Weekend breakaway in the country to recharge and relax
The fresh air, glorious views and the slower pace of life make a break at Walkersons Hotel & Spa something to savour
The storm brews slowly, with isolated flashes of lightning that I might have only dreamed.
It finally bursts 5.30am, when I’m woken by rain sleeting against the windows, the boneshaking boom of thunder and the room bright with strobes of lightning. I watch from the windows, but the scenery has disappeared under thick mist that hides the gentle hills and a weir over Lunkliprivier near Dullstroom. Crawling back under the heavy duvet is blissful, and I’m looking forward to a wet weather day so I can lounge around this cottage at Walkersons Hotel, reading a book, drinking hot chocolate and maybe shooting some pool.
By the time we stroll out for the 20 minute walk to the main hotel for breakfast, the sun has burned off the mist, puddles of water are evaporating and we pause to watch a herd of zebra and a curious young foal.
It’s the perfect day for a hike around the grounds, and I’m admiring the hills of Mpumalanga when the ladies behind me squeal and tell me I just stomped on a crab. I’m horrified. We double back and find it sitting unharmed on the grass, its black pincers waving in angry chastisement. I crouch down to apologise and let him nip my fingers, then guard him as he ventures determinedly across the path again.
Walkersons Hotel & Spa has long been a popular retreat for Gautengers wanting a quick break without a major investment in time or effort. We’d arrived in an unhurried three hours, pulling off the highway at Belfast and driving back in time to this stately home of sherry decanters, dark wooden panels brightened up with tapestries and log fires burning at the first whiff of mist.
It’s actually not that old, built in 1993 and now owned by Geoff Engel and Dandre Lerm-Engle, who have added various new cottages to appeal to multi-generational families, groups of friends or business people holding a secluded bosberaad.
Our group took over Waterfall Cottage, a misleading name since it’s more of a mansion, with huge windows to admire the expansive views, a full kitchen, and an open-plan lounge and dining area leading onto the terrace.
There are five en-suite bedrooms, and mine had a bath and a shower, a working area, sliding wardrobes that glide so smoothly you can hear the newness, and that comfy bed that’s hard to leave on rainy mornings.
Our walk takes us past Whispering Waters, which has just been added to the accommodation options for larger groups. Its double storey picture windows, luxurious furniture and quirky touches in the décor are impressive enough to almost turn this city girl into a country living person.
Dullstroom is famous as a fly fishing centre, and Walkersons has several trout-filled dams to challenge you. Bongani Mahlungu patiently teaches novices the art, or does what he can in the face of sheer incompetence, rescuing your hook and line from the bushes behind or the reeds in front while the trout playfully surface to take a look and taunt you.
There are bikes to borrow too, and a natural looking swimming pool hidden in a dip below the lawns. The pool was too chilly for my cold-averse body, so I alerted the spa instead and asked them to fire up the steam room.
First I had a massage, with the usual soothing background music of chanting monks and a view over the gardens. Then three of us basked in the steam room until we were so warm and relaxed we figured it was time to cool down with a glass of bubbly.
The food and drinks at Walkersons are a major attraction, especially once you slip into that relaxed attitude where you don’t do much all day except look forward to the next meal.
Newly promoted head chef Natasha Smit creates some superb dishes, serving lunch on the patio and four-course suppers in the elegant Flying Scotsman dining room. Highlights one evening were Moroccan Bean Soup with herb lassi, oven roasted duck on spiralled potatoes with cranberry and port jus, and wobbly pink strawberry panna cotta with fruit salsa.
Breakfast can scupper any grand plans you might have for catching up on some work, if you opt for the Scottish influence of kippers marinated in whisky or porridge oats generously doused with whisky. I drank the oats, and giggled for the rest of the morning.
General manager Kate Christie has been at Walkersons for a while, and is plotting ways to add different attractions to extend its appeal. An organised trip into nearby Dullstroom with a vehicle and a designated driver, perhaps, to visit the Wild About Whisky tasting centre.
That sort of thing would definitely appeal, but nothing more hectic. The country air, glorious views and the slower pace of life make a break here something to savour, not to cram full of activities.
Stones was a guest of Walkersons Hotel & Spa.