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Return to not-so-Little Switzerland

Published Aug 13, 2015

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Durban - Christmas came early this year, in the form of an invitation to Christmas in July at Little Switzerland high up in the Northern Drakensberg.

Apart from the prospect of a festive time, I had long had a yen to return to the place where I spent happy times as a youngster in the 1970s, and was dismayed to read a few years ago that the road from Harrismith and up Oliviershoek Pass was in such a state that the hotel had been forced to close, with only the timeshare units in operation.

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That, thankfully, changed at the beginning of this year, and I have to say that the KwaZulu-Natal side of Oliviershoek Pass is one of the smoothest road surfaces I’ve driven on.

My first impression was that Little Switzerland is not so little, though it remains one of the smaller Berg resorts. I didn’t recognise a thing and it wasn’t until owner/director Christopher Mumby showed me photos in Robbers Rooste Bar and explained the changes, that I got my bearings.

The hotel was abuzz with preparations for Christmas, with Carol Ann Mumby directing extensive décor operations. For a hotel that reopened just six months ago, it was impressively full with dozens of returning guests, of which featured entertainer Dozi was one, warmly welcomed by the Mumbys and the super staff.

It turns out that Little Switzerland is pretty much where Dozi’s career began about 18 years ago, so he’s part of the extended family. He performed a quiet set in Robbers Rooste before dinner, with an opskop of note thereafter, as well as after Christmas dinner.

One memory from my youth that was intact was the humungous buffet spread. That goes for breakfasts too. Á la carte lunches on the deck under the winter sun were varied and very good – probably the best fish cakes I’ve had, and the halloumi salad was excellent too. The beautifully presented Christmas menu was extensive, as was the wine list.

If Dozi was a gas, quadbiking and dirt track go-karting were equally so.

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The hotel rooms overlook the bowling green, tennis court and stables, before a drop-off into the valley with panoramic views towards the Amphitheatre in the distance. In front of our executive suite was a large pond with its weaver colony island, from which kids of all ages reeled in surprisingly large quantities of trout, while the resident zebra ignored all visitors, save one who admires himself in the glass doors. The gorgeous vistas are worth savouring and we would have sat for ages had there not been so much exploring to do.

Hikes and mountain biking up and over the escarpment above the resort are well worth it. Fishing and 4x4 excursions can also be arranged (with a large cooler box, of course) which the blokes often enjoy while the fairer folk indulge in some spa treatments. We did the 4x4 bit, with farm manager Raymond Ruiter tackling some challenging routes – one in the valley below and one up high – to get an idea of the extent of the property.

Chris Mumby has, over decades, bought up surrounding farms to ensure no unsightly developments spoil the views and the resulting 3 500 hectares is an undeclared nature reserve, stretching all the way to Sterkfontein Dam and is home to various antelope.

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Sterkfontein Dam is where Little Switzerland guests revel in summer, if they’re not lounging around the hotel pool.

In winter though, we were thankful for the underfloor heating in our large suite. The self-catering units also have underfloor heating in the bedrooms, plus fireplaces and arguably the best views. Whichever you choose, you won’t be sorry.

Call 036 438 2500 and visit Little Switzerland’s Facebook page.

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Adrian Rorvik, Sunday Tribune

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