Roll On Rovos
If you’re anything of an avid “E News” follower, you will recall a Rand Merchant Bank ad from a few years back, celebrating one of the great entrepreneurial achievements of our time. Rovos Rail was the brainchild of Rohan Vos, who first conceived of a train trip in 1985 to rival the trans-European Orient Express and South Africa’s Blue Train, pioneering journeys across the plains and valleys of the Africa that inspired the writings of Karen Blixen, Ryder Haggard, James Fox and, in more recent times, Wilbur Smith. It was Hartford’s delight to host the founder’s daughter, Brenda Vos and her partner, Adrian Fitchet a short while back; it appears the experience was right up the street of those whose playground is defined by the adventures of a would-be traveller on Rovos Rail. This is what Brenda had to say:
"On the odd occasion, when our luxury trains release us from their pretty green clutches, we get to experience the magic of the local tourism industry. I was fortunate enough to experience one of the best that KwaZulu-Natal has to offer, Hartford House, which is described as "the home of good conversation, fine wine and classic horses". Three of my most favourite things.
Hartford House is situated on one of the world's premier stud farms, Summerhill, owned by Mick and Cheryl Goss. Meeting some of the highest earning race horses in the world like Ato, Brave Tin Soldier and Visionaire was thrilling as they epitomise power and strength and are also very handsome! I got to spend a special moment with one of the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen, Await The Dawn, who sadly passed in October this year. He was the first stallion I met on my tour of Summerhill and he took my breath away. He was also the only one gracious enough to let me stroke him.
On arrival at Hartford we were shown to Nhlanhla, one of the lakeside suites, which in Zulu means 'good luck, happiness and warm feelings'. This suite is built of amabhele hay bales, one of nature's most natural forms, and opens up onto a well stocked lake; a trout fisherman's delight. The thatch roof, the blazing fire and the enormous copper bath tub ensured cosy days reading, fishing or gazing out at more than 3,000 acres of paddocks that are home to over 300 horses.
I could wax lyrical about this beautiful property for days but there were two things that really stood out for me – the staff and the cuisine. Being in the hospitality industry, I know how tough it is to get these essentials right and I was more than impressed by both.
Hartford House was home to one of South Africa's most talented chef's, Jackie Cameron, and after making our way through two five-course dinners we can understand why so many prestigious accolades have been awarded.
Our dinner menu on evening two was made of delicious treats such as beer steamed mielie bread, "wayfarer" trout with ‘braai'ed potato salad, "wonderbag" cooked wild boar and finally a granadilla, chocolate almond dragees with whipped mead and a hint of gold. All ingredients are sourced from organic farms in the Midlands and each course was paired with exceptional wines and even a locally made micro-brewed beer. The presentation of each dish was something I had never experienced as there was not a traditional bowl or dinner plate in sight. Tin plates, small copper cauldrons that held smoking hay and small concrete slabs are what we ate from and it was all perfection. You can really feel the chefs' passion in each course and the thought that goes into creating an exceptional dining experience. Jackie Cameron has since left Hartford handing the reigns over to the brilliant Travis Finch.
I really don't feel like I'm doing the kitchen team and their creations enough justice but all the accolades and awards speak for themselves as do the recipes they have kindly shared on their website.
And finally the staff. The friendly but discreet team make you feel like you're part of the family. People from the Natal province are known for their friendliness and the staff at Hartford epitomise this. Their professionalism and attention to detail did not go unnoticed as those are qualities we look for in our own staff at Rovos. We were fortunate enough to share a cup of tea with owner, Mick, who explained the property's history to us and then took us on a tour. Cheryl, his kind wife, could not have been more accommodating and Duncan, the General Manager, was just brilliant. I was taken on a horse-ride too and aside from my ageing knees and the galloping colts who gave me the fright of my life, it was absolutely wonderful!
Leaving Hartford left me feeling very relaxed and indulged but also sad as the experience was exceptional, one of the best and one that would be hard to beat. Hospitality is a tough industry and getting it right is like a practising a magic trick over and over again until, one day, it mysteriously falls into place. You can feel that this has happened at Hartford as the magic is almost tangible most certainly edible!
We feel that KwaZulu-Natal and especially the Natal Midlands, with its famous Midlands Meander , is one of the unsung heroes of South Africa. Perhaps it's because international flights through King Shaka airport are not frequent but this province is one of the most beautiful we have. The lush vegetation, tropical climate and warm Indian Ocean coupled with its rich history make for an extraordinary holiday. We operate our Durban Safari every second week during the summer months and it's honestly one of the prettiest trips we have. And Hartford House is just a short drive from Durban train station so a perfect start or end to a trip with us. Pack some stretchy pants though because you're going to need them!