A plush Queenstown manor is attracting the very best guests, writes Barbara Hollands.
CEBERG roses line the walkway to the elegant entrance of Queenstown’s four-star Victoria Manor – a fitting introduction to the Victorian finery evident in the atmospheric entrance hall of this exquisite guesthouse
Surrounded by magnificent rose gardens with massive hanging baskets, whimsical white benches and finely manicured topiaries, the splendour is echoed in the interiors with their weighty antique pieces, wood-panelled walls and high ceilings.
Add four poster beds, fine bed linen, deep bay windows, attentive staff and the fluffiest white towels and movie star robes this side of Hollywood and it is no surprise the intrepid owner of this luxurious establishment keeps winning hospitality awards.
Te most recent was in the best international luxury country house category of the World Luxury Hotel Awards, which she won at a glitzy ceremony in Malaysia recently.
My husband, Glenn, and I were fortunate to be shown into the crème-de- la-crème of Victoria Manor – the presidential suite – with its his ‘n hers throne-like armchairs, sumptuous four-poster bed and walk-in closet. Actual presidents have laid their heads down in this room, according to Victoria Manor owner Maria Nyavula, who runs her guesthouse with husband, Max, and son, Wordsworth. The guesthouse also has superior and standard suites, which have cheaper rates to suit different budgets.
Nyavula, with her friendly charm and hands-on approach to service, is diplomatically tight-lipped about exactly which presidents she has hosted, but they have served the country since she bought Victoria Manor in 2006 …
She is also pretty sure the British royal party of King George VI, his wife, Queen Elizabeth, and princesses Elizabeth and Margaret “took refreshment” in this house during their South African tour of 1947.
But perhaps the most interesting tale is the one which Maria has to tell of how she came to own this heritage house and turn it into the successful accommodation and conference establishment it is today.
Nyavula is the perfect “winning against the odds” story. When former policeman husband Max was shot in the neck by activists in 1994 and consequently boarded, and when her young daughter was diagnosed with cancer and had to have her leg amputated and when the Nyavula house burned down when the family was attending church, this determined woman did not spiral into a defeated slump.
Instead, she bought a new house with her insurance money and turned it into a B&B called Milner House.
“When the bedrooms were full, I slept in the lounge and when guests wanted to use the lounge, I slept in my car,” recalls Maria.
Having made a success of Milner House, Maria wanted to expand her business and was shown Victoria Manor.
“I fell in love with it immediately but did not have the money to buy it – I was looking for a much smaller place.”
Thanks to a friendly bank manager and a handy bank loan, Maria made Victoria Manor her own and set about expanding and improving it. Its three conference venues now attract the workshop set, while the beautiful photogenic garden and on-site helipad ensure that weddings are the stuff of dreams.
“I believe in treating guests like kings and queens and I have no problem getting my hands dirty – I have a great chef, but I can cook and clean too, and I train my staff well. They call me Sister Boss and they are like family to me. Every month one of them becomes a guest at Victoria Manor.
They check in, are shown to their rooms, have dinner and breakfast and check out again. It is vital they experience the guesthouse from the point of view of a guest.”
And, judging by our stay, guests have a pretty good experience. When we returned from dinner in central Queenstown on the night of our stay, we were met with more than a chocolate on our pillow. Instead a giant, beribboned hamper crammed with fruit juice, chocolates and fruit welcomed us back to our up-market suite.
“Good service is everything,” explained Maria, as she posed for photographs in her glorious garden the following morning.
“I believe in treating all my guests like royalty ,” she said.