Pack your overnight bag, make sure you have comfortable shoes and head off to open spaces and fresh air, on Route 103. The Midlands Meander has long been a favourite getaway for anyone wanting a short soiree or just some time away from the madness of everyday life but it seems that its more the visitors to our sunny shores that are enjoying the experience far more than the locals these days.
We went off to find out why and one of the main reasons we could see for this is that with so many choices it’s not easy to decide how to pack it all in for a weekend. This can be a good thing though, it just means you have to go back, again . And again.
We decided to simplify and just stick to the easy access and convenient stops along the beautiful drive that is the R103. Whether you’re from the Cape or Gauteng this picturesque route can easily be fit into your calendar whether its en route to Durban or even as an individual getaway. The route we chose is perfect for a two or three day getaway to recharge those batteries and enjoy a bit of country hospitality. As for people in KZN this is ideal as it’s not too far from home yet you’re easily transported to another place in time. And besides, everyone needs just that small break away to re-energise and feel rejuvenated. We’re always talking about how amazing Cape Town is, yet the same is true for KZN, less than two hours away and you’re in paradise.
Leaving from Durban we made our first stop in Hilton, of course, this was to satisfy a ‘sweet craving’ for Tasha’s Fudge which is based there, but first we stopped at the pretty coffee shop Jaxx at Hilton Village. It was not just the friendly staff and great service that made us linger longer than we needed to, but the location at the old Hilton quarry had us enjoying the ambience of the early morning surrounded by blooming flowers and the sound of birds chirping in the trees. From here we were off to Waterford Manor in Rosetta and the main reason for this was so that we could pick out the places we wanted to stop at along the way and then make the stops backwards toward Durban.
But of course, you cannot drive the Meander without doing just that…so we meandered off the road every so often to greet the Howick Falls and to stop in at Fern Hill Hotel, where Chef Alex Poltera suggested we MUST make a stop at one, Farmers Daughter restaurant. Our next stop was Florentines Belgian Chocolate shop and to say this was chocolate nirvana would be an understatement. All the products are made on the premises and the aromas that greet you on arrival are heavenly. Right next door and just in time for lunch was Farmers Daughter, wow…this is all I can say. Make sure you’re not in a rush because it’s not just the food that is amazing but the decor and setting are something else too. After a satisfying lunch it was off to the Mandela Capture site.
This is of special interest as it is the exact spot at which Mandela was captured before he began his 27 year long incarceration. The sculpture with its 50 steel columns was erected in 2012 in commemoration of the 50 years since the arrest and capture of our beloved Madiba. This event was to change the course of our history. The talented Italian artist Marco Cianfanelli is responsible for the remarkable design which when viewed from the road looks like just some steel columns rising up from the ground, but when you stand in the correct position, the profile of Mandela comes into view and makes for a spectacular sight. The walk from the top of the driveway down to the monument is aptly called The Long Walk To Freedom, as it is quite a way down from the Apartheid Museum which serves as the entry way to the site. The plaque on the ground which is quite faded now is the perfect spot to stand on in order to view the sculpture in all its glory.
We loved the quiet and serenity of the place and with construction ongoing to relocate the museum we’re quite certain that this will definitely be a stop on any trip to the area. For the moment though, it seems that the majority of visitors are foreigners or schools, we think everyone should go out there just to see this amazing marvel right on our doorstep.
We chose probably the hottest day to make our Long Walk To Freedom so we were quite tired and thirsty after the trek and promptly made our way to Piggly Wiggly for some refreshments. Now, Piggly Wiggly is unique in that it offers a taste of all that the area has to offer, there are candle shops and restaurants and clothing boutiques and of course, Meander Fine Wines is here too. The thing is though, so many people drive all the way out here and think, this is it, we’ve seen the Meander when in fact there is so much more than just this stop. Sure, spend as much time as you like here, it is pretty and has a really nice feel, but then go further. Just past Piggly Wiggly is Spiral Blue, now its not for everyone but this cute shop with its flavour of the East is a pleasant surprise. You can pick up beautiful silver jewellery or if you have a penchant for the ‘boho chic’ style there are harem pants and hair bands and all sorts of unusual items. I just loved browsing in this store, and may have bought an item or two.
We eventually made our way to Rosetta and checked in at the most beautiful Waterford Manor, along the banks of the Mooi River. After exploring the grounds a bit,we thought we would have an early dinner and then be back on the road early the next morning. Waterford Manor is a B & B so we set off to the Rosetta Hotel, a typical 1850’s colonial style property. The buildings have elements of their original charm and grace and is in the process renovation which we are sure will restore them to their former glory. As we arrived we were greeted by friendly locals who were happy to offer us a drink and made sure to make us feel welcome. Meals are supersized here, typical country portions I am told and the atmosphere was warm and welcoming. This is no five star establishment, if you’re looking for a gourmet experience, this is not it. But if you want to meet local people, have a bit of a laugh and get to understand the area better, this is the place to come. We were told later, that if anyone in the area was looking for their plumber or electrician, chances are they would find them here.
Next up was The Wine Cellar, what a special place. Totally unpretentious and unassuming. It’s a family run business since 1996 and boasts some of the most special wines in the country. The daughter, Sarah, has spent many years in the Cape on various wine farms and is now back home and trying her hand at growing her own. She has some Cabernet Franc, Shiraz and two experimental vines of Chambourcin. The Wine Cellar also has its own, state of the art, wine tasting and preserving machine which guarantees that you get a fresh sample every time. You can also select whether you want a full glass or just a taste. The tasting room at the Wine Cellar is almost always fully booked and we’re sure it’s not just the wines that make it popular but the service from both mother Margie and daughter Sarah make this one place that cannot be overlooked.
Now what is wine without cheese, so without further ado it was off to Marrakesh Cheese. Greeted by the friendly smile of Chris we were straight into a cheese tasting that changed my mind about a few cheeses. At Marrakesh all the cheese is made from cows milk. Chris Coetzer, an accountant by profession traded in his suit and tie and opted for a slower paced life in the KZN Midlands and the cheese world is a better place for it. Originally, he and his wife, Sue started out with their own herd of goats and made both goat and cow cheeses but Chris decided that his passion was in the actual making of the cheese and not necessarily the rearing and caretaking of the animals so he decided rather to ‘buy in’ the best quality milk he could get and concentrate on his passion. Chris gets all his milk from the Weston Agricultural College for boys. He has a few varieties including gorgonzola, creamy chevin and even a feta and pecorino. The cheeses are exceptionally good, I initially declined a tasting but had to try the chevin and was completely delighted by it. I also thoroughly enjoyed the brie. There is a variety of jams and preserves for sale, all made by Sue on the premises and my favourite is the strawberry jam. Marrakesh products are now available at Wonder Market in Durban if you really can’t make it to the farm.
Next up it was The Bierfassl for a quick lunch in Nottingham Road, well known for its German cuisine, how could we not stop. Their crispy eisbein is legendary and comes in three different sizes. Also on offer is a huge selection of international beers, but how can you come all the way to this area and not visit The Nottingham Road Brewery. So after lunch that was exactly where we headed for a refreshing thirst quencher. The brewery has been around since before the mid 90’s, long before ‘craft beer’ became en vogue and their handcrafted brews have been making beer lovers happy ever since. The secret to their success is, passion. The brewery prides itself on a vast variety of beers made from water drawn from a well on the grounds.
Not too far away and a stop that is definitely a must is Born In Africa, it offers everything from a wedding venue to the most delicious locally made liqueurs. Ask for a tasting and make sure the Chocolate Fudge is included, simply sublime. We’re told that some customers leave here with a bottle and a straw, so delicious is it. The large building past the wedding venue is where you can find all of these delights including some beautifully handmade leather bags and shoes. Everything is made right here on the premises and we were lucky enough to get a peek at the liqueurs still in the fermentation process and the area where the bags are made.
Route 103 has lots to offer all you need is a little time and some planning, but that’s not to say that this is all there is of the Midlands Meander, we just wanted to Ride Route 103 to find out how much fun you can cram in to 2 or 3 days. If you have more time though, or if you enjoy the R103 so much and must go back, then try other routes, there are places like Culamoya Chimes in Lidgetton where we’re told that not only do the hills sing to you but on a clear day the view is so wondrous you could probably see all the way to Durban. Or try the award winning Ardmore Ceramics whose work has been described by Christies as ‘modern day collectibles’. Ardmore is more than just a ceramic design studio, it takes pride in creating jobs for the region and Over the years, Ardmore’s artists have won numerous awards and exhibited both locally and internationally. Ardmore artworks feature in leading galleries and collections, including the Museum of Art & Design in New York and the Museum of Cultures in Basel, Switzerland.
There are many wonders both along the route and just off it, the idea is to just make the time to explore it. There are great places along the way from where you can either enjoy a bite to eat or enjoy a view, like Blueberry Hill Cafe and Art Gallery, directly across the road from the gracious Fordoun Hotel and Spa or Cafe Bloom in Rosetta with its eclectic decor and ‘canteen’ concept kitchen with its own kitchen garden, you know you’re enjoying the freshest and best of the country on your plate. The places to enjoy a meal are many and Skye at Fordoun or Sapore offers you the best of fine dining in a country setting.
The KZN Midlands are glorious in the winter but offer a perfect getaway at anytime of the year. Route 103 is perfect if you’re short on time and just need a quick recharge of your batteries and although once is never going to be enough to experience all that the region has to offer, Route 103 is the ideal introduction to all the delights in the area and make you want to come back for more