Once upon a time, high up in the Mpumalanga mountains, highwaymen would steal gold from coaches leaving the mining town of Pilgrim’s Rest

This is how the road earned its title of Robbers Pass. Today, at the top of Robbers Pass, you will find a treasure of a different sort – a blissful mountain sanctuary called Crystal Springs.

Often enshrouded in a cloak of mist, due to its elevated location, the RCI Gold Crown Resort is huge at 2 400 hectares. The property consists of clusters of lodges set amid beautiful gardens, interspersed with towering pine forests and adjoined by a game farm.

We arrived at the picturesque resort after an afternoon of exploring Mpumalanga’s scenic waterfalls and viewpoints. Although it was fully-booked due to a public holiday, it didn’t feel crowded at all, simply due to its expansive area and abundant leisure options.

Check-in was friendly and efficient and we were given a quick overview of the resort and its facilities. We drove down the beautiful road to our chalet, deep in the mountains, unpacked the car, and then settled down to watch the magnificent sunset painting hues of orange, purple and crimson over the distant peaks.

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Variety of accommodation options

The four-star accommodation caters for groups of two to eight, in one-, two- or three-bedroomed lodges, apartments and clubhouse suites. The three-bedroomed lodges have a washing machine and a dishwasher. For the rest, there is a laundromat.

The resort is self-catering so make sure that you take your own amenities and groceries. However, if you do forget anything, there is a convenience store near the reception area which sells a wide range of items. And if you don’t feel like cooking, you can enjoy the warm and cosy ambience at Le Fera Restaurant as you tuck into a pizza or a steak, or one of their many fish and vegetarian dishes.

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Beautiful views, comfortable rooms

We stayed in a beautifully-appointed face-brick and lodge overlooking the mountains. It had an en-suite double bedroom, a twin bedroom for the kids with another bathroom, an open-plan kitchen, a dining and lounge area, and a private patio with braai facilities.

The mountain-facing rooms have floor-to-ceiling glass windows and sliding doors so that you can enjoy the view at all times. Beware of leaving them open though, as the monkeys can become a nuisance. A fireplace in the lounge, panel heaters in the bedrooms and heated towel rails in the bathrooms provide snug relief from the cold winds which grip the resort at nights and some days too. Some warm clothing is advised too.

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There are abundant activities at the resort, both indoor and outdoor

Outdoor activities include tennis, squash, chess, jungle gyms, and mini golf in the shade under the trees. There are four swimming pools on the premises, of which two are gloriously heated. Walking trails are also available.

Indoor activities include a games room with electronic and board games, a pool table and table tennis. A kiddies entertainment programme with structured activities is handed to you on arrival during the school holidays. Le Fera Health & Beauty Spa offers treatments for teenagers and adults.

Those over 16 years of age also have access to the Clubhouse facilities. There are jacuzzis, a sauna, a steam room, an indoor heated pool, a gym and a small library. While my kids had fun inthe games room, my husband and I enjoyed ourselves at the Clubhouse.

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Safari addicts like me can get their bush fix at the 2 400 hectare game farm

Zebra, giraffe, and many other types of plains animals roam the game farm and often venture out to the chalets. Leopard, caracal and other small cats also live there but are not seen as often – except by the late-night staff.

Bird watchers will have a great time too – with many different species inhabiting the area. There are morning and afternoon open-vehicle game drives and self-driving is also permitted.

If you can drag yourself away from the resort, the historic town of Pilgrims Rest and the Pilgrims Rest golf course are a short drive away. The Kruger National Park is about an hour away and other Mpumalanga attractions are in close proximity as well.

With such an abundance of activities in such a beautiful environment, it is easy to see why Crystal Springs is rated as one of South Africa’s best big family resorts. Wherever I looked, I saw families having fun together. My children made new friends and I met a long-lost cousin from Kwazulu-Natal whom I hadn’t seen in ages. I left the resort reluctantly, but revitalised by the fresh mountain air.

For more information, go to www.crystalsprings.co.za .

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