Visit the Drostdy Hotel in Graaff-Reinet to relax and explore luxurious historic spaces in South Africa’s Karoo heartland. Uncover a secret weapon of socially responsible tourism that is changing lives through hospitality training and you'll realise why your holiday here makes a difference.
The Oude Meester Group bought it in 1975 and, with the collaboration of Historical Homes of South Africa, restored it to its original Cape Dutch style. It was declared a national monument in 1987. In 2013/14 it underwent another refurbishment to produce what we see today.
When you stay over, you’ll be joining a Who’s Who of visitors that includes 19th century naturalist-artist William Burchell, Queen Elizabeth II and Nelson Mandela.
Most guests nowadays stay in the restored buildings in Stretch’s Court that were once houses for freed slaves. The gaily coloured doors and shutters along a cobbled street are a photographer’s delight.
Inside, our room was a sophisticated but relaxing, with a king-size bed, two armchairs, writing desk, air con, flat-screen TV and coffee-maker. Décor touches included botanical prints on the walls, animal skins on the floor, and a springbok skull above the bed (not usually my favourite décor object, but it rounded out the African flora and fauna theme).
While you enjoy your Graaff-Reinet accommodation, remember that there’s lots to see and do in and around the town, which is South Africa’s fourth-oldest and has more than 200 national monuments. Visit some of the museums, restaurants and coffee shops, marvel at the ornate Dutch Reformed church that dominates the main street, drive through the Camdeboo National Park surrounding the town to enjoy the natural scenery and wildlife, or visit Desolation Valley where columns of dolerite rock climb 120 metres from the valley floor. (Watch out for a post about things to do in Graaff-Reinet later.)
Everything about the Drostdy Hotel is understated elegance, but it’s gratifying to note that it’s a five-star luxury with a heart. That’s because the historic hotel works with the SA College for Tourism and Peace Parks to give opportunities to many underprivileged rural women who want a leg up into the hospitality business.
Each year, donors sponsor some 90-100 young women from underprivileged backgrounds in rural areas to attend a year-long course in tourism at the SA College for Tourism in Graaff-Reinet. The Drostdy Hotel also ploughs profits back into the college.
After a careful selection process spearheaded by Peace Parks, hospitality students learn all the skills required to work front of house, housekeeping, table service and as assistant chefs. They also learn general skills like costing and budgeting, and life skills like emotional intelligence. ‘It’s a socio-economic upliftment programme where we aim to build self worth and give these youngsters a chance to earn an income for their families,’ says executive director Andre Kilian, who is like a proud father when he talks of the low drop-out rate of 1-2%.
Each hospitality graduate then does a year-long internship or learnership programme with one of the programme’s partners. These include the Drostdy Hotel, Thornybush Lodge, Londolozi, Singita and Tsogo Sun. The interns and learners get a small stipend as well as food and lodging.
When you stay at the Drostdy Hotel, talk to the gaggle of interns and you’ll hear about how they value the ‘huge opportunity’ and what a great experience it is. ‘I feel as if a door has opened for me,’ says Janet Matthee, who is happy to be helping to run front of house at present, but hoping to secure a learnership in August that will bring her one step closer to her dream of being a pastry chef.
Graduates of this programme have opened their own guest houses or coffee shops. One is head of housekeeping at a five-star Cape Town hotel. Others are working on cruise ships or in far-flung places like England, Europe, Dubai and Hong Kong.
This is responsible tourism at its finest – not just training underprivileged rural people but teaching them the power of dreams, whether it’s to support their family by working in a lodge in a rural area or to travel the world to gain experience.
Isn't it great to know that simply by staying at the Drostdy Hotel, you’re helping to support such a life-changing upliftment project?
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