Besides locality, there is another common thread to Summerhill and Hartford House. They were both founded on dreams, widely disparate enterprises with a shared set of values. Being racehorse breeders and hoteliers, you can’t avoid the comparisons between the way we do things and how others go about their businesses. Survival in the modern world depends upon how you distinguish your product from the rest, and whatever Summerhill and Hartford are today, it’s because they were built on an intuitive understanding of what gets a pulse racing. It’s about authenticity, atmosphere and adventure, sounds, scents and scenery, tastes and taboos. Good hotels and good horses always reflect a sense of “place”, their environment, their histories, their traditions and importantly, their people. In the world of travel, a high level of discernment is creeping into every arena. Today, the customer’s interest in artisanal beer and food, for example, is echoed in a craving for artisanal hospitality.
That Hartford House is answering that call, is evident in its recent proclamation among the three leading country restaurants on the planet, by the senior food critic at The Wall Street Journal; a compliment to Hartford’s dedication in sating people’s interest in the world’s distinctive places. You quickly lose any sense of being in a unique environment when staying in a typical high-end hotel in London, New York or Shanghai, Sydney or Dubai.
Increasingly, travellers seek destinations that radiate a sense of lifestyle and weather, bespoken to their surroundings and community. Hotels should reflect their past, and the architecture of their neighbourhood; discerning guests understand the difference between décor and design, and seldom mistake flashy decoration for good design. In a delicately crafted critique, a much-respected scribe has just acknowledged the voice the Hartford restaurant has given to the taste of terroir, and the incorporation of a sense of identity and place more than any other in South Africa.
Travel these days takes more than money. It takes the most precious commodity of the lot: time. Most people can buy a car, a handbag or a smart pair of shoes, but travel calls for energy, curiosity, a degree of adventure, even bravery. Not long from now, the greatest indulgence will not be a Ferrari; it will be a fortnight in Zululand, or even a living being; let’s not forget, the greatest creature the good Lord ever created, is the racehorse, a seductive combination of grace and nobility, intelligence and courage, speed and desire, more than 300 years in the making.
Our establishments thrive because of their originality, they survive on account of their old fashioned values. The more technologically focused the world becomes, the less people want to check-in via iPad and have their pillow preferences stored in a computer. Instead, our guests like to arrive and be greeted by their surnames; they soon get to know themselves again by their first names.
And if you’ll give us the time to unpack for you, you’ll find your clothes pressed and hanging in the closet. Simple, old-style service is the most pleasant luxury.
Hartford and Summerhill have become beacons of their trades. In a world in which it’s no longer so “cool” to be a waiter or a groom, we remember, every day, what an honour it is to serve.
- Counted in the world’s top three country restaurants by the senior food critic at America’s most famous newspaper, The Wall Street Journal.
- Voted Eat Out’s Most Popular Restaurant in South Africa, and the only KZN-based restaurant in Eat Out’s national Top Five.
- Twice voted Best South African Restaurant in the House and Leisure/Visa Best of SA awards.
- Among a select group of Gold Achiever Award hotels at the Indaba International Travel Show with Singita, The Cape Grace, Mala Mala, etc.
- Voted among Top Billing’s Top Six Luxury Hotels in South Africa.
- Founding member of the Land of Legends with Phinda Private Game Reserve; The Beverly Hills; The Oyster Box; Fordoun Hotel and Spa; Rocktail Beach Camp, Ardmore Ceramics and Rob Caskie.