Public review sites such as TripAdvisor are useful in trip planning, but they can fall short without a comparative and specific voice. In our series to find the best places to stay in Southern Africa, I scoured Graaff-Reinet accommodation – to rank the rankings and find the best accommodation for all types of traveller. I unearthed a couple of great unlisted places too!
Also read: Best places to stay in Vilanculos
Using TripAdvisor as a base, I checked out 35 of the top-ranked options in the Hotel, B&B/Inn and Speciality Lodgings categories, as well as a few unlisted options. The result? A no-stone-unturned, tried-and-tested guide to the best places to stay in this grossly underrated town.
Why make Graaff-Reinet your destination?
- The proclaimed ‘gem of the Karoo’ has been overlooked by travellers en route to the coast who arrive at night, exhausted, and push on at dawn. But this is set to change with the reopening of the landmark Drostdy Hotel. One of South Africa’s grande dame hotels, the Drostdy now offers a fabulous five-star experience at a three-star rate, a conscious decision by Newmark Hotels to encourage guests to extend their traditional one-night stop to two.
- South Africa’s fourth-oldest town is also its best preserved, with 260 officially declared historic homes and sites the densest collection in the country, located in row after row of pretty oak, jacaranda- and cypress-lined streets.
- There’s a great collection of museums and historic art galleries, and in recent years a handful of chi-chi shops and restaurants have opened. Polka is where most guest house owners will book you a table.
- There are fabulous day trips from Graaff-Reinet: the remote hamlet of Nieu-Bethesda is just under an hour away. Viewing Helen Martin’s Owl House is the well-known pilgrimage, but even ardent wine lovers make lipsmacking noises when ale tasting at The Brewery and Two Goats Deli or grabbing a bite at MANNA bakery.
Best hotel in the Eastern Cape
TripAdvisor ranking: No. 1 of 2 (Hotels)
The Drostdy Hotel is not only the best hotel in Graaff-Reinet, but a destination hotel, the grande dame of the Eastern Cape has been generously restored by the Ruperts and is now looking the best it has in its 200-year history. Interior designer Stephen Falcke spared no expense in creating elegant, well-balanced interiors that retain the hotel’s historic character and Karoo-surrounds animal skulls and Nguni skins are off-set against delicate embroidered botanicals and Chinese pottery, while the hotel’s antiques have found new homes throughout.
The dinner menu, which celebrates Karoo ingredients, is exceptional. Managed and marketed by Newmark Hotels, the service is excellent though it is worth noting that about 30 percent of the staff are freshly graduated from the local SA College for Tourism all on bursaries from previously disadvantaged rural communities. As a guest you are asked to be patient and play your part in the training of a new generation of world-class African hoteliers. In short: make every effort to visit this year while prices are so affordable.
Room tip: The hotel is divided into three precincts. I prefer the historic atmosphere of the Ferreira precinct and Stretch’s Court and would avoid newly built Kromm’s Court. Bachelor rooms in Stretch’s Court are better than those in Ferreira’s. Best room in the hotel? Number 1704.
Cost: B&B from R1125 per double room.
Best budget option
TripAdvisor ranking: No. 2 of 35 (B&B/Inns)
At Kambro Cottage, Greg Kappers offers the best deal in town: a roomy, open-plan space furnished in rustic Karoo-cottage style, with one double bed and two single beds and a combined sitting and dining room area. A narrow equipped kitchenette leads off this but Greg, who is a very obliging host, will make you breakfast if you want, or you can stroll to the nearby restaurants and local coffee shop. All the essentials are here air conditioning, off-street parking and a private entrance at an unbelievably good rate. With only two units, it’s worth booking early.
Room tip: Book either, soon.
Cost: From R200 to R300 pp sharing (R600 for two; R800 for two adults with two children). Single occupancy R400.
Best stand-alone self-catering cottage
No 6 Parliament
New find, unlisted
If you like the privacy that comes with booking your own home, and De Kothuize cottages (see below) are all taken, this three-bedroom Victorian-era house, directly opposite the new entrance to the Drostdy Hotel, is your best bet. No 6 Parliament is comfortably furnished and well equipped (air conditioners in every room are a boon in summer), and the house also has a private, pretty walled garden that is furnished (timber and concrete; no plastic) and offers braai facilities. Serviced daily.
Cost: From R395 pp. Children under 12 R197.50; kids under three free.
Best B&B to offer self-catering
Buiten Verwagten Guest House
TripAdvisor ranking: No. 4 of 35 (B&B/Inns)
The exterior façade of this 1840 home, with its groomed gardens, is one of the most inviting in Graaff-Reinet; interiors don’t disappoint. Of Buiten Verwagten’s five rooms, the two garden suites Chicken Run and Ebony & Ivory offer you the double luxury of B&B with the option to self-cater. Even if you don’t cook, the additional space is welcome and you have the services you don’t usually get with self-catering. Peet and Cheré let guests have the run of their house you can braai next to the pool and pets are welcome in the garden suites.
Room tip: Chicken Run can sleep two adults and two small children. Ebony & Ivory sleeps two. The other rooms in front don’t have self-catering facilities but cost the same (because they’re furnished with antiques, Cheré explained).
Cost: R600 pp for Chicken Run and Ebony & Ivory. R300 per additional guest.
Best B&B for families
TripAdvisor ranking: No. 5 of 35 (B&B/Inns)
Cypress Cottage actually comprises two separate 19th century cottages, each with three bedrooms: Cypress and Jacaranda are located diagonally opposite each other on Donkin, one of the prettiest, quietest streets on the northern edge of town. Each cottage has its own garden area and kitchen, and own cook to prepare breakfast. The cottages are not exclusive-use, unless of course you book all three rooms. Of the two, I prefer Cypress Cottage: on a larger property, it has sprawling, well-manicured gardens backdropped by mountains (the garden blends seamlessly with the owner’s). It has a small, pretty reservoir-type pool, accessed by a staircase which leads to a tiny timber deck. In the garden you’ll also find a miniature Karoo cottage playhouse filled with toys and a set of swings.
Room tip: Families with small kids should book Room 3 in Cypress Cottage – a cosy room with a double bed and two single beds, a bath and shower cubicle. Alternatively, sprawl out and book the two front rooms: Room 1 (double) and Room 2 (a delightful twin room).
Cost: B&B from R600 pp sharing.
Best All-Round B&B
TripAdvisor ranking: No. 3 of 35 (B&B/Inns)
Aa’qtansisi is a historic 1865 building on central Somerset (a two-minute stroll to Graaff-Reinet’s tiny restaurant hub), manned by gregarious hosts Ria and Pierre. Hidden behind the rather austere façade is a verdant backyard with a small pool overlooked by a deep veranda a great place to unwind with a cold glass, plundered from the large honesty-bar fridge. In summer the air conditioning is quiet and effective; in winter there are three fireplaces and electric blankets. Every room is different some a little over the top for masculine tastes; find a suitable match online. Bubbling with information, Ria is one of those people with whom you want to spend time, and her attention to detail is great, from the high-speed Wi-Fi to the turn-down service at night. Pet- and child-friendly.
Room tip: Room 1, a separate unit in the garden, with a door leading to the pool, is by far the most private – book if you can.
Cost: B&B from R550 pp sharing. R50-R250 per child, depending on age.
Best portfolio of self-catering cottages
New find, unlisted
De Kothuize is a real find: seven restored national monuments, each with two or three bedrooms; all located within easy strolling distance of each other and the town’s restaurants and key sights. Most feature original Cape Dutch features such as built-in wall cupboards, yellowwood floors and stinkwood-detailed doors. Four of them are located in historic Parsonage street, a tree-lined avenue bookended by the gracious gables of the Drostdy and Reinet House respectively; a further two are located in Cradock street; unit seven is around the corner in historic Middle Street. Michelle, the manageress, is very helpful. Pet and child-friendly.
Room tip: 166 Cradock is a personal favourite a comfortable three-bedroom cottage with a large walled garden. But if you want a pool, book 54 Middle Street or 6 Parsonage Street (both two-bedroom cottages); houses with pools don’t cost extra.
Cost: R600 for one; R800 for two; R1100 for three; R1400 for four; R1600 for five; R1800 for six.
Worth a mention
With most of Graaff-Reinet’s accommodation geared towards those looking for a cheap one-night stopover, you’ll find plenty of high-ceilinged, shuttered rooms with spongy carpets on creaking floorboards, dowdy duvets and large, frilled pillows on beds without headboards. The following three B&Bs are the exception:
Avondrust Guest House
Nico has major renovations planned at Avondrust Guest House (No. 7 B&B; from R550 pp sharing), a large 4000m2 property with new rooms built in the garden behind the grand 1911 double-storey townhouse. Until construction starts, the room to book here is the Feather Baron Suite. One of the best rooms in town, this large gracious room opens onto a vine-covered patio. Sadly, Nico has plans to claim this space as his own.
Villa Reinet (No. 8 B&B; from R540 pp sharing) has two characterful rooms in the historic house (Villa Studio and Villa Double), as well as a lounge with fireplace and lovely gardens with a circular pool. The six garden units are a little bland but functional.
If you’re looking for an authentic homestay, Somerset Stables (No. 1 B&B; R500 pp sharing) is powered by Reinette te Water Naude, whose ancestry can be traced throughout the town and surrounds her house is jam-packed with trinkets, including photos of her with her late beau, PW Botha.
Finally, budget hunters disappointed to find Kambro full, or desperate for a room with a pool, can check out 4 Rothman Street. At R300 pp sharing, or R320 for a single occupancy, you won’t get a much better rate elsewhere. The old-fashioned accommodation, most with their own entrances, are scrupulously clean, and your hostess is the warm Judy who you’ll likely find in the garden or in her kitchen, cooking up her harvest into jams.
This article first appeared in the March 2015 issue of Getaway magazine. Please note that all prices were correct at time of publication, but are subject to change at each establishment’s discretion. Please confirm latest prices before travelling.