Issue 22
So Close, Yet So Far Away
The Irene Country Lodge and Mount Grace Hotel may indeed be called African Pride
By Jo Kromberg  ·  2016-03-09  ·   Source:

 

Irene Country Lodge - upmarket luxury hotel (Photograph by africanpridehotels.com) 

And such is the hellish summer we are experiencing in South Africa in 2016, one of the hottest in human memory. So the relief of the cool air-conditioned lobby of the Irene Country Lodge, located in the suburbs of Pretoria in the Gauteng Province of South Africa and part of the African Pride Hotel Group, brings me to the verge of hugging all the smiling staff inside it.  

Lovely receptionist Pamela is one of them as she offers us a choice of drinks upon arrival and handles the formalities of checking with ease. Then we are taken to our rooms by the delightfully friendly Bongazi and shown the various functionalities and uses of appliances, mini-bars, air-conditioning system, Wi-Fi etc. All 74 en-suite rooms (four suites and 70 double or twin rooms) have been elegantly designed in variations of the English Country Manor style that epitomize good taste with stately wooden furniture and rich fabrics. All facing onto the lake, combined with modern day creature comforts such as 24-hour room service, wireless Internet access, direct telephone dialing, satellite television and sixteen hour restaurant service. 

The bucolic view of the small tranquil lake beyond rolling lawns from my veranda, right out of a Constable painting, is an almost instant cure for high blood pressure. It is hard to imagine such rustic countryside luxury in a suburb of Pretoria, the administrative capital city of South Africa, about 50 km from Johannesburg. 

In the last light of this hot summer day as lazy clouds float high above tinged with oranges and pinks, I sip my G&T, happily surrounded by the beautiful cacophony of a myriad species of birds and pastoral bliss which includes their resident herd of cows. 

Dining in style 

For dinner we head to The Meadow Green Restaurant, overlooking the lake, which boasts exquisite culinary creations with buffet lunches available on Sundays. 

 

Sumptuous accommodation at Irene Country Lodge (Photograph by africanpridehotels.com) 

 The décor is an eclectic yet elegant mix of classic chairs and cottage charm with soft lighting and classical music emanating from invisible speakers. The menu makes me salivate at the site of such culinary choices. Soup options include creamy potato and leek or roasted beetroot with thyme and honey, served with a bread basket and old fashioned butter balls - a nice touch.  

I opt for the Falklands calamari as a starter and its smooth as silk. Traditional bobotie comes with curried rice, raisins and apricot chutney, just the way it should. Another main option, among many others, is roast pork chops with cauliflower purée and a warm Waldorf salad with port and rosemary reduction. My partner and I however both opt for their signature dish, the 600 gram grass-fed Rib Eye steak and I can assure you, a happier, more content cow in a previous life you have yet to meet in terms of taste. The wine list has been thoughtfully put together and includes South African gems like Painted Wolf Lekanyane (a blend of chenin, grenache and viognier), Reyneke Biodynamic Sauvignon Blanc, La Capra Shiraz and Creation Pinot Noir. The sorbet between courses is fitting for such an elegant menu and for desert I consume the heavenly baked cheese cake in a very inelegant way. 

Manager Simon spoils us with the lodge's special tea blend after dinner which he calls herbal sundowner. "What's in it?" I demand. "It's a secret," he says with a wink.

Many attractions 

He gives us a bit of insight into the interesting history of the tree-lined area and things to do. The Smuts House Museum, the house of General Jan C. Smuts is just down the road and a must to visit. In terms of nearby attractions, the Centurion Country Golf Club, the Irene Country Golf Club, Rietvlei Nature Reserve (game drives and nature walks), the Irene Village Market, the Irene Dairy Farm (where farm fresh products can be purchased) as well as the Pretoria Zoo are all within easy range. Or just select items for your picnic basket from the menu at their delicatessen and spend an afternoon lazing in the shade of the oak trees whilst enjoying the birdlife. 

Well, whether it was the tea or the tranquility and peace and or the wonderfully designed mattress or a combination of all, I sleep like a comatose person that night.  

I'm up bright and early the next morning, famished. And the five-star all-the-fantastic-food-you-can-eat breakfast doesn't disappoint. Beside the freshest, most delicate array of pastries, the most delightful selection of fruits, mueslis, yogurts, cheeses and cold meats, the hot breakfast provides varied and delicious choices, made to order. 

 

Picturesque Mount Grace Hotel spa (Photograph by africanpridehotels.com) 

I am later taken on a tour of the rest of this lush and secret retreat in the city. The lodge's old-world charm is combined with modern convenience, making for a wonderful conference venue in a beautiful setting. The SAX Arena joined the Conference Cente

Mount Grace  

A couple of weeks later, on a much cooler day, we drive to another jewel in the African Pride Hotel Group's crown, close to where we have some elderly relatives. Very old, in fact. Located close to the world-renowned Sterkfontein Caves which is home to the oldest and most continuous palaeontological dig in the world, is the beautiful Mount Grace Hotel or to give it its full name, The Mount Grace Country House Hotel and Health Spa. The hotel is close to the site of discovery of the famous pre-human skull affectionately known as "Mrs Ples," and an almost complete hominid skeleton called "Little Foot," dated 2.3 and 4.17 million years old respectively. 

With the beautiful and rugged Magaliesburg Mountains embracing this legendary hotel, the first footsteps of humankind took place within, well, almost walking distance.  

The road takes us up and up to where the hotel is perched atop a mountain with sweeping views of the valleys below. We gawk at the seamlessly combined 10 acres of manicured gardens and natural bushveld as we step into the reception, a picture of modern elegance.  

Mount grace has the same effect of remote tranquility as Irene Country Lodge, despite its relative proximity to the city - it is only a little over an hour away from Johannesburg and Pretoria. 

Service is yet again prompt and friendly and within a jiffy we are on route up the winding hill to our deluxe room via golf cart with our garrulous chauffeur Peter.  

The hotel is exceptionally well designed in terms of understanding an expectation of privacy. Despite the enormous number of 81 rooms and suites, the hotel is divided into a number of "villages" each with its individual outlook and ambience, all hidden between magnificent trees, bumbling streams and other flora.  

The airy rooms are beautifully decorated, with colorful throws and pillows for a stylish touch. They all have air-conditioning, free WiFi, flat-screen TVs, and tea and coffeemakers. Some upgraded rooms have balconies and private pools.- a kids club, board games, horse riding, canopy tours, hot air ballooning and of course an excursion to The Cradle of Human Kind and the Maropeng caves are all available here.  

There are two restaurants here, one for fine dining, the other for buffet-style meals, plus a spa cafe and a cocktail bar. Other facilities include a gym, a tennis court, fly fishing and mountain biking. Conference facilities are available and very much in demand. You will never be at a loss for things to do here should you be energetically inclined

But we want to explore the Spa and within one minute and 37 and a half seconds, our second driver Thabiso is at our door with a wide smile, greeting us by name. 

The Spa is simply sublime with an outdoor hot tub, a waterfall and a heated pool. Specialized spa treatments involving Thalassotherapy, Phytotherapy, and Hydrotherapy, Skin and Body Treatments and a host of various Massages are available as well as access to hydrotherapy pools. 

What is great here is that guests can use the steam rooms, flotation pool and outdoor Jacuzzi without any extra charge. You don't often find this. 

We delight in the floatation pool and the Jacuzzi and after a great bath it's time for dinner at the Rambling Vine restaurant which offers formal fine dining, complete with amuse bouche' appetizers and a range of courses to choose from 

Our muse bouche arrives in the form of salmon and home baked bread with a selection of Maldon salted, basil and paprika butter. Yum! The starter of carpaccio is declared splendid by my friend and I have the lobster ravioli and while the ravioli is perfectly el dente, the tomato sauce in which it does the breast stroke is a tad too overpowering. A lobster is a delicate little thing... 

My friend has the duck confit as a main course and it is simply excellent! My venison loin with mini oxtail pie is equally superb with subtle seasoning a beautifully roasted potatoes. The venison, which is springbok, is just pink enough. Dessert is the pièce de résistance though. Choices such as classic crème Brule with stewed fruit ice cream (homemade of course), orange curd made up of vanilla crumble, raspberry compote, papaya and red pepper salsa with milk and honey ice cream will make any Michelin chef squirm with jealousy. My cheesecake is strawberry and white chocolate with strawberry ice cream and to die for! Cheese board as well as specialist coffees follow and we are in exhausted culinary heaven. 

The service and attention to detail at the hotel in general is of a five-star standard throughout as well.  

The next morning we gorge ourselves on the buffet breakfast and I have one of the most delicious Haddock Mornay dishes ever - straight from my childhood.  

I get lost in a state of complete and serene oblivion later at the Spa under the skilful hands of my therapist Miriam and in the aftermath of my massage I gently watch the world go by from my cozy chair in the sun as hours slip away. The best way to while away a day ever! 

If it is peace you seek, per chance a respite from the noise and chaos of the irritating real world, a visit to BOTH the Irene Country Lodge and Mount Grace Hotel will not only be a luxury. It will be an absolute necessity... 

Contact:  

Irene Country Lodge:  

http://www.africanpridehotels.com/hotels/Pages/african-pride-irene-country-lodge.aspx 

Mount Grace:  

http://www.africanpridehotels.com/hotels/Pages/african-pride-mount-grace-country-house-spa.aspx   

Getting there: 

Air China outbound flights to Johannesburg in South Africa operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, with return services from Johannesburg offered on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 

Flights will departs from Beijing at 23:15 Beijing time, and arrive in Johannesburg at 07:35 local time on the following day. The inbound flight departs from Johannesburg at 11:50 local time and arrives in Beijing at 07:30 Beijing time.  

Go to: 

http://www.airchina.com.cn/en/   

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