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5 Reasons to visit the KZN Midlands

Rich in history and uniquely beautiful, the Midlands has long been known to have a special combination of looks and personality

By House & Garden South Africa | July 26, 2022 | Travel Leisure

Rich in history and uniquely beautiful, the Midlands has long been known to have a special combination of looks and personality. If you’ve tended to be one of the many who viewed the area’s attractions as a little rough around the edges – with an emphasis on the ‘shabby’ part of ‘shabby chic’ – it’s time to think again about this creative enclave. We took a trip to find the freshest food, drinks and striking surroundings.

Midlands Fable

If you’re looking for a lavish brunch in a beautiful setting, Midlands Fable is well worth a day trip for the occasion – and if you’re looking for something hearty and delicious to fuel further explorations, they’ve got you covered, too. With that being said, part of Fable’s charm is that it’s not geared specifically towards visitors from far afield: its owners delight in getting Midlands locals out and about to enjoy Fable’s dining and gardens.

Midlands Fable, Image: Supplied

Built and cultivated over a period of years, the restaurant and outdoor area have enjoyed the kind of careful thought that now reaps the reward of languid, carefree enjoyment. There’s even more in the works to entice visitors from near and far: a tap room is in the works, soon to let guests enjoy wines, beers and gin alongside a site-specific menu that might even take some of the pressure off of the kitchen in the main restaurant. Arrive a little early and prepare to wait patiently for your table – what’s the rush when you have so much to look at?

Midlands Fable, Image: Supplied

Brahman Hills

As previously featured on our website, the gardens at Brahman Hills are a serene, inspiring and generally remarkable place to spend a few hours – particularly when you consider that they had their beginning as a heart-of-lockdown project. Don’t neglect the comforts of the venue’s hospitality offering: book a seat for fine dining with cosy booth seating at Skyfall restaurant, enjoy the casual restaurant and coffee shop, or check in for the night and take your time trying all the delights that amenities like the the extensive wine cellar and spa have on offer.

A textural mix of colour-coded perennials and bulbs fringe the pathways in seasonal succession. Photographed by Elsa Young

Abingdon Estate

For those not immersed in the world of SA wine, Abingdon Estate is still the ‘Best Kept Secret’ that it was named by the 2019 Amex Dining Awards, but word is spreading fast. For those in the know, the vineyard and its restaurant make a must-visit attraction when in the Midlands, or reason enough to plan a trip, thanks to the wines being produced here with careful attention to the area’s unique climate. Of special interest is their already much-awarded Nebbiolo, and their foray into the world of natural wine with their delightful, 100% viognier Pet-Nat 2021. This family-run establishment doesn’t offer tastings and its restaurant is relatively small, so you’ll want to plan ahead for this one: book your spot and settle in for all the kitchen has to offer, accompanied by their wines by the glass. While you’re about it, make sure that there’s room in your luggage to accommodate a few coveted bottles.

The Barn Owl

From coffee that’s become a favourite with Durbanites thanks to their significantly smaller Florida Road branch to an impressive, tempting array of vegan options on their café-style menu, there’s plenty to enjoy while taking in The Barn Owl’s sweeping river view and trademark Midlands surroundings (think red hot pokers, blue skies and grazing horses).

The Barn Owl, Image: Supplied

For and bigger groups, there’s plenty of outdoor seating and intriguing play areas, while those embarking on a deep dive into the delights of local produce can pick up take-home items from the deli section. Should you stop by on a rainy day, you’ll still be able to appreciate the good looks of the high-ceilinged, industrial-style building, but keep in mind that these attractions make this a popular spot: check in on Instagram ahead of your visit to ensure that there are no weddings or private functions planned to come between you and your coffee.

The Barn Owl, Image: Supplied

Hartford House

Hartford House is a Midlands institution, distinguishing itself even in an area steeped in history, and the stone buildings and lush gardens adjacent to The Summerhill Stallion Barn make for an ideal getting-away-from-it-all atmosphere. Despite the venue’s grandeur and heritage, it’s little touches that make the stay feel special: hot towels on arrival after a long journey, Sherry in your room to counter the Midlands cold, freshly snipped foliage in every room of the suites, and the hotel’s locally made custom crockery.

Hartford House, Image: Supplied

That leads us to the food and drinks on offer: inventive cocktails show off local spirits such as Afrikanis rum, and a succinct but well-chosen wine list is available for those who’d like a few glasses before or alongside dinner – arrange pairing beforehand if you’d like to try it. The tasting menus rotate nightly and are updated frequently to keep things interesting for the palates of guests enjoying an extended stay. On balance, the result is that the execution of the dishes doesn’t always feel entirely polished, but creativity and high-quality ingredients make up for it.

Hartford House, Image: Supplied

Breakfasts are both the most important and the most impressive meal of the day here – from fresh juice shots, breads baked on-site and selections of local cheeses, and meats to Benedicts and fry-ups with regional flavour, you’ll want to get up early even when there’s a chill in the air to linger over all the options available.

Need even more reasons to visit?

Inspired to add to your itinerary? Extend your stay and make the most of being in the area by visiting these sites and spaces.

Fourdoun

Piggly Wiggly

Not to your taste? Keep in mind that the Midlands Meander has a host of itineraries planned by interest and area.

Words by Cayleigh Bright