BILLY SUTER spent a relaxing weekend at an unpretentious country retreat, the long-established, 42-bedroom getaway spot that is The Oaks, something of an institution in KwaZulu-Natal’s Byrne Valley and a venue regarded by many as a home from home.
Good news is that a weekend away for two people in a superior suite – including all meals, and morning and afternoon teas, plus a complimentary bottle of wine! – is being offered in the competition that appears at the end of this review.
I HAVE, over the years, often heard friends and colleagues talk about their many happy returns, for weekend breaks and extended stays, at The Oaks in KwaZulu-Natal’s Byrne Valley, not far from the small town of Richmond.
Common chat was about it being warm and welcoming, a haven to relax and unwind. Many view it as a home from home that some visited in childhood and which they now go to with their own children, grandchildren or friends.
Having enjoyed the scenic hour-and-a-bit drive from Durban this past weekend to experience The Oaks, my partner and I could immediately sense its appeal as we snaked up the driveway to the parking area circling the majestic oak trees that give this getaway its name.
Surrounded by rolling hills, smallholdings, forests and the remains of an orange orchard, The Oaks Hotel, to give its full title, has a truly lovely setting. Especially at this time of year, when spring is exploding in a fusion of colours, most notably in the large azalea shrubs of multiple hue which are everywhere here.
The gardens and lawns are well manicured, all plants are in full bloom and the fruit of the lemon trees, dotted around the pool, the 18-hole putt-putt course and the impressive children’s playground area, are the biggest I have ever seen (visitors are encouraged to pick a few to take home – and I did!).
Spring is a great time to visit The Oaks, with mostly sunny days but sufficient chill and crispness still in the air to relish the idea of sipping wine or an Irish coffee around a log fire in The Acorn Arms, the warm pub leading to the garden verandah.
After having been in operation with the same owners for some 40 years, longtime regular visitors to The Oaks, Durban-based Cathy and Roland Eberle, bought it in June 2019 and introduced more colours and a slight contemporary feel in some areas.
There is room for more updating – most notably in bathrooms and communal lounges which seem very firmly stuck in the early 1970s – but the retention of the essence and style of old does hold a certain charm.
There have been changes to the menus under the new ownership, the traditional comfort food having been updated and more attention given to variety of dishes, most notably the breakfast menu.
In keeping with the homely, country feel of the place, don’t expect fine dining. Food is of the good, home-cooked variety, and all meals, plus morning and afternoon teas, are included in the price of one’s stay at The Oaks. It adds up to good value for money.
The venue often plans theme weekends which have proved very popular. This past weekend the theme was Oktoberfest, and a full diary of events had been planned for Friday and Saturday.
I enjoyed the informal Saturday evening craft beer tastings at the bar, and the themed menus were rather fun – weekend meal treats included eisbein and veg; Bavarian-style sausage and potato soup with breadsticks; and pretzel rolls with a pork schnitzel-and-salad lunch ln the verandah.
If your idea of a weekend break is to stick to casual strolls and a good book, note that there is no hard elbowing to participate in the scheduled events on theme weekends. I was quite happy to skip both quiz night and after-dinner karaoke, thank you very much, but many loved them.
I did enjoy grinning on the sidelines during the Saturday afternoon ‘volkspele’ event, which saw the majority of guests participate outdoors in ball-throwing, pretzel-tossing and other such events for a selection of prizes.
Under the Oaks’ new management, many mutually beneficial partnerships with locals have been formed for themed weekends and events, and this has spilled into the creation of biannual markets (Freedom Fair and Christmas Market) as well as into the small shop at The Oaks, says the venue’s operations manager, Andrew Gillespie.
The next Christmas Market, in The Oaks’ sprawling gardens, is being held a little earlier than usual this year, on October 16 .Vendors pay R75 for a stall and day visitors pay R15 per vehicle. It should be fun.
“This is our attempt to support local small businesses, give overnight visitors a chance to win a hamper of goods donated by stall-holders, and allow day visitors the opportunity to enjoy the pool, kid’s play area, putt-putt, tennis and live music,” says Gillespie.
The venue certainly offers a lot for children – a trampoline, jungle gyms, swings and slides, close to a giant outdoor chess board, being among other offerings in the garden.
“The hotel has become very child-friendly, with many activities designed to engage children of varying ages,” explains Gillespie.
“Our popular Easter weekend saw healthy outdoor activities such as three-legged-race, egg-and-spoon, sack races and egg-tossing being brought in. Also, dynamic new games have sprung to life, of which Quirky Croquet, Amazing Race and Minute-to-Win-It are a few examples. In addition, traditional activities like organised walks, Barnyard Derby, putt-putt and bowls have been retained and continue to please our diverse mix of guests.”
There are also trails for mountain biking and running at The Oaks. Or, if you’re feeling less energetic, try the full-sized snooker and pool tables, table bowls or blackball. Also available are dart boards, table tennis and multiple board games.
Among other upcoming events at The Oaks is Heritage Weekend (September 23 to 25), with theme meals and activities centred on South Africa’s diverse heritages and cultures; and Halloween Weekend (October 29 to 31), highlights of which will see children taken, by tractor and trailer, for trick-or-treating in the nearby Byrne Village, and a dress-up-for-all Monster’s Ball.
The Oaks likes to give back to the community, points out Gillespie: “Newly introduced community support projects have supplied the local secondary school with stationery bags, and beanies knitted by the ladies of Evelyn House in Richmond (with wool supplied by the hotel); baby products have been donated to the Richmond Day Care and Support Centre at Ndeleni through funds raised by the hotel, whilst Gift of the Givers received a donation with money raised by The Oaks’ walk and picnic.”
The 42 rooms at the hotel are scattered about the grounds, close to the dininghall, pub, lounges, shop, reception and garden veranda. All rooms are non-smoking and supplied with electric blankets and hot beverage-making facilities.
The Yellowood rooms are superior, with en-suite bathrooms (bath and shower), heater/air-con units, bar fridges and television sets. Golden Cypress Rooms have bathrooms with bath and shower facilities, wall or ceiling fans and may be twin-bedded or double-bedded.
Copper Beech Rooms are standard rooms offering either a bath or a shower and may be double-bedded or twin-bedded. Pin Oak Rooms are standard family units with either a bath or shower facility, main bedroom and an interleading bedroom to accommodate two adults and two to three children.
Bottle Brush Rooms are economy rooms consisting mainly of spacious, thatched rondavels or square units which are a little further away from the main buildings.
Accommodation prices, inclusive of all meals and teas, range from R800 to R1000 per person, per day.
Note that specials are now running on a festive season stay, which is normally priced at R955 per person, per night, in a Copper Beach room. The first 10 festive season slots at R700 and R755 have already been snapped up, with the next five slots priced at R800 per person, and the final five festival season special slots priced at R855 per person.
For any information regarding rates, bookings or specific events, phone The Oaks at (033) 212 2324 or mail firstname.lastname@example.org
WIN A WEEKEND AWAY FOR TWO AT THE OAKS AT BYRNE!
Care to put yourself in line to be the very lucky winner of a weekend away for two people – including all meals and two teas daily, plus a complimentary bottle of wine! – at the Oaks Hotel in Byrne, Richmond?
This special prize is for a stay in a superior Yellowood suite from a Friday evening to Sunday morning at this popular getaway spot. The prize is valid until January 31, 2022 (excluding peak period: December 15 to January 5), subject to room availability and mutual consent.
To enter this competition, you simply have to be a follower of the SoSuterBill site to win. At no cost.
If you are not already a follower, simply leave your email address in the space provided towards the end of the cover page of this site, sosuterbill.com
You will then be a follower, and receive email notification whenever I file a new story.
Once you have subscribed (there is no cost), send your NAME and PHONE NUMBER via email (NOT THIS SITE’S CONTACT FORM) to email@example.com and place the words ‘THE OAKS COMPETITION’ in the subject field.
Note that the competition closes at 6pm on Wednesday, September 29, when the lucky winner will be contacted and his/her name added here.
(The lucky winner of this very popular competition was Judy Ditchfield, who has been sent her prize voucher).
Also note that this prize does not include travel to and from The Oaks. It is also not redeemable for cash.
NOTE: PLEASE READ ENTRY DETAILS CAREFULLY AS SOME PEOPLE ARE ENTERING COMPETITIONS INCORRECTLY.
ALSO NOTE THAT ONLY ONE ENTRY PER SUBSCRIBER WILL BE CONSIDERED.