The second thing I noticed was the sign ‘Recycling Garden’, the walls of rusted corrugated iron and weathered farm implements – the first was the almost life-size Brahman herd ‘grazing’ at the entrance gate. ‘So cool’, I thought to myself… followed by ‘can’t wait to explore’. This set the scene for what was to be weekend of great exploration, of fabulous food, creative repurposing and some serious spa-time at Brahman Hills.
Brahman Hills, owned by avid environmentalist Iain Buchan, is set within the 1,000 hectare Blue Crane Nature Reserve. In 2015 an extensive refurbishment to what was previously the Windmills Resort. At the helm of these refurbishments is Gill Bowmaker, who brings her creative flair and commitment to green initiatives. But with refurbishments comes waste… generally. It is evident that Gill and her team found creative ways to deal with this problem.
“During the design process, we actively looked for ways to repurpose building materials or elements. For instance, we salvaged the corrugated iron sheeting from the old barn roofs and turned them into privacy screens between units and around the property, which, aside from its practical purpose, creates a wonderful rustic impression as you drive in,” says Gill.
As much as possible was recycled, repurposed or re-used. And where possible building materials were sourced locally – which reduces transport costs, the carbon footprint of getting the materials to site and importantly, supports the local economy. In addition to this, rainfall is collected for use in the gardens and to fill up the dams.
Energy consumption is always ‘biggie’ when it comes to green initiatives, and to reduce this, usage is managed by ‘step up/step down’ technology, while solar energy geysers, combined with a solar harvest field, minimise their electricity consumption for now. “The long term goal is to try and move completely off the grid” says Gill.
The use of as much natural light as possible was incorporated into the design process – large windows, some of them floor-to-ceiling, can be found in The Barn (main hotel area), the Glass House (conference and wedding venue) as well as the Lake House (the beautiful chapel with exquisite views!). And where lighting is required, you can be sure it will be energy efficient and ‘dressed’ to impress.
The unobtrusive sign ‘The Herb & Vegetable garden’ did nothing to convey the epicurean delights we were about to experience. Delights that were both beautiful to look at and full of nutrition and health. The Brahman Hills Executive Chef and team worked wonders with the organically grown fresh produce emanating from the raised circular beds – made with recycled bricks, naturally – and fed a nutritious ‘worm tea’ from the worms residing in old bath tubs that were ripped out during the renovation.
A couple of the girls in our group had strict dietary requirements and the Chef’s brief had been ‘low sugar menu please’… move over ‘average’ salad, and welcome ‘culinary art’. Think a breakfast of chia seeds topped with strawberries, blueberries and raw nuts with macadamia nut butter sauce on the side, a salad (yes, for breakfast) where poached eggs perch comfortably alongside slices of avo, strawberries and banana on a bed of baby rocket and tomato… and lunch (at the spa), an assortment of salads. A salad of greens and micro-herbs topped with roasted courgettes a creamy avocado dressing and garnished with edible flowers sits beside a platter of roasted duck slices with baby tomatoes, peppers and rocket, garnished with the pretty lilac flowers of wild garlic. And bubbly of course! It’s so good to know that guests with dietary requirements can be accommodated, albeit understandingly at an additional cost – which would obviously need to be arranged in advance.
That evening we headed to 89 on Copper for dinner… for the wine pairing menu. The cream of kohlrabi soup (freshly picked that morning) was delicious, next was a beautifully tender and tasty lamb shank with wholegrain mustard mash followed by a decadent tiramisu served with delicious pistachio nut ice-cream. Copper, as the name would suggest, has a warm glow with exposed brick, untreated wood and yes, copper, is found hidden within the nooks and crannies of the cellar.
No visit to Midlands would be complete without stepping out into the countryside. And after another healthy breakfast – this time at the Agility Hub, a repurposed farm shed used for housing cattle, now stylishly adapted to allow for a wide range of events – we set out for a lengthy hike through the Blue Crane Nature Reserve. Here the rolling hills are home to a herd of Brahman cattle and an abundance of wildlife, including zebra, eland red hartebeest and even endangered Oribi antelope.
One really cool conservation initiative is the porcupine recovery scheme. Partnering with wildlife charity Free Me, Brahman Hills gives a home to injured or abandoned animals. Every evening the Porcupine Restaurant hosts anything up to about 30 of these nocturnal creatures to vegetable offcuts from the kitchen. Even they get to appreciate the produce of the herb and vegetable garden, albeit without the Exec Chef’s creative flair.
Now there’s nothing like a good rub down after excessive exercise. And nothing quite like an afternoon of pampering at the Spa at Brahman Hills Spa! The space that is now the Spa was once the location for a ‘spa’ of a different kind – it was where race horse patients would come to Winks Green, a pioneer in ‘equine body work’, and renowned for her ‘horse healing’ techniques. A different time and a renovated space, but ‘body work’ nonetheless.
The Spa blends unassumingly into the landscape with its rough stone walls and recycled corrugated iron sheeting and a suspended walkway leads us towards the front door – I notice more of the trademark corrugated iron. This time it forms the ripples for a water feature, I pause momentarily enjoying the relaxing sound.
We started with bubbly and a light light lunch in the ‘bridal suite’ – a private room perfect for special occasion treatments. “Which mineral salts would you like?” we were asked… lavender, chamomile and sandalwood for relaxation, sleep problems, headaches stress and anxiety sounded like a good one for me. The Spa uses all natural, handcrafted products, offering an exceptionally sensory experience. The exquisite scent of essential oils permeates the building. I was looking forward to this!
A full-body exfoliation was followed by a lengthy soak in a tub with said bath salts. Relaxed and at ease with the world I watched the weather change from sunshine to clouds and finally thunderstorm and rain. It didn’t matter. I was safely ensconced in my fluffy blue gown, a mug of deliciously decadent hot chocolate by my side and my toes in the expert hands of local girl and qualified beauty therapist, Thelma.