Wanderings: History and charm in Matjiesfontein
Matjiesfontein is one of those places that seemingly shouldn't exist. It is a village with the most Afrikaans name imaginable that looks like it was transplanted directly from Victorian Britain to the middle of the Karoo. I mean really? How is this possible? Yet it is.
This tiny town has cultivated a tourist trade thanks to its personality and carefully preserved stores, restaurants, hotel and train station that look like they belong in a period movie, yet somehow exist in modern day South Africa.
Main street Matjiesfontein
The town, which was founded in 1884, has a long history which includes housing writer Olive Schreiner and being used as a hospital and camping ground for soldiers during the South African (Anglo-Boer) War.
It is perhaps best known today for the Lord Milner Hotel, with its carefully restored rooms, quirky Victorian charm and (alleged) ghosts.
It really is a sight to behold. Outside the hotel, you'll see vintage cars parked alongside Harley Davidson motorcycles. Walk past the fountain and through the doors, and you'll find a stately entrance hall adorned with vintage art and a climbing staircase with a red carpet. One of the pieces is an ornate antique cross-stitch tapestry by an 11 year old girl (which put my more modern schoolgirl needlework skills to shame).
Further down the street from the Lord Milner (yes, there is just one street) lies the gorgeous post office-slash-gift shop with its striped roof and dainty white fencing. There is also a padstal (farm stall) which is open on request, as well as a pub, a transport museum and a coffee shop. The latter sits behind bright yellow petrol pumps which may or may not still be functional.
The coffee shop is a cosy space, with creaky wooden floorboards, a fireplace and shelves with vintage tin cans stacked behind the counter. It serves a mix of light meals and drinks -- think coffee, scones, vetkoek, toasted sandwiches, quiches and salads. The back door is left open on warmer days, welcoming in colourful local bird life who steal the sugar packets off the tables and fly off again.
On the other side of the main road lies the museum and the train station, which was once the primary entrance point for visitors to the village. The original Matjiesfontein station opened in 1878, with the current buildings following in 1890. Today, the platforms that are lined with welcoming benches and flower pots.
Outside the station, you'll likely find a parked red London-style bus, which apparently conducts tours along the main road. Yes, the one main road I mentioned above, which you can walk the length of in about 2 minutes. The tours on the bus apparently take around 10 minutes -- one of the shortest town tours in existence.
While exploring this town may not take you days, Matjiesfontein offers a lovely glimpse into the past and is the perfect distance for a day trip or weekend away from Cape Town. I mean, don't you want to fall back in time just a few hours out of the city?