Opulent Luxury at Illyria House, South Africa

by : Claire Dinnie

Every now and again, Claire comes up with Mission Impossible for me. “Oh come on Colin, you can fit this site visit in after your conference in the Pilanesberg, you have a whole twelve hours in Tshwane (new name for Pretoria, our governmental capital of South Africa 60 Kms north of Egoli. Yes, you guessed it, new name meaning “streets of gold“ for Johannesburg) with nothing to do“. How about I just relax after three full days of conducting a hectic conference, but no, Claire had other ideas….

You can imagine therefore it was with a jaundiced mind that I agreed to spend valuable down time once again on duty evaluating another property for our possible inclusion in the Africa Tamed portfolio. My conference at Ivory Tree Lodge in Pilanesburg was brilliant! Delighted clients rocked to the sound of Abbott & Crabb, exceeded their beverage budget and still appeared coherent enough to make sense on conference. This made my task a little easier. To entertain the children we secured the services of a magician and managed also to arrange a Bush Bumble guided by one of the lodges’ game rangers. They returned with great stories of excitement.

Final farewells to the incredible staff at Ivory Tree Lodge done, I headed off to Illyria House. Arriving at a little after 15.00 on a Sunday afternoon, it could well have been my face or body language that gave away my reluctance to being there. No matter, Johannes beamed an enthusiastic welcome! Marietjie van der Walt (owner) apologised for placing me in one of their smaller (smaller?) rooms before gliding off to welcome the Australian family of five who had arrived on my tail.

Now, Claire may well be a tough taskmaster but hey, she can make the task bearable by adding value to the experience. As I wandered around this splendid property, admiring 17th century tapestries in this 1940 mansion, a gentle voice brought me back to the present. “ Hello Mr. Fryer, I am your therapist for this afternoon“. Now, I may have spent eleven years in the travel industry but to date have had no need for therapy but now I am to be manipulated, kneaded and massaged all in the name of therapy…????

Suffice to say that an hour later my mental and physical state was completely realigned! So what is the essence of Illyria House? A family home bought on Valentines Day for four university daughters in 1992 and the vision of one enlightened, empowered dynamo in the form of Marietjie van der Walt. In order to appreciate the full ramifications of Illyria House, maybe I should paint a picture of what you would experience at this Victorian hideaway.

On this rich canvas, bold colourful splashes of vivid Frédéric Chopin or Sergei Rachmaninoff will be heard throughout the entire house. Your butler will manifest without sound complete with silver teapot, an immaculately laid out tea tray and a smile that would rebook the Mona Lisa into rehab. Nothing and I mean NOTHING is too much for this team. As the evening warmed up on a particularly cool Tshwane night, we were introduced to one of South Africa’s most successful pianists, Wessel van Wyk. Wessel has toured a number of the top concert halls throughout the world. As the guests assembled, he introduced himself in his self-effacing manner, completely hiding his prolific prowess. He then introduced each piece that he played. It would be fair to say that we all were transported to musical Heaven! Impossible to describe, ethereal to experience and an experience never to be repeated! On an extended grand piano, Wessel paid tribute to the Masters with such bravado, precision and passion, we all succumbed to the moment.

Dinner followed and in honour of times of old, convivial conversation, exquisite bespoke wines and stories of travels unfolded. The food? Suffice to say it was presented in true baronial style by noiseless waitrons who seemed to know in advance our needs. I had roast duck and delighted in the simple pleasure of knowing, just knowing that this lucky bird lived a life of Riley going out in fine style at the hands of acknowledged, consummate culinary experts who just “ knew “ how to say enjoy…

Illyria House is a holistic experience of a bygone era very deliberately opulent and saluting a time when slow was saluted, when common decency was common and time could be controlled by each person at their own pace. Africa Tamed is privileged to have experienced such heartfelt hospitality.

Now I suppose I have to thank my partner Claire for arranging this, yesArticle Submission, this would be the right thing to do….?