Hartford House

The Home of Good Conversation, Fine Wine and Classic Horses.

Award-winning hotel and restaurant situated at Summerhill Stud on the picturesque KwaZulu-Natal Midlands Meander, South Africa.

Filtering by Category: Drakensberg Accommodation


The Summerhill / Hartford Estate / Robyn Hodson (p)

The Summerhill / Hartford Estate / Robyn Hodson (p)


Following is an article which appears on the travel website, Trufflepig : The Sounder, written by the ever so eloquent travel writer and editor for justtheplanet.comRobyn Hodson. Trufflepig describes Robyn as a writer, who when not eating like a horse or riding off into African sunset, takes the time to write for The Sounder.

"Sweeping up the driveway toward Hartford House and looking out over the undulating emerald pastureland you know you’re in for something special. The history of the farm dates way back to Queen Victoria, and the British Royal Family famously accepted their copy of the Treaty of Vereeniging (ending the Anglo Boer War in 1902) on its balcony in 1922. It’s the colonial country house equivalent of one of the magnificent champion thoroughbreds sired on its property: a thing of beauty and grace… standing proud under big African skies ‘neath the shade of the dramatic Drakensberg Mountain Range.

I’m not going to sugar-coat it: Hartford House is for adults. Especially affluent ones who love eating. If you’re on a diet I’d suggest driving right on by as it’s all about the food and people come from far and wide to sample their home-grown cuisine. It’s where you really get to test your inner ‘Mr Creosote’ and it would be wrong to pitch up and not partake of every last mouth-watering morsel on its sensational menu.

As you’ll need to be fork-lifted out of the restaurant, it’s a good thing Hartford House boasts 14 luxury suites – I stayed in one by the lake named Siyabonga (‘give thanks to’ in Zulu). And yes, I promptly gave thanks all over the show for my private pool, under-floor heating, luxurious linens and bathroom with not one but TWO enormous tubs!

There is so much to do in the area. A truly Hartford experience includes a ride or wander around the famous stud farm, a treatment at the wellness centre, trips to Giant’s Castle, drives through the Midlands Meander (a local art-and-craft route)… or curl up with a book in the sunshine on the rambling, wrap-around veranda just like a lazy pussycat.

My view: get there fast… it’s only a matter of time before the racehorses wise up to their inferior stable accommodation and you find one soaking in the bathtub or sneaking into the pantry."

trufflepig link


Drakensberg Mountains / Nigel Reid (p)

Drakensberg Mountains / Nigel Reid (p)


My wife and I spent 3 nights at this wonderful hotel on our recent visit to South Africa. While many tourists to South Africa head straight to the Game Parks, fewer tend to visit this region of South Africa which gets less publicity in the tourism literature.

Located in KwaZulu Natal, a 4 hour drive from Johannesburg or 90 minute drive from Durban on excellent roads,Hartford House is situated within a half-hour drive from the spectacular Drakensberg Mountains.

The accomodations are luxurious, the food is gourmet (voted South Africa's best restaurant in 2009) and nothing is too much when it comes to satisfying their guests. There is a Wellness Centre offering spa treatments and massage at reasonable rates.

There is lots to explore in the region including the Battle Fields from the Boer War, walks in the Drakensberg Mountains (from an easy stroll to serious hiking) and the Midlands Meander (a day trip spent exploring the local Arts and Crafts in the area). Fly Fishing is popular in this area. We were particularly impressed by the beauty of this region and the Drakensberg should not be missed.

The hotel is located on the famous Summerhill Stud Farm which is world renowned for its race horses. A tour of the farm is available.

In summary : A memorable stay in a beautiful part of South Africa. Highly recommended.




"Could this be the best Boys Choir in the world?"

We’re fortunate at Hartford House in the many visitors that travel thousands of miles to visit us, and the tapestry of cultures they represent. People come from across the world to stay at the “jewelled buckle” of the KZN midlands, some of them connoisseurs of the arts and music, others with uninitiated curiosities of what this spectacular part of the world has to offer.

However, the one thing they all have in common, once they’ve made their first pilgrimage to the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir (an enchanting 45 minute drive into the Champagne Valley), is that this is an irresistible option for all comers. Even the Viennese, who have a proprietary interest in protecting the status of the Vienna Boys’ Choir, concede that the diversity and the talent on display, at times, eclipses the lofty standards set by their own, and for those who are with us on a Wednesday during school term time, this is a must.

To most of our guests, we recommend an early breakfast and a drive over the Drakensberg through the gloriously coloured cliffs of the Golden Gate National Park, and then to Clarens, a village not much bigger than Mooi River, but unmistakably the art capital of South Africa. Clarens is home to more than thirty art galleries, and is the starting place for most of South Africa’s young artistic talent. It’s in the bottommost most corner of the south eastern Free State, and apart from being one of the great journeys of South Africa, it’s a convenient distance back to the Boys Choir, whose shows start at 3:30pm. These exhibitions are generally over by 5pm, and it’s a comfortable meander back to Hartford, in time for a shower or a lazy bath, before dinner. Some dinner too, in a national Top Ten restaurant.

And then, if you’re with us through Saturday evening, we have another surprise for you.



Panjandrum Dam / Hartford House

Panjandrum Dam / Hartford House

Life in Africa really is a paradox. Every evening at home, we tune into Sky channel to catch up with what’s happening elsewhere in the world. The talk is quite depressing, and if it’s not war, it’s the financial crisis. On the other hand, we look at our guests at Hartford House and we see people from England, California, Scotland, Ireland, the USA and Australia, and we’re heartened that they take such trouble and travel so far to visit us. Truth is, more than ever, international travellers are looking for value destinations these days, and with the Rand trading in the vicinity of 10 to the dollar, you get no better bang for your buck than here in South Africa in general, and at Hartford especially.

In the last fortnight, we were honoured with the visit of an octet of some of the world’s top businessmen, who flew in from three different countries on three different private jets, and while the nature of their visit was private to the degree of their remaining largely anonymous, they proclaimed Hartford one of the best hotels in the world. Coming from people who can obviously afford to stay anywhere at any price, this is as rich a compliment as any hotel could wish for. It says something for our people, where they come from, and where they still have go. Hartford is very much a work in progress as far as its people are concerned, and the exciting thing is, we’ve still got so much to learn and so much to give.

At least one of them though, the celebrated anchor of NBC’s Nightly News, Tom Brokaw, broke (excuse the pun!) his veil of secrecy when his account of their African pilgrimage was posted on YouTube (click here to watch). Here’s a man who’s traversed the length and breadth of the planet, spoken to kings, queens and presidents, yet had the time to reflect on his “Zulu” experience.

We have some treasured friends in residence as we write, one of whom, Angus Gold, is the personal emissary of the Rulers of Dubai. Angus was instrumental in bringing about Sheikh Hamdan's substantial investment in bloodstock at Summerhill two decades ago this year, and he is one of our firmest friends. Our lives light up when he gets here, and his departure leaves something of a hole, though for those who’ve had to stay up at night, it’s an opportunity to catch up on some much needed sleep!

Also aboard at the moment is a legend of the South African business environment in Freddy Hirsch, arguably South Africa’s best known dealer in spices. Freddy is here as the guest of Eskort Bacon factory, celebrating his 80th birthday, and he’s in remarkably good shape. He survived a primary school education in the company of another of our great friends and horse racing colleagues, Graham Beck, (who’s lived life to a degree few of us could imagine,) and Freddy’s built a business empire of astounding proportions. Interestingly, the founders of Hartford, the Moor family (who spawned the last Prime Minister of the Colony as well as a Senator in the first South African government) were also co-founders of the Eskort Bacon factory and what is now known as NCD Dairies, the biggest dairy business on the continent. The visitations by Arnold Prinsloo, CEO of Eskort, and his cohorts are something of a homecoming for us.

Emanzini Suite 11 at Hartford House

Emanzini Suite 11 / Hartford House (p)

Emanzini Suite 11 / Hartford House (p)

We are blessed on our farms with an abundance of water, with numerous underground springs spread across the length and breadth of the property. The word Emanzini means “at the waterside” in Zulu, and this suite takes its name from its proximity to the swimming pool, the Wellness Centre and the springs. . “The Springs” was also the name of the farm in East Griqualand on which Pat Goss snr. founded his renowned racehorse breeding enterprise in the 1930’s.

Emanzini was one of the first exercises in building with bricks and mortar for our previously unskilled Zulus, who in our opinion, made an excellent job of what seemed like an impossible task when we first set out.

This suite fronts onto the old wisteria pergola, which dates back to the foundation of the Manor House, in 1875. The Moors, who were the first occupants of Hartford as we know it, initiated a habit of giving to each other a plant or a piece of garden statuary or ornamentation on wedding anniversaries, and the pergola was one of the first of these. Since then, the Ellises and the Gosseshave perpetuated this rather quaint habit, and most of what you see in the garden today came about as a result.


Church Bell / Neil Gould (p)

Church Bell / Neil Gould (p)

"For whom the bell tolls..."

We have as guests at Hartford House a rather rare species, in the form of a church bell ringer. Commander John & Mrs. Anne Ford have been clients of Summerhill for more than a decade now, and they’re residents, in their normal lives, of a small village called Blakesley in Northamptonshire, UK. They’ve kept mares with us for throughout this time, and they make an annual pilgrimage, having a deep and lasting affinity for this part of southern Africa.

However, it is in another of her capacities that we pen this note, as Anne teamed up with a compatriot from the same village in a bell-ringing exercise at St.George’s Cathedral in Cape Town last Sunday. Her fellow campanologist was no less than the Honourable Gillian Foster, wife of yet another very long serving client of Summerhill. Alec Foster has been associated with us for just about all of the thirty years we’ve been in business at Summerhill, first as a client of Mick Goss’ law practice, and for at least the past two decades, as a keeper of his mares on the farm.

At this time of year, our friends come in every shape and size and from every corner of the world, yet this was an unlikely duo, in an unusual exercise at the southernmost tip of what the civilized world still calls the “Darkest Continent”.

Could this be the Great Trek?

the great trek

The Great Trek?
(Hartford House)

Anyone visiting Summerhill this week could be forgiven for thinking they were witnessing a pilgrimage. While there will no doubt be others who pitch randomly, already we are expecting visitors from several different directions of the world.

The English are here in force, headed by Sir Bruce and Lady Hester Martin, Stuart and Adele Silvey, Commander and Mrs John Ford, while the Welsh, who lowered the English flag at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, are represented by the Mercers and the Dawsons of Usk Valley Stud Farm. Gold Circle are here with an Mpumalanga delegation on Thursday, local trainers Mike Miller, Garth Puller, Dennis Drier and their respective spouses were here on Monday.

Riding legend Michael Robertsand his wife Verna were diners at Hartford the same day. Summerhill stalwart Steve Sturlese was accompanied by his racing manager, Peter de Marigny and his newly acquired son-in-law, top jockey Brandon Lerena, whilst shipping supremo, Brian Roux, Arthur and Vynettevan der Heijden and Standard Bank will all have darkened the portals of the farm before the week is out.

No wonder we know so few people in the neighbourhood! Yet we wouldn’t trade it for anything: these are the people that bring the colour to our lives.


Hansa Powerade Dusi Canoe Marathon / dusi.co.za (p)

Hansa Powerade Dusi Canoe Marathon / dusi.co.za (p)

Excitement is building in the Kingdom of the Zulu as final preparations are underway for the staging of the 2009 Hansa Powerade Dusi Canoe Marathon come 15th, 16th and 17th January. 

This world-class canoe marathan between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, on South Africa's East Coast, attracts around 2000 paddlers and another 2000 - 3000 seconders, helpers or supporters.

Add this to over 120 accredited media, nearly 1000 volunteers, thousands of litres of Powerade energy drink, thousands of Hansa smiles, millions of litres of water, tens of thousands of spectators and you have the "Worlds Greatest Canoe Marathon - the Hansa Powerade Dusi."

But things didn't always happen on such a grand scale.

The origins of this unique event go back some 57 years to the 22nd December 1951, when eight men set off from Pietermaritzburg's Alexandra Park on the first Canoe Marathon to Durban. They were pioneers: Ian Player, Miles Brokensha, Ernie Pearce, John Naude, Basil Halford, Willie Potgieter, Fred Schmidt and Denis Vorster.

These eight explorers did not know it at the time, but their adventure would in the future evolve into what has become the world famous, Dusi Canoe Marathon.

Deep in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, where the Umgeni River meets the Umsundusi River, the raging waters are compressed into a churning mass of whirlpools and boils... and this was not the only challenge these intrepid adventurers would face.

One of them, Ian Player, would become the only finisher that year despite having being bitten by a Night Adder!

In his canoe made from wood and canvas and carrying all his own supplies, weighing in at 70lb laden, it took the famous conservationist six days to complete the 140 kilometer journey between Pietermaritzburg and Durban.

The following three Dusi Marathons were all held on a non-stop basis and the winning time was reduced to 1 day, 3 hours and 28 minutes. In 1956 it was decided that due to the grave dangers in navigating the torid waters at night, the race would be held over three stages. This has been the procedure ever since.

The credit for having pioneered this great canoe race must go to Ian Player, who also went on to claim victory in 1953 and 1954, but it is not generally known that the first trip down these two rivers was made as long ago as 1893 by two Pietermaritzburg men, William Foley and Paul Marianny, who covered the distance in a mammoth seven days.

To all guests and friends of Hartford House participating in this year's Dusi, we wish you great strength and enjoyment of a truely African experience.