort, it is certainly not short of character. While venturing through the lodge’s grounds we caught sight of a rare Crown Eagle that has nested just next to the Lodge’s dining area.
Aside from the extensive breakfast buffet, smoothie bar and obligatory (ahem) Bloody Mary station, the resort boasts a number of restaurants and cafes, each more exquisite than the other. We started our food journey at the cafe/cocktail bar 31 Degrees with a wonderful pair of light meals accompanied by fresh sushi. 31 Degrees would turn out to be our most frequently-visited haunt during the duration of our stay, but it was certainly not our favourite (although the cocktails there were nothing short of phenomenal). The title of best food venue, in my humble opinion, would have to be shared by the North-Indian fine dining restaurant, OSA, and the Mexican eatery, Ayoba!. While OSA’s depth of flavour and authentic North-Indian dishes forced us to push ourselves to uncomfortable levels of fullness, Ayoba! proved to be the light-bite eatery that an early dinner calls for, serving up beautifully-rendered and flavour-packed favourites from the land of Tequila and Tacos. If I were to recommend one dish from each, I would say that OSA’s vegetarian Thali, and the Black Bean Nachos, with chips and guac, from Ayoba! are the most tasty options. Just make sure that you go into the restaurants at Zimbali with an empty stomach, and a lot of time to spare, because you’ll need it.
As if the service and quality of food at any one of the restaurants weren’t enough, we had an immaculately prepared and beautifully presented in-room three-course dinner on our final night at Fairmont Zimbali Resort that was on par with any of the other meals we had during our time there. Plus, there’s something super romantic about eating dinner in the comfort of your ocean-view hotel room!
During our all-too-brief stay, we were treated by the hotel to - amongst other things - a few really amazing activities. After settling in and getting the lay of the land, so to speak, we were given a couple of bicycles and encouraged to explore the property. A short while later, we found ourselves in the middle of a barely-developed cul-de-sac, having pushed our holiday bodies as hard as we could over hills and through shallow valleys. In this small enclave it only took us a few moments before we realised that the relative silence that had surrounded us for the duration of our ride had been broken by some very inquisitive visitors - Vervet Monkeys. Family groups slowly surrounded us from every angle, chewing on unnamed shrubs and keeping a keen collective eye on us, the new arrivals, while generally going about their rather cute, rather monkey-ish business. While they can be a little bit forward when food is involved, the Vervet Monkeys are absolutely harmless and are a must-see for guests at the resort. A short cycle back to the hotel took us across the path of a young grazing bush buck which, amazingly enough, allowed us to get up close without running off. Such close encounters are simply magical and have to be experienced to be appreciated.
The following day, shortly after breakfast, we were excitedly ushered into what appeared to be a brand new car, with our own private driver, Anthony, and driven to central Durban. There we got the chance to visit Victoria Market place, where we browsed through souvenirs, spices and South African crafts before heading over to Durban’s world famous Botanic Garden, which is home to some of the rarest and most interesting plant species on the planet, including an Orchid house and a specific type of cycad that is last remaining plant of its kind and therefore, an utterly priceless specimen.
Aside from being a kind and pleasant guide during our tour, Anthony was also remarkably knowledgeable on the history and culture of Durban and its surrounds, painting a vivid picture of the city.
To end the day, we took to the beach with a blanket, two baskets full of finger-food, a couple of towels, and a bottle of crisp white wine, to see in the late afternoon on the shores of the Indian Ocean. There’s nothing like a beach picnic next to slow, crashing waves, underneath a pale blue sky.