By Wren Mast-Ingle
Johannesburg - “It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of the air, that emanation from the old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”
You can’t help recall the quote from Robert Louis Stevenson as you take your reluctant leave from Highgrove House, a place in the trees, a place that can only be described as having a soul.
Just off the main road between White River and Hazyview in Mpumalanga, Highgrove House has just won recognition from the AA Accommodation Awards as being the best country retreat in SA.
Not difficult to understand why.
Even as we wound up the entrance road, first through towering bluegums and then a comforting canopy of jacarandas, we felt our Gauteng stress evaporating.
Entering the old farmstead, now transformed into an elegant country lodge under the watchful eye of owner Kathy Russell, one is caught between the breathtaking view across lush gardens over the orchards and the tasteful furnishings highlighted by a fine collection of antiques and Persian carpets in the reception rooms.
Our garden suite – one of eight nestling among exotic plants and imposing trees – had an Out of Africa ambience and combined old-style luxury with modern comfort.
Beyond the glass doors of the lounge, a private pool verges on a forest beyond. The bedroom, with its king-size bed with pure cotton sheets and a down duvet, is framed by a bay window allowing a panoramic view.
Wandering around the gardens and orchards, it was hard to imagine that a certain Colonel Wicks carved a chilli farm from the untamed bushveld here more than a century ago. Highgrove House was established as a five-star lodge in 1991. Kathy bought it five years ago after she fell in love with it.
As a city girl, she traded in her high heels for gumboots and entered unknown territory by becoming a beekeeper on the 64ha farm.
“I learnt about the importance of bees in maintaining a healthy balance and it is a natural fit with the farming of avocados and macadamia nuts. In addition we have an organic garden providing many of our signature dishes with wonderfully fresh ingredients,” Kathy explained.
That evening we found out what she meant.
A sherry was accompanied by the most delicate and tasty sesame seed croquettes and feta spinach bites as a precursor to dinner. The delicacies were served by executive chef Shaunne Cordier, who has developed a unique style of cooking after working with some great chefs around the globe.
In the elegant dining room, aptly named The Royal, we began the feast in earnest.
The menu featured sweet potato and apple soup finished with beetroot sauce; fresh homemade tomato and mozzarella tarts drizzled with balsamic reduction and an intermezzo of pawpaw.
I settled for cumin- and mint-rubbed fillet of pork on a bed of sautéed zucchini complemented with mustard and white wine sauce, while my partner chose fresh fillet of east coast sole accompanied by sautéed mushrooms, croutons and a lemon butter sauce. The finale was chocolate espresso cake finished with a berry compôte and home-made vanilla ice cream.
I’ve travelled a lot in my time, and I am regarded by my friends as no slouch when it comes to cooking… and I rated this among the best meals I’ve had.
Later in the evening we enjoyed a sauna before going to bed. Bright and early we were called for our scheduled massages. Highgrove offers a peaceful spa with a range of body massages and beauty treatments that can be taken in your suite or on the patio overlooking the orchards.
At the gazebo, the full buffet breakfast was a delight. As we enjoyed locally produced honey and other homegrown products, we took in the view of the mountains.
I was reminded of another Stevenson quote: “To forget oneself is to be happy…”
l Wren Mast-Ingle was a guest of Highgrove House
Tel 083 675 1500 or 082 218 0058
Deluxe package from R2 035 a person a night sharing, including five-course dinner and pre-dinner snacks and spa with a voucher for a back and neck couple’s massage.
Bed and breakfast rate R1 250 a person a night sharing. - Saturday Star