For decades, the Mount Grace Country Hotel and Spa has offered an oasis-like escape for those seeking some respite from the blurriness of fast-paced Johannesburg city life. Just on an hour’s drive from Africa’s biggest and busiest city, Mount Grace is located on hillside outside the small town of Magaliesburg with the Magaliesberg mountain range just a little further north.
By Sean Badenhorst
Photos: Hamish Niven/Dino Lloyd
Since 2001, selected mountain bikers have been invited to the annual Brait Grace to Grace mountain bike event and over the past couple of years, more locally organised events have used some of the land around the hotel’s estate. So it was only a matter of time before African Pride, the company that owns and runs Mount Grace these days, embraced mountain biking completely. And boy have they embraced it. They’ve spent millions on building a mountain bike trail centre called Cog and Sprocket. A modern, comfortable club house that makes you feel like you have a high quality, classy base where you can start and finish your rides. It’s like a golf club house, but for mountain bikers and boy has it been well thought out!
The cloak rooms are exceptionally clean and well appointed with toilets, clothing hooks and hot showers. There’s a food and drinks bar that offers a variety of light meals and snacks as well as freshly made hot drinks. There’s a fire place and a large flat screen TV which we believe will become a popular post-ride gathering spot, especially in the cold winter months and it’s not huge, but it’s not cramped either. there’s also an outside area with tables and chairs with some children’s’ play/climbing apparatus and a bike wash bay. They reckon they can accommodate up to 300 guests, which makes it perfect for club rides and corporate functions. But it’s also ideal for anyone just wanting to have a safe, comfortable place to start and finish your ride from. We’ve travelled to trail centres around South Africa and Sprocket and Cog at Mount Grace is by far the most impressive and surely an example of what’s to become of other trail destinations as the mountain biking gains golf-life credibility and acceptance.
Mount Grace is close enough to Johannesburg to not require putting in for leave, but far enough that you need to spend at least full day there, or ideally, a few days. The recently refurbished accommodation of the five-star hotel is exceptionally comfortable, with modern facilities seamlessly interwoven with old country charm.
The spa facilities are as good as you’ll find anywhere, but the country setting and beautiful views give it just a little more peace and quiet which makes achieving a state of relaxation, even temporarily, just a little easier. And if you think five-star is too expensive to consider, have a look at their specials (no hotel can afford to be empty!).
A recent addition (done when the mountain bike facilities were built) is the Kids Centre. Mount Grace has clearly shifted its focus to attracting families as the Kids Centre is simply superb!
Hotel guest children (ages 3-16) are welcome to spend a few hours playing with other children and taking part in child-friendly activities under the supervision of fully trained and qualified staff.
For young children there’s a climbing wall, a castle playhouse, movies, toys, puzzles and other educational games, while tweens and teens have access to PS4 with a variety of games, as well as movies, books, foosball and board games.
There’s a child-minding service available for all children at R85 per hour (minimum of two hours), which allows you to relax at the Spa or ride the trails with some freedom. The Kids Centre has a modern security system that will give you added peace of mind when leaving them.
Mount Grace is built into the side of a large hill in the foothills of the Magaliesberg mountain range. This kind of gradient is what you normally find in Mpumalanga or KZN or the Western Cape. As a result the trails, built by Gavin Pelser and his team, have had to be built in a way that makes the most of the natural gradient, but ensuring it’s not too challenging. This means some switchbacking on climbs and descents which we feel are well made, possible for most to ride and well maintained. There are currently three trail distances – 5km, 7.5km and 12.5km. They all sound very short, but because of the gradient, they take longer than you’d expect in terms of time. There are plans to extend the trail distances, but we found that even riding them fast at a high level of fitness and skill, we were appropriately challenged.
The trails start and finish at the Cog and Sprocket clubhouse, which is just outside the main Mount Grace gate and low down in the valley. They all descend to the river at first and then begin a steady climb on the southern slope in front of the hotel. Once at the summit of that slope, the shorter routes branch off to the left (north) and loop back around towards the hotel, while the 12.5km trail heads down and up a southeastern slope and then heads northeast to the more rugged, rocky terrain before climbing steadily to the highest point and then finishing with a thrilling 2km flowing descent back to the trail centre via three river crossings on well-made wooden bridges.
The trails are well marked, and the original temporary markings are now more permanently established. The views are simply superb, especially those that extend to the Magaliesberg mountain range in the northeast and northwest. The terrain is a mixture of hardback, loose over hardpack, as well as some rocky surfaces on the 12.5km loop. There’s a high percentage of singletrack with some jeep track sections with some berms built into the last long descent to ensure consistent flow.
The trail fee is *R40 per rider per day and requires the signing of an indemnity form. Hotel guests don’t need to pay a trail fee, but do need to sign the form.
If the five-star hotel stay isn’t your style, or out of your budget, don’t shy away from spending a day at Mount Grace. Your non-riding family will have plenty to do and the lunch menus are very reasonably priced.
For more information, visit www.mountgracecountryhouseandspa.com
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*Originally published in TREAD Issue 34, 2015 – All rights reserved