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Make winter magical

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‘I’m not venturing out this weekend,’ a friend recently declared in response to the cold that had descended on Gauteng.  ‘And this is only autumn!’

The plummeting temperatures over the past few weeks have reminded us that winter is fast approaching.  The winter cold usually brings the common sense approach of attempting to keep warm, get cosy, dive into the tons of unread books on our shelves, dig out unwatched dvds and in general, hibernate.  The urge to stay in and to take cover under multiple duvet and blanket layers, hoping for warmer weather when we emerge, is strong.

Yet, whilst the slow-down is a good thing, and necessary for recovery, there is still a lot that can be done, experienced and enjoyed over the winter season.  Lower temperatures need not kill our aspiration to explore local destinations.  This conclusion was triggered by my recent visit to the ‘wedding capital’ of Gauteng, Muldersdrift to attend a friend’s wedding.  Since Muldersdrift is a popular escape from fast-paced Johannesburg and Pretoria, I decided to do more than simply go to the event, and to take some time to explore the area and unwind a little.

I stayed at the Afrique Boutique hotel on the edges of the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens (I finally discovered where the gardens were after years of good intention!).  Usually self-catering establishments are my thing, but given my time constraints, I wanted an easy plan.  The boutique hotel was small, intimate, and the attention to detail was visible in the décor and rooms.  The inside fireplaces, an essential feature in choosing accommodation in winter, contributed to the charm of the place and could be enjoyed in the high ceilinged, lounge area.  However, accommodation of every type abounds in the broader Muldersdrift area.  I resolved to return soon for another short breakaway to one of the 5-star establishments (just to deviate from my standard approach).

The next day I awoke to improved weather conditions in comparison to the heavy rains of the previous day.  After just one night, I already felt transported into a different world.  The view from the hotel’s extended wooden deck helped to give me a sense of being in a bush location.  My discovery in recent years has been that even a one night stay-over at well chosen establishment, can go far in offering that holiday feeling and a sense of rejuvenation.  After a sumptuous breakfast (I now have fresh ideas on how to make and serve baked beans and fried mushrooms in a really novel way), I headed off for massage treatments at the Misty Hills spa.  This indulgent treat was followed by more chill time on their patio, with tea and sweet treats, and the sun streaming through the trees. Sufficiently energised, I continued the trip to uncover more countryside magic.

There is no shortage of activity options in the Cradle of Humankind area.  As I drove I saw signs for trout fishing, the Sterkfontein Caves, the Rhino & Lion Park, country cafes, craft outlets, art galleries, off-roading, hiking – to name a few.  At one point I was waved off the road to make way for the leaders of the Mzansi Tour (international cycle race).  I discovered that I was witnessing stage 5 of the race which started and was to finish in the entertainment hub of Montecasino. It was taking place from 17–21 April and marked the first international South Africa road stage race to take place in professional cycling.

My intention was to end my trip at the Maropeng Centre, for the Cradle Festival Wine Weekend which is now in its second year.  Regrettably, due to bad weather, the festival was called off on the first day, but went ahead on the second.  Glass in hand, I tasted several wines from the Western and Northern Cape wine estates (the likes of Mitre’s Edge, Remhoogte, Orange River Cellars, etc) and purchased pates, and cheese and wine, to ensure the continuation of my experiences back home.  Wine festivals, although abundant in the Western Cape, are a lot less prevalent in Gauteng.  But a way of planning winter breakaways would be to combine activities.  For instance, the Mount Grace Country House & Spa has scheduled a series of gourmet evenings from April to August 2013, which focusses on gourmet food and wine experiences.  This could be combined with an overnight stay – the one-nighter idea I mentioned earlier.

It was only possible to enjoy a few select activities on my less than one-day jaunt, but there is a wide variety of options for families, couples, or friends; more than enough to satisfy any taste, even during winter.  I have determined to identify 10 items for my “Magical Winter 2013” bucket list to be undertaken over the next few months; and all within a 100 km radius of my home.   A type of on-your-doorstep adventure, exploring new love-to-do things and the ones we have never gotten around to – historical sights, festivals, museums, quaint shops, body pampers, inspiring accommodation venues with warm fireplaces; all totally free of the summertime crowds.  This winter we should surely keep warm, but our aspirations for wintry magic could be immensely magnified if we have the courage to step out of our comfort zones into a world of exploration right on our doorsteps.  Let the planning begin!

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