Choosing to leave the Rijk’s Country House in Tulbagh after our first night’s stay last weekend, we looked at two options, and chose the next door 4-star Manley’s Wine Lodge instead of the Tulbagh Hotel. It was a good choice, and we slept well with absolute peace and quiet, and Manley’s Wine Lodge probably is the best quality and value accommodation in Tulbagh, earning its pay-off line of ‘a little special’ in more ways than one!
The Manley Private Cellar belongs to David Ovendale from London. The first vines were planted in 1999. His property is managed by wine-maker Stefan Hartman. A most charming and helpful Alicea Brits manages the Lodge, and was very accommodating in assisting us with the last-minute booking. The Lodge has 13 rooms, offered at R 550 per person sharing, and two self-catering cottages. Alicea made us an excellent offer, allowing my son and I to each have our own room.
The Lodge is about 400 meters from the winetasting room and the Man’Lee’s Country Kitchen, and there is a little “consecrated chapel” midway, seating just over 100 guests, weddings clearly being popular in Tulbagh. While the building exterior looked rather ‘Fifties, and the garden terribly dry due to the dry summer, the rooms looked surprisingly good, in tones of brown and beige. Given our experience at Rijk’s, I was impressed to see the good quality curtains, with blockout, guaranteeing a good night’s sleep. The desk was comfortable to use, with a brown mock-leather chair. The headboard was brown mock-croc. The bed linen was good quality cotton, but the staff had put the open end of the duvet cover at the top, and not at the bottom of the bed. Given our Rijk’s experience, it was nice to see a Lindt chocolate as a turn-down treat.
The bathroom looked less modern, offering both a shower and bath, needing one to close the bathroom door so that one can open the shower door. In the shower itself, I saw something I have never seen before – a mirror connected to a product holder, allowing men to shave there. The only problem was that the mirror had started rusting, and horrid brown streaks were visible on the tiles underneath it. I was impressed with a neat box of bathroom amenities, containing about six different products, as well as a sewing kit, cotton wool, etc, none of which we had seen at the 5-star Rijk’s next door. The cupboard space was neatly used for a bar fridge, which was switched on and had bottled water in it, for which we were not charged, and a tea and coffee facility. The TV had numerous channels, and I was impressed with the bouquet they were offering, each room appearing to have its own decoder. In addition to the airconditioner, an heater was also available, which I switched on for the chilly night. There was a fireplace too, but no matches to light the fire with.
Breakfast at Man’Lee’s Country Kitchen is included in the rate, but is independently owned by Lee Roberts-Walsh. It has a rustic cottagey feel about it, with seating inside and outside. Wooden tables are covered with red-and-white-check table cloths, with benches outside and chairs inside. While music was being beamed from the speakers, a TV was off-puttingly broadcasting the end of the Cape Epic cycle race in a room at the entrance to the restaurant. By the time we came for breakfast, they had run out of croissants. The breakfast buffet had what was required, but nothing was presented with any style, and nor did the fruit look very fresh. Surprisingly, the oranges were served in quarters with the skin, last seen at hockey matches at school! Our waiter was a temperamental character. He clearly was having a bad day, and muttered loudly after he had brought us the menus. I placed an order of egg and toast, but it took forever to come. When I saw the waiter standing outside, catching a breath of fresh air, I asked him about my order. He seemed to not know about it at all, even though I placed it with him, and him having written it down on a little pad. The toasted whole-wheat bread was delicious, and Lee told me that she buys the seed-covered bread at Pick ‘n Pay in Ceres. Commendable is the free wireless internet, and that is about all that I can praise about Man’Lee’s. Man’Lee’s is closed on Tuesdays, so it is uncertain how they handle breakfasts for the Lodge’s guests on this day.
Alicea trusted us to do the payment after breakfast, and seemed defensive when I raised the poor quality breakfast and service with her, saying that Man’Lee’s is independent of Manley’s Wine Lodge. As the breakfast is part of the accommodation package, I advised her to pass on the feedback to Lee, as the bad service experienced at Man’Lee’s affects the image of the Lodge. This must have happened, as I received the following apology from Lee the following day: ” Good Day, As a guest of ManLee’s Country Kitchen this morning, I wish to apologise for the behaviour of my staff member that seemed to upset you with his attitude. I must point out that I pride myself in having a professional approach to all my customers and am rather upset that he was not up to my usual high standard of service. I would like to extend an invitation to you and your son, when you are next in the Tulbagh area to enjoy and meal with impeccable service, courtesy of ManLee’s Country Kitchen. With kind Regards, Lee Roberts-Walsh, Chef/Proprietor, Man’lee’s Country Kitchen”.
The marketing is overstated, in my opinion, with the brochure promising ‘The ultimate wine lodge’, ‘a venue created in the French provincial style’, ‘relax with specially selected wines from around the world’, ‘delicious country cuisine’, ‘Manley is truly a place of luxury …’, and refers to a ‘Boutique Hotel’. It is a good 4-star, good value accommodation establishment, but is lacking in not offering wireless internet in the bedrooms, in its un-modern bathrooms, and the poor breakfast quality and service at Man’Lee’s Country Kitchen.
Manley’s Wine Lodge, Main Winterhoek Road, Tulbagh. Tel (023) 230-0582. www.manleywinelodge.co.za (Interestingly, the Lodge website is also that for Manley’s wines, a wine marketing weakness). Man’Lee’s Country Kitchen, Tel (023) 230-1807.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage