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It’s wonderful to spend your days tackling outdoor activities like hiking, cycling, fishing, kayaking, ziplining, bird watching or even mountain climbing. The downside for softies like me is that they generally all happen in wide-open spaces miles from anywhere. And at the end of a muscle-aching day, I want a fabulous hotel with a hot shower, great food and a luxurious bed. Read on for the amazing places I have discovered.
Cathedral Peak Hotel
One of the best-known hotels in the mountains is the long-established Cathedral Peak. With 104 rooms and a large dining room, it’s not the place for peaceful solitude but it’s perfect if you’re looking for lots of activities, have kids to entertain, or you want an easy introduction to hiking through the guided walks each morning.
This elegant old mansion sits at the far end of a long twisty road, and once you arrive you won’t need to leave because everything you could possibly want is on site.
It’s a paradise for kids with daily organised activities, a playground, a jumping castle and a climbing tower. Plus heated and cool swimming pools, horse riding, volleyball, badminton, a bowling green, a gym, spa, mini-golf and a 9-hole golf course. Or you could simply sit on the terrace and admire the amazing view.
There are 18 different hikes ranging from riverside strolls to a gruelling nine-hour adventure up Cathedral Peak itself. I took an easy guided hike to a waterfall then to a site of San rock art.
The buffet meals are extensive, and evening entertainment includes bingo, karaoke and quiz nights.
Rates: Check the website for seasonal rates.
A small and intimate vibe makes the boutique Dragonview Lodge an attractive option in the Central Drakensberg. It blends contemporary luxury with ecological sustainability to respect its world heritage site surroundings. Running almost entirely off the grid, it has solar panels for electricity, water from a borehole and stormwater for irrigation.
There are only eight suites and the two executive suites have king-sized four-poster beds downstairs and an intimate lounge upstairs where you can enjoy your dinner on the deck with fabulous views of Champagne Castle and Cathkin Peak.
There’s a heated indoor pool and a rim-flow rock pool built into natural rock, plus a bar, fitness centre and spa. It’s family-friendly with a playground and a games room.
Rates: From R1450 per person per night sharing (pppns) including breakfast.
Montusi Mountain Lodge
If rest and relaxation top your agenda, head for Montusi Mountain Lodge in the northern Drakensberg. It sits in a private conservation estate that only Montusi guests can use, and with a maximum of 40 people, you’ll pretty much have the pristine mountains, rivers and caves to yourself. If you’re lucky you’ll spot Mountain Reedbuck, Vaal Rhebuck, Bushbuck and Eland.
The lodge run by the Carte family is one of only a few to offer panoramic views of the Drakensberg’s most famous feature, the Amphitheatre escarpment. The thatched main lodge houses the dining room, terrace, bar and lounge, and a massage treatment room is run as a community project by trained ladies from the surrounding area.
The chef conjures up fusion dishes with a South African slant to make the meals a highlight of your stay, and in summer you can dine al fresco. If there’s a full moon, guests are invited to walk to the dam for a bonfire and Amarula Coffee in the silver light.
An Adventure Centre 10 minutes away has zip lines, a free-fall swing, a trapeze, a bungee trampoline and quad bike tours.
Rates: Family suites cost R6430 a night and garden suites from R2570 pppns, including breakfast and dinner.
The Nest Hotel
This well-known hotel has been operating since 1933 and loyal guests return every year. It’s also attracting new fans with its olde-worlde charm, delicious country-style food and warm ambience. Facilities include tennis, table tennis, volleyball, a bowling green, a swimming pool, hiking and biking trails and the Revive Spa. Time it right and you can join one of its three weekly yoga classes.
Bedrooms have tea and coffee stations, underfloor heating, a ceiling fan and a patio. The room rate includes breakfast and dinner, as well as the genteel delight of afternoon tea on the terrace. If you haven’t gone exploring at lunchtime, you can order from the terrace menu. Early dinners can be organised for parents with young children. A new feature is the kitchen garden developed by Chef Mpilo, who can now serve produce fresh from the earth.
Rates: Chic rondavels from R2324 per night for two guests and mountain view rooms from R2856 per night for two.
Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse
Intimate, romantic and serene are how Richard and Mouse Poynton describe Cleopatra, their lodge on the side of a dam near Giants Castle Nature Reserve.
Nature lovers can hike in the spectacular mountains to spot the buck and birdlife, swim in mountain pools or visit San rock art at Kamberg and Giants Castle. Horse riding and trout fishing are popular here too, while the newest development is the Copper Pot Spa, with an in-house therapist to pamper you.
Accommodation includes rooms, suites, cottages and the Cleopatra Homestead – a luxurious 5-bedroomed pad where you can self-cater or dine at the hotel. The menu changes every evening, and dinners created by award-winning Chef Richard are gourmet 5-course affairs. There’s also a well-stocked wine cellar to tempt you.
The new Copper Pot Coffee Shop is open to non-residents for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Rates: From R2250 pppns including dinner and breakfast.