On the 80 Kms KwaZulu-Natal Midlands Meander road trip from the Pietermaritzburg Airport my InStyle Tours driver, Carl, spots on a rolling hillock a grazing herd of Blesbok, or White Buck, so named because of their distinctive white (bles in Africaan) faces. The biltongs, or dried meat shops, along the old Joburg highway often dry wild game when they can get it.

Autumn at Fordoun; the reception and restaurant complex.

I am heading to Nottingham, not for the Sherwood Forest, but for a blissful stay at Fordoun Boutique Hotel and Spa, located along the Nottingham Road in KwaZulu-Natal, in South Africa. The British and Scottish ancestral influence is apparent in the region with small towns along the way, such as Howich, named by the Earl Gray tea owner, because it reminded him of his birthplace in England.  Fordoun, itself, is named after a Scottish loch.

Fordoun's Hotel and Spa
Manager, Richard Bates.

After World War II Lady Usher purchased the former dairy farm for a winter home, away from the blustery English climate.  She came to appreciate the property so much she decided to stay year around.  Later her relatives, the Bates family, turned the old 1860s homestead into the 5 star hotel and award winning spa, which has twice been awarded as South Africa’s leading spa. 

The property reminds me of an Old English country manor with deciduous trees lining the path from the highway turning colorful in the autumnal season.  Fordoun is a Land of Legends Association member, which picks outstanding properties for their scenic beautiful, above and beyond service, ethnicity qualities, and cultural aspects.

Today’s Fordoun was built around the original homestead and the 1950s dairy farm, but all facilities have been modernized with contemporary décor, state-of-the-art amenities, and 21st century conveniences. According to General Manager Richard Bates, many of the limestone buildings were taken apart and reconstructed stone by stone using concrete to ensure stability.

The one story spa complex sits off down a brick walkway and was the original milking barn.  The indoor heated pool was once the grain silo.

My corner suite, #10.

The farm feel of Fordoun.

A skeleton key opens the door to my African motif room #10.   The restful King bed is surrounded by a comfortable sitting area and a cowhide foot bench.  Hmm . . . what happened to the cows, I ponder?  The spacious room had a separate vanity area near the bath that doubled as my business desk.

A deep, full sized bathtub came with South African bath amenities, but the gigantic shower stall could have washed down the cow herd. Fluffy towels heat on the racks and the 75,000 nerve endings in each foot welcomed the heated bathroom floor after a languid tub soaking.   I am in udder, I mean, utter amazement at the serenity of the farm as I crack the bath windows open to allow the twitter of the birds to spill in. The solid stone walls give my accommodations an earthy feel. I have arrived in the upcountry and upscale!

Later Richard and I took a walking tour of the new villas that opened in June, 2011, built on a ridge top overlooking the back hectares of the farm and wetlands, and the Drakensberg Mountain range; the best view of the Midlands. 

The five family friendly villas have their own kitchens, multiple bedrooms and baths, and an isolated and private feel, but with all the amenities and comfort of Fordoun. The new individually styled suites have h
uge bedrooms combined with lounge, a separate dressing room with enough space and furniture to open cases and unpack for lengthy stays. Plus each villa has its own IT corner with workspace, indoor and outdoor showers, air-conditioning, underfloor heating in the bathrooms and dressing rooms, and gas fireplaces in the bedrooms/ lounges.

Each villa has its own large private patio to catch the afternoon sun and see the sunset over the Berg with telescopes to admire the view at closer range.

Although only 75 meters from the existing hotel structures, the new suites are serviced by shuttle cart for transporting guests and luggage.

Richard looked out into the distance and pointed out the farm’s wetlands area.

Fordoun donated land to
assist Wattle Crane breeding.

Fordoun donated 150 hectares of its 250 hectares holdings to raise rare Wattle Crane chicks, the most endangered cranes on the African continent. The Wattle Crane Recovery Program hopes to bring the gaudy and magnificent birds back from the brink of extinction by breeding them in captivity.

Offspring of the captive population, along with any additional chicks produced from abandoned wild eggs, will be costumed-reared at the Bill Barnes Crane and Oribi Nature Reserve on the property. Fordpun is also assisting in the recovery of the wild Oribi antelope stocks in the Midlands.

While staying at Fordoun guests can gift the efforts of the conservancy team with a donation to your room account.

One of Fordoun's greenhouses.

In some aspects the solar-powered Fordoun is still a working farm, a medicinal herbal farm.

Over 50 traditional healing and culinary plants are grown in the green houses and gardens; many are used in the pharmacology of Fordoun’s Ndlovu product line, named after Dr. Elliot Ndlovu, a traditional Zulu medicinal (inyanga) and spiritual (sangoma) healer.

Dr. Ndlovu is one of South Africa’s leading indigenous herbalists and ethno-botanists.

Take a tour with Dr. Ndlovu to his village in the Kamberg for an authentic African experience.

Skye Restaurant.

One evening at Fordoun’s Skye Bistro bar and restaurant, named after the Isle of Skye in Scotland, I had the great fortune to dine with Dr. Ndlovu.  After ordering the smoked Springbok Carpaccio entrée (what we call an appetizer) I spoke with the hearty and jovial healer about the various compounds, extracts, and elixirs he sources from the wild and off the farm for his Ndlovu line of spa products. Richard’s brother is the leader of the team that is expanding the marketing efforts of the splendid Ndlovu line.  At the spa store I purchased a jar of his unique Dagga body butter made from a low potency form of marijuana.  The Dagga, I found was great for relief of insect bites and skin rashes, and Dr. Ndlovu proclaimed it his signature product. 

At turn down that evening, instead of chocolates on the pillows, there was a pleasant scented packet of Africology herbal gel that reminded me of springtime flowers after a torrential rain that had burst open the negative ions.

The focal point of Fordoun is of course its outstanding spa.

Fordoun's Spa was once the farm's milking barn.

Sarah, the Spa Manager, and her staff can arrange a list of spa treatments; book at least a day in advance for some specialized therapies or instruction.  Weekends are heavily booked for the hotel and spa, so advanced planning is the key. There are only 17 suites at the exquisite hotel.  Pearl, the Recreation and Spa Reservation Manager, can set up trout fishing excursions in streams and ponds in the area, or other activities just outside the farm.

The sensory flotation chamber.

The spa has 11 treatment rooms and a pleasant waiting room.   Treatment rooms include five dry rooms, one couple’s room, three wet rooms with a Vichy Shower, the Mud room, a Hydrotherapy Room, a Traditional Consultation Hut, and a Bio-energy Rebalancing Room with crystals, pendulums, and energy books.  Have them arrange an Africology Facial that hydrates and promotes anti-aging.  The spa has wheelchair ramps and shower access.

The Epsom salt flotation pool has an herby scent that makes it inviting and the ceiling star-light makes it magical as the body floats free from gravitation.  There are indoor and outdoor pools, Jacuzzi, steam room, sauna, yoga classes with an instructor brought in, an indoor work out area with gym, and a full list of treatments.

The heated indoor pool plays mood music underwater while you are swimming.

The Vichy Shower room.

My early morning self indulgent exfoliating white clay treatment was in the tiled Turkish Rasul Chamber. Before the 45-minute Mcako Lungisa steam treatment began I applied the Kamberg mud all over my body and let it dry to draw out the toxins in my skin. Then after about twenty minutes of hot steam, I rinsed off with the rain shower, toweled off, and returned in robe and slippers to the waiting room for rooibos red bush tea before my massage treatment.

My beautiful Zulu masseuse, Bathus (Bah Too), rolled and pushed her strong fingers into my every pore during the Nduku Nduku Massage.  I am not sure what the spa menu meant by Zulu Knobberries, but using elbow pressure she knocked out the knots in my clavicles and shoulders. She kneaded my scalp and left it tingling, and finessed my skin after she applied Dr Ndlovu’s Artemesia massage oil, and then she left for me to contemplate the cosmos. I don’t know if Yah-hah is a Zulu word, but that is how I felt.

Bathus had milked me back to health.

Many of Fordoun's suites are
across from the conference centre.

Contact InStyle Tours in Pietermaritzburg which contracts transfers to Fordoun. My delightful driver, Carl, grew up in the area and expounds about the history, wildlife, and geology along the scenic Midlands Meander drive.

InStyle Tours
Tel: 033 320 3298
Cell: 082 471 3434

Fordoun Boutique Hotel and Spa
PO Box 17
Nottingham Road, 3280
Tel 033 266 6217
Fax 086 603 8778

— Feature by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine; photos by the author and courtesy of Fordoun.