Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby check out this iconic retreat in KZN’s Drakensberg mountains
We’ve been incredibly fortunate to visit some of the most outstanding hotels in the world, but Cathedral Peak Hotel, nestled in the majestic Drakensberg Mountains is without a doubt the one that tops them all when it comes to location. With the soaring peaks of The Bell, Cathedral Peak itself, Inner and Outer Horn and the Chessmen towering above us, the views are nothing short of breathtaking. From every corner of the hotel, be it the lounge, restaurant, your room or the pool, you won’t miss out on the view, the mountains.
But this place is not just about looking at the mountains. A visit to Cathedral Peak Hotel is all about enjoying and experiencing what this place of great natural beauty has to offer. And the list is long. The hotel offers daily activity programs for adults and children alike; horse-back riding, swimming, climbing Cathedral Peak (not for the faint-hearted), guided walks to nearby waterfalls, quad biking or golfing on the spectacular 9-hole golf course. The list goes on and on. There are even two tennis courts, a volleyball and squash court…oh, and there’s a bowling green…and yes, a spa to relieve those sore hiker’s muscles. And with its guest-carrying capacity of over 200, it’s ideal for not only weddings (it has the most picturesque chapel on site) but also for larger conferences. Yet, despite its size, the hotel manages the personal and intimate feel for all guests and you never feel ‘lost’.
The hotel was a vision of Albert van der Riet whose original farmhouse from 1907 still stands on the property. The hotel itself opened in 1939 and was revamped most recently in 2008, now offering even more luxurious rooms, including honeymoon suites and a presidential suite. The hotel is still family-run and most of the staff come from the nearby village. From the moment we arrived, it’s obvious that they cherish this place and are proud to be working here. As we often conclude about the places we visit, it’s the people and smiling faces that make that last little difference to an overall experience; and at Cathedral Peak Hotel we were welcomed with big smiles from the security guard to Michelle at the reception, to our porter and to Siraaj, the banqueting manager who gave us an extensive tour of the grounds.
We were lucky to visit during two days of wonderful sunshine in April, with the Berg lit up in endless shades of green from the summer’s rainfall. From our room we do some bird-watching from our deck and spot a Swee Waxbill before heading down for the sumptuous dinner buffet; we stuff ourselves with yummy starters and mains before realizing that there are more than 20 delectable desserts on offer as well… needless to say that we weren’t particularly hungry when it came to the following morning’s massive, delicious breakfast buffet!
A two-night stay here is the absolute minimum if you want to take full advantage of what the hotel has to offer. And if you’re a family with small children, this place might just be heaven: babysitting can easily be arranged at a nominal fee, children have their own dining room (with supervision) and there’s pony rides, mini-golf, painting competitions and tractor rides on offer for the littlies.
The Cathedral Peak Hotel defines the concept of a mountain retreat, it’s a South African icon, loved by many families who return here generation after generation. It may be 4-star, but nonetheless provides 5-star service, food and 10-star views! There’s nowhere else like it. We love it.