I am reading an online ‘Top 10 beautiful Tuscan villages’ of Conde Nast and want to give the journalist a slap on the wrist for sloppy research. Avianto doesn’t appear on the list and that is just a gross injustice in my books. Set in Muldersdrift, on the banks of the Crocodile River, a story of Italian passion for life, quality and detail enfolds. La Dolce Vita has found its place in Gauteng.
Attention to detail is just one of the many things that sets this privately own venue apart (something that the hotel chains often lack). Large Ming vases stand proud next to a classic old Remington typewrite in the early morning sun. In the parking lot a little Morris Minor complete with wooden inserts, stand ready to transport a bride to the chapel. Cement bunnies frolic between flags in front of the décor shop. Helen, the madam of the manor and owner of Event Inspirations, has a hand in all the finer details and her creative touches are seen all around the property.
Originally built as a wedding venue in the 90’s, it has evolved into an Italian Village for leisure guests and has now extended to a brilliant lifestyle concept, courtesy of owner Trevor D’Oliveira, which includes a clubhouse, a footgolf course, several mountain bike trails and even a school. Like all good Italian villages with village squares, tales of marriage, divorce and money exchanging hands all weave together to form the tapestry of Avianto.
I was pleasantly surprised by the effort that has gone into creating little pockets of happiness for leisure guests: a boma with fire pit; lush green lawns at the riverside with table and chairs dotted around a gazebo; benches nestled along the embankment; picnic sites on the other side of the river. The bridge with its engraved love locks is a lovely ritual for bridal couples, borrowed from popular bridges in Europe such as the Ponte Milvio bridge in Rome.
On arrival we stopped at Café Cielo for a glass of vino and shared a deadly delicious carrot cake. As one does. Pretty great start to the weekend, I thought. Next to us a group of gorgeous Greek ladies were having the time of their lives. I sat there drooling over the loveliness of the heavy accents, the high cheek bones and the throaty bursts of laughter, feeling like I am very far removed from Africa.
Café Cielo is a charming H –shaped restaurant with beautiful lounges in the bottom legs of the H and dining seating in the top part of the H. Wrought iron furniture is scattered around an old oak tree. This was our venue for both dinner and breakfast as leisure guests, but I heard that the wine cellar underneath the large ballroom area is often used for the same purpose. With fireplaces and an old Estey piano for tinkering around and hard-to-get-up-from couches, the cellar is a must-do for rainy winter nights. I can imagine that a port and poetry evening would go down like a charm in this venue.
Dinner was in Café Cielo with soothing Café-style music in the background. We opted for 200 gram Beef fillet with golden deep fried wedges, garnished with fresh seasonable veggies, and glazed with beef reduction as well as a Butter Chicken curry compote, served with three home made rotis, sambals and onion marmalade – both outstanding and done to perfection. The super-efficient Mike who I just wanted to steal and make my personal butler, made up for the lack of candle-lit romance in Café Cielo with his cheeky humour. I have not seen such sense of ownership for a while. He is utterly proud of his venue and job and I overheard him saying to a group of Continental-looking ladies that he is a true Hotelier and proudly so. I think they too wanted to take him home.
The room gets 5 stars. Crisp white duvets are offset again the rustic terracotta brickwork which criss-crosses across the floor. I haven’t seen anything like it before and think this may just be one of the many traditional Italian touches, a result of months of research in Italy by the D’Oliveira brothers. The classic furniture and occasional chairs remind of old wealthy Italian castles. (Side note to self: Funny that two brothers with a Portuguese surname aced the Italian look. But I’ve been told that architect/designer Diederik Vemer had a whole lot of input in this regard. And the D’Oliveiras are in fact quite plain English, proudly South African.) The bath is just a romantic dream come true and bath time for two was on the cards. Needless to say, the all-encompassing quiet of the countryside lulled us to sleep in no time. TV? What TV? Even the cell phone was put on charge and forgotten until the next morning.
Hotel guests can be really vulgar, and upon finding out that there is plunger coffee available the next morning, I quickly chucked the instant Decaf into the garden. Since no one’s brains works until a good coffee has been enjoyed, I do excuse myself from this impolite action. I am an All Bran rusk addict and missed my every morning fix. (Note to self – pack your favourite stuff wherever you go. It’s not the hotel’s faults that you have an addiction). Biscotti would have been an amazing touch though. The turn down treat was a Wedgewood nougat and totally made up for the missing Biscotti. We had it as a hors d’oeuvres the previous night – there really is no account for good taste, is there?
Breakfast was an extravagant affair and included all the trims – from cold cuts to cheese, crispy pastries, yummy yogurts and fruits, right up to the warm breakfast served. The good people of Café Cielo are up and prepping the café for breakfast from 6h00 already, so when you arrive at 7h00 all is set up and ready to go. This opens the way for naughty stayovers and still being in time for work on a Monday with a twinkle in your eye.
All along a sense of peace invades you, and after a while I realised it’s the subliminal influence of lavender. Lavender lanes, lavender fields are all around and grow in abundance. Lavender is also prolific at Woodlands Spa next door. (Click here to read the review). Lavender oil is known for its calming and relaxing properties and alleviates insomnia, anxiety, depression, restlessness and stress. I smiled to myself and wonder if this was intentional, or pure coincidence.
Not much can replace the ultimate holiday in Tuscany, travelling through Chianti, happening across the charming villages of Greve, Panzano, San Gimignano with its towers; Sienna, and the likes, but when the longing for Italy just becomes unbearable, this is you go-to-place. And with the current exchange rate, you will be that much more comfortable ordering a bottle of Chianti or Lambrusco.
Sono pazzo di te, Avianto. (Click here for google translate)
- As close to Italy as you get in Gauteng
- Hugely romantic
- Loads of activities for all ages
- Carrot cake to die for
- The most photogenic venue this side of the equator
www.avianto.za | Tel 011 668 3000
CREDITS: With thanks to LekkerPLaces.co.za for arrangements made and GM Gerryt Bosman’s hospitality.