As summer starts disappearing, I can’t think of anything better than escaping the chilly city for a romantic weekend getaway, with big relaxing baths, plush beds, huge roaring fireplaces, warm fluffy duvets, and no intention to wake up at a “reasonable time”. With these thoughts in mind, we recently headed east to Mpumalanga, beyond the popular city-break destination of Dullstroom, to Akabeko Boutique Hotel.
“AKABEKO Boutique Hotel is a private property which is located in the heart of the First Generation Tait Family owned Cattle Ranch.
The 2000 ha Cattle Ranch is home to more than 500 Bonsmara Cattle, the same number of Marino sheep and 15 different Game Species. The Arabian horse stud “Abu Monia “ is named after Monia Tait who is the General Manager of AKABEKO. George Tait, owner and Entrepreneur of several local and international business entities has dreamt for years of building a Boutique Hotel of his own. The Family Ranch is located at 1900m above sea level in one of the most beautiful areas in Mpumalanga with it’s waved grass mountains that remind you of the Scottish highlands.
The dream became a reality in early 2016 when the Akabeko project was completed after 3 years of construction. AKABEKO is built in a valley with fantastic natural views on the river and mountain cliffs and a dense forest.
The name AKABEKO was chosen for its simple meaning that relates to the hundreds of “Red Cows” that roam around the farm.”
A Romantic Weekend Getaway
Though we’re only a quarter of the way into the new year, it seems that work is absolutely piling up! When the new year started, we made a promise to one another that we wouldn’t get toward the end of the year with the usual stresses and work madness driving us up the wall. It often meant that we had very little quality time to spend together. Not this year! This year we would take regular breaks, away from work, and with each other, as well as friends. When December rolls around this year, and our respective offices finally close, we won’t already be at our wit’s end!
So we’ve been making sure we set aside weekends here and there, plus the occasional long weekend break, to ensure we stay on an even keel and maintain sanity. When we were invited to enjoy a weekend in Mpumalanga, we were excited to tick off a new area of the country and visit a new boutique hotel we’d never heard of before – Akabeko!
Heading out on a Friday late afternoon, we arrived around 9pm and as such, missed a leisurely dinner in their on-site restaurant. We’d been snacking on the road and were happy to just head straight to our unit to relax and unwind. On arrival, we were warmly greeted by Monia, the manager, and Lukas, the chef. Monia took some time out to show us to our private suite, and give us a little intro and walk-through of the unit itself. This was helpful as the suite features quite a few extras that you might miss if not highly inquisitive.
One look at the huge sunken bath, and we knew what the first order of business would be. We soon found ourselves stretching out full-length in the gorgeous bath (which doubles as a splash pool in warmer months), looking up at the roof which boasts tiny twinkling lights, creating a sense of lying under the stars. It was a divine way to let go of the busy-ness of life and work. In no time at all, we sunk into the lovely bed and drifted away. Comforts galore!
The entire unit is surrounded by a wall of windows and I had opened all the curtains hoping the sun would wake us up the next morning. We did wake up as the light arrived but it was mostly cloudy on our first full day there. It may have been a blessing in disguise, as it allowed us to sleep in a bit more than usual. The sight was nevertheless something to behold! Sitting in bed with a cup of Nespresso, we looked out at the beautiful forest surrounding us. It seemed as if we may be the only people around. The feeling of privacy is incredible. Akabeko has only seven of these amazing suites, so you really do get a sense of having the place to yourself.
After a very leisurely start to the day, we finally headed to breakfast. Though you can request golf carts to ferry you between your unit and the restaurant, we took the opportunity to walk everywhere. This also allowed us some casual bird-spotting and to discover more of the property. Due to the hotel’s location in the outskirts of civilisation, signal and data can be hard to come by. For us, this is always a bonus when looking to get away from it all. There is wifi in the main building, if you’re dying to catch up on what’s going on in the world.
The reception area and restaurant are both beautifully put together. It’s easy to see that someone took a lot of time designing and decorating the hotel. Attention to detail and comfort is evident wherever you go. As it was a little cold, breakfast was inside, next to a roaring fire. We started off with a beautiful starter tray with orange juice, a cup of yoghurt, muesli & honey, and a selection of freshly cut fruit. After that, we had the option of choosing from the simple menu. I opted for a smoked salmon trout benedict, and Tall Dark & Handsome decided on the Akabeko breakfast, a selection of eggs, bacon, beef sausage, baked beans and tomato. All the while as we were breakfasting, the red Akabeko cow figurine stood at attention on our table, a most adorable “mascot”.
Obviously there would be golf, when Tall Dark & Handsome found out the property also boasts its own course. I decided to tag along to see more of the huge expanse, and to do some bird-watching and perhaps a little photography. The weather was not always in our favour but we persevered. A nice lunch break between nines was well-deserved, and we went back to our unit to warm up a bit and order some room service.
We spoke with Chef Lukas a few times during our stay, and he always chatted with us about how they prefer to stay away from “fine dining”, but rather serve unpretentious yet delicious fair. Our personal findings are that they opted for simple and traditional dishes, but always did them exquisitely well. Our room service meals arrived timeously and wonderfully warm: one home-made venison pie and one gourmet beef burger. The attention to detail and delivering consistently good food are welcome elements of dining at Akabeko. The home-made venison pie was a revelation, though so modest, and it immersed me in childhood memories of venison and shared family time.
After our lovely lunch, Tall Dark & Handsome insisted on finishing his last 9. By this time, it was raining ever so slightly and perhaps I should have stayed behind in the warmth of the unit, but I hated to miss out on time outside, and getting a lot of walking done. So golfing was finished, despite inclement weather. TDH certainly enjoyed the course and liked the challenge of playing somewhere new and unknown.
Being ever so slightly wet and cold, we decided to enjoy the lovely big en-suite shower. The units do feature outside showers but the weather was not conducive. It seemed we were just spending our time relaxing, eating and drinking. How could it be wrong when it felt so right?!
After a few cups of tea, we headed to dinner. This would be the finest meal (granted, amongst many) we enjoyed there. A deliciously prepared pan-seared rainbow trout for me, and an oven-roasted rack of lamb for TDH. We decided that all the “hard work” of the day certainly meant we deserved a starter, and before the mains arrived, we shared a plate of flavourful and beautifully buttery Blesbok carpaccio. I’ve mentioned this already but the lovely attention to detail is evident everywhere, and with the food especially. My main of pan-seared rainbow trout came with a garlic lemon butter sauce that remains the most incredible and gloriously garlicky lemon butter sauce I have had the privilege of tasting. I could not stop going on about it to Chef Lukas. Tall Dark & Handsome can be extremely critical of sides and somehow enjoyed the best potato chips he’s “ever had”. So there you have it.
We could not resist one more splash in the glorious bath and that’s how we ended our last night at Akabeko, before drifting off to dreamland, sinking away into the plush, feathery duvet. The sun finally made an appearance on our last morning there and we took some time to walk all over the property, before heading to breakfast. A small river runs below and along all the units, with a path that eventually leads to the restaurant. It is a lovely stroll.
With the sun shining, we had our last meal outside on the restaurant patio. I decided to choose something new and had an extremely generous and filling omelette, while TDH indulged his sweet-tooth and enjoyed the French toast breakfast. Chef Lukas came to sit with us and chatted about how he came to be at Akabeko, having quite an illustrious career all over the country. They definitely chose the right man for the job!
One of my favourite unusual elements was that the reception and restaurant always had LM Radio playing in the background, which offers a surprisingly awesome music selection.
As we said our farewells, we lingered in the suite having one last cup of tea, enjoying the views of forest and dappled sunlight. This was a tough farewell and we were sad to go. We certainly hope to visit Akabeko and the beautiful countryside around it again soon!
On the way back to Jozi, we stopped in Dullstroom to enjoy some of the sights and adventures this gorgeous town has to offer. More on that some other time!
Akabeko features a number of activities on the property itself such as golf, spa treatments, picnics, hikes, bird-viewing and fly-fishing. They are also working on a multi-day hike including rustic huts for overnights, but this is still in process. You will also spot some wildlife on the farm e.g. sable, springbok, duiker, steenbok, reindeer, huge hares, and maybe even a jackal or two. Dullstroom is nearby for beer- and whisky-tasting excursions, many more fishing opportunities, as well as a Birds of Prey rehabilitation centre. All of that, or simply spend your time relaxing and enjoying the food, natural beauty and tranquility.
A NOTE ON TRAVELLING: We did some night driving to get to the hotel, as we couldn’t leave work too early on the Friday. We would not recommend this course of action. See if you can take a day’s leave and depart early enough to arrive in daylight, or head out early on the Saturday. This is mostly because of the last stretch of road, which is currently not in the best condition. We would also recommend taking a vehicle with some clearance. We did manage with TDH’s extremely low-clearance vehicle but only just, as it had recently rained and there were a few ruts on the gravel stretch to the hotel. There are also quite a few trucks on the road toward the end, especially in the evening.
We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to George and Monia Tait, Chef Lukas as well as team members Bongani and Thabo for an amazing stay at this beautiful boutique hotel. It was a very special invitation to receive and we are privileged to have been hosted in such style.