2007 was a kind year for Hartford House. There were many accolades, not the least of which was the inclusion of its restaurant among the top ten in the nation. In November, the Hartford team were notified that they had made the six finalists in the travel category of the prestigious Top Billing Momentum Lifestyle Awards. On the face of it, this was some kind of achievement, making it to the last six of the best boutique Hotels in the country, but it was only when the iconic names of places like Ellerman House and The Saxon were announced as finalists as well, that we realised that Hartford had entered a rarefied atmosphere.

Apparently, Hartford now needs to await the final word from the judges, the outcome of which is to be aired on Top Billing’s celebrated SABC3 programme on 17th January. The judges include Thoko Modise, General Manager of SABC3, Patience Stevens, founder of the Top Billing programme, Tracey Egnos, head of Corporate Communications, Momentum, and two specialist judges in the form of John Rothman and Heinrich Spies, both of whom have served lengthy spells in hospitality and the grading of Hotels.

The categories include décor, landscaping, entrepreneurship, local travel destinations and art. To satisfy the curiosity of our readers in the meantime, we have profiled Top Billing’s formal motivating statement on Hartford House below.

Cheryl Goss “invented” Hartford House eleven years ago. She turned a colonial mansion, which once served as home to the family of the last prime minister of the Colony of Natal, into one of the nation’s great secrets. Apart from its branded distinction –“the only world class hotel on a world class stud farm in the world,” it occupies a unique part in the geography of the land. The Drakensberg serves as a garden backdrop. It is situated on South Africa’s champion racehorse-breeding establishment; it is a half hour from the capture sites of two of the most significant statesmen of all time, Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill. What were these people doing in this vicinity for that matter? What were the British, the Zulus and the Boers fighting about in this part of the world a century ago? What attracted the Zulus here; what enticed the current rulers of Dubai to house their priceless stallions on this property, when they have the world to choose from ? And what prompted Queen Elizabeth, of all the rural properties in the country, to request a visit on her royal tour in 1995?

It’s this intrigue that makes Hartford an essential part of any foreigners visit to South Africa.

Whenever the sun rises, the Hartford team thank the good Lord for having them live where they do, among some of the most decent, most respectful and most hospitable human beings on earth. We speak of the Zulus, of course who, despite their historic connection with the military devastation of a century ago, possess an instinctive talent for making people feel at home like few others.

Of course they needed training and more training, as well as an understanding of foreigners, yet Hartford has seen people recruited from the casual ranks of it’s stable cleaners and trained to the point of representing their nation at international culinary exhibitions in Zurich and Prague. The Zulu dancing troupe was selected for South Africa at the World Traditional Dance Championships in Tokyo and Hong Kong. The troupe came third. In the world.

And the service and hospitality ethic at Hartford is in parallel. At least that’s what their guests tell us.

Cheryl Goss is a legend. Hartford didn’t say that, their visitors did, and plenty of them. She has that rare capacity to surprise, some say to ‘change lives’, and in blending the eclectic origins of Africa, Europe and colonial India, she has achieved an ecstatic combination of class, culture and colour.

Besides, in Hartford’s new lakeside eco development, Ezulwini, she has erected from materials drawn largely from the estate and the immediate environment, a compendium of suites that have wowed both the architectural and decorator communities.

At the culinary level, faith invested five years ago in a young 20 year old, has been dramatically rewarded. Jackie Cameron and her team have enjoyed the acclaim of just about every worthwhile food critic in the land. And recently, apart from the restaurant making the Top 10, it has been voted No 1 on the East Coast. Jackie has also just been counted with Margot Janse and Freda Applebaum, in the top three female chefs country wide by no less a man than Victor Strugo.

Toss in a Diners Club Platinum Wine list for several consecutive years, and you have the lot.

There’s arguably no other property quite like it. Gary Player, not long ago described it as the most beautiful of its kind in the world, and he’s seen a few. Yet Hartford is not only about its beauty. It’s about people, their decency, their sincerity and their “Africanness.” It’s also about the spectacular environment and all it embraces - its climate, its history and its diversity. Ten years ago, with their late mate David Rattray, Hartford pioneered the foundation of the Land of Legends, a cultural and culinary combination of the best properties in KZN. Today its members comprise Hartford House, the Rattray’s Fugitives’’ Drift, Phinda Game Reserve, Cleopatra, Rocktail Bay, Izulu and Three Tree Hill. Seven worlds in one. And as rare and spectacular an experience as you’ll find anywhere.”

(Excerpt from Top Billing’s motivating statement on Hartford House)

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