I am not someone who grew up with luxury hotel holidays. No, we trailed the old caravan over the mountains from Oudtshoorn to Mossel Bay, took hours to level it and then struggled to zip in its heavy tent in the blustering on-shore wind, often with tempers flying as the tent pens resisted the tough terrain. But once the hard work was done, we could spend the rest of the summer vacation running wild between the plots, making new friends and getting as much sand between our toes and sun on our bodies as possible. It was the feeling of freedom.
It was therefore with some apprehension that I arrived at Schoone Oordt Country House in Swellendam for what would become my first overnight experience of a five star establishment. Would I be able to kick off my shoes here and have a really good time?
I don’t know what I was worried about. The warm and attentive hosts, George Irwin and Renee Buffet, go out of their way to show you that your needs and comfort really are their top priority. As I checked in quite late in the day and did not know the restaurants in Swellendam very well, I was grateful that George took the liberty of making a dinner reservation at nearby Sabine’s on my behalf. “And at what time did you think would I be hungry, George?” “Well, at about 7:30, I thought.” “That sounds just perfect.”
It was only the next morning over the fresh fruit and white wine and vanilla poached peach breakfast in the sunny conservatory, however, that I got an opportunity to witness George’s organisational skills in all its glory. During a time span of about 20 minutes, he convinced an upmarket restaurant in a neighbouring town to bend their no-children policy for a couple travelling with their (exceptionally well behaved) 3-year old daughter, booked a game drive at a nearby game park for the same family, helped them decide which restaurants to try out once they arrive in Cape Town, served me breakfast, helped another table to settle their bill, attended to a plumbing hiccup and organised for someone to wash my trusted, but very dusty Clio while I was enjoying another cup of good plunger coffee. (Apparently a car wash is complimentary for all guests staying at Schoone Oordt.) Management certainly is the essence of the client experience at this country house.
Not that the manor house is not entirely charming in itself. Diligent but discreet housekeeping keep the beautiful rooms in a pristine state during your stay (my tea cup got washed as if by the garden fairies), there is a very generous collection of Rain products in the bathroom, and oil burners keep the indoors smelling absolutely heavenly. Outdoors is even better with a 5000m2 perfectly kept garden, fruit-bearing lemon and olive trees and a secluded swimming pool. I felt completely comfortable exploring the terraces barefoot – Schoone Oordt is this relaxed.
Schoone Oordt has just become my new stop-over oasis, perfectly located half-way between Cape Town and the Garden Route towns further along the N2: Mossel Bay, George and Knysna. This place is proof that tip-top attention and luxury need not be stuffy.
Reviewed by: Lizelle Steyn, independent traveller