Just getting there is part of the relaxation… coffee stops, sightseeing and quaint country lanes. The rolling hills of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands certainly set the scene for what was to be a wonderfully relaxing weekend at Brahman Hills filled with fabulous food, fun company, roaring log fires and bubbly in the jacuzzi. And oops, I forgot to mention an afternoon of pampering at the Brahman Hills Spa.
I left Durban early that morning despite it only being about a two-hour drive – one must have time for a breakfast stop and some exploring! After taking in the views of Midmar Dam it was coffee stop time at Steampunk Café alongside Thokens Garage just off the road. Its fabulously funky décor pairs well with its perfectly brewed artisan coffee and great eco-ethos (no take-aways coffee cups here, so bring your Eco-Cup or just enjoy the comings-and-goings of the service station as you find a seat and enjoy the moment).
Meandering down country lanes is what one does in this neck of the woods… so I meandered to breakfast at Caversham Mill and delicious cheeses at Indezi River Creamery to try a selection of local cheeses. Then it was onto the N3 for the quickest route to Brahman Hills… the thought of a delicious cappuccino with homemade cookie or welcome glass of bubbly was calling.
Bubbly it was, followed by much laughter and catch-ups over lunch and glass of Chenin at The Windmills Kitchen. The menu is extensive offering everything from authentic Durban curries and yummy Italian pizzas (the flour and tomatoes are imported from Italy) to burgers, pies, salads, great vegan options and the best ice-cream I’ve tasted in ages! The gelato is made fresh daily – you must try the salted caramel, it’s delish.
Brahman Hills is set within the 1,000-hectare Blue Crane Nature Reserve, conveniently located near the N3 and Nottingham Road – easy to get there and marvelous for exploring. Accommodation is offered as hotel and self-catering cottages – we stayed at the gorgeous Blue Crane Cottages located within the Reserve, but since our visit, Springholm cottages and B&B, which are nestled around a large dam in the Reserve have been added.
We were in a three-bedroom cottage, one of the eleven one, two, three and four-bedroom fully equipped and serviced self catering Blue Crane Cottages. And with the Brahman Hills Café and Windmills Kitchen a comfortable walk away meals are a breeze – which leaves more time for exploring and, yay, no cooking… just what every busy Mom needs!
I was more than happy to trade in early morning lie-ins for hikes through the rolling hills of the Reserve…
The mist lingered on the hills, slowly lifting as the sun’s first rays began warming the air. Dew drops glistened like jewels on spider webs, tiny flowers peeked through the thick veld grass and a lone heron took flight from the edge of the dam. Zebras glanced in our direction but paid us no heed but a herd of eland, majestic in stature with horns held high, scattered with uncertainty at our approach. Brahman cattle watched; their stately form silhouetted against the horizon. I could feel moisture penetrating my shoes, but that was ok, as I was in my happy place – especially as our hike detoured past the Windmills Kitchen for a cappuccino!
There is much to fill your days at Brahman Hills. The energetic can mountain bike along the many tracks and trails through the reserve, the less inclined can just relax on the deck and appreciate the expansive views, curl upon the couch and read a book, or like us, grab a Midlands Meander brochure and head out for a day of exploration.
Lovers of enamelware will delight in the vast choices available at Ismail Wholesale House, an inconspicuous roadside trading store that is a rabbit warren of treasures.
Further down the road is The Platform at the old Lions River Station. An inspiring space filled with beautiful creations by local artisans and creatives – everything from handcrafted furniture – I loved upcycled wine barrel chairs, an assortment of sculptures, from a huge creation carved out of a tree-trunk, beautiful bronze pieces and even handcrafted jewelry and gorgeous leather handbags.
A must see on the KZN Midlands is the Nelson Mandela Capture Site and Museum which commemorates where Nelson Mandela was arrested out, his life, his incarceration and the great strides he made in bringing the inequalities and unfair treatment of the Apartheid era to the consciousness of South Africans and the world. In addition to being South Africa’s first democratically elected President, Nelson Mandela is acclaimed for his efforts to establish racial, social and political equality in a country that had been ravaged by the Apartheid. It’s a poignant reminder of how far we have come as a country and just how precious our democracy is.
Down a dusty country lane, you will find Ardmore Ceramics. A creative space that takes the craft of pottery to another level. It is the largest pottery studio in South Africa, and all started when Bonnie Ntshalintshali, a young girl who had suffered polio as a child, started an apprenticeship with artist Fèe Halsted on their farm in Winterton. Bonnies natural ability with sculpture and painting was encouraged and soon she was creating her own pieces that told stories of her mission school education and strong Zulu background.
By combining an aesthetic that is not quite African nor European, Fèe developed the style that has made Ardmore Ceramics internationally renowned – intricately decorated items in a Western ceramic tradition that feature local flora and fauna motifs interspersed with mythological beings. These much sought after ceramics grace the halls of Buckingham Palace, the White House as well as museums and galleries around the world and would look exceptional in any upmarket home – just be warned, the price tags are justifiably heavy.
These wonderfully creative masterpieces which tell of life, love, nature and even politics, are made on-site in their pottery studio. Take time to watch these incredibly talented local craftsmen and women as they lovingly shape pieces of clay, paint intricate designs to bring these stories to life. I am told that there are about 150 local people employed here – what a wonderful example of uplifting local communities.
A little further afield beyond Nottingham Road is Fort Nottingham. A collection of old buildings that were established in 1856 by the 45th (Nottingham, Sherwood Foresters) Regiment of Foot to protect local farmers from Bushmen and San cattle raids. History buffs will enjoy the museum, housed in one of the old buildings, which offers displays of artifacts from the San as well as a fascinating insight into the life of early settlers in the Natal Midlands. And photographers will love the ramshackle and characterful old stone buildings.
No explore is complete without a coffee break. And the Midlands has loads of options. There’s Lineage Coffee in Nottingham Road which offers a choice of freshly roasted and brewed artisanal coffee – their beans ethically sourced with agricultural support given to the local farmers that grow them. And Terbodore Coffee, one of KZN’s most loved coffee brands and home of the famous Great Dane, Sultan.
After all the sightseeing, shopping and caffeine, it was time for some detoxing and relaxation at the Brahman Hills Spa. Nothing like a full body massage with fabulously fragranced essential oils and a soak in a tub full of healing bath salts to do the trick. Add to this bubbly, mani and pedi’s, and we are rested and restored and ready for a night of fine dining and wine pairing.
Dressed to the nines, we head to 89 on Copper, in the Brahman Hills wine cellar. It’s the perfect spot perfect for romantic dinners and family celebrations, the soft lighting and rich tones add to the ambiance. Our menu is extensive, and we dine on perfectly plated and absolutely delicious cuisine accompanied by a selection of South Africa’s best wines.
The perfect end to a fabulous weekend of rest and relaxation… my heart is full, and my soul restored.
Click HERE to read about the eco- and conservation initiatives at Brahman Hills