12 wonderful Prince Albert hideaways

Posted by Pippa de Bruyn on 1 August 2018 Tags:,

The enormous Swartberg mountains stride along one side of this pretty Karoo town. The other side is pure space. Between the two? Wonderful hideaways for all tastes.

Photographs by Andreas Eiselen.

Photograph by Andreas Eiselen.

How it works:

TripAdvisor lists accommodation rated by guests, but as much as we love peer reviews, they don’t offer a comparative voice – so how do we know No. 1 is really the best? Pippa de Bruyn, who has reviewed accommodation for 18 years for the likes of Frommer’s and The Telegraph, scours TripAdvisor and other online sites when researching a destination. For Prince Albert, she created a long list of 20 to inspect. The following made the cut.

What we found about accommodation in Prince Albert:
• Brilliant stock, across all price points. I have never visited an area where so many establishments are rated on Booking.com as superb (9 to 9.4) and exceptional (9.5 and up).
• Cosmopolitan hosts – Norwegian, English, French, Swiss and well-travelled South Africans – who have furnished their cottages and guest houses with real flair, are deeply hospitable and love their village passionately.
• Historic cottages and homes aplenty, many of them self-catering and exceptionally well equipped. But also the most perfect B&B, a fabulous guest house and a nostalgia-inducing hotel.
• Great urban-rural contrast: you can stay in a cottage on a dirt track in what feels like farmlands (I even saw a porcupine one night!) yet be walking distance from the high street with its restaurants and chi-chi theatre/movie house, The Showroom.
• A very high standard of luxury – most Prince Albert offerings have a fireplace and a pool.
• A brilliant tourism website that not only lists what’s on daily and every establishment in the village, but shows you at a glance who still has availability and allows you to book your accommodation, often discounted by five per cent. paonline.biz/booking

 

Most Romantic

1. The French Cottage

Unlisted

Photograph by Andreas Eiselen.

I followed the dirt road, skirting a small farm on my right and admiring the mountain views until it petered out. No sign for, or of, any French Cottage. ‘I like to keep below the radar,’ laughs Elin Bardin when I call. She opens the gate and leads me to the cottage (French because her husband Didier hails from France). Reviewers have given it a 9.9 rating and you can see why. It is perfect: furnished with flair and great attention to detail – the open-plan kitchen is so well equipped, foodies will itch to start cooking (though restaurants are a quick walk away – it’s 850 metres to the main road).

There’s a wonderful shower that opens onto a fern-filled inner courtyard, an extra-length king-size bed, open-plan lounge with convection fireplace, and a huge stoep, comfortably furnished. And nothing before you but olive groves and huge, humbling mountain views. Totally private, utterly tranquil.

Room tip: There is only one bedroom. No children allowed.
Cost: From R990 a night (sleeps two). Two-night minimum stay.
Contact: thefrenchcottage.net

 

Best view

2. The Barn House

Unlisted

Photograph by Andreas Eiselen.

Surrounded by mountains, Prince Albert is blessed with views, but the one from Barn House is quite surreal: farm fields dotted with fey-looking angora goats and the Swartberg Mountains outlined against that intense blue sky. The Barn House was built as a home for a family rather than for rental; it’s very well furnished with a lot of character, including some fantastic art. Aside from the stoep, the natural pool is a highlight here. Set away from the house, with a built-in braai and shaded dining table as well as an outdoor shower, it’s a very private set-up, screened by olive trees, with the same amazing mountain view.

The Barn House is in close proximity to and managed by neighbouring Dennehof (see next page), where Ria Steyn is on hand to advise on anything from restaurant bookings to tours.

Room tip: It has three bedrooms (two en-suite) but the bed configuration will suit two couples and two children rather than six adults.
Cost: From R4500 (sleeps six).
Contact: dennehof.co.za

 

Best for foodies

3. African Relish

TripAdvisor No. 10 of 20 B&BS/Inns

Photograph by Andreas Eiselen.

You can rent any one of the four options here as a straight self-catering cottage, but the best way to experience them is as part of an African Relish cooking course. This way you spend a half or full day in the cooking school – a large and beautiful light-filled space – learning to prepare Karoo classics or a vegetarian feast with in-house chef Camilla Comins (courses must be pre-booked but run any day and all year). You are then sent back to your cottage to relax (or across the road for a drink at the Swartberg Hotel).

The meal you prepared can be delivered to your cottage – a great way to end a fun, edifying day. African Relish also hosts master chefs; these have included Karen Dudley (The Kitchen), Stéfan Marais (Societi Bistro), Jacques Erasmus (Hemelhuijs), Neil Jewell (Bread and Wine) and Reuben Riffel – check the website for updates.

Room tip: I prefer the location of Akkedis, a restored labourers’ cottage, and Doringbos, a renovated reservoir, which are on the outskirts of town. Deurdrift 1 and 2 are just off the main road in town.
Cost: From R600 per person sharing self-catering (sleeps two). Akkedis Cottage is R1850 (sleeps four). Half-day course from R850; full day is R1500. Breakfast on request.
Contact: africanrelish.com

 

Best remote luxury

4. Country House Vrisch Gewagt

TripAdvisor No.2 of 14 Speciality lodgings

Photograph by Andreas Eiselen.

This is some way out of Prince Albert – 35 kilometres in fact – but so extraordinary it had to be included: a historic 1 600-hectare farm that’s been meticulously developed and maintained by the new owners since 2009, when they planted 16 000 olive trees producing a deliciously rich olive oil. Dotted around the farm is a choice of five beautifully appointed cottages and two ultra-luxurious houses: the spacious Manor, perched above the farm with sweeping views, and Paradys, the original 19th-century farmhouse tucked deep into the cleft of the valley. These have furnished verandas, lovely pools and awe-inspiring 360-degree views, and are perfect for a bigger family or group wanting to celebrate a special reunion or simply reboot and relax, surrounded by nature.

The two riverside cottages are ideal as a writing or artist’s retreat or romantic nest, but if the latter is your aim, Hannes Cottage is it. The hosts spoil their guests with their olive oil and olives, a bottle of red and Nespresso pods, and you’re free to help yourself to fruit and veg from the garden.

Room tip: Hannes Cottage is so sexy it could be renamed Aphrodisiac. Two-bedroom cottages Cook’s and Library are ideal for small families.
Cost: Cottages from R1900 (two-sleeper) or R3900 (four-sleeper), houses from R6 500 (sleep six or eight).
Contact: vrischgewagt.co.za

 

Best guest house

5. Dennehof Karoo Guest House

TripAdvisor No. 4 of 20 B&Bs/Inns

Photograph by Andreas Eiselen.

I have long been a fan of this character-filled and atmospheric farm-turned-guest house. Built on the fertile, well-watered soil of Kweekvallei Farm on the outskirts at the foot of the Swartberg Pass, it is the oldest surviving building in Prince Albert (though it has expanded since Zacharias de Beer built it for his granddaughter in 1835). Today it comprises several outbuildings and sheds, all artfully renovated to retain their historic character, with thick whitewashed walls and polished floors. Ria Steyn has a good eye – decor is elegant yet rustic. Husband Lindsay runs a great bike hire (all types of bicycles, including tandems) and offers a brilliant all-day tour to Die Hel.

An inventive breakfast menu is served under the trees next to the leiwater canal or in the conservatory in inclement weather; if you’re lucky, candlelit dinner (it’s offered twice a week) will be served here too.

Room tip: The Wagon Shed, with its privately located outside bath and proximity to the farm reservoir pool, and Windmill are deservedly known as the honeymoon suites. I also loved the dinky Forge and The Cottage (which works well as a family unit when booked with The Dairy. Note: no children under 12.)
Cost: From R650 per person sharing B&B.
Contact: dennehof.co.za

 

Best two-bedroom cottage

6. Olive Grove Cottage

Unlisted

Photograph by Andreas Eiselen.

The village is filled with lovely cottages to rent but none ticked every box quite like Olive Grove, the dark-grey cottage set in the grounds of owner Dee and Daniel Millner’s Olive Grove House. The decor is fab, it’s spacious, the kitchen is charming and very well equipped (and open to the dining room, with a fireplace taking centre stage). There is a splendid stoep, comfortably furnished for dining and lounging, that overlooks the garden, a great pool and deck, and an outside firepit and braai area. The second bedroom, also en-suite, is twin but can be made into a king. Lots of generous touches too – rusks, wine, coffee, olive oil. Plus it’s walking distance to the high street’s hotspots.

Given all this, the price is excellent, particularly if you are four people splitting the bill (R350 per person).

Room tip: Dee has just completed an en-suite unit called Pip, attached to the main house, with a big stoep and private entrance from the garden. It makes a great standalone option for a solo traveller or couple, or works well as an additional room with the cottage.
Cost: From R1200 for two plus R100 per person extra (sleeps four). Pip from R800 (sleeps two).
Contact: pa.millner.co.za

 

Best B&B

TripAdvisor No. 3 of 20 B&Bs/Inns

7. Prince Albert Country Stay

Photograph by Andreas Eiselen.

Lured by the vintage items on display in this Victorian shop on the high street, I was struck by the delicious aroma of sizzling onions – William Penfold in his apron, cooking with a rich olive oil produced by Vrisch Gewagt. His wife Colleen welcomed me into the shady back courtyard, with a pond and fountain and central raised swimming pool, which each room is accessed from. Every space has been sensitively renovated, keeping the turn-of-the-century character of the buildings, by retired builder William, and the couple have furnished them with gorgeous vintage bits gathered over many years. By the time I was shown to my loft room – a deeply comforting space – a serenity had settled in that made it hard to leave.

I returned after dinner to find William and Colleen eating theirs on the front porch, and joined them for a glass of wine that turned into three; it felt like a reunion with long-lost friends. Breakfast is cooked by William, and much of what’s on your plate he picks himself from the kitchen garden. A very special place indeed, and a bargain.

Room tip: They are all gorgeous, but I’m booking the Loft again.
Cost: From R470 per person sharing B&B. Ask about the winter special.
Contact: princealbertcountrystay.com

 

Worth looking at

8. Nieuwehuyz

A delightful one-bed cottage in which no expense has been spared to ensure comfort. Plenty of generous touches (local yoghurt in the fridge, quality coffee, olive oil etc). Next door, two-bedroom Nieuwerust was about to be completed – with a plunge pool, this will be the one to book in summer.
Cost: Nieuwehuyz R1250 a night (sleeps two), Nieuwerust R1950 (sleeps four); discounts in low season.
Contact: nieuwehuyz.com

 

9. De Bergkant Lodge

This luxurious Cape Dutch guest house has a great location on the high street, with a wonderful pool and grounds, antique-filled character rooms, and service standards that have shot it to the well-deserved top B&B rating in the village.
Contact: From R850 per person sharing B&B.
Cost: debergkant.com

 

10. Mont d’Or Swartberg Hotel

A local icon worth considering if you prefer hotel services. It’s in the heart of the village, with a great pool and authentic, old-fashioned hospitality. Some bathrooms are showing signs of age, so book the recently renovated rooms, though families and nostalgics will enjoy the garden rondavels.
Contact: From R685 per person sharing B&B.
Cost: swartberghotel.co.za

 

11. Bid Huisie

A self-catering cottage with two double rooms (sharing a bathroom) and an open-plan living area opening onto a plunge pool. Being part of a chain, it’s not furnished with as much character as others featured here, but it’s easy on the eye, clean, comfy, well managed and pet-friendly.
Cost: From R1195 a night for two.
Contact: southofafrica.co.za

 

12. Onse Rus

Located in one of the historic, gabled thatched homes lining Church Street, this B&B comprises just five en-suite rooms. It has a lovely old-fashioned atmosphere and a beautiful garden with a pool.
Cost: From R600 per person sharing B&B.
Contact: onserus.co.za

 

Don’t miss this

• The new gin bar in town: the Green Prince at the Swartberg Hotel offers tastings and a beer-tap-style G&T keg.
• The Art Bin route, with more than 100 dustbins decorated to celebrate the town’s 250th birthday.
• Special guided outings – to see Karoo flora (with Dr Sue Milton- Dean), local ghosts (with Ailsa Tudhope), night skies (with the Daehnes), the Red Bus Tour of town and African Relish’s foodie tour in a tuk-tuk.
• Buying local – mohair items, ostrich-eggshell decor, sheepskin slippers, olives, figs, cheeses, witblits (at the museum) and SoetKaroo wine from the Perolds’ tiny vineyard in town.
• Walking the labyrinth (big enough for horses to amble through) at MyShire Farm in the Weltevrede Valley, 30km from town.

This story first appeared in the May 2018 issue of Getaway magazine.

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Our May 2018 issue features the ultimate Karoo road trip, magical Qolora on the Wild Coast, a Lesotho shootout (wild versus luxury); hiking, boating and fishing on the Gariep Dam, we explore Scotland’s Isle of Skye, plus lots more.