It is truly like stepping back in time 100 years or so – this tiny hamlet of just 300 inhabitants lies off the N1 between Cape Town and Johannesburg. It’s one road wide (in fact an extremely wide road) with Victorian buildings on the left hand side and the railway track on the right.
A long history
It was established by a Scottish railwayman in the mid 1800’s and the hotel was base to the British military as camp headquarters and field hospital during the Anglo-Boer war. The village was restored to its former glory by a businessman in 1968-70. In 1975 is was preserved as a national heritage site.
The Victorian houses that line the street are glorious and The Lord Milner Hotel is probably the finest example of all.
Even if you don’t spend a night in Matjiesfontein, it’s worth the slight detour off the highway to stop for lunch or coffee and take in the quirkiness and ambience of the village.
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The Lord Milner Hotel – offers great accommodation, restaurant and bar along with creaking staircases and no doubt, several ghosts! The grounds are an emerald delight in the middle of the brown Karoo and in the winter months a river runs through. They also offer “motel rooms” on the banks of the river at lower rates, as well as self-catering cottages.
The Laird Arms – the wood panelled bar inside the hotel, complete with honky-tonk piano and pianist. Pub grub and fun atmosphere.
The Lord Milner restaurant – A la carte dining by candlelight in the atmospheric dining room full of period antiques. Karoo cuisine using locally sourced produce -evenings only.
The Coffee House – situated in the old general store. Great coffee and homemade cakes.
Visit the site of the British Army Remount Camp where you can still find relics and artefacts from when over 10,000 infantrymen and 20,000 horses were camped in the veld in the 1900’s.
Perdekloof Hike into the Witteberg mountains that climbs 175 metres and ends with a plunge pool (when water is running). Approx 2.5 hours each way and in summer it’s advisable to start early to avoid the full midday heat! Part can be driven by 4×4 vehicle.
Snake Eagle Thinking Path – walk this labyrinth of stones in the veld and reconnect with nature. Inspired by a pair of Black Chested Snake Eagles spotted in the area and completed in February 2015 it is an amazing labour of love. It can only be seen as an eagle from the air, from the ground it appears as a maze of stones – built as one continuous line that brings the walker back to where you started!
As an alternative to driving, take a train! It leaves Cape Town station at 10am each day (9.40am from Johannesburg), arriving mid afternoon in Matjiesfontein and returns the following morning. It’s a great way to travel and lets you relax before you even arrive at your destination! It’s also a lot cheaper than driving and when was the last time you indulged in a slow train trip across the country?
Time and space
This special hamlet is worth taking time out for, to experience a way of life in an age gone past. To marvel at the space and views of the karoo while being surrounded by pristine Victorian architecture. It’s a thing to get your head around, but absolutely worth the effort!
For further information visit their tourism website
Where to find it