‘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.
Anonymously reviewed by Mr & Mrs Smith