Time for a reboot? This Western Cape town is slow, soulful, gentle and quiet – and fittingly, has patchy cell reception. Photos by Teagan Cunniffe.
The case for McGregor:
• McGregor has a great choice of self-catering places, many of them authentic heritage structures, with a preponderance of one- and two-bedroom cottages. Houses sleeping eight or more are in short supply. There are only a few B&Bs but two retreats – and a high ratio of resident holistic therapists.
• Popular year-round, McGregor doesn’t have a high or low season, though overall the value for money is excellent. Many owners cited 80 per cent occupancy levels last year, so I’d recommend booking well in advance.
• Very few places have pools (and it gets really hot in summer) but there is a wonderful dam on the edge of town that residents cool off in. Water is plentiful, and the greenfingered have magnificent, lush gardens to show for it.
• This is one of the most integrated villages in South Africa, with a great chillsome atmosphere. That said, some still refer to ‘onderdorp, middedorp, bo-dorp’ – with a preference for ‘bo-dorp’.
• For a comprehensive list of places to stay, visit McGregor Tourism website or McGregor Country Getaways – local booking agent Mira Weiner and her team personally manage 12 self-catering houses and represent a lot more.
1. Wild Almond
The village is full of dinky little thatched cottages, many of them with an identical floor plan: a front door opening onto a cosy lounge-dining-kitchen space, and beyond the kitchen two compact bedrooms, either en suite or sharing a central bathroom. What sets Wild Almond apart is the décor – Maureen and Dennis Higgs have a classy country style, nothing ostentatious but a few quality items that raise the bar, and cream and white cottons to add a cool and decadent touch. It also has the benefi t of a small plunge pool set in a very pretty garden, and a deep vineshaded stoep to enjoy the views. This is a good central location, a short stroll from restaurants. The only drawback is that it has no fi replace, and do note that this is one of the cottages that is not pet-friendly.
Room tip: If you’re coming here in winter and really would rather have a fi replace (or dog), book Plum or Pepper.
Cost: R350 per person sharing (minimum two-night stay). Sleeps four.
Contact: 0832719324, mcgregorvillage.co.za
2. Whipstock Guest Farm
Tripadvisor No. 5 OF 9 Speciality lodges
The dirt road that leads out of McGregor is a cul-de-sac truncated by the majestic Riviersonderend Mountains. A signpost eight kilometres out leads to this green oasis on the banks of the Konings River. It’s a most delightful collection: three freestanding self-catering cottages and three B&B rooms (each with its own fireplace, Weber and garden entrance). There is a large communal kitchen-dining room – a truly welcoming space to gather and cook – and a separate entrance communal lounge centred on a huge hearth. There are plenty of board games and books, a pool table and a farm dam for swimming and canoeing. Whipstock sleeps a total of 22; eight of those ideally children (four in two bunk beds and four in single loft beds). It’s understandably popular for special celebrations but is also a great choice for those doing the Boesmanskloof hike – call Gail and Dennis Koortzen and they’ll fetch you from the trail end, then take you back the next morning after breakfast for the 16-kilometre return hike to Greyton. This is defi nitely the most charming of the overnight spots geared to hikers.
Room tip: Having said that this is great for a group, the privately located Barn, also with a fireplace, is a very romantic bolthole. Of the three B&B rooms, I loved number 1.
Cost: From R280 per person sharing (children half price).
Contact: 0730423919, whipstock.co.za
3. Old Village Lodge
Tripadvisor No. 1 OF 7 B&Bs/Inns
Nicolaas van der Westhuizen is a perfectionist and it shows: from his lush, manicured garden to the perfectly plated two-course breakfasts and fastidious housekeeping standards, this is a man who likes to spoil and impress in equal measure. It’s a sensitive renovation of an 1861 grande dame: three rooms are now lined along a guest wing that is entirely separate from Nicolaas and Chris’s quarters. Given that there are only three rooms, there is a decadence of shared space – a large guest lounge-dining room and veranda overlooks the plant-fringed path that leads to the real centrepiece, a generous 11-metre pool and deck surrounded by garden. This is the perfect place to end the day, sprawled on a lounger, sipping on a chilled glass of wine. Nicolaas personally manages every aspect of the guesthouse and is always discreetly on hand; incidentally, he also cooks a wonderful supper on request – fantastic on a Tuesday when nothing in the village is open.
Room tip: The Superior Queen Suite opens directly onto the garden and the tinkling fountain; it costs a bit more but is worth it. Take over all three rooms as friends or family and you have real privacy to add to your luxury break.
Cost: From R650 per person sharing B&B.
Contact: 0236251692, oldvillagelodge.co.za
4. Heritage / Casabella
A best-of-both-worlds gem comprising two separate self-catering cottages in yet another pretty garden. Journalist Susanne Bittorf carefully renovated her national monument into a compact one-bedroom cottage called Heritage, artfully furnished and finished with a few modern touches (like the open shower under a decadent shower head). The second historical structure, Casabella, has recently been given the ‘New McGregor’ treatment by local architect Bruno de Robillard, allowing for a more spacious modern kitchen-living area, with plenty of light and views. The privacy afforded by this arrangement makes it a great stay for parents with teens or adult siblings, two couples, or children travelling with in-laws – the kind of small group seeking quality time together but also wanting a few hours of relaxed solitude in their own quarters. It’s managed by Dawid and Elizabeth Esau, who meet and greet, and keep it well maintained.
Room tip: Of the two, I prefer the updated, spacious Casabella, but Heritage Cottage has its own distinctive charm. Regardless of which you choose, you’ll enjoy exclusive use. Both sleep two.
Cost: Casabella is R1400 a night, Heritage Cottage is R1000, or R2000 for both.
Contact: 0836919040, heritagecottagemcgregor.wordpress.com
Tripadvisor No. 4 OF 7 B&BS/Inns
Fourteen cottages set amid gardens so lush and dense you can get temporarily lost just getting home from the on-site restaurant – it’s hard to believe that Billy Kennedy nurtured this Eden from a barren piece of veld in just 20 years. Temenos’s influence on the village is unquantifiable: aside from being a magnet for a certain kind of visitor, it has attracted a number of resident therapists (you can book sessions for, among others, bowspring infused yoga, reflexology, holistic massage, emotional release therapy). Check out the online diary of guided group retreats or create your own itinerary. Or just book a cottage for a peaceful respite from the city in a beautiful garden, with strutting peacocks and a very special energy. There is a great communal pool, and every cottage has its own fireplace, patio and braai area. And the restaurant, Tebaldi’s, in the original 1856 homestead, means you don’t even have to cook, except on Mondays.
Room tip: I loved the privacy of Jamil, Avila and Santa Chiara, but Carmel, Assisi and Subiaco are also delightful.
Cost: From R895 for two self-catering. For once, solo travellers are not penalised: from R480 per night.
Contact: 0236251871, temenos.org.za
6. Kite House
McGregor’s 19th-century thatched houses with small apertures and thick walls are charming, but if you prefer immaculate bathrooms, a new kitchen and slide-away glass walls creating seamless flow from lounge to a large shaded veranda, overlooking a pool and rather lovely mountain views then Kite House is for you. Unfortunately, it’s for most other people too, so this is another one you have to book when it’s available rather than when it suits your schedule. Also designed by Bruno de Robillard, it’s contemporary McGregor: unassuming, shuttered, with three bedrooms, three bathrooms (two en suite), a well-equipped kitchen made for socialising while cooking, and a double-volume living area. The main bedroom also has a wall that totally folds away, making your room part of the veranda. It’s owned by a Dutch couple (who have – for reasons known only to themselves – chosen to adorn the walls with kites) and professionally managed by Mira Weiner, so expect a personal check-in, homemade rusks, complimentary wine and coffee from a local roastery.
Room tip: If Kite House is booked, ask Mira about three-bedroom Laurel Cottage, another good option for the same price.
Cost: From R2400 a night (minimum two-night stay). Sleeps six.
Contact: 0236251409, kitehousemcgregor.com
7. Tanagra Faraway
Tripadvisor No. 2 OF 9 Speciality lodges
This is what you do with Faraway: call owner Anette Rosenbach right away and ask her when it’s next available, then just go ahead and book. An idyllic two-bedroom cottage located in the most solitary spot on the wine farm, you open the doors to silence and enormous, empty 360° views – the kind of place you skinnydip in your plunge pool and dry naked too, or under a zillion stars. Designed by prolific local architect Bruno de Robillard, it has the classic traditional cottage proportions but with slide-and-fold doors and floor-to-ceiling windows to make the most of the expansive views. It’s simply furnished, has cool white cement floors and whitewashed latte ceilings, and runs on gas and solar, with a fireplace for winter. Romantic, but also good for family bonding. Hardly surprising it’s so rarely empty.
Room tip: If Faraway is booked, take a look at Hill Cottage (also at Tanagra), which sleeps two – not as remote, but it’s private and also has a (smaller) plunge pool. Alternatively, try Fossil Hills (see Worth a Look, below).
Cost: From R1600 for two, Hill Cottage R950.
Contact: 0236251780, tanagra-wines.co.za
Advocate Craig Webster and his stylist wife Philien have a marvellous eye for proportion, as is evident from a holiday home that manages to accommodate 12 in a relatively compact space. It’s a house that invites multi-family gatherings, with four bedrooms downstairs sharing two bathrooms, and two additional bedrooms located in two mezzanine loft areas, all with wrought-iron beds dressed in made-to-order ticking duvet covers. The open-plan lounge-dining area (a Persian rug adding accent to an otherwise earthy, cement palette) opens onto a deep shaded stoep overlooking a garden dense with olive trees and rosemary and lavender hedges. From here a path leads to what Craig calls his ‘Karoo jacuzzi’, a cement plunge-dam filled with borehole water (and which waters the garden when emptied). It’s quiet, virtually semi-rural: having resisted any attempt to tar the road, the Websters – who are, incidentally, also garagiste winemakers – also had the streetlight removed.
Room tip: If Intostone is unavailable, enquire about Synergy, the house the Websters renovated as a project before selling it; it should be available from this month through Perfect Hideaways (perfecthideaways.com).
Cost: From R3800 a night (minimum two-night stay).
Contact: 0828818949, intostone.co.za
9. Plum Tree Cottage
This cute one-bedroom with separate lounge and fireplace has a particularly good location: on the edge of town overlooking the nature reserve – the braai has one of the best views in McGregor. There is a sleeper couch and an en-suite timber bungalow in the garden for overspill.
Cost: From R345 per person sharing.
10. Late-1880s workers’ house
Possibly the tiniest, cutest, most romantic cottage in the village. Comprises a snug bedroom with wood stove and a tiny adjoining kitchen that opens onto a back garden with braai and firepit.
Cost: From R310 per person sharing.
11. Fossil Hills
A two-bedroom four-sleeper family cottage with wonderful views on Thornvilla Farm, lovingly managed by the generous Naudé family, and 100 per cent free of noise and light pollution. Two mountain bikes and a canoe with fishing rods in a nearby dam are included.
Cost: From R1200 a night (minimum two-night stay).
12. Stillness Sanctuary
Yoga teacher Helen Altman creates tailor-made ‘habit changing’ retreats, and has a delightful twin-bed cottage with a peaceful stoep. You don’t need to sign up for a retreat to enjoy it or its extraordinary owner.
Cost: From R685 a night self-catering (meals can be delivered).
Contact: 0236251429, find them on Facebook.
13. Buckle’s Corner
A neat cottage in an unprepossessing location in the upper village that offers spacious accommodation for up to six people (two bedrooms and a loft).
Price: From R1800 per night.
This story first appeared in the February 2017 issue of Getaway magazine.
Our February issue features a wild new way to traverse the Baviaanskloof, the Okavango Delta’s most affordable safari, 6 local shores to explore and Italy’s 8 prettiest dips.