Want to get away from it all, but with the option of either lazing around all weekend doing nothing, or having a bit of a jol? I have just the place for you.
The Barrydale Karoo Hotel is about two and a half hours drive, without stops, from Cape Town on the legendary Route 62, which runs all the way to Port Elizabeth – a scenic and infinitely more interesting alternative to the N2. Okay, well not exactly on the route itself, but down the sudden and unexpected right turn off the wide place in the road that is the Barrydale most people know.
From Cape Town you take the N1, turn right at Worcester and right again at Robertson. This puts you on a very long wine route, one of the longest in the world, they say – which is always a good thing.
The Barrydale Karoo Hotel is one of those beautiful old-fashioned small town places where the locals all hang out in the bar and are very friendly (sometimes overly so), where visitors come to loll in the gorgeous lounge areas decorated in quirky queer style (lift the cushions on the chairs, if you’re not a prude). There are just 15 individually created rooms. Some are basic, some are more extravagant, all offer comfort, peace and the creature comforts you need, like tea and coffee. This is not, however, the hotel you come to watch TV in your room.
I’ve been there three times in the past year, each time in the company of musicians playing gigs in the bar, so by definition, they have not been entirely relaxing trips.
The enormous capacity for Karoo hospitality of the owner Theo Nel and his partner Tracy Goosen have resulted in hangovers of heroic proportions. That’s where the fantastic Sunday breakfast comes in, followed by long naps by the pool.
At the Barrydale they serve something called the “moordenaar’s Karoo” breakfast. The name comes from the old days when criminals would flee the Cape Of Good Hope into the wilderness of the desert to hide from the law. The breakfast is genius: it comprises a massive plate of food – steak, bacon, sausage, eggs, chips, mushrooms, potatoes, toast – and plenty of fluids. Specifically a Bloody Mary (with vodka, tequila or virgin, if you’re a sissy), a tall glass of water and a sachet of rehydrating powder, and two headache pills. I guess it explains a lot about what you can expect from the night before the morning after.
While you’re in the area, it would be a sin not to visit the world famous Ronnie’s Sex Shop. Local legend has it, Ronnie – and there really is a Ronnie (see pic) – opened his little shop, quite literally in the middle of nowhere. He went off on holiday, leaving a cousin or friend in charge, who decided to play a prank by adding the word “sex” to the name painted on the side of the building.
Initially, Ronnie was not amused but the place has become a landmark and is one of the coolest places on the planet, so I reckon he’s forgiven them by now. Ronnie is always there, more than ready for a photo opp with pretty girls; there is a vintage Massey tractor languishing in the car park; the bar itself is filled with countless bras and panties hanging from the ceiling which probably tell more stories than anyone can remember; and every inch of wall space is covered with grafitti. It’s awesome!
And you really should drink a brandy and Coke. It’s the right thing to do in the heart of South Africa.
* Nick Turner and Schalk Joubert play at the Barrydale Karoo Hotel on July 28. Check out their website for excellent winter rates and make a weekend of it.