As a child growing up in KwaZulu-Natal, Granny Mouse Country House was a place shrouded in mysterious appeal – it was where parents went for special anniversaries or distant cousins got married – neither occasion suitable for the under-tens. Recently, as I planned a trip back to this part of the world, it struck me that it was well within my jurisdiction (at the ripe old age of 32) to make a turn to this favourite haunt; and so it came to be that my husband, mother and I found ourselves shuttling through the misty Midlands en route to ye olde Mouse House.
With a 20-year-old heritage in the South African hotel industry, Granny Mouse’s thatched structure resembles (less rustic) Shakespearean accommodation, set amid a perfect English country garden. Upon entering, one is arrested with smells of leather, burning log fires and polished mahogany, with plump sage green cushions on dusty pink armchairs completing the picture of comfort.
Our deluxe room with a view of the Lion’s River was decorated in a similar soft, floral palette though had too many modern conveniences to ever be described as 'homely'. Granny Mouse is every bit the four-star hotel as it is the restful country getaway. One gets the feeling there is a slick operation working behind the scenes to deliver the tranquil, cottagey ambience that guests come to enjoy.
It wasn’t long before my husband had the fire going and we were reclining on the cushioned window seat enjoying a cup of tea and watching the light drizzle against the windowpanes. My relaxation for the day was far from complete, however, and soon it was time to make my way to the spa for a full-body Swedish massage - a dreamy experience that ensures every last bit of city stress has been eased away.
Dinner was in The Eaves, the hotel’s fine dining restaurant that is well accoladed for both its sophisticated menu and extensive wine list. Chef Evan Coosner joined the team about a year ago and takes pride in sourcing the freshest ingredients from nearby suppliers: 92% of the menu items are local, farm fresh and organic.
My husband’s trout certainly tasted like a Midlands catch-of-the-day. My mother and I both opted for the solid medallion of beef fillet, after starters of squid and mushroom risotto respectively. All the flavours were as delicate and varied as the food presentation itself; dessert especially was a noteworthy visual affair of miniature slices of lemon tart and grilled nectarine cheesecake, served with macadamia nut clusters and rum and raisin ice cream. The man of the table announced that he had 'won' the dessert round with his chocolate and mocha mousse cup.
Granny Mouse is the type of establishment where it would seem wrong not to 'retire to the drawing room' for a nightcap; and so we joined Sheeba, the resident German shepherd, in front of the fire for the last bit of the evening before returning to our rooms and sinking into the king-size bed with crisp cotton sheets.
Breakfast was a casual, hearty contrast to our dinner fare, with the Bistro intended as the more informal eatery, perfect for family dining. It is open for three meals a day. Knowing that we had a day of Midlands meandering ahead of us, we stockpiled on pastries from the continental buffet, before tucking into a full English. Suffice to say, we were adequately sustained throughout!
A day and a night at Granny Mouse is just not enough. It is the type of place where you settle in for a week, with a pile of books, some boardgames and a good pair of hiking shoes to explore the rolling fields and nearby waterfalls. It also makes the perfect base from which to visit the many craft shops, restaurants and attractions that have become synonymous with this area - and, of course, is as much the wedding venue choice it was when I was growing up.
In fact, as we checked out and wound our way down the driveway, surrounded on either side by pleasant green pastures and overhanging oaks, I had the distinct sense that my perception of Granny Mouse remains the same as it did in my child-like mind: an enchanting destination that could well come out of the pages of a fairy tale book.