Mishack Rapalalani in his studio

Madi a Thavha Mountain Lodge: An Art-Lover’s Paradise

I love Limpopo and I also love African craft art. So when I went to Madi a Thavha Mountain Lodge — a lodge outside Louis Trichardt in far northern Limpopo that promotes the work of Venda and Tsonga artists — I was in heaven.

Room terrace at Madi a Thavha Mountain Lodge in Limpopo
Succulents on my little room terrace at the Madi a Thavha Mountain Lodge.

Madi a Thavha started 15 years ago when Dutch immigrants Marcelle Bosch and Aart van Soest decided they wanted to open a lodge in northern Limpopo. There was very little tourism development in this area and Marcelle and Aart had a particular interest in this region’s artists and artisans — sculptors, potters, beaders, textile-makers, etc. — as the Venda and Tsonga cultures have very strong and unique artistic traditions. (Read more about the art from this region in my 2016 post about the Ribola Art Route.)

Marcelle and Aart bought an old farm, about 10 kilometers west of the town of Louis Trichardt, and set about turning it into a lodge. They named the lodge Madi a Thavha, which means “water from the mountain” in Venda, because the farm’s water comes from natural springs that flow down the mountain.

Today, this lodge is basically paradise.

Acacia tree at Madi a Thavha
A massive acacia tree in the garden at Madi a Thavha.

I don’t think my photos properly convey the sense of tranquillity and peace I felt while I was at Madi a Thavha. The design and decor of the lodge harmonizes so well with its natural surroundings. It’s classy and luxurious and unpretentious and understated, all at once, and while I was there I felt blissfully far away from all my real-world stresses and worries.

Single room at Madi a Thavha
My cozy single room at Madi a Thavha, decorated with colorful Venda and Tsonga fabrics and art by the acclaimed Johannes Maswanganyi. I loved it. But Marcelle kept telling me I needed to see one of the “nicer” rooms.
Suite at Madi a Thavha
Once I saw this suite I understood what she meant. My picture doesn’t do it justice.
Garden
The morning view from my terrace.
Museum/gallery
The lodge has a small museum/gallery explaining Venda and Tsonga culture/art.
Baobab in northern Limpopo
In my previous Limpopo post I briefly mentioned the baobab tree I visited at Madi a Thavha. You can reach the baobab via an easy 30-minute walk up the mountain behind the lodge. It’s magical.

Madi a Thavha serves hearty, delicious food (most of the room rates include full board) and has pleasant common areas and a great shop selling well-priced local art. I feel like I’m gushing on and on but you get the idea. It’s wonderful.

Tours at Madi a Thavha

You could easily sit around Madi a Thavha all day, just reading and strolling around and listening to the birds chirp. But if you’re interested in art then you need to spend at least a day or two with one of Madi a Thava’s in-house guides, driving around and visiting the artists and other cultural attractions in the area. I spent one day exploring with Marcelle and the next day with lodge manager and guide Musa Matchume. I was pleasantly exhausted at the end of each day, having learned so many fascinating things about this unique corner of South Arica.

Sculpture by Mishack Rapalalani
Woodcarver Mishack Rapalalani at his home studio between Louis Trichardt and Thohoyandou.
Sculpture by Mishack
I love these small sculptures Mishack makes.
David Murathi woodcarver
David Murathi, another talented woodcarver who is also a well-respected herbalist.
Macadamia nut farming is a big industry in northern Limpopo. Marcelle took me to the Royal Macadamia factory, where we toured the processing facilities and bought many bags of delicious and cheap macadamias.
Maize mill in Phadzima
Musa took me to a mielie mill — a facility where local women come to have their home-grown maize (called mielies in South Africa) ground into meal to make mielie pap.
Freshly ground mielie meal
Freshly ground mielie meal, a South African staple food.

Madi a Thavha also offers bird-watching tours, hiking tours, school tours, market tours — tours of basically every aspect of life in northern Limpopo.

Madi a Thavha in Joburg

Although it’s an amazing experience to visit Limpopo’s artists in their own homes and communities, the artists struggle to make a living so far from the big city. So last year, Marcelle and Aart worked with their Limpopo artist partners to open a shop at Victoria Yards in downtown Joburg.

The Joburg shop stocks art from most of the artists who work with Madi a Thavha, and also hosts the Limpopo artists for artist-in-residency programs.

Madi a Thavha shop in Victoria Yards
The Madi a Thavha shop in Victoria Yards.

I visited the Joburg shop for the first time this week and — no surprise — it’s stunning. I loved browsing around, checking out the works of artists I met while I was in Limpopo and chatting with Percy Mamba, the lively shop manager.

Inside the Madia a Thavha Joburg shop
Inside the Joburg shop.
A beautiful work by Johannes Masangwani.
A beautiful work by Johannes Maswanganyi.
Carved baobab fruits by David Murathi
Carved baobab fruits by David Murathi.
Sculpture in Madi a Thavha Joburg shop
I forgot to look who made this one.
Artist Percy Mamba
Shop manager Percy Mamba, who is also an artist himself.

So here are my recommendations:

  1. Go stay at Madi a Thavha. It’s about a five-hour drive from Joburg and room rates start at around R1000 ($65) for a single room with full board. Trust me, it’s worth it.
  2. If you can’t make it to Limpopo, go check out the Limpopo art in the Madi a Thavha shop at Victoria Yards. You’re unlikely to leave empty-handed.

My stay at Madi a Thavha was complimentary. Opinions expressed are mine.

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12 Comments

  • Reply dizzylexa August 16, 2019 at 10:04 am

    I love to browse around their shop at Victoria Yards, always something interesting.

  • Reply Tumtum August 16, 2019 at 10:29 am

    I desperately NEED those ottomans in the venda print. And when pockets are heavy I’ll be looking into those sculptures.

    • Reply 2summers August 16, 2019 at 10:34 am

      Right?! It’s all so freaking beautiful.

      • Reply eremophila August 17, 2019 at 9:36 am

        Anything that supports artists I’m in!

  • Reply Rosemary August 16, 2019 at 11:33 am

    What an amazing story…thanks so much!

  • Reply Kathryn (Kathy) McCullough August 16, 2019 at 2:45 pm

    I LOVED this story! The artists’ work is stunning and the lodge, indeed, looks like paradise. Thanks so much, Heather.
    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

    • Reply 2summers August 16, 2019 at 2:50 pm

      Kathy! It’s so nice to hear from you. Thanks and I hope all is well. xxx

  • Reply AutumnAshbough August 17, 2019 at 2:16 am

    $65 for a room?!! Are you serious? Okay, I await the 2Summers travel South Africa on a Budget Book.

    • Reply 2summers August 17, 2019 at 5:55 am

      That’s the thing… The dollar is very strong against the rand (especially at the moment) so traveling here is so cheap for people with dollars/euros/pounds.

  • Reply catherine gallice August 27, 2019 at 6:15 pm

    Heather I am so glad you made it to Madi A Thavha! I recall mentioning it as a place you would love when you made your first trip to Limpopo a few years back…It will always be a special place for us and now for you as well. I hope you had a fun day with Marcelle…ha, it makes me so happy that you went!

    • Reply 2summers August 27, 2019 at 6:38 pm

      Thanks Catherine, I actually remember you recommending it! You were so right 🙂

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