If you’ve been around for a while, you’ll know the Midlands is one of my FAVOURITE places to visit. So when we decided to do our first girl’s trip as a group, it was easy to choose the Midlands as our first getaway.
On top of this, despite having stayed at many of the beautiful places in the Midlands, both nights we were staying in hotels AND areas that were new to me! And so the four of us hit the road for an adventure to remember.
My companions on our trip: –
We all met up at the Food Lovers Market in Hillcrest before we started our journey, to stock up on padkos and refreshments for the trip. Luckily they always have some fantastic specials, which we gladly took advantage of, such as still water combos, and promotions on popcorn and gummy sweets.
From Hillcrest, it was roughly a 50 minute drive through to our first stop of the day. We were visiting Jackie Cameron School of Food & Wine to learn more about their programme, and to taste some of the work from the students.
I also got the chance to chat to 3rd year student Annie Morrick about her love for food, her hopes and dreams. Her passion for what she does is tangible to anyone around her, and there is no doubt whatsoever that Annie is right at home in the kitchen. Plus – she has a killer sense of humour, and has even named the starter for her infamous sourdough ‘Larry’, which had us all giggling.
We were lucky enough to be let in on a secret new launch of Jackie’s that was made public the week after our trip. Jackie Cameron now has a line of nutritious baby food, made from only the freshest, locally grown produce from the KZN Midlands. Maximum nutrients and flavours are kept in tact, and the food contains no preservatives, salt or sugar.
Lunch was a delicious affair at Highgate Wine Estate. Having been there previously for a quick wine tasting with my Hubby, I hadn’t had the chance to indulge in their restaurant, but it’s been top of my list to do so!
We began with a wine tasting in the courtyard – a beautiful area that is completely closed, with a clear ‘roof’ and trees planted in the ground. It has a whimsical, romantic air to it – perfect for a wedding.
We were given a selection of Highgate reds to taste, as well a white – unfortunately they were completely out of stock of their own white wines, but graciously offered us a choice of 3 other white wines to taste. We opted for the Bruce Jack Chenin Blanc, which I’ve had before, and is delicious.
First up was the Highgate Pinotage, filled with dark red fruits and with a spicy plum finish. We then sipped on two different Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Their regular Cab Sav, which is delicious (and my favourite) with raspberries, blackcurrant and pencil shavings on the palate. Their other Cab Sav is their Black Edition flagship wine, one that is a lot richer, deeper and more hands on. This wine is a lot earthier, but still has those raspberries prominent on the palate. All of the wines were so fantastic!
Lunch was a 3-course affair in the restaurant, and it was absolutely incredible. We’ve all spoken again about how amazing our food was, and I’m dying to take my hubby there for a meal next time we’re in the Midlands.
I enjoyed a starter of the Grilled Gourmet Greek Feta Cheese (with crunchy savoury granola, crisp garden greens & black gold, R90), a main of the Insalata di Capresé (Gourmet Greek mozzarella tossed with garden greens, melba croutes, tomato textures, basil pesto & balsamic pearls, R115) and a delicious Dessert Trio (Highgate Pinotage poached pear, tiramisu semi freddo & spiked dark chocolate mousse, R90). All utterly delicious, and I love that they use produce from the surrounding Midlands area too – I’ve been to the Gourmet Greek before and their cheese is exceptional! I’ve actually been craving this grilled feta cheese ever since, and am so keen to try and recreate this at home.
After lunch, in order to get moving a little after our day of indulgence, we took a wander around the Piggly Wiggly shopping centre. One of the most infamous stops along the Midlands, it’s well-known for a reason! Piggly Wiggly houses eateries, stores that sell clothing, leather goods, wood work, art, and all sorts of eats, bits and bobs.
We browsed through Meander Fine Wines, and were all so impressed with their amazing wine selection. I myself am already a huge fan – I visit every time I’m in the area, and order the majority of my wine from one of their incredible wine consultants, Kelsey. If you’re a wine lover, give her a shout as she puts together the most amazing curated cases.
With satisfied tummies and happy hearts, we headed to our Midlands home for the night – Waterford Manor in Rosetta. Now, I’ve driven through Rosetta before, meandering as one does in the Midlands. However, it had been some time since I’d visited the area, and I’ve never spent the night at any of the accommodation offerings there.
Waterford Manor is situated on a 10-hectare property on the Mooi River – and ‘mooi’ this river and it’s surrounding area is! Gorgeous foliage (that was largely amber-coloured due to the time of year we were visiting), wildlife and the trickling sounds of running water all made for a peaceful, yet picturesque spot to snap away with our cameras. And this was just the grounds of the hotel – the hotel itself is beautiful!
The rooms are equipped with everything you need for a chilly winter night – heated blankets, heaters for the room, lots of soft, snuggly bedding and a tea/coffee station for a warm drink before bed. We retreated to our rooms as the sun started to dip down, freshened (and warmed) ourselves up and headed to a spot recommended by our host for the night, Nicholas.
The Grindstone is just down the road from Waterford Manor and while it may seem a little small and quiet from the outside (it’s in a converted farm building, and you really can’t see much from the road), it’s home to a warm, intimate restaurant. Surrounded by lanterns, firelight and laughter, we ate some of the best wood-fired pizza I’ve tasted (and family on my Hubby’s side have owned a pizzeria, so I’ve eaten my fair share!). A wide variety of toppings, as well as great beer and locally-made Rawdons G n T’s on tap make this a memorable visit.
The remainder of our evening included a fun PJ party (with gorgeously soft Mr Price jammies), more giggles than I’ve had in longer than I can remember, face masks and bubbly. I drifted off to sleep warm and with a happy heart.
The next morning was absolutely freezing! We all dressed up warmly – in our matching Tomy Takkies too – for breakfast by the fireplace. Waterford Manor created a beautiful setting with individual breakfast cups of fruit, granola and yoghurt, fresh juice, muffins, strong coffee and a full fry-up. A meal that warmed us from the inside and set us up for a long, full day of adventuring!
What I loved about Waterford Manor was how they followed all covid protocol. Not once did we feel unsafe, or that the hotel didn’t have our best interests at heart. We just had the most wonderful time, and I plan on returning soon with Hubby for a romantic weekend away.
Our Saturday was just lovely, and filled with all the best parts of travelling the Midlands Meander. We browsed through a local market filled with antiques, food, coffee and small local businesses – I bought a dog toy for my girls, Nicola gave in to the antiques stand, Verushka treated herself to a jar of homemade chimichurri, and Teri found a stand selling Nova sugar-free chocolate.
A stop at Blueberry Cafe was a must too, as it is just so beautiful there. And I’m sure these photos show you why!
After a delicious cocktail each, we made the last stretch of our drive through to Mooi River, where we’d be staying at one of the most luxurious hotels in the province.
Hartford House has been one of my top ‘To Visit’ establishments for many MANY years now. It’s the ultimate luxury weekend spot, and I am absolute DYING to take Hubby there (I may try and plan a night away for his birthday in October, covid-willing). Everything from the grounds, the hotel and it’s decor, the exceptional rooms, the food and wine and the service is just top knotch. There have been a number of renovations done to the rooms, and you’ll see they look very different to what is still showing on their site!
Everything from arrival (where we were offered warm, damp towels and glasses of bubbly), to our departure the following day (a call in the afternoon to ensure we’d arrived home safe and sound) was smooth, efficient and beautifully executed.
I shared Garden Suite 9 (also known as Alyssum) with Teri, and the room is gorgeous with a dreamy en-suite bathroom (I love how there are even designated face clothes for makeup removal!), a dressing room and a sitting room with a fireplace, mini-bar and tea/coffee making facilities. There’s even sherry in a beautiful decanter!
As soon as we’d checked in and put our luggage in our rooms, we were taken through to Tijnhuis – their tea house where afternoon tea and lunches are served. The restaurant is surrounded by ponds, trickling water and plants, and you can either enter in the side or cross the stepping stones in the ponds, which makes for a lovely experience.
We enjoyed a spot of lunch at Tijnhuis – I tucked into a Midlands Braised Lamb Baguette, with chimichurri, blistered tomato, mustard aioli and parmesan, that was served with a fresh slaw, followed by a Terbadore cappuccino. That baguette was absolutely scrumptious, so many incredible flavours and the juiciest, most delicious lamb.
Our afternoon at Hartford was blissful. We enjoyed a picnic on the lawns with some of our delicious snacks from Food Lovers Market, our Steenberg Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc, some Freely hard seltzers and a refreshing G n T with our Brackenhill Craft gin. Loads of laughter and bonding with the girls, I just had the best time with them!
Before dinner we all headed off to our rooms to freshen up and get ourselves a little more dressed up, as we had a fine-dining dinner to attend. I had a shower, touched up my makeup and cracked open one of my beloved Ellips hair vitamins before curling my hair.
We grabbed a drink at the bar, and I was SO impressed with the Hartford wine list. I knew it would be good, but I could have browsed it for hours, as I’m an avid wine lover. I ordered a delicious glass of pinotage to compliment the chilly weather, and then we headed to the restaurant for dinner, where we were greeted by hot water bottles and blankets, to my utter delight.
Dinner was a 6-course tasting menu that exceeded every expectation we had, and I just wish I’d been able to finish each course, as they were all absolutely incredible. The meal fully showcased why the Hartford House restaurant at has been voted number 1 in KZN, as well as top 20 in the whole country!
Our decadent meal consisted of:-
Beef Shin Croquette on sauerkraut & a Bobotie Crepe with a Cape Malay inspired sauce as the snacks from the kitchen
Blesbok Carpaccio with prune puree, aioli, pomegranate, crostini & pumpkin seed
Umngqusho Risotto with corn salsa, crispy leek, charred onion & parmesan
Braised Short Rib with fried polenta, sweet potato, pickled beetroot, radish & basil
Almond Cheesecake with praline, poached apple, rooibos gel & apple crisp
Each course we were served was utter perfection. Every dish consisted of multiple elements that meshed together SO well. My personal favourites were the Umngqusho Risotto (I mean, samp and beans in a fine dining meal!), the Braised Short Rib (melt-in-your-mouth texture and I’m a sucker for short rib) and the Almond Cheesecake (cheesecake is my ultimate dessert) prepared by Phumla Zakwe, the student from Jackie Cameron School who is seriously going places!
On our return to our room, we had a roaring fire in our fire place, our beds had been turned down, and beautiful little glass plates with fudge on had been placed on our beds. I love the hotel turn-down service, so this was a big plus for me.
We all had such satisfied tummies, that all we needed was to get ready for bed for a blissful night’s sleep. I took off my makeup, using my absolute favourite products from Optiphi, took a Biomedcan Sleep supplement to ensure I had some top quality sleep. Let’s just say I drifted off to sleep so quickly, and had one of the best nights of rest I’ve had in a long time.
A nice early morning to create some content had to begin with a good breakfast. Hartford House improvised their usual buffet to make it covid-friendly. Fruit, yoghurt, granola and juice was all in individual glass jars or bottles, and they were all ABSOLUTELY delicious. There is just something about dairy, especially yoghurt from the Midlands that makes me look beyond my slight lactose intolerance and over-indulge.
Fresh muffins and croissants were on our tables with butter and jam, and we could order coffee and a hot breakfast from the menu. I adore bagels, so seeing one on the menu I chose the Midlands Trout Bagel, with trout, cream cheese and rocket. It was superb!
It’s easy to see how Hartford House has such a name for itself, & how it’s become such a popular destination for weddings. Romance, luxury & a chapel so stunning it makes your heart skip a beat! The grounds at Hartford House are just so beautiful, with something different around each turn. We could have explored for hours.
Soon it was time to say goodbye to Hartford House and hit the road. Thanks to Fresh Stop, we were stocked up with refreshments and snacks for the drive home! Their energy bars are SO delicious, I kept one and took it to work for breakfast the following week, and I’ve since bought more to keep in my desk drawer in case I need a healthy snack.
Once again, Hartford House followed all covid-protocol perfectly, and we felt 100% safe for the duration of our stay. Sanitisers were everywhere and all staff wore their masks properly.
We made one final stop on our trip home – the Old Mushroom Farm to visit Bluebird Coffee Roastery, as Nicola couldn’t recommend their coffee enough. She has actually gifted me previously with a bag of Bluebird beans and their coffee is superb. We also had a browse around the shops, and shot some very unique group photos thanks to Teri.
We had the most incredible weekend away, and it was just what the soul needed. A big thank you to Teri from Choose A Row, Nicola from Run On Coffee and Verushka from Spice Goddess for making the weekend so special.
I’d also like to thank the wonderful venues that hosted us and the brands who sponsored us: –