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STAR-GAZ­ING, HELI-PAINTBALLING, SKY-DIV­ING, CROC­O­DILE-WRESTLING... AD­VEN­TURES AWAIT AT THE WILD AND WON­DER­FUL OB­SER­VA­TORY BUSH VILLA

Architectural Digest (UAE) - - Contents - WORDS LISA GRAINGER PHO­TOG­RA­PHY GREG COX

From star-gaz­ing to sky-div­ing, ad­ven­tures await at the Ob­ser­va­tory Bush villa in Leobo

Hav­ing mar­ried on North Is­land in the Sey­chelles, British po­lar ad­ven­turer and tech mil­lion­aire Rory Sweet and his wife Lizzy knew pre­cisely which ar­chi­tects they wanted to cre­ate their home in the Lim­popo bush, three hours north of Jo­han­nes­burg. The star South African duo Les­ley Cartens and Sil­vio Rech – who dreamt up North Is­land’s in­te­ri­ors, as well as those at Mi­a­vana in Mada­gas­car, Angama Mara in Kenya and Jao Camp in Botswana – were tasked with an ul­tra-stylish yet live­able de­sign.

The re­sult is part tac­tile, earthy hide­away and part high-oc­tane play­ground. The Ob­ser­va­tory Bush Villa at Leobo is deeply pri­vate (set within 20,000 acres of pristine re­serve), with four-poster beds, egg-shaped baths and open-air show­ers. A place where – with its or­ganic shapes, curv­ing waxed-mud walls and star­lit rooftop pool – you could hun­ker down and lose your heart. Or bring a whole bunch of your clos­est friends and dance your desert boots off.

“Peo­ple say all the time that they’ve had more fun here than any­where else,” says Sweet. “As far as I’m con­cerned, that’s what hol­i­days are about. There are no rules, so ev­ery­one feels lib­er­ated. They can do what­ever they want.” Which clearly in Sweet’s case is to dress up. In the hall­way, there’s a hat rack of wigs and a cou­ple of sil­ver space­suits to step into. Climb the twist­ing stairs to the mez­za­nine sit­ting room and you’ll find a trunk of one­sies to bor­row for chilly nights, along­side a col­lec­tion of fan­tas­ti­cal out­fits left by pre­vi­ous mer­ry­mak­ers. And then there are the boys’ toys.

Back in his UK home, Sweet’s play­things in­clude an un­used Rus­sian HFL Kholod rocket, which he bought at auc­tion ‘be­cause it was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen and flew 5,000 miles an hour’. In Leobo his kit is slightly more use­ful: Po­laris off-road ve­hi­cles, 700cc quad bikes, zip wires and ri­fles of all sizes. He also has ac­cess to the ul­ti­mate bush toy: a he­li­copter.

“When­ever we are here, we have it on standby,” he says. “Some days we’ll fly to the top of a moun­tain for sun­down­ers, on oth­ers we’ll land in a nar­row canyon and spend the af­ter­noon fly-fish­ing, swim­ming and pic­nick­ing. Some peo­ple sky­dive from it. I don't be­cause I have six kids, and it’s pretty scary up at 12,000ft. But some peo­ple go for that. An 11-year-old tried it last time.”

What he loves best is spend­ing hours in his ob­ser­va­tory, which

“We al­ways have the he­li­copter on standby. Some peo­ple

sky­dive from it. I don’t be­cause I have six kids”

is equipped with two NASA-grade tele­scopes. “They’re in­cred­i­ble,” he says. “One is a 20-inch Dall-Kirkham for gaz­ing at stars, plan­ets and neb­u­lae. I’ve seen shad­ows on Saturn from the rings and ev­ery de­tail of the moon.” The other is an eight-inch hy­dro­gen-al­pha scope for look­ing at the sun, ‘so you can see so­lar flares’. Best of all, you can type into a com­puter the star you want to see, and the te­le­scope will swing around, find it, and fo­cus in.

Even with­out the te­le­scope, in this part of the world the stars seem to hang just above you. The Water­berg area is not a Big Five sa­fari des­ti­na­tion. It’s made up of a patch­work of farms, hunt­ing con­ces­sions and game re­serves stocked with non-threat­en­ing gi­raffe, ze­bra and an­te­lope. Which means guests are free to roam wher­ever they like dur­ing the day. And there is vir­tu­ally no light pol­lu­tion. At night, ly­ing on the enor­mous deck, float­ing in the rooftop hot tub be­side the im­pos­ing An­gus Tay­lor sculp­ture, or sit­ting around the firepit star­ing at the glit­ter­ing Milky Way, it’s not un­usual to be in­ter­rupted by the slow blink of a satel­lite or the fizzing tail of a shoot­ing star.

But Sweet doesn’t sit around much. With half a dozen chil­dren aged be­tween two and 21, he and Lizzy are kept busy dur­ing March and Novem­ber, when they de­camp to Leobo. The fam­ily are all keen rid­ers, and own eight lo­cal Bo­er­perd horses on which they cross the 190 miles of tracks on their land. There are also moun­tain bikes on which to whizz through the scrub and a range on which to prac­tise clay-pi­geon shoot­ing. One se­ri­ous adren­a­line junkie was set up to be trained by a for­mer SAS spe­cial­ist.

Not ev­ery­one has quite the same zest for ac­tion as Leobo’s own­ers. Af­ter fish­ing at the small dam (where guests can play tug-of-war with a croc­o­dile, us­ing a rope baited with a chicken), ex­plor­ing the ru­ins of a Stone Age ci­tadel and sip­ping drinks on the deck, I was happy to just pad about the house, to ad­mire their col­lec­tions (which in­clude sharks’ jaws and a full hip­popota­mus skele­ton sus­pended above the din­ing ta­ble), and to swim in the cliff­side pool to a sound­track of twit­ter­ing birds.

Thanks to what Carsten and Rech de­scribe as their ‘evolved Afro­cen­tric style’, the house feels dis­tinctly African and re­flects the ar­chi­tec­ture of a lo­cal homestead. “It's a col­lec­tion of vol­umes cob­bled to­gether to make a home in which the ma­te­ri­als and re­fined de­tail­ing stand out.” In Leobo it’s clear that each de­tail has been con­sid­ered, re­fined and con­sid­ered again, to al­low its sim­plic­ity to sing – whether that’s the pol­ished earthen walls and the ex­otic old Zanz­ibar doors, aged by the sun and sea air, or the hand-beaten cop­per lights and the piles of linen cush­ions that re­flect the sil­very bark out­side. It’s a house that is deeply rooted in the Bushveld land­scape. But there are quirky touches, too: that gar­gan­tuan hippo chan­de­lier; the eclec­tic African art, in­clud­ing an AK-47 be­decked in flow­ers; the ceil­ings cov­ered in hand-stitched wilde­beest skins; and the semi-cir­cu­lar ban­quette that looks like it’s come straight out of an Austin Pow­ers film.

Yes, you can come here to play but you can also just press pause: fill your lungs with air scented with leaves and dust and sun-baked grass, eat smoky bar­be­cues in the bush, and watch light­ning split the thun­der­ously black African skies.

The Ob­ser­va­tory Bush Villa at Leobo Pri­vate Re­serve, which sleeps six adults and four chil­dren, costs from about Dhs 31,000 a night (the ad­join­ing Leobo Lodge has cot­tages that can also be booked) through Aard­vark Sa­faris, aard­vark­sa­faris.co.uk

“It’s a col­lec­tion of vol­umes cob­bled to­gether to make a home in which the ma­te­ri­als and de­tail­ing stand out”

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP RIGHT:A sculp­ture by An­gus Tay­lor pre­sides over the top of a stair­case; the cor­belled bricks and or­a­cle win­dow in the shower cre­ate a dra­matic sky-lit am­bi­ence; full-sizedaybeds on the pool deck OP­PO­SITE: The four-poster beds are made from hand-hewn andhand-pol­ished lead­wood

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