When was the last time you ventured to KwaZulu-Natal’s Midlands? Regardless of provincial loyalties or preferences, you can’t deny that it’s a stunning part of the world, and we are lucky to count it as part of the country.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of wandering along the famous Midlands Meander, let me paint a picture for you.
Burbling brooks with names like Lion River flow down from green hillsides – the faintest beginnings of the nearby Drakensberg – punch out of thick forested stands of yellowwood, crisscross meadows of soft Lucerne grass and rust-coloured cattle with cream-white heads, and runs out of sight around a bend. But that’s okay, because you’ll get to that part of the river later when you continue on down the road – that is, of course, after you’ve nipped back the last sip of tea and brushed the crumbs of buttered scone from your lapelle. The pace of life is slower, and richer, and you’ll find the pace of your adventure adjusted accordingly in very little time at all. “Another quaint gallery walled by original Pierneefs and Irma Stern? Fine, but only if we have to.”
CLICK THROUGH for insider information on the Midland’s newest, and classiest wedding venue. Seriously, this place is so lovely you’ll begin composing sonnets. Also, we advise reading this away from the company of your significant other – we can’t be held responsible for any rash proposals.
So it’s unsurprising that the Midlands is a place where people often choose to get married. There’s an old world charm, and a “completeness” to the area that is unique in all of South Africa. Of course, the Cape is beautiful at almost every turn, and there are hundreds of other completely breathtaking areas within our borders, but there is a certainty, solidness, and stillness of the Midlands that partners well with the celebration of two people’s mutual most earnest decision to spend all of their lives together.
And so, a host of wedding venues are dotted around the gently contoured surrounds of the Midlands. And they are, for the most part, lovely venues, imbued with the level of whimsy and charm that the area gifts home and venue owners in their strip of land. And that’s all you’ll see. Unless you’re getting married.
Engagement, and the necessity to find a venue in which to celebrate a marriage, automatically increases the prejudice of your eye exponentially. The details matter, much more than you could ever have appreciated before. You will be sickened by how much they matter – and as a result, by how many of the places you previously thought to be charming and appealing fail to make the grade.
My personal search for a wedding venue in the Midlands lead me on an epic search across the interior of KwaZulu-Natal, which was, unfortunately, mostly fruitless. When I arrived in the Midlands, it was my personal, and arrogant belief that finding a venue would be a formality. Pragmatic as we were, my fiancée and I would simply stroll into the wedding reception venue nearest to our marriage chapel, and we would book the place. But as the hours passed, and more and more former favourites fell by the wayside, a pattern began to emerge.
Far too often, wedding venues in the Midlands fell into the fatal trap of glossing over detail. Having ridden on the coat tails of the surrounding natural bounty for so many years, otherwise-stunning venues will have neglected to replace the mustard yellow drapes in the reception hall, which seemed like a good idea when they were hung in the late 1980s, but had enjoyed a decline in popularity that tracked the passing of the previous government.
When we had the cheek to point out these kinds of details, we were often met with haughty derision. “I’m sorry, have you not seen the chandelier?”
The chandelier was lovely, but I can’t get behind poor attention to detail, and I can’t get behind customer service that flaunts just too much of a “you need us” attitude. And neither should you.
And so we returned to the Cape, with dreams of a country wedding in a temperate KZN springtime dashed. Until, on a whim, I searched Gumtree with as much hope in my heart as the Captain of the Titanic, post-iceberg. Slowly, painfully, I tacked “wedding venue, midlands” into Google. I completed one keystroke at a time, sure that I would be served the usual raft of shouty and completely disappointing results. The agony was so sweet.
And then, on the third page of results (only the hopeless venture to that dark place), on the third row, there was a faint gleam of hope. A wedding venue in the Midlands, with a name I had never read before: Mendola.
Mendola? MENDOLA? How had I missed this place?
It had opened its doors three days prior to that search. This was our last hope for the Midlands, but like a child who has had the youth beaten out of them by a cruel step-parent, I was sullen.
But with every new scrap of information, my heart swelled.
Mendola was in the stunning village of Hilton, just over an hour away from the Durban beach front, and just under 500 kilometres from Johannesburg, which meant under two hours drive for any guests friends from Gauteng.
That was a joke.
But what was also a joke was Mendola’s position in relation to the N3 highway. Not 100 metres from the off ramp from the N3 into Hilton, the possibility of any guests getting lost was zero.
But what was it like in the flesh? I dared to dial the contact number.
On a side note, this was my least favourite part of any venue organization. The need to call people in the employ of a venue is painful, because very often they lack the ability to give you all of the answers quickly. The process is drawn out. They ask you to hold. You hold. You are diverted. Three out of five questions are answered. You are once again asked to hold. You are once again transferred, back to the control desk – and so the festival repeats itself, and two years of blissful loving retirement with your soul mate are deducted from your life’s allotment.
When you call Mendola, you’re in contact immediately with Claire, or Bianca, who happen to be the owners of the venue. They’re in control. They call the shots. And they also happen to be incredible communicators.
So it was with ease that the fiancée and I set a date to view Mendola in person. We flew up, made the easy and stress-free drive from Durban’s uShaka Airport on the N3, before diverting into Hilton, and third-gearing it all 100 metres to Mendola.
The first thing I noticed when I got out the car was the quiet. By some miracle of geography and sound physics, the venue itself is completely bereft of any road noise associated with close proximity to national highways.
The next thing I noticed was Claire Alexander, the owner of Mendola, who welcomed us as we parked our car, and swept us off on a tour of the property.
We started with the reception hall. Friends, when pastors refer to a “revival” in a neighbourhood, they’re lobbying for a radical departure from the status quo, back to something good.
The reception hall at Mendola is a revival. Seating 100 guests comfortably and decorated in vintage style, the round tables with clear Tiffany chairs create the whimsical fairy tale effect that every couple traipsing through the Midlands in search of a wedding venue is looking for, but almost never gets. The marble-topped bar and tastefully considered furniture gives you the distinct impression that this place was decorated with a set of blue prints in the left hand, and a leatherbound copy of the Great Gatsby in the right. And the chandeliers? They’re beautiful, and they don’t come with mustard yellow drapes.
Midway through Claire’s explication of the professional fitted catering kitchen, the stunning bathrooms (a gentleman feeling slightly sublime might be tempted to light a cigar in there, they’re THAT awesome), and that excellent bar that I’d had my eye on, I stopped Claire in her tracks.
“I’m sorry, is there a wedding happening later today?”
“Then why are all the tables set, and the venue fully prepared?”
“Because, I thought it would help you to decide exactly where you might want everything on the night.”
An enthusiastic gardener, Claire had picked and arranged flowers from her ample garden for the table centerpieces, on a whim, purely for the sake of our consideration. Still reeling from the delight of experiencing excellent, joyfully-given service at a Midlands wedding venue, we stumbled after Claire as she showed us the accommodation, which comes in addition to the venue, as standard.
The luxury accommodation consists of six exquisitely decorated cottages. Each cottage has two bedrooms; sleeping two people each, with a fully equipped kitchen and DSTV. The cottages are self-catering, and are fully serviced every day.
I suppose it isn’t all that surprising for you to learn that we chose Mendola as the reception venue and accommodation of our wedding. To be honest, the choice wasn’t hard, but that might be because we had the benefit of seeing it with our own eyes. It’s only fair that you do, too.
The secret is out. The responsibility to choose exclusivity – to choose something better – now rests on you.
Check out www.mendola.co.za right away to get in touch with Claire or Bianca. You won’t regret a single conversation you have with either of them.
For additional pictures, and to to keep abreast of news, check out Mendola’s Facebook page, HERE.
Follow Mendola on Twitter, HERE.
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