A little while ago some friends and I decided we needed to take a break from the hustle and bustle of Jo’burg, which can get a tad much for us Durbanites at times, let me tell you. We knew we wanted to go to the Drakensberg, because let’s face it, it’s the best place in the world, but other than that, we weren’t too fixed on a destination. So I let Google work its wonders, and out popped Drakensberg Mountain Retreat. Retreat you say? Sold!
Drakensberg Mountain Retreat is in the Northern Drakensberg, pretty much equidistant between Johannesburg and Durban. There are two accommodation options on offer – self-catering in The Zonderntwyfel Barnhouse, ideal for big groups, and dinner, bed and breakfast in Vergezient Lodge, where there are a variety of rooms in various configurations to suit different budgets and sleeping arrangements. Since we were planning a weekend of doing as little as possible, we jumped at the dinner, bed and breakfast option and booked into the lodge.
If views are what you’re after, then this is definitely the destination for you. Drakensberg Mountain Retreat is situated on a ridge overlooking the Drakensberg and Maluti Mountains, and the lodge is built in such a way as to maximise the panoramic views, with windows being a dominant design feature. Of course, in the true spirit of Murphy’s Law, the mist and rain rolled in shortly after we arrived on Friday afternoon and stayed put until after our departure on Sunday morning, so we only got a brief glimpse of those beautiful mountains, but we knew they were out there. Along with a group of exquisite wild horses that showed up just before the rain did. For visitors with better luck in the weather department, there are plenty of walking and hiking trails in the area that afford an even better opportunity to take in the scenery. Truthfully, we aren’t really the hiking kind, so the rain didn’t ruin all that much for us.
The lodge is full of cosy little seating areas where you can curl up with a book or a cup of coffee (available freely all day from the coffee station, along with the most delicious rusks and biscuits). There is also an indoor garden and an indoor pool, perfect for wet weather situations. The little indoor garden proved a lifesaver for the kids we were travelling with, although if you’re looking for one of those all-inclusive resorts where every minute of your child’s time will be accounted for by pony rides, crafts and sundry other activities, Drakensberg Mountain Retreat is not for you.
The rooms are also wonderfully appointed. I booked the smallest room in the lodge, and it was still very spacious, housing a comfy double bed, seating area, and en suite bathroom without being at all cluttered. The only thing detracting from a perfect night’s sleep was the thunderstorm raging outside. An essential part of the Berg’s charm.
And charming is what the owners of Drakensberg Mountain Retreat are. The husband and wife team make sure they are attentive without being intrusive, and even agreed to arrange a special little non-alcoholic champagne treat for my teetotaller friend’s birthday…and then made a plan to repair her birthday cake after all the icing slid off on the dirt road. The food is home-cooked, plentiful and tasty. Each evening sees a set menu being served but if you spot something you don’t fancy when the menu is posted earlier in the day, they will provide something else. Case in point, on the second night we shyly mentioned that two of us did not eat the lamb on offer and said we would gladly have a repeat of the previous evening’s meal, not wanting to be an inconvenience. The chef vetoed our offer to eat leftovers and promptly prepared us some perfectly-done steaks. Yum.
All in all, it was a wonderfully restorative weekend in a place that feels as if it’s completely isolated from the world. The only downside was actually getting there. There is a disclaimer on their website regarding Retief’s Pass being a dirt road, with variable conditions during bad weather. However, the real problem is the R74, which has done so much damage to tourism in the Northern Drakensberg. The road is in such a state of disrepair as to hardly be a road at all, and it certainly takes careful navigating. The only way to avoid it entirely is a more than 150km detour, but the worst section can be avoided by turning off onto the dirt road sooner. This has its own perils after a stretch of wet weather, but is still preferable. And of course, it’s always good for me to be reminded that actually, an Atos is NOT an all-terrain vehicle, as much as I may treat Meredith like one (and then have to pay the price of new tyres). The loveliness of the picturesque Drakensberg Mountain Retreat outweighs the negative of the roads, and for anyone with a vehicle slightly more substantial than mine, it shouldn’t be as much of a problem. Definitely worth a visit.