WATCH: Joy, wonder off the beaten track

The Saturday Dispatch Ford Everest Adventure team’s foray into the Great Karoo – land of windmills, lamb shanks and heritage houses – was crammed with sensational landscapes, fascinating museums, starry nights and captivating characters, writes Barbara Hollands.

Pictures by Alan Eason

>https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjwlT9sIfs8

SOMERSET EAST

Our first stop in the Great Karoo was the Walter Battiss Art Museum where tourism officer Ros Turner gave us an engrossing tour of the double-storey 1818 building which the Battiss family ran as the Battiss Private Hotel a century ago.

Battiss was best known for his creation of fantasy world Fook Island and the museum displays his unconventional paintings as well as wacky artefacts, like Battiss’s King Ferd the Third cloaks.

GRAAFF-REINET

Known as the gem of the Karoo and nestled beneath the shadows of Spandaukop and the Sneeuberg Mountains, Graaff-Reinet is awash with perfectly preserved Cape Dutch, Victorian and Karoo architecture and lovingly tended national monuments.

Tree-lined avenues are clean and pothole-free and the town, with its looming Dutch Reformed Church landmark, is distinctly tourist-friendly.

Drostdy Hotel

The Dispatch team took up residence in the grand Drostdy Hotel, which was renovated to five-star Karoo chic sumptuousness over three years and re-opened in 2014.

Once the Cape Dutch-style home of the Landdrost, the hotel, with its deep chesterfield couches, groaning library shelves, sparkling chandeliers and rows of trophy skulls, was redesigned by celebrated interior designer Stephan Falcke.

General manager Janus Schoeman explained that the hotel also served as a training ground for students of the South African College of Tourism who learn how to deliver superior hospitality as year-long interns.

Old Library Museum

While it no longer serves as a public library, this museum and national monument now houses collections which include reproductions of over 1000 South African rock paintings, early stone-age tools, a heart-wrenching slavery exhibition and a fascinating fossil collection which includes a massive skull that once contained the brain of a 220 million-year-old herbivore.

The Sneeuberg Brewery and Two Goats Deli is owned by former East Londoner Andre Cilliers who brews five different ales, ginger beer and apple juice, as well as three cheddars which can be enjoyed in the shady garden.

At the rustically appointed Die Waenhuis, an inspiration palace to the art of incorporating Karoo elements into home décor, lovely meals can be enjoyed in what was once a village trading station and is now a magnificent wedding venue.

Former Latin teacher Idil Sheard presides at The Village Inn. She serves scones and stories about her friend Athol Fugard, who has set a handful of plays in the village and still owns property there. Sheard has translated five of his plays into Afrikaans and is a mine of intriguing small town information. — barbarah@dispatch.co.za

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