If you’re short on time, but still desperate for a holiday, a 48-hour weekend getaway is the perfect way to recharge those batteries. For both Joburgers and Durbanites, Drakensberg is an excellent choice that is easily accessible from both cities. After a 3-4 hour easy commute on the N3, you’ll be in a countryside haven where you can enjoy everything the region has to offer.
The area is made up of four valleys, the closest to Durban being Champagne Valley in the Central Berg, which flows through to Cathedral Peak, the Royal Natal National Park and finally Middledale Pass Valley in the Northern Berg, which is closest to Johannesburg. Each of the four valleys is distinctive in character, but one thing they have in common is an expansive, magnificent mountain view.
The nice thing about the Berg is that it offers accommodation options to suit every budget and taste. I firmly believe that in order to feel truly refreshed after a holiday, you need to be pampered, so here are the top 3 luxurious getaways in Drakensberg.
Wild Horses Mountain Lodge
A converted home with only 4 rooms, Wild Horses is the ultimate in exclusivity. The estate is situated within the Sterkfontein Nature Reserve in Northern Drakensberg, and is perched on the edge of the cliff, with an infinity pool that makes you feel as if you’re swimming into the mountains. Rooms are a tad on the dated side-walls are draped in velvet curtains, while creaky teak wood furniture adorns the rest of the space. That said, the suites are still comfortably plush, with Egyptian cotton linen and oversized bathtubs.
Those who enjoy their privacy may not appreciate the fact that many of the areas, including the lounge and sundeck, are communal, so you may have to share the space with other guests. There is a lot to do in and around the area so the chances are quite high that you’ll have the lodge to yourself.
The five star lodge stays true to its name by offering outrides on one of their specially bred horses, with an option to stop en route and enjoy a picnic. A mecca for outdoor lovers, other activities include mountain biking, hiking, sunset boat cruises and fly fishing, where you’ll be able to take advantage of the water clarity in the Sterkfontein Dam, where hundreds of fish are caught in season (October – March.)
Food is definitely a highlight at Wild Horses- I got to experience a private meal in their intimate wine cellar. Dinner is a set menu without any options. It’s actually quite refreshing to have the choice made for you and not have to page through a thick menu to decide what to eat. The chef believes that with this approach, he can focus on each dish completely and ensure the utmost in quality.
Here, I enjoyed the best crème brulee of my life, plus other tasty dishes like blue cheese and pear springrolls and sesame seed salmon with tortilla chips and a corn salsa. Breakfast the next morning was modest but equally good- a continental breakfast with fresh fruit salad, plus a hot breakfast which was a choice of eggs any style or flapjacks with berries.
Sterkfontein Dam, Harrismith. Tel: 082 800 2156
Oaklands Country Manor
When doing reviews, it’s easy to fall in love with an overly luxurious establishment that I could never afford in my personal capacity, but Oaklands, which isn’t star rated, is one of the few places that is accessible to most people in terms of cost, but provides an experience so good that it rivals the best hotels out there.
The establishment is not rated, but bar a few minor details, like a lack of paintings in the rooms, it could easily be 5 star. Rooms are modern, albeit a tad bare, and feature king size beds with fluffy duvets, plus patios with deck chairs that look out onto the sprawling property.
The best way to explore the hilly property is on horseback, and Oaklands has about 12 well trained horses for you to do just this. Horseriding is possible for all levels- including beginners who have never ridden before- the guides will make you feel completely at ease.
The lodge is run by a family: 3 sisters, one of whom is the chef, and their brother, who takes care of marketing. The family is very much “hands on”, so a stay at Oaklands makes you feel like you’re a guest in their family home. They’ll happily share details of the farm’s history, and will personally attend to any requirements you may have during your stay. Their dogs, 4 Great Danes, are a huge part of the family- you’ll see them throughout your stay, so consider that if you’re not a dog lover.
The real highlight at Oaklands is the food- definitely something I wasn’t expecting. Most hotels have a restaurant because they need to, but Oaklands’ restaurant could easily be a very successful standalone establishment. The food is rustic gourmet- upmarket but hearty. Expect to see dishes like guinea fowl ravioli, aged angus steak, chicken vindaloo and red thai curry on the menu. Food is packed with flavour and I could taste the freshness- meat is sourced from farmers in the area, while guinea fowl is from the property. A meal at Oaklands is a great option if you’re looking for a lunch option en route from Johannesburg to Durban, or vice versa.
Oban/ Schaapdrift Road, S793, Van Reenen, KwaZulu- Natal. Tel: 079 529 2314
Hartford House is one of those few establishments that is better known for its restaurant than for the hotel itself, thanks to ex head chef, Jackie Cameron, who took over the kitchen at Hartford House when she was only 20. The talented chef has since left the hotel to open a cooking school, and I can only hope that the restaurant maintains the high standard of quality that Jackie set the precedent for.
The food is fine dining at its best- think a selection of butters served with homemade bread on the table, then caramelized onion soup with sesame seed ice cream to start. For mains, ingredients are seasonal, like the molasses cured yellowtail enhanced with flavours of aniseed, or the ostrich tartare, delicately topped with edible flowers. Dessert is the cherry on top- the chocolate fondant is sublime- Belgian chocolate oozes out the perfectly soft chocolate sponge cake. Breakfast is a 3- course affair, following on from the grandeur of the previous night.
The hotel itself won’t disappoint either- suites strike a fine balance between “classic” and “old fashioned”, with an African feel and warm tones, featuring upholstered couches, dark wood furniture and Duke & Forsyth toiletries.
Hlatikulu Road, Mooi River, KwaZulu- Natal. Tel: 033 263 2713