Johannesburg - Sometimes, as the song goes, the city seems to be without a friendly face, a lonely place… and at times like these you need to take that special person and head for the hills to avoid the madness of the world.
Those hills, for me, have been the Magaliesberg and, on occasion, the Pilanesberg – both close enough to Joburg to make an easy drive, both far away enough to lose yourself in nature.
One of my favourites is the Valley Lodge & Spa, which is a premier country hideaway surrounded by a nature reserve and bird sanctuary. I’ve been there before and recall being relaxed and chilled when I came back to the city.
But that was more than 10 years ago, so I was interested to see how, or if, things had changed. So when the invite came, it was a no-brainer…
The 76 rooms have recently been refurbished, and new rooms and a spa have been added. During the World Cup in 2010, Valley Lodge was the home base for the Portuguese national football team.
We visited during a chilly spell and, on arrival on Friday night, we walked through the huge lounge area with fires burning in three hearths, with a few of the guests enjoying the heat. There was a cosy, warm home feeling, with the daily newspapers and some magazines scattered here and there; a nice area to relax before or after dinner.
Our superior garden room was lovely and warm, for the maids had turned down the room for the evening, turned up the aircon and placed chocolates on the pillowcases, and the under-floor heating was turned on in the bathroom.
The bed, a king-size with crisp white sheets, fluffy pillows and a dark brown duvet, was so big it took Jackie an hour to find me. After a joint bath and relaxing in the fluffy dressing gowns and slippers, we adjourned to supper.
Dinner was buffet style (the lodge is known for its culinary innovation and expertise, and its walk-in wine cellar) and we were both ravenous. With the piano player tinkling away in the corner, we finished off with an Irish coffee in the warm lounge.
After a sumptuous breakfast, we strolled the streets of the town of Magaliesberg, looking for a pharmacy. The female pharmacist helped us out with a lovely country charm. The town is worth a walk through and the locals greet you, although you have to remember they close early at the weekends.
We returned for a spa treatment and I am not keen on being manhandled by women I don’t know. But this was brilliant and I could feel those knots in my neck and shoulder being worked out.
Afterwards, feeling as loose and relaxed as a piece of spaghetti, we walked around the lawns and dam. The birds were singing in the trees… if you’re a bird watcher it’s worth a day trip for Sunday lunch, and take your book with for there are many different birds to see.
I was surprised by the number of improvements at Valley Lodge. Recreational and sporting activities provide every possible opportunity for pleasure and relaxation, be it on the billiards or pool tables or at the bar with a big-screen TV. You could also enjoy a cool beer with friends, or throw a dart or two.
There are tennis courts, a gym, crochet or nature walks, which include Stone Age ruins. Whether you’re relaxing at the poolside or admiring the rich scenery with its prolific bird and plant life, you will leave feeling revitalised.
Best of all, though, was the fact that, in making things better, Valley Lodge hasn’t lost the very high standards that the owners set for themselves, and the staff have not only been sustained but improved.
www.valleylodge.co.za - Saturday Star