Arrival Experience: The low-rise Sunbird Capital Lilongwe hotel is the largest and most impressive place in Malawi's capital. It is the go-to lodging for the city's visiting diplomats and executives and enjoys a premium reputation. Once past the security gates, the white-washed facade and Spanish-tiled roof makes an exotic first impression. Surrounding the property are botanical gardens boasting a rainbow of flowers and trees that are worthy of a magazine spread. With small benches and ponds located throughout, it is the perfect place to relax with a book or host functions such as weddings or social receptions (which locals often do).
Dining: Food is a strong point here, and many guests take all of their meals onsite in between meetings. Mimosa is the all-day venue in the central courtyard with indoor and outdoor seating beneath the swaying bougainvillea trees. Most meals are served buffet-style, but the a la carte menu is always an option. It is as thick as a book with everything from local seafood from Lake Malawi to delicious regional curries with quite the tasty kick. For dinner, the outdoor charcoal oven heats up to provide made-to-order pizza pies. Breakfast is included in all rates. Served buffet-style, it features an omelet station, vegetarian area, and lengthy bakery and pastry selection. Tidya is the formal dining room, which opens for dinner and often at lunch. The menu features fine steaks and seafood dishes presented on white table cloths in a romantic dining room.
Accommodations: Fresh from a renovation, all rooms here boast soft carpeting, new beds with cushioned headboards, strong air conditioning, and plush armchairs. Superior rooms are the entry category and are in the process of gaining new TVs, but the remainder has flat-screen cable TVs. My suite was especially large with a separate boardroom, living area, spacious closet, and large bedroom with two desks. It was similar to the Deluxe rooms, in which I took a peek. They boast the same contemporary fabrics and artwork, much of which is by local Malawian artists. Especially appreciated is the local coffee and French press, full-length mirror in the dressing area, and fresh fruit basket upon arrival. In the bathroom, a rainfall shower head and massive towels are perfect morning pick-me-ups. French toiletries, bottled water, and hairdryers are in all. Most rooms overlook the magnificent gardens, and all have windows that open for fresh air. Several have outdoor terraces, as well. Wireless high speed Internet is available throughout the hotel, but comes with a surcharge. Executive level rooms (and suites) enjoy access to a small lounge offering private reception, a full business centre, and a café area with all-day coffee, continental breakfast, and evening canapés. Drink vouchers to the bar are also provided to guests booking these accommodations.
Conclusion: Meeting space is expansive with interior conference rooms, often the site for important announcements or conferences headlined by Malawian President Joyce Banda. The outdoor marquis tent is massive providing space for social or business functions. Located in the lush gardens, it adds a unique atmosphere for the often staid business meeting. Wireless Internet is available for a fee, but all guests are entitled to a free hour of Internet access in the business centre. Executive level guests are treated to their own computer room for unlimited Internet usage. The freeform outdoor swimming pool is ringed by lounge chairs and umbrellas. For those that prefer to break a sweat, a modern gym features the latest equipment along with the services of a professional trainer. A massage therapist is on staff, which may be just the thing one needs after a game on the hotel's squash courts. Sunbird is a Malawian chain with two properties in the capital and another half-dozen around the country.
Getting to Malawi is easy thanks to the Star Alliance, and US Airways flyers can redeem miles for travel on South African Airways to reach Malawi. Charlotte travelers have until March 31 to redeem their miles on Star Alliance partners. On April 1, the airline, now merged with American Airlines, will transition to the oneworld alliance.