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In the heart of the Great Karoo, surrounded by the Camdeboo National Park, lies a town first established in 1786. Graaff-Reinet is the fourth oldest settlement in SA and boasts more than 220 national monuments.
The town and its surroundings offer visitors something especially eccentric and unique: some of the best stargazing in the world, pre-dinosaur fossils, fabulous desert scenery and something mysterious known as The Owl House.
And believe it or not there are plenty of present-day “living” attractions for those who aren’t exclusively looking to relive Jurassic times. Check out the following Greenwood Guides recommendations for fab places to stay.
Call: 049 891 0422/4
Welcome to Wheatlands, where if you’re looking for flat-screens, iPod docks and high-speed wi-fi, you’re in the wrong place. Wheatlands is for those who want antique, country-farm luxury.
Built in 1912 on the profits of ostrich feathers (a so-called “feather palace”), don’t expect a humble farmhouse; I found a gigantic manor mingling Cape Dutch and Edwardian styles, a façade dominated by three extravagant gables and a lovely white-pillared rear veranda opening onto a green lake of lush lawn where heritage roses sprout like weeds. Haul your wagon into the huge sandy courtyard (to the strains of the goat chorus) and grace the long, cool, wood-panelled grand hall.
The bright, homely lounge, replete with cushioned window sills, houses the grand piano. Corridors are lined with first editions, there’s a snug for reading, and high-ceilinged guest bedrooms are not converted outhouses but an integral, lived-in part of the home.
Wonderful wanders can be had in the sprawling back gardens and the Shorts are astoundingly nice people, brimful of the hostly arts. Kirsten and Diana cook decadent dinners, eaten at one large oak table, while David and Arthur are serious wool and mohair farmers. And cricketers. They even have their own ground.
Call: 049 840 0201
A 3km drive on a dirt track takes you up into the land that time forgot, a small, perfectly-formed valley that Sue calls home.
She is there to greet you in her improbably lush and well-tended garden, which seems immune to the Karoo sun’s forbidding glare. An ingenious old water furrow running down from the dam must take some of the credit for this, although a fence has also been added to protect the garden’s aloes and roses from midnight-feasting kudus.
You can relax under the trees in the tranquil gardens or hike up the valley in search of the 10 species of antelope and other Karoo wildlife on the farm. Back at base, guests either stay in a lovely old cottage, circa 1880; or a twin-bedded suite attached to Sue’s own, even older house; or the luxury garden suite with its sweeping views of the garden and wild valley in the distance.
Sue takes your supper orders when you book so as to have a fresh farm supply at the ready (springbok and Karoo lamb are specialities) and you are served in your own private dining room with solid silver cutlery, bone china and service bell. Breakfasts are also a royal affair. Nearby: the sculpture garden of the Owl House, historic Graaff-Reinet and the awe-inspiring views of the Valley of Desolation.
The Stone Cottage
Call: 049 8910 416
I can hardly see The Stone Cottage for the butterflies. A thousand wings flit between lavender, African daisy and sunny aloe flower, all vying for the best spot outside The Stone Cottage, SA’s family-friendliest farm-stay.
It took a mighty spring clean to enable stays at Ebenezer Farm, explains Michèle, piling my eager plate with roast farm chicken. “My husband, Graham, is the sixth generation of Hobson to work Ebenezer, but the cottage was a farm store for years.”
Two years of sprucing and one (almost) butterfly-proof stable door later, The Stone Cottage was born; a darling, shuttered den of warm, earthy tones, piled with furry rugs, Karoo-themed books and games, heaven for families fleeing city stress for wholesome farm fun.
The cosy kitchen is armed for battle, but Michèle hates rumbling tummies and loves spoiling people since sons Leith and Stuart started boarding school.
She’ll happily feed you, spicing things up daily.
After lunch, Josh the collie leads us through the gardens to vast sheep and angora goat pastures, past the pool, tree house, tennis court and mammoth jungle gym, down to the forest where real monkeys play. The Stone Cottage is a rustic Karoo paradise.
Andries StockenstrÖm Guest House
Call: 049 892 4575
Attention all foodies! If the kitchen is the heart of a home, few places have more heart than Andries Stockenström (ASG), where you’ll eat fiercely well and, accordingly, sleep like royalty too.
ASG has always been synonymous with fine dining, but Gordon and Rose, ditching city strife in PE, have introduced a much more laissez-faire style to proceedings. For starters, non-guests are welcome. “Life’s too short for bad food and bad wine,” grins Gordon.
The high-ceilinged, antique-filled rooms of the 1819 manor house, meanwhile, shimmer with Rose’s oil paintings. Rose only discovered her ability with a canvas on returning to Graaff-Reinet, the town where both she and Gordon went to school. Rose has magic hands: not only a reflexologist – foot-fondling is on offer – and decorator of ASG’s elegant-yet-homely suites, but also a mean lemon curd maker.
And sous chef Maureen’s eggs make her winner of a Best Omelette in SA competition. - Cape Times