Sometimes a place can bring me to tears.
It’s happened on a few occasions and taken me a bit by surprise considering I’m not usually prone to such emotion. Miniature rivers stream down my cheeks, not because I’m unhappy, nor because I’ve had a terrible time. It’s simply because I don’t want to leave, ever.
Dar Amane in South Africa’s Graskop is such a place.
I had a good feeling about it from 6000 miles away, 5 months before we even set foot in the country. Owner Hendry and I had discussed everything from daffodils to Lebanese food, and I felt we knew each other already. You can discern a lot from correspondence, and I’m known for making up my mind based simply on how someone responds to an email. To say I was looking forward to our stay at Dar Amane guest house just as much as our luxury 5* safari chez Richard Branson may perhaps be a slight exaggeration, but it wasn’t far off.
The weather had been shocking all the way up from Swaziland, with torrential rain, horizontal wind and freezing temperatures. Driving had been terrifying with zero visibility, sheer drops and random animal obstacles, so to say we were a little stressed when we arrived would be an understatement. Yet once we’d figured how to gain entry to Dar Amane, with it’s tight yet unobtrusive security, our troubles immediately disappeared. It was our first visit yet it felt like coming home.
We were welcomed into our luxurious lodgings by Hendry’s staff, some of the nicest guys you could ever hope to meet. Whilst they carried our luggage through the pouring rain I just stood and gawped at what would be our home for the next couple of days. If I had a guest house, it would look just like this, oozing charm with it’s African influenced decor and vast ceilings.
Not only did we have an enormous bedroom complete with a bed to get lost in and mood lighting, there was also a large (yet still cosy!) living room resplendent with it’s artefact adorned walls. To say nothing of the cute little mezzanine with an extra bed, and the vast bathroom with it’s piles of fluffy white towels. We decided there and then we were staying put for the remainder of the day for some well earned relaxation time. Sightseeing at the nearby Blyde River Canyon would just have to wait.
Once we’d taken in the tasteful furnishings, we began to notice all the thoughtful little extras which had been strategically placed around the apartment. There was a slab of chocolate on the bed (the next night it was a box of chocolates), the tea tray came with a bag of the best artisan biscuits I’ve ever chomped on, and there was even complimentary wine. What more does a girl need?
The heating was blasting out to battle the unusually cold temperatures outside and in the evening the staff kindly brought in a gas patio heater to make sure we stayed toasty. After raiding the tea tray, and procuring some freshly squeezed orange for yours truly who doesn’t do hot drinks, we finally started to feel human again. The next couple of hours were spent playing rummy (the only card game we know!), catching up on the news, emails and a bit of blogging. Not always easy when you’re on the road.
Despite all the biscuits that first afternoon, we were more than ready for dinner and couldn’t quite believe it when the guys brought in what seemed like an entire roast lamb. Ok, so it was in fact ‘just’ a leg, but my goodness it was huge. And smelled of rosemary and mint sauce. Mmmmm. Accompanying it was a dish of what have to be the tastiest roasted veggies I’ve ever had, and a home grown garden salad which was almost a meal in itself. We certainly wouldn’t be going hungry staying here. Definitely the best meal of our entire trip, and very English too, which couldn’t have come at a better time as I had been feeling a little down and missing home a tiny bit (something that rarely happens!). Thoughtfully dessert was a little lighter. Strawberries and cream, the perfect end to a perfect meal.
Surprised we were able to heave ourselves out of bed the next morning, still a little full from last night, we padded out to find the patio had been quietly set up for breakfast whilst we were slumbering. I’m not usually a big breakfast fan, preferring to eat later in the day, but boy did that pile of steaming cinnamon pancakes change my mind. Surely the best pancakes ever, leaving even the famous Harries Pancakes in Graskop eating their dust! We also had pineapple (my favourite fruit), breads, yoghurts and some deliciously sizzled bacon and eggs. I could seriously move in next week!
Dinner the next evening was just as good too. A homemade mozzarella and spinach pastry parcel to start (that was big enough to be a main course), followed by a braai – lamb chops (we obviously didn’t eat the entire animal last night) and kudu sausage with potato and avocado salad. Oh, and ice cream with chocolate drizzle. Bliss.
South Africa isn’t particularly known for it’s service, and certainly our experience has been varied during our visits to the country. It is perhaps because of this that the staff at Dar Amane really stood out as something special. Not only did they deliver perfectly and professionally whilst remaining friendly and approachable, they did it without making us feel that we were, as guests, being high and mighty, something we often feel in South Africa which does often make us uncomfortable.
One of the things I loved most about Dar Amane was the total respect for privacy. There were two entrances to the apartment, a main door for us, and a side door across the breakfast terrace (did I mention we had one of those too?!) which the staff used, thus maintaining our privacy at all times. They always knocked first, and to our eventual delight (it took us some time to pluck up the courage to press it) there was a service bell which we were told to ring any time we needed something. We’re very independent and private people, rather unused to being waited on like this, but with the staff so easygoing and cheerful we soon got into the swing of things and in fact rather enjoyed the novelty of the bell. Ingenious idea.
And finally back to the delightful Hendry. Rarely have we felt so welcomed into someone’s home, or so well looked after. The luscious lamb was in fact one of two he had brought back from visiting his sister’s farm, which produces a very special taste as a result of the unique grazing area, and we felt privileged that he wanted to share this with us. He was full of useful local information and insider tips. We popped into Graskop for some souvenirs and thanks to Hendry, discovered Curio d’Afrique, an Aladdin’s cave hidden off the main tourist trail around to the right of the Graskop Hotel. Packed with antiques from all over the continent, as well as many of the standard gifts at prices much lower than in the high street shops, it was unsurprising we came out some while later laden with figurines, masks and spears. Insider knowledge rocks!
Of course the day came when we had to bid a fond farewell to Hendry and the team, but they had one final surprise up their sleeves. The guys had washed our rather dusty car whilst we’d been at breakfast, and it was now gleaming in the sun that had finally decided to show it’s face. Probably all part of the service to them, but to us, it was a gesture above and beyond. And that’s exactly how we’ll remember our time at Dar Amane. An experience above and beyond!