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Island retreat

A beautiful cottage on the island of Hydra

Last year, on a trip with my father to Greece, we all agreed that our holiday just wouldn’t be complete, if we didn’t visit one of the many surrounding islands. After hours and hours of research, we finally came across Hydra – one of the lesser known islands just off the mainland, and only a two hour boat ride from Athens.

Hydra Island in Greece
Hydra Island in Greece

In search of that “home away from home” feel, we settled for an AirBnB apartment that caught our attention thanks to its sea viewing terrace, a garden ripe with fruit trees and its promise of an endless summer.

Much to our delight, the crisp, white cottage was tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the town. A lovely respite for those seeking a quiet retreat. Cars and motorised vehicles are banned from Hydra, and we were surprised at how tranquil and peaceful the island was. With the donkeys seeking shelter in the shade and a clowder of cats bathing in the sun, one could not help but feel like time stood still here.

Hydra Island, Greece
Hydra Island, Greece

Inside our holiday cottage, a tasteful interior occupied the space. With a nautical theme throughout the house, the cobalt windows and shutters served as constant reminders of the deep blue water of the surrounding see. The house, undoubtedly homey, felt more like a visit to my favourite aunt’s house, then a holiday apartment thousands of miles from home.

Hydra Island, Greece
Hydra Island, Greece

The kitchen – my favourite room in the house – opens up onto a spacious balcony, perfect for sundowners and evening meals. The marvellous view of the mediterranean, dotted with yachts and colourful boats, provided hours of entertainment as we eagerly watched the annual Oxi Day regatta from a distance. The well equipped kitchen with its enviable gas stove and beautiful marble sink made it an absolute pleasure to cook in – something I don’t usually enjoy in a stranger’s kitchen.


I loved how the mismatched stone tiles (mimicking the colours of the surrounding island terrain) seamlessly tied the inside with outside areas. To the front of the house, a spacious veranda, sunny and bright in the morning sun, provided the perfect spot for a morning coffee or lengthy breakfasts. Down below, the garden was brimming with citrus, offering bright golden lemons, ripe for picking.


Thanks to its use of natural materials like raw stone and wood, the building has an unpretentious air, creating the perfect balance between elegance and modesty.

From here we enjoyed pleasant strolls along the coast line and a (steep) early morning hike up the mountain, to examine an Orthodox monastery – a silent and ancient watch to the harbour below.


Though not as endless as we had hoped for, our summer sanctuary delivered on all its other promises – comfort, taste and repose. We were all a little down cast at the thought of leaving, and subsequently agreed on a prompt return – another visit to this island retreat, with it’s crisp white cottage at the foot of the hill.


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Text & images © Barbara Cilliers

The Midlands Meander

The Midlands Meander

A visit to Rawdons Hotel in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa

Every time I’m in South Africa, I try to visit a piece of the country I’ve never seen before. The Midlands is a place I had heard of on many occasions and been wanting to visit for quite some time. The name evokes scenes of misty hills, dark green woodlands and gleaming lakes – landscapes you’re more likely to find in the northern parts of England. But as I soon discovered, this quaint piece of countryside in the heart of Natal, delivers on all of the expectations that is promised by that name.


On our recent road trip through KwaZulu-Natal, we decided to pass through the Midlands, staying at Nottingham Road – a small village tucked away between rolling green hillocks of Mooi Rivier and the foothills of the Drakensberg. The area, also known as the Midlands Meander, is less than a two hour drive from Durban, and very easy to reach by car.


During our visit we stayed at the Rawdons Country Hotel, a tranquil estate with an old English charm. Surrounded by wide green lawns and massive oak trees, the hotel offers a breathtaking view of two lakes and the pine woods beyond. All day long the lake is full of life, with waterhens hopping on the water and ibises fishing for food. At night, while the finches disappear inside nests among the reeds, the evening air becomes abuzz with an orchestra of toads.


Tucked away between the trees at the edge of the water is the Lake House. Perfect for larger groups or families, the house offers two spacious rooms that open onto a semi private lawn. The interior is an elegant mix of antiques and country-cottage furnishings. My favourite was the kingsize canopy bed, the wood-burning fireplace and romantic bathroom with clawfoot bathtub.


The Rawdons Estate also houses the Boars Head Pub, an independent brewery known for its naturally brewed ales and lagers. Here one can sample an array of quirky-named ales like tipsy tiger or pye-eyed possum, as well as their very own gin and tonic on tap. If you think you’ve quaffed quite enough, you can brim your belly from a hearty selection of pub dishes like beer battered hake (my favourite) and hunters pie.


The Rawdons Hotel is the perfect base from which to explore everything the Midlands has to offer. Or for a simple day of relaxing, just curl up with a book next to the pool. Apart from the beautiful scenery and luxurious atmosphere, what I appreciated the most about the hotel, was their friendly staff and their efforts at making our stay feel super special.

My favourite spots in the Meander for

Breakfast: The Blueberry Café

Coffee: Terbodore coffee Roastery

Browsing & shopping: The Piggly Wiggly Country Village and Ground Cover Leather company.

Lunch: Chicken pies from the Windmill Country Stop

Beers followed by dinner: The Hogs Head Brewery

Story + Photos by Barbara Cilliers