“The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it” – Ralph Waldo Emmerson.
Certain milestones demand commemoration: your wedding, your fiftieth birthday party, your son’s bar mitzvah; the recent return of an old friend – the imminent departure of another. In reality, though, the prospect of planning a party at home can be decidedly off-putting, not least of all because few family homes can accommodate upwards of fifty people at a time. Conventional party venues “For Hire”, on the other hand, always savor a little bit of seediness: whatever the reality, they evoke a drab series of of dirty carpets, bad DJs and ’eighties-style wall drapery. Fear not, though; you needn’t resort to a modest dinner with friends.
We did a round-up of some of South Africa’s best House Party destinations, from suburban mansions to historical homesteads, into the wilderness for a revel with a view.
PRYNNSBERG MANOR | Eastern Free State
This nineteenth-century Manor house is rife with archaic, arcane charm, and has just become available for the first time ever on a consistent basis. Not only is this an architecturally romantic location for any big shindig – Prynnsberg has been called “the jewel of the Eastern Freestate” – the house also has ample sleeping-room for up to eight couples, so you can prolong your celebrations over an entire weekend.
The surrounding land is a veritable playground: clay pigeon shooting, bicycle polo, and hot air ballooning can all be arranged for you and your guests; but the crowning feature of this arrangement must be that Prynnsberg comes equipped with a fully-functional “glamping site,” for those of your guests who want to rough it (in style.) The camping area accommodates up to fourteen additional couples, and comprises a small forest of vintage-style safari tents – it’s hard to say whether these, or the fireplace-adorned bedroom suites, are the more appealing option.
Prynnsberg is unique not only because of its considerable luxury and beauty –Sotheby’s Stephen Welz regards its billiard room as “the most beautiful room in South Africa” – but also because its rich, slightly peculiar history endows it with the kind of personality that money can’t buy. This is the perfect location for a party with a vintage theme or, indeed, for any event that you’d like to imbue with an aura of antique glamour. You will also be able to take advantage of on-site cooking personnel, a magnificent cellar and St Andrews, a converted chapel and the perfect setting for speeches and entertainment. perfecthideaways.co.za
LEEUWENBOSCH COUNTRY HOUSE | Amakhala Game Reserve, Eastern Cape
The Leeuwenbosch Country House was established by the Fowlds family in 1908, and its aesthetic is still that of an old colonial homestead, replete with a stoep and a whitewashed stone chapel. It has been in the Fowlds family for five generations and, today, it functions as a game-lodge, which isn’t surprising given its situation in the Amakhala Game Reserve. For a house party with a twist, the Leeuwenbosch Country House is the perfect option: game rides, river cruises and guided walks are all available, through the ministrations of the resident wildlife professionals.
The house is rife with magnificent antiques, historical paintings and a stone-walled cellar bar; there is excellent in-house catering; and your guests can enjoy high tea in the midst of the expansive gardens, make a day trip to the Addo Elephant Park, or pose with the predators at the nearby Born Free Rehabilitation Centre. The house itself sleeps eight, and four additional double suites are available in Shearer’s Lodge, which abuts the original structure. The beauty of Leeuwenbosch, as a house party destination, is that you can complement the main event – or recuperate the morning after – with a medley of additional treats, like game drives, afternoon teas, or a trip to the beaches of Port Alfred. amakhala.co.za/lodges/leeuwenbosch
SHANGRI-LA | Millionaire’s Bend, Vaal River.
Family-owned Shangri La is aptly named, insofar as it really is a South African Garden of Eden. Situated on the old Millionaire’s Bend, on the precipice of the Vaal River, this estate calls for tennis whites and gin-and-tonics on the lawn; the novel that invariably comes to mind is Brideshead Revisted. Try to envision fifteen acres of rolling green lawns, lush, flora-plumed water-lands, and a wooden rowing boat suspended among water-lilies; a thatched-roof, a white-washed, generously proportioned house, and scent-rich roses in profusion. The unbelievable garden has evolved more or less organically since its inception in 1932, and has never been available to the public; but, as of this year, it will open its gates for exclusive bespoke events, such as picnics orchestrated by Michel Morand, the former owner of Auberge Michel. It will be available for rental for the months of summer, and it’s the perfect location for a lazy, boozy celebration in a stunning environment.
The stately pool-house is equipped with beautiful furnishings and an enormous banquet table, which makes it ideal for long luncheons or dinner parties; the main house sleeps eight, and, while the house retains the unpretentious, well-loved feel of a family home, all the rooms have been masterfully decorated by Ronnie Wilkins. The property features an old-style pump house, and you can take your guests on sunset cruises down the river onboard a chugging antique cruiser. Play croquet in the shade, cool down in the swimming pool, or tour the property on foot: keep an eye out for the resident fish eagle, a family of owls, otters, and over two hundred species of birds that frolic in the foliage; it is only a few steps from the front door to the willow-shaded riverbank. The specific appeal of Shangri-La is that to stay here is to travel back in time, to the helcion days of simple luxury and restorative pleasure; if you’re dreaming of a garden party, get in touch. Soon to appear on perfecthideaways.co.za
PEL’S POST | Makuleke Concession, Kruger National Park.
If you want to combine your passion for South Africa’s incredible wildlife with an unforgettable celebration, consider an expedition to Pel’s Post in the northern Kruger National Park. This location is ideal for family-oriented festivities, as the four double suites on offer can be adapted to accommodate young children; and the suites themselves proffer an inimitable experience, as retractable screens have been used in lieu of walls so that guests can enjoy unrivalled exposure to their expansive surrounds.
The privacy engendered by this exclusive-use luxury lodge is ideal for intimate, personal gatherings – and you won’t need to outsource catering, as the lodge comes fully equipped with its own gourmet chef. Pel’s Post’s specific appeal as a party destination is enhanced by the fact that you can completely personalise your own itinerary there: customised game drives, bird watching and sundowners on the deck are all available in a secluded, comfortable environment conducive to relaxation.
If you’re planning on a main event, the massive, modern reception area is an ideal venue; but if you’re planning to party while the sun’s still up, consider setting up shop on the pool deck and sipping cocktails in the shallows. Other than for the occasional game drive, you really won’t need to leave the house: Pel’s Post boasts its own outdoor viewing deck, a bar, a sunken fire-pit and an open-plan dining room, as well as a resident guide. Why not combine a party with the perfect getaway? seasonsinafrica.com/lodges-in-south-africa
48 THE VALLEY ROAD | Westcliff, Johannesburg.
You don’t need to leave the city to source the perfect, contemporary house-party destination. Annabelle Desfontaine’s resplendent family home in Westcliff is occasionally transformed into an exclusive carnival-ground for party-goers. Desfontaines caters for small, bespoke events like weddings and fiftieth birthday-parties; she is only willing to accommodate one hundred guests at a time, at the most. But adhering to these terms and conditions is certainly worthwhile: no. 44, The Valley Road is a beautiful, historical mansion with a great deal of atmospheric versatility.
It was erected in 1902, and features Herbert Baker alterations; moreover, its trendy proprietress has been meticulous about keeping the original structure intact, while simultaneously furnishing it with contemporary, stylised flair.
Indeed, one of the best things about having a party here is that you get Annabelle’s help into the bargain: she is instrumental in bringing events to life, and has, in the last six months or so, facilitated an Alice in Wonderland-style tea party on the courts, a fireside dance party and a faux-Tuscan farmyard luncheon, complete with an assembly of food trucks. No two events are ever alike under Annabelle’s direction, and her matchless style, in conjunction with this magnificent venue, makes 44 The Valley Road an extremely desirable house party destination. You can also rent out the small on-site garden cottage, which is especially ideal for newlyweds, in the event that you’re lucky enough to get married here. perfecthideaways.co.za/Details/Stonecrest-Room-with-a-View
We asked uber-caterer Karen Short, from By Word of Mouth, to share some top tips for organising a really sensational house party:
1. Take the weather and the warmth into account – a party is a flop if people are cold.
2. Always have welcome drinks ready on arrival – it not only gets the party going, but also takes some pressure off the bar.
3. A late night snack for 30% of the guests is always a good idea – or a cheeseboard to pick on later. If it’s winter, why not serve Irish coffee, or gluhwein?
4. Choose your menu carefully, taking into account the length of the party, the demographics of the guests, and dietary requireents. If a lot of alcohol will be consumed, then make the food more substantial.
5. No bright lights – lights must be on dimmers –use candles to add to the ambience!