If a faerie wonderland, home to goblins and the little folk, a garden over run with trees – every drooping branch of which hints at the gossamer caress of a wing against your cheek and the innuendo of a pointed calf skin, shoe-clad toe of a pixie – grabs you, then Goblin’s Cove in the low lying hills of the Magaliesberg is bound to delight you.
It’s far enough outside of Johannesburg to serve as an escape, yet close enough to mean that venturing out there simply for a cup of tea in amongst the olde world magic of the restaurant and tea garden is not too much of a trek. Goblin’s Cove is a classic case of Lord of the Rings meets The Dark Crystal, and you’ll have to pinch yourself a couple of times when first entering the ‘circle of influence’ as you descend the path to the thatched roof restaurant.
The gnomes, faeries and gremlins are not of the imagination alone. The entire wonderland is filled with murals and sculptures, even the odd giant size spider’s web, faerie in residence, is in evidence. The restaurant is without doubt unique. Called Goblins Cove not only because one hob nobs with the little folk but also for the shape of the building that houses the restaurant, the building is set in a natural forest on the banks of a small lake on the Magaliesberg River, offset by a thatched roof.
The restaurant is a series of candle-lit alcoves, nooks and crannies, and houses a few private dining rooms, including a couple of romantic two-seater rooms called the Golden Pixie and the Blue Bell, and Merlin’s Loft, which seats up to 40 at a time. Winding passages, wooden stairways, secret domes, hidden rooms and sculptures, and statues of faeries and goblins peeking out at you from every available space, makes dining here an enchanting experience.
You are reminded to be especially sensitive to the faeries and goblins who secretly hide in the gardens and the restaurant who have helped create and are a reflection of the love and light that has gone into the magical country hideaway. This beautiful fairyland is the work of sculptor Charles Gotthard, who continues to live in the Magaliesberg with his wife Marguerite and gives sculpture and painting courses, housing people in one of their guesthouses – La Provence and Out of Africa. These two incredibly romantic venues are worth a mention in their own right.
Out of Africa is five double-storey thatched cottages, each set within the forest with sun decks, beautiful bedrooms and sounds and sights of the Magaliesberg, whilst La Provence is a series of seven French suites built within Charles’ old stone studio – quite beautiful and a treat if something fantastical and unconventional is important to you when staying out here – I could imagine that as a romantic getaway you can’t get much more magical! There is even a Zen Spa built on a wooden deck and the chance of a massage. If I were a stressed-out Jo’burger, this would be my destination of choice…
Part of the reason that Goblin’s has been such a success is due in no small part to the involvement of the whole family, or at least Charles’ daughter Michelle, who helped in the initial stages to design and rebuild a house that had once belonged to a woman by the name of Marike De Leeu. The story goes that she stole away to the heart of the Magaliesberg to allow her love child to grow up in the heart of the country. By the time the Gotthards reinvigorated the house with their whimsical faery flavour, it had been standing bereft of owners for about seventeen years.
And La Provence, by all accounts, has been invoked by Marguerite, inspired by her French lineage. We’re talking rooms drenched in bewitching details – hand-embroidered linen, ball and claw baths, fireplaces, soft lighting and exuberant furnishings.
A day visit to Goblin’s Cove should more than satiate your desire for the more other-wordly, and with a choice of either restaurant or coffee shop, there is food aplenty, although my recommendation, particularly on a typical sun-filled day, is to opt for coffee outside at Gobble & Gook Coffee Nook, as the restaurant can be a little dank and dim. And Goblin’s is perfect for children. There is ample space in which to run around and explore, there is a jungle gym in the playground, the little faerie magic gift shop, right next door to the aviary, is a wonderful place to pick up a pair of faerie wings or a spellbinding wind chime, and the restaurant has a kiddies menu
And rumour has it that the odd couple have escaped convention to marry here in the grounds, using the conference venue a little further away from the restaurant close to the lake, for the reception. Our last visit, however, revealed the roof in bad need of repair.
The day was wet, raining and unusually chilly for the time of year, which perhaps contributed to my disillusion at finding the restaurant perhaps a little less loved than usual – the cracks had started to show. Now managed by someone other than the family, there seems to be a distinct incongruence between the quirky décor, and the quality of food and service.
In fairness to the new manager (whose angular frame reminded me distinctly of Basil Fawlty! And who took great pains to try to explain his predicament), the chef was away, and a hasty reconnaissance for a temporary replacement had possibly not met with the ideal candidate. But let me not spoil what is without doubt a timeless experience, by my dissatisfaction. Every restaurant has its bad day.