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Mutare is a city steeped in history and one of its longstanding architectural gems is the delightful old Mutare Club, a dominant feature of the city centre for almost a century and a quarter.
On a recent wine weekend visit to the area, we had the opportunity to have supper there, and it was not only a great meal but also a super experience, and one that all visitors to the city and surrounds should try to fit into their itineraries.
For most of its existence it was strictly for members and their guests only, but in recent years the Club has become a hospitality venue in its own right and folks can stay overnight or simply have a meal there.
It is a double-storey building topped with a rounded turret, and in photographs of the city since the late 1890s it is a clear and present feature on what is now Herbert Chitepo Street, formerly Main Street.
On our wine weekend, we had supper in the dining room, which has recently been spruced up and is neat, tidy and very welcoming. As it was a wine weekend we had our wine tasting at Gordon’s On 125 First Street just before going across to the Club.
The wines that evening were a selection from Latilla Wines, all Foothills labels from the Cape. At lunchtime we had enjoyed the Foothills Monogram sparkling wine at Tony’s Coffee shop in the Bvumba mountains, so what we tasted in the evening was a rose, two whites and two reds — all delightful and all very warmly received by our contingent of wine enthusiasts.
We had a table d’hote menu prepared for us, with choice a bream cocktail Mary Rose for starters, followed by an excellent mushroom soup. For mains we could choose between Chicken Maryland or rump steak, the latter topped with asparagus and a Hollandaise sauce.
Dessert featured a choice between rhubarb pie and custard sauce or Pavlova, which is meringue with strawberries and ice cream, of course. Between us we tasted everything and the food was excellent, service was efficient and we thoroughly enjoyed the classic ambience.
Several groups of people were staying overnight, either going to or returning from seaside holidays in Mozambique. I took the opportunity to have a look at some lovely old photos of early Mutare posted around the building, capturing its long and interesting history.
There was a nostalgic factor for me; almost 40 years previously I had enjoyed my first meal in the Mutare Club, soon after being posted to what was then The Umtali Post newspaper — now The Manica Post — as a cub reporter, fresh from cadet journalism school.
Our editor was a member and he treated the editorial staff, made up of him, an assistant and two reporters (one of whom is still with Zimbabwe Newspapers as its longest-serving member of staff!).
Guests attending the wine weekend stayed at Gordon’s On 125 First Street, a fairly new boutique bed and breakfast venue that was created by well-known and award-winning hotelier Gordon Addams.
I had met Gordon when I was a reporter in Mutare, as he was born and educated in the area. He later went on to the excellent Hotel School at the then Bulawayo Technical College (now Polytech), and served for a decade in Cresta Hotels, latterly as general manager of the Cresta Jameson in Harare.
In 1991 he started his own business, Inns of Zimbabwe, spending the first 25 or so years running small hotels in the Eastern Highlands and beyond in partnership with various landlords; among these were inn On The Vumba outside Mutare, Pine Tree Inn in Nyanga, Kiledo Lodge (Chipinge area), Mukwazi Safari Lodge (Save Conservancy), Inn On Rupurara (also Nyanga), Inn on Great Zimbabwe near Masvingo and Inn On Louis Trichardt in the northern Limpopo Province of South Africa.
Now he has changed focus and has only two operations, both his own: Grace’s Cottage in the Lower Bvumba ( self-catering establishment for small numbers of people) and the new Gordon’s On 125. This is an absolutely wonderful venture, created from a century-old residence in the Mutare ‘avenues area’ and home to nine lovely suites that are suitable to leisure and business travellers and give easy access to the city and to the Eastern Highlands areas outside Mutare, from Nyanga in the north to Chimanimani and Chipinge in the south.
Features of this delightful establishment are a remarkable garden splashed with the corporate lilac and purple colours of Inns of Zimbabwe, cosy lounge and dining room, comfortable and well-appointed bedrooms, enormous bathrooms and a veranda with views up along the Cecil Kop mountain range dominating the Mutare skyline.
We had breakfast there on both days, and this was a superb treat. Main course was cooked to order and on both days I had excellent scrambled eggs with crisp bacon, tomato, sausage and toast, with ,meatballs on the second morning as the special of the day.
This was preceded by servings of fresh fruit and yoghurt with cereal, and we ended with coffee. Fresh food, well prepared and set in an attractive seating area on the veranda, after a restful night, can’t wait to get back there!
One of our number was a friend who came down with us and who was kindly hosted by Holiday Inn Mutare, thanks to the amiable and efficient general manager, Clive Chinwada (who is also a Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe vice president). She had her breakfast at the Inn, having treats from two huge and enjoyable breakfast buffets in the Hot Springs restaurant overlooking the swimming pool. She enjoyed her bedroom, with splendid views across the city to the Bvumba mountains and commented that the hospitality from the staff was outstanding.
The original hotel from which the Holiday Inn stems was right next door where the Zimre Centre now stands. It was called the Cecil Hotel, but was mothballed in the mid-1970s when the current hotel was built (1974), spending its first six years as the Cecil, then becoming the Manica Hotel.
Later it became Holiday Inn Mutare, but changed to Amber Mutare for a few years before being changed back to Holiday Inn status last year. Great to have a respe4cted international brand in Mutare!
We all decided that the days of huge wine weekends (when we would have up to 60 people attending) should be over, as our intimate gathering this time of a dozen was enjoyable, relaxing and very convivial.
More such weekends are planned for coming months and readers who are keen to join in (no need to be wine experts, just people in search of good times) can e-mail me (see below) to hear of planned dates.
Mutare is an amazing place from which to base oneself for a holiday trip to the Eastern Highlands. All the mountain areas can be reached quickly and easily and one day can take you north while the next can take you south, and the nearby Bvumba is heavenly all year round.
The city is rich in all manner of attractions, from museums and art galleries to game sanctuary and sports facilities.
Gordon’s On 125 First Street is contactable on (0202) 67200 (or visitwww.innsofzimbabwe.co.zw) while Holiday Inn Mutare is reached on (0202) 64431 or through Holiday Inn Harare.
The Mutare Club can be called on (0202) 62540 for accommodation or meals. They are all hospitality gems in the Zimbabwean travel and tourism crown.