We are so sorry we have been so quiet over the past few weeks. We arrived in South Africa a few weeks ago and we are staying on my parent’s farm in Limpopo province. For those of you who are not sure where Limpopo is- it is the most Northern province in South Africa and borders on Zimbabwe and Botswana.
Limpopo is the reason I love art as it is home to some of the most amazing artists in South Africa. At a young age, my mom used to take us into villages as she owned her own shop. We would meet artists and crafters from surrounding villages. We wanted to re-explore these areas and wanted to expose the wonderful artists Limpopo has to offer.
Our first trip in Limpopo was to Venda. Venda is situated in the most Northern part of Limpopo province. The area is an art hub. It is and has been home to some of the most amazingly talented South African artists and sculptors.
Gift Mkhari who is passionate about his heritage and culture and is one of the guides of the Open Africa Ribola Art Route in the Elim area, was our host and he took us to visit artists and craftspeople in and around Elim.
Gift, our amazing host
Driving into the Elim area (which is a part of Venda), you are first struck by how dry it is. South Africa is experiencing a serious drought at the moment and it is especially evident when in rural areas such as Elim. Never the less it is incredibly evident that the area is filled with creatives. As you drive through villages there are signs indicating woodcarvings, pots or textiles, and beads. There are also some of the funkiest signs for road side stalls and barber shops. We have now done the Art route twice, with Gift and have had the pleasure of meeting some of the most exciting artists.
Venda artists are usually inspired by dreams and their ancestors. Most of the artists believe that it is their calling to create art. We heard so many incredible stories on our trip to Venda and I really wanted to share each artists story with all of you. Below you can click on the artists to find out more about them.
Where we stayed
We were fortunate enough to stay in two of the best eco-lodges the area has to offer. Both lodges are fair trade certified and work hand in hand with local communities and artists.
Our first night was spent at Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge . This is the closest lodge to stay in if you have done the Elim Art route. To get to Shiluvari you must pass through the town of Elim. We were there on a Friday so the town was very vibey. Everyone was out and about and the streets were full.
A little way out of Town you take a left down a long gravel road and it is incredible how the scenery suddenly changes from roadside stalls and houses to massive acacia trees and bush veld. When you arrive at Shiluvari you are greeted by art. I even recognized a few of the pieces in the Lodge which were made by some of the artists we met that day. The décor is inspired by Venda and Tsonga traditional cloth and textiles and they have a large stoep (patio) which looks over the Albasini dam.
Beautiful sculptures made by local artists can be seen all around the lodge
We were warmly welcomed by Ntsakisi who runs the Lodge along side her sister Tameng. She took us to our beautiful cool thatched cottage, a welcome relief after such a hot day. The décor in the cottage is locally sourced and it connected so well with our experiences we had on the art route.
Thatched roofed cottages
There is a stunning pool and the weather was so amazing we had to take a dip. The pool overlooks the dam and we had a scenic sunset swim.
That night we ate a 3 course meal on the Stoep of the lodge. The service was impeccable. Our waitress made us feel right at home and we had some interesting chats with her. After a few glasses of wine and full bellies we retired to our own little cottage stoep overlooking the dam.
After a great nights sleep we had a chat to Tameng about the beginnings of Shiluvari as well as their ethos. Tameng’s father was in partnership with the first owner of Shiluvari. Him and his daughters eventually took full ownership in 2015. Tameng left her job in Pretoria to come back to Elim (where she grew up) to run the lodge full time.
Tameng is incredibly passionate about Shiluvari and so are the staff. From the grounds men to the kitchen staff and waitresses you really feel the passion and love for the lodge throughout. Tameng, having grown up in Elim, also has an incredible knowledge of the area.
“Most people’s image of Limpopo is that it is rural and boring. But meanwhile, we have a vast history and culture so different from other provinces”
Shiluvari’s tagline is “Ku dya I Ku Engeta” which is a Tsonga proverb meaning “once you have tasted what we have to offer, you will want to return for more”. This tagline is exactly what we felt and we cannot wait to go and visit this beautiful hidden gem again. Thank you to Tameng, Ntsakisi and all the amazing staff for the wonderful night at Shiluvari!
Shiluvari overlooks the Albasini dam and offers sunset cruises
Our second night in the Venda region was spent in Madi a Thavha mountain lodge. The lodge is also filled with Art and crafts done by local artists. Every room is uniquely decorated using textiles and craft made locally or in the Madi a Thavha craft workshop.
They also have an onsite Limpopo Art and Craft museum which is home to a number of amazing sculptures as well as antique textiles and beads. As you walk through the beautifully curated museum you begin to learn all about the Venda and Tsonga people, their history, religion, and culture. It is an incredible collection of artifacts and shows the vibrant, beautiful culture of both the Tsonga and Venda.
Surrounded by mountains and beautiful views, there is a peaceful feeling about Madi a Thavha. That night we had a live band play for us while we were served a three-course meal. A fire was lit and the stars were out-it was magical.
I would highly recommend staying at Madi a Thavha Mountain Lodge. Owners, Marcelle and Art are such amazing people and they have so much knowledge concerning the area and the artists and have contributed tremendously towards developing art routes in the area. Thank you so much for a wonderful stay.
Venda is truly inspiring. It has a magical feel to it and this transcends through the people and the art. We heard some incredible stories, myths, and legends. It is also so unexplored and still has an air of mystery to it. Thank you to all of the artists for sharing stories and spaces with us.
We will see you very soon again Venda.
Love Travelling Trader