I am a minimalist. I love clean lines and taupe. I have more John Pawson books on minimalist living than ones by Jamie Oliver on how to cook the perfect chicken (I am not a good wife). So it is with fear and in trepidation that my husband and I travel to Kurland on South Africa's Garden Route after checking out its website. My South African friends haven’t helped either – we’re told it’s all a bit ‘larney’; ie, bling.
Fortunately, they seem to have been to a different Kurland. The one we arrive at in the mid-afternoon couldn’t be further from bling. This place oozes charm and English country chic, as well as the odour of expensive perfumes and antique roses. It’s gorgeous. We drive down its long drive, and stare open-mouthed at the polo fields and stables to our right. We’re slightly worried that the few clothes we’ve packed aren’t going to be anything like smart enough for mixing with all the old-school polo money inside, but our fears are soon allayed. Kurland couldn’t be more laid-back. Upon entry, I wander through the rose-infused hallway onto a big, beautiful veranda, where I just want to curl up and eat a big slice of the cake that’s sitting invitingly on an old-fashioned stand.
Set in 700 hectares of private estate land, Kurland was originally an old 1940s Cape Dutch family homestead. Nowadays, it’s an intimate, 12-room hotel and polo club surrounded by peaceful mature gardens. After checking in, Mr Smith and I are taken to our accommodation, crossing the lawn and passing the central pool area. The latter offers glorious views of the gardens and the surrounding Tsitsikamma mountains, and we’re still reeling from all the beauty when we walk into our room – where we reel all over again. It’s stunning. The wallpaper and furnishings may be floral, but they’re far too tasteful to be chintzy. Huge armchairs, complete with ottomans, cushions and cashmere throws – and a minibar within easy reach – suggest lazy evenings and delicious comfort, and there are four vases of antique roses in the bedroom alone.
After collapsing on the luxurious, all-white bed for a few minutes – we have just completed a seven-hour drive – we rouse ourselves to check out the rest of the room. Mr Smith is delighted to discover that the television has satellite channels, which means he’ll be able to watch the cricket, while I’m overjoyed to find a whole array of gorgeous products in the bathroom, as well as towels that are big enough to drag on the floor – even when you’re wrapped in them.
Tempting as it is to stay in our room, the house and its surroundings are so beautiful that we can’t really justify a filthy weekend of pottering in our dressing gowns from bed to armchair to sun lounger to bubble bath. So we spend the day watching polo players train, swimming lengths in the pool, then being massaged and having saunas in the sumptuous spa – mercifully just seconds from our room. Afterwards, we head back to that veranda and flop out on big wicker sofas, where we indulge in tea and cake. And then more tea and cake.
Dinner, later, is in the main house. We enjoy cocktails and nibbles in the large antique sitting room, before sitting down to eat in a cosy little room in which a fire roars, scented candles sparkle and vases of roses fill every available nook. It all feels very special and charming. The food is homely yet sophisticated, the local wines absolutely delicious, and Mr Smith, who has had slightly too many large G&Ts and a lot of red wine, is bumbling and bluffing like an elderly English country gent. After digestifs, we tumble into bed and sleep like babies, where we dream of roses and polo balls being thwacked.
The next day brings great adventure. We walk and mountain-bike through the lush Tsitsikamma National Park to Nature’s Valley – just over the hills from Kurland. En route, we stop to eat our packed lunch on a huge, deserted beach. I find it strange that we’re the only people there, but Mr Smith assures me there are many more like it on this section of the South African coast. My faith in the planet is momentarily restored.
That evening, we decide to venture away from the hotel, and toast the sunset with candlelit cocktails at Hemingway’s, beside the Bitou River on Plettenberg Bay. We follow this with a fabulous dinner at the Emily Moon River Lodge, a sweet local restaurant overlooking the wetlands. The food is excellent. South African cuisine done well, while simple, is mighty good: ingredients are sourced in the country, so all meat and seafood is supremely tasty.
As we drive back to Kurland, we can’t keep our eyes off the moon, sitting just over the Tsitsikamma mountains, so we decide to go for a moonlit walk along Keurboomstand Beach. We giggle and shiver our way along the sands, and get very excited when we think we spot dolphins and seals out at sea – more likely to be patches of seaweed, we’re later told. By the time we get back to Kurland, I am exhausted, though I have to drag Mr Smith away from the quad bikes that have been left outside the hotel before I can get anywhere near bed.
Our stay comes to an end all too quickly. After an overly indulgent breakfast on the kitchen terrace, we pack our bags and leave Kurland feeling relaxed and rested. We have enjoyed our stay a trillion times more than we expected and we, a British couple living in Cape Town, would return to this very English corner of South Africa in a heartbeat.
Back at home, I realise I’ve undergone a radical and extreme about-turn. Kurland may go against all of my minimalist principles, but it is effortlessly comfortable, chic, relaxed and utterly beautiful. My house is now full of scented candles, my flower of choice is a big floppy English antique rose, and I’m even thinking of going to Colefax & Fowler next time I’m back in London. Pigs occasionally do fly…
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Smith extra at Kurland
A horse-riding trip for two