Three Trees at Spioenkop

Ladysmith, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa Book from

Reviewed by Gordon Baker
Peaceful hilltop retreat, with simple yet stylish period cottages offering a fascinating insight into local wartime history
Three Trees at Spioenkop is a tranquil spot to contemplate and explore the fascinating history of this region, where stories of the Anglo-Boer War unfold at every turn. Set against the backdrop of the spectacular Drakensberg mountains, the secluded family-run lodge overlooks the battlefield of Spioenkop and the abundant flora and fauna of Spioenkop Nature Reserve (game includes rhino, giraffe, eland and a host of birdlife). In keeping with the historical theme, it was constructed to resemble the housing kits brought out from Britain in the 19th century; the emphasis is simple luxury with style.

Learn about Spioenkop, the bloodiest encounter of the war, through tours bringing to life the harrowing events of 24 January 1900. Then hike, bike or horse-ride along mountain trails and grassy plains, or track wildlife with expert guides. Afterwards, return to a sparkling pool and personal attention from hosts Simon and Cheryl, whose warm welcome and wholesome South African cooking ensure a very enjoyable yet stimulating stay.

Highs

  • A perfect destination for those interested in South Africa's turbulent past - you'll get a unique insight into the grisly stories behind the bloody Battle of Spioenkop
  • Panoramic views and game-spotting from your veranda (or close-up on foot or horseback)
  • The refreshing pool
  • The homely, relaxed ambiance created by Simon, Cheryl and their family (4 children, 6 dogs and 8 horses)

Lows

  • An unexpectedly long round-trip to the reserve (some 40km)
  • The incessant, chilling wind in August
  • The Churchills cottage is not suitable for children under 8 years old
  • The searing mid-summer heat

Best time to go

May, June and July are the quietest months in terms of visitors, and this is when the weather is at its best: cool in the evenings but bright, warm and sunny most days. August can be windy. Beware the summer heat, famous for cooking the Brits’ necks, thus their Afrikaans label rooinekke.

Our top tips

The battlefield tours can be squeezed into a day, but a visit of at least 2-3 nights is recommended. The lodge is an excellent base for biking, hiking, riding and trips into the Drakensberg (a UNESCO World Heritage site).

Great for...

Eco
Family
Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Lodge
  • 8
  • All meals included
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Bicycles Available
Room: Standard Cottage

Rooms

Your lodgings at Three Trees will be in one of airy and spacious cottages. Authentically constructed based on the housing kits brought out from Britain in the 19th century, they come complete with tin roofs and wooden walls. Thankfully, some amendments were made to the original designs and modern extras include fans, heaters and running hot and cold water!

Inside, the cottages have a refined, elegant feel. Beds have hand-embroidered sheets and duvet covers with lovely aloe motifs (the symbol of the lodge), and historical touches such as period writing desks complete the stylish yet uncluttered décor. The ensuite bathrooms (all with bathtubs and showers) enjoy magnificent views and each is finished with simple tongue and groove panelling, a generous complement of large soft towels, and hand-made toiletries blended from olive oil and African plant extracts.

The Standard Cottages have 2 oversized single beds (these can be made up as a super-kingsize on request); there's also a Family Suite set away from the others, with a master bedroom with an ensuite bathroom, a children's bedroom with a separate toilet, and a small kitchenette. All cottages have their own veranda with wonderful views of Spioenkop Nature Reserve. Equipped with a pair of binoculars, your morning coffee can be a rewarding game-spotting session, and larger game can easily be seen with a keen eye.

Since our visit, the Churchills cottage has been added to the portfolio. It has 2 ensuite bedrooms and shares all the aforementioned features of the other properties, as well as having a private pool and a fully equipped kitchen. Architecturally, it's slightly raised of the ground and, for safety reasons, it is not suitable for children under 8 years old.

Features include:

  • Coffee tea making
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Internet access
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries

Eating

Included in the rates are 3 full meals, plus morning and afternoon tea with delicious cakes and biscuits. It's varied, wholesome and mostly homemade fare, with an emphasis on healthy South African cooking.

Meals are served by a roaring fire in the main house's dining room or, weather permitting, on the cool, wide veranda. Breakfasts are more than enough to fuel the excursion to Spioenkop itself (kop or koppie is Afrikaans for ‘hill’) and consist of the South African staple ‘putu’ porridge, a varied cooked offering, and a range of cereals and fruits. Lunch is usually fairly simple (for example lasagne and salad).

Dinner is a 3-course affair, with soup, meat from the braai and a range of fresh vegetables. Guests eat together and a generous selection of Cape wines, followed by Port or Cognac under the stars, ensures the day’s events and stories are roundly discussed before bed.

Features include:

  • All meals included
  • Coffee tea making
  • Communal dining
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Historical battlefield tours are a must for anyone remotely interested in this period of South Africa’s history. The flagship tour covers the Battle of Spioenkop, arguably the bloodiest of the Anglo-Boer War. It saw terrible fighting and involvement from famous names such as Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi and Louis Botha. Also on offer are tours taking in the Battle of Colenso, General Buller's first defeat and famous for the loss of 10 guns, and the capture of Winston Churchill by Boer forces at Chieveley

  • Guided game walks through Spioenkop Nature Reserve are a fantastic way to get the feel and smell of the bush. Rangers collect walkers from the lodge and point out white rhino, giraffe, wildebeest, hartebeest, zebra, eland, blesbok, impala and kudu, as well as more than 270 species of bird. These must be booked 2 days in advance

  • Guided and unguided hiking and mountain-biking is offered along the varied trails of the Royal Natal National Park and other nearby nature reserves, with a hearty packed lunch for fuel

  • The lodge can arrange horse-riding, either on adjacent farms and along the game fence, with rich birdlife and game views, or inside Spioenkop Nature Reserve itself. Rides take place daily at 8am and 2pm, and must be booked at least a day in advance

  • Also available by arrangement are trips to see traditional rock art, hot air balloon rides, and tickets to performances by the multi-cultural Drakensberg Boys' Choir

  • Golf is available on beautiful courses in the foothills of the Berg

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Fishing
  • Golf
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Horse-riding
  • Hot air ballooning
  • Mountain biking
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Private guided tours
  • Swimming
  • Traditional cultures
  • Wildlife

Kids

Children of all ages are welcome, and will enjoy spotting wildlife, splashing around in the pool and meeting the lodge's horses and dogs. Baby cots are provided free of charge, extra beds are available for an additional cost, and babysitting can be arranged with prior notice.

Best for:

Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

The Family Suite is set away from the other cottages and has a second bedroom for children, as well as a kitchenette. It also has an outdoor play area with a shaded sand pit, and comes complete with toys and children's books. The Churchills also has 2 bedrooms, but it's unsuitable for children under 8 years. However the large terrace with private pool may earn brownie points with teenagers.

Babysitting:

Babysitting is available by arrangement.

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

10/
Rooms
10/
Food
10/
Service
10/
Value
10/
Overall

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