Champagne Castle was named, so the story goes, when a climber dropped his celebration bottle of bubbly from the peak before he could toast his success.
The Champagne valley between Cathkin Peak and Champagne Castle is one of the loveliest places in the Natal Drakensberg. Departing from Midstream, you can turn off at Harrismith and descend into Natal past the Sterkfontein Dam to enjoy the window views. The route continues through Bergville and Winterton and into the valley.
You have a wide choice of accommodation from hotels and guest houses, to bed and breakfasts and self-catering establishments. Two of our favourites are the Drakensberg Sun and the self-catering chalets at the Champagne Sports Resort. Other hotels are named after mountains - Champagne Castle, Monk's Cowl and Cathkin Peak. There are many guest houses including our recommendation Graceland, that cater for family groups. One of our favourite places is the Valley Bakery, Coffee Shop and Art Gallery on the R600 as you enter the valley.
The valley is home to the only bearded vulture population in the country. At one stage the species almost died out in South Africa, but conservation efforts have helped these inhabitants survive and thrive. They nest in the crevices of the mountains and can be seen gliding in the thermals overhead. With wingspans that can reach up to 2.8 metres in length, these birds are a sight to behold.
The Drakensberg Sun hotel.
We have recently spent three nights at the 4-star Drakensberg Sun enjoying its lush gardens, swimming pool area and dam. The staff were professional and welcoming and the rooms were clean (but don’t leave a window open as your room will be trashed by monkeys). The breakfasts were fabulous and made to order by a very cheerful group of chefs. There aren’t too many places to eat out at night in the valley but the Sun offers a dinner buffet and a choice from an a la carte menu, where we found some dishes top class and others rather disappointing.
We combined the views and ever-changing scenery with some gentle walking and reading and enjoyed the clean mountain air. The Sterkspruit river with its waterfalls and rock pools runs down from the mountains into the hotel grounds to a dam surrounded by wild flowers and natural vegetation. There are guided boat tours daily accompanied by an anxious swallow who for some reason built his nest on the side of the boat. There was a festive crowd around the pool every day and there are braai facilities for the guests at poolside.
The Sun has become a popular choice for conferences in recent years and we were told that the hotel can become overcrowded and somewhat rowdy at times, so it makes sense to check when booking. And a word of warning – watch out for the deceptive stripes in the carpeting on the stairs. I took a tumble.
There is an abundance of things to do. You can take your choice of golf courses, visit the Falcon Ridge Bird of Prey Centre, enjoy bird watching, photography and fly fishing, or take a ride in a hot air balloon. Energetic souls will find hiking, cycling, rock climbing, abseiling, quad biking, river rafting and horse riding.
The Valley is the home of the famous Drakensberg Boys’ Choir and we plan our trips to include the regular “Music in the valley” Wednesday concert, now sadly on ice due to Covid.
Bowlers will find championship bowling greens at the Nest Hotel. You can visit Ardmore Guest Farm to see handmade rugs being woven on wooden looms, or pamper yourself at the beauty and wellness centres at The Drakensberg Sun, Nest Hotel and Champagne Sports Resort. The Drakensberg Canopy tour lets you glide through treetops on steel cables, from the safety of a harness.
We will be back.