While I’m all for taking time out to recharge, the thought of a weekend away to simply lounge around poolside isn’t very appealing. In fact, my ideal getaway is one filled with activity from sun-up to sunset, with the occasional pause in between to kick the feet up and recover.
That’s why I was extremely excited to receive an invite to visit the picturesque Cathedral Peak Hotel (my wife and son were also invited to come along).
In the past I’ve enjoyed a number of active retreats to the central and southern Drakensberg, which are filled with cycling, running, hiking and golf, and the Cathedral Peak Hotel offers all of the above (and then some).
However, there is something utterly majestic about the surrounding area that sets it apart from other hotels and accommodation I’ve stayed in in the Drakensberg area. It is, as the website suggests “a hidden gem”.
Nestled within the heart of the central Drakensberg, bordering Lesotho, the hotel is, for all intents and purposes, off the beaten track. While not so remote that it feels isolated, it’s definitely located in a part of the ‘Berg that is more conducive to shutting off and tuning out the real world, at least for a day or two (switching off your phone is, of course, optional, but highly recommended).
It’s a 250km drive from Durban, but those of us from Gauteng will need to cover 400km from Johannesburg to get there. I was surprised to find that the state of the arterial routes off the N3 had been refurbished, and even improved in places through Harrismith. I would highly recommend this route for the scenic nature of the drive, past Sterkfontein dam and down the escarpment.
Once you hit Bergville it’s roughly 50km on winding roads, through rural villages to the hotel. After the initial few kilometres you catch your first glimpse of the iconic Cathedral Peak as you edge ever closer. Enjoy the views!
The hotel experience
The Cathedral Peak Hotel is situated in a nature reserve and is surrounded by mountains on all sides. It is nestled on the side of a mountain and has undergone a number of extensions and refurbishments since its opening in 1939, when owned by the van der Riet family.
My wife and I had our first date at a traditional-style hotel, which is what Cathedral Peak also offers. The main building is very traditional, but more modern suites and amenities have been added over the years that cater to even the most eclectic preferences. We stayed in a spacious family suite that had sweeping views of the golf course, chapel and adjacent mountain side.
Breakfast and dinner meals are also included in the room rate, both of which are served in the traditional buffet style, which we love. The selection of food is astonishing and all of it is well prepared. It can therefore be tough not to overindulge and overeat, but we thoroughly enjoyed the dining experience and the service from the friendly staff.
And then there’s the main reason why we travelled 400km to the “Berg – the opportunity to get out and get active in beautiful surroundings. Cathedral Peak Hotel offers 19 hiking trails of varying distances and degrees of difficulty accessible to hotel guests and day visitors.
As an avid runner, I took the opportunity to dust off my trail shoes and head into the mountains for some serenity and seriously epic views. The trails I ran were well marked and not too technical, but there are options available for even the most hardcore of trail runner.
While the hiking trails themselves are not really suited to mountain bikers, the hotel has also done extensive work on building a trail network that can be safely ridden and are well marked. While we didn’t have bikes with us, we took the opportunity to ride out on quad bikes so the whole family could get outdoors together.
Our guide was a highlight of the weekend, as was the resident helicopter pilot doing a memorable flyover of our group while we rode up the mountain. It was an experience my son is unlikely to ever forget.
There are also a number of other activities on offer that helped to fill up the remainder of our days there. When I went off running, my wife and son enjoyed some horse riding, rock wall climbing, putt putt and swimming. Other available options, which we didn’t get a chance to try, include tennis, beach volleyball and lawn bowls. I also enjoyed a round of golf on the 9-hole course, before joining my family poolside to cool off and recover before my next trail run.
There’s also a gym on site, but who wants to run the ‘dreadmill’ when you’re surrounded by such natural beauty. Even if you’re looking for a gym workout, you’d be a fool not to take your training session outdoors.
When you return from your day-long adventures, there is a wellness centre at the hotel where you can get a pampering with various treatments from the team of professional therapists.
And for the less actively-inclined, there are guided walks and hikes which leave from the hotel every morning. You can also venture out alone on the trails, which vary in distance and duration from a 40-minute, 2.5km loop to the iconic 10+ hour trek up to the hotel’s namesake, Cathedral Peak (but this hike require a guide). Whichever trail you choose, just remember to sign the Hiking Book at reception before heading out.
Overall, our visit to Cathedral Peak Hotel offered an unforgettable family getaway. Even though it was only for a weekend, we got to experience most of what the hotel has to offer and thoroughly enjoyed every activity. There is something to do for everyone, and the service, food and rooms are all excellent. It’s definitely a location we’ll visit again when we have the opportunity.
For more great active holiday getaway ideas, get a copy of our January-February 2019, on sale now at leading retailers and newsagents. We review long-stay and short-stay options, both locally and abroad that cater to every fitness fanatic’s desire to travel and remain active.
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.