We arrived at the Karoo Art Hotel when the afternoon sunlight was not kind. The hotel looked as though its glory days were long past, its present faded and faintly sad. But when we stepped inside and took time to look beyond the surface, its quirkiness crept into our hearts.
A door opened onto the stoep, burnished to a brown shine I hadn’t seen in many years, even in the platteland. Two cane chairs and a wooden bench were perfect for looking up into the mountains, spying on a baboon walking across a vineyard in the early morning sunlight, or watching the world go by along the street.
It gave us pound seats for watching some late-afternoon Karoo Cop action too. Brought to the balcony by the sound of shouting, we saw five policemen handcuffing three men lying flat on their stomachs on the tarmac. Two cops went searching in the bushes of the plot opposite. Later in the hotel’s bar we heard the story from the barman: there’d been a tip about drugs and one of the men, rather than be collared with tik and mandrax in his possession, had made what he thought was a cunning plan to throw it into the bushes. Foiled!
The bar was a dim place despite its multi-coloured lights. It had red velveteen chairs, an upright piano in one corner painted in the German folk art style, a fireplace in another. A small stage is the scene of live entertainment on Saturday nights. Next to a notice advertising the appearance of singer Wendy Oldfield, a sign proclaimed Barrydale ‘almost the friendliest town in the Western Cape’ as voted by radio Kfm’s listeners. An illustration of a woman on a comic-book bench underneath had a speech bubble proclaiming: ‘Blah-blah Barrydale yah yah.’
In the evening, a log fire was spitting and hissing in the dining room to ward off the chill. We chose comfort food from chef Derek Lowe's Karoo-inspired menu – vegetarian bobotie and the lamb shank. Both were delicious and filling. We shared a lavender crème brûlée, a sophisticated touch we hadn’t expected from a three-star platteland hotel.
[Update: the hotel was sold and reopened with a total revamp in March 2022. I haven't been back yet but from the photos it looks better than ever.]
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