Brew master Richard Chennells loves three things: people, music and beer – a pretty good combination for someone who owns a hotel. The Chennells family have owned this country gem for over twenty years and since 2006 “The George” in Eshowe has been the primary home of visiting musicians and artists in Eshowe. The George houses the local pub and supports musical performances all year long, with The Great Zululand Music Festival next- 11 bands, three venues over what should be an epic weekend, from April 20 -23.
It’s a hilly drive up from the coast to this rural town full of history. Friday afternoons sees queues at the atm`s and supermarkets, trading stores and pavement traders cashing in, and a veritable smorgasbord (there are strong Norwegian connections here), fond of the afternoon pub and music gatherings heading to the Pablo Escobar at The George Hotel.
Former teacher, turned musician, Dave Starke moved to Eshowe in 2007 and has since become a mainstay on the local music scene. He supplies instruments and equipment, ensures quality sound and can certainly hold a note (he appeared on The Voice South Africa) and a guitar.
Dave quipped “It always amazes me how many people have some sort of connection to this place and also how many interesting people live here – people like explorer, Kingsley Holgate, artist Diamond Bozas, retired sportsmen, professors, writers, dreamers and thinkers. It’s actually like a little cultural Mecca in the heart of Zululand and almost nobody knows about it. I hadn’t even heard of the place before I moved here ten years ago and now I can’t imagine living anywhere else!”
Built on the site of the British Residential Commissioner, Sir Charles Saunders' residency, The George, from its harpoon onward, presents is its own charming little world.
On arrival at the busy reception you immediately notice the amazing amount of historical and arty memorabilia decorating the passages, and the old arched walls of the library, packed with witty and informative literature about days gone by. Some is courtesy of the rich imagination of artist Peter Engblom, some dinkum, but after a few Blondes particulars seem superfluous.
Blondes? Yes, Zulu Blondes- Richard Chennells’ unique craft beer, brewed on the premises. On a previous visit he told me “the beer flows like the Tugela”. The Tugela in flood.
Since that visit a lot has changed and the floodwaters subsided. Or maybe that was because The George was chockablock with a national conference on the go- George style. Everyone looked most comfy in their casual, at home clothes. Nice. The conference stuff goes on in the front part, but at the back bar- a way off from the main building, people still go “full retard”, as Richard puts it.
We didn’t of course but mingled with attendees and locals and enjoyed what must be the best mutton curry I’ve had. So good I managed to score some takeaway helpings before checking out, thanks to the helpful staff.
My room upstairs, with a bathroom down the passage, was a turquoise blue with a wash stand and eclectic pictures of mixed race maidens in scanty forest poses with white daubed faces- most attention-getting. It’s the “orphan” as all the other, varied accommodation, is en-suite.
In the day we were out as the area offers a lot, including the annual Soap Box Derby for kids, Eshowe Hills Eco Estate and Country Club for golfers, shisanyama and quarts in town, the annual Ngoje Trail run for crazy people and plenty of bass and tilapia fishing.
The historical fort site with Lutheran church, art gallery, craft museum, restaurant, excellent Vukani Zulu Crafts Collection and butterfly dome is a must. Eshowe is prime butterfly and birding territory. We spent time in the Dlinza Forest, on the aerial boardwalk and the ground, in search of birds and some 80 butterfly species. Our best sighting, however, was the apparently elusive duikers that grazed around us when we took a breather.
For a breath of fresh air call 035 474 4919 and visit www.thegeorge.co.za