Blue Mountain Lodge pays 20% base commission

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KIEPERSOL, South Africa -- The marketing types write up the Blue Mountain Lodge here as a kind of "Out of Africa" setting come to life. They are right.

Furthermore, this small property on an estate of nearly 500 acres can be described as an upscale outpost little-known across the Atlantic, but that may change.

Last year, the lodge came into American hands when Rex Maughan, owner of Phoenix-based Forever Resorts, fell in love with the property and bought it from its creators, Koobus and Valma Botha.

For the Bothas, Blue Mountain Lodge had been a family business set on a large farm, where they still grow their own fruits and vegetables. There are five kinds of avocados, for example.

The property, which pays 20% base commission, is located in low-rise mountains a one-hour drive from Kruger National Park. But the lodge is high enough -- at 2,000 feet above sea level -- to be out of range of mosquitoes.

Until recently, Forever Resorts concentrated on domestic lodges and hotels, often in park settings; houseboat and other boat rentals; retail stores and restaurants; and a ranch.

Darla Cook, vice president of sales and marketing for Forever Resorts, said Maughan is a conservationist who "wants to let more people know about" Kruger National Park.

Forever owns four other overseas properties; two are near Kruger National Park: the 22-unit Tulani Safari Lodge and the 59-unit Impala Inn. Its other overseas properties, acquired this year, are Vergenoeg Castle in Windhoek, Namibia, and Hotel Kastely in Szirak, Hungary.

Blue Mountain accommodates 34 guests in two manor houses (two suites in each); a presidential suite; eight Victorian suites (in four cottages, two suites each); and four quadrant suites.

I stayed in a Victorian suite; each of these units has a unique decor, with themes ranging from French or Italian to a romantic ambience. Each suite comprises a large room with fireplace, seating area with sofa or wingbacks, bath with a tub and separate shower plus a private veranda and views of the property's fields.

The chef, Elvis Minisi, is a member of the Shangan tribe who learned to cook by watching his grandmother, who cooked for pioneer Paul Kruger. Minisi described the learning experience: "I stole with my eyes."

Examples of his inventiveness are sundried tomato with smoked salmon; roast ostrich fillet; and pasta with vegetables "splashed with turnip coulis," all of which I either ordered or tasted.

He makes chili and rose petal ice creams, but they weren't on our menus. Breakfast and dinner are included in the room rates.

Only 7% of the property's business comes from the U.S.; the bulk, 80%, originates in Europe, said Bradley Brouwer, Blue Mountain's manager and Forever Resorts' director of marketing for South Africa. Ninety percent of bookings come from agents.

Visitors might run into a celebrity or two, Brouwer said; at a minimum, clients can sit in the chair where Nelson Mandela relaxed on the veranda during his stay here.

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