Bridget Hilton-Barber of The Ministry of Fabulousness shared her Limpopo Green Route with us in April last year. This year she explores the green side of Mpumalanga.
Mbombela (Nelspruit) is the hot ‘n heady centre of the Lowveld. Or the Slowveld as we call it, like the Lowveld but slower and steamier.
The city has boomed in the past decade to become the lively colourful gateway to the Kruger National Park (KNP), Mozambique and Swaziland.
It’s often hot, noisy and busy – which I love – but what I love even more is to escape from the madness into the green heart of the city, the delicious Nelspruit Botanical Gardens www.sanbi.org
How great is it to have a botanical garden right in the middle of the city?
Set at the confluence of two rivers, the Crocodile and the Nels, the gardens feature indigenous and exotic sections, ancient trees and a sexy verdant rain forest thronging with birdsong.
I take the bridge over the river and end up at the waterfall, next to which is the lovely Kuzuri restaurant and a visitors’ centre. An Afro-chic spot, Kuzuri has a good fusion menu and green vibes.
I meet up with my friend, artist Nhlanhla Sibiya. He makes upcycled jewellery and I buy myself some bracelets, his funky design and green ethos hits the spot. Find him on Facebook. SibiyaN art designer
Another great green escape from Mbombela is on the other side of town at Halls Farm Stall the iconic Slowveld-roadside stall off the N1 about 2km from town. It’s set about with fever trees and has turned from a little padstal into an impressive collection of shops, a nursery and Sunday markets.
The Sunday Family Market www.freshlocalmarkets.com has organic food and lifestyle stalls, arts and crafts, community stalls and photo booths which are cool.
You can picnic outdoors under the trees looking out across the green alley, Slowveld style. The farm stall which is open all week is a great place for local fare like Sabie Valley Coffee which is grown in the blue green mountains of nearby Sabie. www.sabievalleycoffee.com and new and intriguing Rottcher Slowveld Gin which is made from oranges www.rottcher.com.
One of the best places for a long lazy lunch is Rissington Inn on the edge of Hazyview, about 40 minutes drive.
It’s like staying at an old friend, so convivial and gentle. The farmhouse style hotel has spacious rooms, a generous veranda and dining room, a quirky bar, library and lounge, and lovely views over green lawns and ancient Lowveld trees.
Their food is amazing. Their menu is inspired by London restaurant Menage a Trois (French for threesome!) which encourages diners to try three or four smaller dishes instead of one big meal. It’s not tapas, but a bigger variety of smaller dishes. Rissington’s menu is superb including vegetarian and vegan. www.rissington.co.za
Think beetroot falafel with chilli beans; West African potato and peanut soup; chickpea and butter bean pate, vegetable Vermouth pasta. Yay!
From Hazyview the Panorama Route heads east through subtropical foothills and farmlands, into the mountains of the Blyde River Canyon, the third biggest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon and the Fish River Canyon, and the world’s only green canyon.
I head for God’s Window via the little escarpment town of Graskop, which is famed for its arts and crafts shop Delagoa Trading, next door to the Graskop Hotel, that sells everything from painted fishes, baskets and cloths to handbags, beaded jewellery and wire artwork.
I take a long slow day trip that includes the mind-blowing God’s Window and the Three Rondavels, the edge of the Blyde River Canyon and escarpment.
I return via Ohrigstad and Mashishing and the Long Tom Pass, which winds its way down in a series of astonishing hairpin bends with majestic mountain scenery.
But first a quick visit to Hops Hollow, which is the highest organic micro brewery in Africa at 2149 metres above sea level. They use the purest mountain water here to make five different beers, including a traditional bitter ales.
Brewmaster Colin Ntshangase is a handsome cricket loving Zulu, who recommends his Mac’s Porter ale for women – he says it has a “malty creamy fullness, smooth as silk”. www.hopshollow.co.za
Bridget’s Mpumalanga Green Route has also been featured in UK digimag Indy Eats