The Midlands Meander is, without a doubt, one of South Africa’s best food routes. The 80-kilometre stretch of road between Pietermaritzburg and Mooi River in the heart of KwaZulu-Natal winds its way through a beautiful green countryside of rolling hills and misty valleys dotted with award-winning restaurants, craft breweries, cozy pubs, farm stalls and artisanal producers, with a wealth of lovely guesthouses and B&Bs offering gourmet food to stay at. The hardest part of a Midlands Meander road trip is trying to fit all that delicious food in!
Best cafés and restaurants
Café Bloom: If you’re a vegetarian this is a great spot for you: Café Bloom serves mainly meat-free breakfasts and lunches in a renovated shed decorated with comfy couches and beautiful ceramics you can buy. Try a freshly squeezed juice, a gourmet sandwich with their homemade bread, a savoury pie, the cheese and olive platter or a fresh salad picked from the garden and end off your meal with a baked treat, such as their heavenly cheesecake.
La Lampara: A firm Midlands favourite, this Italian restaurant in an old restored dairy not only has delicious food – homemade pastas (the linguine del mar is a popular dish) and risotto, thin-crust pizzas made in a wood-fired pizza oven and fresh fish – and a good wine list, it also has a wonderful outdoor setting with a sunny courtyard and some of the Midlands’ best views of rolling hills.
Gunther’s: Get a taste of Switzerland at this charming little garden restaurant run by the friendly Gunther, serves up simple but delicious meals of four different types of sausages with potatoes, crusty rolls, sauerkraut and imported German beer.
Best farm stalls, delis and food shops
Piggly Wiggly: Piggly Wiggly is the place stock up on the best produce from the Midlands. This large farm stall – something of an institution in these parts – sells everything from artisanal local cheese, ice cream, freshly baked bread, sherry, mead, pickles, jams and biscuits. There’s also a restaurant serving great breakfasts, sandwiches, quiches and the best cappuccino in the Midlands. To keep kids entertained there’s a jungle gym, a mini golf course and a mini steam train to ride.
Chocolate heaven: Get your chocolate fix at this mecca of cacao! Try out the chocolate dipping experience – plop fruit, marshmallows, fudge, Turkish delight or even gherkins into a pot of molten hot chocolate, or pick up some handmade chocolates (made with imported Belgian chocolate) to take home with unusual fillings such as chai spice, passion fruit, curry, biltong and chilli.
Swissland Cheese: This family-run goat farm produces a range of artisanal award-winning goat’s cheeses, including chevre, chevin, Drakensberg, feta, pecorino and brie, which you can taste and buy at their shop. Even if you aren’t into cheese, the farm is worth a visit, because you can watch the goats getting milked and feed the goats yourself. You can also make your own picnic basket from the shop’s foodie treats to enjoy on the farm’s lawns.
Best pubs and wineries
Nottingham Road Brewing Company and The Boar’s Head: Take a tour of the Nottingham Road Brewery, a craft brewery that produces naturally brewed lagers and ales with the memorable names of Pie-Eyed Possum Pilsener, Tiddly Toad Light Lager, Pickled Pig Porter and Whistling Weasel Pale Ale and then head over to the Rawdons Hotel’s English-style pub, the Boar’s Head to try a tasting board of the brewery’s beer along with some hearty pub dishes.
Bierfassl: This Austrian-inspired pub in Nottingham Road is just the place to have a pint of lager (there are 35 beers from around the world to choose from) and a plate of eisbein or grilled kassler steaks in sauerkraut in front of the fire on a chilly winter’s afternoon.
Abingdon Estate: The only boutique wine estate in KwaZulu-Natal, Abingdon is a must-visit for wine lovers. Plan your visit around a weekend, when their cozy tasting room is open and you can try out their Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz. They’re also open for lunch on Saturdays and Sundays, when they serve up tasty country fare.
Where to stay on the Midlands Meander
Cleopatra Mountain Farm House: For a country getaway, Cleopatra is hard to beat. It’s small and romantic, with quirkily decorated rooms, a beautiful setting at the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains, roaring fires in winter and staff who make you feel like you’re staying in a home rather than a hotel. Despite all this, the main draw is actually the food. Each dinner is a feast of six rich courses prepared by the chef-owner Richard Poynton, with ingredients from the garden: think smoked salmon bisque, roast springbok loin and fondant potatoes and pears baked in puff pastry with butterscotch sauce. You’ll roll into bed in the evenings and roll out again in the morning to wake up to a three-course breakfast. Hiking in the mountains to make some space in your stomach before afternoon tea is definitely advisable!
Hartford House: On a scenic stud farm of green fields and avenues lined with trees, Hartford House couldn’t be more picturesque. Choose to stay in a suite in the main house, which is full of antiques and history, or sleep in one of the suites scattered across the lawns with views of the gardens and lake. Feted chef Jackie Cameron is at the helm of the hotel restaurant, which has been included in South Africa’s top 10 restaurants list for years, and with good reason. Dishes are inventive and immaculately presented, from caramelised onion soup with mustard and sesame seed ice cream, to a deconstructed dessert of peanut butter and syrup on toast: peanut sauce semifreddo, maple syrup ice cream, sugar-glazed banana and vanilla creme anglaise. Breakfasts are truly indulgent affairs: alongside perfect omelettes and scrambled eggs, you’ll find things like malt porridge ice cream with Amarula cream.