It’s rained endlessly all night and for much of the day when I pull on my hiking boots and venture out to explore.
Trees are moaning in the chilling wind as I look back at De Hoek, an imposing stone mansion standing in misty isolation like a scene from Wuthering Heights. Fortunately all eerie images are dispelled the moment you step through its heavy wooden doors. Warmth envelopes you, friendly staff materialise, and the only evil spirits are those waiting in the cosy bar.
I’d booked into De Hoek Country Hotel in the Magaliesburg picturing a weekend of mountain hikes, afternoon tea by the river and trying archery and boules on the lawn. Instead I’m in for a weekend of lounging by the fire with a mug of hot chocolate, and De Hoek is a fabulous place to do that. It only takes 90 minutes to reach from Joburg - or an hour if you actually hold the map the right way up.
The hotel features several buildings that look tastefully old despite being deceptively new. The original Stone House was built 18 years ago for Johann and André Redelinghuys, who appointed Michael and Michelle Holenstein to turn it into a 5-star hotel.
Above a central dining room is a minstrel’s gallery with a small library and a bedroom in each wing. Another dining room and a large inviting lounge lead onto terraces, and there’s a swimming pool too, but my skin would be as blue as the water if I’d gone anywhere near it. The affable head waiter Mathias proudly showed me around the newer buildings housing two conference centres and 16 bedrooms. The interior woodwork is crafted from Oregon pine rescued from Crown Mines and teak and imbuia salvaged from old homes, to create an olde worlde atmosphere brightened by modern comforts.
De Hoek is keen to build its reputation as a classy but close business venue for Gauteng companies, and as a haven for romantic trysts at the weekend. Our bedroom had delicious under carpet heating, a desk and a large TV where I watched a DVD as the thunderous sky darkened completely. When we prepared to leg it through the rain from our room to dinner in the manor house, an umbrella was thoughtfully waiting for us on the doormat.
Swiss-born Michael Holenstein is a master chef with the Chaine des Rotisseurs gastronomic society and he trained all the kitchen staff himself. The food is one of De Hoek’s main attractions, with lavish and leisurely five-course dinners that start with a trio of imaginative canapés while you peruse the menu. The wine display is one of those scary affairs without any price tags, and I was paying R55 a glass for a lovely red blend proffered by the barman.
A substantial starter of snails and mushrooms in red wine almost filled me even before the beautifully cooked main course of sea bass in an olive and coriander coating. With a sorbet in between I had to admit defeat, but still tested the trio of crème brûlées my partner chose for dessert.
Breakfast is equally lavish, with a generous buffet and interesting options like poached eggs on a bowl of spicy beans and chorizo. Perfect to put a fire in your stomach before braving a rainy drive around Magaliesburg. Sterkfontein Caves and the Maropeng exhibition about ancient man are close by, and in drier weather this is beautiful hiking or biking territory.
We left in gorgeous sunshine that would entice the incoming Sunday Lunch crowd to enjoy cocktails on the terrace. But I’d been just as happy with hot chocolate by the fireplace.