Road Trip

Instead of flying the two (seemingly endless) hours from Cape Town to Johannesburg, Jo Kromberg suggests you take a few days to smell the roses with a leisurely road trip and discover some amazing places along the way.

Table Mountain, Cape Town
Table Mountain, Cape Town

Road trip music: Fleetwood Mac, Journey, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Clegg, Springbok Nude Girls, One Republic, Bob Marley and of course anything from the ‘80s….

The Taj Mahal in India may be in a spot of bother but there is certainly
nothing wrong with the magnificent 5-star Taj Cape Town. And this is where we start our epic road trip which is to last a week.

This Grande dame is located within the city’s historic Reserve Bank building
and it is certainly the most grand and opulent hotel in the heart of the city. It’s one of the most generous too, with complimentary city walking tours, hourly Waterfront shuttle and daily wine tasting all on offer.

Due to work commitments, we only arrive at about 10.30 pm but we are
welcomed like royalty from the moment we exit our uber. The hotel interior
immediately transports you to a refined palace – tasteful marble walls and
floors are off-set by plush mahogany finishings and leather furnishings,
chandeliers, great art and Persian carpets.

The rooms are equally impressive. Most of the 176 rooms and suites have a balcony, while all of them are elegantly designed with classical furnishings with all the usual 5-star amenities.

The restaurant is already closed but we are treated to in-room dining and a
better midnight meal you could not ask for. Delights such as BBQ spare ribs,
pulled pork and rib eye steaks are on offer and we opt for the most delicate
and delicious calamari with a superb bottle of Leopard’s Leap Shiraz. Sleep
beckons and the wonderful cocoon of a humongous bed with its gazillion
thread count is toe-curling stuff.

Cape Town Table Mountain
Cape Town, Table Mountain

The ambient hum of one of the most beautiful cities in the world wakes me up the next morning and our room with a view of Table Mountain, still shaking off its misty veil, is stunning. A spot of tea is followed by heavenly bliss in the hands of one of their fantastic massage therapists at the Jiva Grande Spa. Breakfast consists of the freshest, most delicious variety of options – smoothies, Brioche French Toast, pancakes, Croque Madame and various other hot breakfasts made to order are on offer as well as Indian food options and the best coffee in town.

The service matches the food. It’s a great fusion of warm African hospitality and the respectful “God as Guest” Indian hospitality mantra, and the authenticity of care is thoroughly disarming. And best of all, if you think all this luxury is out of your price range, think again. The hotel offers SA residents a rate of only R3095 for a Double Club room, breakfast included.
I would love to stay and indulge further but a road trip is afoot.

Our first stop is Prince Albert, about 400 kilometres from Cape Town. We get on the road at about 11 am and make our way through wine country, bookended by spectacular mountains on this Indian summer’s day in July. Through the Huguenot Tunnel and the scenic Breede river valley we go and on through Worcester, Matjiesfontein and Laingsburg. We gradually enter the majestic Karoo, a semi-desert area the size of about 400 000 square kilometres stretching over the provinces of the Eastern, Northern and Western Cape.

The Karoo

We finally turn off to Prince Albert away from traffic and trucks and find ourselves on a long and lonely road for the next 20 odd kilometers. The
mountains flank us to the left like never-ending, silent and gargantuan static waves, bathed in hues of blues and pinks in the dying light of the sun.

We pull up to our abode for the night just before 6 pm in the form of the historic Swartberg Hotel, situated at the very heart of the small town. The building has been in use as a hotel for over 150 years, and today is a national heritage site. It was founded in 1864 by local resident John Dyason and it became the first hotel in town. With such a long history, it is no surprise that it is purported to be haunted…

We are welcomed warmly by manager Sandre. We sign in and are shown to our chalet with private parking and two double rooms adjoined by a bathroom. The chalet is too cute for words and has its own veranda, looking out on a courtyard. It sports all the mod cons but is private, intimate and charming, in keeping with the character of Prince Albert. And it won’t cost you an arm and a leg – rates start at a very affordable R1524 for a beautiful double room, including breakfast. Something you look for when keeping to a road trip budget.

wilderer gin
Green Prince Gin Bar

The town may be steeped in history but it has kept up with the times and
Exhibit Number One is the hotel’s new Green Prince Gin Bar where we decide to try their tipples. A selection of the finest local gins, including
Inverroche, Wilderer, KWV’s Cruxland and the colour-changing Six Dogs Blue Gins are combined with different garnishes to bring out the unique flavour of each one. And gin and tonic on tap – yes really!

We return to the hotel to feast on the best lamb shank ever. The meat falls off the bone and is bathed in a deep, intense and utterly divine red wine and mushroom sauce. And the portion is large, easily enough for two people. The service again is splendid- people here are unhurried and always smiling from the heart.

lamb shank
Lamb shank at Swartberg Hotel

Later we sit on our tiny veranda with a glass of red, marvelling at the millions of stars in the Karoo night sky, offering some of the best star gazing in the world. The peace, quiet and expanse are tangible and make your breath catch in your throat.

Breakfast the next morning is sumptuous and we head off to explore the town in the little time we have. The mohair shop is a must, as is the astounding art deco Showroom Theatre. The small museum provides a fascinating passage through the past of this region and then there are also the art gallery, spa at the hotel, nature walks, a morning market, cooking classes, the ghost walk and heaps more to see and do here. Unlike us, you really should try and spend at least two days here.

We take to the road at about ten, again in the unseasonable heat. Our abode for the next two nights on the third leg of our adventure is a place called Mount Camdeboo near Graaff-Reinet, another 5 hours’ drive or so. The meandering road takes us through the magnificent Meiringspoort.

The towering sandstone cliff walls and breath-taking rock formations of
Meiringspoort lie on the N12 between Beaufort West and Oudtshoorn. The
poort” follows the natural gorge hewn by the Groot Rivier (big river) through the Swartberg range connecting, on end, the towns of Klaarstroom and De Rust, or the Groot and Klein Karoo respectively. It follows a series of
bends and curves, crossing no fewer than 25 drifts, each with its own story
and name, like Nooiensboom drift, Perskeboom drift and Wasgat. But the main attraction is the jaw-dropping beauty of the poort as it winds
its way through the Swartberg Mountains.

Meiringspoort
Rock formations of
Meiringspoort

Take time to visit the historic villages of Klaarstroom and De Rust as part of the journey. The miles fly past as we traverse the undulating landscape past aloes, vast sheep farms, more mountains and the occasional slave style cottage ruins. We also see mohair goats, springboks and a very unusual sight – a lone man walking, covered head to toe in white clay with a knob kierie, no doubt coming back from or going to an initiation ceremony.

You don’t see these things while flying… The setting sun colours, the infinite, arching skies of the Karoo in pastels as we arrive at Mount Camdeboo. Mount Camdeboo is next level luxury in farm house/game lodge accommodation. It is informed by sheer indulgence and comfort – the food, the accommodation, the staff and activities are all world-class.

Mount Camdeboo
Mount Camdeboo Game Lodge

Garrulous manager Dave meets us at reception and shows us to the stunningly romantic Peppertree Cottage, our home for the next two days. Situated in a secluded part of the beautiful gardens, Peppertree offers a romantic setting for honeymooners or couples seeking privacy. The spacious cottage features a king-size bed, fireplace, under floor heating, luxurious en-suite bathroom, kitchenette and a private garden.

If you are lucky enough to encounter owner Ian Buchanan while there, you
will be entertained like Robbie Williams only wishes he could. And we were
lucky enough. We all ate together that evening with Ian and his family and
friends and we are immediately made to feel part of the family. Dinner is superb. In the main dining room we tuck into rich tomato soup, roast beef with cranberry sauce and the most amazing Crčme brűlée in the world.

After a leisurely breakfast the following morning, Ian takes us on a
walking tour of the property and the other accommodation options – historic and beautifully restored Cape Dutch houses and two luxurious safari tents that lie cupped in the palm of the majestic Sneeuberg Mountain range. We join ranger Tertius on a game drive, accompanied by Ian in the late afternoon.

mount camdeboo game lodge
Game drives at Mount Camdeboo Game Lodge

A stay at Mount Camdeboo includes two game drives per day in purpose-built, 9-seater game viewing Land Rovers. Given that the Camdeboo Manors are nestled in a valley, the game drives typically start with a breath-taking climb up the mountain slopes. We spot the “Camdeboo Big Five”, namely the breeding cheetah pair, the rare white rhinos, giraffe and almost extinct mountain zebra. Not to mention a bevy of birds and smaller lesser-spotted game. The cheetah named Thandeka lying peacefully under a tree, just metres away, is a sight to behold.

Ian says that, furthering their long-term conservation vision, they will introduce elephant and lion onto Mount Camdeboo by the time you’re reading this story. This means that the reserve will be home to the Big-5 as rhino, Cape buffalo and leopard are already present on the property. These species all historically occurred in the Great Karoo region and forms part of the reserve’s long-term plans to reintroduce historically occurring species in the area.

rhino at mount camdeboo
Rhinos at Mount Camdeboo

Other activities here include bush walks, cheetah tracking , star gazing and a visit to an historic Anglo-Boer War site where the pivotal “Battle of Paardefontein” was fought. We drive up the plateau for sun-downers and snacks and the sun hits the surrounding mountains in echoes of colour almost audibly. The startlingly clear horizon seems drawn at the other end of the Earth… it is a stupendous sight.

We get home in time for a wonderful “boma” dinner by the fire outside –
roast lamb, chicken, home-made garlic bread and the best, funnest company in the world. Later we have drinks – literally with the owner in his lounge – chatting and laughing like long lost friends. As I get older, relationships and human connections mean more to me than ever; laughing until you cry, stimulating conversation, the sharing of ideas and philosophies. A state of being and being in the moment – this is Mount Camdeboo.

Rates start at R7500 for two people in a luxury double room but it’s all-inclusive and worth every cent. There are cheaper accommodation options
nearby, like the iconic Drostdy Hotel. Offering an outdoor pool, spa and
on-site restaurant, Drostdy Hotel is located in the beautiful town of Graaff-Reinet, which features over 220 heritage sites.

We leave with a sad heart the next morning, on the road again to our last
stop on this epic road trip. De Oude Kraal Country Estate is situated about
30 kilometres outside of Bloemfontein, based on a 2000Ha working sheep farm owned by the 6th generation Lombard family. Manager Melanie meets us out front and we stroll through the park-like garden to our room – one of eleven private garden rooms and suites. Other accommodation consists of the six Merino self-catering standard rooms with views over the vast Free State landscape. Our room is a study in loveliness, pardon the trite phrase.

Most rooms contain two of my favourite things in the whole world – fireplaces and spa baths! Each room has its own private porch and entrance ensuring guest’s privacy. The guest rooms are characterised by unique individual interiors; hearty fire places and elaborate en-suite bathrooms with outside shower rooms to create an unbelievable country style experience.

spa bath mount camdeboo
Spa baths at De Oude Kraal Country Estate

You will never be at loss for things to do here – horse riding, mountain
biking, bird watching, star gazing, a tour of the farm in either a bakkie,
tractor or wagon (yes!) and my personal favourite, clay pigeon shooting are
all among the activities offered at an extra cost. Then, of course, there’s hot air ballooning, helicopter flips and cheese tastings as well as food demonstrations and a tour of Bloem – the list goes on and on. Not to mention the incredible Spa…A week here would suffice to pack everything in.

And then there’s the food, food, glorious food! Happy animals make for happy dining and the cows here must be ecstatic. De Oude Kraal restaurant is in the original farmhouse with four-metre high ceilings and wooden floors built in 1885 by a German missionary named Saltzmann. The separate dining rooms have open fireplaces and original antique furniture, some dating back to the early 1900s, not to mention the art collection.
The food is simply mind-blowing and will not be out of place in a Michelin
restaurant. Melanie suggests the Saronsberg Viognier as wine accompaniment and from that moment on we are in culinary heaven.

The menu kicks off with kudu Carpaccio, corn puree and haloumi as canapés. This is followed by carrot and ginger soup infused with coconut milk and coriander. As a starter we have crayfish and gnocchi with sage and truffle butter, tempura calamari, avo mousse and fresh grapefruit. The main consists of Karoo lamb cutlets with thyme jus, eland loin with marrow and pepper sauce and veg. The finale is presented as berry crumble, mini meringue, berry ice cream, dark chocolate mousse with pears in red wine and sabayon sauce. All this in the Free State!

We drive the final leg of our journey the next morning, back to the chaos,
stress and noise of the big city. But at least my jaded soul found passion again in the Karoo. It was present in a gin and museum in Prince Albert. It was evident in indigo shades on a mountain in Camdeboo. It was in the smiles of the people and in the light in their eyes. It was in the embrace of the stillness and the vast, never-ending skies and stars. And there was an abundance of it on a farm outside Bloemfontein. And it was in every single meal.

So take a week in your life, venture off the N1, and discover little hamlets, sprawling farmsteads and historical, eccentric towns populated by warm people with a thousand stories to tell. Your soul will thank you.

CONTACTS
https://taj.tajhotels.com/en-in/taj-cape-town/
https://www.swartberghotel.co.za/
http://www.mountcamdeboo.com/
http://deoudekraal.com/

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