Reports before our tour were good in the media that this unique venue in the middle of nowhere was worthy of a visit! We started out from the airport holding bay once all pickups were completed, all on-a-high – away for five days with all-the-time on our hands to relax and enjoy ourselves. Ten passengers, with a few who knew each other before tour – but by the end of the five days new friendships had been cemented – where better to do this than in the Karoo?
First stop along route was the Veldskoen padstal, situated just outside De Doorns – this is slowly becoming ‘almost family’ of Traveltime – we stop there so often! Jacques and his team are so efficient, our table is always ready for us, and delicious meals come out of their kitchen on time, and all together.. What impressed us most after this tour is that we had hardly left the restaurant, when Jacques sent an email saying how much they value our business and enjoy having us there! What a super touch!
Then, a short stop at Matjiesfontein, (another favourite of many people) and we were headed to our first overnight stop in Prince Albert. Dinner was at the legendary Karoo Kombuis who, in many years serve ‘exactly’ the same food – and yet are fully booked night-after-night! Sleep came easy.
Day two and an early morning breakfast at another favourite in Prince Albert – The Lah-di-Dah restaurant. With everyone having enjoyed their own favourite breakfast – off we were again! A beautiful cool day with clouds ahead – was it going to rain? Meiringspoort is always so beautiful to travel through and many photographs were snapped.
Next stop was the Mooikaroo farm where we had been invited to lunch. Freda Schoeman and her husband live on this farm. Freda previously traded in De Rust and has moved her unique shop to her farm; she employs local ladies to make beautiful product for her! The ladies in the group got buying and the till started ringing! After this we were all invited into the large dining room of Freda’s home where she served us a stunning chicken salad with two different home baked breads and delicious fresh fruit for dessert! What a lovely woman Freda is and so very welcoming. We will be back for sure whenever in this area again!
Another favourite in Willowmore is Sophie’s Choice! Anyone for apple cake or carrot cake? Her coffee is sublime, and this proved to be a great place to rewind before the last 98km to Steytlerville. When you leave Willowmore the first 30km is a narrow concrete road where you yield to the left – off-the-road to approaching traffic. A different experience for sure.
Arrival at just after 4.00pm and we were met in town by Mark in his Bentley – a different welcome for our group for sure! On the patio we met Mark and Jacques and had a glass of pink bubbly – we were told how our time at the Karroo Theatrical Hotel would pan out and we settled ourselves into our allocated rooms before sundowners on their patio. Dinner tonight was in-house. We were the only guests tonight.
The entrance area, lounge and Grimaldi Theatre décor are all superb and much effort has gone into this for sure! Their food is basic home-cooked Boerekos. (The roast was a bit overdone). An early night in the quiet of the Karoo followed.
Saturday dawned and eight of our group headed out to discover Steytlerville – first stop just outside town where our ‘old’ and ‘new’ South African flag have been painted on the rocks! A good photo opportunity – on entry into town many more photographs were taken of the uniquely styled homes – some in good repair and a few derelict homes as well. As we passed the church – Carol noticed a pig in the garden of one house and of course, out came the cameras (and the owners of the home), followed by the most enormous pot belly peg we’ve ever seen! We got to meet two charming ladies of Steytlerville (one was the owner of the guest house where our coach driver Kevin was staying). We all later did a site inspection of this beautiful guest house too! Next stop was coffee on The Verandah Coffee Shop, where Michelle and husband, Jurie are ‘living their dream’! Having lived in Fishhoek previously and always wanting to re-locate to the country and open a coffee shop, Michelle is so happy! Jurie, on the other hand, has a motor museum there with a collection of fabulous cars, and it turned out Theresa knows Cape Town people, mad about vintage cars, who regularly visit Jurie! In addition, Michelle is rehabilitating animals – she introduced us to a fox whose back legs had been badly broken and now walks with a bad limp and is in his own little paradise. She also showed us her warthog who even ‘sits’ on command – what a ‘natural’ love she has for animals! A short visit to the Royal Hotel in town and we headed back to our “home” for lunch.
An afternoon nap / swim / relax before we all met on the patio for cocktails (vodka with cranberry juice) and hors d’ouvres before being entertained by Mark playing on the baby grand! Then the bell rings for dinner and everyone goes into the Grimaldi Theatre – a very elegant theatre, decorated to the absolute limit in ‘Mark and Jacques’ fashion! Two courses are served, and then Mark sets up a ‘station’ of bottles – we all thought he was bringing the alcohol into the room to make it easier to serve everyone.
Oh no! He proceeded to ‘play tunes’ with these bottles – delightful to listen to!
The lights are dimmed and next thing, the stage curtains are rolled back, and you are entertained. Mark, (Freddie Ferrari) of course, who is a celebrated concert pianist (former international white-faced clown in a circus) and knows how to make the baby grand ‘talk’ & Jacques known on stage as Dame Leyla Lamborghini who glams up in 6 different outstanding long dresses and high heels (and makes his/her own costumes which are superb). You need an open mind to enjoy this entertainment and what tipped it for me was the ‘closing’ song – “I am what I am” belted out by Dame Leyla Lamborghini! Apt, and an enjoyable show for sure.
There are a few ‘misgivings’ on the farm – rooms could be modernised (we hear that this is in the pipeline); food could be better (especially the breakfast) but all-in-all a unique experience which is never-to-be-forgotten, and our group was generally positive (with a few negatives) and satisfied with the time they all enjoyed on this very different farm! Jacques was adamant that they didn’t want to pay for a star rating and chose to “do what they wanted” and not be dictated to!
Sunday dawned and off we headed back to Sophie’s for coffee; and by just after 1.00pm we were in Klaarstroom – The Village of Little Things – another newly found ‘gem’ in the area- thanks to SA Country Life! Here Annatjie and Chris van der Bank, the new hotel managers, who hail from Pretoria, are changing the scene in this little town! We all ordered (totally different lunches) and it was amazing to see Annatjie’s staff – all in line – one-after-the-other, delivering our lunches! A place to return to on another tour!
On arrival in Prince Albert most headed to their cool rooms to rest; Siptje discovered a few Karoo gems at the Prince Albert Country store she just ‘had-to-buy’; a few of us went cheese-tasting at Gay’s Dairy and after this, it was a quick shower and spruce up again before we all headed to the new kid-on-the-block – The Green Prince Gin Bar! A different experience, with gins being served with pineapple / strawberries and black pepper / orange zest –the all-time favourite seemed to be the Musgrave pink gin served in a goblet with candy floss on the side.
Dinner was at The Gallery Restaurant where Brent and his staff serve great food. Cherry on the top of our meal were the starters – figs served with gorgonzola cheese and Parma Ham with a balsamic vinegar reduction – sublime! The cannelloni was not enjoyed by a all, but Brent was very quick to come to the table and appease them. His offer of not charging for the waters and coffees at table was a kind touch – everyone left the restaurant happy with our last supper in Prince Albert.
Sadly, today we head back to Cape Town – after another delicious breakfast in Prince Albert (their ½ portion of Eggs Benedict) a favourite of many – we headed back on the N1, back to the city. A compulsory stop back at the Veldskoen farmstall (where we ‘had’ to buy boereseep / beaded lambs / cranberries / balsamic vinegar reduction to try to copy those delicious figs at the Gallery the night before), and we all arrived just before 2.00pm at Melissas in DuToitskloof Estate, for our last lunch together.
We had everyone back at the airport holding bay at 4:45pm, with the shuttles arriving promptly at 5.00pm as arranged, to us us home (in peak traffic – ‘where oh where’ do all these people come from?)
In summary ‘A different’ type of tour where many new friendships were cemented!
In the words of one of the ladies – Nicky, “I’m going to miss these people – thanks for a super road trip’
Totally agree Nicky – this road trip with-a-difference will certainly remain as a great highlight for us all.