A journey to the wild heart of Namibia

From the sky above, the airstrip and terminal buildings of Windhoek’s Hosea Kutako International Airport appear as a speck in a wilderness of undulating plains, dry riverbeds and acacia trees, spreading ever outwards. The airport looks tiny and provisional, a feeble effort to civilise against a greater truth: in Namibia, nature, not man, is the dominant force. This is a country of panoramas on a vast scale, one that is defined by its scarcity of population. Space is the thing here; sky the governing principle. Yet with only a handful of luxury places to experience it, Namibia has been the majority province of travellers of an adventurous mindset – those, like my husband and I six years ago, content to drive its wilds in the bone-jangling confines of a Toyota Hilux, a rooftop pop-up tent for a bed, meals cooked over fires by the light of a head torch, jackals sneaking sausages from the braai. 

It takes a hotelier with a similarly adventurous mindset to see the potential, rather than the headaches, in bringing luxury to Namibia’s remoteness. Hospitality groups typically decide to open properties based on, at the very least, an extensive survey of earning potential and many months of confab. Rarely do they decide to open a property in countries they’ve visited only once, on a deadline of a few weeks, upon the recommendation of a Hollywood star. 

The just-opened Omaanda is the result of just such a whim – if purchasing 9,000 hectares of pristine Namibian wilderness, building a 10-hut lodge and founding a wildlife reserve can be described in such flimsy terms. Omaanda is the work of Arnaud Zannier, the French hotelier behind the exemplary Phum Baitang resort in Cambodia and the stylish European hotels 1898 The Post in Ghent and Le Chalet in Megève. Having launched with Le Chalet seven years ago, the owner-operated group has become defined by an emphasis on authentic luxury. 

“It is an unusual story,” admits the unassuming Zannier, who, with his shoulder-length brown hair and boyish features, is himself a rather unusual specimen for the hotel trade. We meet in the thatched-roof sitting room at Omaanda, where Belgian-linen chairs and sofas of a clean-lined Axel Vervoordt persuasion are grouped around the fireplace on an unusually chilly evening; outside, stars burn into the cold night air. 

“It is an unusual story,” admits the unassuming Zannier, who, with his shoulder-length brown hair and boyish features, is himself a rather unusual specimen for the hotel trade. We meet in the thatched-roof sitting room at Omaanda, where Belgian-linen chairs and sofas of a clean-lined Axel Vervoordt persuasion are grouped around the fireplace on an unusually chilly evening; outside, stars burn into the cold night air. 

© 2019 Desire Homme Magazine.