Imagine the foresight it must take to see a bare patch of Karoo veld and dream up a fully fledged village and health spa in the middle of nowhere. This is what happened when Scottish railwayman James Logan founded Matjiesfontein in South Africa back in 1884. Discover why to visit Lord Milner Hotel and Matjiesfontein in the Karoo.
That Matjiesfontein today is a time capsule of the Victorian era is thanks to another visionary who came along almost a century later. Hotelier David Rawdon did such a good job of restoring the hotel and town to their former glory that Matjiesfontein was declared a National Monument in 1975.
Then it’s time for those left behind to take tea in one of the hotel’s lounges or order a drink in the pub, to go for a walk across the veld or, later in the afternoon, to watch the sunset and the first glimmerings of what will be a spectacular night sky here in the dry Karoo.
Relax. Breathe in the clean Karoo air. Surrender yourself to be restored and revitalised so you can face a return to city life with equanimity.
1. Download the free Matjiesfontein VoiceMap app (Apple and Android) as a guide to walk you around the village, point out some of the old buildings and fill you in on the little village’s intriguing history.
2. Take a trip on the old London double-decker red bus. At 18:00 each day except Sunday it takes visitors on a short tour of the village, picking out some of the landmarks like the house where Olive Schreiner stayed and the field where England and South Africa played the first friendly cricket match (James Logan was a great cricket fan). Finish your whistle-stop tour at the Laird’s Arms (see point 5) next to the hotel in time for a drink before dinner.
11. Enjoy dinner in the Victorian-style dining room with its dark antique furniture and heavy drapes. The food is of the traditional Karoo variety, with bobotie, lamb shank and malva pudding making an appearance. Service is friendly but slow when the dining room is full, so try to relax and downshift to Karoo time.
When it comes to your Matjiesfontein accommodation, you get a choice between suites or rooms in the hotel, historic cottages in the village, or the lower priced Matjies Motel for more budget conscious travellers. I’ve stayed in a cottage in the village, the main hotel (which I love for its classic style) and the Riverbank Rooms at the motel. The latter aren’t as posh as the hotel but still perfectly comfortable at a lower price, with the bonus of a parking spot close to your door.
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