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From the Alps to Namibia by Steffi Kammerer | 1st December, 2023 | Travel

Fascinated by the natural beauty of southwest Africa, an Austrian fine tableware company has embarked on a new adventure – Gmundner Lodge, a sustainable luxury resort near Windhoek.

F or more than 20 years, drawn by the spectacular scenery and the warm, friendly people, he returned again and again, his love growing stronger every time. This is where he felt free! And he missed his visits sorely during lockdown in the first year of the pandemic. That’s when Markus Friesacher took an entrepreneurial leap of faith and decided to open a lodge in Namibia. Friesacher, a former race car driver, isn’t someone who hesitates for long. In February 2021 he flew to Namibia to scout out a manager, someone who could plan and coordinate the project on site. The hospitality business wasn’t entirely unfamiliar since he hailed from a family of hoteliers. The man people recommended was Pierre Germishuizen, 33, who had operated his own lodge until a short time before. At their first meeting, it took all of ten minutes before Pierre got the job. Friesacher didn’t even want to see his future manager’s resume. A suitable property was soon found, 6,000 hectares of land situated just a half hour’s drive from the capital, Windhoek. There were no buildings on it apart from a 100-year-old farmhouse that had once belonged to German settlers. Everything else fell into place quickly: Construction began in June 2021 and six months later, 48 buildings had been completed, just in time for Friesacher to spend his first Christmas at the lodge. In the fall of 2022, Gmundner Lodge – reminiscent of a place in a Karen Blixen novel – officially opened its doors. A leather paneled circular bar forms the heart of the resort and offers a grand view of the surrounding bushland. Wooden furniture and leather armchairs are arranged around it, and old telescopes and globes have been used as decoration. In separate buildings, twelve generously apportioned suites await, complete with exquisite details such as a freestanding bathtub on the terrace from which to admire the stunning night sky and recover from the many daytime activities offered, which include horseback riding, electric motocross, helicopter sightseeing, traditional longbow archery – and naturally safaris, for which you don’t even have to leave the extensive premises. With a bit of luck, you’ll be able to catch glimpses of zebras, antelope or giraffes outside your window. Multiple fences ensure that no lions venture too close to the lodge for ­comfort. Several hundred wild animals currently inhabit the property, and their number is set to increase to 1,000 or even 1,500. Pierre purchases them at special auctions. “They were all at home here a hundred years ago,” he says. “The livestock farmers chased them away because they ate the grass that was meant for their cattle. We’re returning them now to their natural habitat.” The animals aren’t fed, since this would interfere with the ecosystem. “All they need is water and grass,” Pierre explains.For its guests, the lodge makes just about any activity possible, from enjoying a sundowner on the highest local peak to a trip across the desert in a hot-air balloon. Or a stint in the ceramics studio, which has its own kiln. This is a specific nod to Markus Friesacher’s other passion. Three years before he developed the lodge, Friesacher took over central Europe’s biggest ceramics manufacturer Gmundner Keramik, a company based in the Austrian Alps for more than 530 years. Namibia inspired him to come up with not one but two new collections: Africa and San. The San Edition arose from an aid project working with indigenous artists. The Africa Edition with its earth-colored patterns is intended as a tribute to Namibia. In typical Gmundner style, all the pottery is handmade and every piece in the edition requires 60 different hand movements.Gmundner Lodge is committed to sustainability, a concept dear to Friesacher’s heart. He himself lives with his family on a self-sufficient farm near Salzburg. You won’t find Moët & Chandon or Veuve Clicquot served at his lodge. Instead, guests are treated only to what is sourced from the immediate area. The lodge raises pigs, cows and chickens on its own farm, and apart from fresh eggs, you can look forward to homemade bread and butter. The menu changes every day, and guests and staff eat what the land has to offer. Gmundner Lodge has 50 local people on its staff and has set up a school for the children.“There’s no other lodge like this in all of Namibia,” says Friesacher. Nobody else operates such a sustainable farm-to-table concept. “We also cooperate with local businesses and use building materials that harmoniously blend in with the natural landscape.” The lodge is powered entirely by solar energy and the water comes from a well that is located right on the premises. Asked about his plans for the future, Friesacher responds optimistically without giving anything away. “Right now we’re completely tied up with the development and operation of Gmundner Lodge,” he says. “There are no plans in place for further lodges, but I wouldn’t rule it out.”

IssueGG Magazine 01/24
PhotographyGmundner Lodge