The Charming Huntingdon House
Arriving in Blantyre it’s hard to imagine what lies just 55 kilometres away; a haven, of luminous green rolling hills of tea bushes that look soft enough to sleep on, dotted with flat top Acacia’s that epitomise the African landscape. Driving through the winding roads of the Thyolo district up to Huntingdon House in the Satemwa Tea Estates is a taste of what is to come.
Pulling into the carpark (with me third-wheeling Mike and his lady friend) this beautiful house comes in to view, with its distinct archways, manicured gardens and Tracey, the manager, in the forefront with a glowing smile (and amazing hair) welcoming us into her home.
The back story
We are each handed a refreshing glass of Satemwa hibiscus iced tea and given a brief history of the house. In the early 20s, the young Scot Maclean Kay bought his first piece of land in Malawi from a tobacco farmer to grow tea, which thrived, and that piece of land turned into the impressive tea and coffee estate that you see today. Huntingdon House was built by Maclean Kay in the mid-30s and refurbished in 2009. Care was taken to retain the unique character and history of the property while ensuring it satisfies the demands of even the most discerning traveler.
Room with a view
The five rooms are unique and charmingly named after their original occupants or purposes; Father’s room, Mother’s room, The Nursery, Planters’ Suite (family room) and The Chapel (originally built as a chapel in honour of Juliet Kay, but was never consecrated, this now serves as the honeymoon suite). All rooms are en-suite with claw-foot bathtubs and classic décor.
After we had settled into our rooms, we were served a late lunch of fresh homemade mint and basil pesto spaghetti and a side of crunchy homegrown salad with homemade dressing. What a dream.
Full, content and eager to explore, we hopped into Huntingdon’s open-top pick-up, with charming cushioned benches built into the back. After us girls kicked Mike to the back bench and stole his cushions, off we trundled up, and up, and up to the ‘picnic spot’. The views on the 20 minute journey were outstanding at that time of day, with the evening light bouncing gloriously off the foliage. The local tea-pickers adorned in colourful chitenje fabrics, meticulously plucking leaves and throwing them with surprising precision over their shoulders and into the open satchels on their backs; but all this was nothing compared to what we were greeted with on arrival.
Beautiful gardens lead down to the viewpoint where on a clear day you can see Mount Mulanje, Majete Wildlife Reserve and everything in between. As we tried to ignore the impending disaster of Mike’s drone buzzing above our heads as he struggled to manoeuvre his new toy, we simply sat in awe of where we were at that moment. Under the shade of an ancient Acacia, you look upon Malawi like you’re on top of the world, with the sun setting behind you and a Malawi G&T in hand, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Trying to squeeze every last moment of sunlight out of the day (and as many G&Ts as we could), we returned to the house after dark.
Get busy at Huntingdon
After a hot bath, I went to peruse the old books on Nyasaland (Malawi’s name before independence from colonial rule) in the sitting room by the fire, I was joined by Tracey who informed me of the various activities they offer at Huntingdon House. There are hand-drawn maps of the walking trails around the estate that guests can go on in their own time, as well as guided walks and tours of the tea and coffee factories which explain the process of tea and coffee making, from seed to cup.
The most popular activity and one well worth doing is the tea tasting tour which includes a tour of the tea factory and a tasting session of over 25 different teas all grown on the estate. There are mountain bikes available for guest use and croquet on the lawn. They even offer treasure hunts around the gardens for their younger guests which my inner child was desperate to do.
Time for dinner. In the dining room, the atmosphere was enchanting with a roaring fire and candlelight (the third-wheeling had hit new heights now) and we were treated to a sophisticated three-course feast of pea and mint soup starter, succulent pork fillet atop a potato rosti with buttered vegetables and a cherry and red wine jus main course, and finally a Satemwa coffee Tiramisu for dessert.
They try to incorporate their heritage into their menus, and the tea-inspired cocktails were a real pleasure (we’re on holiday right?), from their G&Teas (Malawi Gin and white hibiscus iced tea) and their Satemwa espresso martinis. Everything was truly delicious and after the combination of good plentiful food, red wine and the warmth from the fire, the food-coma hit and I was ready to retire.
The rooms are extremely comfortable, with king-sized beds, canopy mosquito nets, feather pillows and crisp white linen (and a surprise hot water bottle tucked under my duvet), they have everything you could need.
Breakfast of champions
In the morning we sat down to breakfast on the veranda, with a side table of juices and continental goodies, we were served a fresh fruit salad, exquisite Satemwa tea and coffee and after deciding that a holiday is no time to be holding back, we ordered the full cooked breakfast of perfectly poached eggs, crispy bacon, sausage, beans and tomato – yes please.
I was ready to stay for a week but unfortunately, the driver arrived to take me to the airport and I had to wave goodbye to what felt like a childhood home.
If you are travelling around Malawi, please do make a point to pop into Huntingdon House for some of the freshest air around, in between your more adventurous destinations – it is a treat for the soul and I miss it already!
Contact us to arrange a visit or incorporate Huntingdon House into your Malawi tour.