My favourite hubby and I spent 3 days over New Years at Flitwick Ranch, set in the picturesque Swartberg, near Kokstad. I’d never visited this part of the world, and was looking forward to exploring more of KwaZulu Natal after the last nine dreary, housebound months of 2020. As ever, this incredible province of ours did not disappoint. Rolling hills and craggy cliffs frame a landscape of such bucolic beauty that I was sorry when the 3-hour road trip from Durban was over.
Flitwick Ranch itself looks like a Disney-version of idyllic farm life in South Africa. Rain-splatted and muddy though our arrival was, we felt as though we’d been transported into another world entirely as we exited the car in the sodden car park and looked for signs pointing us to reception. Stepping gingerly around a fresh cow pat, I spotted 2 freshly-lain eggs in the long grass bordering the homestead garden, and wondered aloud at the perfect lives of Flitwick’s hens. Not for them the sad gulags of Rainbow Chickens, down the road. ‘Free Range’ has never looked this free, or this pretty!
Flitwick Ranch offered three distinct room types. When booking, I opted for a Bulls Stable room because I rather fancied the look of old stone walls set in colourful gardens, overlooking the dam. It turned out to be the right choice. We had a sweeping view of one of the three small dams bordering the homestead, and I spent many happy hours watching moorhens and geese, yellow weavers and red bishops from the comfort of our queen-sized bed. The room itself was large and comfortable, with all the usual amenities and some thoughtful touches, such as a charging cable for cell phones and lots of storage space for bits and pieces, meaning that we could unpack properly for our three-night stay.
Families might prefer to choose the Cheese Factory rooms with their communal, self-catering kitchen and larger layout, allowing up to four people to share a room. Also an option are the dorm-like Horse Stable rooms, which feature two bunk beds each and are positioned next to the games room, communal ablutions and another communal kitchen.
The Bull Stable Rooms open out onto a central courtyard overlooking the children’s play area and vegetable tunnels. As an avid gardener myself, I was particularly envious of the HUGE strawberries, lying red and luscious beneath a host of other healthy-looking vegetables. Guests are encouraged to pick their own strawberries and I confess that none from my carton made it home.
Central to the homestead is the Deli – a restaurant and dining room serving hearty meals tailored to guests’ specific requests by the wonderful Jurie. Set in a high-ceilinged, open plan barn with floor-length windows and panoramic views of the farm, the Deli instantly became one of my favourite places on earth. We’d taken most of our food for the weekend with us (I had intended to spend the weekend eating my weight in olives, artichokes and other delicacies specifically bought for the occasion), but Jurie’s affable nature and the delicious smells emanating from his kitchen convinced us to eat our first dinner at the Deli. And then breakfast, and another dinner…and lunch….and quite a lot of carrot cake. All delicious, and all made lovingly in line with our vegetarian needs. Jurie’s mushroom-and-potato mash served with curried beans, in particular, was a culinary highlight. My most enduring memory of the weekend is of sublime moments on the Deli’s deep leather sofa in front of the fireplace, lost in a good book, a pot of tea in front of me and instrumental show tunes gently permeating the aether. Heaven.
Unlike many other farmstays, there’s no shortage of things to do at Flitwick Ranch. Primarily catering for those who enjoy horses and riding (there are numerous trails to be explored on horseback), the ranch nevertheless makes a concerted effort to offer something for everyone. Guests can explore farm life on their own or book a full day “Life of a Farmer” tour, which includes a very early morning, a lesson on milking cows, feeding chickens, picking veggies, caring for livestock and viewing indigenous game out in the field. There’s also a games room offering pool and table tennis, a mineral pool set in the old grain silo, a basic obstacle course, dams for fishing and well-maintained hiking and mountain bike trails, if you’re feeling that energetic.
That being said, my favourite thing about Flitwick is how many places there are to sit and do…nothing. Or, in my case, read. All either of us did, all weekend, was read and write in the most beautiful surroundings possible. There are lounges with comfy sofas, tables alongside the dam, pergolas across quaint little bridges and benches everywhere – in manicured gardens, on islands and under the ancient oak trees. Best of all, there’s a library room with more inviting reading nooks, a brazier for coolish weather and lots of comfy pillows and blankets under which a bookworm like myself might snuggle and drink tea.
We took our leave after three days of blissful relaxation, certain that a return trip will be in our near future, and very grateful for the chance to see in the New Year in such serene style. As settings go, we couldn’t have picked a better one for the start of 2021.
Starting at R480 per person per night, Flitwick Ranch is one of those rare gems – a worldclass experience with an accessible, local price tag. Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org for more info or to make a booking.
A special thank you to Jurie and Charlotte for their wonderful hospitality (and the big box of veggie goodies we took home!) We’ll be back!