Weekend Getaway: A historic homestead in George
Paul Ash plays lord of the manor in a rambling Cape-Georgian mansion
I'M tired of boxy hotels, and I've had enough of drek little B&Bs owned by poxy, unhelpful pinch-faced landlords and stuffed with décor from hell. There, I've said it.
Running a B&B should require a licence, where applicants are subjected to the same vigorous scrutiny as those who wish to own automatic weapons. Sadly, that is not the case, which means I spend an inordinate amount of time sifting through the dross.
George, as you may well imagine, is overstocked with B&Bs. The town has more accommodation options than Jo'burg has Tuscan palazzos, so I was well pleased, on my very first troll of the web, to stumble across Fairview Homestead, a former farmhouse, built some time after 1864 and sold to one Koos Stander in 1894. The family farmed apples and cattle until 1974, fending off the urban creep. Today, the homestead is an island of beauty in the middle of George's spreading metropolis.
I wanted, in short order, an airport pick-up, a good home-cooked dinner, a really decent bed - and character. Lots of character. Fairview has the latter in spades - you can see that from the website. But how about the airport pick-up - 20km is a long way to walk - and what about dinner?
The owners, Philda and Desmond Beckenstein, were away, and apart from their locum, Richard, who provided a cheerful airport taxi service, I had the place to myself, along with a Boxer puppy and a wandering cat. It's not every day one can play lord of the manor in a rambling Cape-Georgian mansion, and roam the rose garden like it's yours.
The Outeniqua mountains were lit by the last of the sun as the Boxer and I prowled the garden, crunching happily along the gravel paths, feeling the heat seep out of the day. I watched the mountain flanks turn red then fade into darkness as the night rose up; the Boxer uncovered a stiff, dead mole and its joy was unconfined.
Richard, meanwhile, made dinner. Bangers and mash with a salad sourced entirely from the garden. Fairview's vegetable garden is famous. As he served dinner, Richard noted - with some regret, I felt - that the only things that didn't come from the garden were the sausages and the bottle of red wine.
Eating food as fresh as that, there is a glorious stirring of the senses, and it is useful to be reminded of the fact that, once upon a time, we ate like that all the time and were probably better for it, despite constant anxiety about hungry sabre-tooth cats and competition from other gangs of foraging hominids . so no change there, then.
I retired to a Victorian bedroom with antique iron four-poster bed and chaise longue in front of the fireplace, a whirring fan by the bed and heavy wooden shutters to keep the night out, and slept the sleep of the just.
True to form - me wishing that perhaps the service wasn't quite so, well, obliging - there was a gentle knock on the door before dawn. Time to go to Mossel Bay to catch a freight train. But that's another story.
WHERE IT IS: On the eastern edge of George, 20km from the airport and 8km from Victoria Bay.
WHY GO THERE: The house is a classic Cape-Georgian mansion with a big enough rose garden for you to lose yourself in. Although the farm has been swallowed by development, the quiet and expansive grounds mean you are hardly aware that you are, in fact, in a sizeable town.
WHAT IT HAS: Two lovely big double rooms in the main house and an outside studio that also sleeps two. Breakfast is included and dinners are available on request. The famous garden - a good place to hide from the world for a while - is an attraction in its own right. Apart from the veggies, there is a formal lavender and rose garden and enough indigenous plants to keep local greenies happy.
WHAT IT'S LIKE: Impeccably clean, beautiful to look at, quiet and relaxing.
AND THE FOOD: Richard cooked an excellent dinner of bangers and mash. The salad ingredients had been growing minutes before reaching my plate. It really doesn't get better than that.
RATES: Superior room starts at R440 per person sharing, R390 per person in the luxury double. Single rates start at R490. There is a discount for longer stays.
GETTING THERE: Turn left out of the airport, then first right onto the R102, the pretty little country road that will take you into George and right across the bottom. It's much easier and nicer than using the N2.
CONTACT: 36 Stander Street, George, phone 082 226 9466, e-mail email@example.com, GPS co-ordinates -33.957083, 22.476804.
WHAT THERE IS TO SEE ON THE WAY:If you're staying for a while, check out the Outeniqua Railway Museum (2 Mission Road, George, phone 0448018288, open Monday-Saturday). The museum houses a collection of restored steam locomotives - many in working condition - and railway coaches from the country's golden age of rail travel. There is also a collection of historic vehicles, including a rare Brill SA Railways bus.
The museum is also the departure point for the Outeniqua Power Van, a converted railway inspection trolley, which runs up the beautiful Montagu railway pass that clambers over the Outeniqua mountains from George. The van makes day trips up the pass, stopping at various places for the passengers to alight and take in the view and learn something about the history of the pass. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 044 801 8239 for bookings.