Sho’t Left de-stress

2011-09-24 08:51

I don’t camp. Under extreme circumstances I will sulk through a self-catering holiday. But since I have had a child I haven’t even done that.

So, when the chance to review a five-star hotel came along – during which the management would test their fledging child-friendly services – how could I refuse?

I packed up the toddler (bottles, nappies, toys, clothes, snacks, pram, it goes on) and we headed for Irene Country Lodge outside Pretoria – far enough to feel like we were travelling, but close enough that if it was a disaster we could get home in less than an hour.

On arrival, we were shown to a gorgeous room in the lodge’s newest part. Overlooking the extensive stinkwood forest that also gives its name to the lodge’s spa, the room was breathtaking.

Decked out in muted greens, browns and burnt oranges, there wasn’t a bit of Afro-kitsch in sight. Instead, the walls were adorned with close-up photos of flowers.

In preparation for our two-year-old, the staff had put an extra bed in the room and festooned it in Barbie, which delighted my daughter, who immediately leapt into it (but, alas, didn’t sleep).

If you are travelling with adults, the only main attraction is the Camdeboo Spa, which is housed in the original staff quarters and alarmingly also the pigsty, of the Irene Farm.

The century-old building has been renovated to house state-of-the-art treatment rooms. There’s also a pool, jacuzzi, steam room and sauna.

The staff are friendly and the treatments are suitably relaxing. If we weren’t taking baby-sitting shifts, my husband and I would probably have wandered around the place in our robes for many, many more hours.

Best of all, though, is that it’s fenced off, so once you enter you are cocooned in the carefully cultivated tranquillity.

The real test of family friendliness was to come – baby-sitting during dinner. Being nervous helicopter parents, my husband and I talked ourselves into the idea.

At 6.30pm – at least half an hour too late for toddlers – we delivered our child to a room at the nearest part of the hotel to the dining room. It had toys, paper and crayons, a TV and a few children’s tables and chairs.

I ordered a vegetarian pizza for her from the kiddies’ menu and we headed for dinner.

And it was delicious. I groaned when I was offered butternut soup (such an unimaginative dish), but was pleasantly surprised by the chef’s spicy take on it.

For mains, I opted for the roast beef, while my husband slurped oysters and ate sushi. The food was good, but I did wolf it down in the expectation of getting called by the child-minder.

The biggest oopsie with the baby-sitting service was the food. The poor chef had gone far beyond the culinary expectations of any child – he had created a gourmet pizza.

Unfortunately, children tend to be ungrateful and just want cheese and ham or a fish cake. The upshot is the toddler hadn’t eaten and was overtired by the time we hauled her back to our room.

Alas, the child-minding aspect of the lodge’s operations needs some work, which is expected for a new service.

We were told that the lodge has introduced a day-care service on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 4pm.

But it is inadequate since it’s housed in a single converted hotel room. They need to choose an area, cordon it off, put in a playground, organise activities for different age groups and make sure the staff are all first-aid trained before they can offer an all-day child-care facility.

The baby-sitting, though, is much easier – an adjustment of the menu to more simple fare and an earlier start of 5.30pm or 6pm at the latest, and perhaps storytelling instead of TV to wind children down rather than up.

All in all, though, the Irene Country Lodge, which is already a popular conference venue, is an ideal short-stay-break location.

The luxurious rooms and the spa are above reproach, the food is tasty and the setting is glorious.

» Edmunds and her family were hosted by Irene Country Lodge.

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