On 99% of my travels, my expectations are either met or the experience is below my expectations. Oaklands is probably the first place I’ve been to in ages that has exceeded my expectations to this extent. It’s easy to review super luxurious places that I’d never be able to afford in my personal capacity and absolutely love them, but Oaklands is the kind of place that is accessible to most people in terms of cost, and it’s just heavenly.
It’s situated in Central Drakensberg, 3 hours away from both JHB and DBN and is super easy to find. You literally take one turn off the N3, drive down a dirt road for 7km and then you’re there.
I didn’t have any time to research the place beforehand, so I had no idea what to expect. When we arrived, we drove up to a white house with a green roof. From the outside, the buildings look very plain and we thought we were in for a “roughing it” weekend. In reality, our time at Oaklands was probably one of my favourite weekend getaways of all time.
The hotel is run by a family: 3 sisters, one of whom is the chef, and their brother. The family is really hospitable but not in an overbearing way. A stay at Oaklands makes you feel like you’re a guest at the family home. It was great to chat to them and find out the history of the property, and they are just all lovely people. Like down to earth, friendly, nice people. There are 17 suites at the hotel, but because of the size of the property you feel like you’re there by yourself.
Ours had complimentary rusks, a nice touch, plus some of Oaklands’ spring water. The rooms are simple but modern and are furnished with everything you need plus some nice extras like a wall heater, fireplace and electric blanket. The bed is lovely- big and comfy with a fluffed out duvet and pillows with crisp white linen. I do think the rooms need some sprucing up in terms of character, like a painting or two would work well, but they only just got renovated so I’m sure they’ll change over time. The bathroom has double basins which I always like, but again, the amenities need some work- the shampoo, body wash and moisturiser are “no name” so I used my own. I was also glad I packed cotton wool and earbuds, because the vanity kit that you usually find at hotels was missing. Every night there was a turndown service, so when we arrived back from dinner our fireplace was lit and our electric blankets were on- heavenly! Days are sunny but nights get COLD so this was a welcome surprise.
The rooms have a balcony looking out onto the sprawling property which is massive, and consists of many trails that you can walk, cycle or horseride through (more on this later). On our first day there we took a long walk through the valley, passing a gorgeous, serene lake (where the spring water comes from.) It was SO nice to be somewhere quiet and naturally beautiful after travelling from one bustling city to the next over the past few months.
Now, onto the food. My expectations for hotel restaurants are very low. Most hotels have a restaurant because they have to, but Oaklands is different. I guess I should have known from the delish rusks in our room that the food would be amazing. Honestly, Oaklands’ restaurant could easily be a very successful standalone restaurant in JHB. The food is upmarket but in a hearty way, not in a gourmet/ fine dining pretentious kind of way. I would put it on the same level as Pigalle or Signature in Morningside.
Think guinea fowl ravioli, aged angus steaks, chicken vindaloo, red thai curry and tempura prawns. EVERYTHING we had was delicious. Their meat is sourced from farmers in the area, guinea fowl is from the property, and fish is sourced from La Marina (I actually wrote about them here). Food is flavourful and portions are generous. They love to cook with chilli, so nothing is bland, but it’s not overly spicy either. If you’re driving from DBN- JHB or vice verca you MUST go to Oaklands for lunch on the way. You will love it. They go all out for Sunday lunches.
On all other days, lunches are lighter, with homemade burgers, pies and toasties on the menu. I was super impressed with my Thai chicken burger- finding a homemade chicken patty is rare and this one was particularly delicious- I could taste the fresh ginger and coriander in the chicken. Rishav also loved his beef burger.
The restaurant is situated in the main hotel, which also has a lounge area, a bar and a games area where we enjoyed a few games of table tennis. Here, we met the dogs. Oaklands has 6 dogs, 4 of which are Great Danes. If, like me, you’re an animal lover, you will be in heaven. The dogs are just beautiful. They’re not hectic at all, they’re very calm and loving and you can play with them to your heart’s content, you can even walk them if you want.
They joined us when we went horse riding, which was just magnificent. I’ve only been horse riding twice before so I was a little scared, but the guides made me feel very comfortable and soon I was trotting away easily. Being up on a horse with spectacular views around us was really memorable- we went right to the top of the property. It was really cool having the dogs with us too.
Other than that, we chilled- read, had tea and chatted to the family. There’s free wifi in the main hotel (not in the rooms), so I sat there for a few hours and worked on some stories. I think 2 nights is the perfect amount of time and I would really recommend Oaklands if you’re looking for some time out from the craziness of life.
Oaklands is currently running a fab midweek special until Nov- R600 per person per night from Mon- Thurs. The normal weekend rate is R1900 per room per night which includes a yummy breakfast (think homemade muesli and croissants plus a hot breakfast of your choice (eggs, bacon etc)
Visit www.oaklands.co.za for more.
*The BIGGEST thank you to First Car Rental, who sponsored me this funky car that turned heads throughout my stay in KZN. First Care Rental provides affordable car hire in South Africa and has branches throughout the country, all offering quality vehicles at competitive rates.