Luscious Lowveld

When you’re in need of some serious chilling out, escape to the
lush Lowveld surrounding the towns of Hazyview and White River

NAOMI LARKIN

Mpumalanga may be best known as the bread basket of South Africa, but it’s also the home of some of the country’s most favoured tourist spots. Millions of local and international travellers visit the province every year, drawn by its diverse attractions and favourable weather. This is where you find God’s Window, the grand Blyde River Canyon and Bourke’s Luck Potholes; where you can view ancient cave paintings, snap the Big Five at play in the Kruger Park or a private game reserve, and swim in freshwater lakes. Secluded forest and mountain retreats, cosy B&Bs and luxurious game lodges also all lie within its borders.

Within the Lowveld a not so wellkept secret is the area around the towns of White River and Hazyview, which is home to good food spots and stylish accommodation. Surrounded by lush greenery, plantations of bananas, forests and rose, avocado and macadamia nut farms, these getaways are perfect for chilling and doing very little.

Where to sleep and eat
There are lots of options to suit most wallets, ranging from luxury to selfcatering. The following four have longstanding reputations for fine hospitality and cuisine.

CYBELE FOREST LODGE AND HEALTH SPA
This is a country hotel at its best: stunning setting, gracious welcoming hospitality, first-rate food and service. Cybele offers a consistently high level of comfort that is designed to help you shed your stress and truly unwind. Bought in 1979 by Rupert and Barbara Jeffries (who still own it), Cybele has been a member of the prestigious international Relais & Chateaux group since 1983. Cybele was the founding member in South Africa.

Each of the 12 rooms – six of which are suites with their own heated swimming pools – is designed for privacy. The decor features slouchy couches, big beds with crisp white linen, lots of rugs on the floors, original art on the walls and spacious bathrooms. It’s fitting that the website claims: “The magic of Cybele emerges when you are shown to your room.”

The old farmhouse, which is the lounge/dining room area, with its antiques, comfortably furnished veranda and low-lit dining room, is equally warm and inviting. On a sunny day the tables in the front garden, with its towering trees and verdant vegetation, are made for long lingering lunches. At night, strategically placed lights in the trees add to the romance. The 121-hectare property features great walks through the forest to the river and waterfall. Cybele has its own stables so guests can go horse-riding. There is also a fully equipped gym. The forest Health Spa with its Zen garden set-up is the icing on the cake: enjoy a massage, facial or manicure, or luxuriate in a hydrotherapy bath.

Chef Cristyl Lamprecht is committed to keeping up Cybele’s tradition of fine dining. The lodge’s menu is “classic French combined with traditional English”. Cristyl’s philosophy is to stay abreast of trends and use local products as much as possible. The lodge has its own organic garden. Enjoy poached salmon with parsley new potatoes, steamed greens and Hollandaise sauce; or smoked duck salad with fresh garden herbs, baby spinach, toasted hazelnuts, figs and balsamic dressing.

Breakfast is always with a buffet of fresh and poached fruit, homemade muesli, smoked salmon, cheeses and hot dishes such as eggs Benedict or flapjacks with crispy bacon and maple syrup. Cristyl’s years of studying pastry-making in the US are evidenced in her true Frenchstyle croissants and desserts – her chocolate mousse, with its slightly bitter twist, is exceptional. Call 013-764-9500 or visit www.cybele.co.za.

RISSINGTON INN
Chris Harvie has created a no-fuss, “kick-off-your-shoes-and-relax” hideaway with Rissington Inn. As a result, both local and international guests make repeat visits. Floods (the Lowveld has generously warm weather but it also has mighty storms) and subsequent rebuilding have seen the place expand into the current collection of thatched-roofed, individually-styled rooms, suites and hillside villas. The main dining room/lounge area is the heart of the inn with its bar having witnessed many a sundowner extending into early morning.

Chef Kuki Ngobe whips up comfort food including butternut soup, crumbed baked fillet served with gratin potatoes, curries and traditional desserts like crêpes Suzette, chocolate mousse and an apple pie that deserves sampling. Call 013-737-7700 or visit www.rissington.co.za.

CASA DO SOL HOTEL AND RESORT
Set in a magnificent, sprawling tropical garden with blossoming hibiscus, fragrant frangipani, huge bamboos and plenty of shady trees, Casa do Sol is a pina colada kind of a place. Lose the tie, grab a lounger and spend the day poolside, reading, dozing and sipping on cocktails. The Spanish/Mediterraneanstyle architecture, with its arches, plastered walls and terracotta tiled roofs, sets this place aside from any other in the area.

When the temperature drops, take a stroll around the property which covers some 500 hectares and contains “friendly” game including antelope. There are tennis courts and activities on Casa do Sol’s dam include rowing, fishing and bird watching. Indulge in some treatments at The Spa dé Solé. The hotel’s accommodation goes from Casas (standard rooms) to double suites and one Casa Grande with its own private pool, jacuzzi and enclosed garden. The spacious rooms, which open onto balconies, have been revamped with Spanish-style décor, including ironwork bed heads, ornate mirrors and vibrant throws. With54 rooms the hotel is a popular choice for conferences and weddings.

The restaurant Cozinha Velha (meaning “old kitchen” in Portuguese) specialises in country cooking. Chef Elvis Mnisi is at the helm – give his ostrich with risotto, roasted pepper and caramel apples a go. O’Estabulo is an alternative dining venue, regularly used for private functions, and Chiquita’s bar is the perfect place for a nightcap. Call 013-737-8111 or visit ww.southafrica.net.

OLIVER’S RESTAURANT & LODGE
Located in the White River Country Estate, overlooking the first green of the 18-hole championship White River Golf course, Oliver’s is all about a love of food, superb service and Austrian “Gemütlichkeit”. That translates to a feet-on-the-couch, homely feeling with a sense of atmosphere.

Owners Tanja and Oliver Ruf started Oliver’s as a restaurant and extended the business in 2004 to include accommodation. The six rooms, described as “a marriage between Austrian flair and subtle African influences”, are luxuriously furnished and overlook the swimming pool and the golf course. The restaurant’s semiformal interior is ideal for special occasions and the balcony perfect for long Sunday lunch with plenty of areas for children to play outside.

The couple is passionate about food and wine and has garnered a faithful clientele. Chef Oliver’s cuisine includes signature dishes such as Vitello Tonnato (roast veal with tuna and caper cream); tender beef fillet served the “Viennese way” on a Cognac-fried onion sauce with potato Parmesan mash; and German Eisbein alongside homemade pasta and risotto. Call 013-750-0479 or visit www.olivers.co.za.

Things to do
CASTERBRIDGE FARM, WHITE RIVER (WWW.CASTERBRIDGE.CO.ZA)
Should you desire a break from doing nothing then head to Casterbridge Farm. This shopping and entertainment centre, built on what was once a mango plantation, is a pleasant change from a mall while still offering places to eat and shop in one location.

• If you are in the area over the weekend, catch a show at The Barnyard Theatre in White River (013-750-1117 or www.barnyardwhiteriver.co.za), which also has its own restaurant and bar; or a movie at The Casterbridge Cinema (013-751-3894).
• Spend a leisurely day browsing in a number of decor and design stores in the centre. Tropical Living (013-750- 0971) has a wide range of Bali imports, from lampshades to large pieces of furniture, while Equilibrium (www.equilibriumgalleries.com) carries handcrafted products including furniture, sculptures and even fitted kitchens and bathrooms made from recycled wood. Local linen specialists Willowbrook (013-751-3368) have a great selection for grown-ups and little ones.
• Satisfy any sweet cravings at Shautany Chocolatiers (013-750-3033). It takes an iron will to walk out of this store without a stash of amarula, honey or mint truffles.
• Next door to each other, Saffron Organic Nutrition (073 428 4398) and The Nut Tree (013-751-3680) have lots of healthy and kind-of-healthy treats, including locally grown macadamia nuts, low-GI Turkish delight and chocolate coffee beans.
• A Brief Affair lingerie shop (013- 750-1635) stocks French lingerie range Princesse Tam Tam, as well as swimwear.
• Anabela’s Jewellers (013-751-2352) has jewellery for all tastes in gold, silver, pearls and tanzanite.
• Pop in for a facial, manicure or express facial at the centre’s spa, [email protected] (013-751-1020).

PERRY’S BRIDGE TRADING POST, JUST OUTSIDE HAZYVIEW
With a similar set-up as Casterbridge Farm, Perry’s Bridge Trading Post also offers eateries and shops in one location. Of note is the recently opened Le Patissier Belgian Bakery and Confectionary, which specialises in preservative-free bread, pastries and cakes. The custard slices, apple frangipane and other delights are made according to traditional European recipes.

SOURCES
NAASHON ZALK

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