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 Tag: The Oyster Box Hotel


(Photos : Leigh Willson, Amorette Kramer and Michael Nefdt)

Summerhill Group Conference
"Phinda 2012"

Mick Goss - Summerhill Group CEO

Mick Goss - Summerhill Group CEO

Summerhill is lucky in its friends and its people. One of our most treasured associations is with a group who call themselves (appropriately,) the Land Of Legends. It is the only collection of properties whose raison d'etre lies in their histories, their culture and their tradition. It was founded by ourselves (Hartford House) and the late David Rattray's Fugitives' Drift Lodge, and these days it includes the The Oyster Box, the Beverley Hills,Fordoun SpaRocktail Bay LodgeArdmore Ceramics and Phinda Game Reserve. By now you'll have spotted the fact that these are KwaZulu-Natal's pride in hospitality, establishments of legendary repute that rank with the best in the world.

For our twelfth annual conference, we've been hiding out at Bayete camp, deep in the nether regions of Phinda's spectacular bushveld. No cellphone signal, no radios or televisions, no pack drill. And in a matter of days, the Big Five, in every shape or form. Phinda isn't South Africa's finest bush experience for nothing. Authentic, wild, professional, diverse, down-to-earth, riveting. Oh, and luxurious, but at Phinda, luxury is just the journey, not the destination.

Summerhill has faced many challenges in its three decades and more. The rich and the powerful, the cunning and the envious, the enterprising and the resourceful. There was no inheritance at Summerhill, no big business to fund its growth, just relationships and the sacrifice of our people. That means we have to get up that bit earlier in the mornings, we have to box that bit smarter, just to stay in the swim.

These gatherings in the bush are moments of reflection, for galvanising the spirits, and for recharging the batteries. When the stormclouds approach, don't seek shelter. Put on your raincoat, and get back to work. At the end of the day, you have to decide whether you want to spend the rest of your life sipping sugar water, or do you want to change the world? At Summerhill, that's a rhetorical question. We are what we are because our people chose to write their own histories.

By the time the curtain came down on this jamboree Friday morning, I was more convinced than ever that this team is in better shape to deal with the future than any time in our past. Given they already have seven Breeder's titles under their belts, that's some statement. But a few days in the bush reminds me that these are paragons of enthusiasm, good humour and curiosity, Renaissance people in an era that badly needs them.

They've already prepared themselves for the day they come second, and they've already defined the benchmarks by which they want to be measured down the road. This team knows the equations others don't know. Times may be unbelievably tough, but great harvests come from arid sources. Pleasure comes, often enough, from restraint.

The other thing that drives them, is knowing that one day you're going to get beaten. It's the best way of avoiding the trap of thinking you have something to lose; you are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. Be a pirate; don't join the navy.

And speaking of challenges, you're not to worry. I know the authors well and I already know how this narrative is going to end. This team will make sure the good guys win.

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land of legends

Land of Legends featuring Beverly Hills Hotel and Ardmore Ceramics to name a few


Readers of these columns took a well earned rest this past week, as Cheryl and I were away on a bit of “R and R”, mingled as usual with a bit of business. Business for us, is a pleasure, because we work at the things we like to play at, like horses and hospitality. In the process, we reawakened some giants of history, taking in their old haunts enroute.

Thursday last witnessed a gathering of the “legends” at Umhlanga’s Beverley Hills Hotel, the grandest old dame on Durban’s glittering coastline. The occasion was the induction into the Land Of Legends of “The Bev”, as well as Fee Berning’s world famous Ardmore Ceramics, which is now at a point where an institution like Rovos Rail pull their great train up at the gates to Ardmore, for their international travellers to glimpse the remarkable work which springs forth from the creative loins of Fee’s Zulu artists. Yes, Rovos Rail, of all rail operators. There is no bigger compliment.

Back to The Bev, and the gathering of monumental proportions. There wasn’t a stopper unpulled. Instantly, if you didn’t know it already, you knew you were at a serious address. General Manager, Sebastian Berernato, is a veteran of the game, and he and Lorna Gourley’s deep-seated passion for hospitality, their embrace of the traditions for which The Bev stands and their preservation of its history, is everywhere.

The induction was unusual, as they led in three employees who were there the day Sol Kerzner “wowed” the world with the first opening of the doors, and each of these fellows, colourful in their own right, delivered their own tale about the “Sun King”. All told in camera, so none of that for repetition here. Since then of course, there’s been Sun City, Atlantis, the One and Only.

By definition, you have to be a legend to join the Land Of Legends, and the Beverley Hills slides seamlessly into a collection of properties which as recently as September included the top Lodge, the top Spa and the top Restaurant in South Africa, and for those of you looking for one of the best meals in the province, look no further than Executive Chef Sean Munro and his side-kick Attie, for as good as it gets. Yes, Durban is in the process of accumulating hotels almost as quickly as Dubai did in its heyday, but the Bev will stand its ground long after many of those have come and possibly gone, because they’ve been at it for 40 years now, they know how to look after people, and the service is up there with the best anywhere.

From a Summerhill perspective, it’s the connectivity with the great racing events of the Kwa Zulu Natal winter that matters, and like The Oyster Box next door, The Bev has any number of stories to tell of the great characters of our history. Besides being the hotel of choice for most of the best cricket and rugby teams of the world, the guest list reads like a who’s who of Hollywood, Broadway and the parade, including Sir Cliff Richard, Embert Humperdink and Whitney Houston.

Friday we took up a longstanding invitation from the General Manager of the newly renovated Oyster Box Hotel next door. Much has been said and written about the half billion Rand recently splurged on this famous landmark before its opening in October, and my goodness, you can see it in spectacular technicolour. You cannot sustain destinations on one great hotel alone, and I’m sure The Beverley Hills welcomes the introduction to Durban of another world class establishment like the Oyster Box, as much as they’re immediate neighbours, and the competition will be hot.

If we’re going to put up our hands finally to the rest of the world, and claim the right to be counted with the most favoured places on earth, We have to have establishments of the stature of The Bev and The Oyster Box, to not only to pull the crowds, but to reassure them that this is KZN’s time. In the end, we have the most diverse collection of visitor offerings in this country, if not the world, with outstanding venues at the Beach, in the Berg, the Bush and the Battlefields, and with its proximity to the new King Shaka airport and the biggest port city in Africa, The Bev adds a special dimension to our collection.

Before we leave the Oyster Box, names like the Durban July Room, the Flash On and Sea Cottage suites (ring some very old bells?). We stayed in the latter, at a sumptuous R17 000 night apartment on the beach with its own plunge pool gazing out over the warmth of the Indian Ocean). The Oyster Box, driven by the energy and enthuisiam of Wayne Coetzer, is well on its way to reviving memories of the greatest characters of our sport, Cyril Hurwitz, Laurie & Jean Jaffee, Graham and Rhona Beck, Eric Gallo, legions of them who decades ago, darkened their doors.

And so we passed on, to another Jaffee, Hurwitz, Gallo and Beck haunt, The Vineyard in Cape Town, for the annual Eat Out restaurant awards (for the full story, click on www.hartford.co.za). This place hums, and deservedly so, because as a world class operation, it carries the mantle as the best value-for-money in an overcharged world. Laid out more than a century ago by the much loved Lady Anne Barnard, family- owned and family driven, The Vineyard perches in one of Cape Town’s most spectacular gardens, and in the short time we were there, we renewed an acquaintance with the most powerful minister in the South African government, Trevor Manuel, and became acquainted with the King and Queen of Norway, out here on a state visit.

Wonderfully, The Vineyard traverses without fuss, the trappings of royalty and the trimmings of us normal beings, without so much as a whimper, a testimony to the values which it (and I like to think, ourselves) have come to respect. A wonderful compliment to a team who know what The Vineyard means to South Africa, and will ensure that our grandchildren will know it too.

If you’ve never been to The Bev, The Oyster Box or The Vineyard, you haven’t been anywhere.