In 1936 Philip Van Der Riet was persuaded by his son Albert to purchase a farm in a remote section of the Drakensberg Mountains. They were themselves farmers so this was not such an out of the ordinary decision. However their plan was not to farm, it was to build a hotel. The inspiration behind their decision is clear to see to this day and is literally situated behind the hotel. The peaks and summits of Cathedral, the Bell and the Inner and Outer Horns create an awesome backdrop. Even today this would be a massive project to undertake. The family not only became project managers, they became stone masons, and road builders.
At Christmas in 1939 the hotel opened its doors to guests for the time. Here in 2013 there are still parts of the original hotel remaining. This is testament to the determination, skill and vision of its original owners and construction team. There is an old world charm to what really is more of a mountain resort than just a hotel. My wife Melanie commented that she was reminded of Kellermans, the family orientated mountain resort and setting for the movie ‘Dirty Dancing’ where love blossomed in the summer of 1963.
Having been in the Drakensberg Mountains on several occasions prior to this visit we always have our walking boots packed. And this was no exception; we were ready to hit the trails and pathways. The hotel has a list of walks and hikes to suit all abilities and will provide packed lunches on request. We read through the list that includes Belinda Falls, rated easy, Doreen Falls, a little harder, and trails all the way up to Cathedral Peak itself. This is a good 10 hour hike and requires a guide.
On this occasion we opted to leave our boots in the bag and stick to flip-flops. Perfect footwear for exploring the hotel, it’s grounds and the activities on offer. We strolled through beautifully maintained gardens with striped lawns, vibrant pink bougainvillea and mature tree ferns. I have always had an ambition to play golf at the highest level so we collected a club and a ball and played (crazy) golf. At around 1500 meters above sea level this was at an extremely high level. For serious golfers there is also a course within the hotel grounds. The hotel pool is probably the most scenic I have ever swum in. Looking up from the clear water through leafy green foliage there are the majestic mountain peaks. There really is something here for everybody, lawn bowls, mountain bikes, fly fishing, horse & pony rides and even a bouncy castle, to name but a few.
Our room, an executive honeymoon suite, came with a spectacular view. It was spacious and arranged perfectly. The bed faced large patio doors which meant we woke to watch the sun rise and light up the Cathedral and surrounding peaks. Sitting on our private patio I watched Red Winged Starlings and Natal Robins and beyond them a pair of baboons sat and watched me.
We took afternoon tea on the veranda which was very civilised and chatted with other guests. Visitors from Australia, the UK and South Africa were all overwhelmed by their mountain resort experience. Some were planning hikes while others were studying their bird books.
Prior to dinner we enjoyed a couple of drinks in Albert’s Cocktail Bar. There is also Harry’s Bar for a more traditional pub atmosphere. Dinner is a buffet and the choices are vast. There really is something for everyone here too. I am sure that when we were shown to our table in the dining room there were far more choices than the menu listed. Staff here, like all the staff we met during our visit, were more than helpful. I believe that the staff help to create a relaxed atmosphere where nothing seems a chore to them and smiles are abundant. Chefs are on hand around the buffet to talk you through everything that they have prepared and are now serving. We were encouraged into dessert by the nights resident pastry chef who went through bowl after bowl of sweet delights.
At bed time there was a glass of sherry in the room. And on the turned bed sheets we had been left a bed time story. ‘Why the Cheeks of a Cheetah are Stained With Tears’ made a perfect pre-sleep read.