Jozi Food Whore

One short food whore, one long adventure

Weekend Breakaway: Escape to Champagne Valley

 

 

Ever since our Epic Road Trip last year, I have a renewed hunger for travel that cannot be sated. When friends of ours announced they were getting married and it would mean journeying to the Drakensberge, I congratulated them as well as myself! Huzzah.

 

 

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So off we travelled one Thursday evening after work (a rare night-time drive for us) to spend a long weekend in Champagne Valley. There is so much to do in the region that we ended up promising ourselves to return to do hiking and visit all the important markers, as we’d be quite caught up in wedding events to really see all the sights!

 

 

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You just need to hit the Wikipedia page for the Drakensberge to get a sense of the grandiose and epic scale of this beautiful part of South Africa.

 

 

Wikipedia says: “The Drakensberg escarpment stretches for over 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) from the Eastern Cape Province in the South, then successively forms, in order from south to north, the border between Lesotho and the Eastern Cape and the border between Lesotho and KwaZulu-Natal Province. Thereafter it forms the border between KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State, and next as the border between KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga Province. It winds north, through Mpumalanga, where it includes features such as the Blyde River Canyon, Three Rondavels and God’s Window. It moves north again above Tzaneen in Limpopo Province, where it includes the WolkbergMountains and Iron Crown Mountain, at 2,200 m (7,200 ft) above sea level, the Wolkberg being the highest mountain range in Limpopo. It veers west again and at Mokopane it is known as the Strydpoort Mountains.”

 

 

Clearly, absolutely epic! We found ourselves in only a tiny part of this massive range, staying at Ardmore Guest Farm. We really enjoyed the gorgeous location and the abundance of bird life and generally quiet, relaxed atmosphere of the farm.

 

 

Ardmore provides cozy farm-style, bed-and-breakfast accommodation on a beautiful FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) certified, organic timber farm.  We have a total of 16 units to choose from, with 1, 2 or 3 bedrooms in either one of our recently-renovated garden-facing studios or one of several mountain-facing cottages. All our units have en-suite bathrooms with Jacuzzi spa baths and wood fireplaces (firewood provided). There is also a fridge and tea/coffee making facilities in every room.

 

 

Easy to find, well-marked, we had no trouble at all even though we only arrived at 11pm. A short part of the road is on gravel but it’s a great road and we had no problem navigating it even in a very low clearance vehicle. (The Ossemwa got the weekend off this time). We had also informed them of our arrival time and found a guard ready and waiting to open the gate for us, check us in and hand over the keys to our unit, as well as taking the time to direct us exactly to our spot and the correct place to park. Very useful after a long drive! Nothing like experiencing hassles checking in when you’re tired, so this was a pleasure!

 

 

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We had booked a cosy rondavel at the edge of the property, and as we walked in we were pleasantly surprised by a lovely “swan towel” display on the bed. This was a nice touch and felt like a real warm welcome, especially at that time of the night. Despite it being November, we were very happy to see the fireplace as the weather has been quite unseasonable of late, even in Gauteng. We had already braced for cold mountain weather.

 

 

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Ardmore Guest Farm has great views and landscapes but they are not quite as epic as the Wits End or Champagne Castle spots around the corner (about 10 – 15 minutes’ drive). We did enjoy the expanse of the property, and walked around here and there, to the dam and back and to check out some of the other types of accommodation they offer. It’s a massive property, though, and we didn’t have time to hike most of the paths and trails. We spent a good deal of time at their dam, attempting to fish, but it’s pretty heavily weeded (which is a pity!) so fishing is difficult. We could spot a number of bass but they were wise, only grabbing at lures, flukes and rapalas once before never looking at it again. We had a few good takes but did not manage to pull anything in.

 

 

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On one of our meanders during our time at Ardmore, we got to inspect one of the garden-facing units (the next series of photos below), which seem to be in a block of converted stables. They are more modern units with all new furnishings. Though our unit had lovely rustic furnishings, we would definitely love to go back and check out the newer garden units too. Nevertheless, we really enjoyed our stay in the rondavel, and had a great bed (the most important part).

 

 

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The continental breakfast is nothing too spectacular but it does the job just fine and the produce is fresh and flavourful, though someone needs to teach the cook how to crisp up bacon! Personally, I’d like to see more places offer really good home-made breads (rye, seed, Ouma’s home-made bread) rather than just white and brown shop-bought loaves, as was the case here too.

 

 

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Some of the best elements:

    • Coffee and tea station! Thank goodness cause we are massively into tea and coffee drinking.
    • The fire place! It must be a dream come true in the middle of winter but even in November, we felt happy to light the fire one night and feel toasty in our rondavel, as it was surprisingly chilly.
    • Fishing rods, bicycles and other items to borrow at no cost while staying there. That was a really nice “part of the family” element.
    • Beautiful landscapes and lots to explore – you could spend a long weekend there and still not be finished exploring the property alone, never mind all the Drakensberge has to offer.
    • Lots to do for the whole family. Ardmore is equipped with tons of options to entertain e.g. swimming pools, volleyball nets, pool table, foosball, bar, walks and paths, and fishing. They must be solidly booked in the December holidays. They also give you loads of information on adventures and things to do in the surrounding area.
    • Fresh milk in our bar fridge when we arrived. This was my best and favourite special touch! This wonderful thoughtfulness makes so much of a difference when all you want is a cup of tea or coffee and you need a drop of milk but you forgot to bring any.
    • A decently firm bed. Nothing makes me want to cry more than falling into a ridiculously old, soft, saggy bed. Though the bed had nothing on our mattress at home (firmer than a Catholic school nun), we were comfortable anyway.

 

 

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There were a few tweaks we felt that Ardmore could apply to their older units that would make it just a little bit more polished.

  • Doors don’t stay open or don’t stay closed. We could not find a single door in our unit that would both open *and* close properly. Only one of the two options was available. And so we were constantly bolstering doors, or blocking them from swinging shut, and in some cases (bathroom door!) it was just not possible to close it at all.
  • Lace curtains. It’s either dark inside or you can open the curtains but then have no privacy. Lace curtains would make a huge difference in letting light in while still giving you space. The bed, for example, is directly visible from the big porch door, and you’re also likely to get dressed in the main part of the unit, rather than in the bathroom.
  • More tea bags, please! The best tea we had anywhere, though it seemed to be just plain Five Roses (maybe it’s the water?) but we didn’t have enough and needed to supplement with our own stash.
  • Good coffee and a plunger. Though I know it’s standard to get instant coffee, I feel it just adds a tiny bit of class when there are sachets of filter coffee as well as a French press. I’m aware this is hardly ever the case and as a result, travel with my coffee and travel plunger mug (gift from an Australian friend and the best thing I ever travel with) everywhere I go.

 

 

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Final verdict? We loved it. Being outdoors, plenty of birds to spot and identify, long walks and the possibility of fishing, as well as stunning nature and landscapes everywhere you look, we will definitely be back again, hopefully sooner rather than later. It makes for a lovely romantic weekend away. If you like your accommodation polished to the max, then this might not be the place for you. As frequent campers, we don’t usually take issue with minor details and have learned how to make sure we have our absolute necessities with us (spare milk, coffee, tea as examples). I would recommend it and ask you to let me know how you enjoyed your stay.

 

 

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