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A Castle in The Vumba!


CONTINUING our Meikles Hotel wine-tasting tour up The Vumba, which we started, editorially, in yesterday’s Zimbabwe Independent at Inn on the Vumba, our second sampling was on the rugged turrets of a new venture at Leopard Rock, The Castle.

Travel with Dusty Miller

A well-known Vumba landmark, The Castle was built as a home for the Seymour-Smiths, the family which built and opened Leopard Rock in the 1940s.

In the 1980s it was bought by new owners and converted into a guest house, which operated until the early 2000s.

The property was acquired by Leopard Rock Hotel several years ago but has only recently been launched as a functions venue.

Byran Rocher, the new general manager at Leopard Rock (he was previously hotel and golf operations manager there) and I toured the main hotel earlier and after drinks on the magnificent terrace overlooking the award-winning 18-hole golf course on the border with Mozambique, drove a few hundred metres to the Gothic-style building with breath-taking views over the golf course and down to the once prosperous farming settlement of Burma Valley and across the border.

“The Castle is one of the most attractive buildings in the area, with walls made from local stone and views across surrounding valleys and mountains,” said Byran.

“It is now available to guests for a range of events and can host up to 100 people at a reception or up to 200 people in a marquee in its grounds. This makes it an extremely suitable venue for weddings, celebratory parties, conferences and training sessions.”

The Castle, which is on a hilltop across the grounds from the Leopard Rock Hotel, will be fully serviced with catering from the hotel. Guests using it will be accommodated in the main hotel; they have access to all facilities and amenities of the Leopard Rock resort.

“This venue has a long and colourful history, just like the hotel; we are sure it will prove popular as an innovative and exclusive centre for leisure and business activities,” said Byran.

He said the inclusion of The Castle within the selection of facilities and amenities available to Leopard Rock guests added innovation and excitement, and gave a further choice to individuals and organisations interested in activities in the Vumba mountains.

“This new development is very exciting and we are alerting the market to the availability of The Castle, something that has long been sought by conference and event organisers looking for something unusual,” he said.

Leopard Rock estate is high in the mountains, about 30km from  Mutare, and its features include the hotel, a championship golf course designed by Peter Matkovich,  private game park, casino and other leisure facilities, as well as conference and banqueting rooms within the hotel.

“The introduction of The Castle to our offerings will enhance the standing of Leopard Rock as the prime leisure and conference venue in the Eastern Highlands,” said Byran.

Well the proof of the pudding is definitely in the eating, I thought, as I plodded my way up several flights of steep steps to join a party already well under way on the open roof, surrounded by lichen-covered battlements.

En-route upwards I passed several bathrooms, one of which is known as “The Throne Room”. It has an ancient water closet sitting high on a natural rock feature!

Weather was superb; lovely sunshine filtered through powder puff clouds, the air was like champagne and although three or four spots of rain landed on my camera bag, the once threatening downpour never materialised.

Leopard Rock’s main kitchens had lain on a rather splendid and fairly lavish “finger-food” lunch.

Sadly that meant no cutlery was available. I’m not over fond of eating with my mitts, especially things lathered in sauces.

To my amazement the gleaming, pristine white table linen, and my golf shirt and shorts, remained in that state as much of the grub was eaten with cocktail sticks/toothpicks. Mandé Snyman, from Harare, entertained with country and western-type numbers and the wine tasting began.

I am hoping to be able to visit the KWV vineyards and brandy factory in The Cape later this month and, as an appetiser for that adventure, we coincidentally began with a KWV (Afrikaans abbreviation for Cape Wine Co-operative: it was founded in 1918) Shiraz rosé.

This proved (as expected) a delightfully light wine, perfect for drinking on its own in the open fresh air or great with salmon dishes or chicken breast in a curry cream sauce with mango. It would also go well with most seafood and summery salads.

KWV’s mantra is drinkability. Johan Fourie is the new head wine maker/ cellar master (he visited Zimbabwe recently) and makes a stunning just off-dry wine which is cherry blossom pink and bright in the glass with the flavours and nose of summer berries, wild strawberries, roadside brambles and fresh cranberries.

Next were two JC le Roux wines, ever popular with the ladies. Candidly, both were rather sweet for my palate and Le Chanson admits on the label to being sweet. It is a nutty red and non-vintage Methode Cap Classique blending Pinotage grapes with dashes of Shiraz and cabernet-franc.

Final tasting was of JC le Roux  Le Domaine, which is a blend of sauvignon-blanc and Muscat grapes, with the sweetness of Muscatel definitely winning!

After a lovely light lunch and wine tasting some of our number went off to the nearby famous Tony’s Coffee Shop, to pay the infamous price of US$15 for (granted wonderful) cream cake and bottomless coffee.

I returned to the Inn on the Vumba to watch the nail-biting South Africa v England T/20 cricket game from Bangla Desh and have a bit of a rest before proceeding to the White Horse Inn for super and that night’s red wine-tasting. (Which you can read about in tomorrow’s issue of The Standard.)

Currently, visitors to The Vumba can enjoy a round of golf at Leopard Rock on a Sunday, followed by a grand braai lunch at the Clubhouse, for the give-away price of US$15, Byran revealed.

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