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All endless skies and plains that go on forever, there’s something about the Karoo that hooks into your imagination. It may lack the showy beauty of so many other South African destinations, and it’s certainly not a first choice for family fun (young kids, especially, may bemoan the absence of a beach or mall). But if you’re seeking the stillness of a sun-gilded morning or a night that’s scattered with stars, then this land that time forgot may just be the spot for you. Here’s our round-up of where to stay while you soak up the serenity (in style, of course).
Nieu Bethesda is one of the most feted villages in the Karoo, and with good reason – this is where you’ll find artist Helen Martins’ ode to sunlight and cement at the Owl House. Mukti is the perfect place to stay while you explore Helen’s series of statues: this antique homestead, complete with original fittings (the glass in the windows is a case in point, dating back to the 1800s), is a sensory feast with Persian rugs, chandeliers, and crystal glasses. Take in the sunset from the veranda, then slip into your bed with 600 count linen – pure bliss.
Rates: From R3 800 to R5 400.
De Bergkant Lodge
We love the story behind this gracious gabled guesthouse: it was built by a father as a wedding present for his daughter back in the 1800s. De Bergkant has maintained its olden-day charm, updated with amenities for soothing a frazzled modern lifestyle: think inhouse masseuse, sauna, saltwater swimming pools, clawfoot baths, his and her showers, and meals made with fresh produce from the nearby farms. The many attractions of Prince Albert are within walking distance. This means you can go hunting for art or take in a show at the Showroom Theatre, or, if you’re happy to venture a little further afield, sample wines made in the Prince Albert Valley.
Rates: From R2 125 single rate for a luxury room in high season (until April 2022).
Samara Private Game Reserve
One of the most intriguing things about the Karoo is how it appears, at first glance, to be a landscape of barren beauty. In fact, it teems with life – and nowhere is this more obvious than at Samara Private Game Reserve. This is thanks largely to the efforts of owners Mark and Sarah Tompkins, who set to work restoring the biodiversity of the area to transform it into South Africa’s third-largest protected area – which means that apart from the Big Five, you can find many other unexpected species here. Best of all, as a guest, you can take part in the reserve’s conservation activities, such as cheetah translocation or land restoration. As far as accommodation goes, we wager you’ll love the four-suite Manor House, where you’re hard-pressed to choose between lying on your private patio with a book or taking in the mountain views from the pool – all after your game viewing, of course.
Rates: From R12 500 for two guests per night in the Karoo Standard Suite.
Graaff-Reinet’s Drostdy Hotel is like a love poem to the Karoo. Everything about this landmark bears homage to the unique milieu that is its home. The town itself defies description. At once brimming with the charm that makes country spots irresistible to tourists, and host to the kind of cutesy shops that inevitably fill such spaces (handcrafted jams and rusks, rickety treasures from old farmhouses, homeware to make you sigh), it remains at heart as down to earth and solid as a good Karoo breakfast. The Drostdy Hotel captures this duality perfectly. On the one hand, the rooms are all light, bright and modern with gorgeous luxe touches like beautiful art and plush linen; on the other, there’s a not-so-subtle nod to Graaf-Reinet’s vintage, all culminating in an unforgettable experience.
PS – while you’re here, don’t forget to check out the stunning Valley of Desolation, a wonderland for Instagrammers.
Rates: From R1 720 per person per night in a Bachelor Room.
Mount Camdeboo Private Game Reserve
For those who have faced the quandary of choosing bush breaks over comfort, your dilemma is over. How do sandwiches and Earl Grey enjoy al fresco sound? This is the kind of experience on offer at Mount Camdeboo Private Game Reserve, where lavish accommodation is matched by unparalleled experiences. Here’s an example: wake up in your romantic four-poster bed in a choice of units, ranging from a centuries’ old manor house to a secluded cottage. Whatever your preference, luxury is standard, with extras like underfloor heating, fireplaces private pools, and verandas creating a cocoon-like haven. Now, choose your activity: will it be game watching? High tea? A gourmet picnic in the bush? A massage, or even a helicopter flip? For something completely different, you can also try out the reserve’s glamping option, where you can lounge on the deck of your sizeable tent while overlooking the Milk River Valley – hot showers and flushing toilets included!
Rates: From R4 500 for one person in the Camdeboo Manor Suite.