With its chilly elevation and atmospheric old colonial and missionary buildings nestled in the wooded foothills, Zomba is hauntingly special – like a chapter of the British Empire hanging by a tenuous thread. It has the typical chaos of a dusty market town, but the higher you climb towards the Zomba Plateau, the more stunning and pristine the scenery becomes.
Mulanje is famous for both its infinity of emerald-green tea plantations, and the achingly pretty Mt Mulanje – a massif of some 20 peaks reaching over 2500m. The town makes a reasonable base for forays into the massif, with a good lodge and a few eateries along the main road. There are two parts to Mulanje.
Majete Wildlife Reserve
Malawi’s only Big Five park, this rugged wilderness of hilly miombo (woodland) and savannah hugs the west bank of the Shire River. Since African Parks took over its management in 2003, things have really been looking up for the once heavily poached reserve. A perimeter fence has been erected, and accommodation and roads have been massively upgraded.
Attached to the Blantyre's eastern side, Limbe is home to a grand old mission church, a minibus station and a golf club. Unlike Blantyre, however, which has seen a finessing of its restaurants and hotels, Limbe has fallen into disrepair over the last couple of decades. You may have to change minibuses here, but it's best to head straight on.
Straddling the Shire River, Liwonde is the main gateway to Liwonde National Park. The river divides the town in two, with the market and most services found on the eastern side, along with the turnoff to the park. If you're unable to stay in the park, it's possible to use Liwonde as a base for a short safari by road or river.