Andrew Attwood plopped down into the Adirondack chair beside mine. “Life’s not bad, hey?” he beamed. I beamed back. Indeed. Sitting on the wooden deck of Antbear Lodge, perched on a slope with great views toward White Mountain in the foothills of the Southern Drakensberg, life was pretty grand.
Grin Antbear it- you’ll be glad you did
Antbear, named after the antbears living in the dilapidated ruins Andrew and Conny Attwood bought 17 years ago, reminds me of Goldilocks. Like the porridge she plumped for, it’s just right. And it’s always subtly evolving, getting “righter”.
I like Andrew, even if he is a self-confessed “dictator” (he does bear a resemblance to Mussolini). He is a more than benign despot, however, and I like what he and Conny have done and why they do what they do. If you want a hotel, book a hotel. If you want something unique, laidback, welcoming and extremely relaxing, come here.
The Attwood’s left the corporate rat race in Germany in favour of a place they could develop themselves and their “open-source” ideals. Andrew and Conny have waved their idiosyncratic wand over the place, with sustainability and responsible tourism a huge part of their ethos. Alternative materials like straw bales were used to build the place and they use solar for heating water and a reed bed filter for cleaning waste water.
Antbear offers volunteer programmes- mostly for overseas folk- to learn about alternative methods in an African context. Every single piece of the artistic and inspiring furniture is made at the lodge. Canadian Hennessy Bacchus, back for a second volunteer stint, wowed me with his wooden aloe chandelier, with an accompanying tree aloe standing lamp in the making. Andrew, his dad Bruce and various volunteers and staff have created huge mosaics, whimsical stain glass windows and the very distinctive wooden hinges. The woodwork alone makes this lodge a destination in its own right and guests are welcome to see what’s on the go in the wood shop.
All this gives Antbear a singular, charming character. It’s not grandiose, but it sure is comfortable and welcoming- with varied accommodation in 15 units spread about the property. There is even a man-made, private cave very suitable for honeymooners or romantic trysts, complete with a private candlelit dining experience under the stars on the deck.
There are no tv’s in the rooms, no wi-fi (there is limited wi-fi in the lodge). There is a welcome decanter of sherry however, a bar fridge, filtered water, Jacuzzi baths in many units and comfy beds with the Heath Robinson/ steampunk woodwork everywhere.
Your tastebuds will quickly adjust and thank you for really fresh, homegrown food, lit at night by candle chandeliers in a relaxed atmosphere. Mealtimes, after drinks at the honesty bar, can be lengthy and convivial, with congenial Andrew entertaining and advising guests. Veggies are from the organic garden, breads are freshly baked, yoghurt, butter and cheese all homemade and milk is fresh from the cow- with fresh eggs too. The meat is from a nearby game reserve’s excellent abattoir, so venison is often on the menu.
You could, I’m sure, milk a cow for your milk- or take one of many hikes from the lodge, or a safe and slow horse trail on gentle horses that have been “whispered to”. There are two dams stocked with bass if you want to try your hand at fly fishing and Bushman paintings in the hills close by, though the finest examples are at the Game Pass Shelter in the nearby Kamberg valley. Day trips to Giants Castle, armed with a picnic lunch, are popular and recommended.
Antbear is also a popular launch spot for the good people from Hot Air Ballooning SA- weather permitting of course and via prior arrangement. I didn’t get off the ground but was hardly distraught as I had a good book but found myself “reading” the lodge instead as one’s eyes are always led to some design, some interesting detail in the place. Lazing about upstairs in the lodge on a cold winter’s day with sun through the stained glass would be something worth returning for.
Antbear hosts weddings in a chapel that accommodates up to 100 people and has a spacious function/conference room. It also makes for an interesting team building venue.
Most of all though, it’s really peaceful. The best recommendation was the reaction of two Dutch guests who arrived while Andrew and I were shooting the breeze. They were dismayed- dismayed that they had booked just one night. As dismayed, fortunately, as they were delighted, as signified by their beaming faces and expansive gestures as they took in their surroundings. And that was just the carpark.