There are some weekends where you just want to hang out with your best friend-lover, nap, eat and drink G&T’s. Keenan and I recently celebrated our second anniversary, which was one of those weekends for us and I knew just the place to do it all.
We arrived on Friday evening just after sunset, in time to check in before dinner. The turn-off to the only road (that’s right, not main road, only road) is one of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it turns and snakes off into the Karoo like a dry, black riverbed, opening into a small basin of light as the toy-town takes shape in front of your eyes.
The Lord Milner Hotel is over 110 years old and stands towering above the Karoo brush like a grand old lady welcoming you to her stately dining room. The hotel reception is decorated with sculptures of residents of years gone by, ornate lighting and plush red carpeting. I suddenly felt underdressed as we stepped into the dining room.
Waiters dressed in Downton Abbey wardrobe brought over our menus and we ordered a bottle of wine to celebrate our arrival in the past. The menu is small, basic and classic. Think beer battered fish and chips and Karoo lamb, all served with a modern twist. It’s the kind of food I can imagine the British railwaymen and cricket fanatics who used to frequent the hotel more than a hundred years ago enjoying.
Our room was up a narrow staircase and I could swear I felt someone follow me up as we went up to bed. An elaborate brass bed was covered with crisp, clean linen. The room had no tv, which was fine by us. In the bathroom a ball and claw bath called out to me. That night we slept long and hard and I wasn’t even haunted by any ghosts. We woke up late and exchanged anniversary gifts before breakfast.
Saturday was spent walking around the lush, tropical gardens – so beautifully out of place in this desert landscape. The clear blue pool is fed by a spring and the bouncy lawns are immaculately kept. Tall palm trees stretch their green leaves into the cloudless desert blue. After our walk we sat down to a couple of G&T’s, which we followed up with an extra long nap.
Matjiesfontein is the kind of place where you don’t feel guilty for napping. You don’t feel like the world is going on without you, because it’s the kind of place where the world moves slowly. At least three times slower than life in the city. The kind of place where you can truly relax – amble, even. We walked hand-in-hand down the only street and checked out the ultra-creepy museum, where visitors and locals alike have reported strange sightings and cold shivers.
That night over dinner and a bottle of wine we begged the restaurant manager, John O’Reilly for ghost stories, of which he had plenty. I even shared my own theory, which is that everyone who works at the hotel is a ghost and has worked there for a hundred years. John laughed like he knew the truth that I never would.
Matjiesfontein has just enough to offer to keep you from being bored, like the world’s shortest city tour in an old London Bus, a museum, a bar, swimming pool, and many old buildings. But not enough to keep you so busy that you can’t just enjoy the beauty of the quiet, Karoo life. It’s a small town, a slow town, but a town I find myself wanting to visit again and again.
*We were invited to stay in the Lord Milner Hotel for the weekend. We paid for all our meals and drinks. I never have to say anything I don’t want to.