The Midlands Meander

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View across to the Lake House at Rawdon's country estate

The Lake House

Rawdons Hotel in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa

Every time I’m in South Africa, I try to visit a piece of the country I’ve never seen before. The Midlands is a place I had heard of on many occasions and been wanting to visit for quite some time. The name evokes scenes of misty hills, dark green woodlands and gleaming lakes – landscapes you’re more likely to find in the northern parts of England. But as I soon discovered, this quaint piece of countryside in the heart of Natal, delivers on all of the expectations that is promised by that name.

The lake at Rawdons country Estate

Rawdons Country Estate
The lake at Rawdons country estate in the Midlands

On our recent road trip through KwaZulu-Natal, we decided to pass through the Midlands, staying at Nottingham Road – a small village tucked away between rolling green hillocks of Mooi Rivier and the foothills of the Drakensberg. The area, also known as the Midlands Meander, is less than a two hour drive from Durban, and very easy to reach by car.

Lake-house-vegetation
Lake house view

Rooms at the lake house

During our visit we stayed at the Rawdons Country Hotel, a tranquil estate with an old English charm. Surrounded by wide green lawns and massive oak trees, the hotel offers a breathtaking view of two lakes and the pine woods beyond. All day long the lake is full of life, with waterhens hopping on the water and ibises fishing for food. At night, while the finches disappear inside nests among the reeds, the evening air becomes abuzz with an orchestra of toads.

The pretty rooms at the Lake House, Rawdons Country Estate
The pretty rooms at the Lake House, Rawdons Country Estate

Rooms at Rawdons Estate

Tucked away between the trees at the edge of the water is the Lake House. Perfect for larger groups or families, the house offers two spacious rooms that open onto a semi private lawn. The interior is an elegant mix of antiques and country-cottage furnishings. My favourite was the kingsize canopy bed, the wood-burning fireplace and romantic bathroom with clawfoot bathtub.

Lake House Entrance

The Lake House in the Natal Midlands
The Lake House in the Natal Midlands

Master Suite at the Lake House

The Rawdons Estate also houses the Boars Head Pub, an independent brewery known for its naturally brewed ales and lagers. Here one can sample an array of quirky-named ales like tipsy tiger or pye-eyed possum, as well as their very own gin and tonic on tap. If you think you’ve quaffed quite enough, you can brim your belly from a hearty selection of pub dishes like beer battered hake (my favourite) and hunters pie.

The lake house bathroom
Bathroom at the lake House

The Rawdons Hotel is the perfect base from which to explore everything the Midlands has to offer. Or for a simple day of relaxing, just curl up with a book next to the pool. Apart from the beautiful scenery and luxurious atmosphere, what I appreciated the most about the hotel, was their friendly staff and their efforts at making our stay feel super special.

My favourite spots in the Meander

Breakfast:

The Blueberry Café

Coffee:

Terbodore coffee roastery

Browsing & shopping:

The Piggly Wiggly Country Village and Ground Cover Leather company.

Lunch:

Chicken pies from the Windmill Country Stop

Beers followed by dinner:

The Hogs Head Brewery

 Story & photography by Barbara Cilliers


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A weekend in Brussels with mum

A weekend in Brussels with mom

Weekend in Brussels with mum

Where to stay, what to do and where not to have waffles

When your mom flies halfway around the world to come visit you in Europe, it’s only right to treat her to a weekend trip to some place nice. Now, Brussels has never really topped my list of must-see-places-before-you-die, but at €19 a ticket (return!) I decided it was indeed a must. So mom and I hopped on a ridiculously early flight and navigated our way toward the European Capital of Culture.

It had been previously agreed on that stroopwafels would be eaten and Manneken Pis be visited, but neither of us quite expected to be so dazzled by the city. The curious architecture and exquisite detail of the art nouveau facades had me biting my fist at every corner. Poor mom had to stop at each turn, cause I was taking pictures of literally every, single, house.

This was especially true in Saint Gilles – the suburb where we resided during our trip. The elegant airbnb apartment we stayed at, belongs to Bénédicte and Matthieu, the creative couple behind the interior design blog Auguste & Claire. I can highly reccomend it! The one bedroom apartment has been beautifully renovated to create a calm and tranquil respite right in the heart of bustling Saint Gilles.

Beautiful holiday apartment in Brussels

Beautiful holiday apartment in Brussels
Perfect weekend getaway in Brussels

Cement tiles and wooden floors.

Elegant holiday home in Brussels
Bright and sunny Brussels holiday apartment

The streets around here are astir with loads of young people sipping coffee and swigging beer at the corner cafes and street bars. From there Mum and I took the tram up to Ixelles to have chips on the square at Flagey. We contemplated having a drink on the steps with the cool kids, but both of our noses were bright pink from the cold so instead we strolled around the Ixelles pond and gaped at the houses along Avenue de l’Hippodrome.

The Ixelle pond in Brussels

Brussels-architecture
Pretty-tree-in-Ixelle-Brussels

The beautiful houses along Avenue de l’Hippodrome

The next day we set out on an adventure that included both a hunt for treasure at the Marollen flea market and finding the cartoon murals of the Comic strip trail – a homage to famous Belgian comic artists featuring over 50 colourful murals on buildings through-out the city.

Still saving space for that much anticipated waffle, we decided to have a light breakfast at L’aubette on Rue Blaes – a delightful place with very friendly staff and perfect ambience. Actually that entire street is really cool with loads of interior design-, antique- and home decor stores. On Rue Haute we stumbled into a mesmerising tropical nursery and decor shop called Brut – lured in by the super vibey african beats of the shoe-box-sized jungle in the city.

breakfast at L’aubette on Rue Blaes
Breakfast at L’aubette in Brussels
Brut nursery and interior decor in Brussels

After finding most of the murals on our agenda, we headed north toward the Grand-Place. In keeping with its name, the huge market square is unquestionably grand. Bordered by ostentatiously grandiose edifices, the square, dating back to the 14th century, has been voted one of the most beautiful places in the world. It’s listed as an UNESCO World Heritage site and well worth a jaw-dropping peek.

Just around the corner stands the (in)famous Manneken Pis – a tiny peeing statue of a little boy that you would totally miss if it wasn’t for the hoards of selfie taking tourists. Contrary to the Grand-Place, this “Little man Pee” is decidedly little, and therefore, little more can be said of the fellow. The folk lore and legends that swaddle the statue is perhaps a bit more interesting. My favourite is the one of a boy named Jullianske who urinated on a burning fuse set by foreign invaders during a siege, and in doing so, saved the city from being blown to bits.

The Grand Place in Brussels

The Grand-Place, Brussels, Belgium
The beautiful Architecture in Brussels

Finally mom and I sat down for waffles at Maison Dandoy. The much hyped waffles was really disappointing and I guess coffee not their forte either… Mom was not impressed and believe me, she’s a good judge of sweet things. Other than that the service was deplorable, the place really dirty and the toilets despicable. I’d avoid eating here. Sorry for that one mom!

Despite the disappointing encounter with both our premeditated highlights, our weekend in Brussels was just brilliant. The city is beautiful and an absolute treat for admirers of architecture. Famed for its structural gems by architects like Paul Hankar and Victor Horta, the city is a kaleidoscope of styles. Every building looks different, stuck together in a creative architectural collage. My favourite of all was the Horta Museum on 25, rue Américaine. The World Heritage Site was once the studio and home of Victor Horta, and the immaculate details adorning the place is just amazing.

King Kong Café in Brussels

King Kong Cafe in Brussels
The Horta Museum in Brussels, Belgium

Hungry after our Horta hour mum and I dropped into King Kong around the corner for delicious burgers and interesting fries. Both plant-lovers we chose the cafe for it’s leafy interior but was equally pleased with the food. Just across from there is the Forcado Pastelaria, with their delicious and pretty Portuguese pastries – a great tip from Bénédicte!

If you have a day to spare, take a day trip to Ghent. The ride is only 30 minutes and easy to get to from Saint Gilles. The city is breathtakingly beautiful and dates back to the middle ages, having survived viking plunders, rebellions and a handful of wars. You can take the tram form the Sint-Pieters station down toe Korenmarkt and from there explore the surrounding area along the Leie river. It really is quite magnificent.

City of Ghent in Brussels

The beautiful medieval buildings in Ghent Belgium
The beautiful Leie river in Ghent, Belgium

Weekend highlights

Where to say:

Our beautiful airbnb apartment and the vibrant suburb of Saint Gilles

Where to eat:

Breakfast at L’aubette, lunch at King Kong, dessert at Forcado, beers at Moeder Lambic, and chips for dinner on Place Flagey.

What to do:

• Stroll around Ixelles pond to admire the surrounding architecture
• District of Marollen with its antique & vintage market, cartoon murals, art galleries and designs stores
• The Grand-Place with it’s golden swans and strangely named buildings

Where to from there:

Day trip to ghent. Look for the tickets to Sint-Pieters – reduced fair for pensioners & students

 Story & photography by Barbara Cilliers



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