I don’t often write about the hotels I stay in, seeing them more as places to sleep a night or two than as destinations in their own right. But occasionally you come across a place that is unique. Such as the Augusta de Mist Country House and Kitchen, a charming boutique guesthouse in Swellendam on South Africa’s Garden Route.
A Cape Dutch Historic House
Augusta de Mist is one of many historic houses in Swellendam, built in the Cape Dutch style. I have a weakness for historic buildings, so I was delighted when Michel, the enthusiastic Canadian who co-owns the hotel, offered to show us around. We started with the main house which dates back to 1802, making it old by South African standards. Michel explained that the actual construction was by slaves from Indonesia, so the final design was more South Asian than European with, for instance, high ceilings to allow heat to escape.
The house is named after Augusta de Mist, the daughter of a Dutch Commissioner to South Africa in the 19th century. She travelled throughout the country with her father and recorded her experiences in a journal; she was also the ancestor of a previous owner of the hotel. But the building continues to accumulate history: one of the most famous guests in recent times was Desmond Tutu.
Quirky Corners and Hidden Spaces
The guest accommodation is in garden apartments scattered throughout the grounds. The décor is eclectic: both the main house and the apartments are individually designed and full of interesting artefacts. I was particularly taken by the outdoor shower – it’s not every day that you get to stare up at the trees while taking your morning dip!
And the gardens are a labour of love. Michel and his partner Henk have done a lot of work on the grounds, transforming them into a landscape full of native plants. There is a small swimming pool and an olive grove at the far end, and close to the house is a small herb garden. As we wandered around the garden we found lots of hidden corners, each leading to a secluded area perfect for a sunny afternoon.
Eating at the Augusta de Mist Country House and Kitchen
Evening meals at the Augusta de Mist are a treat, but they don’t cook every day (if you want to eat there it is as well to check when booking). We were in luck – there was a tasting menu on offer the night we were there, a showcase of Henk’s considerable culinary skills. We sat outside on the patio overlooking the garden as Michel brought out each dish – seven courses of beautifully presented dishes including kudu (antelope) carpaccio and Cape Malay gingered chicken.
And breakfast was just as special, a feast of homemade breads and muffins, fruit salad and cooked dishes. An excellent way to start the day, and to make us feel we would have to come back one day.