Graaff-Reinet has all the historic and architectural charm of Stellenbosch but without the traffic mayhem. And, wholly in its favour, is the nearby Camdeboo National Park which is easily accessible even with an ordinary vehicle and fewer than 15 km from the town centre.
To watch the sun set over the Valley of Desolation and onwards to the Plains of Camdeboo is truly a spectacular sight. Even without the delicious refreshments and excellent guided tour offered by Karoo Connections’ David McNaughton, just being up there as the birdcall bounces between the peaks like a harmonic ping-pong game is sufficient. We saw Springbok, Rhebok, Bontebok and a Leopard Tortoise that diced with death as a speeding car narrowly missed it while it was crossing the road. Red Hartebeest and Kudu are also present as are cute Steenbok with their perky ears.
For art’s sake
I’d cynically considered The Rupert Family’s investment in art as a positive PR move to sanitise their tobacco and liquor interests but Graaff-Reinet, from where the family comes, is an example of what can happen when a wealthy family invests to restore and renovate and not simply to enrich themselves.When it came to reenergising The Drostdy Hotel they assembled a winning team.
Founded in 1795 much of the town of Graaff-Reinet still looks as I imagine it did then. This is also the genius of the hotel’s revamp. dhk Architects were recently awarded the Eastern Cape’s Institute of Architecture’s regional award for seamlessly blending the original structures with the new ones. This, together with the Stephen Falcke interiors, Jan Blok’s landscaping and, most valuably, Newmark Hotel’s management team, are what make this such a special property to visit.
Originally opened as an hotel in 1878, it was built by French architect Louis Thibault to serve as the magistrate’s office for the town. The hotel is laid out like a historic village. Many of the units have candy-coloured front and back doors with table and chairs at the rear while sash windows have matching shutters. The deluxe interiors, while nodding to historic farmhouse style, are not only contemporary but also fully geared to today’s travellers who want to stay in touch with work, family and friends while being on vacation. To this end, free wifi works effectively throughout the property and the suite’s desk, which also doubles as a vanity table with hairdryer, has a panel of desk-height plugs to simultaneously charge all your devices.
Ferreira House is one of the historic properties that form part of the accommodations at The Drostdy Hotel.
If you’re travelling in a group of up to 14, I recommend taking all the accommodations in Ferreira House and the immediately adjacent suites that form around a courtyard swimming pool.
Clean air and oxygen on tap
The Africology Spa is in the building that originally housed the hotel bar. This is an excellent example of Cape Victorian architecture with its corrugated iron roof and patterned timber lattice work. Aside from the expected spa menu, mani and pedi chairs and a couple’s spa suite, they also offer oxygen therapy.
There are so many things to see within easy walking distance of The Drostdy. The stone Groote Kerk church, modelled on England’s Sainsbury Cathedral, is the town’s centrepiece and Reinet House is a must, if only just to see one of the oldest and largest vines. I loved their collection of historic kitchen items especially the detailed and decorative cheese presses and butter shapers.
For coffee lovers their selection of fire-top coffee roasters and blue enamelled coffee percolators is a real find.
South African art but no Pierneef
The Hester Rupert art museum is another must see although I was expecting to see the famous Pierneef Station Panels. They were once in Graaff-Reinet although in a different museum.
Now they are in the Rupert Museum in Stellenbosch, near Cape Town.
And, speaking of coffee, Cafe Polka and the adjacent Maria’s Coffee Roasters are a destination in themselves.
There is also a Mohair shop immediately across from the hotel which sells home-knitted items at extremely reasonable prices. They also have an exhaustive selection of Mohair socks. The Imibala Gallery is part of the hotel but also accessed directly from an off-street entrance. This houses a collection of local contemporary art that is available to purchase.
While there, take a peek at the adjacent wine shop which keeps mainly Rupert-family wines but also a few vintages from friends like Ernie Els. This is a great spot to taste wines and pick up fine wines at cellar-door prices.
Eat at De Camdeboo
Even if you’re simply passing through Graaff-Reinet you must stop at the hotel for a meal. I was blown away by the competitively priced food at their De Camdeboo Restaurant which is of a quality and style of a city-centre restaurant but portions are sufficiently generously sized to satisfy a Karoo farmer’s appetite.
In the past Graaff-Reinet was a rest-stop while on the way to somewhere else. I’m confident that with the outstanding hospitality offering and available list of attractions that people will now choose The Drostdy Hotel and Graaff-Reinet as a destination. I can’t wait to return if only just to lie at the pool gazing up at the surrounding mountains that cup the village like a loving father.