Johannesburg residents who can afford the odd weekend (or day) away from home are mostly familiar with the ancient Magaliesberg mountains, one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. They stretch for 120 kilometres and nearly half of all South Africa’s bird varieties can be seen here.
The Magaliesburg offers a variety of interesting things to do, from canopy tours to visits to the Cradle of Humankind, from trout (not indigenous) fishing to hang-gliding, from ballooning to gentle picnicking. It also offers a myriad little places to stay, at every budget level.
One of these little boutique hotels at the upper budget level is the De Hoek Country Hotel where I was fortunate enough to spend a night with a friend recently. In the interests of full disclosure, I was invited as a member of the media, specifically to blog about this event. Included as part of that was dinner, bed & breakfast. Lunch and all drinks (and the gratuity) were for my own account. I had to see if I considered the place worth spending money on as a special treat for birthdays and anniversaries (I did).
My friend and I (not lovers, and this is important because the venue is ideally suited for romantic trysts of every description) requested a room with twin beds and were advised that we would be placed in the old section, the main building, because this is where the rooms with twin beds are situated.
Google Maps on a smart phone delivered us to the door without any fuss or bother whatsoever. I wish Google Maps did tours of the area, because I would like to know more about the Bekker Schools (I think they are agricultural schools). The only thing I know is that I was there over Halloween and the ghost of the young murdered schoolgirl from Bekker Schools (2008) didn’t wander over to De Hoek Country Hotel to haunt us, despite us having chosen a Ghost Corner Sauvignon Blanc (voted the Best Sauvignon Blanc in South Africa in 2011) to enjoy with our dinner. But I am getting ahead of myself.
We arrived, traversed some scary untarred terrain and finally crossing a perilous looking wooden bridge (from the other side one can see the comforting steel engineering, but from the entrance one just has to have faith) over a little river with a large weeping willow tree. From there one can admire the hotel, noting the distinctive old and new buildings. I was visually delighted that we would be in the quaint, older, more atmospheric section of the De Hoek Country Hotel.
The parking attendant insisted I use the stairs at the western end of the property despite having been told, twice, that I was partially disabled and unable to manage those particular stairs (without rails). Fortunately one of the staff members was looking out and came rushing down to provide a helping hand, literally, to get me into reception. Once there my online booking made that absolutely seamless and our bags were taken to our room and we were ushered out onto the Terrace for lunch in a matter of less than a minute. This absolutely wonderful, fuss-free service is characteristic of the De Hoek Country Hotel.
The Terrace with its lovely little fishpond fountain adjoins the dining room and one can enjoy lunch or dinner there. Every table was shaded by canopies or umbrellas. We sat under a canopy in the shade, and it was more than two hours later before I was forced to move my chair so as to stay in the shade. The menu proclaimed that we would get a “Light Lunch”. Three courses. Salad, main and dessert. One also overlooks the conference centre from the terrace, and I’m sure that conference people enjoy meals and tea on the terrace from time to time. That the venue is superb for celebrations was confirmed by the fact that an entire long table was taken up by people celebrating a special birthday.
The pool area is just beyond the Terrace, and there were some residents enjoying its cool water on a very warm day (it was during that hideous heat wave in early summer), but we chose to head up to our room and to sleep off the first bottle of wine so as to wake up refreshed for dinner.
Our room was upstairs in the main quarter. Earlier in the month I visited the City Lodge in Durban with my boss as part of a work thing. My boss, a hotelier himself by training, carried my bags to my room (no De Hoek staff). When I expressed my satisfaction, he wrinkled his nose and proclaimed my room to be “dirty”. He pointed out things I would never have looked at. I learned. I looked for these things at De Hoek Country Hotel. The room and bathroom would definitely have passed muster with the most critical of cleanliness freaks. It was pristine.
I did mention that this is a romantic venue with wooden beams in the room and that this was situated in the older, unairconditioned, section of the hotel. We were there, as I mentioned elsewhere, during the heat wave experienced in Gauteng in late October. The floors are lovely cool tile, but the overhead fan was still completely inadequate for the task of cooling us down. We phoned (three times) to ask for a portable fan which was eventually delivered. This made all the difference in the world and we were eventually able to doze off in the lazy afternoon heat, now mitigated by a swivel fan placed between the two beds.
We were woken from our post-prandial nap by the evensong of the African bush birds settling in for the night.
The staff had apologised (unnecessarily) that there was no shower in the old section. Instead there was an enormous ball-and-claw style bath. Long enough for tall people and my feet (I’m average height for a woman at 165cm) stopped considerably short of the end of the bath. The water mixer was excellent and all round the bathroom was a delight. The lack of a shower was no problem (except that baths, especially large baths, are not water consumption friendly in times of drought). The little shampoo bottle together with its brethren had clearly been used and refilled, so we left them behind, but I did (mis)appropriate the lovely vanity kit with a sewing kit, a nail care kit, a shower cap and make-up removal kit all packaged in a small box. There was another one of these kits in a glass container. We left that one in situ.
Before dinner we headed to the lounge for an aperitif. The purpose, of course, of an aperitif (I had gin and tonic) is to stimulate the appetite and prepare the palate for the meal to come, so it is a bit counter-intuitive to actually eat the biltong and nuts which came with our round of drinks. Not that I let that deter me. I took photos of all the food at both lunch and dinner. All beautifully presented. I post only one photo here, the lunch steak. I post it because it captures best the little bouquet of herbs that was on every plate.
Dinner was a magnificent affair in The Conservatory designed by Michael Holenstein and his team of chefs, but I think my friend was starting to be a little irritated at me photographing every morsel before eating it. This included the wine, which, as it was Halloween, was the aforementioned award winning Ghost Corner Sauvignon Blanc, a wine which I had encountered just recently for the first time at the RMB WineX and which I was keen to drink again. We had canapes and my friend had soup, which she declared to be a little on the bland side. I had a little pasta starter which was perfect. We then had a strawberry sorbet, not an ice crystal to be felt anywhere on the tongue. Mains were followed by dessert for my friend and a cheese platter for me. A little hand made chocolate finished the meal sweetly. The photo below is of a staff member at lunch obliging posing for a photo. I cannot emphasis enough how wonderful the staff are. I felt not only pampered but genuinely cared for (check the later comments about my walk to breakfast).
Returning to our room we found it tidied and the beds turned down with chocolates on the pillow. Very civilised. The ice in the vacuum cooler had melted into iced water. We asked for more. A can of mosquito spray was next to the beds. We didn’t need it, even though we chose to leave the windows open all night to provide us with whatever little breeze there was in the blistering heat wave.
We were again woken by a combination of the early dawn and the avian dawn chorus. Blessedly still cool after the balmy night, it was a pleasure to lie in for a little longer, enjoying the comfortable beds and the relaxed company of friends before packing up to return to the bustle of our normal lives.
Breakfast is a self service thing at The Bridge Bistro for the continental part of breakfast (if that’s your thing), but freshly prepared for the English cooked part. Delicious – I had cereal, yoghurt and fruit followed by bacon and scrambled eggs and sausage. My friend chose an option with tomato and simply passed that on to me. There was, unsuprisingly, no room for toast and marmalade. I had tea so can’t comment on the coffee. I did miss a complimentary copy of the Sunday papers which would have made the Sunday morning leisurely breakfast overlooking the riverine bush (and listening to the birds) just perfect. The photo above is of the view from our table – a wonderful vista of peace and serenity.
With my mobility problems I was nervous of getting to The Bridge Bistro, but I need not have worried, the staff walked with me, providing me with a chair to sit on to rest every so often. I did not feel rushed or stressed about this at any point. The service was, in every respect, top-notch. They then drove the vehicle down to The Bridge Bistro so I didn’t have to work my way back up the hill. Exceptionally thoughtful.
So many times in the weeks since then my mind has wandered, longingly, back to my stay at the De Hoek Country Hotel. It is certainly one of the highlights of 2015 and I will certainly consider celebrating special events there at lunch in the future. Highly recommended.