Sunday, 17 March 2013

Welgelegen Manor, Balfour, Mpumalanga

An invitation to old world splendour

Driving out of Gauteng, it surprises me how quickly enters a different era – a world of sunflower fields and cosmos, of dusty roads, traditional houses and small villages with classical shop-front signage. One of the prestigious Portfolio Collection establishments (see, Welgelegen Manor is situated near Balfour in Mpumalanga, but close to the Gauteng border. I arrive in the late afternoon when the sun is low enough to light up individual strands of grass, their heads full of seeds and purple colour. And driving through old avenues of trees, one’s senses heighten at the privilege of entering a different time in history.

The sensitively restored Herbert Baker manor house is both imposing and welcoming, and the friendly host wins many bonus points by allowing me ample time to view every room in Welgelegen Manor. Of quintessential Herbert Baker design, the manor house has many different wings maximising the views in different directions. Baker’s high ceilings with large sash windows and beautiful double doors invite plenty of light, while dark wood panelling surrounding impressive fireplaces balance the light with grandeur.

I am shown to my chosen room, situated at the far corner of a herb-filled courtyard. The outside wall is lined with lavender and rose bushes and the room has four wide stable doors facing different directions. I had been nervous that such an old building would be stuffy and smell musty and dusty. But there is no Miss Haversham feel here. The room is elegantly decorated in pale blue-grey, using matching plush fabric for the chairs, headboard and blinds. Even the oak furniture, while traditional, is not heavy and stolid, but clean-lined, light and stylish. A vase of freshly cut roses stands on the dressing table in the bedroom. Home-baked cookies warm the graceful lounge area of my suite and I sink into the comfortable chaise lounge with a fresh cup of tea.

Accommodation Experience:
I am surprised to find that my favourite time in the room is dusk. This has to do with the many soft lights in the suite. The two pretty chandeliers complement the four stylish side-board lamps on either end of the expansive suite, while the bedside lamps cast a gentle glow onto the crisp white linen.

As I move through to the bathroom, I notice the moon rising in the bathroom window and I run a luxurious moonlit bubble bath in the large ball and claw Victorian bath.

From my bath I notice that there are no curt signs asking one to not do this and that, and one has a sense of being welcomed into a time of comfort and care that was reserved for a privileged few. To this one naturally responds with an appreciation for how far we have come since these days, and a sense of guilty gratitude for being able to briefly experience a particular way of life. I am left with an awareness of my own current day privilege of having this taste of the past and of being invited to participate in the artful preservation of little corner of the country which still reveals a bygone era.

What I loved about Welgelegen Manor:

  • The vast grounds with big skies, old trees and interesting relics of the past
  • It’s a Herbert Baker designed original manor house!
  • Being given time to explore the whole of the manor house at one’s leisure
  • That each spacious suite is splendid and has its own unique features, such that there is no sense of unfairness or disappointment in whichever suite you choose
  • Elegantly restored suites with beautiful furniture, upholstery and lighting
  • Modern thoughtful conveniences like plenty of accessible plug points with multiple adaptors
  • Deep baths in huge bathrooms and plentiful large fluffy white towels
  • The cinema room with elegant chaise lounges contrasting the modern technology

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