Saturday, 29 November 2014

Augusta de Mist Country Retreat, Swellendam

Ordinary Miracle

I was beginning to feel a bit bored with luxury accommodation – spoilt by too much of a good thing I guess. I was on the search for something exceptional. I needed art. The moment I opened the delightful website of Augusta de Mist Country Retreat in Swellendam I knew I had found it. In fact, don’t even bother reading the rest of this review – really, I won’t be offended at all – just click straight on

A sense of humour and creative flair pervades every aspect of this beautiful 1802 manor house. Augusta de Mist was named after diary-writing teenager Augusta de Mist, who travelled through Swellendam with her father, a Dutch commissioner. This is one of the oldest buildings in one of the oldest towns in South Africa.

The gardens are lush, with lots of secret hideaways and paths to discover. There is a pool with elegant handmade loungers made by a local company from used wine barrels. The gardens are quiet and one feels far out in the country, even though the guesthouse is right in the centre of Swellendam, near the Drostdy Museum. It is within easy and safe walking to excellent local restaurants, even at night.

The integrity of the original homestead has been beautifully preserved, with original Yellowwood doors and beams. And now each room has been turned into a living art installation, with dramatic décor and gorgeous furniture. Sage and soft blues meld against the meter-thick walls. A show-stopping silver couch and feminist South African art work draw the eye in the lounge.

Apart from your own indoor and outdoor seating areas, there are at least 3 different dining areas inside the main lodge – one off the kitchen, out front on the “stoep” (verandah) and at the back patio – such that one may follow the sun around the building at all times of the day.

After much nail-biting deliberation (and a few backwards and forward emails), I choose to stay in the Buchu Suite, a freestanding cottage at the top of the garden and edge of the forest. It has large sash windows, a stable door as well as another set of double doors facing out onto the woods. In the lounge there are two funky upholstered armchairs and a fireplace.

I would be hard pressed to choose between my favourite room in this cottage – the lounge, bedroom or bath. The heavenly bed has white linen, a quilt and cushions of Dutch settler Jan van Riebeek. It is one of the most comfortable I have ever slept in. There is a deep, shuttered window at the head of the bed.

A glorious bespoke Livingstone bath is set up against a high window. There is a spacious shower and double basin. Cool screed floors and reed-and-open-beam ceilings bring the modern fittings perfectly back into context.

Accommodation Experience

Discovering this place feels like one of Sarah McLachlan’s “ordinary miracles”, bringing hope and creative inspiration at a time when I need it. I have a fun afternoon bounding around taking photographs of the main lodge and my loveliest of suites, enjoying the textures and colours which come with good decorating and an historic building. 

Finally I settle into an armchair, doors on both sides of my lounge opened wide to let in the breeze. As I enjoy a richly flavoured coffee, admiring the artistic room and the way the light comes in from the forest views, I realise that what is at the end of the rainbow is so much more than what one expected to find, if we are open and awake to the ordinary miracles of life. 

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