I’d heard much about Brahman Hills in the heart of the KwaZulu Natal Midlands and each time the name was mentioned it conjured up images of gently rolling hills, relaxed romance and a historic land now returned to nature. It made me long to be there. I knew too that this beautiful area at the foot of the Drakensberg mountains offered an idyllic country retreat, and that is exactly what I was lucky enough to enjoy, with an added taste of The Midlands Kitchen, on my recent visit.
By invitation of Theresa Gibbon PR, I flew up to Durban to meet a group of wonderful media women from Johannesburg and Durban, and together we made the 90 minute drive along the busy N3 that leads to Johannesburg, passing Pietermaritzburg and Howick before a sign indicated we should veer off towards Nottingham Road and Curry’s Post.
Just here through decorated gates with sculpted metal Brahman cattle marking the spot, we excitedly arrived. Adding to the warm professionalism of the front desk staff, a collection of the resident cats greeted us from the stairs and lounge as we walked in, each looking up in anticipation of some attention, which they duly got. We collected our keys and headed about a kilometre into the Blue Crane Private Nature Reserve, and found our home for the next three nights.
A gorgeous snug and comfy cottage on the hill. Before long and even though it was after dark and rather chilly, we were unpacked, into our bathing suits and sipping bubbly in the private jacuzzi on the deck. It may have been the middle of Winter, but this is how you arrive at Brahman Hills. The tone had been set for the long weekend and instantly we relaxed into the beauty of the place.
The next morning as I threw back the curtains to a frosty yet sunny day, there was a herd of impala outside my room, moving across the yellow grass. I stepped outside to take their photo breathing in deeply, filling my lungs with chilly air and feeling particularly alive.
It had been too long since I’d enjoyed an escape to the Midlands.
Under new management and having evolved from the old Windmill hotel that may have been refuge to weary travellers over the years, the property has undergone a complete makeover in the last year, with hospitality specialist Gill Bowmaker the driving force behind the refurbishment that has established Brahman Hills as a brand and destination that delivers ‘real authentic experiences, with real people in tranquil surroundings’.
The hotel offers a range of accommodation in 30 hotel rooms and has 12 self-catering cottages, together with a number of restaurants, the Cappuccino lounge, underground bar, 89 on Copper dining room, Brahman Cafe and a variety of venues for events and weddings.
Accommodation at Brahman Hills
Depending on what you prefer, you can either opt for accommodation in one of the hotel rooms or book a self-catering cottage. The Hotel Rooms offer simple elegance with all the creature comforts from king-size beds, percale linen and electric blankets to ward off the cold. The hotel rooms are all within walking distance of main hotel facilities and restaurants.
The self-catering cottages are scattered around the reserve and offer a balanced mix of modern and farm living with big comfy beds and couches to relax into. Each cottage is fully equipped and has a great fireplace, with the main attraction the private Jacuzzi on the deck. The cottages are serviced every day and on our last night after a busy day, we ordered in food from Brahman Café to enjoy next to the fire, talking about our time shared, our highlights and memories. A group of girls bonding over their love of travel.
The Jacuzzi, with zebra in the background. Each of the cottages has one.
Eating at Brahman Hills
The Culinary General Manager Terrence Ford is making it his mission to grow Brahman Hill’s impressive culinary reputation. We enjoyed a relaxed meal at Brahman Cafe and an incredible tasting menu in the atmospheric renovated cellar that is home to their fine dining 89 on Copper. Going downstairs it is hard to imagine what will unfold, but true to its name the underground bar is a sensory delight with rich coppery colours exposed brickwork and a bar that invites guests to relax while sipping on one of Brahman Hills’ fine wines on offer.
Highlights for me were the delicious vegetarian curry and butternut ravioli.
For those who enjoy a caffeine fix, the Cappuccino coffee lounge is a relaxing space filled with warm sunlight, comfy couches and a fair collection of resident cats.
The one and only Fat Cat.
The custom built Brahman Hills Spa is a short way from the hotel with views towards the grassy landscape. The rough stone walls and recycled corrugated sheets on the outside meet modern design themed in striking blue and white with large circular porter hole windows on the inside. The natural light, neutral tones and quality wood finishes and strong handed therapists work their magic here. The focus is on massages, manicures and pedicures, and they use only natural products. It is a true sensory experience in every respect, with the heady smell of the exquisite essential oils, salts and scrubs filtering through the building, at once relaxing.
As always, Theresa spoilt us with an afternoon at the Spa, and after a light healthy lunch we retreated to our respective treatment rooms. I opted for a detoxing body scrub, followed by a soaking hot bath with essential oils and fully body massage. From there we gathered in reclining chairs for pedicures and manicures. I loved the result of mine, adding colour to finger tips that rarely have the opportunity to shine.
The Agility Hub
The new Agility Hub was purpose-built to host private functions. Modern and elegant, we had breakfast here on the one morning, a private table set against the glass doors overlooking the deck and glorious views of the wintery Midlands. We drank steamy hot coffee, dark pink smoothies that tasted of health and a selection of pastries and cut fruit, before ordering our perfectly prepared ‘filled to bursting’ omelettes.
Meetings and Weddings
Brahman Hills does much work with corporate clients and hosts glorious romantic weddings, yet keeps this discreetly separate from the leisure clients wanting an escape to the country. Their conference venues include the Nguni Room, Lake House, Glass House alongside the Barn that accommodates up to 380 people and the newly added Agility Hub. Although it is the romantic weddings that I imagine here, a team specialty, with a chapel on the lake and plenty of perfectly placed spots for photographs and to raise a celebratory glass to the new couple.
Walk the reserve
One of the best things to do here is walk the land. The 1000 hectares Blue Crane Private Game Reserve is made up of many farms that have been bought and collectively returned to nature over the years, with fences dropped and indigenous vegetation encouraged back to the rolling hills.
With one of Brahman’s managers Wayne Chislett, we headed out for what turned into a 14km hike past grazing wildlife and relaxed Nguni and Brahman cattle. At an altitude of between 12000 and 16000 above sea level, this is alpine shrub and grassland territory, I was told. We caught glimpses of the neighbours homes with their commanding views, stopped to admire tiny flowers pushing through after the dry winter and took on one gentle hill after the next. It was time in the wilderness, in a most gorgeous part of our country.
Brahman Hills has recently set out a proper path through the hillside and hosts a monthly 5km Park Run.
Theresa and Nicole walking through the yellowed grass. After the first spring rains the entire area will be transformed to green.
We crossed a river about 3 hours in to our hike and stopped to fill up our water bottles with sweet tasting crisp, fresh and wild water. An absolute treat.
As we walked we came across remnants of the long gone dairy farming days. Today the Brahman and Nguni roam free alongside zebra, impala, wildebeest and other game in the now established Blue Crane game reserve.
An impressive Brahman, after which the hotel is named. The Brahman or Brahma is a breed of Zebu cattle that was first bred in United States from cattle breeds imported from India.
Some of the Brahman cattle in the field, neither impressed not bothered by our presence.
I had woken up to a herd of zebra right outside our cottage and even when I got my camera and walked towards them quietly, they hardly moved, as curious with me as I was with them.
The Midlands Kitchen
The much anticipated Midlands Kitchen had just opened and we headed there after our 14km walk through the reserve, very hungry and thirsty, ready for a feast. Which is exactly what awaits you when you stop in here on your road trip, or simply as a destination to enjoy lunch at.
Offering an incredible array of dishes from their ten plus different kitchens including Mediterranean, Indian, Mexican, Pizza, Vegan, Burgers and Pies, we ordered a selection to share that included tasty Mexican tacos, spicy vegetarian curry, a giant traditional bunny chow, burgers and spicy chicken, with me opting for the falafel salad, which was simply phenomenal.
With a market type atmosphere and friendly knowledgable staff, this slick wood finished artisan food hall is already making waves on the KZN culinary map. We had three meals there during our stay, each was incredible and the place was packed on each occasion. Clearly off to a successful start.
Green and Sustainable
It was heartwarming to learn about all the efforts being made at Brahman Hills to adopt eco-friendly practices and make the hotel more sustainable. They have adopted waste management measures that include recycling, compost heaps, partnering with local farmers to pass on things they can use like scrap metal, collect rainwater in the dams to irrigate the grounds and have solar panels to heat the water and reduce electricity consumption. Over the last years many of the buildings have undergone a complete renovation with much of the construction materials repurposed and reused in new inventive ways.
It’s an impressive feel good that adds to the soulfulness of the place.
The Midlands Meander
It had been a decade or more since I’d last explored the Midlands Meander, a place of my childhood that holds special memories of family road trips, weekends in the Berg, shopping for made-to-last leather shoes, tie-dyed t-shirts and exploratory stops to feast on strongly brewed coffee, learn about craft beer and eat delicious local food.
Hitting the Meander from Brahman Hills is easy, you simply drive out the gate and find yourself in the heart of it’s Nottingham Road offerings. We opted for an explorative circular route that rewarded richly, starting with a stop at the renowned Terbodore Coffee Roasters to meet their beautiful dogs while enjoying a delicious cappuccino, a look around the Treasure and Trash collectables, stop at Groundcover Leather Company where some bought shoes and moccasin slippers and I bought my best dog a beautiful collar, and a look in at Steampunk Coffee to learn more about how they do cool, with two more stops at Spiral Blue, which bursts with everything from clothes to incense and jewellery and has just the right level of hippy feel to it. And Culamoya Chimes where I bought a Rain Wind Chime to hang at home in the hope of encouraging rain to the Cape.
There is so very much to see, do, buy, eat and drink in this part of the world and you can’t go wrong wherever you choose to visit. On my next trip I plan to simply climb in a car and drive until something catches my eye and calls me to stop, but if you’d like help with planning, the Midlands Meander map is an excellent place to start.
THE ESSENTIAL DETAILS
- Contact Details Brahman Hills: Tel: 033 266 6965 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: http://www.brahmanhills.co.za/
- Contact Details The Midlands Kitchen: Tel: 033 266 7046 Email: email@example.com. Website: www.themidlandskitchen.co.za
- Rates are very affordable with the Hotel starting at@ R1750 per room per night and the cottages from R700 per person self-catering with 1, 2, 3 and 4 bedroom configurations.
- Work your way through the various eating options, definitely try at least a lunch (or two) at The Midlands Kitchen, a meal at Brahman Hills Cafe and for atmospheric some fine dining, dinner at 69 on Copper.
- Getting there: From Durban’s King Shaka International Airport, which I flew into with Kulula.com, it is just over 1,30 hours drive to Brahman Hills, taking the N3 to Johannesburg, continuing through Pietermaritzburg, Hilton, Howick and past the Boschhoek turnoff to the Nottingham Road offramp where you turn left at the T- Junction and cross the bridge over the freeway. Continuing along the Curry’s Post Road until you see the Brahman Hills signs on the right hand side.
- All the things to do in the area can be seen at Midlands Meander or you can download the app and use that to guide you around.
Highlights for the weekend
- The setting among the rolling hills of the KZN Midlands.
- Variety of Fine Restaurants to choose from.
- That even though you may be booked into the self-catering unit, you can just pop down for a meal if suits.
- Walking Trails on the reserve, guided and self-guided.
- The Midlands Meander on your doorstep.
- Luxury Self-Catering Cottages with Jacuzzis on the deck.
- The most incredible Spa.
- The design of the Agility Hub and the indoor garden.
- Wildlife outside my room when you wake in the morning.
- The very many vegan and vegetarian options at The Midlands Meander.
- The adorable rusted metal Brahman Hill cattle figures at the entrance. I’d love one of the babies.
I travelled with a group of phenomenal media woman and this pic of our hands after a fun manicure session summed up the colourful bond we formed just perfectly.
*I was invited by Theresa Gibbon PR to experience Brahman Hills and the The Midlands Kitchen, flying from Cape Town to Durban return with Kulula.com and enjoying three glorious nights of spoiling, as we immersed ourselves into all that the reserve has to offer. Some of the cottage and hotel pics provided. Jacuzzi pic courtesy of Travelground.