BLOW THE BUDGET: Chirping with the kievits
WHILE driving along the Jacaranda-lined dirt road leading to Kievits Kroon, a luxury country estate in Pretoria, my friend and I were struck by how little we knew of what lay beyond the city's centre.
Both of us grew up in Pretoria, but we are city girls who enjoy urban-style luxuries and events like malls, clubs, plays and stand-up comedy shows.
On the rare occasions we felt like escaping the rat race, we overlooked Jacaranda City.
It never occurred to us that Pretoria could be a leisure destination - not until we recently heard about Kievits Kroon.
This is a boutique hotel that lies snugly in the peaceful beauty of the Kameeldrift Valley, just 10 minutes away from central Pretoria and 40 minutes from Johannesburg.
When we entered the 16ha estate on which Kievits Kroon is built, I realised why it had been dubbed "the winelands in Gauteng".
The hotel is split up into country houses which altogether have 142 rooms.
Most of the rooms have whitewashed walls, thatch roofs and grand, ornately rounded gables characteristic of Cape Dutch-style architecture.
On the outside they look like buildings you would find in Stellenbosch, but their interiors are country chic - a compromise between rural charm and urban modernity.
Our room was designed for ultimate comfort and relaxation.
Once we'd settled, we strolled to the spa for a massage. On our walk, all I could hear was the chirping of small, black-headed birds (which I later discovered are called lapwings or kiewiets) and all I could see were couples relaxing on the beautifully manicured lawns while others sat under trees enjoying picnic baskets which they pre-ordered from the hotel's restaurant.
"Wow, I want to get married here one day," said my friend as we approached the spa.
I smiled in agreement.
The estate is the perfect backdrop to host an unforgettable wedding. So, we were disappointed to discover that the venue no longer catered for weddings. Kievits Kroon prides itself on being the destination of choice for high-powered corporates to host conferences. The "Old Chapel" on the premises has been transformed into one of the 17 state-of-the-art conference rooms.
While corporates come here during the week to hold conferences, the heavenly trio of good food, wine and seclusion is what drew the couples, friends and families whom we met at the spa for the weekend.
Our dinner was a five-course extravaganza at the gourmet restaurant, Granita, paired with wines from their award-winning wine list.
The meal consisted of generous portions of springbok carpaccio, anchovy bake, soup and beef mignon, all of which were accompanied by fresh and organic produce, which was either sourced locally or grown in the garden on the estate.
Despite being full when our chocolate nougat parfait with raspberry and lace tuile pudding arrived, we continued eating.
But apart from the eating, drinking and pampering, there isn't much to do, and that is a good thing.
In Johannesburg, 100 things fill the day, yet I always feel restless and dissatisfied. But, when I left Kievits Kroon, I was content.