7 delightful Darling stays

Surrounded by vineyards, wheat fields and wildflower reserves, with the beach not too far away, this aptly-named town is a lovely introduction to the Cape’s West Coast.

How 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 20 years for the likes of Frommer’s and the Telegraph, scours TripAdvisor and other online sites when researching a destination. For Darling, she created a long list of 21 to inspect. The following made the cut.

What we found about accommodation here

• Given that Darling offers delicious wines and craft beers, rolling views, seasonal flower carpets and is home to ‘national treasure’ Pieter-Dirk Uys’s theatre, you’d expect it to be overflowing with accommodation, but I found surprisingly little stock.

• That said, with the exception of a full-service hotel, there is something for everyone – from cute cottages to a great glamping option. Super-efficient Dianne le Roux of Hello Darling Tourism really knows her stock and how to match it; call her for advice on 022-492-3361.

• Of the various online options, hellodarling.org.za was by far the most useful for accommodation listings. After this, Booking.com and Airbnb. Slim pickings on TripAdvisor.

• Darling is an authentic Swartland village with several untarred roads and lampless nights, surrounded by fields of gold that turn to green in winter – hard to believe you’re an hour from the city. If you intend to braai, pop in at Darling Meat Market – it’s good and well priced.

Best for a group

1. !Khwa ttu Bush Camp

TripAdvisor listed but unrated

Located just 10 kilometres from Darling, this 850-hectare conservation farm and San heritage centre is intersected by the R27 and offers diverse accommodation options. On the inland side of the R27, near reception and the restaurant, is a pair of luxury two-sleeper units sharing an old farm cottage (confusingly called the Guest Houses) – these have great views. On the Atlantic side is self-catering, solar-powered Bush House (sleeps four) as well as two tented options – Bush Camp (sleeps 10) and Bush Lodge (sleeps eight), which are in walking distance, but not within sight, of each other. Of the two tented options, Bush Camp is the winner: five tents, tucked into indigenous bush, linked via a meandering path and sharing charming semi-outdoor ablutions and a traditional boma. (At Bush Lodge, each tent is en-suite and has its own kitchenette.) There are several walking and mountain-bike trails past waterholes that attract a variety of antelope and zebra. It’s heaven for kids of all ages, as well as well-behaved dogs.

Room tip All the tents sleep two but have space for two more mattresses; if you utilise these, Bush Camp and Bush Lodge booked together can sleep 36.

Cost Tents from R350 per person sharing, Guest House from R1,000 per person sharing, Bush House from R775 per person sharing. All rates include breakfast.

Contact 0224922998, khwattu.org

Best guest house

2. Jacaranda House

TripAdvisor No. 3 of 7 B&Bs/Inns

Arrive at this pretty Victorian – once the town house of the Duckitts, one of Darling’s founding families, now the home of Jane and David Wallace – and you feel like you’re meeting friends of friends. Not that you don’t have privacy; each of the three rooms has its own exterior entrance, but the quality of hosting has made Jacaranda the top-rated Booking.com option in Darling. That, and Jane’s food: a retired chef and restaurateur, she specialises in Middle Eastern, European and Asian. Given adequate warning, she will rustle up dinner and set up a romantically-lit dinner table in the orchard or courtyard. But her breakfasts are the main draw: freshly-baked pastries and breads, homemade jams, seasonal fruit, local honey and several cooked options. It’s an intimate, exclusive experience, with personable and easy-going hosts who are extremely knowledgeable about the village and surrounding area.

Room tip I loved little Rondavel, the converted water tank behind the house. Furnished with a queen-size bed and shower en-suite, it’s small but super quaint. The Cottage Suite (once the stable), with lounge area, kitchenette and braai area overlooking the pool, is ideal for longer stays.

Cost From R440 per person sharing B&B. No children under 12.

Contact 0724101365, jacarandahouse.co.za

Best village view

3. Vineyard Cottage

TripAdvisor listed but unrated

A two-bedroom, two-bathroom cottage perched at the highest point of a sloping plot on Fontein Street – from the stoep, you look across the village roofs to surrounding fields of gold, the horizon a smudge of distant mountains. In the front garden are neat rows of vines; to the side, a grove of olive and almond trees (owner Helen Schurink assures me that once you’ve tasted fresh almonds you’ll never go back to pre-packaged). There’s a sheltered braai pit at the back, and a shaded alfresco dining area behind the kitchen. It’s well equipped for long stays – TV, DVD, wood-burning fireplace, washing machine, gas stove, oven – as long as you can live without Wi-Fi. Comfortable and uncluttered, with no personalised tchotchkes or inane slogans on the walls, this is the kind of holiday home you can pretend is your own; its many repeat guests do.

Room tip The twin beds in the front (view-facing) room can be made into a king-size bed; the back room, the main en-suite, has a queen bed.

Cost R1,800 a night (sleeps four).

Contact 0824510308, darlingviews.co.za

Best farmstay

4. Burgherspost Wine Estate

TripAdvisor No. 2 of 3 Speciality Lodgings

Best you stock up. It’s a 20-minute drive from Darling – that’s without de rigueur stops at Darling Cellars and Cloof Wine Estate en route – but once there, you’ll want to stay put. The views from your stoep across the field-encircled dams are enchanting, as is the birdlife – six egrets stood sentinel alongside the long dirt driveway; beyond them two blue cranes preened. Burgherspost is a wine and conservation farm, and you can join conservation manager Ederik van Jaarsveld on a daily game drive (included in the rate) through the estate’s 1 200 hectares of critically endangered Cape lowlands fynbos and renosterveld. There are only two cottages, both tastefully dressed, with an open-plan lounge-dining-kitchen area that flows onto the stoep facing glorious views, and a separate en-suite bedroom furnished with a king-size bed. The cottages come stocked with firewood, coffee, tea, milk, breakfast rusks and a bottle of Cloof.

Room tip Being semi-detached, they work well if booked together by friends. One has a shower only; the other a bath and shower.

Cost R700 per person sharing (sleep two each). No children under 13.

Contact 0829238652, burgherspost.co.za

Best for dog lovers

5. Stone Stables

unlisted

Expect an ebullient welcome – Philippa Wood, three children and the family dog led the way to the garden cottage at the bottom of their large erf in the middle of town. It’s private, with its own pretty, fenced-off garden – ideal for guests whose dogs (or children) are prone to wander. The building is a large L-shape, simply furnished and soothingly uncluttered, with cement-screed floors, chunky timber beams and traces of its 90-year history. Philippa (who with husband Kevin is founder of Darling Brew) points out the old horse trough under the sink and the window bars on the bathroom that date back to when the building was a temporary prison. Today it’s anything but  – guests are welcome to use the Wood’s swimming pool, there are indoor and outdoor fireplaces plus a Weber, and the welcoming atmosphere feels most liberating.

Room tip There is only one double bed but you can arrange to bring mattresses for kids at no extra cost. (PS: The more nights you stay, the more craft beers you’ll get in the fridge.)

Cost R450 per person sharing (sleeps two). 

Contact 0719012532, hellodarling.org.za

Cutest cottage

6. Artist’s Cottage

unlisted

In part thanks to Pieter-Dirk Uys, Darling has long been a magnet for creative types; Darling Lodge (see Worth A Look opposite) has even dedicated every bedroom to a local artist. But here you have the real deal: a garden cottage belonging to and decorated by one of the town’s great talents, painter Nina van der Westhuizen (see her portraits of Uys at Evita se Perron). Located at the end of a very pretty and peaceful cul-de-sac in the middle of town, the cottage has a private entrance opening into an open-plan kitchen-dining-lounge space. French doors lead from here to a semi-private garden patio. The kitchen is equipped with the basics (fridge-freezer, microwave, toaster, kettle); there are braai facilities, DSTV and Wi-Fi. Furnished with pieces Nina has inherited, collected and painted, it is a textured, comfortable, quaint space, and wonderfully priced too.

Room tip There is only the one en-suite bedroom (sleeps two).

Cost R350 per person sharing (R300 per person for two or more nights).

Contact 0224923369, airbnb.com or darlingtourism.co.za/artists-cottage

Most central

7. The Granary Petite Hotel

TripAdvisor No. 6 of 7 B&Bs/Inns

Not a hotel in the traditional sense, The Granary comprises six rustic rooms attached to the Chicory Cheese Café, which is the ‘reception’ for guests). It’s a great choice for those who prefer the privacy that comes with being left to your own devices but aren’t into self-catering; aside from the hearty breakfasts served up at the Cheese Café (or Marmalade Cat on Sundays) and the takeaway dinners sold at the cafe (closes at 4pm weekdays and 1pm on Saturdays), you’re also in the heart of the village, walking distance to several eateries and next door to the town’s fabulous new restaurant (see Don’t Miss This, page 43). The Granary has historic charm with the main building dating back to the early 1900s. The transformation into a hotel is still a work in progress by busy new owners JP and Carien de Beer, who manage a nearby farm as well as the café and hotel. 

Room tip Book Room 3 – an upstairs corner room accessed from the balcony, with a treed view through the large sash window. It’s one of two family rooms, with a double bed and twin beds (in an antechamber adjacent to the bathroom), but it’s good for a couple too. There is also
a more private garden room.

Cost From R500 per person sharing B&B. Family rooms from R700 per person sharing (sleep four).

Contact 0799165267, thegranary.co.za

 

Don’t Miss This

• !Khwa ttu’s new San Heritage Centre (opened September 2018), plus fascinating guided tours, including by ebike and a tea ceremony.

• New restaurant 1910 The Old Forge, the only seafood specialist in town. Plus a dozen other good dining options.

• A dinner cabaret or walk around ‘Boerassic Park’ at Evita se Perron. Also artist Nicolaas Maritz’s private house-studio-museum (022-492-3202)

• Local produce: craft beer at Darling Brew, old-style toffee at Darling Sweet, cheese at Udderly Delicious, charcuterie and coffee at The Flying Pig, Darling Olives, Darling Wines…

• Exploring town on the Mystery Trail – get your ‘treasure’ map at the Darling Museum. And take a drive down Akkerboom Lane to see street art on 31 houses.

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