For most, Swellendam is a gateway town – standing roughly halfway between Cape Town and the Garden Route. Apart from a singular childhood camping trip with my grandparents, I’d never before thought to explore this mountainside hamlet until an opportunity to enjoy a stay at Schoone Oordt Country House came about. Washing away our city cares in a wave of old-world charm, sweeping gardens and a Victorian bathtub made for two (more on that later), Schoone Oordt is the destination for anyone searching out a boutique experience without the hype.
Helmed by Alison Walker and her husband Richard, Schoone Oordt is truly a grand dame of a house. Dating back to 1853, the Georgian style house is a National Monument, and sits on a rambling plot that runs down to a river surrounded by arum lilies and indigenous trees. An impressive camellia tree flanks the facade, scattering its dusty pink petals over the stairs and adding to the scene of country charm. Bucolic beauty ends at the front door, as Schoone Oordt is testament to old world glamour – all lead-patterned windows, grand pianos and sweeping staircases.
Purchased by the Walkers in 2003, Schoone Oordt’s restoration journey can only be described as a labour of love. Original wooden fixtures were painstakingly preserved whilst tasteful replicas of Art Nouveau glasswork and fittings were made to Richard’s exacting specifications. Once a Seventies-era sunroom tacked on to the main house, Schoone Oordt’s conservatory is a sun-splashed space where multiple course breakfasts and lavish dinners are served.
Even checking in feels luxurious, what with Alison’s majordomo Fidiney taking extra care to make guests feel welcome. Schoone Oordt’s famed scone tea serves as refreshment whilst Fidiney can whip up any libation under the sun from behind the wood panelled bar. Crystal decanters are paired with pop art rubber ducks and enough literature to keep the busiest of bookworms content.
Alison’s eclectic style can also be found across the 11 luxurious rooms; fortunate enough to be given the honeymoon suite for the night, we had the opportunity to experience the plushly carpeted room replete with a warmly burning chiminea, a minibar and a four poster out of a fairytale. The bathroom deserves a paragraph all on it’s own – larger than my first apartment, a cavernous cylindrical shower serves as the centrepiece with the aforementioned Victorian roll-top bath offering up a second choice for abluting in style. An intricately hand carved vanity sits above Victorian-era replica sinks, giving the bathroom the best of both worlds – antique appeal without problematic plumbing.
The allure of being able to bath together certainly made Schoone Oordt’s honeymoon suite one of the most romantic we’ve ever stayed in.
The house is also home to a sumptuous breakfast spread. Each morning Fidiney welcomes guests to the conservatory with fresh juices, coffee and tea. What follows is a sensory feast that leaves the diner satiated and ready for the day ahead. Continental offerings of cheese, biscuits, breads and charcuterie are followed by freshly baked scones with preserve and the most perfectly roasted pear with thick creamy farm yoghurt. And if one is still not satiated, there is a choice of either a traditional English fry-up or Chef Grieta or Chef Kathy’s speciality for the hot course. I enjoyed the lightest of souffléd omelettes with feta and chorizo whilst Dawid opted for bacon, eggs, beans, tomatoes and mushrooms.
After a breakfast this decadent there is nothing for it but to recline in a sunny spot and enjoy one of Fidiney’s famous cappuccinos.
Fancy booking in a romantic stay of your own before silly season is upon us? If searching for serenity and the sumptuous finishes of a bygone era, I can’t recommend Schoone Oordt more highly. Follow them on Instagram for a taste of how country life should be lived.