The possibility of viewing the white lions drew us to Sanbona, the well appointed and luxury oriented rooms, health center, plentiful meals, staff enthusiasm and the promise of another pleasant stay will draw us back.

Overall Impression Named for a combination of the “San” people, who occupied the area 100 years ago and “bona” representing their vision, Sanbona was home to open valleys, 650 plant species, 160 bird species, rock faces, rock art, a variety of wildlife and the world famous white lions. The lodge where we stayed was Tinley Manor, the former home of the magistrate Tinley. Although the weather was windy and cold which made our game viewing challenging, the sightings we had were exceptional.

One afternoon, Alouise, our guide, drove to a grassy area where she spotted white rhinos although from the vehicle it was difficult to see them. After making us promise we would follow her every instruction and move quietly she invited us for a walk. More concerned about the ticks than the rhinos, we waded through tall grass and weeds; and cut across thorny thickets for about a half an hour. We felt safe in her company although we knew a predator could be hiding within feet of us. Noisily at first, we walked in an indian file.

We found the rhinos with the aid of a radio tag device which honed in on tagged animals at Sanbona. Rifle and binoculars in hand, she led us unerringly to the rhinos, a male and female. It was remarkable to observe them from such a short distance, 50 meters (approximately 500 feet). We had seen white (and black) rhinos from a game vehicle before but being on foot was different. There was something special about the serene and timeless way in which they fed, moved and communicated with each other and we felt privileged to see it. We were downwind of the couple and thanks to their poor eyesight they only discovered our presence when they walked to the spot where we had stood. By then we were safely back in the game viewing vehicle breathless with the thrill of the sighting.

We will recommend Tilney Manor at Sanbona to our friends wishing to visit the pretty Western Cape area and its famous Garden Route. Using Cape Town as a point of departure they can explore South Africa’s wine country and do some game viewing at Sanbona on their way. A malaria free private reserve dedicated to wildlife preservation and the reintroduction of game, Sanbona offered 54,000 hectares for wildlife renewal and viewing. Its arid stark beauty stood in contrast to other game viewing areas we have visited.

We luxuriated in Tilney Manor’s stately ambiance including indigenous herb gardens, spa options, buffet and three course a la carte meals and service oriented staff. We particularly appreciated the gracious and accommodating hosting of our bush born ranger. The possibility of viewing the white lions drew us to Sanbona, the well appointed and luxury oriented rooms, health center, plentiful meals, staff enthusiasm and the promise of another pleasant stay will draw us back.

Class Of Accommodation A five star property (rating per the South African government)

General Manager Christophe Holzapfel (and his wife Marlene) had 14 years in the hospitality industry and seven years specializing in game viewing industry. Prior to their arrival in Sanbona they had worked in game viewing properties in Botswana, Mozambique, and Tanzania (Zanzibar).

Handicapped Access Yes, handicapped guests were welcome although the property was not designed with handicapped guests in mind. Check with the lodge for details.

Location In the Little Karoo in the Western Cape, about four hours drive from Cape Town

Lodge Manager Marlene Holzapfel

Managed Mantis Collection

Owned Adrian Gardiner and Gaston Savoi

Size Sanbona was located in a reserve of 54,000 hectares. Tilney Manor, which occupied 550 square meters (about 5,500 square feet) of space, had six rooms with capacity for 12 adults and a staff of 24. The Reserve had 56 employees.

Year Opened Sanbona was opened in 2002

Lobby And Common Areas The Manor dated back to the 1897. The elegant interiors were by South African interior designer Maurette vin Eyssen of Maurette Interiors. The furniture, much of it of beech wood, was crafted by her husband Evan vin Eyssen of Evan Furniture. There was artwork by C.J. Rudner dating back to the 1950s and representing part of his collection of Bushman sketches from the Eastern Cape was scattered through the main building and the rooms. We remember the Cape Georgian style décor, fresh flowers, a beautiful herb garden, landscaping and charming water next to the lodge which attracted oodles of birds.

Bathroom The romantic bathroom was an extension of the room. A framed doorway which we left open had privacy doors that slid back to enclose the bathroom area. Inside a bath tub sat on a wooden pedestal. Next to it there was towel and toiletry table; a candleholder and candle. To the right there was a shower with a glass door; next to it a water closet. On the other side there were twin sinks. Beyond the bath tub, was an outdoor shower in an enclosed area with a partial roof cover. The floor and shower were of khaki sandstone tiles; the sink counter area was of khaki granite.

Room Our spacious and plush 68 square meter (about 700 square feet) large Cape Georgian Suite (No. 1) faced the bush. Decorated in off white with khaki and wood accents it was a relaxing space to spend time in between game drives and meals. Next to the entrance there was a wood desk, a mirror and Telkom phone. Adjacent to the desk there was a fireplace, beech wood armoire and wooden luggage rack. Adjacent twin beds in the center of the room leaned against wooden headboards with wood night tables and lamps to each side. There was an armless cloth chair to the right side of the bed. A comfortable striped cloth love seat was at the foot of the bed next to a wooden coffee table. Khaki double curtains kept the light out if we chose to sleep late. A coffee service and minibar occupied the corner of the room. A yellow wood beam ceiling dating back to the original manor in the 1800s made the room cozy while a khaki and black carpet felt soft on our feet. A large reproduction of San paintings hung above the mantle and smaller ones were scattered around the room. Wood and glass sling doors led to a small covered porch with lounge chairs and an inviting view of the nearby bush.

Meals And Food We enjoyed the contemporary Karoo cuisine. We had breakfast when we returned from the game drives, usually around 9 or 9:30 a.m. It consisted of a buffet selection of cold items such as yogurt, cereal, fresh and preserved fruit, cheese, bread and cold cuts. It was also possible to order a hot breakfast from the daily menu. We tried the Buttermilk flapjacks with caramelized bananas and they were delicious.

Lunch was available starting at around 1:30 p.m. and was a similar buffet with hot and cold dishes such as pasta, smoked chicken, ham and fresh salads (we liked the Greek dressing), chicken lasagna, broccoli and mushroom pie, chicken pie and a platter of South African cheeses. Our first multi-course dinner was a social affair with all the guests and rangers sharing one long table. We opted for the Barrydale Sweet Potato and Corn drizzled with olive oil, Smoked Venison on salad greens with summer salsa and a sweet Thai Chili sauce, Montagu pan fried springbok with mustard sauce puree potato stir fried vegetables and wild berry and gin reduction and the Homemade crème caramel with a sticky toffee sauce.

On our final night the staff surprised us by setting up an intimate made-to-order dinner in our room. Our choices: Boland Chunky vegetable with sippetts, which was especially warming and hearty that chilly evening; deep friend crumbled mozzarella cheese set on raspberry vinegar infused iceberg lettuce, drizzled with cranberry sauce. For the main course we ordered a braised Montagu Quail with apricot stuffing, set on boiled jacket new potatoes with roasted garden vegetables and an orange and ginger reduction. The Barrydale pear poached in red wine with a cinnamon and clove reduction and double espresso were the perfect ending to a delightful dinner.

In addition to the copious quantities of food available during meal times, there was a self serve coffee and tea service in the room (we took advantage of it in the early mornings); it was also possible to take advantage of the minibar snacks for a small fee.

Amenities Molton Brown shampoo, suma ginseng shower gel and coco de mer body lotion, cotton bath robes and slippers, cotton balls and swabs, and complimentary bottled water.

Facilities Swimming pool, spa with sauna, lounge, and Trading Post curio shop

Pool There was a 4 x 8 meter outdoor pool with a depth of 1.1 meters.

Spa The Manor was home to a small wellness center. The day I visited the spa, Anele, a young South African with a beautiful smile, welcomed me. She provided a half hour back, neck and shoulder massage. In addition to the two treatment rooms, there was a sauna room available to guests. We planned to use it one night after a particularly chilly game drive and they kept it ready for us.

Game Our ranger was the cheerful and upbeat Alouise Niemand. She grew up in the bush with her parents who nurtured her love of the wild. She had five years of experience and had received certificates in professional tracking, field and trails guiding. She also lived and worked in the local community for three years to learn about the indigenous flora and fauna. She took us on excellent game viewing drives and on one memorable walk to see white rhino. The Sanbona white lions, three male sub-adults when we visited, were the first free roaming white lions born in the wild this century. White lions are thought to be identical to tawny lions although they carry a recessive gene that causes them to be white.

During our stay we saw – Mammals: White lions, white rhino, kudu, mongoose, zebra and elephant. Birds: black stork, blackbreasted heron, blackheaded heron, blackshouldered kite, cape turtle dove, cattle egret, Egyptian goose, jackal buzzard, malaquite sunbird, namaqua dove, pale chanting goshawk, redknobbed coot, redwinged starling, sacred ibis, South African Shelduck and yellowbilled duck. Plants: bushman’s poison bulb which is a powerful poison and capable of inducing trances, “don’t stir me” plant, butter tree a favorite of the San people to come out of a poison bulb trance.

Activities Morning and afternoon game viewing drives in six passenger open vehicles, nature game and rock art walks, and wellness center treatments.

Curio Shop Tilney Manor’s curio shop was located in a small stand alone building steps away from the manner. In olden times it had been used as a trading post by the local inhabitants.

Other Rates included all meals, local beverages, accommodation, two game drives per day, a guided walk to San Rock Art, 14 percent VAT, one percent tourism levy. Rates excluded: Wellness centre, laundry, private bar and telephone. Single supplement of adult was 50 percent above the adult rate. Thanks to electric fences around the Manor, we were able to walk around the common areas at night without the usual armed escort necessary in many other game viewing properties.

Length of stay Two nights

Check-In-Check-Out Excellent

Cleanliness Excellent

Date Of Last Visit November 2005

Reviewers Article by Elena del Valle

Photos by Gary Cox

Service Staff were pleasant and helpful and the service they provided was efficient and unobtrusive. There was twice daily turn down service. In addition to the usual attention to detail a small hotel provides, the staff at the Manor won our hearts with special touches like a surprise intimate dinner and two surprise rose petal bubble baths with sparkling wine (Pierre Jourdan Clos Cabriere) by candlelight.

Would You Stay Again? Yes

Contact Information

  • Address:
    • Tilney Manor at Sanbona
    • Wildlife Reserve
    • P.O. Box 149
    • Montagu 6720
  • Phone:
    • +27 (0)28-572 1365
  • Fax:
    • +27 (0)28-572 1361
  • Website:
  • Email:
  • Address:
    • U.K. Office
    • Mantis Collection
  • Phone:
    • +44 1483 425 465
  • US Phone:
    • 1 877-354-2213
  • Email: