12 magnificent spots to stay in Swellendam

The third-oldest town in SA, on the Cape Trade Route, has become a cosmopolitan spot that cherishes its natural beauty. Here’s where to stay for the best of both worlds.

The NG Moederkerk, built in 1911, dominates the townscape and can seat more than 1 400 people. It’s a unique mix of Baroque, Gothic, Cape Dutch and Asian architectural styles, while the tower is a replica of one in Belgium.

 

What we found about accommodation here

  • Variety. The ideal halfway stop on the road between Cape Town and the Garden Route, and at the crossroads into the interior (for Route 62 and the Klein Karoo), Swellendam has an extremely well-developed offering across all categories, from self-catering to hotel, town centre to farmstay.
  • Excellent stock, and a lot of it. (73 listed on TripAdvisor; 56 on Booking.com, of which 36 are rated between 9 and 10; plenty of superhost-rated choices on Airbnb). Deciding on who made the final cut was difficult.
  • A paradise for nature lovers. Surrounded by mountain-backed valleys that are stunningly beautiful, offering wild swimming, hiking and biking, the real gems are located outside town. We particularly loved the picturesque Hermitage Valley (about five kilometres from the centre), and three of the final eight featured are located here.
  • Fabulous, generous hosts. It may be one of the most popular stopovers in the Cape, but no one is resting on their laurels. This is particularly evident in the self-catering category – aside from the expected basics (tea, coffee, sugar, salt, pepper), most also supply complimentary wood, charcoal, firelighters, milk, rusks/biscuits and more.

1. Arumvale Country House

TripAdvisor No. 8 of 42 B&Bs/Inns

You don’t have to have a canine or feline child to fall in love with Arumvale’s self-catering suites and cottages but, my word, it’s fantastic to find a pet-friendly establishment that’s this luxurious and tastefully furnished! It’s romantic yet also a great choice for families, located just outside town in the picturesque Hermitage Valley. All five options (three flatlets and two cottages) enjoy sweeping views of the lush green paddocks and majestic backdrop of the Langeberg mountains. All have kitchens with big fridges (great for longer stays), private verandas with braais, dining tables and lovely lounge areas with indoor fireplaces (wood and charcoal supplied). Guests are welcome to pick herbs and veg in the garden, and there is a pretty (unfenced) pool. There is Wi-Fi and a TV and DVD player in all units except off-the-grid Rustic Garden Cottage. George Missing is a wonderful host – gregarious, generous, humble, laid-back; he and wife Bev (founder of Rain cosmetics) have created a real gem.

Room Tip I loved the Carol Suite (sleeps three) for its elevated views. Anneline Cottage is another great choice – très romantic for two, but can sleep four (there is an en-suite bedroom on the mezzanine level and two single sleeper couches on the ground floor). The Garden Cottage, accessed via a small bridge, is the most basic but charming.

Cost R600 per person sharing, R200 per extra person (children under eight are free). Garden Cottage R450 per person sharing (sleeps two). Great winter specials.

Contact 0285143545, arumvale.com

2. Hermitage Huisies

TripAdvisor No. 2 of 27 Speciality Lodgings

Three dinky little cottages located on a farm in the spectacular Hermitage Valley, next door to Wildebraam Berry Estate. They are rustic and functional, each with outdoor braai and equipped for self-catering. A few key luxuries, as identified by owner Nadia Zaayman: each adult bed is fitted with a quality pocket-spring mattress; all have unlimited Wi-Fi; Rose and River cottages both have indoor fireplaces. It’s the perfect place to escape with your partner; equally so with the kids, who can be let loose exploring the stream running through the property, petting the horses, swimming in the pool and picking berries (November to mid-December). ‘Very well-behaved’ dogs are allowed for R50 a night.

Room Tip Century-old Rose Cottage is ideal for a family, with two bedrooms sharing a bathroom plus a single sofa bed in the lounge. For romance, one-bedroom River Cottage is the choice, with a private garden beside the trickling stream, a shady avocado tree and river-stone braai.

Cost River from R450 per person sharing, extra person R120 (sleeps three). Rose from R500 per person sharing, extra people from R160 per person (sleeps five). Children under 13 pay R100. The third option comprises two semi-detached units, Guinea Fowl and Aardvark, from R425 per person sharing.

Contact 0616602138, hermitage-huisies.co.za

 

3. Somerset Gift

TripAdvisor No. 10 of 27 Speciality Lodgings

This farm is a bit out of the way (20 minutes’ drive from town) but the photographs looked terrific, and reality did not disappoint. It’s a glorious setting: a narrow, lush, bird-filled valley with the Buffeljags River running through it, where five self-catering cottages and a manor house are dotted on sprawling lawns. They are simply and tastefully decorated in Cape Cottage-style and set some 50 metres apart – far enough to be private, yet close enough to be convenient for a group. Each has a fireplace and a large undercover stoep, comfortably furnished, with lovely views of the garden and mountains. Hike to waterfalls and mountain pools on the property, or foefie-slide over and canoe on the springwater lake. Taken as a whole for a special occasion, Somerset Gift can accommodate 48 guests.

Room Tip I liked the design and location of Rose (the two en-suite bedrooms are set on opposite sides of the cottage) but, really, every option here is great. For a couple, tiny Little Bushbuck is ideal – it’s right on the water and cheaper because the bathroom (a protected outdoor shower and loo) is 10 metres from the cottage.

Cost Little Bushbuck from R800 (sleeps three); other cottages from R1,300 (sleep four to six). For bigger groups, Fish Eagle Lodge is from R2,200 (sleeps eight) and the Manor House is from R3,500 (sleeps 14). Minimum two-night stay on weekends and holidays.

Contact 0765087188, somersetgift.co.za

 

4. Schoone Oordt Country House

TripAdvisor No. 1 of 4 Hotels

There are several thoroughbreds in the running for best luxury splurge, but the service at Schoone Oordt pips ’em at the post. It starts when you arrive. Guests are ushered to the bar in the Victorian manor house and offered a choice of hot or (homemade) cold beverages, sweet treats and savouries – part of the complementary afternoon tea; a great welcome after you’ve been on the road for a few hours. Then there’s your room (one of 10 dotted around the garden): a luxurious cocoon with every mod con, antique furnishings, a Victorian tub and large walk-in rain shower. The evening turndown reveals goose-down duvets and another delicious treat on your bedside table; in winter your fireplace will be lit. Breakfast is a three-course gourmet affair in the beautiful conservatory (in summer, a set dinner is also served here). There is a great swimming pool, which makes it very popular in summer and deservedly so. It’s best to book ahead.

Room Tip Definitely request Room 1 or 2, or the newly renovated Family Suite for a group. These three are all more elevated, with private balconies and lovely views.

Cost From R1,212.50 per person sharing B&B. Family suite R572.50 per person for six sharing. Check online for Swell Offers, three-day themed specials, valid until 30 April 2019.

Contact 0285141248, schooneoordt.co.za

 

5. The Country Cottage

TripAdvisor listed but unrated

If it isn’t beautiful or functional, chuck it out, to paraphrase 19th-century designer William Morris. It’s clearly the mantra Gwynnedd Laubscher lives by. Her eye for good design has transformed a compact cottage into the cutest two-bedroom option in town. It’s ideally located – at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac, behind the Drostdy Museum, and within walking distance to restaurants. There is a cosy, open-plan living/kitchen space; the dining table – within the kitchen area – is opposite a built-in braai fireplace, both atmospheric and practical. For summertime visitors there’s a shaded outdoor area, firepit and new splash pool. The Laubschers also own The Country Butcher, Swellendam’s fabulous deli; Gwynnedd will pre-stock your fridge and pantry with whatever you require (if you like steak, get the rib-eye; it’s marvellous, as are her ‘happy-hen’ eggs); freshly baked ciabatta comes standard. Note that there is only one small bathroom, with a shower over a Victorian tub.

Room Tip The bedrooms are pretty small and furnished with double beds (so not ideal if you have two kids who won’t share a bed).

Cost R600 per person sharing; extra people from R380 per person (sleeps four).

Contact 0828878795, [email protected]

 

6. Babette

TripAdvisor No. 4 of 42 B&Bs/Inns

It’s the hosts that separate the good from the great, and Wim Lubbersen and Nicky Appelboom make Babette the latter. It’s a real haven with just three garden suites and one upstairs room, each with private entrance and patio or balcony. This means there’s not many people sharing the large and beautifully manicured garden and saltwater pool. There’s space to grow but Wim won’t – the idea is that each guest has a very personal experience, from route planning to wine-tasting suggestions, best biking trails to booking the right restaurant. Wim loves the region so much he has produced his own guide book; he’s also an experienced wildlife photographer who is happy to advise and show you the best spots. Picnic baskets and mountain bikes can be supplied on request. Lovely breakfasts, including a buffet full of home-made treats and featuring a daily special, are served on the patio.

Room Tip One of the cottages is big enough for an extra bed. If Babette is booked out, try Cypress Cottage (see Worth a Look opposite).

Cost From R600 per person sharing B&B.

Contact 0285142406, babettesouthafrica.com

 

7. Fazenda Retreat

Unlisted

Wow. This is a jaw-dropping location – at the end of a dirt track that peters out amid pines carpeting the lower slopes of a perpendicular mountain, two bungalows overlook a small dam. There’s no sound but twittering birds and tumbling water. Marilouise van der Merwe has totally transformed the log cabins, opening them up to the glorious views of the Hermitage Valley, cladding them in river stone and furnishing them with contemporary and upcycled furniture; Fazenda could easily grace the pages of a design magazine. Marilouise is also the creative force behind De Companjie, one of the top restaurants in Swellendam, and her guests (she also has three rooms in town) get a discount on meals there. But why tear yourself away from heaven? No TV or Wi-Fi; this is about walking, wild swimming, forest picnics, clambering into the canyon, mountain biking, cooking and braaiing, reading or just lounging and drinking in the view.

Room Tip The cabins are alongside each other – book Ultimate Retreat, which is slightly above Forest Retreat, for more privacy. Better still, book both (this is also the only way you can bring children – teens only, no under-13s).

Cost From R795 per person sharing (both sleep two). Minimum two-night stay.

Contact 0834461123, airbnb.com

 

8. A Hilltop Country Retreat

TripAdvisor No. 9 of 42 B&Bs/Inns

On a quiet residential street that traverses the highest point above town, Hilltop comprises eight options (four spacious rooms, two family suites and two houses) and is an ideal choice for those who prefer to stay in. Aside from the usual basics, you’re supplied with Swellendam canola oil, Worcestershire sauce, spices, plunger coffee etc. For R80 pp, breakfast ingredients can be supplied (eggs, bacon, yoghurt, muesli, fruit etc); staff take care
of the dirty dishes. You can also pre-order heat-and-eat dinners from Lana Groenewald, the very welcoming manager, who also knows a lot about the area. These are prepared and delivered by a local caterer and are, by all accounts, delicious. All the accommodation has a kitchen and patio, Wi-Fi and TV, a choice of king or twin beds; some have fireplaces, only the family options have a bath (the rest are shower only). There is a small pool and ‘ready-to-go’ fully equipped braai areas.

Room Tip I liked Units 5 and 6, open-plan suites sleeping two adults and two children (in bunks). Of the houses, I preferred double-storey Unit 8 (sleeps four adults and two children). Of the rooms, I liked Unit 1, a luxury corner suite, as it has extra windows.

Cost Rooms from R600 per person sharing (sleep two). Family suite from R1,800 for two adults and a child; extra child R200. Houses from R2,200 for two; extra adults R350 per person (sleep four or six).

Contact 0285142294, ahilltop.co.za 

Worth a Look

9. Augusta De Mist This historic house has five elegant suites in a wild, enchanting garden – heed the signs here or you could get quite lost! It’s a luxury choice with fabulous dining, an afternoon cocktail service and next best after Schoone Oordt. From R860 per person sharing B&B. augustademist.com

10. Cypress Cottage This is an 18th-century guest house with six en-suite rooms decorated with antiques. Great breakfasts are served, and hosts Etienne and Vera van Leeuwen are special. From R400 per person sharing B&B. cypress-cottage.co.za

11. The Barn This well-furnished, one-bedroom garden cottage in town is in walking distance to restaurants. R680 a night (the extra sleeper couch means it can sleep four). airbnb.com

12. Elianthe There are 10 rooms in this boutique guest house in the centre of town. I particularly liked Room 6. It’s small and tucked away with a private terrace overlooking the garden.

From R425 per person sharing B&B. elianthe.com

 

Don’t Miss This

  • The historic quarter around the Drostdy, with museums, art galleries, shops and eateries (plus a market one Saturday a month).
  • Bontebok National Park and Marloth Nature Reserve – both have short walking trails through fynbos and indigenous forest.
  • The multi-course African Tasting Menu at Augusta de Mist. Also Ikigai, the new artisan coffee bar/deli, and the new wine bar at De Companjie.
  • Cycling the hills –
    hire a bike at The Cycle Shop or tourism office. For e-mountain bikes, call 076-959-2113.
  • An Umshanti boat trip with braai on the Buffeljags Dam.
  • Khoi artist Donovan Julius’s studio-gallery, The Zinc Shack, in Suurbraak (15km away). 0627116396

 

 

 

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