Among the neat trees and quiet streets of historic Swellendam, you'll find the pretty Victorian facade of Schoone Oordt country house, a boutique hotel set among clipped lawns, fountains and rose gardens on the doorstep of the Garden Route. Stay here en route to Plett, or escape the bustle of Cape Town for a few days' R 'n' R in the idyllic Western Cape countryside.
Get this when you book through us:
A bottle of local wine with dinner; for stays of two or more nights, a picnic basket or a bottle of local sparkling wine (choose before arrival)
11am (but flexible, depending on arrivals). Check-in, from 2pm.
Double rooms from £190.50 (ZAR3,900), including tax at 15 per cent.
Rates include taxes, home-cooked breakfast, and afternoon tea with freshly baked scones.
Pets unfortunately cannot be accommodated (the owners already have two dogs and four cats!).
At the hotel
Lovely gardens, swimming pool, conservatory, free WiFi throughout. In rooms, flatscreen satellite TV, embroidered bedlinen, bathrobes, slippers, hairdryer, tea/coffee tray. Bathrooms have underfloor heating and luxe, locally made bath products. The Luxury Rooms and Honeymoon Suite have a romantic fireplace too.
Our favourite rooms
The Luxury Rooms are set away from the main building; they all have similar decor, with pale walls and dark furniture, open fires and Victorian-style claw-foot bathtubs. Tall Smiths will enjoy the extra-length beds. The Honeymoon Suite, in a separate cottage on the edge of the forest, has a handsomely carved wooden four poster and a giant bathroom, as well as a sitting room and large hearth.
The outdoor saltwater swimming pool is big enough for a lung-busting swim or lingering float, with deckchairs and parasols for poolside lounging.
Comfy shoes, for the spectacular walks on your doorstep; binoculars, for bird- and beast-spotting; bikinis, for swimming and sunbathing; books, for reading on the patio or by the fire.
Pampering treatments such as reflexology can be arranged at Schoone Oordt – ask for details in advance if you’d like to book something.
Welcome – the owners have children themselves. Cots and extra beds are available, babysitting can be arranged for around SAR60 an hour.
The hotel’s ‘We Care’ pledge outlines their conservation plans. They will compost all organic waste, deter garden pests with broken eggshells, use ethically sourced produce and local wines, save electricity where possible, recycle thoroughly, save water and ensure there’s no food wastage and donate unused guest slippers to the neighbouring care home. They support the community too, by providing ingredients for a nearby soup kitchen and support the Swellendam Community Action Partnership and Huis Adaliah (a safe haven for abandoned babies) as well as training hospitality students, among other efforts. Plus they've cultivated a small kitchen garden.
Your private patio is the perfect place for a sundowner. Or sit by the Conservatory Restaurant's window, which overlooks the garden and koi-filled pond.
Breakfast is treated seriously here: fresh herbs, vegetables and fruit are plucked from the garden, and local farm produce fills any gaps. The hotel's efforts to source ingredients ethically, as local as possible, have paid off – the Overberg area is rich in suppliers: meat and eggs come from the Country Butcher, fish from Sustainable Trout, flour from Eureka Mills and vegetables from Little Oaks. Breads, cheese biscuits, cakes and truffled are handmade onsite. So, the intimate dinners served in the Conservatory Restaurant are delicious and authentic taster of the region: try the chef's lauded South African fare, such as kudu carpaccio with biltong cream or curried chicken kiew with squash sag aloo. All dietary requirements can be met too – those swearing off meat should try the vegan 'garden' of spiced-caramel aubergine with herby cream 'cheese', pistachio and pumpernickel soil. As you’d expect, the wines are also wonderful, sourced from the celebrated regions of Robertson and Hermanus.
There’s a fire-warmed lounge/chill-out room with a wide-screen plasma TV and bar for unwinding in the evenings. Afternoon tea is served here too.
Depends on when the last guest retires for the evening…
None, but there is a tea/coffee tray in your bedroom with home-made biscuits for snacking, and drinks can be served on your patio.
Set in lush riverside gardens, Schoone Ordt is located in the small heritage town of Swellendam.
Schoone Oordt is half way between Cape Town International and George Airport, both of which are two and a half hours away.
The nearby N2 will get you to Cape Town in two and a half hours. Parking at the hotel is free. To reach Plettenberg Bay, you’re looking at three hours and 40 minutes.
Worth getting out of bed for
Your hosts can point you toward some lovely local walks – the scenery in this region is stunning. The trip to coastal De Hoop Nature Reserve is a bit of an adventure (about an hour and a half's drive on a dirt road) but worth it for whale-watching in season, and the striking scenery of turquoise waves crashing on jagged black rocks and bleach-white sand. Closer to home, Bontebok National Park (+27 (0)12 428 9111) offers plenty of wildlife spotting, and trips down the Breede River. Or, do a circuit of the Marloth Nature Reserve, home to caracals, baboons, eagles, porcupines and more, plus a few shy leopards. Worth a day trip (or a visit en route to Schoone Oordt from Cape Town) is Robertson, about a 45-minute drive away, where the Graham Beck estate (+27 (0)23 626 1214) produces what is – in our humble opinion – some of the finest sparkling wine in South Africa. The hotel can also arrange guided horse trails through Applebosch Farm or the Hermitage Valley. And Swellendam has scenic mountain-biking routes too. Thrill-seekers can canoe, fly a microlight, or zipline at the Berry Guest Farm, or more gentle activities include tractor rides or getting lost in the hedge maze.
There are plenty of options within rambling distance of Schoone Oordt: a few of our favourites include laid-back Italian trattoria La Sosta (+27 (0)28 514 1470), at 145 Voortrek Street, where staff rustle up daily seasonal specials; and Koornlands (+27 (0)82 430 8188), at 192 Voortrek Street, with à la carte and tasting menus of Cape cuisine (we loved the crocodile sashimi).
For lunch or when you fancy something low-key (although that’s about all there is round here, it’s so relaxed), the Woodpecker Deli & Pizza (+27(0)28 514 2924) at 270 Voortrek Street does fabulous pizzas.
‘Faerie Sanctuary, Mr Smith?’ I’m standing in a tiny tourist office, thumbing flyers about pickle tasting, wondering what on earth we are going to do for the next two days. We’ve reached our destination, Swellendam, a laidback, historic farming town handily placed between Cape Town and the Garden Route. I've just discovered one pair of residents has opened their doors to a private wonderland of wizards and angels. But that’s another story. Right now I need to find our boutique country-house hotel and Mr Smith is no help at all. He’s gone to buy a kudu burger at the café next door.
It’s been left to me to communicate the name of our hotel – Schoone Oordt – to the lady behind the desk. After painful attempts of ‘Shown-eert’ and ‘Shoooon-orte’, she snorts with laugher. ‘Sweetie, it’s just up the road on the right – you can’t miss it! It’s one of the prettiest buildings in town. Oh, and if you get lost,’ she hollers as I leave, ‘It’s pronounded "Skwin-ort".’
Stepping out into the sunshine, I take in a street lined with thatched Cape Dutch houses and jacarandas hung heavy with their iris-blue flowers. Turtle doves dart between the treetops and the whole place is saturated with that bright clean sunshine that makes you feel like you’re on a movie set. It hits me just how astonishingly beautiful this place is. As if on cue, I make out the yawning, bluesy sound of someone playing ‘Amazing Grace’. Two chaps in tartan shirts and muddy hats are serenading Mr Smith while he wolfs his burger beside the car. I shuffle about in my bag for a few Rand (this, after all, is the song I walked down the aisle to) but they’ve waved goodbye by the time I get there. ‘They didn’t want money,’ says Mr Smith ‘They said they were just celebrating.’
We chunter moments up the road to and there, perched on a bank, deliriously pretty in a soft dove grey with filigree-laced verandas, is our hotel. ‘Hi-i-i-i-i!’ sing-songs a voice from the dark cavern of the open front door. A beaming Alison, her Staffordshire bull terrier Oscar by her side, emerges to greet us with warm shakes and wet hand licks. Ushering us through the main house, she tells us it dates back to the 1850s.
All the guest accommodation, apart from the stowed-away honeymoon cottage by the river, is in the garden behind. Eight suites, and a two-storey honeymoon cottage, all with private patios opening out over flowerbeds and tinkling fountains. Alison admits that occasionally guests are disappointed if they’re not staying in the main house itself – there is something dreamy about its wrap-around balconies and creaky floors. Our room, however, is faultless with its glimmering over-sized gold mirrors, a plush chaise lounge, an antique wardrobe and a deep rolltop bath in a sparkling ensuite. We’re also just a few wet steps away from the seductive little pool, sunken into a grassy dell below. Spying the huge open fire at the foot of our enormous bed I mutter to Mr Smith that a crackling fire is, in my opinion, an essential component to a romantic weekend away (and hoteliers being stingy about fire-lighting is a pet niggle).
Famished, we decline the kind offer of a welcome drink, as we’re heading to The Old Goal, opposite the town’s striking, white-as-a-polo-mint, church. At a table outside under the shade of oak trees, we order just-squeezed lemonade and sandwiches made with chewy Roosterkoek bread (baked right here over hot coals). I pull out a tourist leaflet from my pocket. Within minutes we are pulling up at Wildebraam Berry Farm for some pickle, liqueur and jam tasting. ‘They come here in their coachloads!’ we’re told. But this afternoon, thankfully, it’s just us. We work our way through boozy snifters of rooibis and honey through to a bittersweet end care of a large spoon of Ring of Fire chutney. Before they can adminster any samples of their Lord of the Rings, classified at 10/10 hotness, we make a quick exit.
Fields of blackberries and wildberries (which are the lovechild of a raspberry and a blackberry) flank the farm. You’re welcome to pick your own, so we head over the river in the back of an old Toyota pick-up, a thick glue of old jam at our feet. It stalls in the middle of the rapids and we climb over the bonnet only to return with two enormous buckets of juicy berries and bright purple moustaches.
A call from Alison tells us she’s managed to get us a last-minute horse trek with Dee, who houses her award-winning horses next door. A quick fence-hop and we’re tacked up on two glossy chestnut mares, before taking to the foothills of the rugged, ruffled peaks of the Langeberg mountain range.
Rushing home as the sun starts to fall we squeeze in a laze by the pool and Alison won’t let us go without those welcome drinks. We have them picnic-style with a plate of cheeses and biscuits on a tartan rug thrown over the perfectly clipped lawn. By now three sheets to the wind, it’s lucky that dinner is on our doorstep. Popular local eatery Koornlands sadly burned down so head chief Marianna and her team have decamped to Schoone for the timebeing. The menu is a testament to Cape cuisine: warthog samosas, ostrich lasagne, springbok fillet (even my filo pastry and vegetables came with a giant porcupine quill swaying atop). Then a long languorous bath back at the room, a roaring fire (of course!) and then straight into our duck-down duvets.
We awake to another periwinkle blue sky, and handyman Cuthbert giving our muddy hire car an unexpected wash ’n’ polish. A pristine spot had been laid in the airy Victorian-style conservatory and jazz floats through from the kitchen, where Alison is busy prepping her famous three-course breakfast. The first of which, home-made granola, yogurt and fruit salad, is set out on the dresser.
As we string out our final course of French toast with pesto spread, roast tomatoes, and bacon, gulped down with mint-laced freshly-squeezed OJ, Alison fusses around us like a favourite aunty, Oscar dolefully by the French doors eye-balling our bacon, and Cuthbert buffing our ugly car as if it were an Aston Martin.
We feel more than looked after, we feel loved. Normally you need to fork out hundreds a night for this kind of cosseted, nothing-is-too-much-trouble feeling. But Schoone Oordt (‘Skwin-ort’, remember?), which at first has a bed-and-breakfasty appearance, in fact has just the right bells on. ‘So,’ says Mr Smith as we roll away through the gate, ‘when are we coming back?’ For once he’s beaten me to the very same question.