South Africa has a rich and storied past, and around the country there are still numerous signs of that history. But why go simply visit history when you can live it? These historic guesthouses have all stood the test of time making them attractive, comfortable and an important part of SA’s past.
John Montagu Guest House
Montagu, Western Cape
Amazingly, back in 1861, Montagu had its own banknotes. When it was declared a health resort in 1936, wealthy people flocked there to buy holiday houses, and in 1941 the Montagu Muscadel Co-operative was formed. I discovered all this, and more, at the tourist office in Bath Street, where they have a street map for a self-guided historical walk of the pretty wee town. Given that Muscadel runs through the town’s veins so to speak, it’s fitting, indeed warming, to be served a welcoming glass of the sweet liquid on arrival at the John Montagu Guest House in Joubert Street. While not marked on the historical-walk map, this house built in the early 1900s as part of a farm, has all the hallmarks of cottage nostalgia and good, old, home comfort. Plus it bears the name of the man, who as colonial secretary for almost a decade from 1843, helped the area realise its full agricultural potential.
Originally a pair of skakelhuisies and a guest house for about 25 years, it’s seen a few structural changes and upgrades over time but hasn’t lost its old-world charm. One of the four rooms is a family unit and another has a Jacuzzi. The cosy kitchen and dining area where we enjoyed a home-cooked, hearty breakfast, leads onto a patio with beautiful views of the mountain, plus a pool, lapa bar and comfy seating. Sit on the bench on the front stoep and while away the hours simply watching the world go by. And, conveniently, the John Montagu is a five-minute walk from the town centre and restaurants. – Nancy Richards
023 614 1331, johnmontagu.co.za
Stanford Old Mill
Overberg, Western Cape
Dating back more than 200 years, the Stanford Old Mill is one of the oldest buildings in the area. From a hand-milling operation, it was transformed into a watermill by Sir Robert Stanford and then became a dressing mill for grain. We found it quite by accident and, fortunately, spent the night in what has been lovingly transformed into self-catering accommodation.
Built of limestone, sandstone and local wood, 50-centimetre-thick walls, as well as the hospitality, created warmth and highlighted the historic quality of this cottage. We were very comfortable in the en suite, double bedroom, and grateful for double-glazed sash windows, as well as the Morso burner that kept the winter chill at bay. It is tastefully decorated, and well equipped, and we were sorry to spend just one night there.
A loft with two single beds makes it an ideal getaway for a family of four. All this is set in a lush garden with views of the Klein River Mountains. Stanford has many interesting little shops and is known for its eateries. We visited two of them and
they lived up to their reputation. The region offers a variety of activities for all age groups, and a few days allows time for many adventures. – Olivia Schaffer
Rooipoort Nature Reserve
Kimberley, Northern Cape
The 40 000-hectare Rooipoort Nature Reserve has belonged to De Beers since 1893 and is one of the oldest conservation areas in Southern Africa. More than 40 000 hectares in size, the reserve is ranked among the largest private reserves in South Africa and was declared the fourth South African Natural Heritage Site in 1985. About 65 kilometres west of Kimberley, Rooipoort has 32 kilometres of river frontage along the Vaal.
Much of its history is still around for visitors to enjoy today. Cecil John Rhodes had the Shooting Box built to accommodate hunters to the area. The smaller Shooting Box Cottage next to it follows the same style, clad in corrugated iron and furnished with antiques. I had the privilege of staying in the cottage for two nights while exploring the reserve. The cottage consists of two bedrooms, a dining room, kitchen and separate toilet, bath and shower. A gum tree towers over the cottage, with mining implements and paraphernalia on display.
There are several other historic buildings scattered around and certainly one of the most impressive was the old-fashioned cold-storage room with water running down the inside of the thick walls, and small holes allowing the breeze to cool the water. Hunting was stopped here many years ago and as a result, there is plenty of game and wildlife. Ask to visit Bushman’s Fountain, a rocky outcrop that is home to more than 4 000 rock engravings. – René de Klerk
053 839 4455, [email protected]
Marais Cordier Cottage
Gamkaskloof, Western Cape
Set between grey peaks in the Swartberg mountains lies one of my favourite places, a secret little valley called Gamkaskloof. Most of the cottages dotted among the acacia trees are now historically listed buildings, owned by CapeNature and refurbished into comfortable self-catering accommodation. But these houses were not always there for lodging. Legend has it that, in 1830, a group of weary trekboere discovered the valley, saw it was lush and fertile, and decided that they would trek no more. And so they stayed, in relative isolation, with nothing but a few steep and arduous footpaths to connect them to the outside world.
It wasn’t until 1963 that a dirt road was built to the Gamkaskloof, a road that saw the mass departure of residents. Each cottage here was once a family home, and all have been named according to their owners. I love the way the walls are adorned with old black and white photos of the residents. And I really felt what it must have been like to live in such peaceful isolation. There is even a museum dedicated to the settlers of yesteryear. Your only company here are the few CapeNature staff members and a lot of bushbuck and vervet monkeys.
To reach the Gamkaskloof, we ascended the legendary Swartberg mountain pass (itself a historic landmark built by Sir Thomas Bain in 1884) and then drove a scenic route into the hidden valley. It’s a magical place, surrounded by magnificent nature and steeped in the history of a farming community of some 120 people, who stayed hidden from the rest of the world for 130 years. – Dale Morris
Stellenbosch, Western Cape
It’s a tough balance when you’re torn between staying in a hotel made for chilling, and a new hood you want to explore. The Eendracht hotel solves that dilema perfectly. Its door opens onto the heart of Stellenbosch.
So I lingered over breakfast, read newspapers in the comfy lounge, and was sightseeing two minutes later. Its history is as old as the town itself, standing as it does on the spot where Simon van der Stel camped during his first exploration of the area. It’s been through several lives, starting as a two-roomed cottage in 1710, redesigned by its artist-owner Jan Adam Hartman in the 1790s, then morphing into student lodgings.
This small, genteel boutique hotel appeared after its original architecture was restored, and the spruce-up continued last year when owner Daniel Lutz redecorated. My room was history meets convenience, with an old writing desk, fully-stocked fridge, coffee facilities, a bath and shower combo, aircon and TV. There’s also a plunge pool for warmer weather. Breakfast is the only meal served, but as I drank coffee in the bar one night, the receptionist delighted me by conjuring up a delicious milk tart. ‒ Lesley Stones
The Historic Pig and Whistle Inn
Bathurst, Eastern Cape
When Thomas Hartley built his blacksmith forge in 1821 on the main road in Bathurst where the road from Grahamstown (now Makhanda) makes a dog’s leg toward the magnificent beaches of Port Alfred’s Sunshine Coast, he had no idea it would become a bucket-list tick for many visitors, keen to get their ‘No thirst like Bathurst’ t-shirt.
It was reincarnated as a wayside inn after his death when his widow added a bar that is now the oldest, continuously licensed pub in the country. Servicemen from the nearby 43 Air School renamed it The Pig and Whistle during World War II and the name stuck. Lucille and Gavin Came are the 21st owners, thanks to COUNTRY LIFE.
“I was sitting in the doctor’s waiting room in Joburg paging through the magazine when I saw it was for sale,” Gavin told me over a pint of locally brewed beer. The former CEO of Sasfin Bank, and his wife, promptly bought the inn at the heart of the quaint settler village of Bathurst, with its plethora of arts-and-crafts galleries, and good eateries, and moved to the coast.
They have done wonders renovating the inn and modernising the bathrooms. I slept in a grand four-poster bed in
an en suite bedroom in the ‘new’ wing, only some 90 years old. The historic rooms in the original part of the inn are not en suite, but share bathrooms down the passage, as was the custom in the old days. The building is a national monument, so they were not allowed to alter it to that extent, explained Gavin.
As the settler village approaches its 200th anniversary in 2020, locals having a ‘swig at the Pig’ are sure to find themselves welcoming plenty more visitors. – Marion Whitehead
046 625 0673, pigandwhistle.co.za
Stanford Lake Lodge
The spirits of Harley Daly Maurice Stanford and his companion Mossea Sehwana breathe life into the rustic, single-story cabin that overlooks Stanford Lake in the Magoeboskloof Mountains outside the rural town of Haenertsburg. Gavin Stanford wastes no time telling the story of his pioneer grandfather who settled Haenertsburg in 1911, worked as a tax collector, earned acclaim as a big-game hunter and horseman, then built the grand fishing lake with pick, shovel and ox cart in 1924.
Gavin moved onto the sprawling estate in 2000 to ensure the lake and surrounding indigenous forest remained the way Harley left it. He built three guest cabins in 2002. The wildlife, birdlife and quietude provide visitors a peaceful respite from the quickened pace of city life. I spent five refreshing days in the three-bedroom mountain-top retreat while chasing stories nearby and made time to hike the surrounding veld.
I observed a wide range of birdlife, from the large Purple Turaco to smaller seedeaters like Swee- and Common Waxbills, Firefinches and Mannikins. I went walkabout through indigenous forest and observed bushbuck and duiker. Most comforting of all, I sat on the cabin deck overlooking the lake to watch the sunset, listen to the night sounds, enjoy the starry nightscape, and ponder the tragic end to Harley Stanford.
He drowned long ago in the icy waters of Stanford Lake, buried a short distance from the cabin, side by side with Mossea Sehwana, leaving behind a piece of his soul to be shared with all who visit. – George Robey
079 519 9211, [email protected], stanfordlake.co.za
Mountain View Manor
Grahamstown, Eastern Cape
‘This is the voice of Grahamstown… ’ Echoes of a bygone broadcasting station fill this four-star bed and breakfast and self-catering accommodation, now revamped to host a very different type of show. When Victor and Margaret Banks first saw the derelict old Grahamstown Radio broadcasting station, they immediately recognised its potential. We wind up the gravel road to Mountain View Manor, positioned on the hill above Grahamstown.
It has magnificent views over the town and, on a clear day, a 360-degree view also lets you see all the way to the coast. The building was originally built for the SABC (circa 1932), but broadcasts started here around 1982. It has been beautifully restored. Pictures of the original building decorate the dining room, and the old, metal doorbell inscribed with ‘Grahamstown Radio – Watch Us Grow’ still remains, along with the concrete remnants of the old broadcasting tower.
Mountain View Manor is a family-run guest house that caters for couples and families. You can either stay in one of the two cottages or in the old, broadcasting building itself. Meals can be arranged. A swimming pool offers great relaxation after a busy day sightseeing. – Ann Gadd
083 495 8731, [email protected], mountainvmanor.co.za
New Rush Guesthouse
Kimberley, Northern Cape
Not many people know that the historical mining town of Kimberley, with its corrugated-iron buildings, offers luxury accommodation to guests looking to travel back in time. It is something completely different, so I did not mind swapping my usual nature escape for a night in the city. Most of the buildings date back to the 1880s and I stayed in The Hut, a structure that served as a police station and holding cell in the days of the gold rush.
Staying here gave me the chance to wander the streets of the old town long after the day-trippers had left. There is no self-catering allowed in this beautiful, refurbished guest house, but you won’t go hungry. Nearby, the old pub, the Occidental Bar, serves wholesome food and refreshments.
Make time to take the tour of the Big Hole and Kimberley Mine Museum, which feels like the set of a western movie with all the historic buildings, old car dealerships and little shops. The tour is not complete without a photo of the Big Hole and a ride on the tram, Kimberley’s oldest form of transport. – René de Klerk
053 839 4455, [email protected]