A place to reconnect
A weekend at the new Farmhouse 58 in the Cradle of Humankind.
The Farmhouse 58 experience begins before we’ve even reached the property. Waiting in the Nirox parking lot with our weekend bags, an army green mini-Jeep appears to transfer us down the road to Farmhouse, which is void of any guest vehicles. This small gesture is a departure in more ways than one and sets the tone for Farmhouse’s intentional approach to reconnecting its guests with their environment.
It’s early afternoon…hushed voices and the twittering of birds are just about all I can hear from my room. Come nightfall, it’s the clear and resounding call of lions, that primal rumbling that reverberates through the air, heard from the lion park just down the road. There’s a sense of stillness here that’s transformational, not only are guests asked to keep noise levels down, but we’re asked to turn off outside room lights when not in use, leaving the surrounding property in near darkness. Given that we’ve just driven in from the chaos of the city, this deliberate disconnection instils a feeling of respite that’s rare and rewarding; it’s like a ritual cleansing of the mind and soul.
Farmhouse forms part of the foundation phase of the broader umbrella of Project58 whose aim is to create a deeper connection…to nature, and to yourself. The property, which is a complement to Nirox, exists from a point of view of giving back – to the earth, the community, the mind, body and soul. Very much a work in progress, the future of 58 includes the opening of approximately 35 retreat rooms and 25 villas, a new restaurant located within the original shed, wellness facilities including a yoga and mind-body studio, a hydro with baths, an ashram, co-working space and meeting rooms as well as a broad array of activities and workshops that facilitate learning through biophilic design, regenerative farming practices, wellness workshops, empowerment, art, guided hikes, storytelling and sustainable farming practices. These facilities are open to a diverse cross-section of people from all walks of life and the local community is a core part of this.
The buildings themselves are a reflection of the farm’s story. Little has been added and what constitutes the current buildings is in honour of what was there before: an old printing press, stables, a dairy and a farm shed. These buildings have been honoured, structures stripped back, repurposed and lightly altered to best retain their story and spirit.
The lapa, where we dined both nights beside a roaring fire, is in a state of evolution just as the rest of the farm and this evolution is something that the founders of Farmhouse and project58 want guests to be part of. Nothing is perfect or final, they remind me during a chat. To this effect, the lapa will be transformed as the farm evolves with dining taking place elsewhere. These spaces are diverse in their uses and will be adapted as the need calls.
The design here is simple to the point of being ascetic, but trust that everything you see has been chosen with a keen eye and a conscious mind. The idea here was to create a sense of place and atmosphere, rather than set a style or follow a trend. The materials used are what’s available locally, what will age best given environmental factors and what will make the least disturbance on the land; think SA pine, Cemcrete, rammed earth and gravel – honest raw materials which are simply constructed, lending the Farmhouse its pared-back, authentic atmosphere. Upstairs, above the reception area and lounge, a library has been created in the original roof space; here we find shelves stuffed with reference books of all kinds, novels and art catalogues, while a small desk laden with a watercolour art kit and brushes sits at the ready for anyone who’d like to put brush to paper. It’s a space that’s high on ambiance and one in which we find ourselves lingering late into the night.
The 22 rooms currently open to guests and artists within the Nirox residency are pared-back but more than comfortable; the same honest palette and simple design principles have been applied here, complemented by artworks and room fragrances curated by Arte Botanica. Unsurprisingly, their food (which we found to be delicious and happily tucked into) follows the same ethos of wellbeing and sustainability. Under the guidance of The Leopard’s Andrea Burgener, together with a team of passionate chefs and gardeners, the food culture here is guided by what is grown locally, seasonally, ethically and sustainably with a focus on health and well-being. And, once their agri garden produces enough yield, they’ll be sourcing the restaurant’s food from here too.
Farmhouse is set within 180 hectares of undeveloped land which forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage site that is the Cradle of Humankind. This rich historic context with direct links to our early ancestors is an element that informs Farmhouse’s present narrative. During our stay, we’re accompanied on a walk to a small waterfall by Farmhouse’s concierge, who shares some of the property’s history with us, and tells of the various forms of wildlife we may see here such as blesbok, wildebeest, impala and zebra who are free to roam the property. As part of their holistic approach to land use and learning, there are 6 allotments that have already been donated to the local community (with more in the pipeline) which serve as a source of food and skills sharing through training programs, as well as fields planted with fruit trees for regenerative purposes and vegetable gardens being tended to for in-house food production.
Guests to Farmhouse can choose to fill their time with hikes to the small waterfall, trails that traverse the property’s breadth, enjoying some respite at one of their dams as well as guided walks. We opted to do the latter through Epic Hikes, a company that offers conscious walks, breathwork walks and meditative hikes. Hiking up the koppie together with a small group of Farmhouse guests, we’d stop, gather around and discuss one of their set talking points intended to open up dialogue, create connection and forge meaningful thinking; these ranged from enlightenment to alignment. The experience was unexpectedly thought-provoking and remained with us long after our descent. At the top, we reached Sun w(hole) – an imposing rammed earth wall pierced with a hole in the centre which was created by Moroccan artist Amine El Gotaibi for Nirox’ Margins of Error. The wall probes notions of alienness, otherness and the imposed borders which we have created as a people – a topic which is ripe for interrogation given the Farmhouse’s approach to the interconnectedness of all living things as well as its context within the birthplace of humankind. There we sipped on flasks of coffee, engaged in discussion with one another and lingered until after sunset.
It goes without saying that Farmhouse 58 is not your typical boutique hotel or weekend getaway aimed at obtaining a short window of r&r and complete with all the bells and whistles. It’s healing rather than pampering, holistic rather than narrowly focused and reconnecting rather than escapist. There’s a very special energy that pervades the Farmhouse experience from beginning to end, a quality which brings us back to ourselves and the fact is – it’s always been there –we’ve just forgotten how to tap into it.