Midlands Meandering Kwa-Zulu Natal: In search of hygge

Following our stay in Clarens, we headed for the Midlands in Natal. Living in Dubai, we don’t really have a winter – you can live in shorts and a t-shirt all year round. We were looking forward to some cold weather: frosty mornings, fire places and electric blankets. I am currently reading The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets of Happy Living and realized how much I missed hygge. Hygge loosely translates to cosiness but as Meik Wiking puts it is more of an atmosphere, a feeling, an ambiance.

It’s just under a 3 hour drive to Hartford House (where we stayed) in Mooi River from Clarens. We stopped along the way at The Pig & Plough in Winterton  for a quick coffee and my favorite South Africa dessert, Milk Tart. It was the perfect place for a break. With a lovely garden on the side, we ordered 2 cappuccinos. Pleasantly surprised, they used Terbodore coffee like many of the cafes in the Midlands. Terbodore Coffee Roasters are also based here and have a roastery and café in Curry’s Post.

The Midlands Meander is a loop that links several small villages together. I imagined it to be set-up a little like Clarens (everything centrally located) but you need to drive from one place to another. My advice to anyone doing this is plan your itinerary and select the activities you would like to do. We didn’t plan anything (apart from dinner every night) and were left a little ‘stuck’ on what to do. While the brochures in the tourist places list all the things to do, I found it difficult to put together an itinerary. If drinking coffee and eating cake is your thing, here’s my Midlands Meander.

 

  1. Café Bloom, Nottingham Road 

One of the biggest attractions in the area is the Nelson Mandela capture site. The whole place is really well done with a small, informative museum and the sculpture itself is magnificent. On the way to the site, we stopped in Nottingham Road and came across Café Bloom. It was raining at this point, so it ducked inside to warm up. Not quite sure which bean they used, it was so cold that I just needed a coffee. Cappuccinos, a brownie and seat by the fire. The Danish would refer to this as a perfect hygge moment.

  1. Blueberry café

We stumbled upon this place on the way back from the Nottingham Road. We saw the sign on the road, it had a cute name (who doesn’t like Blueberry café) and were curious enough to find out more. Set high up on a hill, the car park was full. This was a good sign. As we walked in, we were greeted by a very friendly chap who appeared to know what was going on. You could also smell the coffee roasting – they have their own roastery on site. The food looked fabulous – so good that we wanted to come back for lunch the next day but they were fully booked. We had a quick coffee and since the kitchen was closed the lovely gentleman packed us some complementary cheesecake as padkos (road-food). The cappuccinos were so good, the fire blazing and the views of the mountains so stunning that we can came back the next day for another coffee. We sat the window and looked out at the Drakensberg Mountains. The Winkle next door if you fancy some shopping. We saw some beautiful, unusual pieces for our home – it’s definitely worth popping in.

  1. Terbodore Coffee Roasters

 

 

 

 

 

Since everyone in the area including Hartford House serves Terbodore Coffee, this was one stop that had to be included. The drive over was beautiful as you went off the main roads (because Google told us this was the way). We passed Bosh Hoek Golf Club which looked stunning – we will save that for another time. We put the hire car through its paces up and down the gravel roads. Once we hit the Curry’s Post Road, we breathed a sigh of relief. Terbodore Coffee Roasters is tucked away – it’s like you are going to visit someone living on behind green hills. We parked on the lawn and we greeted by the smell of coffee. If only everyplace smelled like this. The sun was shining and the restaurant had a good buzz. We were also welcomed by 2 great danes (the Terbodore logo) lounging in the warm winter sun. I love how the great dane theme continues through the café – note the doggie biscuits intended for humans. The cappuccinos were warm and rich. The blend served in the café seemed to be richer and smoother than we had previously. We also bought some coffee as gifts and some Terbodore coffee pods for our Nespresso machine.

  1. Hartford House
    Coffee at Hartford

    Lastly, Hartford House needs no introduction to the food scene in Natal as Chef Constantijn has done a remarkable job in the kitchen. His food is experimental, exciting and he can turn you into a dragon. Every night Chef Constantijn took everyone through the menu including where the ingredients were the sourced from – they use local produce as much as possible. We knew that the piece of meat came from the specific farmer up the road. We did not have the room for a coffee after dinner as we were so full from the 5 course degustation menu. Instead, our first coffee at Hartford House was on our second morning at breakfast – we overslept on the first day and missed breakfast completely. The roast was Terbodore and the cappuccino was hmmmm ok – I preferred Costantijn’s cooking! Following breakfast we went for a bike ride, met the horses (Hartford House still has a working stud farm on site) and explored the grounds. After eating so much for dinner, you needed to find a way to burn off the calories.

 

Souffle finale

 

It seems like there are many more places one can pop in for coffee and cake like Granny Mouse and Piggly Wiggly. We struggled to get this time and will definitely have a more structured coffee itinerary on the next trip.

Exploring small town South Africa: Clarens

Growing up in South Africa, we spent many school holidays exploring the country. Holidays abroad were the exception as there was little need (plus it was expensive) to travel abroad when you had so much on your doorstop. My parents moved to New Zealand when I was 13 and although we went back to South Africa fairly often, it felt like you were going home. As an adult, going to South Africa ‘on holiday’ with my husband was a different experience. Matt is British and has been there 3 times. He absolutely loves it. His enthusiasm and love for the country rubs off on me and I feel like I am seeing things for the first time. On the other hand, there is still a pull and it feels like my soul has come home. In between visiting family and friends, we always try to do something new. For this trip, we planned a short 3 night stop in Clarens after reading The 25 best small towns in South Africa article. (http://www.savisas.com/blog/best-small-towns-south-africa/)

Clarens Winter

Clarens is known as the ‘Jewel of the Free State’ and is a lively, beautiful and arty small town. The winter days were cold yet crisp and sun warmed you up. The blue sky complemented the golden hues of the mountain surrounds; you felt like you were walking around an oil painting. The roads around the town are gravel which simply adds to the charm of the place. The art scene is what sets Clarens apart. One of the highlights included meeting Richard Rennie – a master water colourist and he opened the first art gallery in Clarens in 1990. But where there is art, there will be coffee. Here are my picks:

  1. Patcham Place
Patcham Place Clarens South Africa
Our B&B, Patcham Place

This B&B was our home for 3 nights so it makes sense to start here. Patcham Place is well located close to the town centre. Richard and Carol were fabulous hosts and laid out a scrumptious breakfast each morning. The filter coffee was strong and rich without tasting too bitter or watery. Plus, both hot and cold milk options were provided – you did not need to ask. The rooms were clean and comfortable and we loved our stay here.

  1. Highland coffee
Highland Coffee Clarens South Africa
Puzzling over Highland Coffee

This is the specialty coffee shop in town as they have their own coffee roastery in the shop. As a result the place smells divine. The café is small but cosy and there are plenty of games to keep you entertained. We sat by the fire and puzzled over our cappuccinos.

  1. Sugar & Cinnamon
Refuel at the entrance of the Golden Gate Park

Insiders tip: Richard and Carol suggested we stop here for a coffee on our way to the Golden Gate Park. This cute lil café serves Lavazza coffee and has a yummy selection of small bites to choose from. It is one part café and one part gift shop – full of quirky trinkets.

 

  1. The Artists Café
The Artists Café

It was a warm, sunny morning so we sat outside on the picnic tables. The place was buzzing families and dogs. There is a kids play around there so mum and dad can enjoy some breakfast while the kiddies play on the slides and see-saw. The cappuccinos are on the larger side (so more milky – ask for an extra shot if you like yours stronger) and will keep you full for most of the morning.

 

  1. The Courtyard Bakery & Café

Even mid-afternoon, this place was packed. The staff were very friendly and smiley. We sat outside (again) and ordered 2 cappuccinos, a chicken/mayo sandwich and a bacon toastie. All yummy and devoured within minutes. The bakery next door had lots of freshly baked bread and cakes – great if you are staying in self-catering.

We were too hungry to even think about taking photos so there are no pics from this delightful lil place.

  1. Clementines Restaurant and Bar
Warming the insides at Clementines

We didn’t have a coffee here as we stopped by for dinner but the hot chocolate was good, the fire place cosy and the atmosphere was warm and inviting. Dinner was great – the chef (from Ghana) comes around and checks that everything is okay with the food.

 

 

Clarens was really a delight and we were reminded how wonderful small towns are. Everyone we met was friendly, warm and welcoming – along with the coffees, it is these small touches, gestures and smiles that make a holiday experience more memorable.

 

In the middle of nowhere

The early days

My earliest coffee memory is making an instant coffee for my mum as a child in South Africa. The brand was Frisco and mum liked it with three quarters boiling water and a splash of milk. No sugar. I couldn’t drink anything that hot (and still can’t) nor something so bitter. My dad also drank coffee (half water, half milk, 3 teaspoons of sugar). This was much more to my taste – the right temperature and sugar highs.

A cousin then introduced me to milky coffee. This was how Wimpy (the hamburger restaurant of my childhood) made it. It was simply hot milk, a teaspoon of instant coffee and some sugar. Very creamy and oh so good.

My parents moved from South Africa to New Zealand when I was 13 and in the land of the flat white, I discovered espresso coffee. Here, we regularly went out for a coffee to cafes. I don’t seem to remember cafes and going for a coffee from the years in South Africa. The cafe culture had not yet developed. I asked mum what she drank when she went out for a coffee. I still remember her answer – a cappuccino.

The_Sum_of_Us_Dubai
Mother & daughter cappuccinos at The Sum of Us, Dubai 2016

At high school, I met the person who changed my coffee outlook, taste, preference and life. Her name is Sandra and she still is a major influence in my world. There will be many posts in the future which will include Sandy and our dramas!

Anyway, what you need to know is that she drank a trim mocha latte. Coffee lesson 1: The difference between a mocha and mocha latte is that a mocha has 1 shot of coffee and a mocha latte has 2. Many a barista asked her this question. Sandra disliked instant coffee, coffee that was too milky and pink marshmallows (which where always served on the side in New Zealand). She preferred her mocha latte more on the coffee side, I preferred mine more on the chocolate side. On a trip to Australia in 2008, a barista in Surfers Paradise, actually asked us how we liked our mochas and then tailor made each one.

I still like the occasional mocha with full fat milk – I have moved away from mocha lattes after I left New Zealand as baristas in the UK and Dubai didn’t have an idea what it was and were not interested in finding out.

My coffee story continues in the next post where coffee and blogging come together.

Takapuna_Beach_Cafe
Sandra, Knickerbocker and I (plus our mocha lattes) at Takapuna Beach Cafe, Auckland 2013.