Fordoun Hotel & Spa review - a boutique stay in Kwazulu-Natal's Midlands region
Updated: May 18
Blue skies in December.
For a pair of jaded Londoners, used to the Northern Hemisphere’s gloomy winter skies and lack-of-sunlight-induced mopiness usual at this time of the year, this was quite the revelation.
A few weeks spent under the cobalt heavens on Africa’s southern tip had been a daily delight. And today was to be no different, as we arrived at the Fordoun Hotel & Spa dressed in our holiday shorts and T-shirts, the rental car’s aircon set at full blast to counteract the baking mid-summer’s heat.
Not that the sunniness was to last. A couple of hours later we would find ourselves confined to our room as a deluge of late-afternoon showers bucketed itself down on all sides.
To be fair, this wasn’t any real inconvenience either. What better time to settle down with some holiday reading than to the sounds of summer rains pummeling rooftops and gushing from gutters? Not to mention the fact that the rooms at Fordoun provide the perfect relaxing spot – bathrooms here come with deliciously deep tubs and sensory salts, ideal for whiling away the time to the sounds of the surrounding downpour...
Earlier that day we had begun our journey from the magnificent Oyster Box hotel in Umhlanga near Durban, making our way north via the Midlands Meander route. Located just off the Kwazulu-Natal N3 motorway, between the towns of Pietermaritzburg and Mooi River, the Midlands Meander is a picturesque drive amongst the foothills of the splendid peaks that are South Africa’s Drakensberg mountain range.
This lovely route takes in local arts and crafts stores, traditional restaurants, plenty of outdoor activities venues as well as culturally and historically significant sites. We spent some time learning about the struggle to end Apartheid, and checking out the sculpture monument at the Nelson Mandela Capture site, before browsing for local designer linens and craft confectionery at the charming Piggly Wiggly Country Village, where we had stopped for a bite to eat.
Then onwards via pretty rural villages like Nottingham Road we finally made our way to the Fordoun Hotel & Spa.
The drive up the entrance avenue at Fordoun Hotel & Spa is a magnificent one, lined as it is by a row of towering trees standing sentinel to either side, not unlike those country lanes leading up to aristocratic pads the world over. The end of this particular road would not lead us to an imposing mansion house however, but a luxury boutique hotel. Transformed from the bones of the traditional 1860’s homestead and the original barns of a dairy farm, today the buildings are beautifully converted and renovated into 5-star accommodations.
Our hotel room – one of the entry-level ‘Luxury Suites’ - is situated in one of the converted sheds that date back to the 19th century. Signs of the building’s history as a working farm are evident, from the lofty ceilings to the immense exposed beams and the natural stone walls. The bedroom area is spacious, including a separate dressing area. Each of these rooms also has its own theme, and ours has been decorated in a mix of African art and farmyard motifs that feels both tastefully traditional and local.
As for the bathroom, it is equally large. We’ve mentioned the bath tub, which could easily fit 2 and which is great for a soak to the soundtrack of the surrounding countryside. There is also a separate shower and a selection of products including those aromatic bath salts.
Fordoun Hotel & Spa location
Even though the Fordoun hotel is located mere minutes from the N3 national motorway in South Africa’s Kwazulu-Natal province, it nevertheless feels rural and peaceful, the Drakensberg foothills visible in the distance. A stroll around the property brings us to the Epsom dam, alongside pastures home to the farm’s own herds of cattle and horses.
There is an on-site wedding venue as well as the hotel’s well-renowned spa. And next to a tennis court scorching under the summer sun is an outdoor pool that looks the perfect antidote to the heatwave.
Skye Bistro restaurant
One thing that is true above all else at the Fordoun hotel is that the hospitality here is uniformly warm and enthusiastic. Service in South Africa is often amiable in any case, and at Fordoun this warmth has been on full display since our arrival, the many greetings from the staff about the property have been unfailingly genuine and the smiles unforced.
Turning up at the hotel’s Skye Bistro for dinner this evening has been no exception, as we are welcomed and shown to a windowside table overlooking one of the many lawns and gardens around the estate.
The bistro styles itself as a fine dining restaurant, but while the decor is certainly tasteful, we found the venue rather more intimate and relaxed than stuffily fancy.
The menu continues the theme, with creative dishes made from simple and fresh ingredients that are overwhelmingly locally sourced. Everything we ate, from a roasted butternut feta and thyme tartlet to a burned sage butter chicken and potato fondant reinforces this idea – of local produce put together in an interesting and uncomplicated way. And towards the end of our evening, a visit to each table by one of the owners of this family-run estate – enquiring after our well-being – was just one more sign of the personable attention to detail of this lovely hotel.
Breakfast the following morning brings more of the same – views over tranquil gardens under newly-minted blue skies; hearty, healthy breakfasts made from quality regional fare – and all of it served up with the charming affability universal to the Fordoun staff.
Final review of Fordoun hotel & spa
And so our brief one-night stay at Fordoun Hotel & Spa comes to an end. In fact, as it turns out Fordoun is perfect for this, ideally placed as it is near the town of Nottingham Road in the Natal Midlands and close to the N3 highway - making it a great choice for breaking up the journey between Johannesburg and the Kwazulu-Natal coasts with a short stay.
But a longer stay here would be equally satisfying. The surrounding area is gorgeous and chock-full of things to do, including plenty of outdoor activities and venues. Not the least of which are the majestic Drakensberg peaks - just a quick drive away and offering one-of-a-kind mountain views and brilliant hikes.
The family-run Fordoun hotel ticks all the boxes - upscale accommodation, great food and first-class service set amongst stunning scenery, and we will certainly be back!