The picturesque Kwazulu Natal countryside is a region steeped in history. The Zulus, the Boers and the British fought fierce battles for dominion of the territory here and Mahatma Gandhi served as a stretcher bearer for the British (before the advent of satyagraha), in one of these battles. Here, Winston Churchill was captured while reporting as a war correspondent in 1899, and Nelson Mandela was arrested over 60 years later while posing as a chauffeur. In the heart of this historic countryside, lies Summerhill, a champion racehorse stud farm and home to the acclaimed Hartford House , once the residence of the last Prime Minister of the Colony of Natal.
I had first heard about the five-star Hartford House in the context of food. Once a grand home, it became a luxury hotel, constantly lauded as having one of the top restaurants in the country. But, upon visiting, I discovered that it was much more than that – a delightful combination of eclectic history, equine excellence, enchanting gardens and a serene countryside.
Nestled in the undulating hills of the Natal Midlands, Hartford House was founded in 1875. On driving through the heavy stone-pillared gate, you feel as though you have been teleported to the English countryside. The tree-lined pebbled driveways lead you to the opulent hotel, which is surrounded by towering trees, forests, lakes, stables and paddocks. Here, you will wake up to the neighing of horses and the cries of hadidas, and open your curtains to bucolic scenes.
The rooms are spaced far apart to allow for privacy. Each suite is individually decorated with unique collectors’ pieces from around the world. Natural materials are used as far as possible.
Children can be accommodated in some of the suites and we stayed in one of the lakeside suites with ours. Named Igugu (meaning “jewel or “treasure”) after one of Hartford’s treasured mares, it was an opulent two-bedroom, two-bathroom suite with a television lounge. The bathrooms featured claw footed baths and rain showers. Underfloor heating, electric blankets, luxurious linen and warm woolly gowns were provided. We also had our own private garden overlooking a lake.
Breakfast, light lunches and high teas are served at the Tijnhuis overlooking the beautiful gardens and ponds.
Dinner is served in the candlelit splendour of the grand dining room or the colonial verandah, and usually consists of a bespoke six-course tasting menu. Meals are inspired masterpieces incorporating local produce and the fresh pickings of the hotel’s kitchen garden. On weekends, the hotel's own internationally renowned dance troupe will entertain you while you dine.
If you have little ones with you, then babysitting services can be organised. If you prefer to eat in the comfort of your suite with your kids, that can be arranged too.
Since the 1930s, Summerhill Stud Farm has been producing champion racehorses, who have gone on to win every major race on the South African Racing Calendar. Stallion owners include billionaires from around the world like the rulers of Dubai, who visit them occasionally. We were given a fascinating tour by Frank, the General Manager. Here, we learnt about the inner workings of a world-class stud farm, and saw some of South Africa's top stallions and their offspring.
Apart from horse-riding, activities include trout and bass fishing, tennis, mountain biking, canoeing, walking trails, and board games. There is more than enough to keep the children busy.
Hartford House is the perfect escape from the daily drudgery of life. You will feel like you are miles away from everyday problems, whether you are on a romantic escape or a family getaway, For more information visit Hartford House or book here.
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Things you must do in South Africa