One of my new year’s resolutions for 2017 is to see more of South Africa. For our first trip this year we made a break for Prince Albert, a gem in the Groot Karoo that lured me with promises of great local produce and that unique calm you’ll only find in the middle of nowhere.
On the way
Sit back and enjoy the ride.
Prince Albert is about 4 hours from Cape Town on the N1. Luckily the route has some beautiful scenery along the way, taking you through the Huguenot Tunnel which opens up on the majestic Du Toitskloof mountains. From here you travel through the Worcester and Breedekloof wine valleys, on to the Hexrivier and then finally into the wide expanses of the Karoo.
Stock up on local produce at the Farm Stall in Touws River, which offers a small but great selection of wines, coffee, olive oil and other trinkets. If you are heading to Prince Albert you’ll find similar produce in town – except the Terbodore Coffee, which I highly recommend you buy. It is, however, a good one to keep in mind for any other trip.
It is always worth stopping in Matjiesfontein. This town consists of a handful of buildings lining a single street, but they have been beautifully preserved so that you feel as though you’ve travelled back to the 1900s. You can easily imagine English ladies in hooped dresses and lace parasols strolling down the street to have tea at The Lord Milner.
We had lunch at the Coffee House. Try their Curry Vetkoek or Karoo Lamb Pie, both South African classics done well.
From Matjiesfontein it is a hop and a skip until you reach Prince Albert, a picturesque Karoo town at the foot of the Swartberg mountains.
What to do in Prince Albert
Grab breakfast at the Saturday Market
It’s a tiny gathering but you can buy fresh vegetables – some grown in local backyards – as well as local figs (when in season), preserves, honey, olives and freshly baked bread. It’s worth stopping by for a breakfast bun and coffee before carrying on with the day.
Have dinner at Camilla’s Kitchen
This restaurant had me at hello, with a simplistic, chic interior and comfortable atmosphere. We took our seats on the back porch just as the sun was dipping into a neighbouring orchard, eager to see what they had in store for us.
Camilla’s is run by Chef Camilla, a former Food Product Developer for the Woolworths Group, and her husband Russell, a food writer, photographer and cookbook publisher. Their passion for food, wine and local produce shines through the dishes they present to their guests.
We started with a beautiful puree made using almonds from Kredouw Olive Estate, and olives from O for Olives, topped with caramalised onions and pea puree, and served with fresh farm bread. This was followed by roast lamb from Gay’s Guernsey Dairy that had been marinated in buttermilk and cumin, served with ratatouille made with aubergines grown by the retired local doctor, and topped with parsley aioli. We actually asked for more bread to wipe out every last bit of sauce.
Finally we ended it off with a delicious pear tart topped with pecan nuts, and served with a no-churn vanilla ice-cream. We also tried a decadent Chocolate Assassin, with a chocolate torte, chocolate ice-cream and berry coulis. Both were heavenly.
The food was absolutely stunning, and I was equally charmed by the owner Russell, who took care of us through the evening, making sure we ordered the best wine and sharing stories from the local community. It is always a treat when you find someone living out their passion.
We had dinner at Camilla’s last night and what a treat. They show off the best produce of the valley with simple, beautifully executed food packed with flavour. I would drive all the way to have more of their olive and almond paté on fresh farm bread. . . . #9LivesTravel #PrinceAlbert #Karoo #karootown #sunset #dinner #saturday #weekend #getaway #travel #travelling #TravelSouthAfrica #MeetSouthAfrica
The Karoo is known to produce some of the best quality lamb in our country so make sure you braai one evening. Grab some chops at the local slaghuis, pick up olives, preserves, wine and fresh bread from the shops in town, and enjoy the quiet of the Karoo.
We picked a road that led out of town towards Ladysmith side and were rewarded with an incredible Karoo sunset on an isolated farm road, the mountains and veld turning purple in the fading light. We met only two other people on our entire run, on horseback heading into town.
Despite the warm afternoons we found it was cool enough around 6pm to head out for a run, just in time to see the sun set around 7pm.
Prince Albert also has a park run that starts at 7am to accommodate the summer heat.
Drive through Meiringspoort
This pass through the Swarberg mountains offers majestic, mindblowing views, taking you in between ancient rock-faces towering on either side of the road. Stop at Watervaldrif on the route, where you can take a quick stroll up to a waterfall and dip into the rock pools. Just be careful of snakes in the area, especially if you visit in summer.
It’s worth stopping for lunch in De Rust before heading back to Prince Albert. The Village Trading Post makes a mean Karoo Beef burger that can (and should) be ordered on a Roosterkoek bun. It’s a messy, ten-finger-eating situation and I’m pretty sure it contains half a block of butter, but it is totally worth it.
Browse the town
It is worth taking a day just to explore all the little shops in town. If you have two hours to spare, catch a movie in the beautiful Showroom theatre, an art deco gem. I can also recommend a G&T on the porch of the Swartberg Hotel, or if you love antique shopping, go browse The Olde Shop for beautiful vintage furniture and decor finds. Finally, pop in at The Country Store to satisfy your sweet tooth with a selection of treats and preserves.
Look at the stars
The clean air, higher altitude and isolation makes the Karoo ideal for stargazing. Our final evening was spent in the dark, a cup of tea in hand, marveling at the night sky. A view like this puts everything in perspective.
Where we stayed
We stayed at Karoo View Cottages on the edge of town, which offered lovely self-catering cottages at an reasonable price. We had everything for a comfortable stay, including airconditioning and a dipping pool outside. Just make sure you get a room with a nice shower, and buy your own breakfast if you don’t feel like cereal.
What is your favourite town in South Africa? Pop your recommendations in the comments section below, I would love to hear from you.