Hartford House A Country Hotel With History
Situated on one of South Africa's best-known stud farms, in a spectacular garden, Hartford House is a country hotel with a history. Louis Botha took over command of the Boer forces at the foot of the farm in 1899; General Dawid Joubert signed for his copy of the Treaty of Vereeniging at Summerhill at the end of hostilities in 1902, and had his troops plant the entrance avenue as a commemoration; and Hartford has hosted Jan Smuts and Sir Winston Churchill. SPICE spoke to owner Mick Goss and GM Duncan Bruce.
Whose idea was Hartford House?
The conviction which led to the conversion of our home into a hotel came from Mick's wife, Cheryl. She felt that once the children had completed their schooling, this heritage gem could serve no better purpose than to be committed to the use of the public of this country and its international visitors.
Why does it work?
Hartford is part of the Summerhill Estate and together they attract 70 to 80 people a day, which converts to more than 30 000 visitors annually - arguably the most visited hospitality destination in the Midlands. Hartford has an exceptional reputation for its food. Former head chefs include Richard Carstens and Jackie Cameron, who piloted the restaurant into the national top 10. The current chef, Constantijn Hahndiek, is a finalist in the San Pellegrino Young Chef of the Year.
What make it different?
It is the only world-class hotel, on a world-class stud farm, in the world. Summerhill Stud has been the champion racehorse-breeding establishment in South Africa nine consecutive times in a an era when the landscape is heavily populated by billionaires. The estate is 3 000 acres, populated not only by horses but by a large variety of game species.
Where are your guests from?
Our mix includes strong followings from Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and, more recently, the Western Cape during winter. Our traffic is about 80% local and 20% foreign. That changes to roughly 60% local and 40% foreign in the warmer months.
Do guests come back?
Our biggest marketing tool is word of mouth. We have many return guests, some of whom have been coming back consecutively for the past 10 years, staying in the same suites and, remarkably, wanting the same menu.
Average duration of stays?
Our weekends are generally based on a two-night stay. During the off season our midweek stays are one night, and three to four nights in season.
What recurring feedback do you get?
"Thank you for your warm hospitality, world-class food, interesting wine selection and beautiful surroundings."
How do you hit the "service" balance between privacy and attention?
We need to respect our guests' privacy, but it's also extremely important that we get to know you. In that way we are able to anticipate your needs and offer you warm and engaging service.
Oddest request or behaviour?
We have often transformed our racetrack to host mini race days for birthday celebrations. We even have a commentator and betting tote.
Particular point of pride?
Hartford's traditional dance troupe, the Ngobamakhosi, is the national champion and has ranked second and third in the world. Last August, the group wowed audiences at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
The dinner and wine pairing, it's a culinary delight. The senior food critic for Europe at the Wall Street Journal, Bruce Palling, proclaimed Hartford one of the top three country restaurants in the world.
Any new developments?
Hartford is engaged in a major makeover of its famous gardens. As part of the project we are developing an enchanting "tea house".
Had any celebs popping in lately?
Heads of state, government ministers, captains of business and sports celebrities are among the regular clientele.
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